The Titan

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter XLII: F.A. Cowperwood, Guardian

It was some time after this first encounter before Cowperwood saw Berenice again, and then only for a few days in that region of the Pocono Mountains where Mrs. Carter had her summer home. It was an idyllic spot on a mountainside, some three miles from Stroudsburg, among a peculiar juxtaposition of hills which, from the comfortable recesses of a front veranda, had the appearance, as Mrs. Carter was fond of explaining, of elephants and camels parading in the distance. The humps of the hills—some of them as high as eighteen hundred feet—rose stately and green. Below, quite visible for a mile or more, moved the dusty, white road descending to Stroudsburg. Out of her Louisville earnings Mrs. Carter had managed to employ, for the several summer seasons she had been here, a gardener, who kept the sloping front lawn in seasonable flowers. There was a trig two-wheeled trap with a smart horse and harness, and both Rolfe and Berenice were possessed of the latest novelty of the day—low-wheeled bicycles, which had just then superseded the old, high-wheel variety. For Berenice, also, was a music-rack full of classic music and song collections, a piano, a shelf of favorite books, painting-materials, various athletic implements, and several types of Greek dancing-tunics which she had designed herself, including sandals and fillet for her hair. She was an idle, reflective, erotic person dreaming strange dreams of a near and yet far-off social supremacy, at other times busying herself with such social opportunities as came to her. A more safely calculating and yet wilful girl than Berenice Fleming would have been hard to find. By some trick of mental adjustment she had gained a clear prevision of how necessary it was to select the right socially, and to conceal her true motives and feelings; and yet she was by no means a snob, mentally, nor utterly calculating. Certain things in her own and in her mother's life troubled her—quarrels in her early days, from her seventh to her eleventh year, between her mother and her stepfather, Mr. Carter; the latter's drunkenness verging upon delirium tremens at times; movings from one place to another—all sorts of sordid and depressing happenings. Berenice had been an impressionable child. Some things had gripped her memory mightily—once, for instance, when she had seen her stepfather, in the presence of her governess, kick a table over, and, seizing the toppling lamp with demoniac skill, hurl it through a window. She, herself, had been tossed by him in one of these tantrums, when, in answer to the cries of terror of those about her, he had shouted: "Let her fall! It won't hurt the little devil to break a few bones." This was her keenest memory of her stepfather, and it rather softened her judgment of her mother, made her sympathetic with her when she was inclined to be critical. Of her own father she only knew that he had divorced her mother—why, she could not say. She liked her mother on many counts, though she could not feel that she actually loved her—Mrs. Carter was too fatuous at times, and at other times too restrained. This house at Pocono, or Forest Edge, as Mrs. Carter had named it, was conducted after a peculiar fashion. From June to October only it was open, Mrs. Carter, in the past, having returned to Louisville at that time, while Berenice and Rolfe went back to their respective schools. Rolfe was a cheerful, pleasant-mannered youth, well bred, genial, and courteous, but not very brilliant intellectually. Cowperwood's judgment of him the first time he saw him was that under ordinary circumstances he would make a good confidential clerk, possibly in a bank. Berenice, on the other hand, the child of the first husband, was a creature of an exotic mind and an opalescent heart. After his first contact with her in the reception-room of the Brewster School Cowperwood was deeply conscious of the import of this budding character. He was by now so familiar with types and kinds of women that an exceptional type—quite like an exceptional horse to a judge of horse-flesh—stood out in his mind with singular vividness. Quite as in some great racing-stable an ambitious horseman might imagine that he detected in some likely filly the signs and lineaments of the future winner of a Derby, so in Berenice Fleming, in the quiet precincts of the Brewster School, Cowperwood previsioned the central figure of a Newport lawn fete or a London drawing-room. Why? She had the air, the grace, the lineage, the blood—that was why; and on that score she appealed to him intensely, quite as no other woman before had ever done.

It was on the lawn of Forest Edge that Cowperwood now saw Berenice. The latter had had the gardener set up a tall pole, to which was attached a tennis-ball by a cord, and she and Rolfe were hard at work on a game of tether-ball. Cowperwood, after a telegram to Mrs. Carter, had been met at the station in Pocono by her and rapidly driven out to the house. The green hills pleased him, the up-winding, yellow road, the silver-gray cottage with the brown-shingle roof in the distance. It was three in the afternoon, and bright for a sinking sun.

