THE DESCENT OF MAN
AND OTHER STORIES
BY EDITH WHARTON
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Descent of Man
The Other Two
The Lady's Maid's Bell
The Mission of Jane
A Venetian Night's Entertainment
THE DESCENT OF MAN
When Professor Linyard came back from his holiday in the Maine woods
the air of rejuvenation he brought with him was due less to the
influences of the climate than to the companionship he had enjoyed on
his travels. To Mrs. Linyard's observant eye he had appeared to set out
alone; but an invisible traveller had in fact accompanied him, and if
his heart beat high it was simply at the pitch of his adventure: for
the Professor had eloped with an idea.
No one who has not tried the experiment can divine its exhilaration.
Professor Linyard would not have changed places with any hero of
romance pledged to a flesh-and-blood abduction. The most fascinating
female is apt to be encumbered with luggage and scruples: to take up a
good deal of room in the present and overlap inconveniently into the
future; whereas an idea can accommodate itself to a single molecule of
the brain or expand to the circumference of the horizon. The
Professor's companion had to the utmost this quality of adaptability.
As the express train whirled him away from the somewhat inelastic
circle of Mrs. Linyard's affections, his idea seemed to be sitting
opposite him, and their eyes met every moment or two in a glance of
joyous complicity; yet when a friend of the family presently joined him
and began to talk about college matters, the idea slipped out of sight
in a flash, and the Professor would have had no difficulty in proving
that he was alone.
But if, from the outset, he found his idea the most agreeable of
fellow-travellers, it was only in the aromatic solitude of the woods
that he tasted the full savour of his adventure. There, during the long
cool August days, lying full length on the pine-needles and gazing up
into the sky, he would meet the eyes of his companion bending over him
like a nearer heaven. And what eyes they were!—clear yet unfathomable,
bubbling with inexhaustible laughter, yet drawing their freshness and
sparkle from the central depths of thought! To a man who for twenty
years had faced an eye reflecting the obvious with perfect accuracy,
these escapes into the inscrutable had always been peculiarly inviting;
but hitherto the Professor's mental infidelities had been restricted by
an unbroken and relentless domesticity. Now, for the first time since
his marriage, chance had given him six weeks to himself, and he was
coming home with his lungs full of liberty.
It must not be inferred that the Professor's domestic relations were
defective: they were in fact so complete that it was almost impossible
to get away from them. It is the happy husbands who are really in
bondage; the little rift within the lute is often a passage to freedom.
Marriage had given the Professor exactly what he had sought in it; a
comfortable lining to life. The impossibility of rising to sentimental
crises had made him scrupulously careful not to shirk the practical
obligations of the bond. He took as it were a sociological view of his
case, and modestly regarded himself as a brick in that foundation on
which the state is supposed to rest. Perhaps if Mrs. Linyard had cared
about entomology, or had taken sides in the war over the transmission
of acquired characteristics, he might have had a less impersonal notion
of marriage; but he was unconscious of any deficiency in their
relation, and if consulted would probably have declared that he didn't
want any woman bothering with his beetles. His real life had always
lain in the universe of thought, in that enchanted region which, to
those who have lingered there, comes to have so much more colour and
substance than the painted curtain hanging before it. The Professor's
particular veil of Maia was a narrow strip of homespun woven in a
monotonous pattern; but he had only to lift it to step into an empire.
This unseen universe was thronged with the most seductive shapes: the
Professor moved Sultan-like through a seraglio of ideas. But of all the
lovely apparitions that wove their spells about him, none had ever worn
quite so persuasive an aspect as this latest favourite. For the others
were mostly rather grave companions, serious-minded and elevating
enough to have passed muster in a Ladies' Debating Club; but this new
fancy of the Professor's was simply one embodied laugh. It was, in
other words, the smile of relaxation at the end of a long day's toil:
the flash of irony that the laborious mind projects, irresistibly, over
labour conscientiously performed. The Professor had always been a hard
worker. If he was an indulgent friend to his ideas, he was also a stern
task-master to them. For, in addition to their other duties, they had
to support his family: to pay the butcher and baker, and provide for
Jack's schooling and Millicent's dresses. The Professor's household was
a modest one, yet it tasked his ideas to keep it up to his wife's
standard. Mrs. Linyard was not an exacting wife, and she took enough
pride in her husband's attainments to pay for her honours by turning
Millicent's dresses and darning Jack's socks, and going to the College
receptions year after year in the same black silk with shiny seams. It
consoled her to see an occasional mention of Professor Linyard's
remarkable monograph on the Ethical Reactions of the Infusoria, or an
allusion to his investigations into the Unconscious Cerebration of the
Still there were moments when the healthy indifference of Jack and
Millicent reacted on the maternal sympathies; when Mrs. Linyard would
have made her husband a railway-director, if by this transformation she
might have increased her boy's allowance and given her daughter a new
hat, or a set of furs such as the other girls were wearing. Of such
moments of rebellion the Professor himself was not wholly unconscious.
He could not indeed understand why any one should want a new hat; and
as to an allowance, he had had much less money at college than Jack,
and had yet managed to buy a microscope and collect a few "specimens";
while Jack was free from such expensive tastes! But the Professor did
not let his want of sympathy interfere with the discharge of his
paternal obligations. He worked hard to keep the wants of his family
gratified, and it was precisely in the endeavor to attain this end that
he at length broke down and had to cease from work altogether.
To cease from work was not to cease from thought of it; and in the
unwonted pause from effort the Professor found himself taking a general
survey of the field he had travelled. At last it was possible to lift
his nose from the loom, to step a moment in front of the tapestry he
had been weaving. From this first inspection of the pattern so long
wrought over from behind, it was natural to glance a little farther and
seek its reflection in the public eye. It was not indeed of his special
task that he thought in this connection. He was but one of the great
army of weavers at work among the threads of that cosmic woof; and what
he sought was the general impression their labour had produced.
When Professor Linyard first plied his microscope, the audience of the
man of science had been composed of a few fellow-students, sympathetic
or hostile as their habits of mind predetermined, but versed in the
jargon of the profession and familiar with the point of departure. In
the intervening quarter of a century, however, this little group had
been swallowed up in a larger public. Every one now read scientific
books and expressed an opinion on them. The ladies and the clergy had
taken them up first; now they had passed to the school-room and the
kindergarten. Daily life was regulated on scientific principles; the
daily papers had their "Scientific Jottings"; nurses passed
examinations in hygienic science, and babies were fed and dandled
according to the new psychology.
The very fact that scientific investigation still had, to some minds, a
flavour of heterodoxy, gave it a perennial interest. The mob had broken
down the walls of tradition to batten in the orchard of forbidden
knowledge. The inaccessible goddess whom the Professor had served in
his youth now offered her charms in the market-place. And yet it was
not the same goddess after all, but a pseudo-science masquerading in
the garb of the real divinity. This false goddess had her ritual and
her literature. She had her sacred books, written by false priests and
sold by millions to the faithful. In the most successful of these
works, ancient dogma and modern discovery were depicted in a close
embrace under the lime-lights of a hazy transcendentalism; and the
tableau never failed of its effect. Some of the books designed on this
popular model had lately fallen into the Professor's hands, and they
filled him with mingled rage and hilarity. The rage soon died: he came
to regard this mass of pseudo-literature as protecting the truth from
desecration. But the hilarity remained, and flowed into the form of his
idea. And the idea—the divine, incomparable idea—was simply that he
should avenge his goddess by satirizing her false interpreters. He
would write a skit on the "popular" scientific book; he would so heap
platitude on platitude, fallacy on fallacy, false analogy on false
analogy, so use his superior knowledge to abound in the sense of the
ignorant, that even the gross crowd would join in the laugh against its
augurs. And the laugh should be something more than the distension of
mental muscles; it should be the trumpet-blast bringing down the walls
of ignorance, or at least the little stone striking the giant between
The Professor, on presenting his card, had imagined that it would
command prompt access to the publisher's sanctuary; but the young man
who read his name was not moved to immediate action. It was clear that
Professor Linyard of Hillbridge University was not a specific figure to
the purveyors of popular literature. But the publisher was an old
friend; and when the card had finally drifted to his office on the
languid tide of routine he came forth at once to greet his visitor.
The warmth of his welcome convinced the Professor that he had been
right in bringing his manuscript to Ned Harviss. He and Harviss had
been at Hillbridge together, and the future publisher had been one of
the wildest spirits in that band of college outlaws which yearly turns
out so many inoffensive citizens and kind husbands and fathers. The
Professor knew the taming qualities of life. He was aware that many of
his most reckless comrades had been transformed into prudent
capitalists or cowed wage-earners; but he was almost sure that he could
count on Harviss. So rare a sense of irony, so keen a perception of
relative values, could hardly have been blunted even by twenty years'
intercourse with the obvious.
The publisher's appearance was a little disconcerting. He looked as if
he had been fattened on popular fiction; and his fat was full of
optimistic creases. The Professor seemed to see him bowing into his
office a long train of spotless heroines laden with the maiden tribute
of the hundredth thousand volume.
Nevertheless, his welcome was reassuring. He did not disown his early
enormities, and capped his visitor's tentative allusions by such
flagrant references to the past that the Professor produced his
manuscript without a scruple.
"What—you don't mean to say you've been doing something in our line?"
The Professor smiled. "You publish scientific books sometimes, don't
The publisher's optimistic creases relaxed a little. "H'm—it all
depends—I'm afraid you're a little too scientific for us. We have a
big sale for scientific breakfast foods, but not for the concentrated
essences. In your case, of course, I should be delighted to stretch a
point; but in your own interest I ought to tell you that perhaps one of
the educational houses would do you better."
The Professor leaned back, still smiling luxuriously.
"Well, look it over—I rather think you'll take it."
"Oh, we'll take it, as I say; but the terms might not—"
"No matter about the terms—"
The publisher threw his head back with a laugh. "I had no idea that
science was so profitable; we find our popular novelists are the
hardest hands at a bargain."
"Science is disinterested," the Professor corrected him. "And I have a
fancy to have you publish this thing."
"That's immensely good of you, my dear fellow. Of course your name goes
with a certain public—and I rather like the originality of our
bringing out a work so out of our line. I daresay it may boom us both."
His creases deepened at the thought, and he shone encouragingly on the
Within a fortnight, a line from Harviss recalled the Professor to town.
He had been looking forward with immense zest to this second meeting;
Harviss's college roar was in his tympanum, and he pictured himself
following up the protracted chuckle which would follow his friend's
progress through the manuscript. He was proud of the adroitness with
which he had kept his secret from Harviss, had maintained to the last
the pretense of a serious work, in order to give the keener edge to his
reader's enjoyment. Not since under-graduate days had the Professor
tasted such a draught of pure fun as his anticipations now poured for
This time his card brought instant admission. He was bowed into the
office like a successful novelist, and Harviss grasped him with both
"Well—do you mean to take it?" he asked, with a lingering coquetry.
"Take it? Take it, my dear fellow? It's in press already—you'll excuse
my not waiting to consult you? There will be no difficulty about terms,
I assure you, and we had barely time to catch the autumn market. My
dear Linyard, why didn't you tell me?" His voice sank to a
reproachful solemnity, and he pushed forward his own arm-chair.
The Professor dropped into it with a chuckle. "And miss the joy of
letting you find out?"
"Well—it was a joy." Harviss held out a box of his best cigars. "I
don't know when I've had a bigger sensation. It was so deucedly
unexpected—and, my dear fellow, you've brought it so exactly to the
"I'm glad to hear you say so," said the Professor modestly.
Harviss laughed in rich appreciation. "I don't suppose you had a doubt
of it; but of course I was quite unprepared. And it's so
extraordinarily out of your line—"
The Professor took off his glasses and rubbed them with a slow smile.
"Would you have thought it so—at college?"
Harviss stared. "At college?—Why, you were the most iconoclastic
There was a perceptible pause. The Professor restored his glasses and
looked at his friend. "Well—?" he said simply.
"Well—?" echoed the other, still staring. "Ah—I see; you mean that
that's what explains it. The swing of the pendulum, and so forth. Well,
I admit it's not an uncommon phenomenon. I've conformed myself, for
example; most of our crowd have, I believe; but somehow I hadn't
expected it of you."
The close observer might have detected a faint sadness under the
official congratulation of his tone; but the Professor was too amazed
to have an ear for such fine shades.
"Expected it of me? Expected what of me?" he gasped. "What in heaven do
you think this thing is?" And he struck his fist on the manuscript
which lay between them.
Harviss had recovered his optimistic creases. He rested a benevolent
eye on the document.
"Why, your apologia—your confession of faith, I should call it. You
surely must have seen which way you were going? You can't have written
it in your sleep?"
"Oh, no, I was wide awake enough," said the Professor faintly.
"Well, then, why are you staring at me as if I were not?" Harviss
leaned forward to lay a reassuring hand on his visitor's worn
coat-sleeve. "Don't mistake me, my dear Linyard. Don't fancy there was
the least unkindness in my allusion to your change of front. What is
growth but the shifting of the stand-point? Why should a man be
expected to look at life with the same eyes at twenty and at—our age?
It never occurred to me that you could feel the least delicacy in
admitting that you have come round a little—have fallen into line, so
But the Professor had sprung up as if to give his lungs more room to
expand; and from them there issued a laugh which shook the editorial
"Oh, Lord, oh Lord—is it really as good as that?" he gasped.
Harviss had glanced instinctively toward the electric bell on his desk;
it was evident that he was prepared for an emergency.
"My dear fellow—" he began in a soothing tone.
"Oh, let me have my laugh out, do," implored the Professor. "I'll—I'll
quiet down in a minute; you needn't ring for the young man." He dropped
into his chair again, and grasped its arms to steady his shaking. "This
is the best laugh I've had since college," he brought out between his
paroxysms. And then, suddenly, he sat up with a groan. "But if it's as
good as that it's a failure!" he exclaimed.
Harviss, stiffening a little, examined the tip of his cigar. "My dear
Linyard," he said at length, "I don't understand a word you're saying."
The Professor succumbed to a fresh access, from the vortex of which he
managed to fling out—"But that's the very core of the joke!"
Harviss looked at him resignedly. "What is?"
"Why, your not seeing—your not understanding—"
"Not understanding what?"
"Why, what the book is meant to be." His laughter subsided again and he
sat gazing thoughtfully at the publisher. "Unless it means," he wound
up, "that I've over-shot the mark."
"If I am the mark, you certainly have," said Harviss, with a glance at
The Professor caught the glance and interpreted it. "The book is a
skit," he said, rising.
The other stared. "A skit? It's not serious, you mean?"
"Not to me—but it seems you've taken it so."
"You never told me—" began the publisher in a ruffled tone.
"No, I never told you," said the Professor.
Harviss sat staring at the manuscript between them. "I don't pretend to
be up in such recondite forms of humour," he said, still stiffly. "Of
course you address yourself to a very small class of readers."
"Oh, infinitely small," admitted the Professor, extending his hand
toward the manuscript.
Harviss appeared to be pursuing his own train of thought. "That is," he
continued, "if you insist on an ironical interpretation."
"If I insist on it—what do you mean?"
The publisher smiled faintly. "Well—isn't the book susceptible of
another? If I read it without seeing—"
"Well?" murmured the other, fascinated.—"why shouldn't the rest of the
world?" declared Harviss boldly. "I represent the Average
Reader—that's my business, that's what I've been training myself to do
for the last twenty years. It's a mission like another—the thing is to
do it thoroughly; not to cheat and compromise. I know fellows who are
publishers in business hours and dilettantes the rest of the time.
Well, they never succeed: convictions are just as necessary in business
as in religion. But that's not the point—I was going to say that if
you'll let me handle this book as a genuine thing I'll guarantee to
make it go."
The Professor stood motionless, his hand still on the manuscript.
"A genuine thing?" he echoed.
"A serious piece of work—the expression of your convictions. I tell
you there's nothing the public likes as much as convictions—they'll
always follow a man who believes in his own ideas. And this book is
just on the line of popular interest. You've got hold of a big thing.
It's full of hope and enthusiasm: it's written in the religious key.
There are passages in it that would do splendidly in a Birthday
Book—things that popular preachers would quote in their sermons. If
you'd wanted to catch a big public you couldn't have gone about it in a
better way. The thing's perfect for my purpose—I wouldn't let you
alter a word of it. It'll sell like a popular novel if you'll let me
handle it in the right way."
When the Professor left Harviss's office, the manuscript remained
behind. He thought he had been taken by the huge irony of the
situation—by the enlarged circumference of the joke. In its original
form, as Harviss had said, the book would have addressed itself to a
very limited circle: now it would include the world. The elect would
understand; the crowd would not; and his work would thus serve a double
purpose. And, after all, nothing was changed in the situation; not a
word of the book was to be altered. The change was merely in the
publisher's point of view, and in the "tip" he was to give the
reviewers. The Professor had only to hold his tongue and look serious.
These arguments found a strong reinforcement in the large premium which
expressed Harviss's sense of his opportunity. As a satire, the book
would have brought its author nothing; in fact, its cost would have
come out of his own pocket, since, as Harviss assured him, no publisher
would have risked taking it. But as a profession of faith, as the
recantation of an eminent biologist, whose leanings had hitherto been
supposed to be toward a cold determinism, it would bring in a steady
income to author and publisher. The offer found the Professor in a
moment of financial perplexity. His illness, his unwonted holiday, the
necessity of postponing a course of well-paid lectures, had combined to
diminish his resources; and when Harviss offered him an advance of a
thousand dollars the esoteric savour of the joke became irresistible.
It was still as a joke that he persisted in regarding the transaction;
and though he had pledged himself not to betray the real intent of the
book, he held in petto the notion of some day being able to take the
public into his confidence. As for the initiated, they would know at
once: and however long a face he pulled, his colleagues would see the
tongue in his cheek. Meanwhile it fortunately happened that, even if
the book should achieve the kind of triumph prophesied by Harviss, it
would not appreciably injure its author's professional standing.
Professor Linyard was known chiefly as a microscopist. On the structure
and habits of a certain class of coleoptera he was the most
distinguished living authority; but none save his intimate friends knew
what generalizations on the destiny of man he had drawn from these
special studies. He might have published a treatise on the Filioque
without disturbing the confidence of those on whose approval his
reputation rested; and moreover he was sustained by the thought that
one glance at his book would let them into its secret. In fact, so sure
was he of this that he wondered the astute Harviss had cared to risk
such speedy exposure. But Harviss had probably reflected that even in
this reverberating age the opinions of the laboratory do not easily
reach the street; and the Professor, at any rate, was not bound to
offer advice on this point.
The determining cause of his consent was the fact that the book was
already in press. The Professor knew little about the workings of the
press, but the phrase gave him a sense of finality, of having been
caught himself in the toils of that mysterious engine. If he had had
time to think the matter over, his scruples might have dragged him
back; but his conscience was eased by the futility of resistance.
Mrs. Linyard did not often read the papers; and there was therefore a
special significance in her approaching her husband one evening after
dinner with a copy of the New York Investigator in her hand. Her
expression lent solemnity to the act: Mrs. Linyard had a limited but
distinctive set of expressions, and she now looked as she did when the
President of the University came to dine.
"You didn't tell me of this, Samuel," she said in a slightly tremulous
"Tell you of what?" returned the Professor, reddening to the margin of
"That you had published a book—I might never have heard of it if Mrs.
Pease hadn't brought me the paper."
Her husband rubbed his eye-glasses with a groan. "Oh, you would have
heard of it," he said gloomily.
Mrs. Linyard stared. "Did you wish to keep it from me, Samuel?" And as
he made no answer, she added with irresistible pride: "Perhaps you
don't know what beautiful things have been said about it."
He took the paper with a reluctant hand. "Has Pease been saying
beautiful things about it?"
"The Professor? Mrs. Pease didn't say he had mentioned it."
The author heaved a sigh of relief. His book, as Harviss had
prophesied, had caught the autumn market: had caught and captured it.
The publisher had conducted the campaign like an experienced
strategist. He had completely surrounded the enemy. Every newspaper,
every periodical, held in ambush an advertisement of "The Vital Thing."
Weeks in advance the great commander had begun to form his lines of
attack. Allusions to the remarkable significance of the coming work had
appeared first in the scientific and literary reviews, spreading thence
to the supplements of the daily journals. Not a moment passed without a
quickening touch to the public consciousness: seventy millions of
people were forced to remember at least once a day that Professor
Linyard's book was on the verge of appearing. Slips emblazoned with the
question: Have you read "The Vital Thing"? fell from the pages of
popular novels and whitened the floors of crowded street-cars. The
query, in large lettering, assaulted the traveller at the railway
bookstall, confronted him on the walls of "elevated" stations, and
seemed, in its ascending scale, about to supplant the interrogations as
to soap and stove-polish which animate our rural scenery.
On the day of publication, the Professor had withdrawn to his
laboratory. The shriek of the advertisements was in his ears, and his
one desire was to avoid all knowledge of the event they heralded. A
reaction of self-consciousness had set in, and if Harviss's cheque had
sufficed to buy up the first edition of "The Vital Thing" the Professor
would gladly have devoted it to that purpose. But the sense of
inevitableness gradually subdued him, and he received his wife's copy
of the Investigator with a kind of impersonal curiosity. The review
was a long one, full of extracts: he saw, as he glanced over them, how
well they would look in a volume of "Selections." The reviewer began by
thanking his author "for sounding with no uncertain voice that note of
ringing optimism, of faith in man's destiny and the supremacy of good,
which has too long been silenced by the whining chorus of a decadent
nihilism.... It is well," the writer continued, "when such reminders
come to us not from the moralist but from the man of science—when from
the desiccating atmosphere of the laboratory there rises this glorious
cry of faith and reconstruction."
The review was minute and exhaustive. Thanks no doubt to Harviss's
diplomacy, it had been given to the Investigator's "best man," and
the Professor was startled by the bold eye with which his emancipated
fallacies confronted him. Under the reviewer's handling they made up
admirably as truths, and their author began to understand Harviss's
regret that they should be used for any less profitable purpose.
The Investigator, as Harviss phrased it, "set the pace," and the
other journals followed, finding it easier to let their critical
man-of-all-work play a variation on the first reviewer's theme than to
secure an expert to "do" the book afresh. But it was evident that the
Professor had captured his public, for all the resources of the
profession could not, as Harviss gleefully pointed out, have carried
the book so straight to the heart of the nation. There was something
noble in the way in which Harviss belittled his own share in the
achievement, and insisted on the inutility of shoving a book which had
started with such headway on.
"All I ask you is to admit that I saw what would happen," he said with
a touch of professional pride. "I knew you'd struck the right note—I
knew they'd be quoting you from Maine to San Francisco. Good as
fiction? It's better—it'll keep going longer."
"Will it?" said the Professor with a slight shudder. He was resigned to
an ephemeral triumph, but the thought of the book's persistency
"I should say so! Why, you fit in everywhere—science, theology,
natural history—and then the all-for-the-best element which is so
popular just now. Why, you come right in with the How-to-Relax series,
and they sell way up in the millions. And then the book's so full of
tenderness—there are such lovely things in it about flowers and
children. I didn't know an old Dryasdust like you could have such a lot
of sentiment in him. Why, I actually caught myself snivelling over that
passage about the snowdrops piercing the frozen earth; and my wife was
saying the other day that, since she's read 'The Vital Thing,' she
begins to think you must write the 'What-Cheer Column,' in the
Inglenook." He threw back his head with a laugh which ended in the
inspired cry: "And, by George, sir, when the thing begins to slow off
we'll start somebody writing against it, and that will run us straight
into another hundred thousand."
And as earnest of this belief he drew the Professor a supplementary
Mrs. Linyard's knock cut short the importunities of the lady who had
been trying to persuade the Professor to be taken by flashlight at his
study table for the Christmas number of the Inglenook. On this point
the Professor had fancied himself impregnable; but the unwonted smile
with which he welcomed his wife's intrusion showed that his defences
The lady from the Inglenook took the hint with professional
promptness, but said brightly, as she snapped the elastic around her
note-book: "I shan't let you forget me, Professor."
The groan with which he followed her retreat was interrupted by his
wife's question: "Do they pay you for these interviews, Samuel?"
The Professor looked at her with sudden attention. "Not directly," he
said, wondering at her expression.
She sank down with a sigh. "Indirectly, then?"
"What is the matter, my dear? I gave you Harviss's second cheque the
Her tears arrested him. "Don't be hard on the boy, Samuel! I really
believe your success has turned his head."
"The boy—what boy? My success—? Explain yourself, Susan!"
"It's only that Jack has—has borrowed some money—which he can't
repay. But you mustn't think him altogether to blame, Samuel. Since the
success of your book he has been asked about so much—it's given the
children quite a different position. Millicent says that wherever they
go the first question asked is, 'Are you any relation of the author of
"The Vital Thing"?' Of course we're all very proud of the book; but it
entails obligations which you may not have thought of in writing it."
The Professor sat gazing at the letters and newspaper clippings on the
study-table which he had just successfully defended from the camera of
the Inglenook. He took up an envelope bearing the name of a popular
"I don't know that the Inglenook would help much," he said, "but I
suppose this might."
Mrs. Linyard's eyes glowed with maternal avidity.
"What is it, Samuel?"
"A series of 'Scientific Sermons' for the Round-the-Gas-Log column of
The Woman's World. I believe that journal has a larger circulation
than any other weekly, and they pay in proportion."
He had not even asked the extent of Jack's indebtedness. It had been so
easy to relieve recent domestic difficulties by the timely production
of Harviss's two cheques, that it now seemed natural to get Mrs.
Linyard out of the room by promising further reinforcements. The
Professor had indignantly rejected Harviss's suggestion that he should
follow up his success by a second volume on the same lines. He had
sworn not to lend more than a passive support to the fraud of "The
Vital Thing"; but the temptation to free himself from Mrs. Linyard
prevailed over his last scruples, and within an hour he was at work on
the Scientific Sermons.
The Professor was not an unkind man. He really enjoyed making his
family happy; and it was his own business if his reward for so doing
was that it kept them out of his way. But the success of "The Vital
Thing" gave him more than this negative satisfaction. It enlarged his
own existence and opened new doors into other lives. The Professor,
during fifty virtuous years, had been cognizant of only two types of
women: the fond and foolish, whom one married, and the earnest and
intellectual, whom one did not. Of the two, he infinitely preferred the
former, even for conversational purposes. But as a social instrument
woman was unknown to him; and it was not till he was drawn into the
world on the tide of his literary success that he discovered the
deficiencies in his classification of the sex. Then he learned with
astonishment of the existence of a third type: the woman who is fond
without foolishness and intellectual without earnestness. Not that the
Professor inspired, or sought to inspire, sentimental emotions; but he
expanded in the warm atmosphere of personal interest which some of his
new acquaintances contrived to create about him. It was delightful to
talk of serious things in a setting of frivolity, and to be personal
without being domestic.
Even in this new world, where all subjects were touched on lightly, and
emphasis was the only indelicacy, the Professor found himself
constrained to endure an occasional reference to his book. It was
unpleasant at first; but gradually he slipped into the habit of hearing
it talked of, and grew accustomed to telling pretty women just how "it
had first come to him."
Meanwhile the success of the Scientific Sermons was facilitating his
family relations. His photograph in the Inglenook, to which the lady
of the note-book had succeeded in appending a vivid interview, carried
his fame to circles inaccessible even to "The Vital Thing"; and the
Professor found himself the man of the hour. He soon grew used to the
functions of the office, and gave out hundred-dollar interviews on
every subject, from labour-strikes to Babism, with a frequency which
reacted agreeably on the domestic exchequer. Presently his head began
to figure in the advertising pages of the magazines. Admiring readers
learned the name of the only breakfast-food in use at his table, of the
ink with which "The Vital Thing" had been written, the soap with which
the author's hands were washed, and the tissue-builder which fortified
him for further effort. These confidences endeared the Professor to
millions of readers, and his head passed in due course from the
magazine and the newspaper to the biscuit-tin and the chocolate-box.
The Professor, all the while, was leading a double life. While the
author of "The Vital Thing" reaped the fruits of popular approval, the
distinguished microscopist continued his laboratory work unheeded save
by the few who were engaged in the same line of investigations. His
divided allegiance had not hitherto affected the quality of his work:
it seemed to him that he returned to the laboratory with greater zest
after an afternoon in a drawing-room where readings from "The Vital
Thing" had alternated with plantation melodies and tea. He had long
ceased to concern himself with what his colleagues thought of his
literary career. Of the few whom he frequented, none had referred to
"The Vital Thing"; and he knew enough of their lives to guess that
their silence might as fairly be attributed to indifference as to
disapproval. They were intensely interested in the Professor's views on
beetles, but they really cared very little what he thought of the
The Professor entirely shared their feelings, and one of his chief
reasons for cultivating the success which accident had bestowed on him,
was that it enabled him to command a greater range of appliances for
his real work. He had known what it was to lack books and instruments;
and "The Vital Thing" was the magic wand which summoned them to his
aid. For some time he had been feeling his way along the edge of a
discovery: balancing himself with professional skill on a plank of
hypothesis flung across an abyss of uncertainty. The conjecture was the
result of years of patient gathering of facts: its corroboration would
take months more of comparison and classification. But at the end of
the vista victory loomed. The Professor felt within himself that
assurance of ultimate justification which, to the man of science, makes
a life-time seem the mere comma between premiss and deduction. But he
had reached the point where his conjectures required formulation. It
was only by giving them expression, by exposing them to the comment and
criticism of his associates, that he could test their final value; and
this inner assurance was confirmed by the only friend whose confidence
Professor Pease, the husband of the lady who had opened Mrs. Linyard's
eyes to the triumph of "The Vital Thing," was the repository of her
husband's scientific experiences. What he thought of "The Vital Thing"
had never been divulged; and he was capable of such vast exclusions
that it was quite possible that pervasive work had not yet reached him.
In any case, it was not likely to affect his judgment of the author's
"You want to put that all in a book, Linyard," was Professor Pease's
summing-up. "I'm sure you've got hold of something big; but to see it
clearly yourself you ought to outline it for others. Take my
advice—chuck everything else and get to work tomorrow. It's time you
wrote a book, anyhow."
It's time you wrote a book, anyhow! The words smote the Professor
with mingled pain and ecstasy: he could have wept over their
significance. But his friend's other phrase reminded him with a start
of Harviss. "You have got hold of a big thing—" it had been the
publisher's first comment on "The Vital Thing." But what a world of
meaning lay between the two phrases! It was the world in which the
powers who fought for the Professor were destined to wage their final
battle; and for the moment he had no doubt of the outcome. The next day
he went to town to see Harviss. He wanted to ask for an advance on the
new popular edition of "The Vital Thing." He had determined to drop a
course of supplementary lectures at the University, and to give himself
up for a year to his book. To do this, additional funds were necessary;
but thanks to "The Vital Thing" they would be forthcoming.
The publisher received him as cordially as usual; but the response to
his demand was not as prompt as his previous experience had entitled
him to expect.
"Of course we'll be glad to do what we can for you, Linyard; but the
fact is, we've decided to give up the idea of the new edition for the
"You've given up the new edition?"
"Why, yes—we've done pretty well by 'The Vital Thing,' and we're
inclined to think it's your turn to do something for it now."
The Professor looked at him blankly. "What can I do for it?" he
asked—"what more" his accent added.
"Why, put a little new life in it by writing something else. The secret
of perpetual motion hasn't yet been discovered, you know, and it's one
of the laws of literature that books which start with a rush are apt to
slow down sooner than the crawlers. We've kept 'The Vital Thing' going
for eighteen months—but, hang it, it ain't so vital any more. We
simply couldn't see our way to a new edition. Oh, I don't say it's dead
yet—but it's moribund, and you're the only man who can resuscitate it."
The Professor continued to stare. "I—what can I do about it?" he
"Do? Why write another like it—go it one better: you know the trick.
The public isn't tired of you by any means; but you want to make
yourself heard again before anybody else cuts in. Write another
book—write two, and we'll sell them in sets in a box: The Vital Thing
Series. That will take tremendously in the holidays. Try and let us
have a new volume by October—I'll be glad to give you a big advance if
you'll sign a contract on that."
The Professor sat silent: there was too cruel an irony in the
Harviss looked up at him in surprise.
"Well, what's the matter with taking my advice—you're not going out of
literature, are you?"
The Professor rose from his chair. "No—I'm going into it," he said
"Going into it?"
"I'm going to write a real book—a serious one."
"Good Lord! Most people think 'The Vital Thing' 's serious."
"Yes—but I mean something different."
"In your old line—beetles and so forth?"
"Yes," said the Professor solemnly.
Harviss looked at him with equal gravity. "Well, I'm sorry for that,"
he said, "because it takes you out of our bailiwick. But I suppose
you've made enough money out of 'The Vital Thing' to permit yourself a
little harmless amusement. When you want more cash come back to
us—only don't put it off too long, or some other fellow will have
stepped into your shoes. Popularity don't keep, you know; and the
hotter the success the quicker the commodity perishes."
He leaned back, cheerful and sententious, delivering his axioms with
The Professor, who had risen and moved to the door, turned back with a
"When did you say another volume would have to be ready?" he faltered.
"I said October—but call it a month later. You don't need any pushing
"And—you'd have no objection to letting me have a little advance now?
I need some new instruments for my real work."
Harviss extended a cordial hand. "My dear fellow, that's talking—I'll
write the cheque while you wait; and I daresay we can start up the
cheap edition of 'The Vital Thing' at the same time, if you'll pledge
yourself to give us the book by November.—How much?" he asked, poised
above his cheque-book.
In the street, the Professor stood staring about him, uncertain and a
"After all, it's only putting it off for six months," he said to
himself; "and I can do better work when I get my new instruments."
He smiled and raised his hat to the passing victoria of a lady in whose
copy of "The Vital Thing" he had recently written:
Labor est etiam ipsa voluptas.
THE OTHER TWO
WAYTHORN, on the drawing-room hearth, waited for his wife to come down
It was their first night under his own roof, and he was surprised at
his thrill of boyish agitation. He was not so old, to be sure—his
glass gave him little more than the five-and-thirty years to which his
wife confessed—but he had fancied himself already in the temperate
zone; yet here he was listening for her step with a tender sense of all
it symbolized, with some old trail of verse about the garlanded nuptial
door-posts floating through his enjoyment of the pleasant room and the
good dinner just beyond it.
They had been hastily recalled from their honeymoon by the illness of
Lily Haskett, the child of Mrs. Waythorn's first marriage. The little
girl, at Waythorn's desire, had been transferred to his house on the
day of her mother's wedding, and the doctor, on their arrival, broke
the news that she was ill with typhoid, but declared that all the
symptoms were favorable. Lily could show twelve years of unblemished
health, and the case promised to be a light one. The nurse spoke as
reassuringly, and after a moment of alarm Mrs. Waythorn had adjusted
herself to the situation. She was very fond of Lily—her affection for
the child had perhaps been her decisive charm in Waythorn's eyes—but
she had the perfectly balanced nerves which her little girl had
inherited, and no woman ever wasted less tissue in unproductive worry.
Waythorn was therefore quite prepared to see her come in presently, a
little late because of a last look at Lily, but as serene and
well-appointed as if her good-night kiss had been laid on the brow of
health. Her composure was restful to him; it acted as ballast to his
somewhat unstable sensibilities. As he pictured her bending over the
child's bed he thought how soothing her presence must be in illness:
her very step would prognosticate recovery.
