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Kirby had frequently commented upon Trenton's
frankness; Grace chilled at the thought that he might
already have told his story to Mrs. Trenton in the hope
of hastening the day of his freedom.

The newspapers were devoting much space to Mrs.
Trenton's impending visit. On Saturday and Sunday
her portrait adorned the society pages, accompanied by



306 BROKEN BARRIERS

sketches of her life and activities in the feminist cause
that did full justice to her distinguished ancestry and
high social connections. In the Durland home Mrs.
Trenton continued to be a fruitful subject of discus-
sion. There were things which Ethel thought should
be said to Mrs. Trenton. She even considered asking
Dr. Ridgely to say them, a proposition which Grace
derided and Mrs. Durland did not encourage. Ethel
was further inspired with the idea that a committee
of the best women of the city should wait upon Mrs.
Trenton and try to convince her of the dangerous
character of the doctrines she was advocating.

"You're taking it altogether too seriously," said
Grace. "I don't suppose that woman's ever made a
single convert. About so many people have always
held her ideas about marriage and things like that.
The real radicals probably look on her as a huge joke.
A woman who visits at Newport and goes cruising on
yachts doesn't just put herself clear outside the social
breastworks. There are other women besides Mrs.
Trenton who talk free love and birth control and
things like that just for the excitement and the atten-
tion they get."

"They should be locked up, every one of them!"
Ethel declared. "I'm ashamed for our city that she
can come here and be received by people you'd expect
better things of, and be allowed to speak. The police
should stop it!"

"Well, she can't ruin the town with one lecture,"
Grace replied good-naturedly. "The Twentieth Cen-
tury Club brings all sorts of lunatics here and the
members are about the most conservative people in
town. You couldn't change the minds of any of them
any more than you could knock over the soldiers'
monument with a feather duster."



BROKEN BARRIERS 307

III

Grace got excused from the store at five o'clock on
Tuesday to give herself ample time to prepare for the
dinner.

"That's the prettiest gown you ever wore, dear,"
Mrs. Durland exclaimed when Grace was fully ar*
rayed. "I'm glad you didn't have your hair marcelled;
that little natural wave is prettier than anything the
hairdresser could do. Carried straight away from
your forehead as you've got it gives just the right
effect. I guess Miss Reynolds needn't be ashamed
of you. You've got the look of breeding, Grace; no-
body could fail to see that. Just be careful not to
talk too much, not even if Mrs. Trenton says brash
things you feel like disputing with her. And if you
get a chance to speak to Judge Sanders without ap-
pearing to drag it in you might say you're the great-
granddaughter of Josiah B. Morley. Little things like
that do count, you know."

"Yes, of course," Grace assented, as she studied
the hang of her skirt before the mirror.

Ethel came in and seated herself on the bed to
watch Grace's preparations. Osgood Haley had
walked home with her and she was in the mood of sub-
dued exaltation to which the young man's company
frequently brought her. She apologized to her mother
for being late; she and Osgood had prolonged the
walk by taking a turn in the park but she would make
up to her for the delay by doing all of the supper
work.

"That dress really is becoming to you, Grace," she
said in a fervor of magnanimity. "It sets you off
beautifully. You must tell us all about the party. I
hope you won't let anything I said about Mrs. Trenton



308 BROKEN BARRIERS

spoil the evening for you. You know I'm always glad
when any happiness comes to you."

"Thank you, Ethel; I guess I'll live through the
ordeal," said Grace from her dressing table where she
had seated herself to administer the final touches to
her toilet. Zealous to be of service, Ethel and her
mother watched her attentively, offering suggestions
to which Grace in her absorption murmured replies or
ignored. Ethel brought from her room a prized lace-
bordered handkerchief which she insisted that Grace
should carry. Her generosity was spoiled somewhat
by the self-sacrificing air with which it was tendered.
To help others was really the great joy of life, Ethel
quoted Haley as saying, adding that she constantly
marveled at Osgood's clear vision of the true way of
life. Grace accepted the handkerchief, with difficulty
concealing a smile at the change in Ethel wrought by
Haley's talk.

The car Miss Reynolds had sent was at the door and
Mrs. Durland and Ethel went down to see Grace off.
They gave her a final looking over before helping her
into her coat. The veil she had drawn over her head
required readjustment; it was a serious question
whether there was not an infinitesimal spot on one of
her slippers.

"Oh, they've got to take me as I am!" said Grace,
finally. "There isn't time to dress all over again."

