The Breaking Point
JUST how Leslie Ward had drifted into his innocuous affair with the star of "The
Valley" he was not certain himself. Innocuous it certainly was. Afterwards, looking
back, he was to wonder sometimes if it had not been precisely for the purpose it
served. But that was long months after. Not until the pattern was completed and
he was able to recognize his own work in it.
The truth was that he was not too happy at home. Nina's smart little house on the
Ridgely Road had at first kept her busy. She had spent unlimited time with
decorators, had studied and rejected innumerable water-color sketches of
interiors, had haunted auction rooms and bid recklessly on things she felt at the
moment she could not do without, later on to have to wheedle Leslie into
straightening her bank balance. Thought, too, and considerable energy had gone
into training and outfitting her servants, and still more into inducing them to wear
the expensive uniforms and livery she provided.
But what she made, so successfully, was a house rather than a home. There
were times, indeed, when Leslie began to feel that it was not even a house, but a
small hotel. They almost never dined alone, and when they did Nina would
explain that everybody was tied up. Then, after dinner, restlessness would seize
her, and she would want to run in to the theater, or to make a call. If he refused,
she nursed a grievance all evening.
And he did not like her friends. Things came to a point where, when he knew one
of the gay evenings was on, he would stay in town, playing billiards at his club, or
occasionally wandering into a theater, where he stood or sat at the back of the
house and watched the play with cynical, discontented eyes.
The casual meeting with Gregory and the introduction to his sister brought a new
interest. Perhaps the very novelty was what first attracted him, the oddity of
feeling that he was on terms of friendship, for it amounted to that with surprising
quickness, with a famous woman, whose face smiled out at him from his morning
paper or, huge and shockingly colored, from the sheets on the bill boards.
He formed the habit of calling on her in the afternoons at her hotel, and he saw
that she liked it. It was often lonely, she explained. He sent her flowers and
cigarettes, and he found her poised and restful, and sometimes, when she was
off guard, with the lines of old suffering in her face.
She sat still. She didn't fidget, as Nina did. She listened, too. She was not as
beautiful as she appeared on the stage, but she was attractive, and he stilled his
conscience with the knowledge that she placed no undue emphasis on his visits.
In her world men came and went, brought or sent small tribute, and she was
pleased and grateful. No more. The next week, or the week after, and other men
in other places would be doing the same things.