Paris was in one of her gray moods that January afternoon. Everything was gray except the humanity. Emotion never seemed to grow gray in Paris. From her place by the window in Clara's apartment Katie was looking down into the narrow street, the people passing to and fro. Two men were shaking hands. They would stop, then begin again. They had been doing that for the last five minutes. They seemed to find life a very live thing. So did the femme de menage and her soldier, who also had been standing over there for the last five minutes. Katie did not want to look longer at the femme de menage and her soldier, so she turned her chair a little about and looked more directly at Clara.
Clara was in gray mood, too. Only Clara differed from the streets in that it was the emotion was gray; the robe de chambre was red.
So were Clara's eyes. "It's not pleasant, Katie," she was saying, "having to remain here in Paris for these foggy months—with all one's friends down on the Riviera."
"No," said Katie grimly, "life's hard."
Clara's tears flowed afresh. "I've often thought you were hard, Katie.
It's because you've never—cared. You've never—suffered."
Katie smiled slightly, again looking out the window at the femme and her soldier, who were as contented with the seclusion offered by a lamp-post as though it were seclusion indeed. As she watched them, "hard" did not seem the precise word for something in Katie's eyes.
"You see, Katie," Clara had resumed, as if her woe gave her the right to rebuke Katie for the lack of woe, "you've always had everything just the way you wanted it."
"Just exactly," said Katie, still looking at the femme de menage.
"Your grandfather left you all that money, and when you want to do a thing all you have to do is do it. What can you know of the real sorrows and hardships of life?"
"What indeed?" responded Katie briskly.
"And your heart has never been touched—and I don't believe it ever will be," Clara continued spitefully—Katie seemed so complacent. "You have no real feeling. You're just like Wayne."
Katie laughed at that and looked at Clara; then laughed again, and
"Speaking of Wayne," said Katie in off-hand fashion, "he's been made a major."
She watched Clara as she said it. There were things Katie could be rather brutal about.
"I'm sure that's very nice," said the woman who had divorced Wayne.
"Yes, isn't it? And other things are going swimmingly. One of those things he used to be always puttering over—you may remember, Clara, mentioning, from time to time, those things he used to be puttering around with—has been adopted with a whoop. A great fuss is being made over it. It looks as though Wayne was confronted with something that might be called a future."
"I'm sure I'm very glad," said Clara, "that somebody is to have something that might be called a future. Certainly a woman with barely enough to live on isn't in much danger of being confronted with one."
Katie made no apology to herself for the pleasure she took in "rubbing it in." She remembered too many things too vividly.
"It's pretty hard," said Clara, "when one has a—duty to society, and nothing to go on."
Katie was thinking that society must be a very vigorous thing, persisting through all the "duties" people had to it.
She smiled now in seeing that the thing which had brought her to Clara that day was in the nature of a "duty to society" and that in her case, too, a duty to society and a personal inclination moved happily together.
Katie was there that afternoon to buy Worth.
So she put it to herself in what Clara would have called her characteristically brutal fashion.
She was sure Worth could be had for a price. She had that price and she believed the psychological moment was at hand for offering it.
The reason for its being the psychological moment was that Clara wanted to join a party at Nice and did not have money enough to buy the clothes which would make her going worth while. For there was a man there—an American, a rich westerner—whom Clara's duty to society moved her to marry.
That was Katie's indelicate deduction from Clara's delicate hints.
And Katie wanted Worth. It wasn't wholly a matter of either affection or convenience. It had to do, and in almost passionate sense, with something which was at least in the category with such things as duties to society. Worth seemed to her too fine, too real, to be reared by a "truly feminine woman," as Clara had been known to call herself. Clara's great idea for Worth was that he be well brought up. That was Clara's idea of her duty to society. And it was Katie's notion of her duty to society to save him from being too well brought up.
The things she had been seeing, and suffering, in the past year made her feel almost savagely on the subject.
Katie had been there since October. Clara had magnanimously permitted Worth to remain with his Aunt Kate most of the time, with the provision that Katie bring him to her as often as she wanted him. This was unselfish of Clara, and cheaper.
Clara's alimony was not small, but neither were her tastes. Indeed the latter rose to the proportions of duties to society.
