The Last Asset by Edith Wharton
"THE devil!" Paul Garnett exclaimed as he re-read his note; and the dry
old gentleman who was at the moment his only neighbour in the quiet
restaurant they both frequented, remarked with a smile: "You don't seem
particularly annoyed at meeting him."
Garnett returned the smile. "I don't know why I apostrophized him, for
he's not in the least present—except inasmuch as he may prove to be at
the bottom of anything unexpected."
The old gentleman who, like Garnett, was an American, and spoke in the
thin rarefied voice which seems best fitted to emit sententious truths,
twisted his lean neck toward the younger man and cackled out shrewdly:
"Ah, it's generally a woman who is at the bottom of the unexpected.
Not," he added, leaning forward with deliberation to select a
tooth-pick, "that that precludes the devil's being there too."
Garnett uttered the requisite laugh, and his neighbour, pushing back
his plate, called out with a perfectly unbending American intonation:
"Gassong! L'addition, silver play."
His repast, as usual, had been a simple one, and he left only thirty
centimes in the plate on which his account was presented; but the
waiter, to whom he was evidently a familiar presence, received the
tribute with Latin affability, and hovered helpfully about the table
while the old gentleman cut and lighted his cigar.
"Yes," the latter proceeded, revolving the cigar meditatively between
his thin lips, "they're generally both in the same hole, like the owl
and the prairie-dog in the natural history books of my youth. I believe
it was all a mistake about the owl and the prairie-dog, but it isn't
about the unexpected. The fact is, the unexpected is the devil—the
sooner you find that out, the happier you'll be." He leaned back,
tilting his smooth bald head against the blotched mirror behind him,
and rambling on with gentle garrulity while Garnett attacked his omelet.
"Get your life down to routine—eliminate surprises. Arrange things so
that, when you get up in the morning, you'll know exactly what is going
to happen to you during the day—and the next day and the next. I don't
say it's funny—it ain't. But it's better than being hit on the head by
a brick-bat. That's why I always take my meals at this restaurant. I
know just how much onion they put in things—if I went to the next
place I shouldn't. And I always take the same streets to come
here—I've been doing it for ten years now. I know at which crossings
to look out—I know what I'm going to see in the shop-windows. It saves
a lot of wear and tear to know what's coming. For a good many years I
never did know, from one minute to another, and now I like to think
that everything's cut-and-dried, and nothing unexpected can jump out at
me like a tramp from a ditch."
He paused calmly to knock the ashes from his cigar, and Garnett said
with a smile: "Doesn't such a plan of life cut off nearly all the
The old gentleman made a contemptuous motion. "Possibilities of what?
Of being multifariously miserable? There are lots of ways of being
miserable, but there's only one way of being comfortable, and that is
to stop running round after happiness. If you make up your mind not to
be happy there's no reason why you shouldn't have a fairly good time."
"That was Schopenhauer's idea, I believe," the young man said, pouring
his wine with the smile of youthful incredulity.
"I guess he hadn't the monopoly," responded his friend. "Lots of people
have found out the secret—the trouble is that so few live up to it."
He rose from his seat, pushing the table forward, and standing passive
while the waiter advanced with his shabby overcoat and umbrella. Then
he nodded to Garnett, lifted his hat politely to the broad-bosomed lady
behind the desk, and passed out into the street.
Garnett looked after him with a musing smile. The two had exchanged
views on life for two years without so much as knowing each other's
names. Garnett was a newspaper correspondent whose work kept him mainly
in London, but on his periodic visits to Paris he lodged in a dingy
hotel of the Latin Quarter, the chief merit of which was its nearness
to the cheap and excellent restaurant where the two Americans had made
acquaintance. But Garnett's assiduity in frequenting the place arose,
in the end, less from the excellence of the food than from the
enjoyment of his old friend's conversation. Amid the flashy
sophistications of the Parisian life to which Garnett's trade
introduced him, the American sage's conversation had the crisp and
homely flavor of a native dish—one of the domestic compounds for which
the exiled palate is supposed to yearn. It was a mark of the old man's
impersonality that, in spite of the interest he inspired, Garnett had
never got beyond idly wondering who he might be, where he lived, and
what his occupations were. He was presumably a bachelor—a man of
family ties, however relaxed, though he might have been as often absent
from home would not have been as regularly present in the same
place—and there was about him a boundless desultoriness which renewed
Garnett's conviction that there is no one on earth as idle as an
American who is not busy. From certain allusions it was plain that he
had lived many years in Paris, yet he had not taken the trouble to
adapt his tongue to the local inflections, but spoke French with the
accent of one who has formed his conception of the language from a
The city itself seemed to have made as little impression on him as its
speech. He appeared to have no artistic or intellectual curiosities, to
remain untouched by the complex appeal of Paris, while preserving,
perhaps the more strikingly from his very detachment, that odd American
astuteness which seems the fruit of innocence rather than of
experience. His nationality revealed itself again in a mild interest in
the political problems of his adopted country, though they appeared to
preoccupy him only as illustrating the boundless perversity of mankind.
The exhibition of human folly never ceased to divert him, and though
his examples of it seemed mainly drawn from the columns of one exiguous
daily paper, he found there matter for endless variations on his
favorite theme. If this monotony of topic did not weary the younger
man, it was because he fancied he could detect under it the tragic
implication of the fixed idea—of some great moral upheaval which had
flung his friend stripped and starving on the desert island of the
little cafe where they met. He hardly knew wherein he read this
revelation—whether in the resigned shabbiness of the sage's dress, the
impartial courtesy of his manner, or the shade of apprehension which
lurked, indescribably, in his guileless yet suspicious eye. There were
moments when Garnett could only define him by saying that he looked
like a man who had seen a ghost.
AN apparition almost as startling had come to Garnett himself in the
shape of the mauve note received from his concierge as he was leaving
the hotel for luncheon.
Not that, on the face of it, a missive announcing Mrs. Sam Newell's
arrival at Ritz's, and her need of his presence there that afternoon at
five, carried any special mark of the portentous. It was not her being
at Ritz's that surprised him. The fact that she was chronically hard
up, and had once or twice lately been so brutally confronted with the
consequences as to accept—indeed solicit—a loan of five pounds from
him: this circumstance, as Garnett knew, would never be allowed to
affect the general tenor of her existence. If one came to Paris, where
could one go but to Ritz's? Did he see her in some grubby hole across
the river? Or in a family pension near the Place de l'Etoile? There
was no affectation in her tendency to gravitate toward what was
costliest and most conspicuous. In doing so she obeyed one of the
profoundest instincts of her nature, and it was another instinct which
taught her to gratify the first at any cost, even to that of dipping
into the pocket of an impecunious newspaper correspondent. It was a
part of her strength—and of her charm too—that she did such things
naturally, openly, without any of the ugly grimaces of dissimulation or
Her recourse to Garnett had of course marked a specially low ebb in her
fortunes. Save in moments of exceptional dearth she had richer sources
of supply; and he was nearly sure that, by running over the "society
column" of the Paris Herald, he should find an explanation, not
perhaps of her presence at Ritz's, but of her means of subsistence
there. What really perplexed him was not the financial but the social
aspect of the case. When Mrs. Newell had left London in July she had
told him that, between Cowes and Scotland, she and Hermy were provided
for till the middle of October: after that, as she put it, they would
have to look about. Why, then, when she had in her hand the opportunity
of living for three months at the expense of the British aristocracy,
did she rush off to Paris at heaven knew whose expense in the beginning
of September? She was not a woman to act incoherently; if she made
mistakes they were not of that kind. Garnett felt sure she would never
willingly relax her hold on her distinguished friends—was it possible
that it was they who had somewhat violently let go of her?