His own life had been a gray one, from temperament rather than
circumstance, and he had been drawn to her by the unperturbed gayety
which kept her fresh and elastic at an age when most women's activities
are growing either slack or febrile. He knew what was said about her;
for, popular as she was, there had always been a faint undercurrent of
detraction. When she had appeared in New York, nine or ten years
earlier, as the pretty Mrs. Haskett whom Gus Varick had unearthed
somewhere—was it in Pittsburgh or Utica?—society, while promptly
accepting her, had reserved the right to cast a doubt on its own
discrimination. Inquiry, however, established her undoubted connection
with a socially reigning family, and explained her recent divorce as
the natural result of a runaway match at seventeen; and as nothing was
known of Mr. Haskett it was easy to believe the worst of him.
Alice Haskett's remarriage with Gus Varick was a passport to the set
whose recognition she coveted, and for a few years the Varicks were the
most popular couple in town. Unfortunately the alliance was brief and
stormy, and this time the husband had his champions. Still, even
Varick's stanchest supporters admitted that he was not meant for
matrimony, and Mrs. Varick's grievances were of a nature to bear the
inspection of the New York courts. A New York divorce is in itself a
diploma of virtue, and in the semi-widowhood of this second separation
Mrs. Varick took on an air of sanctity, and was allowed to confide her
wrongs to some of the most scrupulous ears in town. But when it was
known that she was to marry Waythorn there was a momentary reaction.
Her best friends would have preferred to see her remain in the role of
the injured wife, which was as becoming to her as crape to a rosy
complexion. True, a decent time had elapsed, and it was not even
suggested that Waythorn had supplanted his predecessor. Still, people
shook their heads over him, and one grudging friend, to whom he
affirmed that he took the step with his eyes open, replied oracularly:
"Yes—and with your ears shut."
Waythorn could afford to smile at these innuendoes. In the Wall Street
phrase, he had "discounted" them. He knew that society has not yet
adapted itself to the consequences of divorce, and that till the
adaptation takes place every woman who uses the freedom the law accords
her must be her own social justification. Waythorn had an amused
confidence in his wife's ability to justify herself. His expectations
were fulfilled, and before the wedding took place Alice Varick's group
had rallied openly to her support. She took it all imperturbably: she
had a way of surmounting obstacles without seeming to be aware of them,
and Waythorn looked back with wonder at the trivialities over which he
had worn his nerves thin. He had the sense of having found refuge in a
richer, warmer nature than his own, and his satisfaction, at the
moment, was humorously summed up in the thought that his wife, when she
had done all she could for Lily, would not be ashamed to come down and
enjoy a good dinner.
The anticipation of such enjoyment was not, however, the sentiment
expressed by Mrs. Waythorn's charming face when she presently joined
him. Though she had put on her most engaging teagown she had neglected
to assume the smile that went with it, and Waythorn thought he had
never seen her look so nearly worried.
"What is it?" he asked. "Is anything wrong with Lily?"
"No; I've just been in and she's still sleeping." Mrs. Waythorn
hesitated. "But something tiresome has happened."
He had taken her two hands, and now perceived that he was crushing a
paper between them.
"Yes—Mr. Haskett has written—I mean his lawyer has written."
Waythorn felt himself flush uncomfortably. He dropped his wife's hands.
"About seeing Lily. You know the courts—"
"Yes, yes," he interrupted nervously.
Nothing was known about Haskett in New York. He was vaguely supposed to
have remained in the outer darkness from which his wife had been
rescued, and Waythorn was one of the few who were aware that he had
given up his business in Utica and followed her to New York in order to
be near his little girl. In the days of his wooing, Waythorn had often
met Lily on the doorstep, rosy and smiling, on her way "to see papa."
"I am so sorry," Mrs. Waythorn murmured.
He roused himself. "What does he want?"
"He wants to see her. You know she goes to him once a week."
"Well—he doesn't expect her to go to him now, does he?"
"No—he has heard of her illness; but he expects to come here."
Mrs. Waythorn reddened under his gaze. They looked away from each other.
"I'm afraid he has the right....You'll see...." She made a proffer of
Waythorn moved away with a gesture of refusal. He stood staring about
the softly lighted room, which a moment before had seemed so full of
"I'm so sorry," she repeated. "If Lily could have been moved—"
"That's out of the question," he returned impatiently.
"I suppose so."
Her lip was beginning to tremble, and he felt himself a brute.
"He must come, of course," he said. "When is—his day?"
"Very well. Send a note in the morning."
The butler entered to announce dinner.
Waythorn turned to his wife. "Come—you must be tired. It's beastly,
but try to forget about it," he said, drawing her hand through his arm.
"You're so good, dear. I'll try," she whispered back.
Her face cleared at once, and as she looked at him across the flowers,
between the rosy candle-shades, he saw her lips waver back into a smile.
"How pretty everything is!" she sighed luxuriously.
He turned to the butler. "The champagne at once, please. Mrs. Waythorn
In a moment or two their eyes met above the sparkling glasses. Her own
were quite clear and untroubled: he saw that she had obeyed his
injunction and forgotten.
Waythorn moved away with a gesture of refusal
WAYTHORN, the next morning, went down town earlier than usual. Haskett
was not likely to come till the afternoon, but the instinct of flight
drove him forth. He meant to stay away all day—he had thoughts of
dining at his club. As his door closed behind him he reflected that
before he opened it again it would have admitted another man who had as
much right to enter it as himself, and the thought filled him with a
He caught the "elevated" at the employees' hour, and found himself
crushed between two layers of pendulous humanity. At Eighth Street the
man facing him wriggled out and another took his place. Waythorn
glanced up and saw that it was Gus Varick. The men were so close
together that it was impossible to ignore the smile of recognition on
Varick's handsome overblown face. And after all—why not? They had
always been on good terms, and Varick had been divorced before
Waythorn's attentions to his wife began. The two exchanged a word on
the perennial grievance of the congested trains, and when a seat at
their side was miraculously left empty the instinct of
self-preservation made Waythorn slip into it after Varick.
The latter drew the stout man's breath of relief.
"Lord—I was beginning to feel like a pressed flower." He leaned back,
looking unconcernedly at Waythorn. "Sorry to hear that Sellers is
knocked out again."
"Sellers?" echoed Waythorn, starting at his partner's name.
Varick looked surprised. "You didn't know he was laid up with the gout?"
"No. I've been away—I only got back last night." Waythorn felt himself
reddening in anticipation of the other's smile.
"Ah—yes; to be sure. And Sellers's attack came on two days ago. I'm
afraid he's pretty bad. Very awkward for me, as it happens, because he
was just putting through a rather important thing for me."
"Ah?" Waythorn wondered vaguely since when Varick had been dealing in
"important things." Hitherto he had dabbled only in the shallow pools
of speculation, with which Waythorn's office did not usually concern
It occurred to him that Varick might be talking at random, to relieve
the strain of their propinquity. That strain was becoming momentarily
more apparent to Waythorn, and when, at Cortlandt Street, he caught
sight of an acquaintance, and had a sudden vision of the picture he and
Varick must present to an initiated eye, he jumped up with a muttered
"I hope you'll find Sellers better," said Varick civilly, and he
stammered back: "If I can be of any use to you—" and let the departing
crowd sweep him to the platform.
At his office he heard that Sellers was in fact ill with the gout, and
would probably not be able to leave the house for some weeks.
"I'm sorry it should have happened so, Mr. Waythorn," the senior clerk
said with affable significance. "Mr. Sellers was very much upset at the
idea of giving you such a lot of extra work just now."
"Oh, that's no matter," said Waythorn hastily. He secretly welcomed the
pressure of additional business, and was glad to think that, when the
day's work was over, he would have to call at his partner's on the way
He was late for luncheon, and turned in at the nearest restaurant
instead of going to his club. The place was full, and the waiter
hurried him to the back of the room to capture the only vacant table.
In the cloud of cigar-smoke Waythorn did not at once distinguish his
neighbors; but presently, looking about him, he saw Varick seated a few
feet off. This time, luckily, they were too far apart for conversation,
and Varick, who faced another way, had probably not even seen him; but
there was an irony in their renewed nearness.
Varick was said to be fond of good living, and as Waythorn sat
despatching his hurried luncheon he looked across half enviously at the
other's leisurely degustation of his meal. When Waythorn first saw him
he had been helping himself with critical deliberation to a bit of
Camembert at the ideal point of liquefaction, and now, the cheese
removed, he was just pouring his cafe double from its little
two-storied earthen pot. He poured slowly, his ruddy profile bent above
the task, and one beringed white hand steadying the lid of the
coffee-pot; then he stretched his other hand to the decanter of cognac
at his elbow, filled a liqueur-glass, took a tentative sip, and poured
the brandy into his coffee-cup.
Waythorn watched him in a kind of fascination. What was he thinking
of—only of the flavor of the coffee and the liqueur? Had the morning's
meeting left no more trace in his thoughts than on his face? Had his
wife so completely passed out of his life that even this odd encounter
with her present husband, within a week after her remarriage, was no
more than an incident in his day? And as Waythorn mused, another idea
struck him: had Haskett ever met Varick as Varick and he had just met?
The recollection of Haskett perturbed him, and he rose and left the
restaurant, taking a circuitous way out to escape the placid irony of
It was after seven when Waythorn reached home. He thought the footman
who opened the door looked at him oddly.
"How is Miss Lily?" he asked in haste.
"Doing very well, sir. A gentleman—"
"Tell Barlow to put off dinner for half an hour," Waythorn cut him off,
He went straight to his room and dressed without seeing his wife. When
he reached the drawing-room she was there, fresh and radiant. Lily's
day had been good; the doctor was not coming back that evening.
At dinner Waythorn told her of Sellers's illness and of the resulting
complications. She listened sympathetically, adjuring him not to let
himself be overworked, and asking vague feminine questions about the
routine of the office. Then she gave him the chronicle of Lily's day;
quoted the nurse and doctor, and told him who had called to inquire. He
had never seen her more serene and unruffled. It struck him, with a
curious pang, that she was very happy in being with him, so happy that
she found a childish pleasure in rehearsing the trivial incidents of
After dinner they went to the library, and the servant put the coffee
and liqueurs on a low table before her and left the room. She looked
singularly soft and girlish in her rosy pale dress, against the dark
leather of one of his bachelor armchairs. A day earlier the contrast
would have charmed him.
He turned away now, choosing a cigar with affected deliberation.
"Did Haskett come?" he asked, with his back to her.
"Oh, yes—he came."
"You didn't see him, of course?"
She hesitated a moment. "I let the nurse see him."
That was all. There was nothing more to ask. He swung round toward her,
applying a match to his cigar. Well, the thing was over for a week, at
any rate. He would try not to think of it. She looked up at him, a
trifle rosier than usual, with a smile in her eyes.
"Ready for your coffee, dear?"
He leaned against the mantelpiece, watching her as she lifted the
coffee-pot. The lamplight struck a gleam from her bracelets and tipped
her soft hair with brightness. How light and slender she was, and how
each gesture flowed into the next! She seemed a creature all compact of
harmonies. As the thought of Haskett receded, Waythorn felt himself
yielding again to the joy of possessorship. They were his, those white
hands with their flitting motions, his the light haze of hair, the lips
She set down the coffee-pot, and reaching for the decanter of cognac,
measured off a liqueur-glass and poured it into his cup.
Waythorn uttered a sudden exclamation.
"What is the matter?" she said, startled.
"Nothing; only—I don't take cognac in my coffee."
"Oh, how stupid of me," she cried.
Their eyes met, and she blushed a sudden agonized red.
TEN DAYS later, Mr. Sellers, still house-bound, asked Waythorn to call
on his way down town.
The senior partner, with his swaddled foot propped up by the fire,
greeted his associate with an air of embarrassment.
"I'm sorry, my dear fellow; I've got to ask you to do an awkward thing
Waythorn waited, and the other went on, after a pause apparently given
to the arrangement of his phrases: "The fact is, when I was knocked out
I had just gone into a rather complicated piece of business for—Gus
"Well?" said Waythorn, with an attempt to put him at his ease.
"Well—it's this way: Varick came to me the day before my attack. He
had evidently had an inside tip from somebody, and had made about a
hundred thousand. He came to me for advice, and I suggested his going
in with Vanderlyn."
"Oh, the deuce!" Waythorn exclaimed. He saw in a flash what had
happened. The investment was an alluring one, but required negotiation.
He listened intently while Sellers put the case before him, and, the
statement ended, he said: "You think I ought to see Varick?"
"I'm afraid I can't as yet. The doctor is obdurate. And this thing
can't wait. I hate to ask you, but no one else in the office knows the
ins and outs of it."
Waythorn stood silent. He did not care a farthing for the success of
Varick's venture, but the honor of the office was to be considered, and
he could hardly refuse to oblige his partner.
"Very well," he said, "I'll do it."
That afternoon, apprised by telephone, Varick called at the office.
Waythorn, waiting in his private room, wondered what the others thought
of it. The newspapers, at the time of Mrs. Waythorn's marriage, had
acquainted their readers with every detail of her previous matrimonial
ventures, and Waythorn could fancy the clerks smiling behind Varick's
back as he was ushered in.
Varick bore himself admirably. He was easy without being undignified,
and Waythorn was conscious of cutting a much less impressive figure.
Varick had no head for business, and the talk prolonged itself for
nearly an hour while Waythorn set forth with scrupulous precision the
details of the proposed transaction.
"I'm awfully obliged to you," Varick said as he rose. "The fact is I'm
not used to having much money to look after, and I don't want to make
an ass of myself—" He smiled, and Waythorn could not help noticing
that there was something pleasant about his smile. "It feels uncommonly
queer to have enough cash to pay one's bills. I'd have sold my soul for
it a few years ago!"
Waythorn winced at the allusion. He had heard it rumored that a lack of
funds had been one of the determining causes of the Varick separation,
but it did not occur to him that Varick's words were intentional. It
seemed more likely that the desire to keep clear of embarrassing topics
had fatally drawn him into one. Waythorn did not wish to be outdone in
"We'll do the best we can for you," he said. "I think this is a good
thing you're in."
"Oh, I'm sure it's immense. It's awfully good of you—" Varick broke
off, embarrassed. "I suppose the thing's settled now—but if—"
"If anything happens before Sellers is about, I'll see you again," said
Waythorn quietly. He was glad, in the end, to appear the more
self-possessed of the two.
The course of Lily's illness ran smooth, and as the days passed
Waythorn grew used to the idea of Haskett's weekly visit. The first
time the day came round, he stayed out late, and questioned his wife as
to the visit on his return. She replied at once that Haskett had merely
seen the nurse downstairs, as the doctor did not wish any one in the
child's sick-room till after the crisis.
The following week Waythorn was again conscious of the recurrence of
the day, but had forgotten it by the time he came home to dinner. The
crisis of the disease came a few days later, with a rapid decline of
fever, and the little girl was pronounced out of danger. In the
rejoicing which ensued the thought of Haskett passed out of Waythorn's
mind and one afternoon, letting himself into the house with a latchkey,
he went straight to his library without noticing a shabby hat and
umbrella in the hall.
In the library he found a small effaced-looking man with a thinnish
gray beard sitting on the edge of a chair. The stranger might have been
a piano-tuner, or one of those mysteriously efficient persons who are
summoned in emergencies to adjust some detail of the domestic
machinery. He blinked at Waythorn through a pair of gold-rimmed
spectacles and said mildly: "Mr. Waythorn, I presume? I am Lily's
Waythorn flushed. "Oh—" he stammered uncomfortably. He broke off,
disliking to appear rude. Inwardly he was trying to adjust the actual
Haskett to the image of him projected by his wife's reminiscences.
Waythorn had been allowed to infer that Alice's first husband was a
"I am sorry to intrude," said Haskett, with his over-the-counter
"Don't mention it," returned Waythorn, collecting himself. "I suppose
the nurse has been told?"
"I presume so. I can wait," said Haskett. He had a resigned way of
speaking, as though life had worn down his natural powers of resistance.
Waythorn stood on the threshold, nervously pulling off his gloves.
"I'm sorry you've been detained. I will send for the nurse," he said;
and as he opened the door he added with an effort: "I'm glad we can
give you a good report of Lily." He winced as the we slipped out, but
Haskett seemed not to notice it.
"Thank you, Mr. Waythorn. It's been an anxious time for me."
"Ah, well, that's past. Soon she'll be able to go to you." Waythorn
nodded and passed out.
In his own room, he flung himself down with a groan. He hated the
womanish sensibility which made him suffer so acutely from the
grotesque chances of life. He had known when he married that his wife's
former husbands were both living, and that amid the multiplied contacts
of modern existence there were a thousand chances to one that he would
run against one or the other, yet he found himself as much disturbed by
his brief encounter with Haskett as though the law had not obligingly
removed all difficulties in the way of their meeting.
Waythorn sprang up and began to pace the room nervously. He had not
suffered half so much from his two meetings with Varick. It was
Haskett's presence in his own house that made the situation so
intolerable. He stood still, hearing steps in the passage.
"This way, please," he heard the nurse say. Haskett was being taken
upstairs, then: not a corner of the house but was open to him. Waythorn
dropped into another chair, staring vaguely ahead of him. On his
dressing-table stood a photograph of Alice, taken when he had first
known her. She was Alice Varick then—how fine and exquisite he had
thought her! Those were Varick's pearls about her neck. At Waythorn's
instance they had been returned before her marriage. Had Haskett ever
given her any trinkets—and what had become of them, Waythorn wondered?
He realized suddenly that he knew very little of Haskett's past or
present situation; but from the man's appearance and manner of speech
he could reconstruct with curious precision the surroundings of Alice's
first marriage. And it startled him to think that she had, in the
background of her life, a phase of existence so different from anything
with which he had connected her. Varick, whatever his faults, was a
gentleman, in the conventional, traditional sense of the term: the
sense which at that moment seemed, oddly enough, to have most meaning
to Waythorn. He and Varick had the same social habits, spoke the same
language, understood the same allusions. But this other man...it was
grotesquely uppermost in Waythorn's mind that Haskett had worn a
made-up tie attached with an elastic. Why should that ridiculous detail
symbolize the whole man? Waythorn was exasperated by his own
paltriness, but the fact of the tie expanded, forced itself on him,
became as it were the key to Alice's past. He could see her, as Mrs.
Haskett, sitting in a "front parlor" furnished in plush, with a
pianola, and a copy of "Ben Hur" on the centre-table. He could see her
going to the theatre with Haskett—or perhaps even to a "Church
Sociable"—she in a "picture hat" and Haskett in a black frock-coat, a
little creased, with the made-up tie on an elastic. On the way home
they would stop and look at the illuminated shop-windows, lingering
over the photographs of New York actresses. On Sunday afternoons
Haskett would take her for a walk, pushing Lily ahead of them in a
white enameled perambulator, and Waythorn had a vision of the people
they would stop and talk to. He could fancy how pretty Alice must have
looked, in a dress adroitly constructed from the hints of a New York
fashion-paper; how she must have looked down on the other women,
chafing at her life, and secretly feeling that she belonged in a bigger
For the moment his foremost thought was one of wonder at the way in
which she had shed the phase of existence which her marriage with
Haskett implied. It was as if her whole aspect, every gesture, every
inflection, every allusion, were a studied negation of that period of
her life. If she had denied being married to Haskett she could hardly
have stood more convicted of duplicity than in this obliteration of the
self which had been his wife.
Waythorn started up, checking himself in the analysis of her motives.
What right had he to create a fantastic effigy of her and then pass
judgment on it? She had spoken vaguely of her first marriage as
unhappy, had hinted, with becoming reticence, that Haskett had wrought
havoc among her young illusions....It was a pity for Waythorn's peace
of mind that Haskett's very inoffensiveness shed a new light on the
nature of those illusions. A man would rather think that his wife has
been brutalized by her first husband than that the process has been
"Why, how do you do?" she said with a distinct note of pleasure
"MR. WAYTHORN, I don't like that French governess of Lily's."
Haskett, subdued and apologetic, stood before Waythorn in the library,
revolving his shabby hat in his hand.
Waythorn, surprised in his armchair over the evening paper, stared back
perplexedly at his visitor.
"You'll excuse my asking to see you," Haskett continued. "But this is
my last visit, and I thought if I could have a word with you it would
be a better way than writing to Mrs. Waythorn's lawyer."
Waythorn rose uneasily. He did not like the French governess either;
but that was irrelevant.
"I am not so sure of that," he returned stiffly; "but since you wish it
I will give your message to—my wife." He always hesitated over the
possessive pronoun in addressing Haskett.
The latter sighed. "I don't know as that will help much. She didn't
like it when I spoke to her."
Waythorn turned red. "When did you see her?" he asked.
"Not since the first day I came to see Lily—right after she was taken
sick. I remarked to her then that I didn't like the governess."
Waythorn made no answer. He remembered distinctly that, after that
first visit, he had asked his wife if she had seen Haskett. She had
lied to him then, but she had respected his wishes since; and the
incident cast a curious light on her character. He was sure she would
not have seen Haskett that first day if she had divined that Waythorn
would object, and the fact that she did not divine it was almost as
disagreeable to the latter as the discovery that she had lied to him.
"I don't like the woman," Haskett was repeating with mild persistency.
"She ain't straight, Mr. Waythorn—she'll teach the child to be
underhand. I've noticed a change in Lily—she's too anxious to
please—and she don't always tell the truth. She used to be the
straightest child, Mr. Waythorn—" He broke off, his voice a little
thick. "Not but what I want her to have a stylish education," he ended.
Waythorn was touched. "I'm sorry, Mr. Haskett; but frankly, I don't
quite see what I can do."
Haskett hesitated. Then he laid his hat on the table, and advanced to
the hearth-rug, on which Waythorn was standing. There was nothing
aggressive in his manner; but he had the solemnity of a timid man
resolved on a decisive measure.
"There's just one thing you can do, Mr. Waythorn," he said. "You can
remind Mrs. Waythorn that, by the decree of the courts, I am entitled
to have a voice in Lily's bringing up." He paused, and went on more
deprecatingly: "I'm not the kind to talk about enforcing my rights, Mr.
Waythorn. I don't know as I think a man is entitled to rights he hasn't
known how to hold on to; but this business of the child is different.
I've never let go there—and I never mean to."
The scene left Waythorn deeply shaken. Shamefacedly, in indirect ways,
he had been finding out about Haskett; and all that he had learned was
favorable. The little man, in order to be near his daughter, had sold
out his share in a profitable business in Utica, and accepted a modest
clerkship in a New York manufacturing house. He boarded in a shabby
street and had few acquaintances. His passion for Lily filled his life.
Waythorn felt that this exploration of Haskett was like groping about
with a dark-lantern in his wife's past; but he saw now that there were
recesses his lantern had not explored. He had never inquired into the
exact circumstances of his wife's first matrimonial rupture. On the
surface all had been fair. It was she who had obtained the divorce, and
the court had given her the child. But Waythorn knew how many
ambiguities such a verdict might cover. The mere fact that Haskett
retained a right over his daughter implied an unsuspected compromise.
Waythorn was an idealist. He always refused to recognize unpleasant
contingencies till he found himself confronted with them, and then he
saw them followed by a special train of consequences. His next days
were thus haunted, and he determined to try to lay the ghosts by
conjuring them up in his wife's presence.
When he repeated Haskett's request a flame of anger passed over her
face; but she subdued it instantly and spoke with a slight quiver of
"It is very ungentlemanly of him," she said.
The word grated on Waythorn. "That is neither here nor there. It's a
bare question of rights."
She murmured: "It's not as if he could ever be a help to Lily—"
Waythorn flushed. This was even less to his taste. "The question is,"
he repeated, "what authority has he over her?"
She looked downward, twisting herself a little in her seat. "I am
willing to see him—I thought you objected," she faltered.
In a flash he understood that she knew the extent of Haskett's claims.
Perhaps it was not the first time she had resisted them.
"My objecting has nothing to do with it," he said coldly; "if Haskett
has a right to be consulted you must consult him."
She burst into tears, and he saw that she expected him to regard her as
Haskett did not abuse his rights. Waythorn had felt miserably sure that
he would not. But the governess was dismissed, and from time to time
the little man demanded an interview with Alice. After the first
outburst she accepted the situation with her usual adaptability.
Haskett had once reminded Waythorn of the piano-tuner, and Mrs.
Waythorn, after a month or two, appeared to class him with that
domestic familiar. Waythorn could not but respect the father's
tenacity. At first he had tried to cultivate the suspicion that Haskett
might be "up to" something, that he had an object in securing a
foothold in the house. But in his heart Waythorn was sure of Haskett's
single-mindedness; he even guessed in the latter a mild contempt for
such advantages as his relation with the Waythorns might offer.
Haskett's sincerity of purpose made him invulnerable, and his successor
had to accept him as a lien on the property.
Mr. Sellers was sent to Europe to recover from his gout, and Varick's
affairs hung on Waythorn's hands. The negotiations were prolonged and
complicated; they necessitated frequent conferences between the two
men, and the interests of the firm forbade Waythorn's suggesting that
his client should transfer his business to another office.
Varick appeared well in the transaction. In moments of relaxation his
coarse streak appeared, and Waythorn dreaded his geniality; but in the
office he was concise and clear-headed, with a flattering deference to
Waythorn's judgment. Their business relations being so affably
established, it would have been absurd for the two men to ignore each
other in society. The first time they met in a drawing-room, Varick
took up their intercourse in the same easy key, and his hostess's
grateful glance obliged Waythorn to respond to it. After that they ran
across each other frequently, and one evening at a ball Waythorn,
wandering through the remoter rooms, came upon Varick seated beside his
wife. She colored a little, and faltered in what she was saying; but
Varick nodded to Waythorn without rising, and the latter strolled on.
In the carriage, on the way home, he broke out nervously: "I didn't
know you spoke to Varick."
Her voice trembled a little. "It's the first time—he happened to be
standing near me; I didn't know what to do. It's so awkward, meeting
everywhere—and he said you had been very kind about some business."
"That's different," said Waythorn.
She paused a moment. "I'll do just as you wish," she returned pliantly.
"I thought it would be less awkward to speak to him when we meet."
Her pliancy was beginning to sicken him. Had she really no will of her
own—no theory about her relation to these men? She had accepted
Haskett—did she mean to accept Varick? It was "less awkward," as she
had said, and her instinct was to evade difficulties or to circumvent
them. With sudden vividness Waythorn saw how the instinct had
developed. She was "as easy as an old shoe"—a shoe that too many feet
had worn. Her elasticity was the result of tension in too many
different directions. Alice Haskett—Alice Varick—Alice Waythorn—she
had been each in turn, and had left hanging to each name a little of
her privacy, a little of her personality, a little of the inmost self
where the unknown god abides.
"Yes—it's better to speak to Varick," said Waythorn wearily.
"Earth's Martyrs." By Stephen Phillips.
THE WINTER wore on, and society took advantage of the Waythorns'
acceptance of Varick. Harassed hostesses were grateful to them for
bridging over a social difficulty, and Mrs. Waythorn was held up as a
miracle of good taste. Some experimental spirits could not resist the
diversion of throwing Varick and his former wife together, and there
were those who thought he found a zest in the propinquity. But Mrs.
Waythorn's conduct remained irreproachable. She neither avoided Varick
nor sought him out. Even Waythorn could not but admit that she had
discovered the solution of the newest social problem.
He had married her without giving much thought to that problem. He had
fancied that a woman can shed her past like a man. But now he saw that
Alice was bound to hers both by the circumstances which forced her into
continued relation with it, and by the traces it had left on her
nature. With grim irony Waythorn compared himself to a member of a
syndicate. He held so many shares in his wife's personality and his
predecessors were his partners in the business. If there had been any
element of passion in the transaction he would have felt less
deteriorated by it. The fact that Alice took her change of husbands
like a change of weather reduced the situation to mediocrity. He could
have forgiven her for blunders, for excesses; for resisting Hackett,
for yielding to Varick; for anything but her acquiescence and her tact.
She reminded him of a juggler tossing knives; but the knives were blunt
and she knew they would never cut her.
And then, gradually, habit formed a protecting surface for his
sensibilities. If he paid for each day's comfort with the small change
of his illusions, he grew daily to value the comfort more and set less
store upon the coin. He had drifted into a dulling propinquity with
Haskett and Varick and he took refuge in the cheap revenge of
satirizing the situation. He even began to reckon up the advantages
which accrued from it, to ask himself if it were not better to own a
third of a wife who knew how to make a man happy than a whole one who
had lacked opportunity to acquire the art. For it was an art, and
made up, like all others, of concessions, eliminations and
embellishments; of lights judiciously thrown and shadows skillfully
softened. His wife knew exactly how to manage the lights, and he knew
exactly to what training she owed her skill. He even tried to trace the
source of his obligations, to discriminate between the influences which
had combined to produce his domestic happiness: he perceived that
Haskett's commonness had made Alice worship good breeding, while
Varick's liberal construction of the marriage bond had taught her to
value the conjugal virtues; so that he was directly indebted to his
predecessors for the devotion which made his life easy if not inspiring.
From this phase he passed into that of complete acceptance. He ceased
to satirize himself because time dulled the irony of the situation and
the joke lost its humor with its sting. Even the sight of Haskett's hat
on the hall table had ceased to touch the springs of epigram. The hat
was often seen there now, for it had been decided that it was better
for Lily's father to visit her than for the little girl to go to his
boarding-house. Waythorn, having acquiesced in this arrangement, had
been surprised to find how little difference it made. Haskett was never
obtrusive, and the few visitors who met him on the stairs were unaware
of his identity. Waythorn did not know how often he saw Alice, but with
himself Haskett was seldom in contact.
One afternoon, however, he learned on entering that Lily's father was
waiting to see him. In the library he found Haskett occupying a chair
in his usual provisional way. Waythorn always felt grateful to him for
not leaning back.
"I hope you'll excuse me, Mr. Waythorn," he said rising. "I wanted to
see Mrs. Waythorn about Lily, and your man asked me to wait here till
she came in."
"Of course," said Waythorn, remembering that a sudden leak had that
morning given over the drawing-room to the plumbers.
He opened his cigar-case and held it out to his visitor, and Haskett's
acceptance seemed to mark a fresh stage in their intercourse. The
spring evening was chilly, and Waythorn invited his guest to draw up
his chair to the fire. He meant to find an excuse to leave Haskett in a
moment; but he was tired and cold, and after all the little man no
longer jarred on him.
The two were inclosed in the intimacy of their blended cigar-smoke when
the door opened and Varick walked into the room. Waythorn rose
abruptly. It was the first time that Varick had come to the house, and
the surprise of seeing him, combined with the singular inopportuneness
of his arrival, gave a new edge to Waythorn's blunted sensibilities. He
stared at his visitor without speaking.
Varick seemed too preoccupied to notice his host's embarrassment.
"My dear fellow," he exclaimed in his most expansive tone, "I must
apologize for tumbling in on you in this way, but I was too late to
catch you down town, and so I thought—" He stopped short, catching
sight of Haskett, and his sanguine color deepened to a flush which
spread vividly under his scant blond hair. But in a moment he recovered
himself and nodded slightly. Haskett returned the bow in silence, and
Waythorn was still groping for speech when the footman came in carrying
The intrusion offered a welcome vent to Waythorn's nerves. "What the
deuce are you bringing this here for?" he said sharply.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but the plumbers are still in the
drawing-room, and Mrs. Waythorn said she would have tea in the
library." The footman's perfectly respectful tone implied a reflection
on Waythorn's reasonableness.
"Oh, very well," said the latter resignedly, and the footman proceeded
to open the folding tea-table and set out its complicated appointments.
While this interminable process continued the three men stood
motionless, watching it with a fascinated stare, till Waythorn, to
break the silence, said to Varick: "Won't you have a cigar?"
He held out the case he had just tendered to Haskett, and Varick helped
himself with a smile. Waythorn looked about for a match, and finding
none, proffered a light from his own cigar. Haskett, in the background,
held his ground mildly, examining his cigar-tip now and then, and
stepping forward at the right moment to knock its ashes into the fire.
The footman at last withdrew, and Varick immediately began: "If I could
just say half a word to you about this business—"
"Certainly," stammered Waythorn; "in the dining-room—"
But as he placed his hand on the door it opened from without, and his
wife appeared on the threshold.
She came in fresh and smiling, in her street dress and hat, shedding a
fragrance from the boa which she loosened in advancing.
"Shall we have tea in here, dear?" she began; and then she caught sight
of Varick. Her smile deepened, veiling a slight tremor of surprise.
"Why, how do you do?" she said with a distinct note of pleasure.
As she shook hands with Varick she saw Haskett standing behind him. Her
smile faded for a moment, but she recalled it quickly, with a scarcely
perceptible side-glance at Waythorn.
"How do you do, Mr. Haskett?" she said, and shook hands with him a
shade less cordially.
The three men stood awkwardly before her, till Varick, always the most
self-possessed, dashed into an explanatory phrase.
"We—I had to see Waythorn a moment on business," he stammered,
brick-red from chin to nape.
Haskett stepped forward with his air of mild obstinacy. "I am sorry to
intrude; but you appointed five o'clock—" he directed his resigned
glance to the time-piece on the mantel.
She swept aside their embarrassment with a charming gesture of
"I'm so sorry—I'm always late; but the afternoon was so lovely." She
stood drawing her gloves off, propitiatory and graceful, diffusing
about her a sense of ease and familiarity in which the situation lost
its grotesqueness. "But before talking business," she added brightly,
"I'm sure every one wants a cup of tea."
She dropped into her low chair by the tea-table, and the two visitors,
as if drawn by her smile, advanced to receive the cups she held out.
She glanced about for Waythorn, and he took the third cup with a laugh.
"I CAN never," said Mrs. Fetherel, "hear the bell ring without a
Her unruffled aspect—she was the kind of woman whose emotions never
communicate themselves to her clothes—and the conventional background
of the New York drawing-room, with its pervading implication of an
imminent tea-tray and of an atmosphere in which the social functions
have become purely reflex, lent to her declaration a relief not lost on
her cousin Mrs. Clinch, who, from the other side of the fireplace,
agreed with a glance at the clock, that it was the hour for bores.
"Bores!" cried Mrs. Fetherel impatiently. "If I shuddered at them, I
should have a chronic ague!"
She leaned forward and laid a sparkling finger on her cousin's shabby
black knee. "I mean the newspaper clippings," she whispered.
Mrs. Clinch returned a glance of intelligence. "They've begun already?"
"Not yet; but they're sure to now, at any minute, my publisher tells
Mrs. Fetherel's look of apprehension sat oddly on her small features,
which had an air of neat symmetry somehow suggestive of being set in
order every morning by the housemaid. Some one (there were rumors that
it was her cousin) had once said that Paula Fetherel would have been
very pretty if she hadn't looked so like a moral axiom in a copy-book
Mrs. Clinch received her confidence with a smile. "Well," she said, "I
suppose you were prepared for the consequences of authorship?"
Mrs. Fetherel blushed brightly. "It isn't their coming," she
owned—"it's their coming now."
"The Bishop's in town."
Mrs. Clinch leaned back and shaped her lips to a whistle which
deflected in a laugh. "Well!" she said.