"I'll wait up for you, dear," said Mrs. Durland.
"I'll be anxious to know all about the dinner."

Grace was again torn by doubts as the car bore her
swiftly toward Miss Reynolds's. She tried to convince
herself that she was not in the least interested in Mrs.
Trenton; that she was no more concerned with her
than she would have been with any other woman she
might meet in the house of a friend. But these at-



BROKEN BARRIERS 309

tempts to minimize her curiosity as to Trenton's wife
failed miserably. It was impossible to think of the
meeting with her lover's wife as a trifling incident.
The newspaper portraits of Mrs. Trenton rose vividly
before her and added to her discomfort. She feared
that she might in some way betray herself. When
the car stopped she felt strongly impelled to postpone
her entrance in the hope of quieting herself by walking
round the block; but to be late to a dinner was, she
knew, an unpardonable sin. Summoning all her cour-
age she ran up the walk to the door, which opened be-
fore she could ring.

"First room to the right upstairs," said the colored
butler.

The white maid helped her off with her wrap and
stood by watching her with frank admiration as she
surveyed herself before a long mirror. In Grace's
perturbed state of mind the presence of the girl was
a comfort.

"Do I look all right?" she asked.

"You look lovely, Miss; just like a beautiful pic-
ture."

"Oh, thank you!" said Grace, smiling gratefully into
the girl's eyes. "Am I very late?"

"No, Miss, Dr. and Mrs. Ridgely haven't come
yet."

A clock on the mantle began striking the half hour
as Grace left the room. She went down slowly with
a curious sense of being an unbidden guest in a strange
house.

From the stair she caught a glimpse of a man in
evening dress in the room below. She had attended
few functions in her life where men wore evening
dress and the staring expanse of shirt front intensified
her sense of breathing an alien atmosphere.



310 BROKEN BARRIERS

As she stood in the drawing room doorway the
figures within dimmed and she put out her hand to
steady herself. Then the wavering mists that blurred
her vision cleared as Miss Reynolds came quickly
forward and caught her hands.

"My dear child, I didn't hear you come down!
I'm glad to see you, even relieved I" she added in a
whisper. "How perfectly adorable you are!" Grace
had not dared lift her eyes to the group of guests
who stood across the room talking animatedly, and
as Miss Reynolds, with her arm about Grace's waist,
moved toward them she was arrested by a young man
who had just entered and stood waiting to present
himself.

"Oh, Mr. Atwood! Miss Durland, Mr. Atwood."
Jimmie Atwood put out his hand, smiling joyfully.

"Good luck, I call this! It's perfectly bully to
meet you again, Miss Durland."

"You two are acquainted?" Miss Reynolds ex-
claimed delightedly. "That's splendid, for you're to
take Miss Durland in."

"Mr. Atwood's equal to the most difficult situa-
tions," said Grace, meeting his eyes, which were re-
sponding to the mirth in her own as both recalled the
night they had met at McGovern's.

"Ah! You have a secret of some kind!" said Miss
Reynolds. "Far be it from me to intrude but you've
got to meet the other guests."

Jimmie Atwood's appearance had lessened the ten-
sion for Grace and quite composedly she found her-
self confronting a tall slender woman who stepped
forward to meet the newcomers.

"Mrs. Trenton, Miss Durland and Mr. Atwood."

Mrs. Trenton gave each a quick little nod, murmur-
ing:



BROKEN BARRIERS 311

"I'm very glad, indeed."

The Ridgelys at this moment arrived followed by
two unattached men. Townsend, a young physician
who was looked upon as a coming man, and Pro-
fessor Grayling, whose courses in sociology Grace
had taken at the University. He was, she learned, a
remote connection of Miss Reynolds's and had been
summoned from Bloomington to add to the represen-
tative character of the company.

"Why didn't you ever tell me you knew Miss Rey-
nolds?" Grayling demanded, as he and Grace were
left to themselves for a moment during the progress
of further introductions.

"Oh, I didn't meet her till after I left college. I
know why you're invited; you're here to do the
heavy high-brow work! I remember that you once
expressed views on the writings of the guest of honor."

"Did I? If I become quarrelsome tonight throw a
plate or something at me." Grace had always ad-
mired Grayling; he was saying now that she had been
his star student and that he missed her from his
classes.

"I'd really counted on making you an instructor in
my department but you left without saying good-bye;
and here I find you launched upon a high social
career it's a distinct loss to social science!"

