The Price of
Romance by Robert Herrick
They were paying the price of their romance, and the question was
whether they would pay it cheerfully. They had been married a couple of
years, and the first flush of excitement over their passion and the
stumbling-blocks it had met was fading away. When he, an untried young
lawyer and delicate dilettante, had married her she was a Miss Benton,
of St. Louis, "niece of Oliphant, that queer old fellow who made his
money in the Tobacco Trust," and hence with no end of prospects.
Edwards had been a pleasant enough fellow, and Oliphant had not
objected to his loafing away a vacation about the old house at Quogue.
Marriage with his niece, the one remaining member of his family who
walked the path that pleased him, was another thing. She had plenty of
warning. Had he not sent his only son adrift as a beggar because he had
married a little country cousin? He could make nothing out of Edwards
except that he was not keen after business—loafed much, smoked much,
and fooled with music, possibly wrote songs at times.
Yet Miss Benton had not expected that cruel indifference when she
announced her engagement to the keen old man. For she was fond of him
"When do you think of marrying?" had been his single comment. She
guessed the unexpressed complement to that thought, "You can stay here
until that time. Then good-by."
She found in herself an admirable spirit, and her love added devotion
and faith in the future, her lover's future. So she tided over the
months of her engagement, when her uncle's displeasure settled down
like a fog over the pleasant house. Edwards would run down frequently,
but Oliphant managed to keep out of his way. It was none of his affair,
and he let them see plainly this aspect of it. Her spirit rose. She
could do as other women did, get on without candy and roses, and it
hurt her to feel that she had expected money from her uncle. She could
show him that they were above that.
So they were married and went to live in a little flat in Harlem, very
modest, to fit their income. Oliphant had bade her good-by with the
courtesy due to a tiresome Sunday visitor. "Oh, you're off, are you?"
his indifferent tones had said. "Well, good-by; I hope you will have a
good time." And that was all. Even the colored cook had said more; the
servants in general looked deplorable. Wealth goes so well with a
pretty, bright young woman!
Thus it all rested in the way they would accept the bed they had made.
Success would be ample justification. Their friends watched to see how
well they would solve the problem they had so jauntily set themselves.
Edwards was by no means a fainéant—his record at the Columbia Law
School promised better than that, and he had found a place in a large
office that might answer for the stepping-stone. As yet he had not
individualized himself; he was simply charming, especially in correct
summer costume, luxuriating in indolent conversation. He had the
well-bred, fine-featured air of so many of the graduates from our
Eastern colleges. The suspicion of effeminacy which he suggested might
be unjust, but he certainly had not experienced what Oliphant would
call "life." He had enough interest in music to dissipate in it.
Marriage was an excellent settler, though, on a possible income of
The two years had not the expected aspiring march, however; ten-dollar
cases, even, had not been plenty in Edwards's path, and he suspected
that he was not highly valued in his office. He had been compelled to
tutor a boy the second year, and the hot summers made him listless. In
short, he felt that he had missed his particular round in the ladder.
He should have studied music, or tried for the newspapers as a musical
critic. Sunday afternoons he would loll over the piano, picturing the
other life—that life which is always so alluring! His wife followed
him heroically into all his moods with that pitiful absorption such
women give to the men they love. She believed in him tremendously, if
not as a lawyer, as a man and an artist. Somehow she hadn't been an
inspiration, and for that she humbly blamed herself. How was it
accomplished, this inspiration? A loving wife inspired the ordinary
man. Why not an artist?
They got into the habit of planning their life all differently—so that
it might not be limited and futile. If they had a few thousand
dollars! That was a bad sign, and she knew it, and struggled against
it. If she could only do something to keep the pot boiling while he
worked at his music for fame and success! But she could reduce
expenses; so the one servant went, and the house-bills grew tinier and
tinier. However, they didn't "make connections," and—something was
wrong—she wondered what.
As the second summer came in they used to stroll out of their stuffy
street of an evening, up St. Nicholas Avenue, to the Park, or to the
Riverside Drive. There they would sit speechless, she in a faded blue
serge skirt with a crisp, washed-out shirtwaist, and an old sailor
hat—dark and pretty, in spite of her troubled face; he in a ready-made
black serge suit, yet very much the gentleman—pale and listless. Their
eyes would seek out any steamer in the river below, or anything else
that reminded them of other conditions. He would hum a bit from an
opera. They needed no words; their faces were evident, though mute,
indications of the tragedy. Then they would return at bed-time into the
sultry streets, where from the open windows of the flats came the
hammered music of the city. Such discordant efforts for harmony! Her
heart would fill over him, yearning like a mother to cherish him in all
the pleasant ways of life, but impotent, impotent!