"You see!" Mrs. Fetherel triumphed.
"Well—weren't you prepared for the Bishop?"
"Not now—at least, I hadn't thought of his seeing the clippings."
"And why should he see them?"
"Bella—won't you understand? It's John."
"Who has taken the most unexpected tone—one might almost say out of
"Oh, perversity—" Mrs. Clinch murmured, observing her cousin between
lids wrinkled by amusement. "What tone has John taken?"
Mrs. Fetherel threw out her answer with the desperate gesture of a
woman who lays bare the traces of a marital fist. "The tone of being
proud of my book."
The measure of Mrs. Clinch's enjoyment overflowed in laughter.
"Oh, you may laugh," Mrs. Fetherel insisted, "but it's no joke to me.
In the first place, John's liking the book is so—so—such a false
note—it puts me in such a ridiculous position; and then it has set him
watching for the reviews—who would ever have suspected John of knowing
that books were reviewed? Why, he's actually found out about the
Clipping Bureau, and whenever the postman rings I hear John rush out of
the library to see if there are any yellow envelopes. Of course, when
they do come he'll bring them into the drawing-room and read them
aloud to everybody who happens to be here—and the Bishop is sure to
happen to be here!"
Mrs. Clinch repressed her amusement. "The picture you draw is a lurid
one," she conceded, "but your modesty strikes me as abnormal,
especially in an author. The chances are that some of the clippings
will be rather pleasant reading. The critics are not all union men."
Mrs. Fetherel stared. "Union men?"
"Well, I mean they don't all belong to the well-known
Society-for-the-Persecution-of-Rising-Authors. Some of them have even
been known to defy its regulations and say a good word for a new
"Oh, I dare say," said Mrs. Fetherel, with the laugh her cousin's
epigram exacted. "But you don't quite see my point. I'm not at all
nervous about the success of my book—my publisher tells me I have no
need to be—but I am afraid of its being a succes de scandale."
"Mercy!" said Mrs. Clinch, sitting up.
The butler and footman at this moment appeared with the tea-tray, and
when they had withdrawn, Mrs. Fetherel, bending her brightly rippled
head above the kettle, continued in a murmur of avowal, "The title,
even, is a kind of challenge."
"'Fast and Loose,'" Mrs. Clinch mused. "Yes, it ought to take."
"I didn't choose it for that reason!" the author protested. "I should
have preferred something quieter—less pronounced; but I was determined
not to shirk the responsibility of what I had written. I want people to
know beforehand exactly what kind of book they are buying."
"Well," said Mrs. Clinch, "that's a degree of conscientiousness that
I've never met with before. So few books fulfil the promise of their
titles that experienced readers never expect the fare to come up to the
"'Fast and Loose' will be no disappointment on that score," her cousin
significantly returned. "I've handled the subject without gloves. I've
called a spade a spade."
"You simply make my mouth water! And to think I haven't been able to
read it yet because every spare minute of my time has been given to
correcting the proofs of 'How the Birds Keep Christmas'! There's an
instance of the hardships of an author's life!"
Mrs. Fetherel's eye clouded. "Don't joke, Bella, please. I suppose to
experienced authors there's always something absurd in the nervousness
of a new writer, but in my case so much is at stake; I've put so much
of myself into this book and I'm so afraid of being misunderstood...of
being, as it were, in advance of my time... like poor Flaubert....I
know you'll think me ridiculous... and if only my own reputation were
at stake, I should never give it a thought...but the idea of dragging
John's name through the mire..."
Mrs. Clinch, who had risen and gathered her cloak about her, stood
surveying from her genial height her cousin's agitated countenance.
"Why did you use John's name, then?"
"That's another of my difficulties! I had to. There would have been
no merit in publishing such a book under an assumed name; it would have
been an act of moral cowardice. 'Fast and Loose' is not an ordinary
novel. A writer who dares to show up the hollowness of social
conventions must have the courage of her convictions and be willing to
accept the consequences of defying society. Can you imagine Ibsen or
Tolstoy writing under a false name?" Mrs. Fetherel lifted a tragic eye
to her cousin. "You don't know, Bella, how often I've envied you since
I began to write. I used to wonder sometimes—you won't mind my saying
so?—why, with all your cleverness, you hadn't taken up some more
exciting subject than natural history; but I see now how wise you were.
Whatever happens, you will never be denounced by the press!"
"Is that what you're afraid of?" asked Mrs. Clinch, as she grasped the
bulging umbrella which rested against her chair. "My dear, if I had
ever had the good luck to be denounced by the press, my brougham would
be waiting at the door for me at this very moment, and I shouldn't have
to ruin this umbrella by using it in the rain. Why, you innocent, if
I'd ever felt the slightest aptitude for showing up social conventions,
do you suppose I should waste my time writing 'Nests Ajar' and 'How to
Smell the Flowers'? There's a fairly steady demand for pseudo-science
and colloquial ornithology, but it's nothing, simply nothing, to the
ravenous call for attacks on social institutions—especially by those
inside the institutions!"
There was often, to her cousin, a lack of taste in Mrs. Clinch's
pleasantries, and on this occasion they seemed more than usually
"'Fast and Loose' was not written with the idea of a large sale."
Mrs. Clinch was unperturbed. "Perhaps that's just as well," she
returned, with a philosophic shrug. "The surprise will be all the
pleasanter, I mean. For of course it's going to sell tremendously;
especially if you can get the press to denounce it."
"Bella, how can you? I sometimes think you say such things expressly
to tease me; and yet I should think you of all women would understand
my purpose in writing such a book. It has always seemed to me that the
message I had to deliver was not for myself alone, but for all the
other women in the world who have felt the hollowness of our social
shams, the ignominy of bowing down to the idols of the market, but have
lacked either the courage or the power to proclaim their independence;
and I have fancied, Bella dear, that, however severely society might
punish me for revealing its weaknesses, I could count on the sympathy
of those who, like you"—Mrs. Fetherel's voice sank—"have passed
through the deep waters."
Mrs. Clinch gave herself a kind of canine shake, as though to free her
ample shoulders from any drop of the element she was supposed to have
"Oh, call them muddy rather than deep," she returned; "and you'll find,
my dear, that women who've had any wading to do are rather shy of
stirring up mud. It sticks—especially on white clothes."
Mrs. Fetherel lifted an undaunted brow. "I'm not afraid," she
proclaimed; and at the same instant she dropped her tea-spoon with a
clatter and shrank back into her seat. "There's the bell," she
exclaimed, "and I know it's the Bishop!"
It was in fact the Bishop of Ossining, who, impressively announced by
Mrs. Fetherel's butler, now made an entry that may best be described as
not inadequate to the expectations the announcement raised. The Bishop
always entered a room well; but, when unannounced, or preceded by a Low
Church butler who gave him his surname, his appearance lacked the
impressiveness conferred on it by the due specification of his diocesan
dignity. The Bishop was very fond of his niece Mrs. Fetherel, and one
of the traits he most valued in her was the possession of a butler who
knew how to announce a bishop.
Mrs. Clinch was also his niece; but, aside from the fact that she
possessed no butler at all, she had laid herself open to her uncle's
criticism by writing insignificant little books which had a way of
going into five or ten editions, while the fruits of his own episcopal
leisure—"The Wail of Jonah" (twenty cantos in blank verse), and
"Through a Glass Brightly; or, How to Raise Funds fora Memorial
Window"—inexplicably languished on the back shelves of a publisher
noted for his dexterity in pushing "devotional goods." Even this
indiscretion the Bishop might, however, have condoned, had his niece
thought fit to turn to him for support and advice at the painful
juncture of her history when, in her own words, it became necessary for
her to invite Mr. Clinch to look out for another situation. Mr.
Clinch's misconduct was of the kind especially designed by Providence
to test the fortitude of a Christian wife and mother, and the Bishop
was absolutely distended with seasonable advice and edification; so
that when Bella met his tentative exhortations with the curt remark
that she preferred to do her own housecleaning unassisted, her uncle's
grief at her ingratitude was not untempered with sympathy for Mr.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Bishop's warmest greetings
were always reserved for Mrs. Fetherel; and on this occasion Mrs.
Clinch thought she detected, in the salutation which fell to her share,
a pronounced suggestion that her own presence was superfluous—a hint
which she took with her usual imperturbable good humor.
Left alone with the Bishop, Mrs. Fetherel sought the nearest refuge
from conversation by offering him a cup of tea. The Bishop accepted
with the preoccupied air of a man to whom, for the moment, tea is but a
subordinate incident. Mrs. Fetherel's nervousness increased; and
knowing that the surest way of distracting attention from one's own
affairs is to affect an interest in those of one's companion, she
hastily asked if her uncle had come to town on business.
"On business—yes—" said the Bishop in an impressive tone. "I had to
see my publisher, who has been behaving rather unsatisfactorily in
regard to my last book."
"Ah—your last book?" faltered Mrs. Fetherel, with a sickening sense of
her inability to recall the name or nature of the work in question, and
a mental vow never again to be caught in such ignorance of a
"'Through a Glass Brightly,'" the Bishop explained, with an emphasis
which revealed his detection of her predicament. "You may remember that
I sent you a copy last Christmas?"
"Of course I do!" Mrs. Fetherel brightened. "It was that delightful
story of the poor consumptive girl who had no money, and two little
brothers to support—"
"Sisters—idiot sisters—" the Bishop gloomily corrected.
"I mean sisters; and who managed to collect money enough to put up a
beautiful memorial window to her—her grandfather, whom she had never
"But whose sermons had been her chief consolation and support during
her long struggle with poverty and disease." The Bishop gave the
satisfied sigh of the workman who reviews his completed task. "A
touching subject, surely; and I believe I did it justice; at least, so
my friends assured me."
"Why, yes—I remember there was a splendid review of it in the
'Reredos'!" cried Mrs. Fetherel, moved by the incipient instinct of
"Yes—by my dear friend Mrs. Gollinger, whose husband, the late Dean
Gollinger, was under very particular obligations to me. Mrs. Gollinger
is a woman of rare literary acumen, and her praise of my book was
unqualified; but the public wants more highly seasoned fare, and the
approval of a thoughtful churchwoman carries less weight than the
sensational comments of an illiterate journalist." The Bishop lent a
meditative eye on his spotless gaiters. "At the risk of horrifying you,
my dear," he added, with a slight laugh, "I will confide to you that my
best chance of a popular success would be to have my book denounced by
"Denounced?" gasped Mrs. Fetherel. "On what ground?"
"On the ground of immorality." The Bishop evaded her startled gaze.
"Such a thing is inconceivable to you, of course; but I am only
repeating what my publisher tells me. If, for instance, a critic could
be induced—I mean, if a critic were to be found, who called in
question the morality of my heroine in sacrificing her own health and
that of her idiot sisters in order to put up a memorial window to her
grandfather, it would probably raise a general controversy in the
newspapers, and I might count on a sale of ten or fifteen thousand
within the next year. If he described her as morbid or decadent, it
might even run to twenty thousand; but that is more than I permit
myself to hope. In fact, I should be satisfied with any general charge
of immorality." The Bishop sighed again. "I need hardly tell you that I
am actuated by no mere literary ambition. Those whose opinion I most
value have assured me that the book is not without merit; but, though
it does not become me to dispute their verdict, I can truly say that my
vanity as an author is not at stake. I have, however, a special reason
for wishing to increase the circulation of 'Through a Glass Brightly';
it was written for a purpose—a purpose I have greatly at heart—"
"I know," cried his niece sympathetically. "The chantry window—?"
"Is still empty, alas! and I had great hopes that, under Providence, my
little book might be the means of filling it. All our wealthy
parishioners have given lavishly to the cathedral, and it was for this
reason that, in writing 'Through a Glass,' I addressed my appeal more
especially to the less well-endowed, hoping by the example of my
heroine to stimulate the collection of small sums throughout the entire
diocese, and perhaps beyond it. I am sure," the Bishop feelingly
concluded, "the book would have a wide-spread influence if people could
only be induced to read it!"
His conclusion touched a fresh thread of association in Mrs. Fetherel's
vibrating nerve-centers. "I never thought of that!" she cried.
The Bishop looked at her inquiringly.
"That one's books may not be read at all! How dreadful!" she exclaimed.
He smiled faintly. "I had not forgotten that I was addressing an
authoress," he said. "Indeed, I should not have dared to inflict my
troubles on any one not of the craft."
Mrs. Fetherel was quivering with the consciousness of her involuntary
self-betrayal. "Oh, uncle!" she murmured.
"In fact," the Bishop continued, with a gesture which seemed to brush
away her scruples, "I came here partly to speak to you about your
novel. 'Fast and Loose,' I think you call it?"
Mrs. Fetherel blushed assentingly.
"And is it out yet?" the Bishop continued.
"It came out about a week ago. But you haven't touched your tea, and it
must be quite cold. Let me give you another cup..."
"My reason for asking," the Bishop went on, with the bland
inexorableness with which, in his younger days, he had been known to
continue a sermon after the senior warden had looked four times at his
watch—"my reason for asking is, that I hoped I might not be too late
to induce you to change the title."
Mrs. Fetherel set down the cup she had filled. "The title?" she
The Bishop raised a reassuring hand. "Don't misunderstand me, dear
child; don't for a moment imagine that I take it to be in anyway
indicative of the contents of the book. I know you too well for that.
My first idea was that it had probably been forced on you by an
unscrupulous publisher—I know too well to what ignoble compromises one
may be driven in such cases!..." He paused, as though to give her the
opportunity of confirming this conjecture, but she preserved an
apprehensive silence, and he went on, as though taking up the second
point in his sermon—"Or, again, the name may have taken your fancy
without your realizing all that it implies to minds more alive than
yours to offensive innuendoes. It is—ahem—excessively suggestive, and
I hope I am not too late to warn you of the false impression it is
likely to produce on the very readers whose approbation you would most
value. My friend Mrs. Gollinger, for instance—"
Mrs. Fetherel, as the publication of her novel testified, was in theory
a woman of independent views; and if in practise she sometimes failed
to live up to her standard, it was rather from an irresistible tendency
to adapt herself to her environment than from any conscious lack of
moral courage. The Bishop's exordium had excited in her that sense of
opposition which such admonitions are apt to provoke; but as he went on
she felt herself gradually enclosed in an atmosphere in which her
theories vainly gasped for breath. The Bishop had the immense
dialectical advantage of invalidating any conclusions at variance with
his own by always assuming that his premises were among the necessary
laws of thought. This method, combined with the habit of ignoring any
classifications but his own, created an element in which the first
condition of existence was the immediate adoption of his standpoint; so
that his niece, as she listened, seemed to feel Mrs. Gollinger's
Mechlin cap spreading its conventual shadow over her rebellious brow
and the "Revue de Paris" at her elbow turning into a copy of the
"Reredos." She had meant to assure her uncle that she was quite aware
of the significance of the title she had chosen, that it had been
deliberately selected as indicating the subject of her novel, and that
the book itself had been written indirect defiance of the class of
readers for whose susceptibilities she was alarmed. The words were
almost on her lips when the irresistible suggestion conveyed by the
Bishop's tone and language deflected them into the apologetic murmur,
"Oh, uncle, you mustn't think—I never meant—" How much farther this
current of reaction might have carried her, the historian is unable to
computer, for at this point the door opened and her husband entered the
"The first review of your book!" he cried, flourishing a yellow
envelope. "My dear Bishop, how lucky you're here!"
Though the trials of married life have been classified and catalogued
with exhaustive accuracy, there is one form of conjugal misery which
has perhaps received inadequate attention; and that is the suffering of
the versatile woman whose husband is not equally adapted to all her
moods. Every woman feels for the sister who is compelled to wear a
bonnet which does not "go" with her gown; but how much sympathy is
given to her whose husband refuses to harmonize with the pose of the
moment? Scant justice has, for instance, been done to the misunderstood
wife whose husband persists in understanding her; to the submissive
helpmate whose taskmaster shuns every opportunity of browbeating her;
and to the generous and impulsive being whose bills are paid with
philosophic calm. Mrs. Fetherel, as wives go, had been fairly exempt
from trials of this nature, for her husband, if undistinguished by
pronounced brutality or indifference, had at least the negative merit
of being her intellectual inferior. Landscape gardeners, who are aware
of the usefulness of a valley in emphasizing the height of a hill, can
form an idea of the account to which an accomplished woman may turn
such deficiencies; and it need scarcely be said that Mrs. Fetherel had
made the most of her opportunities. It was agreeably obvious to every
one, Fetherel included, that he was not the man to appreciate such a
woman; but there are no limits to man's perversity, and he did his best
to invalidate this advantage by admiring her without pretending to
understand her. What she most suffered from was this fatuous approval:
the maddening sense that, however she conducted herself, he would
always admire her. Had he belonged to the class whose conversational
supplies are drawn from the domestic circle, his wife's name would
never have been off his lips; and to Mrs. Fetherel's sensitive
perceptions his frequent silences were indicative of the fact that she
was his one topic.
It was, in part, the attempt to escape this persistent approbation that
had driven Mrs. Fetherel to authorship. She had fancied that even the
most infatuated husband might be counted onto resent, at least
negatively, an attack on the sanctity of the hearth; and her
anticipations were heightened by a sense of the unpardonableness of her
act. Mrs. Fetherel's relations with her husband were in fact
complicated by an irrepressible tendency to be fond of him; and there
was a certain pleasure in the prospect of a situation that justified
the most explicit expiation.
These hopes Fetherel's attitude had already defeated. He read the book
with enthusiasm, he pressed it on his friends, he sent a copy to his
mother; and his very soul now hung on the verdict of the reviewers. It
was perhaps this proof of his general ineptitude that made his wife
doubly alive to his special defects; so that his inopportune entrance
was aggravated by the very sound of his voice and the hopeless
aberration of his smile. Nothing, to the observant, is more indicative
of a man's character and circumstances than his way of entering a room.
The Bishop of Ossining, for instance, brought with him not only an
atmosphere of episcopal authority, but an implied opinion on the verbal
inspiration of the Scriptures, and on the attitude of the church toward
divorce; while the appearance of Mrs. Fetherel's husband produced an
immediate impression of domestic felicity. His mere aspect implied that
there was a well-filled nursery upstairs; that this wife, if she did
not sew on his buttons, at least superintended the performance of that
task; that they both went to church regularly, and that they dined with
his mother every Sunday evening punctually at seven o'clock.
All this and more was expressed in the affectionate gesture with which
he now raised the yellow envelope above Mrs. Fetherel's clutch; and
knowing the uselessness of begging him not to be silly, she said, with
a dry despair, "You're boring the Bishop horribly."
Fetherel turned a radiant eye on that dignitary. "She bores us all
horribly, doesn't she, sir?" he exulted.
"Have you read it?" said his wife, uncontrollably.
"Read it? Of course not—it's just this minute come. I say, Bishop,
you're not going—?"
"Not till I've heard this," said the Bishop, settling himself in his
chair with an indulgent smile.
His niece glanced at him despairingly. "Don't let John's nonsense
detain you," she entreated.
"Detain him? That's good," guffawed Fetherel. "It isn't as long as one
of his sermons—won't take me five minutes to read. Here, listen to
this, ladies and gentlemen: 'In this age of festering pessimism and
decadent depravity, it is no surprise to the nauseated reviewer to open
one more volume saturated with the fetid emanations of the sewer—'"
Fetherel, who was not in the habit of reading aloud, paused with a
gasp, and the Bishop glanced sharply at his niece, who kept her gaze
fixed on the tea-cup she had not yet succeeded in transferring to his
hand.—"'Of the sewer,'" her husband resumed; "'but his wonder is
proportionately great when he lights on a novel as sweetly inoffensive
as Paula Fetherel's "Fast and Loose." Mrs. Fetherel is, we believe, a
new hand at fiction, and her work reveals frequent traces of
inexperience; but these are more than atoned for by her pure, fresh
view of life and her altogether unfashionable regard for the reader's
moral susceptibilities. Let no one be induced by its distinctly
misleading title to forego the enjoyment of this pleasant picture of
domestic life, which, in spite of a total lack of force in
character-drawing and of consecutiveness in incident, may be described
as a distinctly pretty story.'"
It was several weeks later that Mrs. Clinch once more brought the
plebeian aroma of heated tram-cars and muddy street-crossings into the
violet-scented atmosphere of her cousin's drawing-room.
"Well," she said, tossing a damp bundle of proof into the corner of a
silk-cushioned bergere, "I've read it at last and I'm not so awfully
Mrs. Fetherel, who sat near the fire with her head propped on a languid
hand, looked up without speaking.
"Mercy, Paula," said her visitor, "you're ill."
Mrs. Fetherel shook her head. "I was never better," she said,
"Then may I help myself to tea? Thanks."
Mrs. Clinch carefully removed her mended glove before taking a buttered
tea-cake; then she glanced again at her cousin.
"It's not what I said just now—?" she ventured.
"About 'Fast and Loose'? I came to talk it over."
Mrs. Fetherel sprang to her feet. "I never," she cried dramatically,
"want to hear it mentioned again!"
"Paula!" exclaimed Mrs. Clinch, setting down her cup.
Mrs. Fetherel slowly turned on her an eye brimming with the
incommunicable; then, dropping into her seat again, she added, with a
tragic laugh, "There's nothing left to say."
"Nothing—?" faltered Mrs. Clinch, longing for another tea-cake, but
feeling the inappropriateness of the impulse in an atmosphere so
charged with the portentous. "Do you mean that everything has been
said?" She looked tentatively at her cousin. "Haven't they been nice?"
"They've been odious—odious—" Mrs. Fetherel burst out, with an
ineffectual clutch at her handkerchief. "It's been perfectly
Mrs. Clinch, philosophically resigning herself to the propriety of
taking no more tea, crossed over to her cousin and laid a sympathizing
hand on that lady's agitated shoulder.
"It is a bore at first," she conceded; "but you'll be surprised to
see how soon one gets used to it."
"I shall—never—get—used to it—" Mrs. Fetherel brokenly declared.
"Have they been so very nasty—all of them?"
"Every one of them!" the novelist sobbed.
"I'm so sorry, dear; it does hurt, I know—but hadn't you rather
"Expected it?" cried Mrs. Fetherel, sitting up.
Mrs. Clinch felt her way warily. "I only mean, dear, that I fancied
from what you said before the book came out—that you rather
expected—that you'd rather discounted—"
"Their recommending it to everybody as a perfectly harmless story?"
"Good gracious! Is that what they've done?"
Mrs. Fetherel speechlessly nodded.
"Every one of them?"
"Whew!" said Mrs. Clinch, with an incipient whistle.
"Why, you've just said it yourself!" her cousin suddenly reproached her.
"That you weren't so awfully shocked—"
"I? Oh, well—you see, you'd keyed me up to such a pitch that it wasn't
quite as bad as I expected—"
Mrs. Fetherel lifted a smile steeled for the worst. "Why not say at
once," she suggested, "that it's a distinctly pretty story?"
"They haven't said that?"
"They've all said it."
"My poor Paula!"
"Even the Bishop—"
"The Bishop called it a pretty story?"
"He wrote me—I've his letter somewhere. The title rather scared
him—he wanted me to change it; but when he'd read the book he wrote
that it was all right and that he'd sent several copies to his friends."
"The old hypocrite!" cried Mrs. Clinch. "That was nothing but
"Do you think so?" cried her cousin, brightening.
"Sure of it, my dear. His own books don't sell, and he knew the
quickest way to kill yours was to distribute it through the diocese
with his blessing."
"Then you don't really think it's a pretty story?"
"Dear me, no! Not nearly as bad as that—"
"You're so good, Bella—but the reviewers?"
"Oh, the reviewers," Mrs. Clinch jeered. She gazed meditatively at the
cold remains of her tea-cake. "Let me see," she said, suddenly; "do you
happen to remember if the first review came out in an important paper?"
"That's it! I thought so. Then the others simply followed suit: they
often do if a big paper sets the pace. Saves a lot of trouble. Now if
you could only have got the 'Radiator' to denounce you—"
"That's what the Bishop said!" cried Mrs. Fetherel.
"He said his only chance of selling 'Through a Glass Brightly' was to
have it denounced on the ground of immorality."
"H'm," said Mrs. Clinch. "I thought he knew a trick or two." She turned
an illuminated eye on her cousin. "You ought to get him to denounce
'Fast and Loose'!" she cried.
Mrs. Fetherel looked at her suspiciously. "I suppose every book must
stand or fall on its own merits," she said in an unconvinced tone.
"Bosh! That view is as extinct as the post-chaise and the
packet-ship—it belongs to the time when people read books. Nobody does
that now; the reviewer was the first to set the example, and the public
were only too thankful to follow it. At first they read the reviews;
now they read only the publishers' extracts from them. Even these are
rapidly being replaced by paragraphs borrowed from the vocabulary of
commerce. I often have to look twice before I am sure if I am reading a
department-store advertisement or the announcement of a new batch of
literature. The publishers will soon be having their 'fall and spring
openings' and their 'special importations for Horse-Show Week.' But the
Bishop is right, of course—nothing helps a book like a rousing attack
on its morals; and as the publishers can't exactly proclaim the
impropriety of their own wares, the task has to be left to the press or
"The pulpit—?" Mrs. Fetherel mused.
"Why, yes—look at those two novels in England last year—"
Mrs. Fetherel shook her head hopelessly. "There is so much more
interest in literature in England than here."
"Well, we've got to make the supply create the demand. The Bishop could
run your novel up into the hundred thousands in no time."
"But if he can't make his own sell—?"
"My dear, a man can't very well preach against his own writings!"
Mrs. Clinch rose and picked up her proofs.
"I'm awfully sorry for you, Paula dear," she concluded, "but I can't
help being thankful that there's no demand for pessimism in the field
of natural history. Fancy having to write 'The Fall of a Sparrow,' or
'How the Plants Misbehave!'"
Mrs. Fetherel, driving up to the Grand Central Station one morning
about five months later, caught sight of the distinguished novelist,
Archer Hynes, hurrying into the waiting-room ahead of her. Hynes, on
his side, recognizing her brougham, turned back to greet her as the
footman opened the carriage-door.
"My dear colleague! Is it possible that we are traveling together?"
Mrs. Fetherel blushed with pleasure. Hynes had given her two columns of
praise in the Sunday "Meteor," and she had not yet learned to disguise
"I am going to Ossining," she said, smilingly.
"So am I. Why, this is almost as good as an elopement."
"And it will end where elopements ought to—in church."
"In church? You're not going to Ossining to go to church?"
"Why not? There's a special ceremony in the cathedral—the chantry
window is to be unveiled."
"The chantry window? How picturesque! What is a chantry? And why do
you want to see it unveiled? Are you after copy—doing something in the
Huysmans manner? 'La Cathedrale,' eh?"
"Oh, no." Mrs. Fetherel hesitated. "I'm going simply to please my
uncle," she said, at last.
"The Bishop, you know." She smiled.
"The Bishop—the Bishop of Ossining? Why, wasn't he the chap who made
that ridiculous attack on your book? Is that prehistoric ass your
uncle? Upon my soul, I think you're mighty forgiving to travel all the
way to Ossining for one of his stained-glass sociables!"
Mrs. Fetherel's smile flowed into a gentle laugh. "Oh, I've never
allowed that to interfere with our friendship. My uncle felt dreadfully
about having to speak publicly against my book—it was a great deal
harder for him than for me—but he thought it his duty to do so. He has
the very highest sense of duty."
"Well," said Hynes, with a shrug, "I don't know that he didn't do you a
good turn. Look at that!"
They were standing near the book-stall, and he pointed to a placard
surmounting the counter and emblazoned with the conspicuous
announcement: "Fast and Loose. New Edition with Author's Portrait.
Hundred and Fiftieth Thousand."
Mrs. Fetherel frowned impatiently. "How absurd! They've no right to use
my picture as a poster!"
"There's our train," said Hynes; and they began to push their way
through the crowd surging toward one of the inner doors.
As they stood wedged between circumferent shoulders, Mrs. Fetherel
became conscious of the fixed stare of a pretty girl who whispered
eagerly to her companion: "Look Myrtle! That's Paula Fetherel right
behind us—I knew her in a minute!"
"Gracious—where?" cried the other girl, giving her head a twist which
swept her Gainsborough plumes across Mrs. Fetherel's face.
The first speaker's words had carried beyond her companion's ear, and a
lemon-colored woman in spectacles, who clutched a copy of the "Journal
of Psychology" on one drab-cotton-gloved hand, stretched her disengaged
hand across the intervening barrier of humanity.
"Have I the privilege of addressing the distinguished author of 'Fast
and Loose'? If so, let me thank you in the name of the Woman's
Psychological League of Peoria for your magnificent courage in raising
the standard of revolt against—"
"You can tell us the rest in the car," said a fat man, pressing his
good-humored bulk against the speaker's arm.
Mrs. Fetherel, blushing, embarrassed and happy, slipped into the space
produced by this displacement, and a few moments later had taken her
seat in the train.
She was a little late, and the other chairs were already filled by a
company of elderly ladies and clergymen who seemed to belong to the
same party, and were still busy exchanging greetings and settling
themselves in their places.
One of the ladies, at Mrs. Fetherel's approach, uttered an exclamation
of pleasure and advanced with outstretched hand. "My dear Mrs.
Fetherel! I am so delighted to see you here. May I hope you are going
to the unveiling of the chantry window? The dear Bishop so hoped that
you would do so! But perhaps I ought to introduce myself. I am Mrs.
Gollinger"—she lowered her voice expressively—"one of your uncle's
oldest friends, one who has stood close to him through all this sad
business, and who knows what he suffered when he felt obliged to
sacrifice family affection to the call of duty."
Mrs. Fetherel, who had smiled and colored slightly at the beginning of
this speech, received its close with a deprecating gesture.
"Oh, pray don't mention it," she murmured. "I quite understood how my
uncle was placed—I bore him no ill will for feeling obliged to preach
against my book."
"He understood that, and was so touched by it! He has often told me
that it was the hardest task he was ever called upon to perform—and,
do you know, he quite feels that this unexpected gift of the chantry
window is in some way a return for his courage in preaching that
Mrs. Fetherel smiled faintly. "Does he feel that?"
"Yes; he really does. When the funds for the window were so
mysteriously placed at his disposal, just as he had begun to despair of
raising them, he assured me that he could not help connecting the fact
with his denunciation of your book."
"Dear uncle!" sighed Mrs. Fetherel. "Did he say that?"
"And now," continued Mrs. Gollinger, with cumulative rapture—"now that
you are about to show, by appearing at the ceremony to-day, that there
has been no break in your friendly relations, the dear Bishop's
happiness will be complete. He was so longing to have you come to the
"He might have counted on me," said Mrs. Fetherel, still smiling.
"Ah, that is so beautifully forgiving of you!" cried Mrs. Gollinger,
enthusiastically. "But then, the Bishop has always assured me that your
real nature was very different from that which—if you will pardon my
saying so—seems to be revealed by your brilliant but—er—rather
subversive book. 'If you only knew my niece, dear Mrs. Gollinger,' he
always said, 'you would see that her novel was written in all innocence
of heart;' and to tell you the truth, when I first read the book I
didn't think it so very, very shocking. It wasn't till the dear
Bishop had explained tome—but, dear me, I mustn't take up your time in
this way when so many others are anxious to have a word with you."
Mrs. Fetherel glanced at her in surprise, and Mrs. Gollinger continued,
with a playful smile: "You forget that your face is familiar to
thousands whom you have never seen. We all recognized you the moment
you entered the train, and my friends here are so eager to make your
acquaintance—even those"—her smile deepened—"who thought the dear
Bishop not quite unjustified in his attack on your remarkable novel."
A religious light filled the chantry of Ossining Cathedral, filtering
through the linen curtain which veiled the central window, and mingling
with the blaze of tapers on the richly adorned altar.
In this devout atmosphere, agreeably laden with the incense-like aroma
of Easter lilies and forced lilacs, Mrs. Fetherel knelt with a sense of
luxurious satisfaction. Beside her sat Archer Hynes, who had remembered
that there was to be a church scene in his next novel, and that his
impressions of the devotional environment needed refreshing. Mrs.
Fetherel was very happy. She was conscious that her entrance had sent a
thrill through the female devotees who packed the chantry, and she had
humor enough to enjoy the thought that, but for the good Bishop's
denunciation of her book, the heads of his flock would not have been
turned so eagerly in her direction. Moreover, as she had entered she
had caught sight of a society reporter, and she knew that her presence,
and the fact that she was accompanied by Hynes, would be conspicuously
proclaimed in the morning papers. All these evidences of the success of
her handiwork might have turned a calmer head than Mrs. Fetherel's; and
though she had now learned to dissemble her gratification, it still
filled her inwardly with a delightful glow.
The Bishop was somewhat late in appearing, and she employed the
interval in meditating on the plot of her next novel, which was already
partly sketched out, but for which she had been unable to find a
satisfactory denouement. By a not uncommon process of ratiocination,
Mrs. Fetherel's success had convinced her of her vocation. She was sure
now that it was her duty to lay bare the secret plague-spots of
society, and she was resolved that there should be no doubt as to the
purpose of her new book. Experience had shown her that where she had
fancied she was calling a spade a spade she had in fact been alluding
in guarded terms to the drawing-room shovel. She was determined not to
repeat the same mistake, and she flattered herself that her coming
novel would not need an episcopal denunciation to insure its sale,
however likely it was to receive this crowning evidence of success.
She had reached this point in her meditations when the choir burst into
song and the ceremony of the unveiling began. The Bishop, almost always
felicitous in his addresses to the fair sex, was never more so than
when he was celebrating the triumph of one of his cherished purposes.
There was a peculiar mixture of Christian humility and episcopal
exultation in the manner with which he called attention to the
Creator's promptness in responding to his demand for funds, and he had
never been more happily inspired than in eulogizing the mysterious gift
of the chantry window.
Though no hint of the donor's identity had been allowed to escape him,
it was generally understood that the Bishop knew who had given the
window, and the congregation awaited in a flutter of suspense the
possible announcement of a name. None came, however, though the Bishop
deliciously titillated the curiosity of his flock by circling ever
closer about the interesting secret. He would not disguise from them,
he said, that the heart which had divined his inmost wish had been a
woman's—is it not to woman's intuitions that more than half the
happiness of earth is owing? What man is obliged to learn by the
laborious process of experience, woman's wondrous instinct tells her at
a glance; and so it had been with this cherished scheme, this
unhoped-for completion of their beautiful chantry. So much, at least,
he was allowed to reveal; and indeed, had he not done so, the window
itself would have spoken for him, since the first glance at its
touching subject and exquisite design would show it to have originated
in a woman's heart. This tribute to the sex was received with an
audible sigh of contentment, and the Bishop, always stimulated by such
evidence of his sway over his hearers, took up his theme with gathering
Yes—a woman's heart had planned the gift, a woman's hand had executed
it, and, might he add, without too far withdrawing the veil in which
Christian beneficence ever loved to drape its acts—might he add that,
under Providence, a book, a simple book, a mere tale, in fact, had had
its share in the good work for which they were assembled to give thanks?