"If you knew just where and how I met Miss Rey-
nolds you wouldn't think me in danger of becoming
a social butterfly!" laughed Grace, her assurance
mounting. Grayling was smiling quizzically into her
eyes; he would never know how grateful she was for
these few minutes with him. The rest of the com-
pany were grouped about Mrs. Trenton, who had
lately been in Washington and was expressing her



312 BROKEN BARRIERS

opinions, which were not apparently complimentary,
of the public men she had met there.

"I'm Number Eighteen at Shipley's," said Grace,
finding that Grayling was giving her his complete at-
tention. "Miss Reynolds was my first customer."

"Ah!" he exclaimed. "You're collecting data! I
see it all! There will be a treatise, perhaps a large
tome, on your experiences in the haunts of trade.
Perhaps you'll allow me to write the preface. We
thought down at the University you'd got tired of us,
but I see that you'd grown beyond our feeble aid. I'm
infinitely relieved ! "

"Stop kidding me!" said Grace, glancing about to
make sure they were not overheard. "I'm a shop girl,
trying to earn an honest living."
1 Atwood came up as dinner was announced and when
they reached the table Grace found that Grayling
was to sit at her left. Mrs. Trenton's place was a
little to her right on the further side, an arrangement
that made it possible for Grace to observe her with-
out falling within the direct line of her vision.

Grace, turning to Atwood, who frankly declared his
purpose to monopolize her, found it possible to study
at leisure the woman about whom she had so con-
stantly speculated. Mrs. Trenton was, she surmised,
nearly the forty years to which Trenton himself con-
fessed and there was in her large gray-blue eyes
something of the look of weariness to be found in the
eyes of people who live upon excitement and sensa-
tion. Her hair had a reddish tinge and the gray had
begun to show in it. She bore every mark which to
a sophisticated feminine inspection announces that a
woman has a particular care for her appearance. She
gave an impression of smoothness and finish. She
wore a string of pearls and on her left hand a large



BROKEN BARRIERS 313

pearl set in diamonds, but no wedding ring, a fact
which Grace interpreted as signifying that in this
fashion the author of "Clues to a New Social Order,"
let the world know her indifference to the traditional
symbol by which womankind advertise their married
state. She found herself wondering whether Ward
Trenton had given his wife the necklace or the ring
with the diamond-encircled pearl. Mrs. Trenton's
gown had the metropolitan accent; it was the product
unmistakably of one of those ultra smart New York
dressmakers whose advertisements Grace had noted
from time to time in magazines for women.

Mrs. Trenton had entered into a discussion with
Dr. Ridgely of the industrial conditions created by the
war; and she was repeating what some diplomat had
said to her at a dinner in Washington. Her head and
shoulders moved almost constantly as she talked, and
her hands seemed never idle, playing with her beads
or fingering a spoon she had unconsciously chosen as
a plaything. She laughed frequently, a quick, nervous,
mirthless little laugh, while her eyes stared vacantly,
as though she were not fully conscious of what she
said or what was being said to her. She spoke crisply,
with the effect of biting off her words. Grace was in-
terested in her mastery of the broad a, which western
folk profess to scorn but nevertheless envy in pilgrims
from the fabled East. Her voice and enunciation re-
minded Grace of the speech an English woman who
had once lectured at the University.

"Oh, that!"

This was evidently a pet expression, uttered with a
shrug and a lifting of the brows. It meant much or
nothing as the hearer chose to take it. Grace had
read much about the neurotic American woman and
Mrs. Trenton undoubtedly expressed the type. It was



314 BROKEN BARRIERS

difficult to think of her as Ward Trenton's wife. The
two were irreconcilably different. Grace's mind
wearied in the attempt to correlate them, but she
gained ease as the moments sped by. By the time
the meat course was served the talk had become gen-
eral. Everyone wished to hear Mrs. Trenton and she
met in a fashion of her own the questions that were
directed at her. Evidently she was used to being ques-
tioned and she answered indifferently, some times dis-
dainfully, or turned the question upon the inquirer.

AtwOod was exerting himself to hold Grace's at-
tention. He had never heard of Mary Graham Tren-
ton till Miss Reynolds's invitation sent him to the
newspapers for information. He was not sure now
that he knew just how she came to be a celebrity and
with Grace beside him he didn't care.