She never suggested greater effort. Conditions were hard, she said over
and over; if there were only a little money to give him a start in
another direction. She admired his pride in never referring to old
Oliphant. Her uncle was often in her mind, but she felt that even if
she could bring herself to petition him, her husband would indignantly
refuse to consider the matter.
Still, she thought about it, and especially this summer, for she knew
he was then at Quogue. Moreover, she expected her first child. That
worried her daily; she saw how hopeless another complication would make
their fate. She cried over it at night when the room was too hot to
sleep. And then she reproached herself; God would punish her for not
wanting her baby.
One day she had gone down town to get some materials for the
preparations she must make. She liked to shop, for sometimes she met
old friends; this time in a large shop she happened upon a woman she
had known at Quogue, the efficient wife of a successful minister in
Brooklyn. This Mrs. Leicester invited her to lunch at the cafe at the
top of the building, and she had yielded, after a little urging, with
real relief. They sat down at a table near the window—it was so high
up there was not much noise—and the streets suddenly seemed
interesting to Mrs. Edwards. The quiet table, the pleasant lunch, and
the energetic Mrs. Leicester were all refreshing.
"And how is your husband?" Mrs. Leicester inquired, keenly. As a
minister's wife she was compelled to interest herself in sentimental
complications that inwardly bored her. It was a part of her
professional duties. She had taken in this situation at once—she had
seen that kind of thing before; it made her impatient. But she liked
the pretty little woman before her, and was sorry she hadn't managed
"Pretty well," Mrs. Edwards replied, consciously. "The heat drags one
Mrs. Leicester sent another quick glance across the table. "You haven't
been to Quogue much of late, have you? You know how poorly your uncle
"No! You must know that Uncle James doesn't see us."
"Well," Mrs. Leicester went on, hastily, "he's been quite ill and
feeble, and they say he's growing queer. He never goes away now, and
sees nobody. Most of the servants have gone. I don't believe he will
Then her worldliness struggled with her conventional position, and she
relapsed into innuendo. "He ought to have someone look after him, to
see him die decently, for he can't live beyond the autumn, and the only
person who can get in is that fat, greasy Dr. Shapless, who is after
his money for the Methodist missions. He goes down every week. I wonder
where Mr. Oliphant's son can be?"
Mrs. Edwards took in every word avidly while she ate. But she let the
conversation drift off to Quogue, their acquaintances, and the
difficulty of shopping in the summer. "Well, I must be going to get the
train," exclaimed Mrs. Leicester at last. With a sigh the young wife
rose, looked regretfully down at the remains of their liberal luncheon,
and then walked silently to the elevator. They didn't mention Oliphant
again, but there was something understood between them. Mrs. Leicester
hailed a cab; just as she gathered her parcels to make a dive, she
seemed illuminated with an idea. "Why don't you come down some
Sunday—visit us? Mr. Leicester would be delighted."
Mrs. Edwards was taken unawares, but her instincts came to her rescue.
"Why, we don't go anywhere; it's awfully kind, and I should be
delighted; I am afraid Mr. Edwards can't."
"Well," sighed Mrs. Leicester, smiling back, unappeased, "come if you
can; come alone." The cab drove off, and the young wife felt her cheeks
* * * * *
The Edwardses had never talked over Oliphant or his money explicitly.
They shrank from it; it would be a confession of defeat. There was
something abhorrently vulgar in thus lowering the pitch of their life.
They had come pretty near it often this last summer. But each feared
what the other might think. Edwards especially was nervous about the
impression it might make on his wife, if he should discuss the matter.
Mrs. Leicester's talk, however, had opened possibilities for the
imagination. So little of Uncle James's money, she mused, would make
them ideally happy—would put her husband on the road to fame. She had
almost made up her mind on a course of action, and she debated the
propriety of undertaking the affair without her husband's knowledge.
She knew that his pride would revolt from her plan. She could pocket
her own pride, but she was tender of his conscience, of his comfort, of
his sensibilities. It would be best to act at once by herself—perhaps
she would fail, anyway—and to shield him from the disagreeable and
useless knowledge and complicity. She couldn't resist throwing out some
feelers, however, at supper that night. He had come in tired and soiled
after a day's tramp collecting bills that wouldn't collect this
droughty season. She had fussed over him and coaxed a smile out, and
now they were at their simple tea.