At this unexpected announcement, a ripple of excitement ran through the
assemblage, and more than one head was abruptly turned in the direction
of Mrs. Fetherel, who sat listening in an agony of wonder and
confusion. It did not escape the observant novelist at her side that
she drew down her veil to conceal an uncontrollable blush, and this
evidence of dismay caused him to fix an attentive gaze on her, while
from her seat across the aisle, Mrs. Gollinger sent a smile of unctuous
"A book—a simple book—" the Bishop's voice went on above this flutter
of mingled emotions. "What is a book? Only a few pages and a little
ink—and yet one of the mightiest instruments which Providence has
devised for shaping the destinies of man . .. one of the most powerful
influences for good or evil which the Creator has placed in the hands
of his creatures..."
The air seemed intolerably close to Mrs. Fetherel, and she drew out her
scent-bottle, and then thrust it hurriedly away, conscious that she was
still the center of an unenviable attention. And all the while the
Bishop's voice droned on...
"And of all forms of literature, fiction is doubtless that which has
exercised the greatest sway, for good or ill, over the passions and
imagination of the masses. Yes, my friends, I am the first to
acknowledge it—no sermon, however eloquent, no theological treatise,
however learned and convincing, has ever inflamed the heart and
imagination like a novel—a simple novel. Incalculable is the power
exercised over humanity by the great magicians of the pen—a power ever
enlarging its boundaries and increasing its responsibilities as popular
education multiplies the number of readers....Yes, it is the novelist's
hand which can pour balm on countless human sufferings, or inoculate
mankind with the festering poison of a corrupt imagination...."
Mrs. Fetherel had turned white, and her eyes were fixed with a blind
stare of anger on the large-sleeved figure in the center of the chancel.
"And too often, alas, it is the poison and not the balm which the
unscrupulous hand of genius proffers to its unsuspecting readers. But,
my friends, why should I continue? None know better than an assemblage
of Christian women, such as I am now addressing, the beneficent or
baleful influences of modern fiction; and so, when I say that this
beautiful chantry window of ours owes its existence in part to the
romancer's pen"—the Bishop paused, and bending forward, seemed to seek
a certain face among the countenances eagerly addressed to his—"when I
say that this pen, which for personal reasons it does not become me to
Mrs. Fetherel at this point half rose, pushing back her chair, which
scraped loudly over the marble floor; but Hynes involuntarily laid a
warning hand on her arm, and she sank down with a confused murmur about
"—When I confess that this pen, which for once at least has proved
itself so much mightier than the sword, is that which was inspired to
trace the simple narrative of 'Through a Glass Brightly'"—Mrs.
Fetherel looked up with a gasp of mingled relief and anger—"when I
tell you, my dear friends, that it was your Bishop's own work which
first roused the mind of one of his flock to the crying need of a
chantry window, I think you will admit that I am justified in
celebrating the triumphs of the pen, even though it be the modest
instrument which your own Bishop wields."
The Bishop paused impressively, and a faint gasp of surprise and
disappointment was audible throughout the chantry. Something very
different from this conclusion had been expected, and even Mrs.
Gollinger's lips curled with a slightly ironic smile. But Archer
Hynes's attention was chiefly reserved for Mrs. Fetherel, whose face
had changed with astonishing rapidity from surprise to annoyance, from
annoyance to relief, and then back again to something very like
The address concluded, the actual ceremony of the unveiling was about
to take place, and the attention of the congregation soon reverted to
the chancel, where the choir had grouped themselves beneath the veiled
window, prepared to burst into a chant of praise as the Bishop drew
back the hanging. The moment was an impressive one, and every eye was
fixed on the curtain. Even Hynes's gaze strayed to it for a moment, but
soon returned to his neighbor's face; and then he perceived that Mrs.
Fetherel, alone of all the persons present, was not looking at the
window. Her eyes were fixed in an indignant stare on the Bishop; a
flush of anger burned becomingly under her veil, and her hands
nervously crumpled the beautifully printed program of the ceremony.
Hynes broke into a smile of comprehension. He glanced at the Bishop,
and back at the Bishop's niece; then, as the episcopal hand was
solemnly raised to draw back the curtain, he bent and whispered in Mrs.
"Why, you gave it yourself! You wonderful woman, of course you gave it
Mrs. Fetherel raised her eyes to his with a start. Her blush deepened
and her lips shaped a hasty "No"; but the denial was deflected into the
indignant murmur—"It wasn't his silly book that did it anyhow!"
THE LADY'S MAID'S BELL
IT was the autumn after I had the typhoid. I'd been three months in
hospital, and when I came out I looked so weak and tottery that the two
or three ladies I applied to were afraid to engage me. Most of my money
was gone, and after I'd boarded for two months, hanging about the
employment-agencies, and answering any advertisement that looked any
way respectable, I pretty nearly lost heart, for fretting hadn't made
me fatter, and I didn't see why my luck should ever turn. It did
though—or I thought so at the time. A Mrs. Railton, a friend of the
lady that first brought me out to the States, met me one day and
stopped to speak to me: she was one that had always a friendly way with
her. She asked me what ailed me to look so white, and when I told her,
"Why, Hartley," says she, "I believe I've got the very place for you.
Come in to-morrow and we'll talk about it."
The next day, when I called, she told me the lady she'd in mind was a
niece of hers, a Mrs. Brympton, a youngish lady, but something of an
invalid, who lived all the year round at her country-place on the
Hudson, owing to not being able to stand the fatigue of town life.
"Now, Hartley," Mrs. Railton said, in that cheery way that always made
me feel things must be going to take a turn for the better—"now
understand me; it's not a cheerful place i'm sending you to. The house
is big and gloomy; my niece is nervous, vaporish; her husband—well,
he's generally away; and the two children are dead. A year ago, I would
as soon have thought of shutting a rosy active girl like you into a
vault; but you're not particularly brisk yourself just now, are you?
and a quiet place, with country air and wholesome food and early hours,
ought to be the very thing for you. Don't mistake me," she added, for I
suppose I looked a trifle downcast; "you may find it dull, but you
won't be unhappy. My niece is an angel. Her former maid, who died last
spring, had been with her twenty years and worshipped the ground she
walked on. She's a kind mistress to all, and where the mistress is
kind, as you know, the servants are generally good-humored, so you'll
probably get on well enough with the rest of the household. And you're
the very woman I want for my niece: quiet, well-mannered, and educated
above your station. You read aloud well, I think? That's a good thing;
my niece likes to be read to. She wants a maid that can be something of
a companion: her last was, and I can't say how she misses her. It's a
lonely life...Well, have you decided?"
"Why, ma'am," I said, "I'm not afraid of solitude."
"Well, then, go; my niece will take you on my recommendation. I'll
telegraph her at once and you can take the afternoon train. She has no
one to wait on her at present, and I don't want you to lose any time."
I was ready enough to start, yet something in me hung back; and to gain
time I asked, "And the gentleman, ma'am?"
"The gentleman's almost always away, I tell you," said Mrs. Ralston,
quick-like—"and when he's there," says she suddenly, "you've only to
keep out of his way."
I took the afternoon train and got out at D—— station at about four
o'clock. A groom in a dog-cart was waiting, and we drove off at a smart
pace. It was a dull October day, with rain hanging close overhead, and
by the time we turned into the Brympton Place woods the daylight was
almost gone. The drive wound through the woods for a mile or two, and
came out on a gravel court shut in with thickets of tall black-looking
shrubs. There were no lights in the windows, and the house did look a
I had asked no questions of the groom, for I never was one to get my
notion of new masters from their other servants: I prefer to wait and
see for myself. But I could tell by the look of everything that I had
got into the right kind of house, and that things were done handsomely.
A pleasant-faced cook met me at the back door and called the house-maid
to show me up to my room. "You'll see madam later," she said. "Mrs.
Brympton has a visitor."
I hadn't fancied Mrs. Brympton was a lady to have many visitors, and
somehow the words cheered me. I followed the house-maid upstairs, and
saw, through a door on the upper landing, that the main part of the
house seemed well-furnished, with dark panelling and a number of old
portraits. Another flight of stairs led us up to the servants' wing. It
was almost dark now, and the house-maid excused herself for not having
brought a light. "But there's matches in your room," she said, "and if
you go careful you'll be all right. Mind the step at the end of the
passage. Your room is just beyond."
I looked ahead as she spoke, and half-way down the passage, I saw a
woman standing. She drew back into a doorway as we passed, and the
house-maid didn't appear to notice her. She was a thin woman with a
white face, and a darkish stuff gown and apron. I took her for the
housekeeper and thought it odd that she didn't speak, but just gave me
a long look as she went by. My room opened into a square hall at the
end of the passage. Facing my door was another which stood open: the
house-maid exclaimed when she saw it.
"There—Mrs. Blinder's left that door open again!" said she, closing it.
"Is Mrs. Blinder the housekeeper?"
"There's no housekeeper: Mrs. Blinder's the cook."
"And is that her room?"
"Laws, no," said the house-maid, cross-like. "That's nobody's room.
It's empty, I mean, and the door hadn't ought to be open. Mrs. Brympton
wants it kept locked."
She opened my door and led me into a neat room, nicely furnished, with
a picture or two on the walls; and having lit a candle she took leave,
telling me that the servants'-hall tea was at six, and that Mrs.
Brympton would see me afterward.
I found them a pleasant-spoken set in the servants' hall, and by what
they let fall I gathered that, as Mrs. Railton had said, Mrs. Brympton
was the kindest of ladies; but I didn't take much notice of their talk,
for I was watching to see the pale woman in the dark gown come in. She
didn't show herself, however, and I wondered if she ate apart; but if
she wasn't the housekeeper, why should she? Suddenly it struck me that
she might be a trained nurse, and in that case her meals would of
course be served in her room. If Mrs. Brympton was an invalid it was
likely enough she had a nurse. The idea annoyed me, I own, for they're
not always the easiest to get on with, and if I'd known, I shouldn't
have taken the place. But there I was, and there was no use pulling a
long face over it; and not being one to ask questions, I waited to see
what would turn up.
When tea was over, the house-maid said to the footman: "Has Mr. Ranford
gone?" and when he said yes, she told me to come up with her to Mrs.
Mrs. Brympton was lying down in her bedroom. Her lounge stood near the
fire and beside it was a shaded lamp. She was a delicate-looking lady,
but when she smiled I felt there was nothing I wouldn't do for her. She
spoke very pleasantly, in a low voice, asking me my name and age and so
on, and if I had everything I wanted, and if I wasn't afraid of feeling
lonely in the country.
"Not with you I wouldn't be, madam," I said, and the words surprised me
when I'd spoken them, for I'm not an impulsive person; but it was just
as if I'd thought aloud.
She seemed pleased at that, and said she hoped I'd continue in the same
mind; then she gave me a few directions about her toilet, and said
Agnes the house-maid would show me next morning where things were kept.
"I am tired to-night, and shall dine upstairs," she said. "Agnes will
bring me my tray, that you may have time to unpack and settle yourself;
and later you may come and undress me."
"Very well, ma'am," I said. "You'll ring, I suppose?"
I thought she looked odd.
"No—Agnes will fetch you," says she quickly, and took up her book
Well—that was certainly strange: a lady's maid having to be fetched by
the house-maid whenever her lady wanted her! I wondered if there were
no bells in the house; but the next day I satisfied myself that there
was one in every room, and a special one ringing from my mistress's
room to mine; and after that it did strike me as queer that, whenever
Mrs. Brympton wanted anything, she rang for Agnes, who had to walk the
whole length of the servants' wing to call me.
But that wasn't the only queer thing in the house. The very next day I
found out that Mrs. Brympton had no nurse; and then I asked Agnes about
the woman I had seen in the passage the afternoon before. Agnes said
she had seen no one, and I saw that she thought I was dreaming. To be
sure, it was dusk when we went down the passage, and she had excused
herself for not bringing a light; but I had seen the woman plain enough
to know her again if we should meet. I decided that she must have been
a friend of the cook's, or of one of the other women-servants: perhaps
she had come down from town for a night's visit, and the servants
wanted it kept secret. Some ladies are very stiff about having their
servants' friends in the house overnight. At any rate, I made up my
mind to ask no more questions.
In a day or two, another odd thing happened. I was chatting one
afternoon with Mrs. Blinder, who was a friendly disposed woman, and had
been longer in the house than the other servants, and she asked me if I
was quite comfortable and had everything I needed. I said I had no
fault to find with my place or with my mistress, but I thought it odd
that in so large a house there was no sewing-room for the lady's maid.
"Why," says she, "there is one; the room you're in is the old
"Oh," said I; "and where did the other lady's maid sleep?"
At that she grew confused, and said hurriedly that the servants' rooms
had all been changed about last year, and she didn't rightly remember.
That struck me as peculiar, but I went on as if I hadn't noticed:
"Well, there's a vacant room opposite mine, and I mean to ask Mrs.
Brympton if I mayn't use that as a sewing-room."
To my astonishment, Mrs. Blinder went white, and gave my hand a kind of
squeeze. "Don't do that, my dear," said she, trembling-like. "To tell
you the truth, that was Emma Saxon's room, and my mistress has kept it
closed ever since her death."
"And who was Emma Saxon?"
"Mrs. Brympton's former maid."
"The one that was with her so many years?" said I, remembering what
Mrs. Railton had told me.
Mrs. Blinder nodded.
"What sort of woman was she?"
"No better walked the earth," said Mrs. Blinder. "My mistress loved her
like a sister."
"But I mean—what did she look like?"
Mrs. Blinder got up and gave me a kind of angry stare. "I'm no great
hand at describing," she said; "and I believe my pastry's rising." And
she walked off into the kitchen and shut the door after her.
I HAD been near a week at Brympton before I saw my master. Word came
that he was arriving one afternoon, and a change passed over the whole
household. It was plain that nobody loved him below stairs. Mrs.
Blinder took uncommon care with the dinner that night, but she snapped
at the kitchen-maid in a way quite unusual with her; and Mr. Wace, the
butler, a serious, slow-spoken man, went about his duties as if he'd
been getting ready for a funeral. He was a great Bible-reader, Mr. Wace
was, and had a beautiful assortment of texts at his command; but that
day he used such dreadful language that I was about to leave the table,
when he assured me it was all out of Isaiah; and I noticed that
whenever the master came Mr. Wace took to the prophets.
About seven, Agnes called me to my mistress's room; and there I found
Mr. Brympton. He was standing on the hearth; a big fair bull-necked
man, with a red face and little bad-tempered blue eyes: the kind of man
a young simpleton might have thought handsome, and would have been like
to pay dear for thinking it.
He swung about when I came in, and looked me over in a trice. I knew
what the look meant, from having experienced it once or twice in my
former places. Then he turned his back on me, and went on talking to
his wife; and I knew what that meant, too. I was not the kind of
morsel he was after. The typhoid had served me well enough in one way:
it kept that kind of gentleman at arm's-length.
"This is my new maid, Hartley," says Mrs. Brympton in her kind voice;
and he nodded and went on with what he was saying.
In a minute or two he went off, and left my mistress to dress for
dinner, and I noticed as I waited on her that she was white, and chill
to the touch.
Mr. Brympton took himself off the next morning, and the whole house
drew a long breath when he drove away. As for my mistress, she put on
her hat and furs (for it was a fine winter morning) and went out for a
walk in the gardens, coming back quite fresh and rosy, so that for a
minute, before her color faded, I could guess what a pretty young lady
she must have been, and not so long ago, either.
She had met Mr. Ranford in the grounds, and the two came back together,
I remember, smiling and talking as they walked along the terrace under
my window. That was the first time I saw Mr. Ranford, though I had
often heard his name mentioned in the hall. He was a neighbor, it
appeared, living a mile or two beyond Brympton, at the end of the
village; and as he was in the habit of spending his winters in the
country he was almost the only company my mistress had at that season.
He was a slight tall gentleman of about thirty, and I thought him
rather melancholy-looking till I saw his smile, which had a kind of
surprise in it, like the first warm day in spring. He was a great
reader, I heard, like my mistress, and the two were forever borrowing
books of one another, and sometimes (Mr. Wace told me) he would read
aloud to Mrs. Brympton by the hour, in the big dark library where she
sat in the winter afternoons. The servants all liked him, and perhaps
that's more of a compliment than the masters suspect. He had a friendly
word for every one of us, and we were all glad to think that Mrs.
Brympton had a pleasant companionable gentleman like that to keep her
company when the master was away. Mr. Ranford seemed on excellent terms
with Mr. Brympton too; though I couldn't but wonder that two gentlemen
so unlike each other should be so friendly. But then I knew how the
real quality can keep their feelings to themselves.
As for Mr. Brympton, he came and went, never staying more than a day or
two, cursing the dulness and the solitude, grumbling at everything, and
(as I soon found out) drinking a deal more than was good for him. After
Mrs. Brympton left the table he would sit half the night over the old
Brympton port and madeira, and once, as I was leaving my mistress's
room rather later than usual, I met him coming up the stairs in such a
state that I turned sick to think of what some ladies have to endure
and hold their tongues about.
The servants said very little about their master; but from what they
let drop I could see it had been an unhappy match from the beginning.
Mr. Brympton was coarse, loud and pleasure-loving; my mistress quiet,
retiring, and perhaps a trifle cold. Not that she was not always
pleasant-spoken to him: I thought her wonderfully forbearing; but to a
gentleman as free as Mr. Brympton I daresay she seemed a little offish.
Well, things went on quietly for several weeks. My mistress was kind,
my duties were light, and I got on well with the other servants. In
short, I had nothing to complain of; yet there was always a weight on
me. I can't say why it was so, but I know it was not the loneliness
that I felt. I soon got used to that; and being still languid from the
fever, I was thankful for the quiet and the good country air.
Nevertheless, I was never quite easy in my mind. My mistress, knowing I
had been ill, insisted that I should take my walk regular, and often
invented errands for me:—a yard of ribbon to be fetched from the
village, a letter posted, or a book returned to Mr. Ranford. As soon as
I was out of doors my spirits rose, and I looked forward to my walks
through the bare moist-smelling woods; but the moment I caught sight of
the house again my heart dropped down like a stone in a well. It was
not a gloomy house exactly, yet I never entered it but a feeling of
gloom came over me.
Mrs. Brympton seldom went out in winter; only on the finest days did
she walk an hour at noon on the south terrace. Excepting Mr. Ranford,
we had no visitors but the doctor, who drove over from D—— about once
a week. He sent for me once or twice to give me some trifling direction
about my mistress, and though he never told me what her illness was, I
thought, from a waxy look she had now and then of a morning, that it
might be the heart that ailed her. The season was soft and unwholesome,
and in January we had a long spell of rain. That was a sore trial to
me, I own, for I couldn't go out, and sitting over my sewing all day,
listening to the drip, drip of the eaves, I grew so nervous that the
least sound made me jump. Somehow, the thought of that locked room
across the passage began to weigh on me. Once or twice, in the long
rainy nights, I fancied I heard noises there; but that was nonsense, of
course, and the daylight drove such notions out of my head. Well, one
morning Mrs. Brympton gave me quite a start of pleasure by telling me
she wished me to go to town for some shopping. I hadn't known till then
how low my spirits had fallen. I set off in high glee, and my first
sight of the crowded streets and the cheerful-looking shops quite took
me out of myself. Toward afternoon, however, the noise and confusion
began to tire me, and I was actually looking forward to the quiet of
Brympton, and thinking how I should enjoy the drive home through the
dark woods, when I ran across an old acquaintance, a maid I had once
been in service with. We had lost sight of each other for a number of
years, and I had to stop and tell her what had happened to me in the
interval. When I mentioned where I was living she rolled up her eyes
and pulled a long face.
"What! The Mrs. Brympton that lives all the year at her place on the
Hudson? My dear, you won't stay there three months."
"Oh, but I don't mind the country," says I, offended somehow at her
tone. "Since the fever I'm glad to be quiet."
She shook her head. "It's not the country I'm thinking of. All I know
is she's had four maids in the last six months, and the last one, who
was a friend of mine, told me nobody could stay in the house."
"Did she say why?" I asked.
"No—she wouldn't give me her reason. But she says to me, Mrs. Ansey,
she says, if ever a young woman as you know of thinks of going there,
you tell her it's not worth while to unpack her boxes."
"Is she young and handsome?" said I, thinking of Mr. Brympton.
"Not her! She's the kind that mothers engage when they've gay young
gentlemen at college."
Well, though I knew the woman was an idle gossip, the words stuck in my
head, and my heart sank lower than ever as I drove up to Brympton in
the dusk. There was something about the house—I was sure of it now...
When I went in to tea I heard that Mr. Brympton had arrived, and I saw
at a glance that there had been a disturbance of some kind. Mrs.
Blinder's hand shook so that she could hardly pour the tea, and Mr.
Wace quoted the most dreadful texts full of brimstone. Nobody said a
word to me then, but when I went up to my room Mrs. Blinder followed me.
"Oh, my dear," says she, taking my hand, "I'm so glad and thankful
you've come back to us!"
That struck me, as you may imagine. "Why," said I, "did you think I was
leaving for good?"
"No, no, to be sure," said she, a little confused, "but I can't a-bear
to have madam left alone for a day even." She pressed my hand hard,
and, "Oh, Miss Hartley," says she, "be good to your mistress, as you're
a Christian woman." And with that she hurried away, and left me staring.
A moment later Agnes called me to Mrs. Brympton. Hearing Mr. Brympton's
voice in her room, I went round by the dressing-room, thinking I would
lay out her dinner-gown before going in. The dressing-room is a large
room with a window over the portico that looks toward the gardens. Mr.
Brympton's apartments are beyond. When I went in, the door into the
bedroom was ajar, and I heard Mr. Brympton saying angrily:—"One would
suppose he was the only person fit for you to talk to."
"I don't have many visitors in winter," Mrs. Brympton answered quietly.
"You have me!" he flung at her, sneering.
"You are here so seldom," said she.
"Well—whose fault is that? You make the place about as lively as a
With that I rattled the toilet-things, to give my mistress warning and
she rose and called me in.
The two dined alone, as usual, and I knew by Mr. Wace's manner at
supper that things must be going badly. He quoted the prophets
something terrible, and worked on the kitchen-maid so that she declared
she wouldn't go down alone to put the cold meat in the ice-box. I felt
nervous myself, and after I had put my mistress to bed I was
half-tempted to go down again and persuade Mrs. Blinder to sit up
awhile over a game of cards. But I heard her door closing for the
night, and so I went on to my own room. The rain had begun again, and
the drip, drip, drip seemed to be dropping into my brain. I lay awake
listening to it, and turning over what my friend in town had said. What
puzzled me was that it was always the maids who left...
After a while I slept; but suddenly a loud noise wakened me. My bell
had rung. I sat up, terrified by the unusual sound, which seemed to go
on jangling through the darkness. My hands shook so that I couldn't
find the matches. At length I struck a light and jumped out of bed. I
began to think I must have been dreaming; but I looked at the bell
against the wall, and there was the little hammer still quivering.
I was just beginning to huddle on my clothes when I heard another
sound. This time it was the door of the locked room opposite mine
softly opening and closing. I heard the sound distinctly, and it
frightened me so that I stood stock still. Then I heard a footstep
hurrying down the passage toward the main house. The floor being
carpeted, the sound was very faint, but I was quite sure it was a
woman's step. I turned cold with the thought of it, and for a minute or
two I dursn't breathe or move. Then I came to my senses.
"Alice Hartley," says I to myself, "someone left that room just now and
ran down the passage ahead of you. The idea isn't pleasant, but you may
as well face it. Your mistress has rung for you, and to answer her bell
you've got to go the way that other woman has gone."
Well—I did it. I never walked faster in my life, yet I thought I
should never get to the end of the passage or reach Mrs. Brympton's
room. On the way I heard nothing and saw nothing: all was dark and
quiet as the grave. When I reached my mistress's door the silence was
so deep that I began to think I must be dreaming, and was half-minded
to turn back. Then a panic seized me, and I knocked.
There was no answer, and I knocked again, loudly. To my astonishment
the door was opened by Mr. Brympton. He started back when he saw me,
and in the light of my candle his face looked red and savage.
"You!" he said, in a queer voice. "How many of you are there, in
At that I felt the ground give under me; but I said to myself that he
had been drinking, and answered as steadily as I could: "May I go in,
sir? Mrs. Brympton has rung for me."
"You may all go in, for what I care," says he, and, pushing by me,
walked down the hall to his own bedroom. I looked after him as he went,
and to my surprise I saw that he walked as straight as a sober man.
I found my mistress lying very weak and still, but she forced a smile
when she saw me, and signed to me to pour out some drops for her. After
that she lay without speaking, her breath coming quick, and her eyes
closed. Suddenly she groped out with her hand, and "Emma," says she,
"It's Hartley, madam," I said. "Do you want anything?"
She opened her eyes wide and gave me a startled look.
"I was dreaming," she said. "You may go, now, Hartley, and thank you
kindly. I'm quite well again, you see." And she turned her face away
THERE was no more sleep for me that night, and I was thankful when
Soon afterward, Agnes called me to Mrs. Brympton. I was afraid she was
ill again, for she seldom sent for me before nine, but I found her
sitting up in bed, pale and drawn-looking, but quite herself.
"Hartley," says she quickly, "will you put on your things at once and
go down to the village for me? I want this prescription made up—" here
she hesitated a minute and blushed—"and I should like you to be back
again before Mr. Brympton is up."
"Certainly, madam," I said.
"And—stay a moment—" she called me back as if an idea had just struck
her—"while you're waiting for the mixture, you'll have time to go on
to Mr. Ranford's with this note."
It was a two-mile walk to the village, and on my way I had time to turn
things over in my mind. It struck me as peculiar that my mistress
should wish the prescription made up without Mr. Brympton's knowledge;
and, putting this together with the scene of the night before, and with
much else that I had noticed and suspected, I began to wonder if the
poor lady was weary of her life, and had come to the mad resolve of
ending it. The idea took such hold on me that I reached the village on
a run, and dropped breathless into a chair before the chemist's
counter. The good man, who was just taking down his shutters, stared at
me so hard that it brought me to myself.
"Mr. Limmel," I says, trying to speak indifferent, "will you run your
eye over this, and tell me if it's quite right?"
He put on his spectacles and studied the prescription.
"Why, it's one of Dr. Walton's," says he. "What should be wrong with
"Well—is it dangerous to take?"
"Dangerous—how do you mean?"
I could have shaken the man for his stupidity.
"I mean—if a person was to take too much of it—by mistake of
course—" says I, my heart in my throat.
"Lord bless you, no. It's only lime-water. You might feed it to a baby
by the bottleful."
I gave a great sigh of relief, and hurried on to Mr. Ranford's. But on
the way another thought struck me. If there was nothing to conceal
about my visit to the chemist's, was it my other errand that Mrs.
Brympton wished me to keep private? Somehow, that thought frightened me
worse than the other. Yet the two gentlemen seemed fast friends, and I
would have staked my head on my mistress's goodness. I felt ashamed of
my suspicions, and concluded that I was still disturbed by the strange
events of the night. I left the note at Mr. Ranford's—and, hurrying
back to Brympton, slipped in by a side door without being seen, as I
An hour later, however, as I was carrying in my mistress's breakfast, I
was stopped in the hall by Mr. Brympton.
"What were you doing out so early?" he says, looking hard at me.
"Early—me, sir?" I said, in a tremble.
"Come, come," he says, an angry red spot coming out on his forehead,
"didn't I see you scuttling home through the shrubbery an hour or more
I'm a truthful woman by nature, but at that a lie popped out
ready-made. "No, sir, you didn't," said I, and looked straight back at
He shrugged his shoulders and gave a sullen laugh. "I suppose you think
I was drunk last night?" he asked suddenly.
"No, sir, I don't," I answered, this time truthfully enough.
He turned away with another shrug. "A pretty notion my servants have of
me!" I heard him mutter as he walked off.
Not till I had settled down to my afternoon's sewing did I realize how
the events of the night had shaken me. I couldn't pass that locked door
without a shiver. I knew I had heard someone come out of it, and walk
down the passage ahead of me. I thought of speaking to Mrs. Blinder or
to Mr. Wace, the only two in the house who appeared to have an inkling
of what was going on, but I had a feeling that if I questioned them
they would deny everything, and that I might learn more by holding my
tongue and keeping my eyes open. The idea of spending another night
opposite the locked room sickened me, and once I was seized with the
notion of packing my trunk and taking the first train to town; but it
wasn't in me to throw over a kind mistress in that manner, and I tried
to go on with my sewing as if nothing had happened.
I hadn't worked ten minutes before the sewing-machine broke down. It
was one I had found in the house, a good machine, but a trifle out of
order: Mrs. Blinder said it had never been used since Emma Saxon's
death. I stopped to see what was wrong, and as I was working at the
machine a drawer which I had never been able to open slid forward and a
photograph fell out. I picked it up and sat looking at it in a maze. It
was a woman's likeness, and I knew I had seen the face somewhere—the
eyes had an asking look that I had felt on me before. And suddenly I
remembered the pale woman in the passage.
I stood up, cold all over, and ran out of the room. My heart seemed to
be thumping in the top of my head, and I felt as if I should never get
away from the look in those eyes. I went straight to Mrs. Blinder. She
was taking her afternoon nap, and sat up with a jump when I came in.
"Mrs. Blinder," said I, "who is that?" And I held out the photograph.
She rubbed her eyes and stared.
"Why, Emma Saxon," says she. "Where did you find it?"
I looked hard at her for a minute. "Mrs. Blinder," I said, "I've seen
that face before."
Mrs. Blinder got up and walked over to the looking-glass. "Dear me! I
must have been asleep," she says. "My front is all over one ear. And
now do run along, Miss Hartley, dear, for I hear the clock striking
four, and I must go down this very minute and put on the Virginia ham
for Mr. Brympton's dinner."
TO all appearances, things went on as usual for a week or two. The only
difference was that Mr. Brympton stayed on, instead of going off as he
usually did, and that Mr. Ranford never showed himself. I heard Mr.
Brympton remark on this one afternoon when he was sitting in my
mistress's room before dinner.
"Where's Ranford?" says he. "He hasn't been near the house for a week.
Does he keep away because I'm here?"
Mrs. Brympton spoke so low that I couldn't catch her answer.
"Well," he went on, "two's company and three's trumpery; I'm sorry to
be in Ranford's way, and I suppose I shall have to take myself off
again in a day or two and give him a show." And he laughed at his own
The very next day, as it happened, Mr. Ranford called. The footman said
the three were very merry over their tea in the library, and Mr.
Brympton strolled down to the gate with Mr. Ranford when he left.
I have said that things went on as usual; and so they did with the rest
of the household; but as for myself, I had never been the same since
the night my bell had rung. Night after night I used to lie awake,
listening for it to ring again, and for the door of the locked room to
open stealthily. But the bell never rang, and I heard no sound across
the passage. At last the silence began to be more dreadful to me than
the most mysterious sounds. I felt that someone were cowering there,
behind the locked door, watching and listening as I watched and
listened, and I could almost have cried out, "Whoever you are, come out
and let me see you face to face, but don't lurk there and spy on me in
Feeling as I did, you may wonder I didn't give warning. Once I very
nearly did so; but at the last moment something held me back. Whether
it was compassion for my mistress, who had grown more and more
dependent on me, or unwillingness to try a new place, or some other
feeling that I couldn't put a name to, I lingered on as if spell-bound,
though every night was dreadful to me, and the days but little better.
For one thing, I didn't like Mrs. Brympton's looks. She had never been
the same since that night, no more than I had. I thought she would
brighten up after Mr. Brympton left, but though she seemed easier in
her mind, her spirits didn't revive, nor her strength either. She had
grown attached to me, and seemed to like to have me about; and Agnes
told me one day that, since Emma Saxon's death, I was the only maid her
mistress had taken to. This gave me a warm feeling for the poor lady,
though after all there was little I could do to help her.
After Mr. Brympton's departure, Mr. Ranford took to coming again,
though less often than formerly. I met him once or twice in the
grounds, or in the village, and I couldn't but think there was a change
in him too; but I set it down to my disordered fancy.
The weeks passed, and Mr. Brympton had now been a month absent. We
heard he was cruising with a friend in the West Indies, and Mr. Wace
said that was a long way off, but though you had the wings of a dove
and went to the uttermost parts of the earth, you couldn't get away
from the Almighty. Agnes said that as long as he stayed away from
Brympton, the Almighty might have him and welcome; and this raised a
laugh, though Mrs. Blinder tried to look shocked, and Mr. Wace said the
bears would eat us.
We were all glad to hear that the West Indies were a long way off, and
I remember that, in spite of Mr. Wace's solemn looks, we had a very
merry dinner that day in the hall. I don't know if it was because of my
being in better spirits, but I fancied Mrs. Brympton looked better too,
and seemed more cheerful in her manner. She had been for a walk in the
morning, and after luncheon she lay down in her room, and I read aloud
to her. When she dismissed me I went to my own room feeling quite
bright and happy, and for the first time in weeks walked past the
locked door without thinking of it. As I sat down to my work I looked
out and saw a few snow-flakes falling. The sight was pleasanter than
the eternal rain, and I pictured to myself how pretty the bare gardens
would look in their white mantle. It seemed to me as if the snow would
cover up all the dreariness, indoors as well as out.
The fancy had hardly crossed my mind when I heard a step at my side. I
looked up, thinking it was Agnes.
"Well, Agnes—" said I, and the words froze on my tongue; for there, in
the door, stood Emma Saxon.
I don't know how long she stood there. I only know I couldn't stir or
take my eyes from her. Afterward I was terribly frightened, but at the
time it wasn't fear I felt, but something deeper and quieter. She
looked at me long and long, and her face was just one dumb prayer to
me—but how in the world was I to help her? Suddenly she turned, and I
heard her walk down the passage. This time I wasn't afraid to follow—I
felt that I must know what she wanted. I sprang up and ran out. She was
at the other end of the passage, and I expected her to take the turn
toward my mistress's room; but instead of that she pushed open the door
that led to the backstairs. I followed her down the stairs, and across
the passageway to the back door. The kitchen and hall were empty at
that hour, the servants being off duty, except for the footman, who was
in the pantry. At the door she stood still a moment, with another look
at me; then she turned the handle, and stepped out. For a minute I
hesitated. Where was she leading me to? The door had closed softly
after her, and I opened it and looked out, half-expecting to find that
she had disappeared. But I saw her a few yards off, hurrying across the
court-yard to the path through the woods. Her figure looked black and
lonely in the snow, and for a second my heart failed me and I thought
of turning back. But all the while she was drawing me after her; and
catching up an old shawl of Mrs. Blinder's I ran out into the open.
Emma Saxon was in the wood-path now. She walked on steadily, and I
followed at the same pace, till we passed out of the gates and reached
the high-road. Then she struck across the open fields to the village.
By this time the ground was white, and as she climbed the slope of a
bare hill ahead of me I noticed that she left no foot-prints behind
her. At sight of that, my heart shrivelled up within me, and my knees
were water. Somehow, it was worse here than indoors. She made the whole
countryside seem lonely as the grave, with none but us two in it, and
no help in the wide world.
Once I tried to go back; but she turned and looked at me, and it was as
if she had dragged me with ropes. After that I followed her like a dog.
We came to the village, and she led me through it, past the church and
the blacksmith's shop, and down the lane to Mr. Ranford's. Mr.
Ranford's house stands close to the road: a plain old-fashioned
building, with a flagged path leading to the door between box-borders.