"I've been wild to see you ever since that night we
put on the little sketch at Mac's," he said confidingly.
"You were perfectly grand; never saw a finer piece of
good sportsmanship. I met Evelyn the next day and
we've talked about it ever since when we've been alone.
But old Bob is certainly sore ! He's really a good fel-
low, you know; but he was off his game that night.
You scored big with Evelyn. She was really hurt
when you refused her invitation to dinner. I was to
be in the party begged for an invitation; I swear I
did! Please let me pull a party pretty soon say at
the Country Club, and ask the Cummingses. Really
I'm respectable! I've got regular parents and aunts
and everything."

"We'll have to consider that. Please listen; this is
growing interesting."

"My point, Mrs. Trenton," Professor Grayling was
saying, "is just this: Your reform programme only
touches the top of the social structure without regard



BROKEN BARRIERS 315

to the foundation and the intermediate framework.
In your 'Clues to a New Social Order' you consider
how things might be a happy state of things if the
transition could be effected suddenly. Granting that
what you would accomplish is desirable or essential
to the general happiness of mankind, we can't just
pick out the few things we are particularly interested
in and set them up alone. They'd be sure to topple
over."

"Oh, that!" Mrs. Trenton replied; and then as
though aware that something more was expected of
her she went on: "But a lot of changes have come
in in what you scientific economists would call the
less important things. Just now I'm laying stress on
an equal wage for men and women for the same labor.
That I think more important than such things as more
liberal divorce laws, though I favor both. As to di-
vorce" she gave her characteristic shrug, "we all
know that more liberal laws came as the result of
changing conditions the new attitude toward mar-
riage and all that. We're in the midst of a tremendous
social evolution."

"May I come in right here for a moment, Mrs.
Trenton?" asked Dr. Ridgely. "You plead in your
book for a change of existing laws to make marriage
dissoluble at the will or whim of the contracting
parties; children to be turned over to the State a
direct blow at the family. Do you really think that
desirable?" he ended smilingly.

"Dear me! That idea didn't originate with me,"
she replied. "I merely went into it a little more
concretely perhaps."

Again, her curious vacant stare, followed in an in-
stant by a gesture, the slightest lifting and closing
of one of her graceful hands as though her thoughts,



316 BROKEN BARRIERS

having ranged infinity, had brought back something
it was not necessary in her immediate surroundings to
disclose.

"But," the minister insisted, "would such a solu-
tion be wise? Do you, honestly, think it desirable?"

"It's coming; it's inevitable!" she answered quickly.

"How many women can you imagine driving up to
a big barracks and checking their babies? How strong
is the maternal instinct?" asked Judge Sanders.

"Most mothers don't know how to care for their
children," said Mrs. Trenton, bending forward to
glance at the speaker. Sanders was a big man with
a great shock of iron-gray hair. He was regarding
Mrs. Trenton with the bland smile that witnesses al-
ways found disconcerting.

"Well, that may be true," he said, "but the poor
old human race has survived their ignorance a mighty
long time."

The laughter at this retort was scattering and tem-
pered by the obvious fact that Mrs. Trenton was not
wholly pleased by it.

Jimmie Atwood was hoping that there would be a
row. A row among high-brows would be something to
talk about when he went to the University Club the
next day for lunch and an afternoon of sniff.

"The idea is, I take it," he said with his funny
squeak, "that there would be no aunts or in-laws; just
plain absolute freedom for everybody. Large marble
orphan asylums all over the country. Spanking ma-
chines and everything scientific!"

"You've got exactly the right idea," cried Mrs.
Trenton.

"Clubs for women and clubs for men; everybody
would live in a club. That would be jolly!" Atwood



BROKEN BARRIERS 317

continued, delighted that he had gained the attention
of the guest of honor.

"Has anybody here," began Grayling, "ever watched
a bunch of college boys listening to a phonograph
record of Patti singing 'Home, Sweet Home?' Well, I
have and you could cut the gloom with a knife. Home
is still sweet to most of us."

"I'd be awfully sorry to miss the weddings we have
at the parsonage," said Mrs. Ridgely; "trusting
young souls who pop in at all hours to be married.
They're all sure they're going to live happy forever
after. Miss Durland, it's your generation that's got
to solve the problem. Maybe you have the answer."

"Oh, I think weddings are beautiful!" Grace an-
swered, feeling the eyes of the company upon her.
The girlish ardor she threw into her words won her a
laugh of sympathy.

"Don't let them intimidate you," said Mrs. Trenton
with an indulgent smile. "Miss Reynolds has been
telling me that you're a University girl and you ought
to be sound on the great questions if Professor Gray-
ling hasn't spoiled you!"