She recounted the day's events as indifferently as possible, but her
face trembled as she described the luncheon, the talk, the news of her
uncle, and at last Mrs. Leicester's invitation. Edwards had started at
the first mention of Quogue.
"It's been in his mind," she thought, half-relieved, and his nervous
movements of assumed indifference made it easier for her to go on.
"It was kind of her, wasn't it?" she ended.
"Yes," Edwards replied, impressively. "Of course you declined."
"Oh, yes; but she seemed to expect us all the same." Edwards frowned,
but he kept an expectant silence. So she remarked, tentatively:
"It would be so pleasant to see dear old Quogue again." Her hypocrisy
made her flush. Edwards rose abruptly from the table and wandered about
the room. At length he said, in measured tones, his face averted from
"Of course, under the circumstances, we cannot visit Quogue while
your uncle lives—unless he should send for us." Thus he had put
himself plainly on record. His wife suddenly saw the folly and meanness
of her little plans.
It was hardly a disappointment; her mind felt suddenly relieved from an
unpleasant responsibility. She went to her husband, who was nervously
playing at the piano, and kissed him, almost reverently. It had been a
temptation from which he had saved her. They talked that evening a good
deal, planning what they would do if they could get over to Europe for
a year, calculating how cheaply they could go. It was an old subject.
Sometimes it kept off the blues; sometimes it indicated how blue they
were. Mrs. Edwards forgot the disturbance of the day until she was
lying wide awake in her hot bed. Then the old longings came in once
more; she saw the commonplace present growing each month more dreary;
her husband drudging away, with his hopes sinking. Suddenly he spoke:
"What made Mrs. Leicester ask us, do you suppose?" So he was thinking
of it again.
"I don't know!" she replied, vaguely. Soon his voice came again:
"You understand, Nell, that I distinctly disapprove of our making any
effort that way." She didn't think that her husband was a hypocrite.
She did not generalize when she felt deeply. But she knew that her
husband didn't want the responsibility of making any effort. Somehow
she felt that he would be glad if she should make the effort and take
the responsibility on her own shoulders.
Why had he lugged it into plain light again if he hadn't expected her
to do something? How could she accomplish it without making it
unpleasant for him? Before daylight she had it planned, and she turned
once and kissed her husband, protectingly.
* * * * *
That August morning, as she walked up the dusty road, fringed with
blossoming golden-rod, toward the little cottage of the Leicesters, she
was content, in spite of her tumultuous mind. It was all so heavenly
quiet! the thin, drooping elms, with their pendent vines, like the
waterfalls of a maiden lady; the dusty snarls of blackberry bushes; the
midsummer contented repose of the air, and that distantly murmuring
sea—it was all as she remembered it in her childhood. A gap of
disturbed years closed up, and peace once more! The old man slowly
dying up beyond in that deserted, gambrel-roofed house would Forget and
Mrs. Leicester received her effusively, anxious now not to meddle
dangerously in what promised to be a ticklish business. Mrs. Edwards
must stay as long as she would. The Sundays were especially lonely, for
Mr. Leicester did not think she should bear the heat of the city so
soon, and left her alone when he returned to Brooklyn for his Sunday
sermon. Of course, stay as long as Mr. Edwards could spare her—a
month; if possible.
At the mention of Mr. Edwards the young wife had a twinge of remorse
for the manner in which she had evaded him—her first deceit for his
sake. She had talked vaguely about visiting a friend at Moriches, and
her husband had fallen in with the idea. New York was like a finely
divided furnace, radiating heat from every tube-like street. So she was
to go for a week or ten days. Perhaps the matter would arrange itself
before that time was up; if not, she would write him what she had done.
But ten days seemed so long that she put uncomfortable thoughts out of
Mrs. Leicester showed her to her room, a pretty little box, into which
the woodbine peeped and nodded, and where from one window she could get
a glimpse of the green marshes, with the sea beyond. After chatting
awhile, her hostess went out, protesting that her guest must be too
tired to come down. Mrs. Edwards gladly accepted the excuse, ate the
luncheon the maid brought, in two bites, and then prepared to sally
She knew the path between the lush meadow-grass so well! Soon she was
at the entrance to the "Oliphant place." It was more run down than two
years ago; the lower rooms were shut up tight in massive green blinds
that reached to the warped boards of the veranda. It looked old,
neglected, sad, and weary; and she felt almost justified in her
mission. She could bring comfort and light to the dying man.
In a few minutes she was smothering the hysterical enthusiasm of her
old friend, Dinah. It was as she had expected: Oliphant had grown more
suspicious and difficult for the last two years, and had refused to see
a doctor, or, in fact, anyone but the Rev. Dr. Shapless and a country
lawyer whom he used when absolutely necessary. He hadn't left his room
for a month; Dinah had carried him the little he had seen fit to eat.
