Cowperwood’s world at this time was of roseate hue. He was in love and had money of his own to start his new business venture. He could take his street-car stocks, which were steadily increasing in value, and raise seventy per cent. of their market value. He could put a mortgage on his lots and get money there, if necessary. He had established financial relations with the Girard National Bank—President Davison there having taken a fancy to him—and he proposed to borrow from that institution some day. All he wanted was suitable investments—things in which he could realize surely, quickly. He saw fine prospective profits in the street-car lines, which were rapidly developing into local ramifications.
He purchased a horse and buggy about this time—the most attractive-looking animal and vehicle he could find—the combination cost him five hundred dollars—and invited Mrs. Semple to drive with him. She refused at first, but later consented. He had told her of his success, his prospects, his windfall of fifteen thousand dollars, his intention of going into the note-brokerage business. She knew his father was likely to succeed to the position of vice-president in the Third National Bank, and she liked the Cowperwoods. Now she began to realize that there was something more than mere friendship here. This erstwhile boy was a man, and he was calling on her. It was almost ridiculous in the face of things—her seniority, her widowhood, her placid, retiring disposition—but the sheer, quiet, determined force of this young man made it plain that he was not to be balked by her sense of convention.
Cowperwood did not delude himself with any noble theories of conduct in regard to her. She was beautiful, with a mental and physical lure for him that was irresistible, and that was all he desired to know. No other woman was holding him like that. It never occurred to him that he could not or should not like other women at the same time. There was a great deal of palaver about the sanctity of the home. It rolled off his mental sphere like water off the feathers of a duck. He was not eager for her money, though he was well aware of it. He felt that he could use it to her advantage. He wanted her physically. He felt a keen, primitive interest in the children they would have. He wanted to find out if he could make her love him vigorously and could rout out the memory of her former life. Strange ambition. Strange perversion, one might almost say.
In spite of her fears and her uncertainty, Lillian Semple accepted his attentions and interest because, equally in spite of herself, she was drawn to him. One night, when she was going to bed, she stopped in front of her dressing table and looked at her face and her bare neck and arms. They were very pretty. A subtle something came over her as she surveyed her long, peculiarly shaded hair. She thought of young Cowperwood, and then was chilled and shamed by the vision of the late Mr. Semple and the force and quality of public opinion.
“Why do you come to see me so often?” she asked him when he called the following evening.
“Oh, don’t you know?” he replied, looking at her in an interpretive way.
“Sure you don’t?”
“Well, I know you liked Mr. Semple, and I always thought you liked me as his wife. He’s gone, though, now.”
“And you’re here,” he replied.
“And I’m here?”
“Yes. I like you. I like to be with you. Don’t you like me that way?”
“Why, I’ve never thought of it. You’re so much younger. I’m five years older than you are.”
“In years,” he said, “certainly. That’s nothing. I’m fifteen years older than you are in other ways. I know more about life in some ways than you can ever hope to learn—don’t you think so?” he added, softly, persuasively.
“Well, that’s true. But I know a lot of things you don’t know.” She laughed softly, showing her pretty teeth.
It was evening. They were on the side porch. The river was before them.
“Yes, but that’s only because you’re a woman. A man can’t hope to get a woman’s point of view exactly. But I’m talking about practical affairs of this world. You’re not as old that way as I am.”
“Well, what of it?”
“Nothing. You asked why I came to see you. That’s why. Partly.”
He relapsed into silence and stared at the water.
She looked at him. His handsome body, slowly broadening, was nearly full grown. His face, because of its full, clear, big, inscrutable eyes, had an expression which was almost babyish. She could not have guessed the depths it veiled. His cheeks were pink, his hands not large, but sinewy and strong. Her pale, uncertain, lymphatic body extracted a form of dynamic energy from him even at this range.
“I don’t think you ought to come to see me so often. People won’t think well of it.” She ventured to take a distant, matronly air—the air she had originally held toward him.
