It was a blue day in the hill country. At noon the clouds had crowned Sawanec--a sure sign of rain; the rain had come and gone, a June downpour, and the overcast sky lent (Victoria fancied) to the country- side a new atmosphere. The hills did not look the same. It was the kind of a day when certain finished country places are at their best--or rather seem best to express their meaning; a day for an event; a day set strangely apart with an indefinable distinction. Victoria recalled such days in her youth when weddings or garden-parties had brought canopies into service, or news had arrived to upset the routine of the household. Raindrops silvered the pines, and the light winds shook them down on the road in a musical shower.
Victoria was troubled, as she drove, over a question which had recurred to her many times since her talk that morning: had she been hypocritical in not telling her father that she had seen more of Austen Vane than she had implied by her silence? For many years Victoria had chosen her own companions; when the custom had begun, her mother had made a protest which Mr. Flint had answered with a laugh; he thought Victoria's judgment better than his wife's. Ever since that time the Rose of Sharon had taken the attitude of having washed her hands of responsibility for a course which must inevitably lead to ruin. She discussed some of Victoria's acquaintances with Mrs. Pomfret and other intimates; and Mrs. Pomfret had lost no time in telling Mrs. Flint about her daughter's sleigh-ride at the State capital with a young man from Ripton who seemed to be seeing entirely too much of Victoria. Mrs. Pomfret had marked certain danger signs, and as a conscientious woman was obliged to speak of them. Mrs. Pomfret did not wish to see Victoria make a mesalliance.
"My dear Fanny," Mrs. Flint had cried, lifting herself from the lace pillows, "what do you expect me to do especially when I have nervous prostration? I've tried to do my duty by Victoria--goodness knows--to bring her up--among the sons and daughters of the people who are my friends. They tell me that she has temperament--whatever that may be. I'm sure I never found out, except that the best thing to do with people who have it is to let them alone and pray for them. When we go abroad I like the Ritz and Claridge's and that new hotel in Rome. I see my friends there. Victoria, if you please, likes the little hotels in the narrow streets where you see nobody, and where you are most uncomfortable." (Miss Oliver, it's time for those seven drops.) "As I was saying, Victoria's enigmatical hopeless, although a French comtesse who wouldn't look at anybody at the baths this spring became wild about her, and a certain type of elderly English peer always wants to marry her. (I suppose I do look pale to-day.) Victoria loves art, and really knows something about it. She adores to potter around those queer places abroad where you see strange English and Germans and Americans with red books in their hands. What am I to do about this young man of whom you speak--whatever his name is? I suppose Victoria will marry him--it would be just like her. But what can I do, Fanny? I can't manage her, and it's no use going to her father. He would only laugh. Augustus actually told me once there was no such thing as social position in this country!"
"American men of affairs," Mrs. Pomfret judicially replied, "are too busy to consider position. They make it, my dear, as a by-product." Mrs. Pomfret smiled, and mentally noted this aptly technical witticism for use again.
"I suppose they do," assented the Rose of Sharon, "and their daughters sometimes squander it, just as their sons squander their money."
"I'm not at all sure that Victoria is going to squander it," was Mrs. Pomfret's comforting remark. "She is too much of a personage, and she has great wealth behind her. I wish Alice were more like her, in some ways. Alice is so helpless, she has to be prodded and prompted continually. I can't leave her for a moment. And when she is married, I'm going into a sanatorium for six months."
"I hear," said Mrs. Flint, "that Humphrey Crewe is quite epris."
"Poor dear Humphrey!" exclaimed Mrs. Pomfret, "he can think of nothing else but politics."