She was evidently relieved to see her old mistress once more at hand.
She asked no questions, and Mrs. Edwards knew that she would obey her
They were sitting in Oliphant's office, a small closet off the more
pretentious library, and Mrs. Edwards could see the disorder into which
the old man's papers had fallen. The confusion preceding death had
already set in.
After laying aside her hat, she went up, unannounced, to her uncle's
room, determined not to give him an opportunity to dismiss her out of
hand. He was lying with his eyes closed, so she busied herself in
putting the room to rights, in order to quiet her nerves. The air was
heavily languorous, and soon in the quiet country afternoon her
self-consciousness fell asleep, and she went dreaming over the
irresponsible past, the quiet summers, and the strange, stern old man.
Suddenly she knew that he was awake and watching her closely. She
started, but, as he said nothing, she went on with her dusting, her
He made no comment while she brought him his supper and arranged the
bed. Evidently he would accept her services. Her spirit leapt up with
the joy of success. That was the first step. She deemed it best to send
for her meagre satchel, and to take possession of her old room. In that
way she could be more completely mistress of the situation and of him.
She had had no very definite ideas of action before that afternoon; her
one desire had been to be on the field of battle, to see what could be
done, perhaps to use a few tears to soften the implacable heart. But
now her field opened out. She must keep the old man to herself, within
her own care—not that she knew specifically what good that would do,
but it was the tangible nine points of the law.
The next morning Oliphant showed more life, and while she was helping
him into his dressing-gown, he vouchsafed a few grunts, followed by a
"Is he dead yet?"
The young wife flushed with indignant protest.
"Well, we haven't starved yet." But she was cowed by his cynical
examination. He relapsed into silence; his old, bristly face assumed a
sardonic peace whenever his eyes fell upon her. She speculated about
that wicked beatitude; it made her uncomfortable. He was still,
however—never a word from morning till night.
The routine of little duties about the sickroom she performed
punctiliously. In that way she thought to put her conscience to rights,
to regard herself in the kind rôle of ministering angel. That illusion
was hard to attain in the presence of the sardonic comment the old man
seemed to add. After all, it was a vulgar grab after the candied fruits
of this life.
She had felt it necessary to explain her continued absence to her
husband. Mrs. Leicester, who did not appear to regard her actions as
unexpected, had undertaken that delicate business. Evidently, she had
handled it tactfully, for Mrs. Edwards soon received a hurried note. He
felt that she was performing her most obvious duty; he could not but be
pleased that the breach caused by him had been thus tardily healed. As
long as her uncle continued in his present extremity, she must remain.
He would run down to the Leicesters over Sundays, etc. Mrs. Edwards was
relieved; it was nice of him—more than that, delicate—not to be
stuffy over her action.
The uppermost question these days of monotonous speculation was how
long would this ebb-tide of a tenacious life flow. She took a guilty
interest in her uncle's condition, and yet she more than half wished
him to live. Sometimes he would rally. Something unfulfilled troubled
his mind, and once he even crawled downstairs. She found him shakily
puttering over the papers in his huge davenport. He asked her to make a
fire in the grate, and then, gathering up an armful of papers, he knelt
down on the brick hearth, but suddenly drew back. His deep eyes gleamed
hatefully at her. Holding out several stiff papers, he motioned to her
to burn them. Usually she would have obeyed docilely enough, but this
deviltry of merriment she resented. While she delayed, standing erect
before the smouldering sticks, she noticed that a look of terror crept
across the sick face. A spasm shook him, and he fainted. After that his
weakness kept him in bed. She wondered what he had been so anxious to
From this time her thoughts grew more specific. Just how should she
attain her ends? Had he made a will? Could he not now do something for
them, or would it be safer to bide their time? Indeed, for a few
moments she resolved to decide all by one straightforward prayer. She
began, and the old man seemed so contentedly prepared for the scene
that she remained dumb.
In this extremity of doubt she longed to get aid from her husband. Yet
under the circumstances she dared to admit so little. One Saturday
afternoon he called at the house; she was compelled to share some of
"He seems so very feeble," she remarked. They were sitting on the
veranda some distance from Oliphant's room, yet their conversation was
furtive. "Perhaps he should see a doctor or a minister."
"No, I don't think so," Edwards replied, assuringly. "You see, he
doesn't believe in either, and such things should be left to the person
himself, as long as he's in his right mind."