As Garnett reviewed the situation he began to see that this possibility
had for some time been latent in it. He had felt that something might
happen at any moment—and was not this the something he had obscurely
foreseen? Mrs. Newell really moved too fast: her position was as
perilous as that of an invading army without a base of supplies. She
used up everything too quickly—friends, credit, influence,
forbearance. It was so easy for her to acquire all these—what a pity
she had never learned to keep them! He himself, for instance—the most
insignificant of her acquisitions—was beginning to feel like a
squeezed sponge at the mere thought of her; and it was this sense of
exhaustion, of the inability to provide more, either materially or
morally, which had provoked his exclamation on opening her note. From
the first days of their acquaintance her prodigality had amazed him,
but he had believed it to be surpassed by the infinity of her
resources. If she exhausted old supplies she always found new ones to
replace them. When one set of people began to find her impossible,
another was always beginning to find her indispensable. Yes—but there
were limits—there were only so many sets of people, at least in her
social classification, and when she came to an end of them, what then?
Was this flight to Paris a sign that she had come to an end—was she
going to try Paris because London had failed her? The time of year
precluded such a conjecture. Mrs. Newell's Paris was non-existent in
September. The town was a desert of gaping trippers—he could as soon
think of her seeking social restoration at Margate.
For a moment it occurred to him that she might have to come over to
replenish her wardrobe; but he knew her dates too well to dwell long on
this hope. It was in April and December that she visited the
dress-makers: before December, he had heard her explain, one got
nothing but "the American fashions." Mrs. Newell's scorn of all things
American was somewhat illogically coupled with the determination to use
her own Americanism to the utmost as a means of social advance. She had
found out long ago that, on certain lines, it paid in London to be
American, and she had manufactured for herself a personality
independent of geographical or social demarcations, and presenting that
remarkable blend of plantation dialect, Bowery slang and hyperbolic
statement, which is the British nobility's favorite idea of an
unadulterated Americanism. Mrs. Newell, for all her talents, was not
naturally either humorous or hyperbolic, and there were times when it
would doubtless have been a relief to her to be as monumentally stolid
as some of the persons whose dulness it was her fate to enliven. It was
perhaps the need of relaxing which had drawn her into her odd intimacy
with Garnett, with whom she did not have to be either scrupulously
English or artificially American, since the impression she made on him
was of no more consequence than that which she produced on her footman.
Garnett was perfectly aware that he owed his success to his
insignificance, but the fact affected him only as adding one more
element to his knowledge of Mrs. Newell's character. He was as ready to
sacrifice his personal vanity in such a cause as he had been, at the
outset of their acquaintance, to sacrifice his professional pride to
the opportunity of knowing her.
When he had accepted the position of "London correspondent" (with an
occasional side-glance at Paris) to the New York Searchlight, he had
not understood that his work was to include the obligation of
"interviewing"; indeed, had the possibility presented itself in
advance, he would have met it by unpacking his valise and returning to
the drudgery of his assistant-editorship in New York. But when, after
three months in Europe, he received a letter from his chief, suggesting
that he should enliven the Sunday Searchlight by a series of "Talks
with Smart Americans in London" (beginning, say, with Mrs. Sam Newell),
the change of focus already enabled him to view the proposal without
passion. For his life on the edge of the great world-caldron of art,
politics and pleasure—of that high-spiced brew which is nowhere else
so subtly and variously compounded—had bred in him an eager appetite
to taste of the heady mixture. He knew he should never have the full
spoon at his lips, but he recalled the peasant-girl in one of
Browning's plays, who has once eaten polenta cut with a knife which has
carved an ortolan. Might not Mrs. Newell, who had so successfully cut a
way into the dense and succulent mass of English society, serve as the
knife to season his polenta?
He had expected, as the result of the interview, to which she promptly,
almost eagerly, assented, no more than the glimpse of brightly lit
vistas which a waiting messenger may catch through open doors; but
instead he had found himself drawn at once into the inner sanctuary,
not of London society, but of Mrs. Newell's relation to it. She had
been candidly charmed by the idea of the interview: it struck him that
she was conscious of the need of being freshened up. Her appearance was
brilliantly fresh, with the inveterate freshness of the toilet-table;
her paint was as impenetrable as armor. But her personality was a
little tarnished: she was in want of social renovation. She had been
doing and saying the same things for too long a time. London, Cowes,
Homburg, Scotland, Monte Carlo—that had been the round since Hermy was
a baby. Hermy was her daughter, Miss Hermione Newell, who was called in
presently to be shown off to the interviewer and add a paragraph to the
celebration of her mother's charms.
Miss Newell's appearance was so full of an unassisted freshness that
for a moment Garnett made the mistake of fancying that she could fill a
paragraph of her own. But he soon found that her vague personality was
merely tributary to her parent's; that her youth and grace were, in
some mysterious way, her mother's rather than her own. She smiled
obediently on Garnett, but could contribute little beyond her smile and
the general sweetness of her presence, to the picture of Mrs. Newell's
existence which it was the young man's business to draw. And presently
he found that she had left the room without his noticing it.
He learned in time that this unnoticeableness was the most conspicuous
thing about her. Burning at best with a mild light, she became
invisible in the glare of her mother's personality. It was in fact only
as a product of her environment that poor Hermione struck the
imagination. With the smartest woman in London as her guide and example
she had never developed a taste for dress, and with opportunities for
enlightenment from which Garnett's fancy recoiled she remained simple,
unsuspicious and tender, with an inclination to good works and
afternoon church, a taste for the society of dull girls, and a clinging
fidelity to old governesses and retired nurse-maids. Mrs. Newell, whose
boast it was that she looked facts in the face, frankly owned that she
had not been able to make anything of Hermione. "If she has a role I
haven't discovered it," she confessed to Garnett. "I've tried
everything, but she doesn't fit in anywhere."
Mrs. Newell spoke as if her daughter were a piece of furniture acquired
without due reflection, and for which no suitable place could be found.
She got, of course, what she could out of Hermione, who wrote her
notes, ran her errands, saw tiresome people for her, and occupied an
intermediate office between that of lady's maid and secretary; but such
small returns on her investment were not what Mrs. Newell had counted
on. What was the use of producing and educating a handsome daughter if
she did not, in some more positive way, contribute to her parent's
"IT'S about Hermy," Mrs. Newell said, rising from the heap of
embroidered cushions which formed the background of her afternoon
Her sitting-room at Ritz's was full of penetrating warmth and
fragrance. Long-stemmed roses filled the vases on the chimney-piece, in
which a fire sparkled with that effect of luxury which fires produce
when the weather is not cold enough to justify them. On the
writing-table, among notes and cards, and signed photographs of
celebrities, Mrs. Newell's gold inkstand, her jewelled penholder, her
heavily-monogrammed despatch-box, gave back from their expensive
surfaces the glint of the flame, which sought out and magnified the
orient of the pearls among the lady's laces and found a mirror in the
pinky polish of her finger-tips. It was just such a scene as a little
September fire, lit for show and not for warmth, would delight to dwell
on and pick out in all its opulent details; and even Garnett, inured to
Mrs. Newell's capacity for extracting manna from the desert, reflected
that she must have found new fields to glean.
