FICTION

This Is Cintha

The story of a girl everyone loved, and a crayon that was a deadlier weapon than the artist knew

RUTH BURR SANBORN October 1 1939
FICTION

This Is Cintha

The story of a girl everyone loved, and a crayon that was a deadlier weapon than the artist knew

RUTH BURR SANBORN October 1 1939

This Is Cintha

FICTION

The story of a girl everyone loved, and a crayon that was a deadlier weapon than the artist knew

RUTH BURR SANBORN

VICKERY stopped in the path outside the kitchen window, hunching his shoulders against the wind. Inside he could see Cintha. Cintha was standing at the table beating eggs in a blue bowl; the light came down on top of her head and set the red curls blazing. Under the whiteness of the light her features had an almost frightening clarity, small and pure; she had a brave mouth and laughing lashes. The breath thickened in Vickery’s throat. He loved Cintha so much.

The kitchen was full of Carvens. Life always centred where Cintha was. It struck Vickery how seldom it was that he ever saw her alone. The window was open a crack at the top, and the red curtain blew. He could hear snatches of the talk.

Joel was the oldest—fifteen; Cintha had been his age when her mother died. “But I won't go if I can t have white pants,” Joel was saying. “All the fellows have white pants. They’re sending their girls flowers. I’ve only got ten cents.”

The twins burst in with weather in their cheeks and their taffy hair rough with wind. “Cintha,” they cried. “Can we ask Bub and Beedy over for supper? Their father’s sick.”

April perched on a high stool beside the table. April was six, with a bubble of pink curls. Of all the Carven children she was most like Cintha. She made Vickery think of new birch leaves and pear blossom. “Please,” she said passionately, “let me lick the beater.”

Professor Carven stuck his head in the kitchen door. He was a frail, delicious person, with humorous eyes behind slipping nose glasses and a ribald shock ol white hair above a scholar's brow. “My dear,” he said, “did you lind time to correct those quiz papers?”

Cintha answered them all together. “The papers are on your desk, dad. Don't flunk Kím McCool until I’ve seen you. There are mitigating circumstances.” Her father grinned; the mitigating circumstances were an old joke; when he shut the door there was the feel of remembered laughter in the room. “I’ll find some pants, Joel. I'll make a forget-me-not corsage out of the flowerpot, and you can give the telegraph boy ten cents to deliver it . . . Let me see; six of us, and Mr. Standard; if you ask Bub and Beedy, you’ll have to make two more salads; look in the icebox and you’ll see how . . . Heres the beater, April. Don’t cut off your tongue.”

It was always like that, Vickery thought. A thousand things for Cintha to do at once. She kx>kcd tired tonight, the shadows under her eyes were not all lashes. It wasn t fair for him to bring herbis trouble too. But not to tell her about Ted Kinder was to admit how different things had been since Breen Standard came. The heavier trouble that lay sodden at the bottom of his mind he did not even acknowledge. That was the thought of Breen Standard himself. He opencxi the door and went in.

Cintha stuck her thumb in her mouth to see if the meringue was sweet enough. “I lello, Vickery.”

“Hello, everybody,” said Vickery. What s that, April?”

“Frostin’,” said April. “Want a lick?” He scooped the warm pink bundle off the stool and set her on his knee. He lapped a bar gravely and got meringue on his nose. April wiped it off with a small pink handkerchief. “Good?” she said.

“M-m-m,” said Vickery. “Is that what you’re going to have for supper?”

“Dinner,” April corrected him. bobbing her bright head “It’s for Mr. Standard, but we’re all going to have some. Cintha, ask Vickery to stay and have some too.”

“Won't you stay?” said Cintha.

“Thanks.” said Vickery. “I don’t w'ant to take anything that belongs to Mr. Standard.” He could not quite help that.

“There’s plenty," said Cintha hurriedly. “I can serve it small.” Her cheeks were hot from beating the eggs so long. “Vickery, have you got some white pants?”

“Ducks,” said Vickery. “There’s a hole in the seat.’

“If I mend them,” said Cintha, “and let them out again where I take them in. will you lend them to Joel for his school dance?”

“Sure,” said Vickery.

“Maybe Mr. Standard would have some,” said Joel tentatively.

“Not in the winter,” said Cintha.