“People,” he said, “don’t worry about people. People think what you want them to think. I wish you wouldn’t take that distant air toward me.”
“Because I like you.”
“But you mustn’t like me. It’s wrong. I can’t ever marry you. You’re too young. I’m too old.”
“Don’t say that!” he said, imperiously. “There’s nothing to it. I want you to marry me. You know I do. Now, when will it be?”
“Why, how silly! I never heard of such a thing!” she exclaimed. “It will never be, Frank. It can’t be!”
“Why can’t it?” he asked.
“Because—well, because I’m older. People would think it strange. I’m not long enough free.”
“Oh, long enough nothing!” he exclaimed, irritably. “That’s the one thing I have against you—you are so worried about what people think. They don’t make your life. They certainly don’t make mine. Think of yourself first. You have your own life to make. Are you going to let what other people think stand in the way of what you want to do?”
“But I don’t want to,” she smiled.
He arose and came over to her, looking into her eyes.
“Well?” she asked, nervously, quizzically.
He merely looked at her.
“Well?” she queried, more flustered.
He stooped down to take her arms, but she got up.
“Now you must not come near me,” she pleaded, determinedly. “I’ll go in the house, and I’ll not let you come any more. It’s terrible! You’re silly! You mustn’t interest yourself in me.”
She did show a good deal of determination, and he desisted. But for the time being only. He called again and again. Then one night, when they had gone inside because of the mosquitoes, and when she had insisted that he must stop coming to see her, that his attentions were noticeable to others, and that she would be disgraced, he caught her, under desperate protest, in his arms.
“Now, see here!” she exclaimed. “I told you! It’s silly! You mustn’t kiss me! How dare you! Oh! oh! oh!—”
She broke away and ran up the near-by stairway to her room. Cowperwood followed her swiftly. As she pushed the door to he forced it open and recaptured her. He lifted her bodily from her feet and held her crosswise, lying in his arms.
“Oh, how could you!” she exclaimed. “I will never speak to you any more. I will never let you come here any more if you don’t put me down this minute. Put me down!”
“I’ll put you down, sweet,” he said. “I’ll take you down,” at the same time pulling her face to him and kissing her. He was very much aroused, excited.
While she was twisting and protesting, he carried her down the stairs again into the living-room, and seated himself in the great armchair, still holding her tight in his arms.
“Oh!” she sighed, falling limp on his shoulder when he refused to let her go. Then, because of the set determination of his face, some intense pull in him, she smiled. “How would I ever explain if I did marry you?” she asked, weakly. “Your father! Your mother!”
“You don’t need to explain. I’ll do that. And you needn’t worry about my family. They won’t care.”
“But mine,” she recoiled.
“Don’t worry about yours. I’m not marrying your family. I’m marrying you. We have independent means.”
She relapsed into additional protests; but he kissed her the more. There was a deadly persuasion to his caresses. Mr. Semple had never displayed any such fire. He aroused a force of feeling in her which had not previously been there. She was afraid of it and ashamed.
“Will you marry me in a month?” he asked, cheerfully, when she paused.
“You know I won’t!” she exclaimed, nervously. “The idea! Why do you ask?”
“What difference does it make? We’re going to get married eventually.” He was thinking how attractive he could make her look in other surroundings. Neither she nor his family knew how to live.
“Well, not in a month. Wait a little while. I will marry you after a while—after you see whether you want me.”
He caught her tight. “I’ll show you,” he said.
“Please stop. You hurt me.”
“How about it? Two months?”
“No maybe in that case. We marry.”
“But you’re only a boy.”
“Don’t worry about me. You’ll find out how much of a boy I am.”
He seemed of a sudden to open up a new world to her, and she realized that she had never really lived before. This man represented something bigger and stronger than ever her husband had dreamed of. In his young way he was terrible, irresistible.
“Well, in three months then,” she whispered, while he rocked her cozily in his arms.