"It's about Hermy," she repeated, making room for him among the
cushions. "I had to see you at once. We came over yesterday from
Garnett, seating himself, continued his leisurely survey of the room.
In the glitter of Mrs. Newell's magnificence Hermione, as usual, faded
out of sight, and he hardly noticed her mother's allusion.
"I have never seen you more resplendent," he remarked.
She received the tribute with complacency. "The rooms are not bad, are
they? We came over with the Woolsey Hubbards (you've heard of them, of
course?—they're from Detroit), and really they do things very
decently. Their motor-car met us at Boulogne, and the courier always
wires ahead to have the rooms filled with flowers. This salon, is
really a part of their suite. I simply couldn't have afforded it
She delivered these facts in a high decisive voice, which had a note
akin to the clink of her many bracelets and the rattle of her ringed
hands against the enamelled cigarette-case which she extended to
Garnett after helping herself from its contents.
"You are always meeting such charming people," said Garnett with mild
irony; and, reverting to her first remark, he bethought himself to add:
"I hope Miss Hermione is not ill?"
"Ill? She was never ill in her life," exclaimed Mrs. Newell, as though
her daughter had been accused of an indelicacy.
"It was only that you said you had come over on her account."
"So I have. Hermione is to be married."
Mrs. Newell brought out the words impressively, drawing back to observe
their effect on her visitor. It was such that he received them with a
long silent stare, which finally passed into a cry of wonder. "Married?
For heaven's sake, to whom?"
Mrs. Newell continued to regard him with a smile so serene and
victorious that he saw she took his somewhat unseemly astonishment as a
merited tribute to her genius. Presently she extended a glittering hand
and took a sheet of note paper from the blotter.
"You can have that put in to-morrow's Herald," she said.
Garnett, receiving the paper, read in Hermione's own finished hand: "A
marriage has been arranged, and will shortly take place, between the
Comte Louis du Trayas, son of the Marquis du Trayas de la Baume, and
Miss Hermione Newell, daughter of Samuel C. Newell Esqre. of Elmira, N.
Y. Comte Louis du Trayas belongs to one of the oldest and most
distinguished families in France, and is equally well connected in
England, being the nephew of Lord Saint Priscoe and a cousin of the
Countess of Morningfield, whom he frequently visits at Adham and
The perusal of this document filled Garnett with such deepening wonder
that he could not, for the moment, even do justice to the strangeness
of its being written out for publication in the bride's own hand.
Hermione a bride! Hermione a future countess! Hermione on the brink of
a marriage which would give her not only a great "situation" in the
Parisian world but a footing in some of the best houses in England!
Regardless of its unflattering implications, Garnett prolonged his
stare of mute amazement till Mrs. Newell somewhat sharply
exclaimed—"Well, didn't I always tell you that she would marry a
Garnett, in spite of himself, smiled at this revised version of his
hostess's frequent assertion that Hermione was too goody-goody to take
in England, but that with her little dowdy air she might very well "go
off" in the Faubourg if only a dot could be raked up for her—and the
recollection flashed a new light on the versatility of Mrs. Newell's
"But how did you do it—?" was on the tip of his tongue; and he had
barely time to give the query the more conventional turn of: "How did
"Oh, we were up at Glaish with the Edmund Fitzarthurs. Lady Edmund is a
sort of cousin of the Morningfields', who have a shooting-lodge near
Glaish—a place called Portlow—and young Trayas was there with them.
Lady Edmund, who is a dear, drove Hermy over to Portlow, and the thing
was done in no time. He simply fell over head and ears in love with
her. You know Hermy is really very handsome in her peculiar way. I
don't think you have ever appreciated her," Mrs. Newell summed up with
a note of exquisite reproach.
"I've appreciated her, I assure you; but one somehow didn't think of
her marrying—so soon."
"Soon? She's three-and-twenty; but you've no imagination," said Mrs.
Newell; and Garnett inwardly admitted that he had not enough to soar to
the heights of her invention. For the marriage, of course, was an
invention of her own, a superlative stroke of business, in which he was
sure the principal parties had all been passive agents, in which
everyone, from the bankrupt and disreputable Fitzarthurs to the rich
and immaculate Morningfields, had by some mysterious sleight of hand
been made to fit into Mrs. Newell's designs. But it was not enough for
Garnett to marvel at her work—he wanted to understand it, to take it
apart, to find out how the trick had been done. It was true that Mrs.
Newell had always said Hermy might go off in the Faubourg if she had a
dot—but even Mrs. Newell's juggling could hardly conjure up a dot:
such feats as she was able to perform in this line were usually made to
serve her own urgent necessities. And besides, who was likely to take
sufficient interest in Hermione to supply her with the means of
marrying a French nobleman? The flowers ordered in advance by the
Woolsey Hubbards' courier made Garnett wonder if that accomplished
functionary had also wired over to have Miss Newell's settlements drawn
up. But of all the comments hovering on his lips the only one he could
decently formulate was the remark that he supposed Mrs. Newell and her
daughter had come over to see the young man's family and make the final
"Oh, they're made—everything is settled," said Mrs. Newell, looking
him squarely in the eye. "You're wondering, of course, about the
dot—Frenchmen never go off their heads to the extent of forgetting
that; or at least their parents don't allow them to."
Garnett murmured a vague assent, and she went on without the least
appearance of resenting his curiosity: "It all came about so
fortunately. Only fancy, just the week they met I got a little legacy
from an aunt in Elmira—a good soul I hadn't seen or heard of for
years. I suppose I ought to have put on mourning for her, by the way,
but it would have eaten up a good bit of the legacy, and I really
needed it all for poor Hermy. Oh, it's not a fortune, you
understand—but the young man is madly in love, and has always had his
own way, so after a lot of correspondence it's been arranged. They saw
Hermy this morning, and they're enchanted."
"And the marriage takes place very soon?"
"Yes, in a few weeks, here. His mother is an invalid and couldn't have
gone to England. Besides, the French don't travel. And as Hermy has
become a Catholic—"
Mrs. Newell stared. "It doesn't take long. And it suits Hermy
exactly—she can go to church so much oftener. So I thought," Mrs.
Newell concluded with dignity, "that a wedding at Saint Philippe du
Roule would be the most suitable thing at this season."
"Dear me," said Garnett, "I am left breathless—I can't catch up with
you. I suppose even the day is fixed, though Miss Hermione doesn't
mention it," and he indicated the official announcement in his hand.
Mrs. Newell laughed. "Hermy had to write that herself, poor dear,
because my scrawl's too hideous—but I dictated it. No, the day isn't
fixed—that's why I sent for you." There was a splendid directness
about Mrs. Newell. It would never have occurred to her to pretend to
Garnett that she had summoned him for the pleasure of his company.
"You've sent for me—to fix the day?" he enquired humourously.