“They would lack unity,” said Vickery dryly. He ought not to have allowed himself that. But it was fair enough. Unity. Symmetry. Harmony. They were Breen Standard’s words. He used them a whit too often. Breen Standard was a famous illustrator. The lecture series he was giving at the college, where Dr. Carven was Professor of Biblical Literature and Vickery was an instructor in science, was a feather in the academic hat. He was staying with the Carvens.

“Don’t you have enough to do,” Vickery broke out irritably, “without taking boarders?”

“One more doesn’t make much difference.” "Difference!” said Vickery.

JOEL drifted away when the white pants were settled.

The twins went to ask Bub and Beedy Lander to supper. “Draw cold water over the beater," Cintha said to April, "and then run up and wash the frosting off your ears.” She turned to Vickery when the door closed. “What’s the matter?” It was like Cintha to know that he was troubled.

“Ted Lander,” Vickery said directly. Lander was in the chemistry department too; they were friends. Vickery said, with difficulty: “There was an explosion. He was hurt.” Cintha said instantly: “You might have been there too.” And then: “Was it bad?”

“Bad,” Vickery agreed. “They say he’ll live. But he can’t teach again this year.”

“They’ll save his place,” Cintha said quickly.

“Yes,” said Vickery grimly. “Without pay.” He hesitated, and added: “Grace is with him at the hospital. She’s distracted.”

“I know,” said Cintha. “It’s hard that it happened now.” That was one of the nice things about Cintha; you didn't have to say everything out in words. That the Landers were not happy. That Grace was seeing too much of their lodger. That some would say Ted had tried to kill himself. Vickery didn’t believe it. But Cintha’s unbelief was comforting.

She lifted a cover and stirred the soup. “I can keep the children for a while,” she decided. “Maybe it will be best in the end. We’ll have to raise money somehow.” It sounded simple, the way she said it. She shook flour in a pan and watched it brown. “We’ll have an amateur night,” she decided. “There’s a lot of local talent. We’ll ask a dollar apiece and maybe have five hundred. We’ll turn the money in to the college, and have it paid out from there; then it won’t hurt the Landers’ feelings.”

Vickery was conscious of relief so great that it untwisted his muscles; he dropped down on the stool he had just left. Difficulties always smoothed out under Cintha’s fingers. Things had seemed hopeless when lie came. Now they were not hopeless. Ted and Grace would be all right. His relief went deeper than the Landers’ problem. It touched a fear he had not shaped in words. Cintha was just the same. She had not changed. Breen Standard would go away the fust of the month. He and Cintha . . .He pressed his palms together between las knees, aware of a faint inner trembling.

“We’ll have it the thirtieth,” Cintha was saying.

“That doesn’t give us much time.”

She came and stood before him. Her hair was fire, and the fire was reflected in lier eyes. “When Breen goes back to New York,” she said, “he wants me to go with him.” Vickery's whole world crashed about him. He had the wild thought that now he knew how Ted felt in the moment of the explosion. There was too much light, and then there was too much darkness, and he was deafened by great sound and the air was full of the flying splinters of dreams. He put up his hands to push the splinters away. His hands made a clear space for his words. “You mean he wants to marry you?” he said.

Cintha did not answer him directly. “He says I'm a picture,” she told him “He says”—faintly amused— “that I’m a magazine cover. He says my head—”

“Your head!” said Vickery violently.

The kitchen was hot, and the windows were steamy from the heat; Vickery’s eyes were steamy too. Cintha’s bright head blurred before him. 1 le saw her more by memory than by sight: the sweet curve of the shoulder, and the little lovely lift of breast under the thin dress.

“He says he can use me quite a lot himself,” said Cintha. “I haven’t a doubt of it.” said Vickery.

“He says the pay is good.”

“And what about your family?” said Vickery.

“It will be wonderful for them, won't it?” said Cintha. “They can have a really good housekeeper. They can have a furnace, and shingle the house and paper the living room, and father can have those books he wanted, and Joel can have some white pants, and all the children can have winter coats.”

He was puzzled by her answer. Was it possible that she believed these things could make up to them for—Cintha? Cintha was everything: warmth and light. He skipped over the things he might have said. “Are you going?” he asked. “I haven’t quite decided,” said Cintha They heard Breen Standard coming down the stairs.

Vickery stayed for dinner after all, so they could lay plans. They had to be careful before the children.

“What caused the upsy-daisy anyhow?” Breen Standard asked.

“Nobody knows,” said Vickery shortly.

“Grace Lander is a very pretty woman,” said Breen with intention.

“Grace Lander is my mother’s name,” piped Beedy.

