Chapman Price was leaving Grasslands. Events had been rapidly advancing to that point for the last three months, slowly advancing for the last three years. Everybody who knew the Prices and the Janneys said it was inevitable, and people who didn't know them but read about them in the "society papers" could give quite glibly the reasons why Mrs. Chapman Price was going to separate from her husband.
His friends said it was her fault; Suzanne Price was enough to drive any man away from her – selfish, exacting, bad tempered, a spoiled child of wealth. Chappie had been a first-rate fellow when he married her and she'd nagged and tormented him past bearing. Her friends had a different story; Chapman Price was no good, had neglected her, was an idler and a spendthrift. Hadn't the Janneys set him up in business over and over and found it hopeless? What he had wanted was her money, and people had told her so; her mother had begged her to give him up, but she would have him and learned her lesson, poor girl! Those in the Janney circle said there would have been a divorce long before if it hadn't been for the child. She had held them together, kept them in a sort of hostile, embattled partnership for years. And then, finally, that link broke and Chapman Price had to go.
There had been a last conclave in the library that morning, Mrs. Janney presiding. Then they separated, silent and gloomy – a household of eight years, even an uncongenial one, isn't broken up without the sense of finality weighing on its members. Chapman had gone to his rooms and flung orders at his valet to pack up, and Suzanne had gone to hers, thrown herself on the sofa, and sniffed salts with her eyes shut. Mr. and Mrs. Janney repaired to the wide shaded balcony and there talked it over in low tones. They were immensely relieved that it was at last settled, though of course there would be the unpleasantness of a divorce and the attending gossip. Mr. Janney hated gossip, but his wife, who had risen from a Pittsburg suburb to her present proud eminence, was too battle-scarred a veteran to mind a little thing like that.
As they talked, their eyes wandered over a delightful prospect. First a strip of velvet lawn, then a terrace and balustraded walk, and beyond that the enameled brilliance of long gardens where flowers grew in masses, thick borders, and delicate spatterings, bright against the green. Back of the gardens were more lawns, shaven close and dappled with tree shadows, then woods – Mrs. Janney's far acres – on this fine morning all shimmering and astir with a light, salt-tinged breeze. Grasslands was on the northern side of Long Island, only half a mile from the Sound through the seclusion of its own woods.
It was quite a show place, the house a great, rambling, brown building with slanting, shingled roofs and a flanking rim of balconies. Behind it the sun struck fire from the glass of long greenhouses, and the tops of garages, stables and out-buildings rose above concealing shrubberies and trellises draped with the pink mantle of the rambler. Mrs. Janney had bought it after her position was assured, paying a price that made all Long Island real estate men glad at heart.
Sitting in a wicker chair, a bag of knitting hanging from its arm, she looked the proper head for such an establishment. She was fifty-four, large – increasing stoutness was one of her minor trials – and was still a handsome woman who "took care of herself." Her morning dress of white embroidered muslin had been made by an artist. Her gray hair, creased by a "permanent wave," was artfully disposed to show the fine shape of her head and conceal the necessary switch. She was too naturally endowed with good taste to indicate her wealth by vulgar display, and her hands showed few rings; the modest brooch of amethysts fastening the neck of her bodice was her sole ornament. And this was all the more commendable, as Mrs. Janney had wonderful jewels of which she was very proud.
Five years before, she had married Samuel Van Zile Janney, who now sat opposite her clothed in white flannels and looking distressed. He was a small, thin, elderly man, with a pointed gray beard and a general air of cool, dry finish. No one had ever thought old Sam Janney would marry again. He had lost his wife ages ago and had been a sort of historic landmark for the last twenty years, living desolately at his club and knowing everybody who was worth while. Of course he had family, endless family, and thought a lot of it and all that sort of thing. So his marriage to the Pittsburg widow came as a shock, and then his world said: "Oh, well, the old chap wants a home and he's going to get it – a choice of homes – the house on upper Fifth Avenue, the place at Palm Beach and Grasslands."
It had been a very happy marriage, for Sam Janney with his traditions and his conventions was a person of infinite tact, and he loved and admired his wife. The one matter upon which they ever disagreed was Suzanne. She had been foolishly indulged, her caprices and extravagances were maddening, her manners on occasions extremely bad. Mr. Janney, who had beautiful manners of his own, deplored it, also the amount of money her mother allowed her; for the fortune was all Mrs. Janney's, Suzanne having been left dependent on her bounty.