"To remove the last obstacle to its being fixed."
"I? What kind of an obstacle could I have the least effect on?"
Mrs. Newell met his banter with a look which quelled it. "I want you to
find her father."
"Her father? Miss Hermione's—?"
"My husband, of course. I suppose you know he's living."
Garnett blushed at his own clumsiness. "I—yes—that is, I really knew
nothing—" he stammered, feeling that each word added to it. If
Hermione was unnoticeable, Mr. Newell had always been invisible. The
young man had never so much as given him a thought, and it was awkward
to come on him so suddenly at a turn of the talk.
"Well, he is—living here in Paris," said Mrs. Newell, with a note of
asperity which seemed to imply that her friend might have taken the
trouble to post himself on this point.
"In Paris? But in that case isn't it quite simple—?"
"To find him? I daresay it won't be difficult, though he is rather
mysterious. But the point is that I can't go to him—and that if I
write to him he won't answer."
"Ah," said Garnett thoughtfully.
"And so you've got to find him for me, and tell him."
"Tell him what?"
"That he must come to the wedding—that we must show ourselves together
at church and at the breakfast."
She delivered the behest in her sharp imperative key, the tone of the
born commander. But for once Garnett ventured to question her orders.
"And supposing he won't come?"
"He must if he cares for his daughter's happiness. She can't be married
"Can't be married?"
"The French are like that—especially the old families. I was given to
understand at once that my husband must appear—if only to establish
the fact that we're not divorced."
"Ah—you're not, then?" escaped from Garnett.
"Mercy, no! Divorce is stupid. They don't like it in Europe. And in
this case it would have been the end of Hermy's marriage. They wouldn't
think of letting their son marry the child of divorced parents."
"How fortunate, then—"
"Yes; but I always think of such things beforehand. And of course I've
told them that my husband will be present."
"You think he will consent?"
"No; not at first; but you must make him. You must tell him how sweet
Hermione is—and you must see Louis, and be able to describe their
happiness. You must dine here to-night—he is coming. We're all dining
with the Hubbards, and they expect you. They have given Hermy some very
good diamonds—though I should have preferred a cheque, as she'll be
horribly poor. But I think Kate Hubbard means to do something about the
trousseau—Hermy is at Paquin's with her now. You've no idea how
delightful all our friends have been.—Ah, here is one of them now,"
she broke off smiling, as the door opened to admit, without preliminary
announcement, a gentleman so glossy and ancient, with such a fixed
unnatural freshness of smile and eye, that he gave Garnett the effect
of having been embalmed and then enamelled. It needed not the
exotic-looking ribbon in the visitor's button-hole, nor Mrs. Newell's
introduction of him as her friend Baron Schenkelderff, to assure
Garnett of his connection with a race as ancient as his appearance.
Baron Schenkelderff greeted his hostess with paternal playfulness, and
the young man with an ease which might have been acquired on the Stock
Exchange and in the dressing-rooms of "leading ladies." He spoke a
faultless, colourless English, from which one felt he might pass with
equal mastery to half a dozen other languages. He enquired
patronizingly for the excellent Hubbards, asked his hostess if she did
not mean to give him a drop of tea and a cigarette, remarked that he
need not ask if Hermione was still closeted with the dress-maker, and,
on the waiter's coming in answer to his ring, ordered the tea himself,
and added a request for fine champagne. It was not the first time
that Garnett had seen such minor liberties taken in Mrs. Newell's
drawing-room, but they had hitherto been taken by persons who had at
least the superiority of knowing what they were permitting themselves,
whereas the young man felt almost sure that Baron Schenkelderff's
manner was the most distinguished he could achieve; and this deepened
the disgust with which, as the minutes passed, he yielded to the
conviction that the Baron was Mrs. Newell's aunt.
GARNETT had always foreseen that Mrs. Newell might some day ask him to
do something he should greatly dislike. He had never gone so far as to
conjecture what it might be, but had simply felt that if he allowed his
acquaintance with her to pass from spectatorship to participation he
must be prepared to find himself, at any moment, in a queer situation.
The moment had come; and he was relieved to find that he could meet it
by refusing her request. He had not always been sure that she would
leave him this alternative. She had a way of involving people in her
complications without their being aware of it, and Garnett had pictured
himself in holes so tight that there might not be room for a wriggle.
Happily in this case he could still move freely. Nothing compelled him
to act as an intermediary between Mrs. Newell and her husband, and it
was preposterous to suppose that, even in a life of such perpetual
upheaval as hers, there were no roots which struck deeper than her
casual intimacy with himself. She had simply laid hands on him because
he happened to be within reach, and he would put himself out of reach
by leaving for London on the morrow.
Having thus inwardly asserted his independence, he felt free to let his
fancy dwell on the strangeness of the situation. He had always supposed
that Mrs. Newell, in her flight through life, must have thrown a good
many victims to the wolves, and had assumed that Mr. Newell had been
among the number. That he had been dropped overboard at an early stage
in the lady's career seemed probable from the fact that neither his
wife nor his daughter ever mentioned him. Mrs. Newell was incapable of
reticence, and if her husband had still been an active element in her
life he would certainly have figured in her conversation. Garnett, if
he thought of the matter at all, had concluded that divorce must long
since have eliminated Mr. Newell; but he now saw how he had underrated
his friend's faculty for using up the waste material of life. She had
always struck him as the most extravagant of women, yet it turned out
that by a miracle of thrift she had for years kept a superfluous
husband on the chance that he might some day be useful to her. The day
had come, and Mr. Newell was to be called from his obscurity. Garnett
wondered what had become of him in the interval, and in what shape he
would respond to the evocation. The fact that his wife feared he might
not respond to it at all, seemed to show that his exile was voluntary,
or had at least come to appear preferable to other alternatives; but if
that were the case it was curious that he should not have taken legal
means to free himself. He could hardly have had his wife's motives for
wishing to maintain the vague tie between them; but conjecture lost
itself in trying to picture what his point of view was likely to be,
and Garnett, on his way to the Hubbards' dinner that evening, could not
help regretting that circumstances denied him the opportunity of
meeting so enigmatic a person. The young man's knowledge of Mrs.
Newell's methods made him feel that her husband might be an interesting
study. This, however, did not affect his resolve to keep clear of the
business. He entered the Hubbards' dining-room with the firm intention
of refusing to execute Mrs. Newell's commission, and if he changed his
mind in the course of the evening it was not owing to that lady's
Garnett's curiosity as to the Hubbards' share in Hermione's marriage
was appeased before he had been seated five minutes at their table.
Mrs. Woolsey Hubbard was an expansive blonde, whose ample but
disciplined outline seemed the result of a well-matched struggle
between her cook and her corset-maker. She talked a great deal of what
was appropriate in dress and conduct, and seemed to regard Mrs. Newell
as a final arbiter on both points. To do or to wear anything
inappropriate would have been extremely mortifying to Mrs. Hubbard, and
she was evidently resolved, at the price of eternal vigilance, to prove
her familiarity with what she frequently referred to as "the right
thing." Mr. Hubbard appeared to have no such preoccupations. Garnett,
if called upon to describe him, would have done so by saying that he
was the American who always pays. The young man, in the course of his
foreign wanderings, had come across many fellow-citizens of Mr.
