“My income last year was bigger than it was when I had money. You see, the Czechs—”
His boasting was for a specific purpose; but after a moment, seeing a faint restiveness in Lincoln’s eyes, he changed the subject:
“Those are fine children of yours, well brought up, good manners.”
A great wave of protectiveness went over him. He thought he knew what to do for her. He believed in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element. Everything wore out.
He remembered thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number, hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab.
But it hadn't been given for nothing.
It had been given, even the most wildly squandered sum, as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things most worth remembering, the things that now he would always remember—his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in Vermont.
"First, we're going to that toy store in the Rue Saint-Honoré and buy you anything you like. And then we're going to the vaudeville at the Empire."
She hesitated. "I like it about the vaudeville, but not the toy store."
"Well, you brought me this doll." She had it with her. "And I've got lots of things. And we're not rich any more, are we?"
"We never were. But today you are to have anything you want."
"All right," she agreed resignedly.
Somehow, an unwelcome encounter. They liked him because he was functioning, because he was serious; they wanted to see him, because he was stronger than they were now, because they wanted to draw a certain sustenance from his strength.
"Daddy, I want to come and live with you," she said suddenly.
His heart leaped; he had wanted it to come like this.
"Aren't you perfectly happy?"
"Yes, but I love you better than anybody. And you love me better than anybody, don't you, now that mummy's dead?"
"Of course I do. But you won't always like me best, honey. You'll grow up and meet somebody your own age and go marry him and forget you ever had a daddy."
"Yes, that's true," she agreed tranquilly.
As I told you, I haven't had more than a drink a day for over a year, and I take that drink deliberately, so that the idea of alcohol won't get too big in my imagination. You see the idea?"
"No," said Marion succinctly.
"It's a sort of stunt I set myself. It keeps the matter in proportion."
"I get you," said Lincoln. "You don't want to admit it's got any attraction for you."
"Something like that. Sometimes I forget and don't take it. But I try to take it.”
"I don't blame Marion," Charlie said slowly, "but I think she can have entire confidence in me. I had a good record up to three years ago. Of course, it's within human possibilities I might go wrong any time. But if we wait much longer I'll lose Honoria's childhood and my chance for a home." He shook his head, "I'll simply lose her, don't you see?"
Marion shuddered suddenly; part of her saw that Charlie's feet were planted on the earth now, and her own maternal feeling recognized the naturalness of his desire; but she had lived for a long time with a prejudice—a prejudice founded on a curious disbelief in her sister's happiness, and which, in the shock of one terrible night, had turned to hatred for him. It had all happened at a point in her life where the discouragement of ill health and adverse circumstances made it necessary for her to believe in tangible villainy and a tangible villain.
"I can't help what I think!" she cried out suddenly. "How much you were responsible for Helen's death, I don't know. It's something you'll have to square with your own conscience."
"There's another thing." Lincoln hesitated. "While you and Helen were tearing around Europe throwing money away, we were just getting along. I didn't touch any of the prosperity because I never got ahead enough to carry anything but my insurance. I think Marion felt there was some kind of injustice in it—you not even working toward the end, and getting richer and richer."
"It went just as quick as it came," said Charlie.
His first feeling was one of awe that he had actually, in his mature years, stolen a tricycle and pedaled Lorraine all over the Étoile between the small hours and dawn. In retrospect it was a nightmare. Locking out Helen didn't fit in with any other act of his life, but the tricycle incident did--it was one of many. How many weeks or months of dissipation to arrive at that condition of utter irresponsibility?
He tried to picture how Lorraine had appeared to him then—very attractive; Helen was unhappy about it, though she said nothing. Yesterday, in the restaurant, Lorraine had seemed trite, blurred, worn away. He emphatically did not want to see her, and he was glad Alix had not given away his hotel address. It was a relief to think, instead, of Honoria, to think of Sundays spent with her and of saying good morning to her and of knowing she was there in his house at night, drawing her breath in the darkness.
"I heard that you lost a lot in the crash."
"I did," and he added grimly, "but I lost everything I wanted in the boom."
"Something like that."
There wasn't much he could do now except send Honoria some things; he would send her a lot of things tomorrow. He thought rather angrily that this was just money—he had given so many people money. . . .
"No, no more," he said to another waiter. "What do I owe you?"