The lane was deserted, and as I turned into it, I saw Emma Saxon pause
under the old elm by the gate. And now another fear came over me. I saw
that we had reached the end of our journey, and that it was my turn to
act. All the way from Brympton I had been asking myself what she wanted
of me, but I had followed in a trance, as it were, and not till I saw
her stop at Mr. Ranford's gate did my brain begin to clear itself. It
stood a little way off in the snow, my heart beating fit to strangle
me, and my feet frozen to the ground; and she stood under the elm and
I knew well enough that she hadn't led me there for nothing. I felt
there was something I ought to say or do—but how was I to guess what
it was? I had never thought harm of my mistress and Mr. Ranford, but I
was sure now that, from one cause or another, some dreadful thing hung
over them. She knew what it was; she would tell me if she could;
perhaps she would answer if I questioned her.
It turned me faint to think of speaking to her; but I plucked up heart
and dragged myself across the few yards between us. As I did so, I
heard the house-door open, and saw Mr. Ranford approaching. He looked
handsome and cheerful, as my mistress had looked that morning, and at
sight of him the blood began to flow again in my veins.
"Why, Hartley," said he, "what's the matter? I saw you coming down the
lane just now, and came out to see if you had taken root in the snow."
He stopped and stared at me. "What are you looking at?" he says.
I turned toward the elm as he spoke, and his eyes followed me; but
there was no one there. The lane was empty as far as the eye could
A sense of helplessness came over me. She was gone, and I had not been
able to guess what she wanted. Her last look had pierced me to the
marrow; and yet it had not told me! All at once, I felt more desolate
than when she had stood there watching me. It seemed as if she had left
me all alone to carry the weight of the secret I couldn't guess. The
snow went round me in great circles, and the ground fell away from
A drop of brandy and the warmth of Mr. Ranford's fire soon brought me
to, and I insisted on being driven back at once to Brympton. It was
nearly dark, and I was afraid my mistress might be wanting me. I
explained to Mr. Ranford that I had been out for a walk and had been
taken with a fit of giddiness as I passed his gate. This was true
enough; yet I never felt more like a liar than when I said it.
When I dressed Mrs. Brympton for dinner she remarked on my pale looks
and asked what ailed me. I told her I had a headache, and she said she
would not require me again that evening, and advised me to go to bed.
It was a fact that I could scarcely keep on my feet; yet I had no fancy
to spend a solitary evening in my room. I sat downstairs in the hall as
long as I could hold my head up; but by nine I crept upstairs, too
weary to care what happened if I could but get my head on a pillow. The
rest of the household went to bed soon afterward; they kept early hours
when the master was away, and before ten I heard Mrs. Blinder's door
close, and Mr. Wace's soon after.
It was a very still night, earth and air all muffled in snow. Once in
bed I felt easier, and lay quiet, listening to the strange noises that
come out in a house after dark. Once I thought I heard a door open and
close again below: it might have been the glass door that led to the
gardens. I got up and peered out of the window; but it was in the dark
of the moon, and nothing visible outside but the streaking of snow
against the panes.
I went back to bed and must have dozed, for I jumped awake to the
furious ringing of my bell. Before my head was clear I had sprung out
of bed, and was dragging on my clothes. It is going to happen now, I
heard myself saying; but what I meant I had no notion. My hands seemed
to be covered with glue—I thought I should never get into my clothes.
At last I opened my door and peered down the passage. As far as my
candle-flame carried, I could see nothing unusual ahead of me. I
hurried on, breathless; but as I pushed open the baize door leading to
the main hall my heart stood still, for there at the head of the stairs
was Emma Saxon, peering dreadfully down into the darkness.
For a second I couldn't stir; but my hand slipped from the door, and as
it swung shut the figure vanished. At the same instant there came
another sound from below stairs—a stealthy mysterious sound, as of a
latch-key turning in the house-door. I ran to Mrs. Brympton's room and
There was no answer, and I knocked again. This time I heard some one
moving in the room; the bolt slipped back and my mistress stood before
me. To my surprise I saw that she had not undressed for the night. She
gave me a startled look.
"What is this, Hartley?" she says in a whisper. "Are you ill? What are
you doing here at this hour?"
"I am not ill, madam; but my bell rang."
At that she turned pale, and seemed about to fall.
"You are mistaken," she said harshly; "I didn't ring. You must have
been dreaming." I had never heard her speak in such a tone. "Go back to
bed," she said, closing the door on me.
But as she spoke I heard sounds again in the hall below: a man's step
this time; and the truth leaped out on me.
"Madam," I said, pushing past her, "there is someone in the house—"
"Mr. Brympton, I think—I hear his step below—"
A dreadful look came over her, and without a word, she dropped flat at
my feet. I fell on my knees and tried to lift her: by the way she
breathed I saw it was no common faint. But as I raised her head there
came quick steps on the stairs and across the hall: the door was flung
open, and there stood Mr. Brympton, in his travelling-clothes, the snow
dripping from him. He drew back with a start as he saw me kneeling by
"What the devil is this?" he shouted. He was less high-colored than
usual, and the red spot came out on his forehead.
"Mrs. Brympton has fainted, sir," said I.
He laughed unsteadily and pushed by me. "It's a pity she didn't choose
a more convenient moment. I'm sorry to disturb her, but—"
I raised myself up, aghast at the man's action.
"Sir," said I, "are you mad? What are you doing?"
"Going to meet a friend," said he, and seemed to make for the
At that my heart turned over. I don't know what I thought or feared;
but I sprang up and caught him by the sleeve.
"Sir, sir," said I, "for pity's sake look at your wife!"
He shook me off furiously.
"It seems that's done for me," says he, and caught hold of the
At that moment I heard a slight noise inside. Slight as it was, he
heard it too, and tore the door open; but as he did so he dropped back.
On the threshold stood Emma Saxon. All was dark behind her, but I saw
her plainly, and so did he. He threw up his hands as if to hide his
face from her; and when I looked again she was gone.
He stood motionless, as if the strength had run out of him; and in the
stillness my mistress suddenly raised herself, and opening her eyes
fixed a look on him. Then she fell back, and I saw the death-flutter
pass over her....
We buried her on the third day, in a driving snow-storm. There were few
people in the church, for it was bad weather to come from town, and
I've a notion my mistress was one that hadn't many near friends. Mr.
Ranford was among the last to come, just before they carried her up the
aisle. He was in black, of course, being such a friend of the family,
and I never saw a gentleman so pale. As he passed me, I noticed that he
leaned a trifle on a stick he carried; and I fancy Mr. Brympton noticed
it too, for the red spot came out sharp on his forehead, and all
through the service he kept staring across the church at Mr. Ranford,
instead of following the prayers as a mourner should.
When it was over and we went out to the graveyard, Mr. Ranford had
disappeared, and as soon as my poor mistress's body was underground,
Mr. Brympton jumped into the carriage nearest the gate and drove off
without a word to any of us. I heard him call out, "To the station,"
and we servants went back alone to the house.
THE MISSION OF JANE
LETHBURY, surveying his wife across the dinner table, found his
transient conjugal glance arrested by an indefinable change in her
"How smart you look! Is that a new gown?" he asked.
Her answering look seemed to deprecate his charging her with the
extravagance of wasting a new gown on him, and he now perceived that
the change lay deeper than any accident of dress. At the same time, he
noticed that she betrayed her consciousness of it by a delicate, almost
frightened blush. It was one of the compensations of Mrs. Lethbury's
protracted childishness that she still blushed as prettily as at
eighteen. Her body had been privileged not to outstrip her mind, and
the two, as it seemed to Lethbury, were destined to travel together
through an eternity of girlishness.
"I don't know what you mean," she said.
Since she never did, he always wondered at her bringing this out as a
fresh grievance against him; but his wonder was unresentful, and he
said good-humoredly: "You sparkle so that I thought you had on your
She sighed and blushed again.
"It must be," he continued, "that you've been to a dressmaker's
opening. You're absolutely brimming with illicit enjoyment."
She stared again, this time at the adjective. His adjectives always
embarrassed her: their unintelligibleness savored of impropriety.
"In short," he summed up, "you've been doing something that you're
thoroughly ashamed of."
To his surprise she retorted: "I don't see why I should be ashamed of
Lethbury leaned back with a smile of enjoyment. When there was nothing
better going he always liked to listen to her explanations.
"Well—?" he said.
She was becoming breathless and ejaculatory. "Of course you'll
laugh—you laugh at everything!"
"That rather blunts the point of my derision, doesn't it?" he
interjected; but she rushed on without noticing:
"It's so easy to laugh at things."
"Ah," murmured Lethbury with relish, "that's Aunt Sophronia's, isn't
Most of his wife's opinions were heirlooms, and he took a quaint
pleasure in tracing their descent. She was proud of their age, and saw
no reason for discarding them while they were still serviceable. Some,
of course, were so fine that she kept them for state occasions, like
her great-grandmother's Crown Derby; but from the lady known as Aunt
Sophronia she had inherited a stout set of every-day prejudices that
were practically as good as new; whereas her husband's, as she noticed,
were always having to be replaced. In the early days she had fancied
there might be a certain satisfaction in taxing him with the fact; but
she had long since been silenced by the reply: "My dear, I'm not a rich
man, but I never use an opinion twice if I can help it."
She was reduced, therefore, to dwelling on his moral deficiencies; and
one of the most obvious of these was his refusal to take things
seriously. On this occasion, however, some ulterior purpose kept her
from taking up his taunt.
"I'm not in the least ashamed!" she repeated, with the air of shaking a
banner to the wind; but the domestic atmosphere being calm, the banner
"That," said Lethbury judicially, "encourages me to infer that you
ought to be, and that, consequently, you've been giving yourself the
unusual pleasure of doing something I shouldn't approve of."
She met this with an almost solemn directness. "No," she said. "You
won't approve of it. I've allowed for that."
"Ah," he exclaimed, setting down his liqueur-glass. "You've worked out
the whole problem, eh?"
"I believe so."
"That's uncommonly interesting. And what is it?"
She looked at him quietly. "A baby."
If it was seldom given her to surprise him, she had attained the
distinction for once.
"Of course!" she cried, with the virtuous resentment of the woman who
has never allowed dogs in the house.
Lethbury's puzzled stare broke into a fresh smile. "A baby I sha'n't
approve of? Well, in the abstract I don't think much of them, I admit.
Is this an abstract baby?"
Again she frowned at the adjective; but she had reached a pitch of
exaltation at which such obstacles could not deter her.
"It's the loveliest baby—" she murmured.
"Ah, then it's concrete. It exists. In this harsh world it draws its
breath in pain—"
"It's the healthiest child I ever saw!" she indignantly corrected.
"You've seen it, then?"
Again the accusing blush suffused her. "Yes—I've seen it."
"And to whom does the paragon belong?"
And here indeed she confounded him. "To me—I hope," she declared.
He pushed his chair back with an inarticulate murmur. "To you—?"
"To us," she corrected.
"Good Lord!" he said. If there had been the least hint of hallucination
in her transparent gaze—but no: it was as clear, as shallow, as easily
fathomable as when he had first suffered the sharp surprise of striking
bottom in it.
It occurred to him that perhaps she was trying to be funny: he knew
that there is nothing more cryptic than the humor of the unhumorous.
"Is it a joke?" he faltered.
"Oh, I hope not. I want it so much to be a reality—"
He paused to smile at the limitations of a world in which jokes were
not realities, and continued gently: "But since it is one already—"
"To us, I mean: to you and me. I want—" her voice wavered, and her
eyes with it. "I have always wanted so dreadfully...it has been such a
"I see," said Lethbury slowly.
But he had not seen before. It seemed curious, now, that he had never
thought of her taking it in that way, had never surmised any hidden
depths beneath her outspread obviousness. He felt as though he had
touched a secret spring in her mind.
There was a moment's silence, moist and tremulous on her part, awkward
and slightly irritated on his.
"You've been lonely, I suppose?" he began. It was odd, having suddenly
to reckon with the stranger who gazed at him out of her trivial eyes.
"At times," she said.
"It was not your fault. A man has so many occupations; and women who
are clever—or very handsome—I suppose that's an occupation too.
Sometimes I've felt that when dinner was ordered I had nothing to do
till the next day."
"Oh," he groaned.
"It wasn't your fault," she insisted. "I never told you—but when I
chose that rose-bud paper for the front room upstairs, I always
"It would be such a pretty paper—for a baby—to wake up in. That was
years ago, of course; but it was rather an expensive paper... and it
hasn't faded in the least..." she broke off incoherently.
"It hasn't faded?"
"No—and so I thought...as we don't use the room for anything ... now
that Aunt Sophronia is dead...I thought I might... you might...oh,
Julian, if you could only have seen it just waking up in its crib!"
"Seen what—where? You haven't got a baby upstairs?"
"Oh, no—not yet," she said, with her rare laugh—the girlish
bubbling of merriment that had seemed one of her chief graces in the
early days. It occurred to him that he had not given her enough things
to laugh about lately. But then she needed such very elementary things:
it was as difficult to amuse her as a savage. He concluded that he was
not sufficiently simple.
"Alice," he said, almost solemnly, "what do you mean?"
She hesitated a moment: he saw her gather her courage for a supreme
effort. Then she said slowly, gravely, as though she were pronouncing a
"I'm so lonely without a little child—and I thought perhaps you'd let
me adopt one....It's at the hospital...its mother is dead...and I
could...pet it, and dress it, and do things for it...and it's such a
good baby...you can ask any of the nurses...it would never, never
bother you by crying..."
Lethbury accompanied his wife to the hospital in a mood of chastened
wonder. It did not occur to him to oppose her wish. He knew, of course,
that he would have to bear the brunt of the situation: the jokes at the
club, the inquiries, the explanations. He saw himself in the comic role
of the adopted father, and welcomed it as an expiation. For in his
rapid reconstruction of the past he found himself cutting a shabbier
figure than he cared to admit. He had always been intolerant of stupid
people, and it was his punishment to be convicted of stupidity. As his
mind traversed the years between his marriage and this unexpected
assumption of paternity, he saw, in the light of an overheated
imagination, many signs of unwonted crassness. It was not that he had
ceased to think his wife stupid: she was stupid, limited, inflexible;
but there was a pathos in the struggles of her swaddled mind, in its
blind reachings toward the primal emotions. He had always thought she
would have been happier with a child; but he had thought it
mechanically, because it had so often been thought before, because it
was in the nature of things to think it of every woman, because his
wife was so eminently one of a species that she fitted into all the
generalizations on the sex. But he had regarded this generalization as
merely typical of the triumph of tradition over experience. Maternity
was no doubt the supreme function of primitive woman, the one end to
which her whole organism tended; but the law of increasing complexity
had operated in both sexes, and he had not seriously supposed that,
outside the world of Christmas fiction and anecdotic art, such truisms
had any special hold on the feminine imagination. Now he saw that the
arts in question were kept alive by the vitality of the sentiments they
Lethbury was in fact going through a rapid process of readjustment. His
marriage had been a failure, but he had preserved toward his wife the
exact fidelity of act that is sometimes supposed to excuse any
divagation of feeling; so that, for years, the tie between them had
consisted mainly in his abstaining from making love to other women. The
abstention had not always been easy, for the world is surprisingly
well-stocked with the kind of woman one ought to have married but did
not; and Lethbury had not escaped the solicitation of such
alternatives. His immunity had been purchased at the cost of taking
refuge in the somewhat rarified atmosphere of his perceptions; and his
world being thus limited, he had given unusual care to its details,
compensating himself for the narrowness of his horizon by the minute
finish of his foreground. It was a world of fine shadings and the
nicest proportions, where impulse seldom set a blundering foot, and the
feast of reason was undisturbed by an intemperate flow of soul. To such
a banquet his wife naturally remained uninvited. The diet would have
disagreed with her, and she would probably have objected to the other
guests. But Lethbury, miscalculating her needs, had hitherto supposed
that he had made ample provision for them, and was consequently at
liberty to enjoy his own fare without any reproach of mendicancy at his
gates. Now he beheld her pressing a starved face against the windows of
his life, and in his imaginative reaction he invested her with a pathos
borrowed from the sense of his own shortcomings.
In the hospital, the imaginative process continued with increasing
force. He looked at his wife with new eyes. Formerly she had been to
him a mere bundle of negations, a labyrinth of dead walls and bolted
doors. There was nothing behind the walls, and the doors led
no-whither: he had sounded and listened often enough to be sure of
that. Now he felt like a traveller who, exploring some ancient ruin,
comes on an inner cell, intact amid the general dilapidation, and
painted with images which reveal the forgotten uses of the building.
His wife stood by a white crib in one of the wards. In the crib lay a
child, a year old, the nurse affirmed, but to Lethbury's eye a mere
dateless fragment of humanity projected against a background of
conjecture. Over this anonymous particle of life Mrs. Lethbury leaned,
such ecstasy reflected in her face as strikes up, in Correggio's
Night-piece, from the child's body to the mother's countenance. It was
a light that irradiated and dazzled her. She looked up at an inquiry of
Lethbury's, but as their glances met he perceived that she no longer
saw him, that he had become as invisible to her as she had long been to
him. He had to transfer his question to the nurse.
"What is the child's name?" he asked.
"We call her Jane," said the nurse.
Lethbury, at first, had resisted the idea of a legal adoption; but when
he found that his wife's curiously limited imagination prevented her
regarding the child as hers till it had been made so by process of law,
he promptly withdrew his objection. On one point only he remained
inflexible; and that was the changing of the waif's name. Mrs.
Lethbury, almost at once, had expressed a wish to rechristen it: she
fluctuated between Muriel and Gladys, deferring the moment of decision
like a lady wavering between two bonnets. But Lethbury was unyielding.
In the general surrender of his prejudices this one alone held out.
"But Jane is so dreadful," Mrs. Lethbury protested.
"Well, we don't know that she won't be dreadful. She may grow up a
His wife exclaimed reproachfully. "The nurse says she's the loveliest—"
"Don't they always say that?" asked Lethbury patiently. He was prepared
to be inexhaustibly patient now that he had reached a firm foothold of
"It's cruel to call her Jane," Mrs. Lethbury pleaded.
"It's ridiculous to call her Muriel."
"The nurse is sure she must be a lady's child."
Lethbury winced: he had tried, all along, to keep his mind off the
question of antecedents.
"Well, let her prove it," he said, with a rising sense of exasperation.
He wondered how he could ever have allowed himself to be drawn into
such a ridiculous business; for the first time he felt the full irony
of it. He had visions of coming home in the afternoon to a house
smelling of linseed and paregoric, and of being greeted by a chronic
howl as he went up stairs to dress for dinner. He had never been a
club-man, but he saw himself becoming one now.
The worst of his anticipations were unfulfilled. The baby was
surprisingly well and surprisingly quiet. Such infantile remedies as
she absorbed were not potent enough to be perceived beyond the nursery;
and when Lethbury could be induced to enter that sanctuary, there was
nothing to jar his nerves in the mild pink presence of his adopted
daughter. Jars there were, indeed: they were probably inevitable in the
disturbed routine of the household; but they occurred between Mrs.
Lethbury and the nurses, and Jane contributed to them only a placid
stare which might have served as a rebuke to the combatants.
In the reaction from his first impulse of atonement, Lethbury noted
with sharpened perceptions the effect of the change on his wife's
character. He saw already the error of supposing that it could work any
transformation in her. It simply magnified her existing qualities. She
was like a dried sponge put in water: she expanded, but she did not
change her shape. From the stand-point of scientific observation it was
curious to see how her stored instincts responded to the
pseudo-maternal call. She overflowed with the petty maxims of the
occasion. One felt in her the epitome, the consummation, of centuries
of animal maternity, so that this little woman, who screamed at a mouse
and was nervous about burglars, came to typify the cave-mother rending
her prey for her young.
It was less easy to regard philosophically the practical effects of her
borrowed motherhood. Lethbury found with surprise that she was becoming
assertive and definite. She no longer represented the negative side of
his life; she showed, indeed, a tendency to inconvenient affirmations.
She had gradually expanded her assumption of motherhood till it
included his own share in the relation, and he suddenly found himself
regarded as the father of Jane. This was a contingency he had not
foreseen, and it took all his philosophy to accept it; but there were
moments of compensation. For Mrs. Lethbury was undoubtedly happy for
the first time in years; and the thought that he had tardily
contributed to this end reconciled him to the irony of the means.
At first he was inclined to reproach himself for still viewing the
situation from the outside, for remaining a spectator instead of a
participant. He had been allured, for a moment, by the vision of
severed hands meeting over a cradle, as the whole body of domestic
fiction bears witness to their doing; and the fact that no such
conjunction took place he could explain only on the ground that it was
a borrowed cradle. He did not dislike the little girl. She still
remained to him a hypothetical presence, a query rather than a fact;
but her nearness was not unpleasant, and there were moments when her
tentative utterances, her groping steps, seemed to loosen the dry
accretions enveloping his inner self. But even at such moments—moments
which he invited and caressed—she did not bring him nearer to his
wife. He now perceived that he had made a certain place in his life for
Mrs. Lethbury, and that she no longer fitted into it. It was too late
to enlarge the space, and so she overflowed and encroached. Lethbury
struggled against the sense of submergence. He let down barrier after
barrier, yielded privacy after privacy; but his wife's personality
continued to dilate. She was no longer herself alone: she was herself
and Jane. Gradually, in a monstrous fusion of identity, she became
herself, himself and Jane; and instead of trying to adapt her to a
spare crevice of his character, he found himself carelessly squeezed
into the smallest compartment of the domestic economy.
He continued to tell himself that he was satisfied if his wife was
happy; and it was not till the child's tenth year that he felt a doubt
of her happiness.
Jane had been a preternaturally good child. During the eight years of
her adoption she had caused her foster-parents no anxiety beyond those
connected with the usual succession of youthful diseases. But her
unknown progenitors had given her a robust constitution, and she passed
unperturbed through measles, chicken-pox and whooping-cough. If there
was any suffering it was endured vicariously by Mrs. Lethbury, whose
temperature rose and fell with the patient's, and who could not hear
Jane sneeze without visions of a marble angel weeping over a broken
column. But though Jane's prompt recoveries continued to belie such
premonitions, though her existence continued to move forward on an even
keel of good health and good conduct, Mrs. Lethbury's satisfaction
showed no corresponding advance. Lethbury, at first, was disposed to
add her disappointment to the long list of feminine inconsistencies
with which the sententious observer of life builds up his favorite
induction; but circumstances presently led him to take a kindlier view
of the case.
Hitherto his wife had regarded him as a negligible factor in Jane's
evolution. Beyond providing for his adopted daughter, and effacing
himself before her, he was not expected to contribute to her
well-being. But as time passed he appeared to his wife in a new light.
It was he who was to educate Jane. In matters of the intellect, Mrs.
Lethbury was the first to declare her deficiencies—to proclaim them,
even, with a certain virtuous superiority. She said she did not pretend
to be clever, and there was no denying the truth of the assertion. Now,
however, she seemed less ready, not to own her limitations, but to
glory in them. Confronted with the problem of Jane's instruction, she
stood in awe of the child.
"I have always been stupid, you know," she said to Lethbury with a new
humility, "and I'm afraid I sha'n't know what is best for Jane. I'm
sure she has a wonderfully good mind, and I should reproach myself if I
didn't give her every opportunity." She looked at him helplessly. "You
must tell me what ought to be done."
Lethbury was not unwilling to oblige her. Somewhere in his mental
lumber-room there rusted a theory of education such as usually lingers
among the impedimenta of the childless. He brought this out,
refurbished it, and applied it to Jane. At first he thought his wife
had not overrated the quality of the child's mind. Jane seemed
extraordinarily intelligent. Her precocious definiteness of mind was
encouraging to her inexperienced preceptor. She had no difficulty in
fixing her attention, and he felt that every fact he imparted was being
etched in metal. He helped his wife to engage the best teachers, and
for a while continued to take an ex-official interest in his adopted
daughter's studies. But gradually his interest waned. Jane's ideas did
not increase with her acquisitions. Her young mind remained a mere
receptacle for facts: a kind of cold-storage from which anything that
had been put there could be taken out at a moment's notice, intact but
congealed. She developed, moreover, an inordinate pride in the capacity
of her mental storehouse, and a tendency to pelt her public with its
contents. She was overheard to jeer at her nurse for not knowing when
the Saxon Heptarchy had fallen, and she alternately dazzled and
depressed Mrs. Lethbury by the wealth of her chronological allusions.
She showed no interest in the significance of the facts she amassed:
she simply collected dates as another child might have collected stamps
or marbles. To her foster-mother she seemed a prodigy of wisdom; but
Lethbury saw, with a secret movement of sympathy, how the aptitudes in
which Mrs. Lethbury gloried were slowly estranging her from their
"She is getting too clever for me," his wife said to him, after one of
Jane's historical flights, "but I am so glad that she will be a
companion to you."
Lethbury groaned in spirit. He did not look forward to Jane's
companionship. She was still a good little girl: but there was
something automatic and formal in her goodness, as though it were a
kind of moral calisthenics that she went through for the sake of
showing her agility. An early consciousness of virtue had moreover
constituted her the natural guardian and adviser of her elders. Before
she was fifteen she had set about reforming the household. She took
Mrs. Lethbury in hand first; then she extended her efforts to the
servants, with consequences more disastrous to the domestic harmony;
and lastly she applied herself to Lethbury. She proved to him by
statistics that he smoked too much, and that it was injurious to the
optic nerve to read in bed. She took him to task for not going to
church more regularly, and pointed out to him the evils of desultory
reading. She suggested that a regular course of study encourages mental
concentration, and hinted that inconsecutiveness of thought is a sign
of approaching age.
To her adopted mother her suggestions were equally pertinent. She
instructed Mrs. Lethbury in an improved way of making beef stock, and
called her attention to the unhygienic qualities of carpets. She poured
out distracting facts about bacilli and vegetable mould, and
demonstrated that curtains and picture-frames are a hot-bed of animal
organisms. She learned by heart the nutritive ingredients of the
principal articles of diet, and revolutionized the cuisine by an
attempt to establish a scientific average between starch and
phosphates. Four cooks left during this experiment, and Lethbury fell
into the habit of dining at his club.
Once or twice, at the outset, he had tried to check Jane's ardor; but
his efforts resulted only in hurting his wife's feelings. Jane remained
impervious, and Mrs. Lethbury resented any attempt to protect her from
her daughter. Lethbury saw that she was consoled for the sense of her
own inferiority by the thought of what Jane's intellectual
companionship must be to him; and he tried to keep up the illusion by
enduring with what grace he might the blighting edification of Jane's
As Jane grew up, he sometimes avenged himself by wondering if his wife
was still sorry that they had not called her Muriel. Jane was not ugly;
she developed, indeed, a kind of categorical prettiness that might have
been a projection of her mind. She had a creditable collection of
features, but one had to take an inventory of them to find out that she
was good-looking. The fusing grace had been omitted.
Mrs. Lethbury took a touching pride in her daughter's first steps in
the world. She expected Jane to take by her complexion those whom she
did not capture by her learning. But Jane's rosy freshness did not work
any perceptible ravages. Whether the young men guessed the axioms on
her lips and detected the encyclopaedia in her eye, or whether they
simply found no intrinsic interest in these features, certain it is,
that, in spite of her mother's heroic efforts, and of incessant calls
on Lethbury's purse, Jane, at the end of her first season, had dropped
hopelessly out of the running. A few duller girls found her
interesting, and one or two young men came to the house with the object
of meeting other young women; but she was rapidly becoming one of the
social supernumeraries who are asked out only because they are on
The blow was bitter to Mrs. Lethbury; but she consoled herself with the
idea that Jane had failed because she was too clever. Jane probably
shared this conviction; at all events she betrayed no consciousness of
failure. She had developed a pronounced taste for society, and went
out, unweariedly and obstinately, winter after winter, while Mrs.
Lethbury toiled in her wake, showering attentions on oblivious
hostesses. To Lethbury there was something at once tragic and
exasperating in the sight of their two figures, the one conciliatory,
the other dogged, both pursuing with unabated zeal the elusive prize of
popularity. He even began to feel a personal stake in the pursuit, not
as it concerned Jane, but as it affected his wife. He saw that the
latter was the victim of Jane's disappointment: that Jane was not above
the crude satisfaction of "taking it out" of her mother. Experience
checked the impulse to come to his wife's defence; and when his
resentment was at its height, Jane disarmed him by giving up the
Nothing was said to mark her capitulation; but Lethbury noticed that
the visiting ceased, and that the dressmaker's bills diminished. At the
same time, Mrs. Lethbury made it known that Jane had taken up
charities; and before long Jane's conversation confirmed this
announcement. At first Lethbury congratulated himself on the change;
but Jane's domesticity soon began to weigh on him. During the day she
was sometimes absent on errands of mercy; but in the evening she was
always there. At first she and Mrs. Lethbury sat in the drawing-room
together, and Lethbury smoked in the library; but presently Jane formed
the habit of joining him there, and he began to suspect that he was
included among the objects of her philanthropy.
Mrs. Lethbury confirmed the suspicion. "Jane has grown very
serious-minded lately," she said. "She imagines that she used to
neglect you, and she is trying to make up for it. Don't discourage
her," she added innocently.
Such a plea delivered Lethbury helpless to his daughter's
ministrations: and he found himself measuring the hours he spent with
her by the amount of relief they must be affording her mother. There
were even moments when he read a furtive gratitude in Mrs. Lethbury's
But Lethbury was no hero, and he had nearly reached the limit of
vicarious endurance when something wonderful happened. They never quite
knew afterward how it had come about, or who first perceived it; but
Mrs. Lethbury one day gave tremulous voice to their inferences.
"Of course," she said, "he comes here because of Elise." The young lady
in question, a friend of Jane's, was possessed of attractions which had
already been found to explain the presence of masculine visitors.
Lethbury risked a denial. "I don't think he does," he declared.
"But Elise is thought very pretty," Mrs. Lethbury insisted.
"I can't help that," said Lethbury doggedly.
He saw a faint light in his wife's eyes; but she remarked carelessly:
"Mr. Budd would be a very good match for Elise."
Lethbury could hardly repress a chuckle: he was so exquisitely aware
that she was trying to propitiate the gods.
For a few weeks neither said a word; then Mrs. Lethbury once more
reverted to the subject.
"It is a month since Elise went abroad," she said.
"And Mr. Budd seems to come here just as often—"
"Ah," said Lethbury with heroic indifference; and his wife hastily
changed the subject.
Mr. Winstanley Budd was a young man who suffered from an excess of
manner. Politeness gushed from him in the driest seasons. He was always
performing feats of drawing-room chivalry, and the approach of the most
unobtrusive female threw him into attitudes which endangered the
furniture. His features, being of the cherubic order, did not lend
themselves to this role; but there were moments when he appeared to
dominate them, to force them into compliance with an aquiline ideal.
The range of Mr. Budd's social benevolence made its object hard to
distinguish. He spread his cloak so indiscriminately that one could not
always interpret the gesture, and Jane's impassive manner had the
effect of increasing his demonstrations: she threw him into paroxysms
At first he filled the house with his amenities; but gradually it
became apparent that his most dazzling effects were directed
exclusively to Jane. Lethbury and his wife held their breath and looked
away from each other. They pretended not to notice the frequency of Mr.
Budd's visits, they struggled against an imprudent inclination to leave
the young people too much alone. Their conclusions were the result of
indirect observation, for neither of them dared to be caught watching
Mr. Budd: they behaved like naturalists on the trail of a rare
In his efforts not to notice Mr. Budd, Lethbury centred his attentions
on Jane; and Jane, at this crucial moment, wrung from him a reluctant
admiration. While her parents went about dissembling their emotions,
she seemed to have none to conceal. She betrayed neither eagerness nor
surprise; so complete was her unconcern that there were moments when
Lethbury feared it was obtuseness, when he could hardly help whispering
to her that now was the moment to lower the net.
Meanwhile the velocity of Mr. Budd's gyrations increased with the ardor
of courtship: his politeness became incandescent, and Jane found
herself the centre of a pyrotechnical display culminating in the "set
piece" of an offer of marriage.
Mrs. Lethbury imparted the news to her husband one evening after their
daughter had gone to bed. The announcement was made and received with
an air of detachment, as though both feared to be betrayed into
unseemly exultation; but Lethbury, as his wife ended, could not repress
the inquiry, "Have they decided on a day?"
Mrs. Lethbury's superior command of her features enabled her to look
shocked. "What can you be thinking of? He only offered himself at five!"
"Of course—of course—" stammered Lethbury—"but nowadays people marry
after such short engagements—"
"Engagement!" said his wife solemnly. "There is no engagement."
Lethbury dropped his cigar. "What on earth do you mean?"
"Jane is thinking it over."
"Thinking it over?" "She has asked for a month before deciding."
Lethbury sank back with a gasp. Was it genius or was it madness? He
felt incompetent to decide; and Mrs. Lethbury's next words showed that
she shared his difficulty.
"Of course I don't want to hurry Jane—"
"Of course not," he acquiesced.
"But I pointed out to her that a young man of Mr. Budd's impulsive
temperament might—might be easily discouraged—"
"Yes; and what did she say?"
"She said that if she was worth winning she was worth waiting for."
The period of Mr. Budd's probation could scarcely have cost him as much
mental anguish as it caused his would-be parents-in-law.
Mrs. Lethbury, by various ruses, tried to shorten the ordeal, but Jane
remained inexorable; and each morning Lethbury came down to breakfast
with the certainty of finding a letter of withdrawal from her
When at length the decisive day came, and Mrs. Lethbury, at its close,
stole into the library with an air of chastened joy, they stood for a
moment without speaking; then Mrs. Lethbury paid a fitting tribute to
the proprieties by faltering out: "It will be dreadful to have to give
Lethbury could not repress a warning gesture; but even as it escaped
him, he realized that his wife's grief was genuine.
"Of course, of course," he said, vainly sounding his own emotional
shallows for an answering regret. And yet it was his wife who had
suffered most from Jane!
He had fancied that these sufferings would be effaced by the milder
atmosphere of their last weeks together; but felicity did not soften
Jane. Not for a moment did she relax her dominion: she simply widened
it to include a new subject. Mr. Budd found himself under orders with
the others; and a new fear assailed Lethbury as he saw Jane assume
prenuptial control of her betrothed. Lethbury had never felt any strong
personal interest in Mr. Budd; but, as Jane's prospective husband, the
young man excited his sympathy. To his surprise, he found that Mrs.
Lethbury shared the feeling.
"I'm afraid he may find Jane a little exacting," she said, after an
evening dedicated to a stormy discussion of the wedding arrangements.
"She really ought to make some concessions. If he wants to be married
in a black frock-coat instead of a dark gray one—" She paused and
looked doubtfully at Lethbury.
"What can I do about it?" he said.
"You might explain to him—tell him that Jane isn't always—"
Lethbury made an impatient gesture. "What are you afraid of? His
finding her out or his not finding her out?"
Mrs. Lethbury flushed. "You put it so dreadfully!"
Her husband mused for a moment; then he said with an air of cheerful
hypocrisy: "After all, Budd is old enough to take care of himself."
But the next day Mrs. Lethbury surprised him. Late in the afternoon she
entered the library, so breathless and inarticulate that he scented a
"I've done it!" she cried.
"Told him." She nodded toward the door. "He's just gone. Jane is out,
and I had a chance to talk to him alone."
Lethbury pushed a chair forward and she sank into it.