"And a lawyer?" Mrs. Edwards continued, probingly.
"Has he asked for one?"
"No, but he seems to find it hard to talk."
"I guess it's best not to meddle. Who's that?"
A little, fat man in baggy black trousers and a seersucker coat was
panting up the gentle hill to the gate. He had a puggy nose and a
heavy, thinly bearded face incased about the eyes in broad steel
"That must be Dr. Shapless," she said, in a flutter.
"What of it?" Edwards replied.
"He mustn't come in," she cried, with sudden energy. "You must see him,
and send him away! He wants to see Uncle Oliphant. Tell him he's too
sick—to come another day." Edwards went down the path to meet him.
Through the window she could hear a low conversation, and then crunched
gravel. Meantime Oliphant seemed restlessly alert, expectant of
something, and with suspicious eyes intent on her.
Her heart thumped with relief when the gate clicked. Edwards had been
effective that time. Oliphant was trying to say something, but the hot
August day had been too much for him—it all ended in a mumble. Then
she pulled in the blinds, settled the pillows nervously, and left the
room in sheer fright.
The fight had begun—and grimly.
* * * * *
"I wonder what the old cove wanted?" Edwards said the next day; "he was
dead set on seeing your uncle; said he had an engagement with him, and
looked me up and down. I stood him off, but he'll be down again."
"Don't you know about that new fund the Methodists are raising? Uncle
Oliphant has always helped the Methodists, and I suppose Dr. Shapless
wanted to see him about some contributions." Edwards asked no more
questions, and, in fact, got back to town on a pretext of business that
afternoon. He was clearly of no use in Quogue. His wife sent for a
physician that week. It was tardy justice to propriety, but it was safe
then, for Oliphant had given up all attempts to talk.
The doctor came, looked at the old man, and uttered a few remarks. He
would come again. Mrs. Edwards did not need to be told that the end was
near. The question was, how soon?
That week had another scare. Somehow old Slocum, the local lawyer
Oliphant used, had been summoned, and one morning she ran across him in
the hall. She knew the man well of old. He was surprised and pleased to
see her, and it was not difficult to get him out of the house without
arousing his suspicions. But he would talk so boisterously; she felt
her uncle's eyes aflame in anger.
"Be sure and send for me when he rallies, quick," Slocum whispered
loudly in the hall. "Perhaps we can do a little something for some
folks." And with a wink he went out.
Had she done the clever thing, after all, in shooing old Slocum out?
Her mind went over the possibilities in tense anxiety. If there were no
will, James, Jr., would get the whole, she thought. If there was a will
already in the house, in that old davenport, what then? Would Shapless
get the money? She grew keen in speculation. To leave her in the lurch,
to give it all to that greasy Shapless, would be the most natural trick
in the world for an incisive old fellow like Oliphant.
It was too much! She cried a little, and she began to hate the helpless
man upstairs. It occurred to her to poke about in the papers in the
adjoining room. She must do it at once, for she expected Edwards every
First she ran upstairs to see if her uncle was all right. As soon as
she entered, he glared at her bitterly and would have spoken. She noted
the effort and failure, elated. He could not betray her now, unless he
rallied wonderfully. So leaving the door ajar, she walked firmly
downstairs. Now she could satisfy her desire.
If the money were all left to Shapless? She might secure the will,
and bargain with the old parasite for a few thousands of dollars. Her
mind was full of wild schemes. If she only knew a little more about
affairs! She had heard of wills, and read many novels that turned upon
wills lost or stolen. They had always seemed to her improbable, mere
novels. Necessity was stranger than fiction.
It did not take long to find the very articles she was after; evidently
Oliphant had been overhauling them on that last excursion from his
room. The package lay where he had dropped it when he fainted. There
were two documents. She unfolded them on the top of the mussy desk.
They were hard reading in all their legal dress, and her head was
filled with fears lest her husband should walk in. She could make out,
however, that Oliphant was much richer than she had ever vaguely
supposed, and that since her departure he had relented toward his son.
For by the first will in date she was the principal heir, a lot of
queer charities coming in besides. In the second, James, Jr., received
something. Her name did not appear. Several clauses had been added from
time to time, each one giving more money and lands to the Methodists.
Probably Shapless was after another codicil when he called.
It had taken her into the twilight to gain even a meagre idea of all
this. She was preparing to fold the documents up in their common
wrapper, when she felt the door open behind her. All she could see in
the terror of the moment was the gaunt white arm of her uncle, and the
two angry eyes in the shaking head. She shrieked, from pure
nervousness, and at her cry the old man fell in a heap.