Hubbard's type, in the most diverse company and surroundings; and
wherever they were to be found, they always had their hands in their
pockets. Mr. Hubbard's standard of gentility was the extent of a man's
capacity to "foot the bill"; and as no one but an occasional compatriot
cared to dispute the privilege with him, he seldom had reason to doubt
his social superiority.
Garnett, nevertheless, did not believe that this lavish pair were, as
Mrs. Newell would have phrased it, "putting up" Hermione's dot. They
would go very far in diamonds, but they would hang back from
securities. Their readiness to pay was indefinably mingled with a dread
of being expected to, and their prodigalities would take flight at the
first hint of coercion. Mrs. Newell, who had had a good deal of
experience in managing this type of millionaire, could be trusted not
to arouse their susceptibilities, and Garnett was therefore certain
that the chimerical legacy had been extracted from other pockets. There
were none in view but those of Baron Schenkelderff, who, seated at Mrs.
Hubbard's right, with a new order in his button-hole, and a fresh glaze
upon his features, enchanted that lady by his careless references to
crowned heads and his condescending approval of the champagne. Garnett
was more than ever certain that it was the Baron who was paying; and it
was this conviction which made him suddenly feel that, at any cost,
Hermione's marriage must take place. He had felt no special interest in
the marriage except as one more proof of Mrs. Newell's extraordinary
capacity; but now it appealed to him from the girl's own stand-point.
For he saw, with a touch of compunction, that in the mephitic air of
her surroundings a love-story of surprising freshness had miraculously
flowered. He had only to intercept the glances which the young couple
exchanged to find himself transported to the candid region of romance.
It was evident that Hermione adored and was adored; that the lovers
believed in each other and in every one about them, and that even the
legacy of the defunct aunt had not been too great a strain on their
faith in human nature.
His first glance at the Comte Louis du Trayas showed Garnett that, by
some marvel of fitness, Hermione had happened upon a kindred nature. If
the young man's long mild features and short-sighted glance revealed no
special force of character, they showed a benevolence and simplicity as
incorruptible as her own, and declared that their possessor, whatever
his failings, would never imperil the illusions she had so miraculously
preserved. The fact that the girl took her good fortune naturally, and
did not regard herself as suddenly snatched from the jaws of death,
added poignancy to the situation; for if she missed this way of escape,
and was thrown back on her former life, the day of discovery could not
be long deferred. It made Garnett shiver to think of her growing old
between her mother and Schenkelderff, or such successors of the Baron's
as might probably attend on Mrs. Newell's waning fortunes; for it was
clear to him that the Baron marked the first stage in his friend's
decline. When Garnett took leave that evening he had promised Mrs.
Newell that he would try to find her husband.
IF Mr. Newell read in the papers the announcement of his daughter's
marriage it did not cause him to lift the veil of seclusion in which
his wife represented him as shrouded.
A round of the American banks in Paris failed to give Garnett his
address, and it was only in chance talk with one of the young
secretaries of the Embassy that he was put on Mr. Newell's track. The
secretary's father, it appeared, had known the Newells some twenty
years earlier. He had had business relations with Mr. Newell, who was
then a man of property, with factories or something of the kind, the
narrator thought, somewhere in Western New York. There had been at this
period, for Mrs. Newell, a phase of large hospitality and showy
carriages in Washington and at Narragansett. Then her husband had had
reverses, had lost heavily in Wall Street, and had finally drifted
abroad and been lost to sight. The young man did not know at what point
in his financial decline Mr. Newell had parted company with his wife
and daughter; "though you may bet your hat," he philosophically
concluded, "that the old girl hung on as long as there were any
pickings." He did not himself know Mr. Newell's address, but opined
that it might be extracted from a certain official at the Consulate, if
Garnett could give a sufficiently good reason for the request; and here
in fact Mrs. Newell's emissary learned that her husband was to be found
in an obscure street of the Luxembourg quarter.
In order to be near the scene of action, Garnett went to breakfast at
his usual haunt, determined to despatch his business as early in the
day as politeness allowed. The head waiter welcomed him to a table near
that of the transatlantic sage, who sat in his customary corner, his
head tilted back against the blistered mirror at an angle suggesting
that in a freer civilization his feet would have sought the same level.
He greeted Garnett affably and the two exchanged their usual
generalizations on life till the sage rose to go; whereupon it occurred
to Garnett to accompany him. His friend took the offer in good part,
merely remarking that he was going to the Luxembourg gardens, where it
was his invariable habit, on good days, to feed the sparrows with the
remains of his breakfast roll; and Garnett replied that, as it
happened, his own business lay in the same direction.
"Perhaps, by the way," he added, "you can tell me how to find the rue
Panonceaux where I must go presently. I thought I knew this quarter
fairly well, but I have never heard of it."
His companion came to a sudden halt on the narrow sidewalk, to the
confusion of the dense and desultory traffic which marks the old
streets of the Latin quarter. He fixed his mild eye on Garnett and gave
a twist to the cigar which lingered in the corner of his mouth.
"The rue Panonceaux? It is an out of the way hole, but I can tell you
how to find it," he answered.
He made no motion to do so, however, but continued to bend on the young
man the full force of his interrogative gaze; then he added abruptly:
"Would you mind telling me your object in going there?"
Garnett looked at him with surprise: a question so unblushingly
personal was strangely out of keeping with his friend's usual attitude
of detachment. Before he could reply, however, the other had quietly
continued: "Do you happen to be in search of Samuel C. Newell?"
"Why, yes, I am," said Garnett with a start of conjecture.
His companion uttered a sigh. "I supposed so," he said resignedly; "and
in that case," he added, "we may as well have the matter out in the
Garnett had halted before him with deepening astonishment. "But you
don't mean to tell me—?" he stammered.
The little man made a motion of assent. "I am Samuel C. Newell," he
said drily; "and if you have no objection, I prefer not to break
through my habit of feeding the sparrows. We are five minutes late as
He quickened his pace without awaiting any reply from Garnett, who
walked beside him in unsubdued wonder till they reached the Luxembourg
gardens, where Mr. Newell, making for one of the less frequented
alleys, seated himself on a bench and drew the fragment of a roll from
his pocket. His coming was evidently expected, for a shower of little
dusky bodies at once descended on him, and the gravel fluttered with
battling wings and beaks as he distributed his dole with impartial
It was not till the ground was white with crumbs, and the first frenzy
of his pensioners appeased, that he turned to Garnett and said: "I
presume, sir, that you come from my wife."
Garnett coloured with embarrassment: the more simply the old man took
his mission the more complicated it appeared to himself.
"From your wife—and from Miss Newell," he said at length. "You have
perhaps heard that she is to be married."
"Oh, yes—I read the Herald pretty faithfully," said Miss Newell's
parent, shaking out another handful of crumbs.
Garnett cleared his throat. "Then you have no doubt thought it natural
that, under the circumstances, they should wish to communicate with
The sage continued to fix his attention on the sparrows. "My wife," he
remarked, "might have written to me."
"Mrs. Newell was afraid she might not hear from you in reply."
"In reply? Why should she? I suppose she merely wishes to announce the
marriage. She knows I have no money left to buy wedding-presents," said
Mr. Newell astonishingly.