"What did you tell him? That she is not always—"
Mrs. Lethbury lifted a tragic eye. "No; I told him that she always
There was a pause. Lethbury made a call on his hoarded philosophy. He
saw Jane suddenly reinstated in her evening seat by the library fire;
but an answering chord in him thrilled at his wife's heroism.
"Well—what did he say?"
Mrs. Lethbury's agitation deepened. It was clear that the blow had
"He...he said...that we...had never understood Jane... or appreciated
her..." The final syllables were lost in her handkerchief, and she left
him marvelling at the mechanism of a woman.
After that, Lethbury faced the future with an undaunted eye. They had
done their duty—at least his wife had done hers—and they were reaping
the usual harvest of ingratitude with a zest seldom accorded to such
reaping. There was a marked change in Mr. Budd's manner, and his
increasing coldness sent a genial glow through Lethbury's system. It
was easy to bear with Jane in the light of Mr. Budd's disapproval.
There was a good deal to be borne in the last days, and the brunt of it
fell on Mrs. Lethbury. Jane marked her transition to the married state
by an appropriate but incongruous display of nerves. She became
sentimental, hysterical and reluctant. She quarrelled with her
betrothed and threatened to return the ring. Mrs. Lethbury had to
intervene, and Lethbury felt the hovering sword of destiny. But the
blow was suspended. Mr. Budd's chivalry was proof against all his
bride's caprices, and his devotion throve on her cruelty. Lethbury
feared that he was too faithful, too enduring, and longed to urge him
to vary his tactics. Jane presently reappeared with the ring on her
finger, and consented to try on the wedding-dress; but her
uncertainties, her reactions, were prolonged till the final day.
When it dawned, Lethbury was still in an ecstasy of apprehension.
Feeling reasonably sure of the principal actors, he had centred his
fears on incidental possibilities. The clergyman might have a stroke,
or the church might burn down, or there might be something wrong with
the license. He did all that was humanly possible to avert such
contingencies, but there remained that incalculable factor known as the
hand of God. Lethbury seemed to feel it groping for him.
In the church it almost had him by the nape. Mr. Budd was late; and for
five immeasurable minutes Lethbury and Jane faced a churchful of
conjecture. Then the bridegroom appeared, flushed but chivalrous, and
explaining to his father-in-law under cover of the ritual that he had
torn his glove and had to go back for another.
"You'll be losing the ring next," muttered Lethbury; but Mr. Budd
produced this article punctually, and a moment or two later was bearing
its wearer captive down the aisle.
At the wedding-breakfast Lethbury caught his wife's eye fixed on him in
mild disapproval, and understood that his hilarity was exceeding the
bounds of fitness. He pulled himself together, and tried to subdue his
tone; but his jubilation bubbled over like a champagne-glass
perpetually refilled. The deeper his draughts, the higher it rose.
It was at the brim when, in the wake of the dispersing guests, Jane
came down in her travelling-dress and fell on her mother's neck.
"I can't leave you!" she wailed, and Lethbury felt as suddenly sobered
as a man under a douche. But if the bride was reluctant her captor was
relentless. Never had Mr. Budd been more dominant, more aquiline.
Lethbury's last fears were dissipated as the young man snatched Jane
from her mother's bosom and bore her off to the brougham.
The brougham rolled away, the last milliner's girl forsook her post by
the awning, the red carpet was folded up, and the house door closed.
Lethbury stood alone in the hall with his wife. As he turned toward
her, he noticed the look of tired heroism in her eyes, the deepened
lines of her face. They reflected his own symptoms too accurately not
to appeal to him. The nervous tension had been horrible. He went up to
her, and an answering impulse made her lay a hand on his arm. He held
it there a moment.
"Let us go off and have a jolly little dinner at a restaurant," he
There had been a time when such a suggestion would have surprised her
to the verge of disapproval; but now she agreed to it at once.
"Oh, that would be so nice," she murmured with a great sigh of relief
Jane had fulfilled her mission after all: she had drawn them together
"THE marriage law of the new dispensation will be: Thou shalt not be
A discreet murmur of approval filled the studio, and through the haze
of cigarette smoke Mrs. Clement Westall, as her husband descended from
his improvised platform, saw him merged in a congratulatory group of
ladies. Westall's informal talks on "The New Ethics" had drawn about
him an eager following of the mentally unemployed—those who, as he had
once phrased it, liked to have their brain-food cut up for them. The
talks had begun by accident. Westall's ideas were known to be
"advanced," but hitherto their advance had not been in the direction of
publicity. He had been, in his wife's opinion, almost pusillanimously
careful not to let his personal views endanger his professional
standing. Of late, however, he had shown a puzzling tendency to
dogmatize, to throw down the gauntlet, to flaunt his private code in
the face of society; and the relation of the sexes being a topic always
sure of an audience, a few admiring friends had persuaded him to give
his after-dinner opinions a larger circulation by summing them up in a
series of talks at the Van Sideren studio.
The Herbert Van Siderens were a couple who subsisted, socially, on the
fact that they had a studio. Van Sideren's pictures were chiefly
valuable as accessories to the mise en scene which differentiated his
wife's "afternoons" from the blighting functions held in long New York
drawing-rooms, and permitted her to offer their friends
whiskey-and-soda instead of tea. Mrs. Van Sideren, for her part, was
skilled in making the most of the kind of atmosphere which a lay-figure
and an easel create; and if at times she found the illusion hard to
maintain, and lost courage to the extent of almost wishing that Herbert
could paint, she promptly overcame such moments of weakness by calling
in some fresh talent, some extraneous re-enforcement of the "artistic"
impression. It was in quest of such aid that she had seized on Westall,
coaxing him, somewhat to his wife's surprise, into a flattered
participation in her fraud. It was vaguely felt, in the Van Sideren
circle, that all the audacities were artistic, and that a teacher who
pronounced marriage immoral was somehow as distinguished as a painter
who depicted purple grass and a green sky. The Van Sideren set were
tired of the conventional color-scheme in art and conduct.
Julia Westall had long had her own views on the immorality of marriage;
she might indeed have claimed her husband as a disciple. In the early
days of their union she had secretly resented his disinclination to
proclaim himself a follower of the new creed; had been inclined to tax
him with moral cowardice, with a failure to live up to the convictions
for which their marriage was supposed to stand. That was in the first
burst of propagandism, when, womanlike, she wanted to turn her
disobedience into a law. Now she felt differently. She could hardly
account for the change, yet being a woman who never allowed her
impulses to remain unaccounted for, she tried to do so by saying that
she did not care to have the articles of her faith misinterpreted by
the vulgar. In this connection, she was beginning to think that almost
every one was vulgar; certainly there were few to whom she would have
cared to intrust the defence of so esoteric a doctrine. And it was
precisely at this point that Westall, discarding his unspoken
principles, had chosen to descend from the heights of privacy, and
stand hawking his convictions at the street-corner!
It was Una Van Sideren who, on this occasion, unconsciously focussed
upon herself Mrs. Westall's wandering resentment. In the first place,
the girl had no business to be there. It was "horrid"—Mrs. Westall
found herself slipping back into the old feminine vocabulary—simply
"horrid" to think of a young girl's being allowed to listen to such
talk. The fact that Una smoked cigarettes and sipped an occasional
cocktail did not in the least tarnish a certain radiant innocency which
made her appear the victim, rather than the accomplice, of her parents'
vulgarities. Julia Westall felt in a hot helpless way that something
ought to be done—that some one ought to speak to the girl's mother.
And just then Una glided up.
"Oh, Mrs. Westall, how beautiful it was!" Una fixed her with large
limpid eyes. "You believe it all, I suppose?" she asked with seraphic
"All—what, my dear child?"
The girl shone on her. "About the higher life—the freer expansion of
the individual—the law of fidelity to one's self," she glibly recited.
Mrs. Westall, to her own wonder, blushed a deep and burning blush.
"My dear Una," she said, "you don't in the least understand what it's
Miss Van Sideren stared, with a slowly answering blush. "Don't you,
then?" she murmured.
Mrs. Westall laughed. "Not always—or altogether! But I should like
some tea, please."
Una led her to the corner where innocent beverages were dispensed. As
Julia received her cup she scrutinized the girl more carefully. It was
not such a girlish face, after all—definite lines were forming under
the rosy haze of youth. She reflected that Una must be six-and-twenty,
and wondered why she had not married. A nice stock of ideas she would
have as her dower! If they were to be a part of the modern girl's
Mrs. Westall caught herself up with a start. It was as though some one
else had been speaking—a stranger who had borrowed her own voice: she
felt herself the dupe of some fantastic mental ventriloquism.
Concluding suddenly that the room was stifling and Una's tea too sweet,
she set down her cup, and looked about for Westall: to meet his eyes
had long been her refuge from every uncertainty. She met them now, but
only, as she felt, in transit; they included her parenthetically in a
larger flight. She followed the flight, and it carried her to a corner
to which Una had withdrawn—one of the palmy nooks to which Mrs. Van
Sideren attributed the success of her Saturdays. Westall, a moment
later, had overtaken his look, and found a place at the girl's side.
She bent forward, speaking eagerly; he leaned back, listening, with the
depreciatory smile which acted as a filter to flattery, enabling him to
swallow the strongest doses without apparent grossness of appetite.
Julia winced at her own definition of the smile.
On the way home, in the deserted winter dusk, Westall surprised his
wife by a sudden boyish pressure of her arm. "Did I open their eyes a
bit? Did I tell them what you wanted me to?" he asked gaily.
Almost unconsciously, she let her arm slip from his. "What I
"Why, haven't you—all this time?" She caught the honest wonder of his
tone. "I somehow fancied you'd rather blamed me for not talking more
openly—before—You've made me feel, at times, that I was sacrificing
principles to expediency."
She paused a moment over her reply; then she asked quietly: "What made
you decide not to—any longer?"
She felt again the vibration of a faint surprise. "Why—the wish to
please you!" he answered, almost too simply.
"I wish you would not go on, then," she said abruptly.
He stopped in his quick walk, and she felt his stare through the
"Not go on—?"
"Call a hansom, please. I'm tired," broke from her with a sudden rush
of physical weariness.
Instantly his solicitude enveloped her. The room had been infernally
hot—and then that confounded cigarette smoke—he had noticed once or
twice that she looked pale—she mustn't come to another Saturday. She
felt herself yielding, as she always did, to the warm influence of his
concern for her, the feminine in her leaning on the man in him with a
conscious intensity of abandonment. He put her in the hansom, and her
hand stole into his in the darkness. A tear or two rose, and she let
them fall. It was so delicious to cry over imaginary troubles!
That evening, after dinner, he surprised her by reverting to the
subject of his talk. He combined a man's dislike of uncomfortable
questions with an almost feminine skill in eluding them; and she knew
that if he returned to the subject he must have some special reason for
"You seem not to have cared for what I said this afternoon. Did I put
the case badly?"
"No—you put it very well."
"Then what did you mean by saying that you would rather not have me go
on with it?"
She glanced at him nervously, her ignorance of his intention deepening
her sense of helplessness.
"I don't think I care to hear such things discussed in public."
"I don't understand you," he exclaimed. Again the feeling that his
surprise was genuine gave an air of obliquity to her own attitude. She
was not sure that she understood herself.
"Won't you explain?" he said with a tinge of impatience.
Her eyes wandered about the familiar drawing-room which had been the
scene of so many of their evening confidences. The shaded lamps, the
quiet-colored walls hung with mezzotints, the pale spring flowers
scattered here and there in Venice glasses and bowls of old Sevres,
recalled, she hardly knew why, the apartment in which the evenings of
her first marriage had been passed—a wilderness of rosewood and
upholstery, with a picture of a Roman peasant above the mantel-piece,
and a Greek slave in "statuary marble" between the folding-doors of the
back drawing-room. It was a room with which she had never been able to
establish any closer relation than that between a traveller and a
railway station; and now, as she looked about at the surroundings which
stood for her deepest affinities—the room for which she had left that
other room—she was startled by the same sense of strangeness and
unfamiliarity. The prints, the flowers, the subdued tones of the old
porcelains, seemed to typify a superficial refinement that had no
relation to the deeper significances of life.
Suddenly she heard her husband repeating his question.
"I don't know that I can explain," she faltered.
He drew his arm-chair forward so that he faced her across the hearth.
The light of a reading-lamp fell on his finely drawn face, which had a
kind of surface-sensitiveness akin to the surface-refinement of its
"Is it that you no longer believe in our ideas?" he asked.
"In our ideas—?"
"The ideas I am trying to teach. The ideas you and I are supposed to
stand for." He paused a moment. "The ideas on which our marriage was
The blood rushed to her face. He had his reasons, then—she was sure
now that he had his reasons! In the ten years of their marriage, how
often had either of them stopped to consider the ideas on which it was
founded? How often does a man dig about the basement of his house to
examine its foundation? The foundation is there, of course—the house
rests on it—but one lives abovestairs and not in the cellar. It was
she, indeed, who in the beginning had insisted on reviewing the
situation now and then, on recapitulating the reasons which justified
her course, on proclaiming, from time to time, her adherence to the
religion of personal independence; but she had long ceased to feel the
need of any such ideal standards, and had accepted her marriage as
frankly and naturally as though it had been based on the primitive
needs of the heart, and needed no special sanction to explain or
"Of course I still believe in our ideas!" she exclaimed.
"Then I repeat that I don't understand. It was a part of your theory
that the greatest possible publicity should be given to our view of
marriage. Have you changed your mind in that respect?"
She hesitated. "It depends on circumstances—on the public one is
addressing. The set of people that the Van Siderens get about them
don't care for the truth or falseness of a doctrine. They are attracted
simply by its novelty."
"And yet it was in just such a set of people that you and I met, and
learned the truth from each other."
"That was different."
"I thought you considered it one of the deepest social wrongs that such
things never are discussed before young girls; but that is beside the
point, for I don't remember seeing any young girl in my audience
"Except Una Van Sideren!"
He turned slightly and pushed back the lamp at his elbow.
"Oh, Miss Van Sideren—naturally—"
"The daughter of the house—would you have had her sent out with her
"If I had a daughter I should not allow such things to go on in my
Westall, stroking his mustache, leaned back with a faint smile. "I
fancy Miss Van Sideren is quite capable of taking care of herself."
"No girl knows how to take care of herself—till it's too late."
"And yet you would deliberately deny her the surest means of
"What do you call the surest means of self-defence?"
"Some preliminary knowledge of human nature in its relation to the
She made an impatient gesture. "How should you like to marry that kind
of a girl?"
"Immensely—if she were my kind of girl in other respects."
She took up the argument at another point.
"You are quite mistaken if you think such talk does not affect young
girls. Una was in a state of the most absurd exaltation—" She broke
off, wondering why she had spoken.
Westall reopened a magazine which he had laid aside at the beginning of
their discussion. "What you tell me is immensely flattering to my
oratorical talent—but I fear you overrate its effect. I can assure you
that Miss Van Sideren doesn't have to have her thinking done for her.
She's quite capable of doing it herself."
"You seem very familiar with her mental processes!" flashed unguardedly
from his wife.
He looked up quietly from the pages he was cutting.
"I should like to be," he answered. "She interests me."
If there be a distinction in being misunderstood, it was one denied to
Julia Westall when she left her first husband. Every one was ready to
excuse and even to defend her. The world she adorned agreed that John
Arment was "impossible," and hostesses gave a sigh of relief at the
thought that it would no longer be necessary to ask him to dine.
There had been no scandal connected with the divorce: neither side had
accused the other of the offence euphemistically described as
"statutory." The Arments had indeed been obliged to transfer their
allegiance to a State which recognized desertion as a cause for
divorce, and construed the term so liberally that the seeds of
desertion were shown to exist in every union. Even Mrs. Arment's second
marriage did not make traditional morality stir in its sleep. It was
known that she had not met her second husband till after she had parted
from the first, and she had, moreover, replaced a rich man by a poor
one. Though Clement Westall was acknowledged to be a rising lawyer, it
was generally felt that his fortunes would not rise as rapidly as his
reputation. The Westalls would probably always have to live quietly and
go out to dinner in cabs. Could there be better evidence of Mrs.
Arment's complete disinterestedness?
If the reasoning by which her friends justified her course was somewhat
cruder and less complex than her own elucidation of the matter, both
explanations led to the same conclusion: John Arment was impossible.
The only difference was that, to his wife, his impossibility was
something deeper than a social disqualification. She had once said, in
ironical defence of her marriage, that it had at least preserved her
from the necessity of sitting next to him at dinner; but she had not
then realized at what cost the immunity was purchased. John Arment was
impossible; but the sting of his impossibility lay in the fact that he
made it impossible for those about him to be other than himself. By an
unconscious process of elimination he had excluded from the world
everything of which he did not feel a personal need: had become, as it
were, a climate in which only his own requirements survived. This might
seem to imply a deliberate selfishness; but there was nothing
deliberate about Arment. He was as instinctive as an animal or a child.
It was this childish element in his nature which sometimes for a moment
unsettled his wife's estimate of him. Was it possible that he was
simply undeveloped, that he had delayed, somewhat longer than is usual,
the laborious process of growing up? He had the kind of sporadic
shrewdness which causes it to be said of a dull man that he is "no
fool"; and it was this quality that his wife found most trying. Even to
the naturalist it is annoying to have his deductions disturbed by some
unforeseen aberrancy of form or function; and how much more so to the
wife whose estimate of herself is inevitably bound up with her judgment
of her husband!
Arment's shrewdness did not, indeed, imply any latent intellectual
power; it suggested, rather, potentialities of feeling, of suffering,
perhaps, in a blind rudimentary way, on which Julia's sensibilities
naturally declined to linger. She so fully understood her own reasons
for leaving him that she disliked to think they were not as
comprehensible to her husband. She was haunted, in her analytic
moments, by the look of perplexity, too inarticulate for words, with
which he had acquiesced to her explanations.
These moments were rare with her, however. Her marriage had been too
concrete a misery to be surveyed philosophically. If she had been
unhappy for complex reasons, the unhappiness was as real as though it
had been uncomplicated. Soul is more bruisable than flesh, and Julia
was wounded in every fibre of her spirit. Her husband's personality
seemed to be closing gradually in on her, obscuring the sky and cutting
off the air, till she felt herself shut up among the decaying bodies of
her starved hopes. A sense of having been decoyed by some world-old
conspiracy into this bondage of body and soul filled her with despair.
If marriage was the slow life-long acquittal of a debt contracted in
ignorance, then marriage was a crime against human nature. She, for
one, would have no share in maintaining the pretence of which she had
been a victim: the pretence that a man and a woman, forced into the
narrowest of personal relations, must remain there till the end, though
they may have outgrown the span of each other's natures as the mature
tree outgrows the iron brace about the sapling.
It was in the first heat of her moral indignation that she had met
Clement Westall. She had seen at once that he was "interested," and had
fought off the discovery, dreading any influence that should draw her
back into the bondage of conventional relations. To ward off the peril
she had, with an almost crude precipitancy, revealed her opinions to
him. To her surprise, she found that he shared them. She was attracted
by the frankness of a suitor who, while pressing his suit, admitted
that he did not believe in marriage. Her worst audacities did not seem
to surprise him: he had thought out all that she had felt, and they had
reached the same conclusion. People grew at varying rates, and the yoke
that was an easy fit for the one might soon become galling to the
other. That was what divorce was for: the readjustment of personal
relations. As soon as their necessarily transitive nature was
recognized they would gain in dignity as well as in harmony. There
would be no farther need of the ignoble concessions and connivances,
the perpetual sacrifice of personal delicacy and moral pride, by means
of which imperfect marriages were now held together. Each partner to
the contract would be on his mettle, forced to live up to the highest
standard of self-development, on pain of losing the other's respect and
affection. The low nature could no longer drag the higher down, but
must struggle to rise, or remain alone on its inferior level. The only
necessary condition to a harmonious marriage was a frank recognition of
this truth, and a solemn agreement between the contracting parties to
keep faith with themselves, and not to live together for a moment after
complete accord had ceased to exist between them. The new adultery was
unfaithfulness to self.
It was, as Westall had just reminded her, on this understanding that
they had married. The ceremony was an unimportant concession to social
prejudice: now that the door of divorce stood open, no marriage need be
an imprisonment, and the contract therefore no longer involved any
diminution of self-respect. The nature of their attachment placed them
so far beyond the reach of such contingencies that it was easy to
discuss them with an open mind; and Julia's sense of security made her
dwell with a tender insistence on Westall's promise to claim his
release when he should cease to love her. The exchange of these vows
seemed to make them, in a sense, champions of the new law, pioneers in
the forbidden realm of individual freedom: they felt that they had
somehow achieved beatitude without martyrdom.
This, as Julia now reviewed the past, she perceived to have been her
theoretical attitude toward marriage. It was unconsciously,
insidiously, that her ten years of happiness with Westall had developed
another conception of the tie; a reversion, rather, to the old instinct
of passionate dependency and possessorship that now made her blood
revolt at the mere hint of change. Change? Renewal? Was that what they
had called it, in their foolish jargon? Destruction, extermination
rather—this rending of a myriad fibres interwoven with another's
being! Another? But he was not other! He and she were one, one in the
mystic sense which alone gave marriage its significance. The new law
was not for them, but for the disunited creatures forced into a mockery
of union. The gospel she had felt called on to proclaim had no bearing
on her own case.... She sent for the doctor and told him she was sure
she needed a nerve tonic.
She took the nerve tonic diligently, but it failed to act as a sedative
to her fears. She did not know what she feared; but that made her
anxiety the more pervasive. Her husband had not reverted to the subject
of his Saturday talks. He was unusually kind and considerate, with a
softening of his quick manner, a touch of shyness in his consideration,
that sickened her with new fears. She told herself that it was because
she looked badly—because he knew about the doctor and the nerve
tonic—that he showed this deference to her wishes, this eagerness to
screen her from moral draughts; but the explanation simply cleared the
way for fresh inferences.
The week passed slowly, vacantly, like a prolonged Sunday. On Saturday
the morning post brought a note from Mrs. Van Sideren. Would dear Julia
ask Mr. Westall to come half an hour earlier than usual, as there was
to be some music after his "talk"? Westall was just leaving for his
office when his wife read the note. She opened the drawing-room door
and called him back to deliver the message.
He glanced at the note and tossed it aside. "What a bore! I shall have
to cut my game of racquets. Well, I suppose it can't be helped. Will
you write and say it's all right?"
Julia hesitated a moment, her hand stiffening on the chair-back against
which she leaned.
"You mean to go on with these talks?" she asked.
"I—why not?" he returned; and this time it struck her that his
surprise was not quite unfeigned. The discovery helped her to find
"You said you had started them with the idea of pleasing me—"
"I told you last week that they didn't please me."
"Last week? Oh—" He seemed to make an effort of memory. "I thought you
were nervous then; you sent for the doctor the next day."
"It was not the doctor I needed; it was your assurance—"
Suddenly she felt the floor fail under her. She sank into the chair
with a choking throat, her words, her reasons slipping away from her
like straws down a whirling flood.
"Clement," she cried, "isn't it enough for you to know that I hate it?"
He turned to close the door behind them; then he walked toward her and
sat down. "What is it that you hate?" he asked gently.
She had made a desperate effort to rally her routed argument.
"I can't bear to have you speak as if—as if—our marriage—were like
the other kind—the wrong kind. When I heard you there, the other
afternoon, before all those inquisitive gossiping people, proclaiming
that husbands and wives had a right to leave each other whenever they
were tired—or had seen some one else—"
Westall sat motionless, his eyes fixed on a pattern of the carpet.
"You have ceased to take this view, then?" he said as she broke off.
"You no longer believe that husbands and wives are justified in
separating—under such conditions?"
"Under such conditions?" she stammered. "Yes—I still believe that—but
how can we judge for others? What can we know of the circumstances—?"
He interrupted her. "I thought it was a fundamental article of our
creed that the special circumstances produced by marriage were not to
interfere with the full assertion of individual liberty." He paused a
moment. "I thought that was your reason for leaving Arment."
She flushed to the forehead. It was not like him to give a personal
turn to the argument.
"It was my reason," she said simply.
"Well, then—why do you refuse to recognize its validity now?"
"I don't—I don't—I only say that one can't judge for others."
He made an impatient movement. "This is mere hair-splitting. What you
mean is that, the doctrine having served your purpose when you needed
it, you now repudiate it."
"Well," she exclaimed, flushing again, "what if I do? What does it
matter to us?"
Westall rose from his chair. He was excessively pale, and stood before
his wife with something of the formality of a stranger.
"It matters to me," he said in a low voice, "because I do not
"And because I had intended to invoke it as"—
He paused and drew his breath deeply. She sat silent, almost deafened
by her heart-beats.—"as a complete justification of the course I am
about to take."
Julia remained motionless. "What course is that?" she asked.
He cleared his throat. "I mean to claim the fulfilment of your promise."
For an instant the room wavered and darkened; then she recovered a
torturing acuteness of vision. Every detail of her surroundings pressed
upon her: the tick of the clock, the slant of sunlight on the wall, the
hardness of the chair-arms that she grasped, were a separate wound to
"My promise—" she faltered.
"Your part of our mutual agreement to set each other free if one or the
other should wish to be released."
She was silent again. He waited a moment, shifting his position
nervously; then he said, with a touch of irritability: "You acknowledge
The question went through her like a shock. She lifted her head to it
proudly. "I acknowledge the agreement," she said.
"And—you don't mean to repudiate it?"
A log on the hearth fell forward, and mechanically he advanced and
pushed it back.
"No," she answered slowly, "I don't mean to repudiate it."
There was a pause. He remained near the hearth, his elbow resting on
the mantel-shelf. Close to his hand stood a little cup of jade that he
had given her on one of their wedding anniversaries. She wondered
vaguely if he noticed it.
"You intend to leave me, then?" she said at length.
His gesture seemed to deprecate the crudeness of the allusion.
"To marry some one else?"
Again his eye and hand protested. She rose and stood before him.
"Why should you be afraid to tell me? Is it Una Van Sideren?"
He was silent.
"I wish you good luck," she said.
She looked up, finding herself alone. She did not remember when or how
he had left the room, or how long afterward she had sat there. The fire
still smouldered on the hearth, but the slant of sunlight had left the
Her first conscious thought was that she had not broken her word, that
she had fulfilled the very letter of their bargain. There had been no
crying out, no vain appeal to the past, no attempt at temporizing or
evasion. She had marched straight up to the guns.
Now that it was over, she sickened to find herself alive. She looked
about her, trying to recover her hold on reality. Her identity seemed
to be slipping from her, as it disappears in a physical swoon. "This is
my room—this is my house," she heard herself saying. Her room? Her
house? She could almost hear the walls laugh back at her.
She stood up, a dull ache in every bone. The silence of the room
frightened her. She remembered, now, having heard the front door close
a long time ago: the sound suddenly re-echoed through her brain. Her
husband must have left the house, then—her husband? She no longer
knew in what terms to think: the simplest phrases had a poisoned edge.
She sank back into her chair, overcome by a strange weakness. The clock
struck ten—it was only ten o'clock! Suddenly she remembered that she
had not ordered dinner...or were they dining out that evening?
Dinner—dining out—the old meaningless phraseology pursued her! She
must try to think of herself as she would think of some one else, a
some one dissociated from all the familiar routine of the past, whose
wants and habits must gradually be learned, as one might spy out the
ways of a strange animal...
The clock struck another hour—eleven. She stood up again and walked to
the door: she thought she would go up stairs to her room. Her room?
Again the word derided her. She opened the door, crossed the narrow
hall, and walked up the stairs. As she passed, she noticed Westall's
sticks and umbrellas: a pair of his gloves lay on the hall table. The
same stair-carpet mounted between the same walls; the same old French
print, in its narrow black frame, faced her on the landing. This visual
continuity was intolerable. Within, a gaping chasm; without, the same
untroubled and familiar surface. She must get away from it before she
could attempt to think. But, once in her room, she sat down on the
lounge, a stupor creeping over her...
Gradually her vision cleared. A great deal had happened in the
interval—a wild marching and countermarching of emotions, arguments,
ideas—a fury of insurgent impulses that fell back spent upon
themselves. She had tried, at first, to rally, to organize these
chaotic forces. There must be help somewhere, if only she could master
the inner tumult. Life could not be broken off short like this, for a
whim, a fancy; the law itself would side with her, would defend her.
The law? What claim had she upon it? She was the prisoner of her own
choice: she had been her own legislator, and she was the predestined
victim of the code she had devised. But this was grotesque,
intolerable—a mad mistake, for which she could not be held
accountable! The law she had despised was still there, might still be
invoked...invoked, but to what end? Could she ask it to chain Westall
to her side? She had been allowed to go free when she claimed her
freedom—should she show less magnanimity than she had exacted?
Magnanimity? The word lashed her with its irony—one does not strike an
attitude when one is fighting for life! She would threaten, grovel,
cajole...she would yield anything to keep her hold on happiness. Ah,
but the difficulty lay deeper! The law could not help her—her own
apostasy could not help her. She was the victim of the theories she
renounced. It was as though some giant machine of her own making had
caught her up in its wheels and was grinding her to atoms...
It was afternoon when she found herself out-of-doors. She walked with
an aimless haste, fearing to meet familiar faces. The day was radiant,
metallic: one of those searching American days so calculated to reveal
the shortcomings of our street-cleaning and the excesses of our
architecture. The streets looked bare and hideous; everything stared
and glittered. She called a passing hansom, and gave Mrs. Van Sideren's
address. She did not know what had led up to the act; but she found
herself suddenly resolved to speak, to cry out a warning. It was too
late to save herself—but the girl might still be told. The hansom
rattled up Fifth Avenue; she sat with her eyes fixed, avoiding
recognition. At the Van Siderens' door she sprang out and rang the
bell. Action had cleared her brain, and she felt calm and
self-possessed. She knew now exactly what she meant to say.
The ladies were both out...the parlor-maid stood waiting for a card.
Julia, with a vague murmur, turned away from the door and lingered a
moment on the sidewalk. Then she remembered that she had not paid the
cab-driver. She drew a dollar from her purse and handed it to him. He
touched his hat and drove off, leaving her alone in the long empty
street. She wandered away westward, toward strange thoroughfares, where
she was not likely to meet acquaintances. The feeling of aimlessness
had returned. Once she found herself in the afternoon torrent of
Broadway, swept past tawdry shops and flaming theatrical posters, with
a succession of meaningless faces gliding by in the opposite
A feeling of faintness reminded her that she had not eaten since
morning. She turned into a side street of shabby houses, with rows of
ash-barrels behind bent area railings. In a basement window she saw the
sign Ladies' Restaurant: a pie and a dish of doughnuts lay against
the dusty pane like petrified food in an ethnological museum. She
entered, and a young woman with a weak mouth and a brazen eye cleared a
table for her near the window. The table was covered with a red and
white cotton cloth and adorned with a bunch of celery in a thick
tumbler and a salt-cellar full of grayish lumpy salt. Julia ordered
tea, and sat a long time waiting for it. She was glad to be away from
the noise and confusion of the streets. The low-ceilinged room was
empty, and two or three waitresses with thin pert faces lounged in the
background staring at her and whispering together. At last the tea was
brought in a discolored metal teapot. Julia poured a cup and drank it
hastily. It was black and bitter, but it flowed through her veins like
an elixir. She was almost dizzy with exhilaration. Oh, how tired, how
unutterably tired she had been!
She drank a second cup, blacker and bitterer, and now her mind was once
more working clearly. She felt as vigorous, as decisive, as when she
had stood on the Van Siderens' door-step—but the wish to return there
had subsided. She saw now the futility of such an attempt—the
humiliation to which it might have exposed her... The pity of it was
that she did not know what to do next. The short winter day was fading,
and she realized that she could not remain much longer in the
restaurant without attracting notice. She paid for her tea and went out
into the street. The lamps were alight, and here and there a basement
shop cast an oblong of gas-light across the fissured pavement. In the
dusk there was something sinister about the aspect of the street, and
she hastened back toward Fifth Avenue. She was not used to being out
alone at that hour.
At the corner of Fifth Avenue she paused and stood watching the stream
of carriages. At last a policeman caught sight of her and signed to her
that he would take her across. She had not meant to cross the street,
but she obeyed automatically, and presently found herself on the
farther corner. There she paused again for a moment; but she fancied
the policeman was watching her, and this sent her hastening down the
nearest side street... After that she walked a long time, vaguely...
Night had fallen, and now and then, through the windows of a passing
carriage, she caught the expanse of an evening waistcoat or the shimmer
of an opera cloak...
Suddenly she found herself in a familiar street. She stood still a
moment, breathing quickly. She had turned the corner without noticing
whither it led; but now, a few yards ahead of her, she saw the house in
which she had once lived—her first husband's house. The blinds were
drawn, and only a faint translucence marked the windows and the transom
above the door. As she stood there she heard a step behind her, and a
man walked by in the direction of the house. He walked slowly, with a
heavy middle-aged gait, his head sunk a little between the shoulders,
the red crease of his neck visible above the fur collar of his
overcoat. He crossed the street, went up the steps of the house, drew
forth a latch-key, and let himself in...
There was no one else in sight. Julia leaned for a long time against
the area-rail at the corner, her eyes fixed on the front of the house.
The feeling of physical weariness had returned, but the strong tea
still throbbed in her veins and lit her brain with an unnatural
clearness. Presently she heard another step draw near, and moving
quickly away, she too crossed the street and mounted the steps of the
house. The impulse which had carried her there prolonged itself in a
quick pressure of the electric bell—then she felt suddenly weak and
tremulous, and grasped the balustrade for support. The door opened and
a young footman with a fresh inexperienced face stood on the threshold.
Julia knew in an instant that he would admit her.
"I saw Mr. Arment going in just now," she said. "Will you ask him to
see me for a moment?"
The footman hesitated. "I think Mr. Arment has gone up to dress for
Julia advanced into the hall. "I am sure he will see me—I will not
detain him long," she said. She spoke quietly, authoritatively, in the
tone which a good servant does not mistake. The footman had his hand on
the drawing-room door.
"I will tell him, madam. What name, please?"
Julia trembled: she had not thought of that. "Merely say a lady," she
The footman wavered and she fancied herself lost; but at that instant
the door opened from within and John Arment stepped into the hall. He
drew back sharply as he saw her, his florid face turning sallow with
the shock; then the blood poured back to it, swelling the veins on his
temples and reddening the lobes of his thick ears.
It was long since Julia had seen him, and she was startled at the
change in his appearance. He had thickened, coarsened, settled down
into the enclosing flesh. But she noted this insensibly: her one
conscious thought was that, now she was face to face with him, she must
not let him escape till he had heard her. Every pulse in her body
throbbed with the urgency of her message.
She went up to him as he drew back. "I must speak to you," she said.
Arment hesitated, red and stammering. Julia glanced at the footman, and
her look acted as a warning. The instinctive shrinking from a "scene"
predominated over every other impulse, and Arment said slowly: "Will
you come this way?"
