An American Tragedy Chapter 22

The wonder and delight of a new and more intimate form of contact, of protest gainsaid, of scruples overcome! Days, when both, having struggled in vain against the greater intimacy which each knew that the other was desirous of yielding to, and eventually so yielding, looked forward to the approaching night with an eagerness which was as a fever embodying a fear. For with what qualms—what protests on the part of Roberta; what determination, yet not without a sense of evil—seduction—betrayal, on the part of Clyde. Yet the thing once done, a wild convulsive pleasure motivating both. Yet, not without, before all this, an exaction on the part of Roberta to the effect that never—come what might (the natural consequences of so wild an intimacy strong in her thoughts) would he desert her, since without his aid she would be helpless. Yet, with no direct statement as to marriage. And he, so completely overcome and swayed by his desire, thoughtlessly protesting that he never would—never. She might depend on that, at least, although even then there was no thought in his mind of marriage. He would not do that. Yet nights and nights—all scruples for the time being abandoned, and however much by day Roberta might brood and condemn herself—when each yielded to the other completely. And dreamed thereafter, recklessly and wildly, of the joy of it—wishing from day to day for the time being that the long day might end—that the concealing, rewarding feverish night were at hand.

And Clyde feeling, and not unlike Roberta, who was firmly and even painfully convinced of it, that this was sin—deadly, mortal—since both his mother and father had so often emphasized that—the seducer—adulterer—who preys outside the sacred precincts of marriage. And Roberta, peering nervously into the blank future, wondering what—how, in any case, by any chance, Clyde should change, or fail her. Yet the night returning, her mood once more veering, and she as well as he hurrying to meet somewhere—only later, in the silence of the middle night, to slip into this unlighted room which was proving so much more of a Paradise than either might ever know again—so wild and unrecapturable is the fever of youth.

And—at times—and despite all his other doubts and fears, Clyde, because of this sudden abandonment by Roberta of herself to his desires, feeling for the first time, really, in all his feverish years, that at last he was a man of the world—one who was truly beginning to know women. And so taking to himself an air or manner that said as plainly as might have any words—“Behold I am no longer the inexperienced, neglected simpleton of but a few weeks ago, but an individual of import now—some one who knows something about life. What have any of these strutting young men, and gay, coaxing, flirting girls all about me, that I have not? And if I chose—were less loyal than I am—what might I not do?” And this was proving to him that the notion which Hortense Briggs, to say nothing of the more recent fiasco in connection with Rita had tended to build up in his mind, i.e.,—that he was either unsuccessful or ill-fated where girls were concerned was false. He was after all and despite various failures and inhibitions a youth of the Don Juan or Lothario stripe.

And if now Roberta was obviously willing to sacrifice herself for him in this fashion, must there not be others?

And this, in spite of the present indifference of the Griffiths, caused him to walk with even more of an air than had hitherto characterized him. Even though neither they nor any of those connected with them recognized him, still he looked at himself in his mirror from time to time with an assurance and admiration which before this he had never possessed. For now Roberta, feeling that her future was really dependent on his will and whim, had set herself to flatter him almost constantly, to be as obliging and convenient to him as possible. Indeed, according to her notion of the proper order of life, she was now his and his only, as much as any wife is ever to a husband, to do with as he wished.

And for a time therefore, Clyde forgot his rather neglected state here and was content to devote himself to her without thinking much of the future. The one thing that did trouble him at times was the thought that possibly, in connection with the original fear she had expressed to him, something might go wrong, which, considering her exclusive devotion to him, might prove embarrassing. At the same time he did not trouble to speculate too deeply as to that. He had Roberta now. These relations, in so far as either of them could see, or guess, were a dark secret. The pleasures of this left-handed honeymoon were at full tide. And the remaining brisk and often sunshiny and warm November and first December days passed—as in a dream, really—an ecstatic paradise of sorts in the very center of a humdrum conventional and petty and underpaid work-a-day world.

In the meantime the Griffiths had been away from the city since the middle of June and ever since their departure Clyde had been meditating upon them and all they represented in his life and that of the city. Their great house closed and silent, except for gardeners and an occasional chauffeur or servant visible as he walked from time to time past the place, was the same as a shrine to him, nearly—the symbol of that height to which by some turn of fate he might still hope to attain. For he had never quite been able to expel from his mind the thought that his future must in some way be identified with the grandeur that was here laid out before him.

Yet so far as the movements of the Griffiths family and their social peers outside Lycurgus were concerned, he knew little other than that which from time to time he had read in the society columns of the two local papers which almost obsequiously pictured the comings and goings of all those who were connected with the more important families of the city. At times, after reading these accounts he had pictured to himself, even when he was off somewhere with Roberta at some unheralded resort, Gilbert Griffiths racing in his big car, Bella, Bertine and Sondra dancing, canoeing in the moonlight, playing tennis, riding at some of the smart resorts where they were reported to be. The thing had had a bite and ache for him that was almost unendurable and had lit up for him at times and with overwhelming clarity this connection of his with Roberta. For after all, who was she? A factory girl! The daughter of parents who lived and worked on a farm and one who was compelled to work for her own living. Whereas he—he—if fortune would but favor him a little—! Was this to be the end of all his dreams in connection with his perspective superior life here?

So it was that at moments and in his darker moods, and especially after she had abandoned herself to him, his thoughts ran. She was not of his station, really—at least not of that of the Griffiths to which still he most eagerly aspired. Yet at the same time, whatever the mood generated by such items as he read in The Star, he would still return to Roberta, picturing her, since the other mood which had drawn him to her had by no means palled as yet, as delightful, precious, exceedingly worth-while from the point of view of beauty, pleasure, sweetness—the attributes and charms which best identify any object of delight.

But the Griffiths and their friends having returned to the city, and Lycurgus once more taken on that brisk, industrial and social mood which invariably characterized it for at least seven months in the year, he was again, and even more vigorously than before, intrigued by it. The beauty of the various houses along Wykeagy Avenue and its immediate tributaries! The unusual and intriguing sense of movement and life there so much in evidence. Oh, if he were but of it!