Garnett felt his colour deepen: he had a vague sense of standing as the
representative of something guilty and enormous, with which he had
rashly identified himself.
"I don't think you understand," he said. "Mrs. Newell and your daughter
have asked me to see you because they are anxious that you should
consent to appear at the wedding."
Mr. Newell, at this, ceased to give his attention to the birds, and
turned a compassionate gaze upon Garnett.
"My dear sir—I don't know your name—" he remarked, "would you mind
telling me how long you have been acquainted with Mrs. Newell?" And
without waiting for an answer he added judicially: "If you wait long
enough she will ask you to do some very disagreeable things for her."
This echo of his own thoughts gave Garnett a sharp twinge of
discomfort, but he made shift to answer good-humouredly: "If you refer
to my present errand, I must tell you that I don't find it disagreeable
to do anything which may be of service to Miss Hermione."
Mr. Newell fumbled in his pocket, as though searching unavailingly for
another morsel of bread; then he said: "From her point of view I shall
not be the most important person at the ceremony."
Garnett smiled. "That is hardly a reason—" he began; but he was
checked by the brevity of tone with which his companion replied: "I am
not aware that I am called upon to give you my reasons."
"You are certainly not," the young man rejoined, "except in so far as
you are willing to consider me as the messenger of your wife and
"Oh, I accept your credentials," said the other with his dry smile;
"what I don't recognize is their right to send a message."
This reduced Garnett to silence, and after a moment's pause Mr. Newell
drew his watch from his pocket.
"I am sorry to cut the conversation short, but my days are mapped out
with a certain regularity, and this is the hour for my nap." He rose as
he spoke and held out his hand with a glint of melancholy humour in his
small clear eyes.
"You dismiss me, then? I am to take back a refusal?" the young man
"My dear sir, those ladies have got on very well without me for a
number of years: I imagine they can put through this wedding without my
"You are mistaken, then; if it were not for that I shouldn't have
undertaken this errand."
Mr. Newell paused as he was turning away. "Not for what?" he enquired.
"The fact that, as it happens, the wedding can't be put through without
Mr. Newell's thin lips formed a noiseless whistle. "They've got to have
my consent, have they? Well, is he a good young man?"
"The bridegroom?" Garnett echoed in surprise. "I hear the best accounts
of him—and Miss Newell is very much in love."
Her parent met this with an odd smile. "Well, then, I give my
consent—it's all I've got left to give," he added philosophically.
Garnett hesitated. "But if you consent—if you approve—why do you
refuse your daughter's request?"
Mr. Newell looked at him a moment. "Ask Mrs. Newell!" he said. And as
Garnett was again silent, he turned away with a slight gesture of
But in an instant the young man was at his side. "I will not ask your
reasons, sir," he said, "but I will give you mine for being here. Miss
Newell cannot be married unless you are present at the ceremony. The
young man's parents know that she has a father living, and they give
their consent only on condition that he appears at her marriage. I
believe it is customary in old French families—."
"Old French families be damned!" said Mr. Newell with sudden vigour.
"She had better marry an American." And he made a more decided motion
to free himself from Garnett's importunities.
But his resistance only strengthened the young man's. The more
unpleasant the latter's task became, the more unwilling he grew to see
his efforts end in failure. During the three days which had been
consumed in his quest it had become clear to him that the bridegroom's
parents, having been surprised into a reluctant consent, were but too
ready to withdraw it on the plea of Mr. Newell's non-appearance. Mrs.
Newell, on the last edge of tension, had confided to Garnett that the
Morningfields were "being nasty"; and he could picture the whole
powerful clan, on both sides of the Channel, arrayed in a common
resolve to exclude poor Hermione from their ranks. The very inequality
of the contest stirred his blood, and made him vow that in this case at
least the sins of the parents should not be visited on the children. In
his talk with the young secretary he had obtained some glimpses of
Baron Schenkelderff's past which fortified this resolve. The Baron, at
one time a familiar figure in a much-observed London set, had been
mixed up in an ugly money-lending business ending in suicide, which had
excluded him from the society most accessible to his race. His alliance
with Mrs. Newell was doubtless a desperate attempt at rehabilitation, a
forlorn hope on both sides, but likely to be an enduring tie because it
represented, to both partners, their last chance of escape from social
extinction. That Hermione's marriage was a mere stake in their game did
not in the least affect Garnett's view of its urgency. If on their part
it was a sordid speculation, to her it had the freshness of the first
wooing. If it made of her a mere pawn in their hands, it would put her,
so Garnett hoped, beyond farther risk of such base uses; and to achieve
this had become a necessity to him.
The sense that, if he lost sight of Mr. Newell, the latter might not
easily be found again, nerved Garnett to hold his ground in spite of
the resistance he encountered; and he tried to put the full force of
his plea into the tone with which he cried: "Ah, you don't know your
MRS. NEWELL, that afternoon, met him on the threshold of her
sitting-room with a "Well?" of pent-up anxiety.
In the room itself, Baron Schenkelderff sat with crossed legs and head
thrown back, in an attitude which he did not see fit to alter at the
young man's approach.
Garnett hesitated; but it was not the summariness of the Baron's
greeting which he resented.
"You've found him?" Mrs. Newell exclaimed.
She followed his glance and answered it with a slight shrug. "I can't
take you into my room, because there's a dress-maker there, and she
won't go because she is waiting to be paid. Schenkelderff," she
exclaimed, "you're not wanted; please go and look out of the window."
The Baron rose and, lighting a cigarette, laughingly retired to the
embrasure. Mrs. Newell flung herself down and signed to Garnett to take
a seat at her side.
"Well—you've found him? You've talked with him?"
"Yes; I have talked with him—for an hour."
She made an impatient movement. "That's too long! Does he refuse?"
"He doesn't consent."
"Then you mean—?"
"He wants time to think it over."
"Time? There is no time—did you tell him so?"
"I told him so; but you must remember that he has plenty. He has taken
Mrs. Newell groaned. "Oh, that's too much. When he thinks things over
he always refuses."
"Well, he would have refused at once if I had not agreed to the delay."
She rose nervously from her seat and pressed her hands to her forehead.
"It's too hard, after all I've done! The trousseau is ordered—think
how disgraceful! You must have managed him badly; I'll go and see him
The Baron, at this, turned abruptly from his study of the Place Vendome.
"My dear creature, for heaven's sake don't spoil everything!" he
Mrs. Newell coloured furiously. "What's the meaning of that brilliant
"I was merely putting myself in the place of a man on whom you have
ceased to smile."
He picked up his hat and stick, nodded knowingly to Garnett, and walked
toward the door with an air of creaking jauntiness.
But on the threshold Mrs. Newell waylaid him.
"Don't go—I must speak to you," she said, following him into the
antechamber; and Garnett remembered the dress-maker who was not to be
dislodged from her bedroom.
In a moment Mrs. Newell returned, with a small flat packet which she
vainly sought to dissemble in an inaccessible pocket.
"He makes everything too odious!" she exclaimed; but whether she
referred to her husband or the Baron it was left to Garnett to decide.