The accident steeled her nerves. Dinah came in in a panic, and as they
were lifting the bony frame from the floor Edwards arrived. With his
assistance they got the sick man to bed.
That was clearly the last gasp. Yet Mrs. Edwards shook in dread every
time she entered the room. The look seemed conscious still, intensified
malignity and despair creeping in. She was afraid and guilty and
unstrung. Perhaps, with some sudden revival of his forces, he would
kill her. He was lying there, too still for defeat. His life had been
an expression of hates; the last one might be dreadful.
Yet she stood to her post in the sick-room, afraid, as she knew, to
trust herself with her husband. Her mind was soiled with seething
thoughts, and, in contrast, his seemed so fresh and pure! If she could
keep him unsuspicious of her, all would be well in the end. But the
task she had set herself for him was hard, so hard!
That night when all was still she crept downstairs and groped about in
the davenport for the papers. They had been lying there unopened where
they had fallen earlier in the evening. She struck a match, caught up
the fresher document, and hugged it to her as she toiled upstairs. When
she had tucked it away in her satchel the end seemed near. They must
She put her husband out of her mind. Outside, the warm summer days died
away over the sea, one by one, and the grass beyond the gates grew
heavier with dust. Life was tense in its monotony.
* * * * *
That had happened on a Saturday; Monday Dr. Shapless came again, his
shoes dusty from his long walk from the station. He looked oiled as
ever, but more determined. Mrs. Edwards daringly permitted him to see
the dying man—he had been lying in a stupor—for she was afraid that
the reverend doctor's loud tones in the hall might exasperate Oliphant
to some wild act. Dr. Shapless shut her from the room when he went in,
but he did not stay long. A restless despair had settled down on her
uncle's face, there to remain for the last few hours.
Her heart sank; she longed to cry out to the poor old man on the bed
that she did not want his money. She remained with him all night, yet
she did not dare to approach his bed. She would disturb him.
He died the next afternoon, and at the last he looked out on the world
and at her with his final note of intelligence. It was pathetic, a
suggestion of past tenderness defeated, and of defeat in hate, too. She
shuddered as she closed his sad eyes; it was awful to meddle with a
man's last purposes.
The funeral was almost surreptitious; old Dinah, the Leicesters, and
the Edwardses occupied the one carriage that followed him to the
graveyard across the village. They met a hay-cart or two on their way,
but no curious neighbors. Old Oliphant's death aroused no interest in
this village, ridden with summer strangers.
The day was impersonally suave and tender, with its gentle haze and
autumn premonitions. Mr. Leicester said a few equivocal words, while
Mrs. Edwards gazed helplessly into the grave. The others fell back
behind the minister. Between her and her uncle down there something
remained unexplained, and her heart ached.
* * * * *
They spent that night at the Leicesters', for Mrs. Edwards wearily
refused to return to the Oliphant place. Edwards carried the keys over
to Slocum, and told him to take the necessary steps toward settling the
old man's affairs. The next day they returned to the little flat in
Harlem. The Leicesters found their presence awkward, now that there was
nothing to do, and Mrs. Edwards was craving to be alone with her
husband, to shut out the past month from their lives as soon as
These September days, while they both waited in secret anxiety, she
clung to him as she had never before. He was pure, the ideal she had
voluntarily given up, given up for his sake in order that he might have
complete perfection. His delicate sensitiveness kept him from referring
to that painful month, or to possible expectations. She worshipped him
the more, and was thankful for his complete ignorance. Their common
life could go on untainted and noble.
Yet Edwards betrayed his nervous anxiety. His eagerness for the mail
every morning, his early return from business, indicated his troubled
The news came at breakfast-time. Mrs. Edwards handed Slocum's letter
across the table and waited, her face wanly eager. The letter was long;
it took some half-dozen large letter-sheets for the country lawyer to
tell his news, but in the end it came. He had found the will and was
happy to say that Mrs. Edwards was a large, a very large, beneficiary.
Edwards read these closing sentences aloud. He threw down the letter
and tried to take her in his arms. But she tearfully pushed him away,
and then, repenting, clasped his knees.
"Oh, Will! it's so much, so very much," she almost sobbed.
Edwards looked as if that were not an irremediable fault in their good
luck. He said nothing. Already he was planning their future movements.
Under the circumstances neither cared to discuss their happiness, and
so they got little fun from the first bloom.