“And she is a very pretty woman,”

Breen repeated.

“That’s what my father says,” said Bub stolidly.

“Dinner’s waiting,” said Cintha.

Vickery thought afterward that it was right then that the idea first trickled across his mind.

The table looked pretty. Cintha had used her Grandmother Carven’s china, and there were candles in blue holders and the pot of forget-me-nots; the tablecloth was so beautifully darned that you could not see the darning. And yet somehow when Breen Standard strolled in to take his place at Cintha’s right, he threw the room out of proportion. You saw the dime-store candle holders, grotesque with the old china; there were not soup spoons enough to go round. You saw the faded curtains and the worn rug; the open fire made Dr. Carven’s end of the room hot and Cintha’s cold; the distempered place from the leak in the roof had a premonitory bulge. Breen Standard always changed a room when he came into it.

He changed the people too. The children were quieter. Dr. Carven’s face wore the closed look it had when he was puzzled; he held a fork poised in air, forgetting his intention. Joel was taking note of Breen’s clothes—the rough ish, tweed ish cloth, so carefully casual, the subtle harmonies of tie and socks. Sometimes Vickery wondered if the example was good for Joel. He caught himself straightening his own tie. Cintha had changed the most.

Cintha had put on last summer's blue muslin and tied up her hair with a ribbon. Vickery was sorry she had done it. 11 brought back too poignantly that day at Farragut’s Head. They had drivën up the coast in Vickery’s rattling car. It had been their day : the blue and the gold of it, and the white of the clouds and the foam. They picnicked on the rocks, and strange flowers bloomed in spray at their feet.

Cintha’s hair lay straight behind her on the wind, pointing the pure line of cheek and brow; her eyes were the color of the brown pools in the rocks where the sun reached into them.

Vickery kissed Cintha that day. Not wildly, matching his desire, but tenderly and solemnly. After an instant Cintha kissed him back, and he felt the warm sweet shape of her in his arms. Vickery had not asked Cintha to marry him. It had not even seemed needful. They could not marry till he got his raise. But to him the kiss was a promise. Vickery had thought that the kiss meant the same to Cintha that it meant to him.

Today the kiss was only a kiss and no promise at all. Vickery wondered if Breen Standard had kissed Cintha too. Just before supper, he decided.

She had the look of it. The weariness was gone. Cintha was excited that night. It showed in the flush of her cheeks and the shine of her eyes, the quickness of her motions and her speech. There was a note in her voice that Vickery had never heard, a taut expectancy. Excitement illuminated Cintha. Vickery had never seen her more beautiful. But he missed in her a lovely quiet quality of

peace.

It was then, in that moment of realization, that Vickery saw them both, himself and Breen Standard, as they would look to Cintha. There was a splendor about Breen that was more of bearing than of feature; the face was a shade too sharply pointed, too thinly whetted on a blade too keen but the intelligent eyes, the merry mocking mouth, had a demanding charm. Even the hands held you, narrow clever hands, with fingertips delicately turned. There was

no pity in those hands. But there was magic. Breen Standard had the gift of carrying his setting with him. You saw not only the man himself, but the magnificence of his background—people and praise and power, witty talk and knowing laughter, the glitter and softness of easy living, the noise and the glamour of cities. All these things he could give Cintha. He could give her freedom and security. Vickery doubted his right to take them away, even if he could. He wondered if Breen—loved her.

In comparison, Vickery seemed as dim a person as the reflection in the streaked mirror over the mantel. He had never fancied himself a handsome man. Now he saw himself all tones and jutting angles and tossed tow hair, with the gaunt eagerness of a scholar in grey eyes too deeply set and a mouth too finely chiselled by denial. His hands were marked with acid stains. His neat blue classroom suit reflected the gleam of candles. It came to him for the first time that perhaps it always would. Teaching had seemed to him a brave thing: passing on the fire and sword of knowledge to young minds still unglazed. There had been splendor in the thought that his experiments would add to the sum of human learning. Now the splendor dimmed. At best there would be a monograph in a scientific journal. At worst, an explosion like Ted’s. The thought drew him up with a round turn. What had he to offer Cintha more than Ted had offered Grace? A narrow life in a narrow town, bounded by a decent shabbiness; too many faculty teas, and too many academic dinners, and other people’s troubles and their own.

And love, he thought suddenly. He thought: If she

really loved him, I could make myself be glad.