"There they are now," observed Mrs. Carter, cheerful and smiling, as they came out from under a low ledge that skirted the road a little way from the cottage. Berenice, executing a tripping, running step to one side, was striking the tethered ball with her racquet. "They are hard at it, as usual. Two such romps!"

She surveyed them with pleased motherly interest, which Cowperwood considered did her much credit. He was thinking that it would be too bad if her hopes for her children should not be realized. Yet possibly they might not be. Life was very grim. How strange, he thought, was this type of woman—at once a sympathetic, affectionate mother and a panderer to the vices of men. How strange that she should have these children at all. Berenice had on a white skirt, white tennis-shoes, a pale-cream silk waist or blouse, which fitted her very loosely. Because of exercise her color was high—quite pink—and her dusty, reddish hair was blowy. Though they turned into the hedge gate and drove to the west entrance, which was at one side of the house, there was no cessation of the game, not even a glance from Berenice, so busy was she.

He was merely her mother's friend to her. Cowperwood noted, with singular vividness of feeling, that the lines of her movements—the fleeting, momentary positions she assumed—were full of a wondrous natural charm. He wanted to say so to Mrs. Carter, but restrained himself.

"It's a brisk game," he commented, with a pleased glance. "You play, do you?"

"Oh, I did. I don't much any more. Sometimes I try a set with Rolfe or Bevy; but they both beat me so badly."

"Bevy? Who is Bevy?"

"Oh, that's short of Berenice. It's what Rolfe called her when he was a baby."

"Bevy! I think that rather nice."

"I always like it, too. Somehow it seems to suit her, and yet I don't know why."

Before dinner Berenice made her appearance, freshened by a bath and clad in a light summer dress that appeared to Cowperwood to be all flounces, and the more graceful in its lines for the problematic absence of a corset. Her face and hands, however—a face thin, long, and sweetly hollow, and hands that were slim and sinewy—gripped and held his fancy. He was reminded in the least degree of Stephanie; but this girl's chin was firmer and more delicately, though more aggressively, rounded. Her eyes, too, were shrewder and less evasive, though subtle enough.

"So I meet you again," he observed, with a somewhat aloof air, as she came out on the porch and sank listlessly into a wicker chair. "The last time I met you you were hard at work in New York." "Breaking the rules. No, I forget; that was my easiest work. Oh, Rolfe," she called over her shoulder, indifferently, "I see your pocket-knife out on the grass."

Cowperwood, properly suppressed, waited a brief space. "Who won that exciting game?"

"I did, of course. I always win at tether-ball."

"Oh, do you?" commented Cowperwood.

"I mean with brother, of course. He plays so poorly." She turned to the west—the house faced south—and studied the road which came up from Stroudsburg. "I do believe that's Harry Kemp," she added, quite to herself. "If so, he'll have my mail, if there is any."

She got up again and disappeared into the house, coming out a few moments later to saunter down to the gate, which was over a hundred feet away. To Cowperwood she seemed to float, so hale and graceful was she. A smart youth in blue serge coat, white trousers, and white shoes drove by in a high-seated trap.

"Two letters for you," he called, in a high, almost falsetto voice. "I thought you would have eight or nine. Blessed hot, isn't it?" He had a smart though somewhat effeminate manner, and Cowperwood at once wrote him down as an ass. Berenice took the mail with an engaging smile. She sauntered past him reading, without so much as a glance. Presently he heard her voice within.

"Mother, the Haggertys have invited me for the last week in August. I have half a mind to cut Tuxedo and go. I like Bess Haggerty."

"Well, you'll have to decide that, dearest. Are they going to be at Tarrytown or Loon Lake?"

"Loon Lake, of course," came Berenice's voice.

What a world of social doings she was involved in, thought Cowperwood. She had begun well. The Haggertys were rich coal-mine operators in Pennsylvania. Harris Haggerty, to whose family she was probably referring, was worth at least six or eight million. The social world they moved in was high.