She sat silent, nervously twisting her cigarette-case between her
fingers, while her visitor rehearsed the details of his conversation
with Mr. Newell. He did not indeed tell her the arguments he had used
to shake her husband's resolve, since in his eloquent sketch of
Hermione's situation there had perforce entered hints unflattering to
her mother; but he gave the impression that his hearer had in the end
been moved, and for that reason had consented to defer his refusal.
"Ah, it's not that—it's to prolong our misery!" Mrs. Newell exclaimed;
and after a moment she added drearily: "He has been waiting for such an
opportunity for years."
It seemed needless for Garnett to protract his visit, and he took leave
with the promise to report at once the result of his final talk with
Mr. Newell. But as he was passing through the ante-chamber a side-door
opened and Hermione stood before him. Her face was flushed and shaken
out of its usual repose of line, and he saw at once that she had been
waiting for him.
"Mr. Garnett!" she said in a whisper.
He paused, considering her with surprise: he had never supposed her
capable of such emotion as her voice and eyes revealed.
"I want to speak to you; we are quite safe here. Mamma is with the
dress-maker," she explained, closing the door behind her, while Garnett
laid aside his hat and stick.
"I am at your service," he said.
"You have seen my father? Mamma told me that you were to see him
to-day," the girl went on, standing close to him in order that she
might not have to raise her voice.
"Yes; I have seen him," Garnett replied with increasing wonder.
Hermione had never before mentioned her father to him, and it was by a
slight stretch of veracity that he had included her name in her
mother's plea to Mr. Newell. He had supposed her to be either
unconscious of the transaction, or else too much engrossed in her own
happiness to give it a thought; and he had forgiven her the last
alternative in consideration of the abnormal character of her filial
relations. But now he saw that he must readjust his view of her.
"You went to ask him to come to my wedding; I know about it," Hermione
continued. "Of course it is the custom—people will think it odd if he
does not come." She paused, and then asked: "Does he consent?"
"No; he has not yet consented."
"Ah, I thought so when I saw Mamma just now!"
"But he hasn't quite refused—he has promised to think it over."
"But he hated it—he hated the idea?"
Garnett hesitated. "It seemed to arouse painful associations."
"Ah, it would—it would!" she exclaimed.
He was astonished at the passion of her accent; astonished still more
at the tone with which she went on, laying her hand on his arm: "Mr.
Garnett, he must not be asked—he has been asked too often to do things
that he hated!"
Garnett looked at the girl with a shock of awe. What abysses of
knowledge did her purity hide?
"But, my dear Miss Hermione—" he began.
"I know what you are going to say," she interrupted him. "It is
necessary that he should be present at the marriage or the du Trayas
will break it off. They don't want it very much, at any rate," she
added with a strange candour, "and they will not be sorry, perhaps—for
of course Louis would have to obey them."
"So I explained to your father," Garnett assured her.
"Yes—yes; I knew you would put it to him. But that makes no
difference, Mr. Garnett. He must not be forced to come unwillingly."
"But if he sees the point—after all, no one can force him!"
"No; but if it is painful to him—if it reminds him too much ... Oh,
Mr. Garnett, I was not a child when he left us.... I was old enough to
see ... to see how it must hurt him even now to be reminded. Peace was
all he asked for, and I want him to be left in peace!"
Garnett paused in deep embarrassment. "My dear child, there is no need
to remind you that your own future—"
She had a gesture that recalled her mother. "My future must take care
of itself; he must not be made to see us!" she said imperatively. And
as Garnett remained silent she went on: "I have always hoped he did not
hate me, but he would hate me now if he were forced to see me."
"Not if he could see you at this moment!" he exclaimed.
She lifted her face with swimming eyes.
"Well, go to him, then; tell him what I have said to you!"
Garnett continued to stand before her, deeply struck. "It might be the
best thing," he reflected inwardly; but he did not give utterance to
the thought. He merely put out his hand, holding Hermione's in a long
"I will do whatever you wish," he replied.
"You understand that I am in earnest?" she urged tenaciously.
"I am quite sure of it."
"Then I want you to repeat to him what I have said—I want him to be
left undisturbed. I don't want him ever to hear of us again!"
The next day, at the appointed hour, Garnett resorted to the Luxembourg
gardens, which Mr. Newell had named as a meeting-place in preference to
his own lodgings. It was clear that he did not wish to admit the young
man any further into his privacy than the occasion required, and the
extreme shabbiness of his dress hinted that pride might be the cause of
Garnett found him feeding the sparrows, but he desisted at the young
man's approach, and said at once: "You will not thank me for bringing
you all this distance."
"If that means that you are going to send me away with a refusal, I
have come to spare you the necessity," Garnett answered.
Mr. Newell turned on him a glance of undisguised wonder, in which an
undertone of disappointment might almost have been detected.
"Ah—they've got no use for me, after all?" he said ironically.
Garnett, in reply, related without comment his conversation with
Hermione, and the message with which she had charged him. He remembered
her words exactly and repeated them without modification, heedless of
what they implied or revealed.
Mr. Newell listened with an immovable face, occasionally casting a
crumb to his flock. When Garnett ended he asked: "Does her mother know
"Assuredly not!" cried Garnett with a movement of disgust.
"You must pardon me; but Mrs. Newell is a very ingenious woman." Mr.
Newell shook out his remaining crumbs and turned thoughtfully toward
"You believe it's quite clear to Hermione that these people will use my
refusal as a pretext for backing out of the marriage?"
"Perfectly clear—she told me so herself."
"Doesn't she consider the young man rather chicken-hearted?"
"No; he has already put up a big fight for her, and you know the French
look at these things differently. He's only twenty-three and his
marrying against his parents' approval is in itself an act of heroism."
"Yes; I believe they look at it that way," Mr. Newell assented. He rose
and picked up the half-smoked cigar which he had laid on the bench
"What do they wear at these French weddings, anyhow? A dress-suit,
isn't it?" he asked.
The question was such a surprise to Garnett that for the moment he
could only stammer out—"You consent then? I may go and tell her?"
"You may tell my girl—yes." He gave a vague laugh and added: "One way
or another, my wife always gets what she wants."
MR. NEWELL'S consent brought with it no accompanying concessions. In
the first flush of his success Garnett had pictured himself as bringing
together the father and daughter, and hovering in an attitude of
benediction over a family group in which Mrs. Newell did not very
But Mr. Newell's conditions were inflexible. He would "see the thing
through" for his daughter's sake; but he stipulated that in the
meantime there should be no meetings or farther communications of any
kind. He agreed to be ready when Garnett called for him, at the
appointed hour on the wedding-day; but until then he begged to be left
alone. To this decision he adhered immovably, and when Garnett conveyed
it to Hermione she accepted it with a deep look of understanding. As
for Mrs. Newell she was too much engrossed in the nuptial preparations
to give her husband another thought. She had gained her point, she had
disarmed her foes, and in the first flush of success she had no time to
remember by what means her victory had been won. Even Garnett's
services received little recognition, unless he found them sufficiently
compensated by the new look in Hermione's eyes.
The principal figures in Mrs. Newell's foreground were the Woolsey
Hubbards and Baron Schenkelderff. With these she was in hourly
consultation, and Mrs. Hubbard went about aureoled with the importance
of her close connection with an "aristocratic marriage," and dazzled by
the Baron's familiarity with the intricacies of the Almanach de Gotha.
