The gay and fashionable crowd of which Audrey had been the center played
madly that winter. The short six weeks of the season were already close to an
end. By mid-January the south and California would have claimed most of the
women and some of the men. There were a few, of course, who saw the
inevitable catastrophe: the Mackenzies had laid up their house-boat on the west
coast of Florida. Denis Nolan had let his little place at Pinehurst. The advance
wave of the war tide, the increased cost of living, had sobered and made
thoughtful the middle class, but above in the great businesses, and below among
the laboring people, money was plentiful and extravagance ran riot.
And Audrey Valentine's world missed her. It refused to accept her poverty as an
excuse, and clamored for her. It wanted her to sit again at a piano, somewhere,
anywhere, with a lighted cigaret on the music-rack, and sing her husky, naive
little songs. It wanted her cool audacity. It wanted her for week-end parties and
bridge, and to canter on frosty mornings on its best horses and make slaves of
the park policemen, so that she might jump forbidden fences. It wanted to see
her oust its grinning chauffeurs, and drive its best cars at their best speed.
Audrey Valentine leading a cloistered life! Impossible! Selfish!
And Audrey was not cut out for solitude. She did not mind poverty. She found it
rather a relief to acknowledge what had always been the fact. But she did mind
loneliness. And her idea of making herself over into something useful was not
working out particularly well. She spent two hours a day, at a down-town school,
struggling with shorthand, and her writing-table was always littered with papers
covered with queer hooks and curves, or with typed sheets beginning:
"Messrs Smitk and Co.,: Dear Sirs."
Clayton Spencer met her late in December, walking feverishly along with a book
under her arm, and a half-desperate look in her eyes. He felt a little thrill when he
saw her, which should have warned him but did not.
She did not even greet him. She stopped and held out her book to him.
"Take it!" she said. "I've thrown it away twice, and two wretched men have run
after me and brought it back."
He took it and glanced at it.
"Spelling! Can't you spell?"
"Certainly I can spell," she said with dignity. "I'm a very good speller. Clay, there
isn't an "i" in business, is there?"
"It is generally considered necessary to have two pretty good eyes in business."
But he saw then that she was really rather despairing. "There is, one 'i,'" he said.
"It seems foolish, doesn't it? Audrey dear, what are you trying to do? For
heaven's sake, if it's money?"
"It isn't that. I have enough. Honestly, Clay, I just had some sort of an idea that I'd
been playing long enough. But I'm only good for play. That man this morning said
as much, when we fussed about my spelling. He said I'd better write a