He followed her into the drawing-room and closed the door. Julia, as
she advanced, was vaguely aware that the room at least was unchanged:
time had not mitigated its horrors. The contadina still lurched from
the chimney-breast, and the Greek slave obstructed the threshold of the
inner room. The place was alive with memories: they started out from
every fold of the yellow satin curtains and glided between the angles
of the rosewood furniture. But while some subordinate agency was
carrying these impressions to her brain, her whole conscious effort was
centred in the act of dominating Arment's will. The fear that he would
refuse to hear her mounted like fever to her brain. She felt her
purpose melt before it, words and arguments running into each other in
the heat of her longing. For a moment her voice failed her, and she
imagined herself thrust out before she could speak; but as she was
struggling for a word, Arment pushed a chair forward, and said quietly:
"You are not well."
The sound of his voice steadied her. It was neither kind nor unkind—a
voice that suspended judgment, rather, awaiting unforeseen
developments. She supported herself against the back of the chair and
drew a deep breath. "Shall I send for something?" he continued, with a
cold embarrassed politeness.
Julia raised an entreating hand. "No—no—thank you. I am quite well."
He paused midway toward the bell and turned on her. "Then may I ask—?"
"Yes," she interrupted him. "I came here because I wanted to see you.
There is something I must tell you."
Arment continued to scrutinize her. "I am surprised at that," he said.
"I should have supposed that any communication you may wish to make
could have been made through our lawyers."
"Our lawyers!" She burst into a little laugh. "I don't think they could
help me—this time."
Arment's face took on a barricaded look. "If there is any question of
It struck her, whimsically, that she had seen that look when some
shabby devil called with a subscription-book. Perhaps he thought she
wanted him to put his name down for so much in sympathy—or even in
money... The thought made her laugh again. She saw his look change
slowly to perplexity. All his facial changes were slow, and she
remembered, suddenly, how it had once diverted her to shift that
lumbering scenery with a word. For the first time it struck her that
she had been cruel. "There is a question of help," she said in a
softer key: "you can help me; but only by listening... I want to tell
Arment's resistance was not yielding. "Would it not be easier
to—write?" he suggested.
She shook her head. "There is no time to write...and it won't take
long." She raised her head and their eyes met. "My husband has left
me," she said.
"Westall—?" he stammered, reddening again.
"Yes. This morning. Just as I left you. Because he was tired of me."
The words, uttered scarcely above a whisper, seemed to dilate to the
limit of the room. Arment looked toward the door; then his embarrassed
glance returned to Julia.
"I am very sorry," he said awkwardly.
"Thank you," she murmured.
"But I don't see—"
"No—but you will—in a moment. Won't you listen to me? Please!"
Instinctively she had shifted her position putting herself between him
and the door. "It happened this morning," she went on in short
breathless phrases. "I never suspected anything—I thought we
were—perfectly happy... Suddenly he told me he was tired of me...
there is a girl he likes better... He has gone to her..." As she spoke,
the lurking anguish rose upon her, possessing her once more to the
exclusion of every other emotion. Her eyes ached, her throat swelled
with it, and two painful tears burnt a way down her face.
Arment's constraint was increasing visibly. "This—this is very
unfortunate," he began. "But I should say the law—"
"The law?" she echoed ironically. "When he asks for his freedom?"
"You are not obliged to give it."
"You were not obliged to give me mine—but you did."
He made a protesting gesture.
"You saw that the law couldn't help you—didn't you?" she went on.
"That is what I see now. The law represents material rights—it can't
go beyond. If we don't recognize an inner law...the obligation that
love creates...being loved as well as loving... there is nothing to
prevent our spreading ruin unhindered...is there?" She raised her head
plaintively, with the look of a bewildered child. "That is what I see
now...what I wanted to tell you. He leaves me because he's tired...but
I was not tired; and I don't understand why he is. That's the
dreadful part of it—the not understanding: I hadn't realized what it
meant. But I've been thinking of it all day, and things have come back
to me—things I hadn't noticed...when you and I..." She moved closer to
him, and fixed her eyes on his with the gaze that tries to reach beyond
words. "I see now that you didn't understand—did you?"
Their eyes met in a sudden shock of comprehension: a veil seemed to be
lifted between them. Arment's lip trembled.
"No," he said, "I didn't understand."
She gave a little cry, almost of triumph. "I knew it! I knew it! You
wondered—you tried to tell me—but no words came... You saw your life
falling in ruins...the world slipping from you...and you couldn't speak
She sank down on the chair against which she had been leaning. "Now I
know—now I know," she repeated.
"I am very sorry for you," she heard Arment stammer.
She looked up quickly. "That's not what I came for. I don't want you to
be sorry. I came to ask you to forgive me...for not understanding that
you didn't understand... That's all I wanted to say." She rose with a
vague sense that the end had come, and put out a groping hand toward
Arment stood motionless. She turned to him with a faint smile.
"You forgive me?"
"There is nothing to forgive—"
"Then will you shake hands for good-by?" She felt his hand in hers: it
was nerveless, reluctant.
"Good-by," she repeated. "I understand now."
She opened the door and passed out into the hall. As she did so, Arment
took an impulsive step forward; but just then the footman, who was
evidently alive to his obligations, advanced from the background to let
her out. She heard Arment fall back. The footman threw open the door,
and she found herself outside in the darkness.
For many years he had lived withdrawn from the world in which he had
once played so active and even turbulent a part. The study of Tuscan
art was his only pursuit, and it was to help him in the classification
of his notes and documents that I was first called to his villa.
Colonel Alingdon had then the look of a very old man, though his age
can hardly have exceeded seventy. He was small and bent, with a finely
wrinkled face which still wore the tan of youthful exposure. But for
this dusky redness it would have been hard to reconstruct from the
shrunken recluse, with his low fastidious voice and carefully tended
hands, an image of that young knight of adventure whose sword had been
at the service of every uprising which stirred the uneasy soil of Italy
in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Though I was more of a proficient in Colonel Alingdon's later than his
earlier pursuits, the thought of his soldiering days was always coming
between me and the pacific work of his old age. As we sat collating
papers and comparing photographs, I had the feeling that this dry and
quiet old man had seen even stranger things than people said: that he
knew more of the inner history of Europe than half the diplomatists of
I was not alone in this conviction; and the friend who had engaged me
for Colonel Alingdon had appended to his instructions the injunction to
"get him to talk." But this was what no one could do. Colonel Alingdon
was ready to discuss by the hour the date of a Giottesque triptych, or
the attribution of a disputed master; but on the history of his early
life he was habitually silent.
It was perhaps because I recognized this silence and respected it that
it afterward came to be broken for me. Or it was perhaps merely
because, as the failure of Colonel Alingdon's sight cut him off from
his work, he felt the natural inclination of age to revert from the
empty present to the crowded past. For one cause or another he did
talk to me in the last year of his life; and I felt myself mingled, to
an extent inconceivable to the mere reader of history, with the
passionate scenes of the Italian struggle for liberty. Colonel Alingdon
had been mixed with it in all its phases: he had known the last
Carbonari and the Young Italy of Mazzini; he had been in Perugia when
the mercenaries of a liberal Pope slaughtered women and children in the
streets; he had been in Sicily with the Thousand, and in Milan during
the Cinque Giornate.
"They say the Italians didn't know how to fight," he said one day,
musingly—"that the French had to come down and do their work for them.
People forget how long it was since they had had any fighting to do.
But they hadn't forgotten how to suffer and hold their tongues; how to
die and take their secrets with them. The Italian war of independence
was really carried on underground: it was one of those awful silent
struggles which are so much more terrible than the roar of a battle.
It's a deuced sight easier to charge with your regiment than to lie
rotting in an Austrian prison and know that if you give up the name of
a friend or two you can go back scot-free to your wife and children.
And thousands and thousands of Italians had the choice given them—and
hardly one went back."
He sat silent, his meditative fingertips laid together, his eyes fixed
on the past which was the now only thing clearly visible to them.
"And the women?" I said. "Were they as brave as the men?"
I had not spoken quite at random. I had always heard that there had
been as much of love as of war in Colonel Alingdon's early career, and
I hoped that my question might give a personal turn to his
"The women?" he repeated. "They were braver—for they had more to bear
and less to do. Italy could never have been saved without them."
His eye had kindled and I detected in it the reflection of some vivid
memory. It was then that I asked him what was the bravest thing he had
ever known of a woman's doing.
The question was such a vague one that I hardly knew why I had put it,
but to my surprise he answered almost at once, as though I had touched
on a subject of frequent meditation.
"The bravest thing I ever saw done by a woman," he said, "was brought
about by an act of my own—and one of which I am not particularly
proud. For that reason I have never spoken of it before—there was a
time when I didn't even care to think of it—but all that is past now.
She died years ago, and so did the Jack Alingdon she knew, and in
telling you the story I am no more than the mouthpiece of an old
tradition which some ancestor might have handed down to me."
He leaned back, his clear blind gaze fixed smilingly on me, and I had
the feeling that, in groping through the labyrinth of his young
adventures, I had come unawares upon their central point.
When I was in Milan in 'forty-seven an unlucky thing happened to me.
I had been sent there to look over the ground by some of my Italian
friends in England. As an English officer I had no difficulty in
getting into Milanese society, for England had for years been the
refuge of the Italian fugitives, and I was known to be working in their
interests. It was just the kind of job I liked, and I never enjoyed
life more than I did in those days. There was a great deal going
on—good music, balls and theatres. Milan kept up her gayety to the
last. The English were shocked by the insouciance of a race who could
dance under the very nose of the usurper; but those who understood the
situation knew that Milan was playing Brutus, and playing it uncommonly
I was in the thick of it all—it was just the atmosphere to suit a
young fellow of nine-and-twenty, with a healthy passion for waltzing
and fighting. But, as I said, an unlucky thing happened to me. I was
fool enough to fall in love with Donna Candida Falco. You have heard of
her, of course: you know the share she had in the great work. In a
different way she was what the terrible Princess Belgioioso had been to
an earlier generation. But Donna Candida was not terrible. She was
quiet, discreet and charming. When I knew her she was a widow of
thirty, her husband, Andrea Falco, having died ten years previously,
soon after their marriage. The marriage had been notoriously unhappy,
and his death was a release to Donna Candida. Her family were of
Modena, but they had come to live in Milan soon after the execution of
Ciro Menotti and his companions. You remember the details of that
business? The Duke of Modena, one of the most adroit villains in
Europe, had been bitten with the hope of uniting the Italian states
under his rule. It was a vision of Italian liberation—of a sort. A few
madmen were dazzled by it, and Ciro Menotti was one of them. You know
the end. The Duke of Modena, who had counted on Louis Philippe's
backing, found that that astute sovereign had betrayed him to Austria.
Instantly, he saw that his first business was to get rid of the
conspirators he had created. There was nothing easier than for a
Hapsburg Este to turn on a friend. Ciro Menotti had staked his life for
the Duke—and the Duke took it. You may remember that, on the night
when seven hundred men and a cannon attacked Menotti's house, the Duke
was seen looking on at the slaughter from an arcade across the square.
Well, among the lesser fry taken that night was a lad of eighteen,
Emilio Verna, who was the only brother of Donna Candida. The Verna
family was one of the most respected in Modena. It consisted, at that
time, of the mother, Countess Verna, of young Emilio and his sister.
Count Verna had been in Spielberg in the twenties. He had never
recovered from his sufferings there, and died in exile, without seeing
his wife and children again. Countess Verna had been an ardent patriot
in her youth, but the failure of the first attempts against Austria had
discouraged her. She thought that in losing her husband she had
sacrificed enough for her country, and her one idea was to keep Emilio
on good terms with the government. But the Verna blood was not
tractable, and his father's death was not likely to make Emilio a good
subject of the Estes. Not that he had as yet taken any active share in
the work of the conspirators: he simply hadn't had time. At his trial
there was nothing to show that he had been in Menotti's confidence; but
he had been seen once or twice coming out of what the ducal police
called "suspicious" houses, and in his desk were found some verses to
Italy. That was enough to hang a man in Modena, and Emilio Verna was
The Countess never recovered from the blow. The circumstances of her
son's death were too abominable, to unendurable. If he had risked his
life in the conspiracy, she might have been reconciled to his losing
it. But he was a mere child, who had sat at home, chafing but
powerless, while his seniors plotted and fought. He had been sacrificed
to the Duke's insane fear, to his savage greed for victims, and the
Countess Verna was not to be consoled.
As soon as possible, the mother and daughter left Modena for Milan.
There they lived in seclusion till Candida's marriage. During her
girlhood she had had to accept her mother's view of life: to shut
herself up in the tomb in which the poor woman brooded over her
martyrs. But that was not the girl's way of honoring the dead. At the
moment when the first shot was fired on Menotti's house she had been
reading Petrarch's Ode to the Lords of Italy, and the lines l'antico
valor nell'italici cor non e ancor morto had lodged like a bullet in
her brain. From the day of her marriage she began to take a share in
the silent work which was going on throughout Italy. Milan was at that
time the centre of the movement, and Candida Falco threw herself into
it with all the passion which her unhappy marriage left unsatisfied. At
first she had to act with great reserve, for her husband was a prudent
man, who did not care to have his habits disturbed by political
complications; but after his death there was nothing to restrain her,
except the exquisite tact which enabled her to work night and day in
the Italian cause without giving the Austrian authorities a pretext for
When I first knew Donna Candida, her mother was still living: a tragic
woman, prematurely bowed, like an image of death in the background of
the daughter's brilliant life. The Countess, since her son's death, had
become a patriot again, though in a narrower sense than Candida. The
mother's first thought was that her dead must be avenged, the
daughter's that Italy must be saved; but from different motives they
worked for the same end. Candida felt for the Countess that protecting
tenderness with which Italian children so often regard their parents, a
feeling heightened by the reverence which the mother's sufferings
inspired. Countess Verna, as the wife and mother of martyrs, had done
what Candida longed to do: she had given her utmost to Italy. There
must have been moments when the self-absorption of her grief chilled
her daughter's ardent spirit; but Candida revered in her mother the
image of their afflicted country.
"It was too terrible," she said, speaking of what the Countess had
suffered after Emilio's death. "All the circumstances were too
unmerciful. It seemed as if God had turned His face from my mother; as
if she had been singled out to suffer more than any of the others. All
the other families received some message or token of farewell from the
prisoners. One of them bribed the gaoler to carry a letter—another
sent a lock of hair by the chaplain. But Emilio made no sign, sent no
word. My mother felt as though he had turned his back on us. She used
to sit for hours, saying again and again, 'Why was he the only one to
forget his mother?' I tried to comfort her, but it was useless: she had
suffered too much. Now I never reason with her; I listen, and let her
ease her poor heart. Do you know, she still asks me sometimes if I
think he may have left a letter—if there is no way of finding out if
he left one? She forgets that I have tried again and again: that I have
sent bribes and messages to the gaoler, the chaplain, to every one who
came near him. The answer is always the same—no one has ever heard of
a letter. I suppose the poor boy was stunned, and did not think of
writing. Who knows what was passing through his poor bewildered brain?
But it would have been a great help to my mother to have a word from
him. If I had known how to imitate his writing I should have forged a
I knew enough of the Italians to understand how her boy's silence must
have aggravated the Countess's grief. Precious as a message from a
dying son would be to any mother, such signs of tenderness have to the
Italians a peculiar significance. The Latin race is rhetorical: it
possesses the gift of death-bed eloquence, the knack of saying the
effective thing on momentous occasions. The letters which the Italian
patriots sent home from their prisons or from the scaffold are not the
halting farewells that anguish would have wrung from a less expressive
race: they are veritable "compositions," saved from affectation only by
the fact that fluency and sonority are a part of the Latin inheritance.
Such letters, passed from hand to hand among the bereaved families,
were not only a comfort to the survivors but an incentive to fresh
sacrifices. They were the "seed of the martyrs" with which Italy was
being sown; and I knew what it meant to the Countess Verna to have no
such treasure in her bosom, to sit silent while other mothers quoted
their sons' last words.
I said just now that it was an unlucky day for me when I fell in love
with Donna Candida; and no doubt you have guessed the reason. She was
in love with some one else. It was the old situation of Heine's song.
That other loved another—loved Italy, and with an undivided passion.
His name was Fernando Briga, and at that time he was one of the
foremost liberals in Italy. He came of a middle-class Modenese family.
His father was a doctor, a prudent man, engrossed in his profession and
unwilling to compromise it by meddling in politics. His irreproachable
attitude won the confidence of the government, and the Duke conferred
on him the sinister office of physician to the prisons of Modena. It
was this Briga who attended Emilio Falco, and several of the other
prisoners who were executed at the same time.
Under shelter of his father's loyalty young Fernando conspired in
safety. He was studying medicine, and every one supposed him to be
absorbed in his work; but as a matter of fact he was fast ripening into
one of Mazzini's ablest lieutenants. His career belongs to history, so
I need not enlarge on it here. In 1847 he was in Milan, and had become
one of the leading figures in the liberal group which was working for a
coalition with Piedmont. Like all the ablest men of his day, he had
cast off Mazziniism and pinned his faith to the house of Savoy. The
Austrian government had an eye on him, but he had inherited his
father's prudence, though he used it for nobler ends, and his
discretion enabled him to do far more for the cause than a dozen
enthusiasts could have accomplished. No one understood this better than
Donna Candida. She had a share of his caution, and he trusted her with
secrets which he would not have confided to many men. Her drawing-room
was the centre of the Piedmontese party, yet so clever was she in
averting suspicion that more than one hunted conspirator hid in her
house, and was helped across the Alps by her agents.
Briga relied on her as he did on no one else; but he did not love her,
and she knew it. Still, she was young, she was handsome, and he loved
no one else: how could she give up hoping? From her intimate friends
she made no secret of her feelings: Italian women are not reticent in
such matters, and Donna Candida was proud of loving a hero. You will
see at once that I had no chance; but if she could not give up hope,
neither could I. Perhaps in her desire to secure my services for the
cause she may have shown herself overkind; or perhaps I was still young
enough to set down to my own charms a success due to quite different
causes. At any rate, I persuaded myself that if I could manage to do
something conspicuous for Italy I might yet make her care for me. With
such an incentive you will not wonder that I worked hard; but though
Donna Candida was full of gratitude she continued to adore my rival.
One day we had a hot scene. I began, I believe, by reproaching her with
having led me on; and when she defended herself, I retaliated by
taunting her with Briga's indifference. She grew pale at that, and said
it was enough to love a hero, even without hope of return; and as she
said it she herself looked so heroic, so radiant, so unattainably the
woman I wanted, that a sneer may have escaped me:—was she so sure then
that Briga was a hero? I remember her proud silence and our wretched
parting. I went away feeling that at last I had really lost her; and
the thought made me savage and vindictive.
Soon after, as it happened, came the Five Days, and Milan was free. I
caught a distant glimpse of Donna Candida in the hospital to which I
was carried after the fight; but my wound was a slight one and in
twenty-four hours I was about again on crutches. I hoped she might send
for me, but she did not, and I was too sulky to make the first advance.
A day or two later I heard there had been a commotion in Modena, and
not being in fighting trim I got leave to go over there with one or two
men whom the Modenese liberals had called in to help them. When we
arrived the precious Duke had been swept out and a provisional
government set up. One of my companions, who was a Modenese, was made a
member, and knowing that I wanted something to do, he commissioned me
to look up some papers in the ducal archives. It was fascinating work,
for in the pursuit of my documents I uncovered the hidden springs of
his late Highness's paternal administration. The principal papers
relative to the civil and criminal administration of Modena have since
been published, and the world knows how that estimable sovereign cared
for the material and spiritual welfare of his subjects.
Well—in the course of my search, I came across a file of old papers
marked: "Taken from political prisoners. A.D. 1831." It was the year of
Menotti's conspiracy, and everything connected with that date was
thrilling. I loosened the band and ran over the letters. Suddenly I
came across one which was docketed: "Given by Doctor Briga's son to the
warder of His Highness's prisons." Doctor Briga's son? That could be
no other than Fernando: I knew he was an only child. But how came such
a paper into his hands, and how had it passed from them into those of
the Duke's warder? My own hands shook as I opened the letter—I felt
the man suddenly in my power.
Then I began to read. "My adored mother, even in this lowest circle of
hell all hearts are not closed to pity, and I have been given the hope
that these last words of farewell may reach you...." My eyes ran on
over pages of plaintive rhetoric. "Embrace for me my adored
Candida...let her never forget the cause for which her father and
brother perished...let her keep alive in her breast the thought of
Spielberg and Reggio. Do not grieve that I die so young... though not
with those heroes in deed I was with them in spirit, and am worthy to
be enrolled in the sacred phalanx..." and so on. Before I reached the
signature I knew the letter was from Emilio Verna.
I put it in my pocket, finished my work and started immediately for
Milan. I didn't quite know what I meant to do—my head was in a whirl.
I saw at once what must have happened. Fernando Briga, then a lad of
fifteen or sixteen, had attended his father in prison during Emilio
Verna's last hours, and the latter, perhaps aware of the lad's liberal
sympathies, had found an opportunity of giving him the letter. But why
had Briga given it up to the warder? That was the puzzling question.
The docket said: "Given by Doctor Briga's son"—but it might mean
"taken from." Fernando might have been seen to receive the letter and
might have been searched on leaving the prison. But that would not
account for his silence afterward. How was it that, if he knew of the
letter, he had never told Emilio's family of it? There was only one
explanation. If the letter had been taken from him by force he would
have had no reason for concealing its existence; and his silence was
clear proof that he had given it up voluntarily, no doubt in the hope
of standing well with the authorities. But then he was a traitor and a
coward; the patriot of 'forty-eight had begun life as an informer! But
does innate character ever change so radically that the lad who has
committed a base act at fifteen may grow up into an honorable man? A
good man may be corrupted by life, but can the years turn a born sneak
into a hero?
You may fancy how I answered my own questions....If Briga had been
false and cowardly then, was he not sure to be false and cowardly
still? In those days there were traitors under every coat, and more
than one brave fellow had been sold to the police by his best
friend....You will say that Briga's record was unblemished, that he had
exposed himself to danger too frequently, had stood by his friends too
steadfastly, to permit of a rational doubt of his good faith. So reason
might have told me in a calmer moment, but she was not allowed to make
herself heard just then. I was young, I was angry, I chose to think I
had been unfairly treated, and perhaps at my rival's instigation. It
was not unlikely that Briga knew of my love for Donna Candida, and had
encouraged her to use it in the good cause. Was she not always at his
bidding? My blood boiled at the thought, and reaching Milan in a rage I
went straight to Donna Candida.
I had measured the exact force of the blow I was going to deal. The
triumph of the liberals in Modena had revived public interest in the
unsuccessful struggle of their predecessors, the men who, sixteen years
earlier, had paid for the same attempt with their lives. The victors of
'forty-eight wished to honor the vanquished of 'thirty-two. All the
families exiled by the ducal government were hastening back to recover
possession of their confiscated property and of the graves of their
dead. Already it had been decided to raise a monument to Menotti and
his companions. There were to be speeches, garlands, a public holiday:
the thrill of the commemoration would run through Europe. You see what
it would have meant to the poor Countess to appear on the scene with
her boy's letter in her hand; and you see also what the memorandum on
the back of the letter would have meant to Donna Candida. Poor Emilio's
farewell would be published in all the journals of Europe: the finding
of the letter would be on every one's lips. And how conceal those fatal
words on the back? At the moment, it seemed to me that fortune could
not have given me a handsomer chance of destroying my rival than in
letting me find the letter which he stood convicted of having
My sentiment was perhaps not a strictly honorable one; yet what could I
do but give the letter to Donna Candida? To keep it back was out of the
question; and with the best will in the world I could not have erased
Briga's name from the back. The mistake I made was in thinking it lucky
that the paper had fallen into my hands.
Donna Candida was alone when I entered. We had parted in anger, but she
held out her hand with a smile of pardon, and asked what news I brought
from Modena. The smile exasperated me: I felt as though she were trying
to get me into her power again.
"I bring you a letter from your brother," I said, and handed it to her.
I had purposely turned the superscription downward, so that she should
not see it.
She uttered an incredulous cry and tore the letter open. A light struck
up from it into her face as she read—a radiance that smote me to the
soul. For a moment I longed to snatch the paper from her and efface the
name on the back. It hurt me to think how short-lived her happiness
Then she did a fatal thing. She came up to me, caught my two hands and
kissed them. "Oh, thank you—bless you a thousand times! He died
thinking of us—he died loving Italy!"
I put her from me gently: it was not the kiss I wanted, and the touch
of her lips hardened me.
She shone on me through her happy tears. "What happiness—what
consolation you have brought my poor mother! This will take the
bitterness from her grief. And that it should come to her now! Do you
know, she had a presentiment of it? When we heard of the Duke's flight
her first word was: 'Now we may find Emilio's letter.' At heart she was
always sure that he had written—I suppose some blessed instinct told
her so." She dropped her face on her hands, and I saw her tears fall on
the wretched letter.
In a moment she looked up again, with eyes that blessed and trusted me.
"Tell me where you found it," she said.
I told her.
"Oh, the savages! They took it from him—"
My opportunity had come. "No," I said, "it appears they did not take
it from him."
I waited a moment. "The letter," I said, looking full at her, "was
given up to the warder of the prison by the son of Doctor Briga."
She stared, repeating the words slowly. "The son of Doctor Briga? But
that is—Fernando," she said.
"I have always understood," I replied, "that your friend was an only
I had expected an outcry of horror; if she had uttered it I could have
forgiven her anything. But I heard, instead, an incredulous
exclamation: my statement was really too preposterous! I saw that her
mind had flashed back to our last talk, and that she charged me with
something too nearly true to be endurable.
"My brother's letter? Given to the prison warder by Fernando Briga? My
dear Captain Alingdon—on what authority do you expect me to believe
such a tale?"
Her incredulity had in it an evident implication of bad faith, and I
was stung to a quick reply.
"If you will turn over the letter you will see."
She continued to gaze at me a moment: then she obeyed. I don't think I
ever admired her more than I did then. As she read the name a tremor
crossed her face; and that was all. Her mind must have reached out
instantly to the farthest consequences of the discovery, but the long
habit of self-command enabled her to steady her muscles at once. If I
had not been on the alert I should have seen no hint of emotion.
For a while she looked fixedly at the back of the letter; then she
raised her eyes to mine.
"Can you tell me who wrote this?" she asked.
Her composure irritated me. She had rallied all her forces to Briga's
defence, and I felt as though my triumph were slipping from me.
"Probably one of the clerks of the archives," I answered. "It is
written in the same hand as all the other memoranda relating to the
political prisoners of that year."
"But it is a lie!" she exclaimed. "He was never admitted to the
"Are you sure?"
"How should he have been?"
"He might have gone as his father's assistant."
"But if he had seen my poor brother he would have told me long ago."
"Not if he had really given up this letter," I retorted.
I supposed her quick intelligence had seized this from the first; but I
saw now that it came to her as a shock. She stood motionless, clenching
the letter in her hands, and I could guess the rapid travel of her
Suddenly she came up to me. "Colonel Alingdon," she said, "you have
been a good friend of mine, though I think you have not liked me
lately. But whether you like me or not, I know you will not deceive me.
On your honor, do you think this memorandum may have been written later
than the letter?"
I hesitated. If she had cried out once against Briga I should have
wished myself out of the business; but she was too sure of him.
"On my honor," I said, "I think it hardly possible. The ink has faded
to the same degree."
She made a rapid comparison and folded the letter with a gesture of
"It may have been written by an enemy," I went on, wishing to clear
myself of any appearance of malice.
She shook her head. "He was barely fifteen—and his father was on the
side of the government. Besides, this would have served him with the
government, and the liberals would never have known of it."
This was unanswerable—and still not a word of revolt against the man
whose condemnation she was pronouncing!
"Then—" I said with a vague gesture.
She caught me up. "Then—?"
"You have answered my objections," I returned.
"To thinking that Signor Briga could have begun his career as a patriot
by betraying a friend."
I had brought her to the test at last, but my eyes shrank from her face
as I spoke. There was a dead silence, which I broke by adding lamely:
"But no doubt Signor Briga could explain."
She lifted her head, and I saw that my triumph was to be short. She
stood erect, a few paces from me, resting her hand on a table, but not
"Of course he can explain," she said; "do you suppose I ever doubted
it? But—" she paused a moment, fronting me nobly—"he need not, for I
understand it all now."
"Ah," I murmured with a last flicker of irony.
"I understand," she repeated. It was she, now, who sought my eyes and
held them. "It is quite simple—he could not have done otherwise."
This was a little too oracular to be received with equanimity. I
suppose I smiled.
"He could not have done otherwise," she repeated with tranquil
emphasis. "He merely did what is every Italian's duty—he put Italy
before himself and his friends." She waited a moment, and then went on
with growing passion: "Surely you must see what I mean? He was
evidently in the prison with his father at the time of my poor
brother's death. Emilio perhaps guessed that he was a friend—or
perhaps appealed to him because he was young and looked kind. But don't
you see how dangerous it would have been for Briga to bring this letter
to us, or even to hide it in his father's house? It is true that he was
not yet suspected of liberalism, but he was already connected with
Young Italy, and it is just because he managed to keep himself so free
of suspicion that he was able to do such good work for the cause." She
paused, and then went on with a firmer voice. "You don't know the
danger we all lived in. The government spies were everywhere. The laws
were set aside as the Duke pleased—was not Emilio hanged for having an
ode to Italy in his desk? After Menotti's conspiracy the Duke grew mad
with fear—he was haunted by the dread of assassination. The police, to
prove their zeal, had to trump up false charges and arrest innocent
persons—you remember the case of poor Ricci? Incriminating papers were
smuggled into people's houses—they were condemned to death on the paid
evidence of brigands and galley-slaves. The families of the
revolutionists were under the closest observation and were shunned by
all who wished to stand well with the government. If Briga had been
seen going into our house he would at once have been suspected. If he
had hidden Emilio's letter at home, its discovery might have ruined his
family as well as himself. It was his duty to consider all these
things. In those days no man could serve two masters, and he had to
choose between endangering the cause and failing to serve a friend. He
chose the latter—and he was right."
I stood listening, fascinated by the rapidity and skill with which she
had built up the hypothesis of Briga's defence. But before she ended a
strange thing happened—her argument had convinced me. It seemed to me
quite likely that Briga had in fact been actuated by the motives she
I suppose she read the admission in my face, for hers lit up
"You see?" she exclaimed. "Ah, it takes one brave man to understand
Perhaps I winced a little at being thus coupled with her hero; at any
rate, some last impulse of resistance made me say: "I should be quite
convinced, if Briga had only spoken of the letter afterward. If brave
people understand each other, I cannot see why he should have been
afraid of telling you the truth."
She colored deeply, and perhaps not quite resentfully.
"You are right," she said; "he need not have been afraid. But he does
not know me as I know him. I was useful to Italy, and he may have
feared to risk my friendship."
"You are the most generous woman I ever knew!" I exclaimed.
She looked at me intently. "You also are generous," she said.
I stiffened instantly, suspecting a purpose behind her praise. "I have
given you small proof of it!" I said.
She seemed surprised. "In bringing me this letter? What else could you
do?" She sighed deeply. "You can give me proof enough now."
She had dropped into a chair, and I saw that we had reached the most
difficult point in our interview.
"Captain Alingdon," she said, "does any one else know of this letter?"
"No. I was alone in the archives when I found it."
"And you spoke of it to no one?"
"To no one."
"Then no one must know."
I bowed. "It is for you to decide."
She paused. "Not even my mother," she continued, with a painful blush.
I looked at her in amazement. "Not even—?"
She shook her head sadly. "You think me a cruel daughter? Well—he
was a cruel friend. What he did was done for Italy: shall I allow
myself to be surpassed?"
I felt a pang of commiseration for the mother. "But you will at least
tell the Countess—"
Her eyes filled with tears. "My poor mother—don't make it more
difficult for me!"
"But I don't understand—"
"Don't you see that she might find it impossible to forgive him? She
has suffered so much! And I can't risk that—for in her anger she might
speak. And even if she forgave him, she might be tempted to show the
letter. Don't you see that, even now, a word of this might ruin him? I
will trust his fate to no one. If Italy needed him then she needs him
far more to-day."
She stood before me magnificently, in the splendor of her great
refusal; then she turned to the writing-table at which she had been
seated when I came in. Her sealing-taper was still alight, and she held
her brother's letter to the flame.
I watched her in silence while it burned; but one more question rose to
"You will tell him, then, what you have done for him?" I cried.
And at that the heroine turned woman, melted and pressed unhappy hands
"Don't you see that I can never tell him what I do for him? That is my
gift to Italy," she said.
IT was on an impulse hardly needing the arguments he found himself
advancing in its favor, that Thursdale, on his way to the club, turned
as usual into Mrs. Vervain's street.
The "as usual" was his own qualification of the act; a convenient way
of bridging the interval—in days and other sequences—that lay between
this visit and the last. It was characteristic of him that he
instinctively excluded his call two days earlier, with Ruth Gaynor,
from the list of his visits to Mrs. Vervain: the special conditions
attending it had made it no more like a visit to Mrs. Vervain than an
engraved dinner invitation is like a personal letter. Yet it was to
talk over his call with Miss Gaynor that he was now returning to the
scene of that episode; and it was because Mrs. Vervain could be trusted
to handle the talking over as skilfully as the interview itself that,
at her corner, he had felt the dilettante's irresistible craving to
take a last look at a work of art that was passing out of his
On the whole, he knew no one better fitted to deal with the unexpected
than Mrs. Vervain. She excelled in the rare art of taking things for
granted, and Thursdale felt a pardonable pride in the thought that she
owed her excellence to his training. Early in his career Thursdale had
made the mistake, at the outset of his acquaintance with a lady, of
telling her that he loved her and exacting the same avowal in return.
The latter part of that episode had been like the long walk back from a
picnic, when one has to carry all the crockery one has finished using:
it was the last time Thursdale ever allowed himself to be encumbered
with the debris of a feast. He thus incidentally learned that the
privilege of loving her is one of the least favors that a charming
woman can accord; and in seeking to avoid the pitfalls of sentiment he
had developed a science of evasion in which the woman of the moment
became a mere implement of the game. He owed a great deal of delicate
enjoyment to the cultivation of this art. The perils from which it had
been his refuge became naively harmless: was it possible that he who
now took his easy way along the levels had once preferred to gasp on
the raw heights of emotion? Youth is a high-colored season; but he had
the satisfaction of feeling that he had entered earlier than most into
that chiar'oscuro of sensation where every half-tone has its value.
As a promoter of this pleasure no one he had known was comparable to
Mrs. Vervain. He had taught a good many women not to betray their
feelings, but he had never before had such fine material to work in.
She had been surprisingly crude when he first knew her; capable of
making the most awkward inferences, of plunging through thin ice, of
recklessly undressing her emotions; but she had acquired, under the
discipline of his reticences and evasions, a skill almost equal to his
own, and perhaps more remarkable in that it involved keeping time with
any tune he played and reading at sight some uncommonly difficult
It had taken Thursdale seven years to form this fine talent; but the
result justified the effort. At the crucial moment she had been
perfect: her way of greeting Miss Gaynor had made him regret that he
had announced his engagement by letter. It was an evasion that
confessed a difficulty; a deviation implying an obstacle, where, by
common consent, it was agreed to see none; it betrayed, in short, a
lack of confidence in the completeness of his method. It had been his
pride never to put himself in a position which had to be quitted, as it
were, by the back door; but here, as he perceived, the main portals
would have opened for him of their own accord. All this, and much more,
he read in the finished naturalness with which Mrs. Vervain had met
Miss Gaynor. He had never seen a better piece of work: there was no
over-eagerness, no suspicious warmth, above all (and this gave her art
the grace of a natural quality) there were none of those damnable
implications whereby a woman, in welcoming her friend's betrothed, may
keep him on pins and needles while she laps the lady in complacency. So
masterly a performance, indeed, hardly needed the offset of Miss
Gaynor's door-step words—"To be so kind to me, how she must have liked
you!"—though he caught himself wishing it lay within the bounds of
fitness to transmit them, as a final tribute, to the one woman he knew
who was unfailingly certain to enjoy a good thing. It was perhaps the
one drawback to his new situation that it might develop good things
which it would be impossible to hand on to Margaret Vervain.
