Undine lay silent, her hands clasped behind her head. She was plunged in one of the moods of bitter retrospection when all her past seemed like a long struggle for something she could not have, from a trip to Europe to an opera box; and when she felt sure that, as the past had been, so the future would be. And yet, as she had often told her parents, all she sought for was improvement: she honestly wanted the best.
Her first struggle—after she had ceased to scream for candy or sulk for a new toy—had been to get away from Apex in summer. Her summers, as she looked back on them, seemed to typify all that was dreariest and most exasperating in her life. The earliest had been spent in the yellow “frame” cottage where she had hung on the fence, kicking her toes against the broken palings and exchanging moist chewing gum and half-eaten apples with Indiana Frusk. Later on, she had returned from her boarding school to the comparative gentility of summer vacations at the Mealey House, whither her parents, forsaking their squalid suburb, had moved in the first flush of their rising fortunes. The tessellated floors, the plush parlours and organ-like radiators of the Mealey House had, aside from their intrinsic elegance, the immense advantage of lifting the Spraggs high above the Frusks, and making it possible for Undine, when she met Indiana in the street or at school, to chill her advances by a careless allusion to the splendors of hotel life. But even in such a setting, and in spite of the social superiority it implied, the long months of the middle western summer, fly-blown, torrid, exhaling stale odors, soon became as insufferable as they had been in the little yellow house. At school Undine met other girls whose parents took them to the Great Lakes for August; some even went to California, others—oh bliss ineffable!—went “east.”
Pale and listless under the stifling boredom of the Mealey House routine, Undine secretly sucked lemons, nibbled slate pencils, and drank pints of bitter coffee to aggravate her look of ill-health; and when she learned that even Indiana Frusk was to go on a month’s visit to Buffalo, it needed no artificial aids to emphasize the ravages of envy. Her parents, alarmed by her appearance, were at last convinced of the necessity of change, and timidly, tentatively, they transferred themselves for a month to a staring hotel on a glaring lake.
There Undine enjoyed the satisfaction of sending ironic postcards to Indiana and discovering that she could more than hold her own against the youth and beauty of the other visitors. Then she made the acquaintance of a pretty woman from Richmond whose husband, a mining engineer, had brought her west with him while he inspected the newly developed Eubaw mines; and the Southern visitor’s dismay, her repugnances, her recoil from the faces, the food, the amusements, the general bareness and stridency of the scene, were a terrible initiation to Undine. There was something still better beyond, then—more luxurious, more exciting, more worthy of her! She once said to herself, afterward, that it was always her fate to find out just too late about the “something beyond.” But in this case it was not too late—and obstinately, inflexibly, she set herself to the task of forcing her parents to take her “east” the next summer.
Canadian subscribers add $10; All other international subscribers add $40.