Katie knew it was as such she must treat them in the next half hour. She must save the "maternal instinct" Clara was always talking about—usually adding that it was a thing which Katie, of course, could not understand—by taking it under the sheltering wing of the "child's good."
Katie knew just how to reach the emotions which Clara had, without outraging too much the emotions she persuaded herself she had.
So she began speaking in a large way of life, how hard it was, how complicated. How they all loved Worth and wished to do the best thing for him, how she feared it must hurt the child's personality, living in that unsettled fashion, now under one influence, now under another. She spoke of Clara's own future, how she had that to think of and how it was hard she be so—restricted. She drew a vivid picture of what life might be if Clara didn't "provide for the future"—she was careful to use no phrase so raw to truly feminine ears as "make a good marriage." And then, rather curtly when it came to it, tired of the ingratiating preamble, she asked Clara what she would think of relinquishing all claim on Worth and taking twenty thousand dollars.
Clara tried to look more insulted by the proposition than invited by the sum. But Katie got a glimmer of that look of greed known to her of old.
She went on talking. She was sure every one would think it beautiful of Clara to let Worth go to them just because they had a better way of caring for him, just because it was for the child's good. Every one would know how it must hurt her and admire her for the sacrifice. And then Katie mentioned the fact that the matter could be closed immediately and Clara start at once for Nice and perhaps that itself would "mean something to the future."
From behind Clara's handkerchief—Clara's tears were in close relation to Clara's sense of the fitness of things—Katie made out that life seemed driving her to this, but that it hurt her to think so tragic a thing should be associated with so paltry a sum.
"It's my limit," said Katie shortly. "Take it or leave it."
Amid more sobs Katie got that all the Jones family were heartless, that life was cruel, but that she was willing to make any sacrifice for her child's good.
"Then I'll go down and get him," said Katie, rising.
Clara's sobs ceased instantly. "Get who?"
"My lawyer. I left him down there talking to the concierge."
"Katie Jones—how could you!"
"Oh she looks like a decent enough woman," said Katie. "I don't think it will hurt him any."
"Katie, you have grown absolutely—vulgar. And so hard. You have no fineness—no intuition—nothing feminine about you. And how dared you bring your lawyer here to me? What right had you to assume I'd do this?"
"Why I knew you well enough, Clara, to believe you would be willing to do it—for your child's good."
Clara looked at her suspiciously and Katie hastened to add that she brought him because she wanted to pay ten thousand francs on account and she thought Clara might want to get the disagreeable business all settled up at once so she could hurry on to Nice before those friends of hers got over to Algiers, or some place where Clara might not be able to go after them.
Clara again looked suspicious, but only said it was inconsiderate of Katie to expect her to receive a lawyer with her poor eyes in that condition.
But when Katie returned with him Clara's eyes were a softer red and she managed to extract from the interview the pleasure of showing him that she was suffering.
As she watched the transaction, Katie felt a little ashamed of herself. Not because she was doing it, but because she had known so well how to do it. But with a grimace she banished her compunctions in the thought of its being for the child's good, and hence a duty to society.
Less easy to banish was the hideous thought that she might have been able to get him for less!
By the time the attorney had gone Clara seemed to be looking upon herself as one hallowed by grief; she was in the high mood of one set apart by suffering. In her eyes was something which she evidently felt to be a look of resignation. In her hand something which she certainly felt to be an order for ten thousand francs.
The combination first amused and then irritated Katie. It was exasperating to have Clara giving herself airs about the grief which was to make such a sorry cut in Katie's income.
Clara, in her mellowed mood, spoke of the past, why it had all been as it had. She was even so purged by suffering as to speak gently of Wayne. "I hope, Katie—yes, actually hope—that Wayne will some time find it possible to care, and be happy."
And when Katie thought of how much Wayne had cared, why he had not been happy, it grew more and more difficult to treat Clara as one sanctified by sorrow.
It gave her a fierce new longing for the real, the real at all costs, a contempt for all that artifice and self-delusion which made for the things at war with the real.
She had enough malice to entertain an impulse to strip Clara of her complacency, take away from her her pleasant cup of sorrow, make her take one good look at herself for the woman she was rather than the woman she was flaunting. But she had no zest for it. What would be the use? And, after all, self-deception seemed a thing one was entitled to practice, if one wished.
What Katie wanted most was to get out into the air.