They drove after dinner to The Saddler, at Saddler's Run, where a dance and "moonlight promenade" was to be given. On the way over, owing to the remoteness of Berenice, Cowperwood for the first time in his life felt himself to be getting old. In spite of the vigor of his mind and body, he realized constantly that he was over fifty-two, while she was only seventeen. Why should this lure of youth continue to possess him? She wore a white concoction of lace and silk which showed a pair of smooth young shoulders and a slender, queenly, inimitably modeled neck. He could tell by the sleek lines of her arms how strong she was.

"It is perhaps too late," he said to himself, in comment. "I am getting old."

The freshness of the hills in the pale night was sad.

Saddler's, when they reached there after ten, was crowded with the youth and beauty of the vicinity. Mrs. Carter, who was prepossessing in a ball costume of silver and old rose, expected that Cowperwood would dance with her. And he did, but all the time his eyes were on Berenice, who was caught up by one youth and another of dapper mien during the progress of the evening and carried rhythmically by in the mazes of the waltz or schottische. There was a new dance in vogue that involved a gay, running step—kicking first one foot and then the other forward, turning and running backward and kicking again, and then swinging with a smart air, back to back, with one's partner. Berenice, in her lithe, rhythmic way, seemed to him the soul of spirited and gracious ease—unconscious of everybody and everything save the spirit of the dance itself as a medium of sweet emotion, of some far-off, dreamlike spirit of gaiety. He wondered. He was deeply impressed.

"Berenice," observed Mrs. Carter, when in an intermission she came forward to where Cowperwood and she were sitting in the moonlight discussing New York and Kentucky social life, "haven't you saved one dance for Mr. Cowperwood?"

Cowperwood, with a momentary feeling of resentment, protested that he did not care to dance any more. Mrs. Carter, he observed to himself, was a fool.

"I believe," said her daughter, with a languid air, "that I am full up. I could break one engagement, though, somewhere."

"Not for me, though, please," pleaded Cowperwood. "I don't care to dance any more, thank you."

He almost hated her at the moment for a chilly cat. And yet he did not.

"Why, Bevy, how you talk! I think you are acting very badly this evening."

"Please, please," pleaded Cowperwood, quite sharply. "Not any more. I don't care to dance any more."

Bevy looked at him oddly for a moment—a single thoughtful glance.

"But I have a dance, though," she pleaded, softly. "I was just teasing. Won't you dance it with me?

"I can't refuse, of course," replied Cowperwood, coldly.

"It's the next one," she replied.

They danced, but he scarcely softened to her at first, so angry was he. Somehow, because of all that had gone before, he felt stiff and ungainly. She had managed to break in upon his natural savoir faire—this chit of a girl. But as they went on through a second half the spirit of her dancing soul caught him, and he felt more at ease, quite rhythmic. She drew close and swept him into a strange unison with herself.

"You dance beautifully," he said.

"I love it," she replied. She was already of an agreeable height for him.

It was soon over. "I wish you would take me where the ices are," she said to Cowperwood.

He led her, half amused, half disturbed at her attitude toward him.

"You are having a pleasant time teasing me, aren't you?" he asked.

"I am only tired," she replied. "The evening bores me. Really it does. I wish we were all home."

"We can go when you say, no doubt."

As they reached the ices, and she took one from his hand, she surveyed him with those cool, dull blue eyes of hers—eyes that had the flat quality of unglazed Dutch tiles.

"I wish you would forgive me," she said. "I was rude. I couldn't help it. I am all out of sorts with myself."

"I hadn't felt you were rude," he observed, lying grandly, his mood toward her changing entirely.

"Oh yes I was, and I hope you will forgive me. I sincerely wish you would."

"I do with all my heart—the little that there is to forgive."

He waited to take her back, and yielded her to a youth who was waiting. He watched her trip away in a dance, and eventually led her mother to the trap. Berenice was not with them on the home drive; some one else was bringing her. Cowperwood wondered when she would come, and where was her room, and whether she was really sorry, and— As he fell asleep Berenice Fleming and her slate-blue eyes were filling his mind completely.

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