"No one could spoil Grace," Grayling protested.

Grace pondered, anxious for Miss Reynolds's sake
to say nothing stupid. She was the youngest member
of the company; they were merely trying in a friendly
spirit to bring her into the talk and no wise deliverance
would be expected of her.

"I wouldn't dare speak for all my generation,"
she said, "but something has occurred to me. Our
elders scold us too much! It isn't at all pleasant to
be told that we're terribly wicked; that we haven't
any of the fine qualities of our parents and grand-
parents. We hear nothing except how times have



318 BROKEN BARRIERS

changed; well, we didn't change them! I positively
refuse to be held responsible for changing anything!
I took the world just as I found it."

She had spoken quickly, with the ring of honest
protest in her voice, and she was abashed when Judge
Sanders clapped his hands in approval.

"That's the truest word I've heard on that sub-
ject," he said heartily. "The responsibility is on us
old folks if our children are not orderly, disciplined,
useful members of society."

"I'm afraid you're right," added Dr. Ridgely.

"Aren't you the Miss Durland that John Moore
talks about?" Mrs. Sanders asked. "I thought so!
Isn't John a wonderful fellow? Since he went into
Mr. Sanders's office we've seen him a good deal at
our house. He's so simple and honest and gives prom-
ise of great things."

"I'm very stupid," said Sanders; "I didn't realize
that I had met the paragon Moore brags about so
much; but I might have known it!"

He began describing Moore, and told the whole table
how, as trustee of the University, he had become
acquainted with the young man and was so struck by
his fine qualities that he had taken him into his office.
He related some of the familiar anecdotes of Moore
and called upon Grace for others. Grace told her
stories well, wholly forgetting herself in her en-
thusiasm. Suddenly her gaze fell upon Mrs. Trenton,
whose lips were parted in a smile of well-bred inatten-
tion. Grace became confused, stammered, cut short a
story she was telling illustrative of John's kindness
to a negro student whom he had nursed through a long
illness. Apparently neither John nor his philanthropic
impulses interested the author of "Clues to a New So-
cial Order"; or she was irritated at being obliged to re-



BROKEN BARRIERS 319

linquish first place at the table. Miss Reynolds, quick
to note the bored look on her guest's face, tactfully
brought her again into the foreground. Grace was
startled a moment later, when, as the talk again be-
came general, Sanders remarked:

"I believe I've met your husband, Mrs. Trenton.
He's a friend of Mr. Thomas Kemp, one of our prin-
cipal manufacturers."

"Yes?" she replied carelessly. "I think I've heard
Mr. Trenton speak of an Indianapolis client of that
name. He visits your city I know, on professional
employments. Indeed his business keeps him in
motion most of the time; but I can't complain; I'm a
good deal of a gad-about myself! I wired for Mr.
Trenton's address to his New York office the other
day, hoping I might be able to see him somewhere.
It's possible he may turn up here. There's a case for
you, Dr. Ridgely! The reason my marriage is so suc-
cessful is because of the broad freedom Mr. Trenton
and I allow each other. We haven't met since
Heaven knows when!"

A slight hint of bravado in her tone suggested an
anxiety to establish herself in the minds of the com-
pany as the possessor of a wider freedom and a nobler
tolerance than other wives. The other wives at the
table were obviously embarrassed if not displeased
by her declaration. It seemed to Grace that the air
of the room chilled preceptibly.

She found herself resenting Mrs. Trenton's manner
of speaking of her husband. Trenton, she remem-
bered, had always spoken of his wife in kind terms.
On the evening of their first meeting at The Shack
he had chivalrously taken upon himself the responsi-
bility for the failure of his marriage. He had spoken
of Mrs. Trenton as a charming woman, but Grace



320 BROKEN BARRIERS

thought her singularly charmless. She was at no pains
to make herself agreeable to the company Miss Rey-
nolds had assembled in her honor. One thing was
clear and Grace derived a deep satisfaction from the
reflection, Mrs. Trenton not only didn't love her hus-
band, but she was incapable of loving any one but
herself. Grace, having accepted the invitation to meet
Mrs. Trenton with a sense that there was something
a little brazen in her going when Miss Reynolds be-
lieved her to be a clean-hearted, high-minded girl, in
bitterness of spirit yielded to a mood of defiance.
This woman had no right to be a burden and a
hindrance to the man she had married. It was her


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Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 21 of 27)