VJL 7E’LL have Miss Caldron sing,” Cintha was saying ** eagerly. Cintha had an enormous capacity U r eagerness. It was one of the loveliest things about her “Do what?” said Breen politely.

“Sing,” said Cintha. “You know she’s choir leader.” “So?” said Breen. His tone was a definitive comment on the singing of Miss Caldron.

“I want a magician.” said April intensely.

“Mr. Trepenny can do tricks.” said Joel. “That one where he takes the tennis balls out of his ears is pretty good when it works.”

“He’s quite a trick himself,” said Breen.

“We ought to have dances.” said Cintha. “How about Miss Bumpbrey? Maybe she’ll give us an exhibition of aesthetic dancing.”

“Exhibition!” murmured Breen

“She’s very graceful,” said Cintha. “It isn’t her fault that she’s put on weight.”

“Whose fault is it?” said Breen.

“Linda Fenn would do tap dancing. She’s so pretty it doesn’t matter if she can’t dance very well.”

“Why not have her just be pretty?” said Breen. “Or do some exhibition petting?”

“The Glee Club,” sa;d Vickery loudly.

“Mosses.” said Professor Carven. laying down his fork. “Tillingwist has a beautiful collection.”

“Mosses!” said Breen. “How appropriate!”

It was always like that. The things that Breen Standard touched grew smaller and less shapely. Vickery could not bear the thought of having that happen to Cintha. Yet he felt somehow that it would. Breen could give her great

things; he could never forget the giving. 'Die idea rushed full on Vickery.

“And what are you going to do?” Breen was asking her.

“I’m going to look after the performers and the date and the hall and the tickets and the posters and the punch and the other oddments.”

“And why should you do all that?” said Breen.

“Somebody has to,” said Cintha. “And I haven’t any other talents.”

“You have a talent for being yourself,” said Preen.

“Everyone has that,” said Cintha carelessly.

“No,” said Breen. “You don't half know the self you might be. But I could show you.”

That was what decided Vickery. Because it was true, lie leaned forward abruptly. “I understand,” he said, “that you do sketches—portraits. Awfully clever. Would you do that the night of the performance?”

“Why should I?” said Breen lazily.

“Because Cintha’s going to ask you,” said Vickery dryly.

Cintha was leaning forward too. There was a quality of light in Cintha’s eyes that had nothing to do with color. A golden look, Breen called it. “Will you?" she said breathlessly.

“I don't usually do parlor tricks,” said Breen.

“This is a good cause.”

“It would be rather fun for you, wouldn’t it?” said Vickery deliberately.

“It might be, at that,” said Breen. He spoke slowly, savoring the thought.

“Will you?” Cintha repeated.

“I will.” said Breen, “if you’ll make it worth my while.” He was laughing, but he meant it too.

“And what would make it worth your while?” said Cintha.

“You,” said Breen Standard.

\ MCKEE Y was moving the piano when Cintha and ^ Breen came in. The Town Hall looked pretty, trimmed with cast-off Christmas trees and a frieze of icicles; the stage background was made of Miss Annis Peabody’s three Paisley shawls. Cintha had contrived some boxes with borrowed chairs and the red velvet choir curtains. The effect was good. Vickery knew' Cintha and Breen were coming, by the turning of the heads. He jumped down from the platform.

There had been trouble with the footlights, and Vickery had had to craw'l under the stage to repair them. He was aware, hurrying down the aisle, that his appearance was not all it had been. There was a rift across his shirt front,

and w'hite patches on his knees; his collar felt soft. When he pushed back his hair, a cobweb stuck to his fingers. He whipped out his handkerchief and wiped his hands. Washing, he saw, would have been better. He stopped stock-still, facing Cintha, clutching the handkerchief. He drew a breath that snagged against his ribs.

“Cintha,” he said, “is it really you?"

“Who else?” said Cintha.

“What did I tell you?” said Breen complacently. He looked dark and dangerous and derisive. There was the pride of creation on him.

Vickery had known about the dress, of course. Breen said very offhand that he had an old piece of gold brocade kicking round the studio; it looked startlingly new' when it came. Cintha made the dress evenings, by a pattern that mysteriously came too. Vickery had watched the shimmering stuff with faint misgiving, as if Cintha were sewing up a dream. But he had never once imagined that it would be like this.