In spite of Mrs. Edwards's delicate health and her expected confinement
they decided to go abroad. She was feverishly anxious for him to begin
his real work at once, to prove himself; and it might be easier to
forget her one vicious month when the Atlantic had been crossed. They
put their affairs to rights hurriedly, and early in November sailed for
The Leicesters were at the dock to bid them God-speed and to chirrup
over their good fortune.
"It's all like a good, old-fashioned story," beamed Mrs. Leicester,
content with romance for once, now that it had arranged itself so
"Very satisfactory; quite right," the clergyman added. "We'll see you
soon in Paris. We're thinking of a gay vacation, and will let you know."
Edwards looked fatuous; his wife had an orderly smile. She was glad
when Sandy Hook sank into the mist. She had only herself to avoid now.
They took some pleasant apartments just off the Rue de Rivoli, and then
their life subsided into the complacent commonplace of possession. She
was outwardly content to enjoy with her husband, to go to the
galleries, the opera, to try the restaurants, and to drive.
Yet her life went into one idea, a very fixed idea, such as often takes
hold of women in her condition. She was eager to see him at work. If he
accomplished something—even content!—she would feel justified and
perhaps happy. As to the child, the idea grew strange to her. Why
should she have a third in the problem? For she saw that the child must
take its part in her act, must grow up and share their life and inherit
the Oliphant money. In brief, she feared the yet unborn stranger, to
whom she would be responsible in this queer way. And the child could
not repair the wrong as could her husband. Certainly the child was an
She tried to be tender of her husband in his boyish glee and loafing.
She could understand that he needed to accustom himself to his new
freedom, to have his vacation first. She held herself in, tensely,
refraining from criticism lest she might mar his joy. But she counted
the days, and when her child had come, she said to herself, then he
This morbid life was very different from what she had fancied the rich
future would be, as she looked into the grave, the end of her struggle,
that September afternoon. But she had grown to demand so much more from
him; she had grown so grave! His bright, boyish face, the gentle
curls, had been dear enough, and now she looked for the lines a man's
face should have. Why was he so terribly at ease? The world was bitter
and hard in its conditions, and a man should not play.
Late in December the Leicesters called; they were like gleeful
sparrows, twittering about. Mrs. Edwards shuddered to see them again,
and when they were gone she gave up and became ill.
Her tense mind relieved itself in hysterics, which frightened her to
further repression. Then one night she heard herself moaning: "Why did
I have to take all? It was so little, so very little, I wanted, and I
had to take all. Oh, Will, Will, you should have done for yourself! Why
did you need this? Why couldn't you do as other men do? It's no harder
for you than for them." Then she recollected herself. Edwards was
holding her hand and soothing her.
Some weeks later, when she was very ill, she remembered those words,
and wondered if he had suspected anything. Her child came and died, and
she forgot this matter, with others. She lay nerveless for a long time,
without thought; Edwards and the doctor feared melancholia. So she was
taken to Italy for the cold months. Edwards cared for her tenderly, but
his caressing presence was irritating, instead of soothing, to her. She
was hungry for a justification that she could not bring about.
At last it wore on into late spring. She began to force herself back
into the old activities, in order to leave no excuse for further
dawdling. Her attitude became terribly judicial and suspicious.
An absorbing idleness had settled down over Edwards, partly excused to
himself by his wife's long illness. When he noticed that his desultory
days made her restless, he took to loafing about galleries or making
little excursions, generally in company with some forlorn artist he had
picked up. He had nothing, after all, so very definite that demanded
his time; he had not yet made up his mind for any attempts. And
something in the domestic atmosphere unsettled him. His wife held
herself aloof, with alien sympathies, he felt.
So they drifted on to discontent and unhappiness until she could bear
it no longer without expression.
"Aren't we to return to Paris soon?" she remarked one morning as they
idled over a late breakfast. "I am strong now, and I should like to
Edwards took the cue, idly welcoming any change.
"Why, yes, in the fall. It's too near the summer now, and there's no
"Yes, there is hurry," his wife replied, hastily. "We have lost
almost eight months."
"Out of a lifetime," Edwards put in, indulgently.
She paused, bewildered by the insinuation of his remark. But her mood
was too incendiary to avoid taking offence. "Do you mean that that
would be a life, loafing around all day, enjoying this, that, and the
other fine pleasure? That wasn't what we planned."
"No, but I don't see why people who are not driven should drive
themselves. I want to get the taste of Harlem out of my mouth." He was
a bit sullen. A year ago her strict inquiry into his life would have
been absurd. Perhaps the money, her money, gave her the right.