In his society and Mrs. Newell's, Mrs. Hubbard evidently felt that she
had penetrated to the sacred precincts where "the right thing"
flourished in its native soil. As for Hermione, her look of happiness
had returned, but with an undertint of melancholy, visible perhaps only
to Garnett, but to him always hauntingly present. Outwardly she sank
back into her passive self, resigned to serve as the brilliant
lay-figure on which Mrs. Newell hung the trophies of conquest.
Preparations for the wedding were zealously pressed. Mrs. Newell knew
the danger of giving people time to think things over, and her fears
about her husband being allayed, she began to  dread a new attempt
at evasion on the part of the bridegroom's family.
"The sooner it's over the sounder I shall sleep!" she declared to
Garnett; and all the mitigations of art could not conceal the fact that
she was desperately in need of that restorative. There were moments,
indeed, when he was sorrier for her than for her husband or her
daughter; so black and unfathomable appeared the abyss into which she
must slip back if she lost her hold on this last spar of safety.
But she did not lose her hold; his own experience, as well as her
husband's declaration, might have told him that she always got what she
wanted. How much she had wanted this particular thing was shown by the
way in which, on the last day, when all peril was over, she bloomed out
in renovated splendour. It gave Garnett a shivering sense of the
ugliness of the alternative which had confronted her.
The day came; the showy coupe provided by Mrs. Newell presented itself
punctually at Garnett's door, and the young man entered it and drove to
the rue Panonceaus. It was a little melancholy back street, with lean
old houses sweating rust and damp, and glimpses of pit-life gardens,
black and sunless, between walls bristling with iron spikes. On the
narrow pavement a blind man pottered along led by a red-eyed poodle: a
little farther on a dishevelled woman sat grinding coffee on the
threshold of a buvette. The bridal carriage stopped before one of the
doorways, with a clatter of hoofs and harness which drew the
neighbourhood to its windows, and Garnett started to mount the
ill-smelling stairs to the fourth floor, on which he learned from the
concierge that Mr. Newell lodged. But half-way up he met the latter
descending, and they turned and went down together.
Hermione's parent wore his usual imperturbable look, and his eye seemed
as full as ever of generalisations on human folly; but there was
something oddly shrunken and submerged in his appearance, as though he
had grown smaller or his clothes larger. And on the last hypothesis
Garnett paused—for it became evident to him that Mr. Newell had hired
Seated at the young man's side on the satin cushions, he remained
silent while the carriage rolled smoothly and rapidly through the
net-work of streets leading to the Boulevard Saint-Germain; only once
he remarked, glancing at the elaborate fittings of the coupe: "Is this
Mrs. Newell's carriage?"
"I believe so—yes," Garnett assented, with the guilty sense that in
defining that lady's possessions it was impossible not to trespass on
those of her friends.
Mr. Newell made no farther comment, but presently requested his
companion to rehearse to him once more the exact duties which were to
devolve on him during the coming ceremony. Having mastered these he
remained silent, fixing a dry speculative eye on the panorama of the
brilliant streets, till the carriage drew up at the entrance of Saint
Philippe du Roule.
With the same air of composure he followed his guide through the mob of
spectators, and up the crimson velvet steps, at the head of which, but
for a word from Garnett, a formidable Suisse, glittering with cocked
hat and mace, would have checked the advance of the small crumpled
figure so oddly out of keeping with the magnificence of the bridal
party. The French fashion prescribing that the family cortege shall
follow the bride to the altar, the vestibule of the church was thronged
with the participatore in the coming procession; but if Mr. Newell felt
any nervousness at his sudden projection into this unfamiliar group,
nothing in his look or manner betrayed it. He stood beside Garnett till
a white-favoured carriage, dashing up to the church with a superlative
glitter of highly groomed horseflesh and silver-plated harness,
deposited the snowy apparition of the bride, supported by her mother;
then, as Hermione entered the vestibule, he went forward quietly to
The girl, wrapped in the haze of her bridal veil, and a little
confused, perhaps, by the anticipation of the meeting, paused a moment,
as if in doubt, before the small oddly-clad figure which blocked her
path—a horrible moment to Garnett, who felt a pang of misery at this
satire on the infallibility of the filial instinct. He longed to make
some sign, to break in some way the pause of uncertainty; but before he
could move he saw Mrs. Newell give her daughter a sharp push, he saw a
blush of compunction flood Hermione's face, and the girl, throwing back
her veil, bent her tall head and flung her arms about her father.
Mr. Newell emerged unshaken from the embrace: it seemed to have no
effect beyond giving an odder twist to his tie. He stood beside his
daughter till the church doors were thrown open; then, at a sign from
the verger, he gave her his arm, and the strange couple, with the long
train of fashion and finery behind them, started on their march to the
Garnett had already slipped into the church and secured a post of
vantage which gave him a side-view over the assemblage. The building
was thronged—Mrs. Newell had attained her ambition and given Hermione
a smart wedding. Garnett's eye travelled curiously from one group to
another—from the numerous representatives of the bridegroom's family,
all stamped with the same air of somewhat dowdy distinction, the air of
having had their thinking done for them for so long that they could no
longer perform the act individually, and the heterogeneous company of
Mrs. Newell's friends, who presented, on the opposite side of the nave,
every variety of individual conviction in dress and conduct. Of the two
groups the latter was decidedly the more interesting to Garnett, who
observed that it comprised not only such recent acquisitions as the
Woolsey Hubbards and the Baron, but also sundry more important figures
which of late had faded to the verse of Mrs. Newell's horizon.
Hermione's marriage had drawn them back, bad once more made her mother
a social entity, had in short already accomplished the object for which
it had been planned and executed.
And as he looked about him Garnett saw that all the other actors in the
show faded into insignificance beside the dominant figure of Mrs.
Newell, became mere marionettes pulled hither and thither by the hidden
wires of her intention. One and all they were there to serve her ends
and accomplish her purpose: Schenkelderff and the Hubbards to pay for
the show, the bride and bridegroom to seal and symbolize her social
rehabilitation, Garnett himself as the humble instrument adjusting the
different parts of the complicated machinery, and her husband, finally,
as the last stake in her game, the last asset on which she could draw
to rebuild her fallen fortunes. At the thought Garnett was filled with
a deep disgust for what the scene signified, and for his own share in
it. He had been her tool and dupe like the others; if he imagined that
he was serving Hermione, it was for her mother's ends that he had
worked. What right had he to sentimentalise a marriage founded on such
base connivances, and how could he have imagined that in so doing he
was acting a disinterested part?
While these thoughts were passing through his mind the ceremony had
already begun, and the principal personages in the drama were ranged
before him in the row of crimson velvet chairs which fills the
foreground of a Catholic marriage. Through the glow of lights and the
perfumed haze about the altar, Garnett's eyes rested on the central
figures of the group, and gradually the others disappeared from his
view and his mind. After all, neither Mrs. Newell's schemes nor his own
share in them could ever unsanctify Hermione's marriage. It was one
more testimony to life's indefatigable renewals, to nature's secret of
drawing fragrance from corruption; and as his eyes turned from the
girl's illuminated presence to the resigned and stoical figure sunk in
the adjoining chair, it occured to him that he had perhaps worked
better than he knew in placing them, if only for a moment, side by side.