The gown was molten, newly poured, and it lay in a puddle of train about her feet. The fullness was gathered under the breasts and dragged back tight; below, the clinging fabric had the subtlety of brush strokes, sweeping down from the childish waist to the tips of gold sandals. There were antique gold rings with fringes in her ears. Property jew'els, Breen called them. They lengthened and pointed her face, so that below the woman’s mouth you saw the pixie’s chin, above the grave eyes the wondering arch of brows. She carried her head high. The point of hair at the temple, the pale crescent above the ear. brought back the day at Farragut again. So the wind had laid her hair back, soft and roughened. Now it was as smooth and burnished as a red-gold saga helm. There was a formal pattern of curls at the crown. Against the shine of her hair and the shine of her gown, Cintha’s skin had a luminous quality, like pearl shell or petal bloom. She was a new Cintha, tall and tense. She looked dazzling—and dazzled. Vickery guessed right then that the plan would never work.

“Miss Caldron’s going to have hysterics.” he blurted.

Cintha snatched up her train. “I must go,” she said.

“Nonsense,” said Preen. His fingers closed tight on her arm, commanding her.

“She’ll scream,” said Cintha.

“Let her scream,” said Breen. And to Vickery : “Tell her if she’ll put on a screaming act, I’ll contribute fifty dollars.”

Cintha gasjîcd at Breen’s generosity. But Vickery said simply, “She wants you, Cintha.”

“Of course she wants her,” said Breen impatiently. "Everybody wants Cintha. Everybody can’t have her.”

“True,” said Vickery.

For an instant their looks crossed, as cold and bare as blades. Under the blades the truth lay beating. The moment passed. Cintha and Breen were walking down the aisle to their box. And heads were turning. And Vickery was alone.

THE amateur night’s performance was no better and little worse than most things of its kind. The audience was tolerant, applauding the intention, not the act. Vickery did not look much at the stage. He was watching Breen’s high head bending down to Cintha, the shape of Cintha’s shoulder against Breen’s coat. He knew the comments Breen would make: something about hysterics when Miss Caldron flatted her high note; something about balls and sockets when Mr. Trepenny’s trick went wrong; when the hall vibrated to the rhythms of Miss Humphrey, something about palpitation —maybe a heart attack. People close by heard the comments; they spread over the hall like ripples on a pond. People began to take their cue from Breen, laughing when he laughed, proving their critical taste. The last note of the Glee Club tolled like a bell. 11 was time for Breen Standard ’s sketches.

“With your permission,” Breen said. “I will choose my own subjects.”

Vickery took Breen's empty seat beside Cintha. He had to be close to Cintha while he wratched.

Breen worked swiftly, positively. The figures rose, miraculous, on the easel, and took compelling form. They were quick, crude pastel sketches but he drew with perception and fidelity. And he drew the one line too much which changed the whole. He drew Miss Caldron, tiptoe to her high note, with corkscrew curls shaken awry to show scars where her face was lifted. He drew Linda Fenn with an angel's brow, and the smudge of any man’s kisses on her mouth. He drew Miss Bumphrey. a song of grace, and the outlines blurred with the shake of flesh. He drew old Tillingwist with lichens on his shoulders. He worked with a pitiless dexterity. He pinned the portraits to the shawls. Vickery wondered what Miss Annis Peabody would say about the pin holes.

Cintha stirred beside him, and Vickery turned. “IIe’3 clever, isn’t he?” she whispered softly.

Vickery knew then that it was no use. He had thought . . . What had he thought exactly? That Breen would betray himself. That he would show qualities that Cintha could not love. It was Vickery who was betrayed. Breen was too clever.

“Too clever.” said Vickery.

The backgrounds were the cleverest of all. Breen posed his subjects against the Paisley shawls, reproducing the shifting colors, the intricate designs. It was only when he had finished that you saw' he had not painted shawls, but lives. Miss Caldron’s background was hysterical, with a fringe of grace notes hanging down their tails. Linda Fenn s was erotic. Miss Bumphrey’s was w'hipped cream with a border of chocolate cakes. Vickery glanced again at Cintha. Cintha was so rapt that she did not sense his movement. You saw, he realized, what you looked for. Cintha saw Breen’s cleverness without his cruelty. She loves him, then, he thought.

He heard his own name called.

Vickery stood very still against the shaw'l where Breen had placed him. He had known this was coming. It did not make it easier not to straighten his tie, not to feel for cobwebs in his hair. It did not make it easier to see the small half smile with which Breen watched his work. Vickery looked past him toward the audience. That helped. The footlights blazed in his eyes, and he could not see Cintha. But he knew where she was. He stood staring at Cintha in the dark.