"If people don't drive themselves," she went on, passionately, "they
ought to be driven. It's cowardly to take advantage of having money to
do nothing. You wanted the—the opportunity to do something. Now you
Edwards twisted his wicker chair into uncomfortable places. "Well, are
you sorry you happen to have given me the chance?" He looked at her
coldly, so that a suspicious thought shot into her mind.
"Yes," she faltered, "if it means throwing it away, I am sorry."
She dared no more. Her mind was so close on the great sore in her
gentle soul. He lit a cigarette, and sauntered down the hotel garden.
But the look he had given her—a queer glance of disagreeable
intelligence—illumined her dormant thoughts.
What if he had known all along? She remembered his meaning words that
hot night when they talked over Oliphant's illness for the first time.
And why had he been so yielding, so utterly passive, during the sordid
drama over the dying man? What kept him from alluding to the matter in
any way? Yes, he must have encouraged her to go on. She had been his
tool, and he the passive spectator. The blind certainty of a woman made
the thing assured, settled. She picked up the faint yellow rose he had
laid by her plate, and tore it slowly into fine bits. On the whole, he
was worse than she.
But before he returned she stubbornly refused to believe herself.
* * * * *
In the autumn they were again in Paris, in soberer quarters, which were
conducive to effort. Edwards was working fitfully with several
teachers, goaded on, as he must confess to himself, by a pitiless wife.
Not much was discussed between them, but he knew that the price of the
statu quo was continued labor.
She was watching him; he felt it and resented it, but he would not
understand. All the idealism, the worship of the first sweet months in
marriage, had gone. Of course that incense had been foolish, but it was
sweet. Instead, he felt these suspicious, intolerant eyes following his
soul in and out on its feeble errands. He comforted himself with the
trite consolation that he was suffering from the natural readjustment
in a woman's mind. It was too drastic for that, however.
He was in the habit of leaving her in the evenings of the opera. The
light was too much for her eyes, and she was often tired. One wet April
night, when he returned late, he found her up, sitting by the window
that overlooked the steaming boulevard. Somehow his soul was
rebellious, and when she asked him about the opera he did not take the
pains to lie.
"Oh, I haven't been there," he muttered, "I am beastly tired of it all.
Let's get out of it; to St. Petersburg or Norway—for the summer," he
Now that the understanding impended she trembled, for hitherto she had
never actually known. In suspicion there was hope. So she almost
"We go to Vienna next winter anyway, and I thought we had decided on
Switzerland for the summer."
"You decided! But what's the use of keeping up the mill night and day?
There's plenty of opportunity over there for an educated gentleman with
money, if what you are after is a 'sphere' for me."
"You want to—to go back now?"
"No, I want to be let alone."
"Don't you care to pay for all you have had? Haven't you any sense of
justice to Uncle Oliphant, to your opportunities?"
"Oliphant!" Edwards laughed, disagreeably. "Wouldn't he be pleased to
have an operetta, a Gilbert and Sullivan affair, dedicated to him! No.
I have tried to humor your idea of making myself famous. But what's the
use of being wretched?" The topic seemed fruitless. Mrs. Edwards looked
over to the slight, careless figure. He was sitting dejectedly on a
large fauteuil, smoking. He seemed fagged and spiritless. She almost
pitied him and gave in, but suddenly she rose and crossed the room.
"We've made ourselves pretty unhappy," she said, apologetically,
resting her hand on the lapel of his coat. "I guess it's mostly my
fault, Will. I have wanted so much that you should do something fine
with Uncle Oliphant's money, with yourself. But we can make it up in
"What are you so full of that idea for?" Edwards asked, curiously. "Why
can't you be happy, even as happy as you were in Harlem?" His voice was
"Don't you know?" she flashed back. "You do know, I believe. Tell me,
did you look over those papers on the davenport that night Uncle James
The unexpected rush of her mind bewildered him. A calm lie would have
set matters to rights, but he was not master of it.
"So you were willing—you knew?"
"It wasn't my affair," he muttered, weakly, but she had left him.
He wandered about alone for a few days until the suspense became
intolerable. When he turned up one afternoon in their apartments he
found preparations on foot for their departure.
"We're going away?" he asked.
"Yes, to New York."
"Not so fast," he interrupted, bitterly. "We might as well face the
matter openly. What's the use of going back there?"
"We can't live here, and besides I shall be wanted there."
"You can't do anything now. Talk sensibly about it. I will not go back."
She looked at him coldly, critically. "I cabled Slocum yesterday, and
we must live somehow."
"You—" but she laid her hand on his arm. "It makes no difference now,
you know, and it can't be changed. I've done everything."
CHICAGO, August, 1895.