His wife, who had managed everything else so well, resented these criticisms on what should have been the completest example of her competence. She also resented them because she knew they were true. With all her cleverness and all her capability she had not succeeded with her daughter. The girl had got beyond her; the unfortunate marriage with Chapman Price had been the climax of a youth of willfulness and insubordination. Suzanne's affairs, Suzanne's future, Suzanne herself were subjects that husband and wife avoided, except, as in the present instance, when they were the only subjects in both their minds.
Presently their low-toned murmurings were interrupted by the appearance of Dixon, the butler, announcing lunch.
"Mrs. Price," he said, "will not be down – she has a headache."
Mrs. Janney rose, looking at the man. He had been in her service for years, was one of the first outward and visible signs of her growth in affluence. She was sure that he knew what had happened, but her face was unrevealing as a mask, as she said:
"See that she gets something. Will Mr. Price take his lunch upstairs?"
"No, Madam," returned the man quietly, "Mr. Price is coming down."
It was a ghastly meal – three of them eating sumptuous food, waited on by two men hardly less silent than they were. It wouldn't have been so unbearable if Bébita, Suzanne's daughter, had been there to lift the curse off it with her artless chatter, or Esther Maitland, the social secretary, who had acquired a habit of talking with Mr. Janney when the rest of the family were held in the dumbness of wrath. But Bébita was spending the morning with a little chum and Miss Maitland was lunching with a friend in the village.
Chapman Price, as if anxious to show how little he cared, ate everything that was passed, and prolonged the misery by second helpings. Mrs. Janney could have beaten him, she was so angry. Once she glanced at him and met his eyes, insolently defiant, and as full of hostility as her own. They were vital eyes, dark and bold, and were set in a handsome face. At the time of his marriage he had been known as "Beauty Price" and it was his good looks which had caught the capricious fancy of Suzanne. In the eight years since then they had suffered, the firmly modeled contours had grown thin and hard, the mouth had set in an ugly line, the brows had creased by a frown of sulky resentment. But he was still a noticeable figure, six feet, lean and agile, with a skin as brown as a nut and a crown of black hair brushed to a glossy smoothness. Many women continued to describe Chapman Price as "a perfect Adonis."
When they rose from the table he stood aside to let his parents-in-law pass out before him. They brushed by, feeling exceedingly uncomfortable and wanting to get away as quickly as their dignity would permit. They dreaded a last flare-up of his temper, notoriously violent and uncontrolled, one of the attributes that had made him so unacceptable. In the hall at the stair foot they half turned to him, swept him with cold looks and were mumbling vague sounds that might have been dismissal or farewell, when he suddenly raised his voice in a loud, combative note:
"Oh, don't bother to be polite. There's no love between us and there needn't be any hypocrisies. You want to get rid of me and I want to go. But before I do, I'd like to say something." He drew a step nearer, his face suddenly suffused with a dark flush, his eyes set and narrowed. "You've done one thing to me that you're going to regret – stolen my child. Yes," in answer to a protesting sound from Mr. Janney, "stolenher – that's what I said. You think you can hide behind your money bags and do what you like. Maybe you can nine times, but there's a tenth when things don't work the way you've expected. Watch out for it – it's due now."
His voice was raised, loud, furious, threatening. The dining room door flew open and Dixon appeared on the threshold in alarmed consternation. Mr. Janney stepped forward belligerently:
"Chapman, now look here – "
Mrs. Janney laid a hand on her husband's arm:
"Don't answer him, Sam," then to Chapman, her face stony in its controlled passion, "I want no more words with you. Our affairs are finished. Kindly leave the house as soon as possible." She turned to the butler who was staring at them with dropped jaw: "Shut that door, Dixon, and stay where you belong." The sound of footsteps at the stair-head caught her ear. "The other servants are coming: we'll have an audience for this pleasant scene. We'd better go, Sam, as Chapman doesn't seem to have heard my request for him to leave, the only thing for us is to leave ourselves."
She swept her husband off across the hall toward the balcony. Behind them the young man's voice rose:
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На этой странице вы можете прочитать онлайн книгу «Miss Maitland, Private Secretary», автора Geraldine Bonner. Данная книга имеет возрастное ограничение 12+, относится к жанрам: «Зарубежные детективы», «Классические детективы».. Книга «Miss Maitland, Private Secretary» была издана в 2017 году. Приятного чтения!