“Miss Cintha Carven,” Breen was calling.

Vickery was back in the empty box, and Cintha was standing where he had stood and Breen Standard was painting her. She stood tall, with her head high, and the gold gown running down her body. She was looking straight at Breen. Vickery could not bear the sweet, reckless acceptance in her face. He looked at his own picture.

Vickery’s picture looked unnaturally tall and thin. The shawls made three panels, and the middle panel was done narrow and shrunken. It was the likeness of a narrow life, crowded with small, misshapen details, and an academic procession for a border, treading gravely on its own heels in endless round-and-roundness. There was a loose-leaf notebook in Vickery’s hands, and the loose leaves were falling. They blew into the side panels, exploding in puffs of dream—torches grown dim and the blunted swords of knowledge. So much Vickery had expected. What he had not expected was the face. Breen Standard had caught him in that unguarded moment when he looked down at Cintha. It was all there—the shadowed mouth and the shadowed eyes, lost and lonely, without pride, forever possessed. Breen had drawn that look with a horrible fidelity. He had drawn naked love. Vickery put his head down in his hands.

When he looked again, Breen was just finishing the picture of Cintha. It was like Cintha, tall and golden, with her lovely eagerness; her hands lifted, palms outward, at her sides. Breen had drawn her without foreground, as if she stepped across a threshold. The background was Vickery’s in reverse. The middle panel was wide, wound in rainbow hues of pomp and glory; the narrow grey panels at the sides were dim.

“That will be all,” Breen Standard said, and pinned it up with the others.

It was over then. They were all standing up and singing the National Anthem. And then Cintha was pouring punch, and everyone was crowding round. Cintha was answering them all together, smoothing

away the awkwardness. “Yes, weren’t we fortunate? Wonderful, isn’t he? . . . The picture’s lovely, Linda. Like an angel . . . Yes, Miss Bumphrey, I like your hair better the way you do it—those soft curls around your face. Isn’t the background splendid? All those bright colors . . . Yes, we’ll get the pins right out. Miss Peabody. Just a broken thread; I can darn it so you’ll never know . .

They were thronging up to the platform then, to see the pictures closer. Vickery went with them. Cintha came last, when everyone was served. The others made way for her in unconscious homage. The footlights fell full upon her. Vickery would have known then if he had not known before. It was in her face, a clear enchantment. Vickery had glimpsed it that day at Farragut’s Head. Inis was different, because there was awareness in it. Women can onlv look iike that when they acknowledge their love.

She walked straight to Breen Standard. “May I have the picture?” she said breathlessly.

“You liked it?” said Breen. He was pleased.

“It’s beautiful,” said Cintha simply.

“I’ll get it for you,” Breen said.

Cintha was before him. She took down the picture of Vickery.

CINTHA was waiting in the car when Vickery came out. She had pulled up the gold skirt to keep it off the floor, and the collar of her old black coat was hunched about her ears. “Breen is taking the family home,” she said. “He has a heater.”

“Oh,” said Vickery. He slipped in under the wheel. “Six hundred,” he said awkwardly. “That ought to last till spring.”

“Good,” said Cintha. “In the spring we’ll have a garden party.”

“It won’t go so well, with you in New York.”

“I’m not going to New York,” said Cintha. The car jerked and stalled. “I can’t give the family so much. But I can look after them. Vickery, be careful of the picture.”

Vickery drew a roll from his pocket. It was the golden picture of Cintha. “I didn’t mean that picture,” Cintha said. “I meant mine. Where did you get that?”

“I bought it,” said Vickery. “Don’t you like it?”

“It’s pretty,” said Cintha. “But it doesn’t look like me. You know—I can’t help pitying Breen.”

“Pitying him?” said Vickery.

“He hasn’t any friends,” said Cintha sombrely. “He never will have. He’ll only have success. Vickery, what are you going to do with your picture?”

“I thought it would be nice over the mantel.” said Vickery.

“Our mantel?” said Cintha. “I was going to hang mine there.”

Vickery kissed her then. Wildly, matching his desire. Cintha kissed him back. Her hair came down and blew against his face. Other cars passed and were gone, and the snow and the stars were still. Cintha was still in Vickery’s arms. When she spoke, the words were warm with breath against his lips.

“Is this heaven?” said Cintha.

“Yes,” said Vickery. “This is Cintha.“