The fact that he had made the mistake of underrating his friend's
powers, the consciousness that his writing must have betrayed his
distrust of her efficiency, seemed an added reason for turning down her
street instead of going on to the club. He would show her that he knew
how to value her; he would ask her to achieve with him a feat
infinitely rarer and more delicate than the one he had appeared to
avoid. Incidentally, he would also dispose of the interval of time
before dinner: ever since he had seen Miss Gaynor off, an hour earlier,
on her return journey to Buffalo, he had been wondering how he should
put in the rest of the afternoon. It was absurd, how he missed the
girl....Yes, that was it; the desire to talk about her was, after all,
at the bottom of his impulse to call on Mrs. Vervain! It was absurd, if
you like—but it was delightfully rejuvenating. He could recall the
time when he had been afraid of being obvious: now he felt that this
return to the primitive emotions might be as restorative as a holiday
in the Canadian woods. And it was precisely by the girl's candor, her
directness, her lack of complications, that he was taken. The sense
that she might say something rash at any moment was positively
exhilarating: if she had thrown her arms about him at the station he
would not have given a thought to his crumpled dignity. It surprised
Thursdale to find what freshness of heart he brought to the adventure;
and though his sense of irony prevented his ascribing his intactness to
any conscious purpose, he could but rejoice in the fact that his
sentimental economies had left him such a large surplus to draw upon.
Mrs. Vervain was at home—as usual. When one visits the cemetery one
expects to find the angel on the tombstone, and it struck Thursdale as
another proof of his friend's good taste that she had been in no undue
haste to change her habits. The whole house appeared to count on his
coming; the footman took his hat and overcoat as naturally as though
there had been no lapse in his visits; and the drawing-room at once
enveloped him in that atmosphere of tacit intelligence which Mrs.
Vervain imparted to her very furniture.
It was a surprise that, in this general harmony of circumstances, Mrs.
Vervain should herself sound the first false note.
"You?" she exclaimed; and the book she held slipped from her hand.
It was crude, certainly; unless it were a touch of the finest art. The
difficulty of classifying it disturbed Thursdale's balance.
"Why not?" he said, restoring the book. "Isn't it my hour?" And as she
made no answer, he added gently, "Unless it's some one else's?"
She laid the book aside and sank back into her chair. "Mine, merely,"
"I hope that doesn't mean that you're unwilling to share it?"
"With you? By no means. You're welcome to my last crust."
He looked at her reproachfully. "Do you call this the last?"
She smiled as he dropped into the seat across the hearth. "It's a way
of giving it more flavor!"
He returned the smile. "A visit to you doesn't need such condiments."
She took this with just the right measure of retrospective amusement.
"Ah, but I want to put into this one a very special taste," she
Her smile was so confident, so reassuring, that it lulled him into the
imprudence of saying, "Why should you want it to be different from what
was always so perfectly right?"
She hesitated. "Doesn't the fact that it's the last constitute a
"The last—my last visit to you?"
"Oh, metaphorically, I mean—there's a break in the continuity."
Decidedly, she was pressing too hard: unlearning his arts already!
"I don't recognize it," he said. "Unless you make me—" he added, with
a note that slightly stirred her attitude of languid attention.
She turned to him with grave eyes. "You recognize no difference
"None—except an added link in the chain."
"An added link?"
"In having one more thing to like you for—your letting Miss Gaynor see
why I had already so many." He flattered himself that this turn had
taken the least hint of fatuity from the phrase.
Mrs. Vervain sank into her former easy pose. "Was it that you came
for?" she asked, almost gaily.
"If it is necessary to have a reason—that was one."
"To talk to me about Miss Gaynor?"
"To tell you how she talks about you."
"That will be very interesting—especially if you have seen her since
her second visit to me."
"Her second visit?" Thursdale pushed his chair back with a start and
moved to another. "She came to see you again?"
"This morning, yes—by appointment."
He continued to look at her blankly. "You sent for her?"
"I didn't have to—she wrote and asked me last night. But no doubt you
have seen her since."
Thursdale sat silent. He was trying to separate his words from his
thoughts, but they still clung together inextricably. "I saw her off
just now at the station."
"And she didn't tell you that she had been here again?"
"There was hardly time, I suppose—there were people about—" he
"Ah, she'll write, then."
He regained his composure. "Of course she'll write: very often, I hope.
You know I'm absurdly in love," he cried audaciously.
She tilted her head back, looking up at him as he leaned against the
chimney-piece. He had leaned there so often that the attitude touched a
pulse which set up a throbbing in her throat. "Oh, my poor Thursdale!"
"I suppose it's rather ridiculous," he owned; and as she remained
silent, he added, with a sudden break—"Or have you another reason for
Her answer was another question. "Have you been back to your rooms
since you left her?"
"Since I left her at the station? I came straight here."
"Ah, yes—you could: there was no reason—" Her words passed into a
Thursdale moved nervously nearer. "You said you had something to tell
"Perhaps I had better let her do so. There may be a letter at your
"A letter? What do you mean? A letter from her? What has happened?"
His paleness shook her, and she raised a hand of reassurance. "Nothing
has happened—perhaps that is just the worst of it. You always hated,
you know," she added incoherently, "to have things happen: you never
would let them."
"Well, that was what she came here for: I supposed you had guessed. To
know if anything had happened."
"Had happened?" He gazed at her slowly. "Between you and me?" he said
with a rush of light.
The words were so much cruder than any that had ever passed between
them that the color rose to her face; but she held his startled gaze.
"You know girls are not quite as unsophisticated as they used to be.
Are you surprised that such an idea should occur to her?"
His own color answered hers: it was the only reply that came to him.
Mrs. Vervain went on, smoothly: "I supposed it might have struck you
that there were times when we presented that appearance."
He made an impatient gesture. "A man's past is his own!"
"Perhaps—it certainly never belongs to the woman who has shared it.
But one learns such truths only by experience; and Miss Gaynor is
"Of course—but—supposing her act a natural one—" he floundered
lamentably among his innuendoes—"I still don't see—how there was
"Anything to take hold of? There wasn't—"
"Well, then—?" escaped him, in crude satisfaction; but as she did not
complete the sentence he went on with a faltering laugh: "She can
hardly object to the existence of a mere friendship between us!"
"But she does," said Mrs. Vervain.
Thursdale stood perplexed. He had seen, on the previous day, no trace
of jealousy or resentment in his betrothed: he could still hear the
candid ring of the girl's praise of Mrs. Vervain. If she were such an
abyss of insincerity as to dissemble distrust under such frankness, she
must at least be more subtle than to bring her doubts to her rival for
solution. The situation seemed one through which one could no longer
move in a penumbra, and he let in a burst of light with the direct
query: "Won't you explain what you mean?"
Mrs. Vervain sat silent, not provokingly, as though to prolong his
distress, but as if, in the attenuated phraseology he had taught her,
it was difficult to find words robust enough to meet his challenge. It
was the first time he had ever asked her to explain anything; and she
had lived so long in dread of offering elucidations which were not
wanted, that she seemed unable to produce one on the spot.
At last she said slowly: "She came to find out if you were really free."
Thursdale colored again. "Free?" he stammered, with a sense of physical
disgust at contact with such crassness.
"Yes—if I had quite done with you." She smiled in recovered security.
"It seems she likes clear outlines; she has a passion for definitions."
"Yes—well?" he said, wincing at the echo of his own subtlety.
"Well—and when I told her that you had never belonged to me, she
wanted me to define my status—to know exactly where I had stood all
Thursdale sat gazing at her intently; his hand was not yet on the clue.
"And even when you had told her that—"
"Even when I had told her that I had had no status—that I had never
stood anywhere, in any sense she meant," said Mrs. Vervain,
slowly—"even then she wasn't satisfied, it seems."
He uttered an uneasy exclamation. "She didn't believe you, you mean?"
"I mean that she did believe me: too thoroughly."
"Well, then—in God's name, what did she want?"
"Something more—those were the words she used."
"Something more? Between—between you and me? Is it a conundrum?" He
"Girls are not what they were in my day; they are no longer forbidden
to contemplate the relation of the sexes."
"So it seems!" he commented. "But since, in this case, there wasn't
any—" he broke off, catching the dawn of a revelation in her gaze.
"That's just it. The unpardonable offence has been—in our not
He flung himself down despairingly. "I give it up!—What did you tell
her?" he burst out with sudden crudeness.
"The exact truth. If I had only known," she broke off with a beseeching
tenderness, "won't you believe that I would still have lied for you?"
"Lied for me? Why on earth should you have lied for either of us?"
"To save you—to hide you from her to the last! As I've hidden you from
myself all these years!" She stood up with a sudden tragic import in
her movement. "You believe me capable of that, don't you? If I had only
guessed—but I have never known a girl like her; she had the truth out
of me with a spring."
"The truth that you and I had never—"
"Had never—never in all these years! Oh, she knew why—she measured us
both in a flash. She didn't suspect me of having haggled with you—her
words pelted me like hail. 'He just took what he wanted—sifted and
sorted you to suit his taste. Burnt out the gold and left a heap of
cinders. And you let him—you let yourself be cut in bits'—she mixed
her metaphors a little—'be cut in bits, and used or discarded, while
all the while every drop of blood in you belonged to him! But he's
Shylock—and you have bled to death of the pound of flesh he has cut
out of you.' But she despises me the most, you know—far the most—"
Mrs. Vervain ended.
The words fell strangely on the scented stillness of the room: they
seemed out of harmony with its setting of afternoon intimacy, the kind
of intimacy on which at any moment, a visitor might intrude without
perceptibly lowering the atmosphere. It was as though a grand
opera-singer had strained the acoustics of a private music-room.
Thursdale stood up, facing his hostess. Half the room was between them,
but they seemed to stare close at each other now that the veils of
reticence and ambiguity had fallen.
His first words were characteristic. "She does despise me, then?" he
"She thinks the pound of flesh you took was a little too near the
He was excessively pale. "Please tell me exactly what she said of me."
"She did not speak much of you: she is proud. But I gather that while
she understands love or indifference, her eyes have never been opened
to the many intermediate shades of feeling. At any rate, she expressed
an unwillingness to be taken with reservations—she thinks you would
have loved her better if you had loved some one else first. The point
of view is original—she insists on a man with a past!"
"Oh, a past—if she's serious—I could rake up a past!" he said with a
"So I suggested: but she has her eyes on his particular portion of it.
She insists on making it a test case. She wanted to know what you had
done to me; and before I could guess her drift I blundered into telling
Thursdale drew a difficult breath. "I never supposed—your revenge is
complete," he said slowly.
He heard a little gasp in her throat. "My revenge? When I sent for you
to warn you—to save you from being surprised as I was surprised?"
"You're very good—but it's rather late to talk of saving me." He held
out his hand in the mechanical gesture of leave-taking.
"How you must care!—for I never saw you so dull," was her answer.
"Don't you see that it's not too late for me to help you?" And as he
continued to stare, she brought out sublimely: "Take the rest—in
imagination! Let it at least be of that much use to you. Tell her I
lied to her—she's too ready to believe it! And so, after all, in a
sense, I sha'n't have been wasted."
His stare hung on her, widening to a kind of wonder. She gave the look
back brightly, unblushingly, as though the expedient were too simple to
need oblique approaches. It was extraordinary how a few words had swept
them from an atmosphere of the most complex dissimulations to this
contact of naked souls.
It was not in Thursdale to expand with the pressure of fate; but
something in him cracked with it, and the rift let in new light. He
went up to his friend and took her hand.
"You would do it—you would do it!"
She looked at him, smiling, but her hand shook.
"Good-by," he said, kissing it.
"Good-by? You are going—?"
"To get my letter."
"Your letter? The letter won't matter, if you will only do what I ask."
He returned her gaze. "I might, I suppose, without being out of
character. Only, don't you see that if your plan helped me it could
only harm her?"
"To sacrifice you wouldn't make me different. I shall go on being what
I have always been—sifting and sorting, as she calls it. Do you want
my punishment to fall on her?"
She looked at him long and deeply. "Ah, if I had to choose between
"You would let her take her chance? But I can't, you see. I must take
my punishment alone."
She drew her hand away, sighing. "Oh, there will be no punishment for
either of you."
"For either of us? There will be the reading of her letter for me."
She shook her head with a slight laugh. "There will be no letter."
Thursdale faced about from the threshold with fresh life in his look.
"No letter? You don't mean—"
"I mean that she's been with you since I saw her—she's seen you and
heard your voice. If there is a letter, she has recalled it—from the
first station, by telegraph."
He turned back to the door, forcing an answer to her smile. "But in the
mean while I shall have read it," he said.
The door closed on him, and she hid her eyes from the dreadful
emptiness of the room.
AS Mrs. Quentin's victoria, driving homeward, turned from the Park into
Fifth Avenue, she divined her son's tall figure walking ahead of her in
the twilight. His long stride covered the ground more rapidly than
usual, and she had a premonition that, if he were going home at that
hour, it was because he wanted to see her.
Mrs. Quentin, though not a fanciful woman, was sometimes aware of a
sixth sense enabling her to detect the faintest vibrations of her son's
impulses. She was too shrewd to fancy herself the one mother in
possession of this faculty, but she permitted herself to think that few
could exercise it more discreetly. If she could not help overhearing
Alan's thoughts, she had the courage to keep her discoveries to
herself, the tact to take for granted nothing that lay below the
surface of their spoken intercourse: she knew that most people would
rather have their letters read than their thoughts. For this
superfeminine discretion Alan repaid her by—being Alan. There could
have been no completer reward. He was the key to the meaning of life,
the justification of what must have seemed as incomprehensible as it
was odious, had it not all-sufficingly ended in himself. He was a
perfect son, and Mrs. Quentin had always hungered for perfection.
Her house, in a minor way, bore witness to the craving. One felt it to
be the result of a series of eliminations: there was nothing fortuitous
in its blending of line and color. The almost morbid finish of every
material detail of her life suggested the possibility that a diversity
of energies had, by some pressure of circumstance, been forced into the
channel of a narrow dilettanteism. Mrs. Quentin's fastidiousness had,
indeed, the flaw of being too one-sided. Her friends were not always
worthy of the chairs they sat in, and she overlooked in her associates
defects she would not have tolerated in her bric-a-brac. Her house was,
in fact, never so distinguished as when it was empty; and it was at its
best in the warm fire-lit silence that now received her.
Her son, who had overtaken her on the door-step, followed her into the
drawing-room, and threw himself into an armchair near the fire, while
she laid off her furs and busied herself about the tea table. For a
while neither spoke; but glancing at him across the kettle, his mother
noticed that he sat staring at the embers with a look she had never
seen on his face, though its arrogant young outline was as familiar to
her as her own thoughts. The look extended itself to his negligent
attitude, to the droop of his long fine hands, the dejected tilt of his
head against the cushions. It was like the moral equivalent of physical
fatigue: he looked, as he himself would have phrased it, dead-beat,
played out. Such an air was so foreign to his usual bright
indomitableness that Mrs. Quentin had the sense of an unfamiliar
presence, in which she must observe herself, must raise hurried
barriers against an alien approach. It was one of the drawbacks of
their excessive intimacy that any break in it seemed a chasm.
She was accustomed to let his thoughts circle about her before they
settled into speech, and she now sat in motionless expectancy, as
though a sound might frighten them away.
At length, without turning his eyes from the fire, he said: "I'm so
glad you're a nice old-fashioned intuitive woman. It's painful to see
Her apprehension had already preceded him. "Hope Fenno—?" she faltered.
He nodded. "She's been thinking—hard. It was very painful—to me, at
least; and I don't believe she enjoyed it: she said she didn't." He
stretched his feet to the fire. "The result of her cogitations is that
she won't have me. She arrived at this by pure ratiocination—it's not
a question of feeling, you understand. I'm the only man she's ever
loved—but she won't have me. What novels did you read when you were
young, dear? I'm convinced it all turns on that. If she'd been brought
up on Trollope and Whyte-Melville, instead of Tolstoi and Mrs. Ward, we
should have now been vulgarly sitting on a sofa, trying on the
Mrs. Quentin at first was kept silent by the mother's instinctive anger
that the girl she has not wanted for her son should have dared to
refuse him. Then she said, "Tell me, dear."
"My good woman, she has scruples."
"Against the paper. She objects to me in my official capacity as owner
of the Radiator."
His mother did not echo his laugh.
"She had found a solution, of course—she overflows with expedients. I
was to chuck the paper, and we were to live happily ever afterward on
canned food and virtue. She even had an alternative ready—women are so
full of resources! I was to turn the Radiator into an independent
organ, and run it at a loss to show the public what a model newspaper
ought to be. On the whole, I think she fancied this plan more than the
other—it commended itself to her as being more uncomfortable and
aggressive. It's not the fashion nowadays to be good by stealth."
Mrs. Quentin said to herself, "I didn't know how much he cared!" Aloud
she murmured, "You must give her time."
"To move out the old prejudices and make room for new ones."
"My dear mother, those she has are brand-new; that's the trouble with
them. She's tremendously up-to-date. She takes in all the moral
fashion-papers, and wears the newest thing in ethics."
Her resentment lost its way in the intricacies of his metaphor. "Is she
so very religious?"
"You dear archaic woman! She's hopelessly irreligious; that's the
difficulty. You can make a religious woman believe almost anything:
there's the habit of credulity to work on. But when a girl's faith in
the Deluge has been shaken, it's very hard to inspire her with
confidence. She makes you feel that, before believing in you, it's her
duty as a conscientious agnostic to find out whether you're not
obsolete, or whether the text isn't corrupt, or somebody hasn't proved
conclusively that you never existed, anyhow."
Mrs. Quentin was again silent. The two moved in that atmosphere of
implications and assumptions where the lightest word may shake down the
dust of countless stored impressions; and speech was sometimes more
difficult between them than had their union been less close.
Presently she ventured, "It's impossible?"
She seemed to use her words cautiously, like weapons that might slip
and inflict a cut. "What she suggests."
Her son, raising himself, turned to look at her for the first time.
Their glance met in a shock of comprehension. He was with her against
the girl, then! Her satisfaction overflowed in a murmur of tenderness.
"Of course not, dear. One can't change—change one's life...."
"One's self," he emended. "That's what I tell her. What's the use of my
giving up the paper if I keep my point of view?"
The psychological distinction attracted her. "Which is it she minds
"Oh, the paper—for the present. She undertakes to modify the point of
view afterward. All she asks is that I shall renounce my heresy: the
gift of grace will come later."
Mrs. Quentin sat gazing into her untouched cup. Her son's first words
had produced in her the hallucinated sense of struggling in the thick
of a crowd that he could not see. It was horrible to feel herself
hemmed in by influences imperceptible to him; yet if anything could
have increased her misery it would have been the discovery that her
ghosts had become visible.
As though to divert his attention, she precipitately asked, "And you—?"
His answer carried the shock of an evocation. "I merely asked her what
she thought of you."
"She admires you immensely, you know."
For a moment Mrs. Quentin's cheek showed the lingering light of
girlhood: praise transmitted by her son acquired something of the
transmitter's merit. "Well—?" she smiled.
"Well—you didn't make my father give up the Radiator, did you?"
His mother, stiffening, made a circuitous return: "She never comes
here. How can she know me?"
"She's so poor! She goes out so little." He rose and leaned against the
mantel-piece, dislodging with impatient fingers a slender bronze
wrestler poised on a porphyry base, between two warm-toned Spanish
ivories. "And then her mother—" he added, as if involuntarily.
"Her mother has never visited me," Mrs. Quentin finished for him.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Mrs. Fenno has the scope of a wax doll. Her
rule of conduct is taken from her grandmother's sampler."
"But the daughter is so modern—and yet—"
"The result is the same? Not exactly. She admires you—oh,
immensely!" He replaced the bronze and turned to his mother with a
smile. "Aren't you on some hospital committee together? What especially
strikes her is your way of doing good. She says philanthropy is not a
line of conduct, but a state of mind—and it appears that you are one
of the elect."
As, in the vague diffusion of physical pain, relief seems to come with
the acuter pang of a single nerve, Mrs. Quentin felt herself suddenly
eased by a rush of anger against the girl. "If she loved you—" she
His gesture checked her. "I'm not asking you to get her to do that."
The two were again silent, facing each other in the disarray of a
common catastrophe—as though their thoughts, at the summons of danger,
had rushed naked into action. Mrs. Quentin, at this revealing moment,
saw for the first time how many elements of her son's character had
seemed comprehensible simply because they were familiar: as, in reading
a foreign language, we take the meaning of certain words for granted
till the context corrects us. Often as in a given case, her maternal
musings had figured his conduct, she now found herself at a loss to
forecast it; and with this failure of intuition came a sense of the
subserviency which had hitherto made her counsels but the anticipation
of his wish. Her despair escaped in the moan, "What is it you ask me?"
"To talk to her."
"Talk to her?"
"Show her—tell her—make her understand that the paper has always been
a thing outside your life—that hasn't touched you—that needn't touch
her. Only, let her hear you—watch you—be with you—she'll see...she
can't help seeing..."
His mother faltered. "But if she's given you her reasons—?"
"Let her give them to you! If she can—when she sees you...." His
impatient hand again displaced the wrestler. "I care abominably," he
On the Fenno threshold a sudden sense of the futility of the attempt
had almost driven Mrs. Quentin back to her carriage; but the door was
already opening, and a parlor-maid who believed that Miss Fenno was in
led the way to the depressing drawing-room. It was the kind of room in
which no member of the family is likely to be found except after dinner
or after death. The chairs and tables looked like poor relations who
had repaid their keep by a long career of grudging usefulness: they
seemed banded together against intruders in a sullen conspiracy of
discomfort. Mrs. Quentin, keenly susceptible to such influences, read
failure in every angle of the upholstery. She was incapable of the
vulgar error of thinking that Hope Fenno might be induced to marry Alan
for his money; but between this assumption and the inference that the
girl's imagination might be touched by the finer possibilities of
wealth, good taste admitted a distinction. The Fenno furniture,
however, presented to such reasoning the obtuseness of its black-walnut
chamferings; and something in its attitude suggested that its owners
would be as uncompromising. The room showed none of the modern attempts
at palliation, no apologetic draping of facts; and Mrs. Quentin,
provisionally perched on a green-reps Gothic sofa with which it was
clearly impossible to establish any closer relations, concluded that,
had Mrs. Fenno needed another seat of the same size, she would have set
out placidly to match the one on which her visitor now languished.
To Mrs. Quentin's fancy, Hope Fenno's opinions, presently imparted in a
clear young voice from the opposite angle of the Gothic sofa, partook
of the character of their surroundings. The girl's mind was like a
large light empty place, scantily furnished with a few massive
prejudices, not designed to add to any one's comfort but too ponderous
to be easily moved. Mrs. Quentin's own intelligence, in which its
owner, in an artistically shaded half-light, had so long moved amid a
delicate complexity of sensations, seemed in comparison suddenly close
and crowded; and in taking refuge there from the glare of the young
girl's candor, the older woman found herself stumbling in an unwonted
obscurity. Her uneasiness resolved itself into a sense of irritation
against her listener. Mrs. Quentin knew that the momentary value of any
argument lies in the capacity of the mind to which it is addressed, and
as her shafts of persuasion spent themselves against Miss Fenno's
obduracy, she said to herself that, since conduct is governed by
emotions rather than ideas, the really strong people are those who
mistake their sensations for opinions. Viewed in this light, Miss Fenno
was certainly very strong: there was an unmistakable ring of finality
in the tone with which she declared,
Mrs. Quentin's answer veiled the least shade of feminine resentment. "I
told Alan that, where he had failed, there was no chance of my making
Hope Fenno laid on her visitor's an almost reverential hand. "Dear Mrs.
Quentin, it's the impression you make that confirms the impossibility."
Mrs. Quentin waited a moment: she was perfectly aware that, where her
feelings were concerned, her sense of humor was not to be relied on.
"Do I make such an odious impression?" she asked at length, with a
smile that seemed to give the girl her choice of two meanings.
"You make such a beautiful one! It's too beautiful—it obscures my
Mrs. Quentin looked at her thoughtfully. "Would it be permissible, I
wonder, for an older woman to suggest that, at your age, it isn't
always a misfortune to have what one calls one's judgment temporarily
Miss Fenno flushed. "I try not to judge others—"
"You judge Alan."
"Ah, he is not others," she murmured, with an accent that touched the
"You judge his mother."
"I don't; I don't!"
Mrs. Quentin pressed her point. "You judge yourself, then, as you would
be in my position—and your verdict condemns me."
"How can you think it? It's because I appreciate the difference in our
point of view that I find it so difficult to defend myself—"
"The temptation to imagine that I might be as you are—feeling as I
Mrs. Quentin rose with a sigh. "My child, in my day love was less
subtle." She added, after a moment, "Alan is a perfect son."
"Ah, that again—that makes it worse!"
"Just as your goodness does, your sweetness, your immense indulgence in
letting me discuss things with you in a way that must seem almost an
Mrs. Quentin's smile was not without irony. "You must remember that I
do it for Alan."
"That's what I love you for!" the girl instantly returned; and again
her tone touched her listener.
"And yet you're sacrificing him—and to an idea!"
"Isn't it to ideas that all the sacrifices that were worth while have
"One may sacrifice one's self."
Miss Fenno's color rose. "That's what I'm doing," she said gently.
Mrs. Quentin took her hand. "I believe you are," she answered. "And it
isn't true that I speak only for Alan. Perhaps I did when I began; but
now I want to plead for you too—against yourself." She paused, and
then went on with a deeper note: "I have let you, as you say, speak
your mind to me in terms that some women might have resented, because I
wanted to show you how little, as the years go on, theories, ideas,
abstract conceptions of life, weigh against the actual, against the
particular way in which life presents itself to us—to women
especially. To decide beforehand exactly how one ought to behave in
given circumstances is like deciding that one will follow a certain
direction in crossing an unexplored country. Afterward we find that we
must turn out for the obstacles—cross the rivers where they're
shallowest—take the tracks that others have beaten—make all sorts of
unexpected concessions. Life is made up of compromises: that is what
youth refuses to understand. I've lived long enough to doubt whether
any real good ever came of sacrificing beautiful facts to even more
beautiful theories. Do I seem casuistical? I don't know—there may be
losses either way...but the love of the man one loves...of the child
one loves... that makes up for everything...."
She had spoken with a thrill which seemed to communicate itself to the
hand her listener had left in hers. Her eyes filled suddenly, but
through their dimness she saw the girl's lips shape a last desperate
"Don't you see it's because I feel all this that I mustn't—that I
Mrs. Quentin, in the late spring afternoon, had turned in at the doors
of the Metropolitan Museum. She had been walking in the Park, in a
solitude oppressed by the ever-present sense of her son's trouble, and
had suddenly remembered that some one had added a Beltraffio to the
collection. It was an old habit of Mrs. Quentin's to seek in the
enjoyment of the beautiful the distraction that most of her
acquaintances appeared to find in each other's company. She had few
friends, and their society was welcome to her only in her more
superficial moods; but she could drug anxiety with a picture as some
women can soothe it with a bonnet.
During the six months that had elapsed since her visit to Miss Fenno
she had been conscious of a pain of which she had supposed herself no
longer capable: as a man will continue to feel the ache of an amputated
arm. She had fancied that all her centres of feeling had been
transferred to Alan; but she now found herself subject to a kind of
dual suffering, in which her individual pang was the keener in that it
divided her from her son's. Alan had surprised her: she had not
foreseen that he would take a sentimental rebuff so hard. His
disappointment took the uncommunicative form of a sterner application
to work. He threw himself into the concerns of the Radiator with an
aggressiveness that almost betrayed itself in the paper. Mrs. Quentin
never read the Radiator, but from the glimpses of it reflected in the
other journals she gathered that it was at least not being subjected to
the moral reconstruction which had been one of Miss Fenno's
Mrs. Quentin never spoke to her son of what had happened. She was
superior to the cheap satisfaction of avenging his injury by
depreciating its cause. She knew that in sentimental sorrows such
consolations are as salt in the wound. The avoidance of a subject so
vividly present to both could not but affect the closeness of their
relation. An invisible presence hampered their liberty of speech and
thought. The girl was always between them; and to hide the sense of her
intrusion they began to be less frequently together. It was then that
Mrs. Quentin measured the extent of her isolation. Had she ever dared
to forecast such a situation, she would have proceeded on the
conventional theory that her son's suffering must draw her nearer to
him; and this was precisely the relief that was denied her. Alan's
uncommunicativeness extended below the level of speech, and his mother,
reduced to the helplessness of dead-reckoning, had not even the solace
of adapting her sympathy to his needs. She did not know what he felt:
his course was incalculable to her. She sometimes wondered if she had
become as incomprehensible to him; and it was to find a moment's refuge
from the dogging misery of such conjectures that she had now turned in
at the Museum.
The long line of mellow canvases seemed to receive her into the rich
calm of an autumn twilight. She might have been walking in an enchanted
wood where the footfall of care never sounded. So deep was the sense of
seclusion that, as she turned from her prolonged communion with the new
Beltraffio, it was a surprise to find she was not alone.
A young lady who had risen from the central ottoman stood in suspended
flight as Mrs. Quentin faced her. The older woman was the first to
regain her self-possession.
"Miss Fenno!" she said.
The girl advanced with a blush. As it faded, Mrs. Quentin noticed a
change in her. There had always been something bright and bannerlike in
her aspect, but now her look drooped, and she hung at half-mast, as it
were. Mrs. Quentin, in the embarrassment of surprising a secret that
its possessor was doubtless unconscious of betraying, reverted
hurriedly to the Beltraffio.
"I came to see this," she said. "It's very beautiful."
Miss Fenno's eye travelled incuriously over the mystic blue reaches of
the landscape. "I suppose so," she assented; adding, after another
tentative pause, "You come here often, don't you?"
"Very often," Mrs. Quentin answered. "I find pictures a great help."
"A rest, I mean...if one is tired or out of sorts."
"Ah," Miss Fenno murmured, looking down.
"This Beltraffio is new, you know," Mrs. Quentin continued. "What a
wonderful background, isn't it? Is he a painter who interests you?"
The girl glanced again at the dusky canvas, as though in a final
endeavor to extract from it a clue to the consolations of art. "I don't
know," she said at length; "I'm afraid I don't understand pictures."
She moved nearer to Mrs. Quentin and held out her hand.
Mrs. Quentin looked at her. "Let me drive you home," she said,
impulsively. She was feeling, with a shock of surprise, that it gave
her, after all, no pleasure to see how much the girl had suffered.
Miss Fenno stiffened perceptibly. "Thank you; I shall like the walk."
Mrs. Quentin dropped her hand with a corresponding movement of
withdrawal, and a momentary wave of antagonism seemed to sweep the two
women apart. Then, as Mrs. Quentin, bowing slightly, again addressed
herself to the picture, she felt a sudden touch on her arm.
"Mrs. Quentin," the girl faltered, "I really came here because I saw
your carriage." Her eyes sank, and then fluttered back to her hearer's
face. "I've been horribly unhappy!" she exclaimed.
Mrs. Quentin was silent. If Hope Fenno had expected an immediate
response to her appeal, she was disappointed. The older woman's face
was like a veil dropped before her thoughts.
"I've thought so often," the girl went on precipitately, "of what you
said that day you came to see me last autumn. I think I understand now
what you meant—what you tried to make me see.... Oh, Mrs. Quentin,"
she broke out, "I didn't mean to tell you this—I never dreamed of it
till this moment—but you do remember what you said, don't you? You
must remember it! And now that I've met you in this way, I can't help
telling you that I believe—I begin to believe—that you were right,
Mrs. Quentin had listened without moving; but now she raised her eyes
with a slight smile. "Do you wish me to say this to Alan?" she asked.
The girl flushed, but her glance braved the smile. "Would he still care
to hear it?" she said fearlessly.
Mrs. Quentin took momentary refuge in a renewed inspection of the
Beltraffio; then, turning, she said, with a kind of reluctance: "He
would still care."
"Ah!" broke from the girl.
During this exchange of words the two speakers had drifted
unconsciously toward one of the benches. Mrs. Quentin glanced about
her: a custodian who had been hovering in the doorway sauntered into
the adjoining gallery, and they remained alone among the silvery
Vandykes and flushed bituminous Halses. Mrs. Quentin sank down on the
bench and reached a hand to the girl.
"Sit by me," she said.
Miss Fenno dropped beside her. In both women the stress of emotion was
too strong for speech. The girl was still trembling, and Mrs. Quentin
was the first to regain her composure.
"You say you've suffered," she began at last. "Do you suppose I
"I knew you had. That made it so much worse for me—that I should have
been the cause of your suffering for Alan!"
Mrs. Quentin drew a deep breath. "Not for Alan only," she said. Miss
Fenno turned on her a wondering glance. "Not for Alan only. That pain
every woman expects—and knows how to bear. We all know our children
must have such disappointments, and to suffer with them is not the
deepest pain. It's the suffering apart—in ways they don't understand."
She breathed deeply. "I want you to know what I mean. You were
right—that day—and I was wrong."
"Oh," the girl faltered.
Mrs. Quentin went on in a voice of passionate lucidity. "I knew it
then—I knew it even while I was trying to argue with you—I've always
known it! I didn't want my son to marry you till I heard your reasons
for refusing him; and then—then I longed to see you his wife!"
"Oh, Mrs. Quentin!"
"I longed for it; but I knew it mustn't be."
Mrs. Quentin shook her head sadly, and the girl, gaining courage from
this mute negation, cried with an uncontrollable escape of feeling:
"It's because you thought me hard, obstinate narrow-minded? Oh, I
understand that so well! My self-righteousness must have seemed so
petty! A girl who could sacrifice a man's future to her own moral
vanity—for it was a form of vanity; you showed me that plainly
enough—how you must have despised me! But I am not that girl
now—indeed I'm not. I'm not impulsive—I think things out. I've
thought this out. I know Alan loves me—I know how he loves me—and I
believe I can help him—oh, not in the ways I had fancied before—but
just merely by loving him." She paused, but Mrs. Quentin made no sign.
"I see it all so differently now. I see what an influence love itself
may be—how my believing in him, loving him, accepting him just as he
is, might help him more than any theories, any arguments. I might have
seen this long ago in looking at you—as he often told me—in seeing
how you'd kept yourself apart from—from—Mr. Quentin's work and
his—been always the beautiful side of life to them—kept their faith
alive in spite of themselves—not by interfering, preaching, reforming,
but by—just loving them and being there—" She looked at Mrs. Quentin
with a simple nobleness. "It isn't as if I cared for the money, you
know; if I cared for that, I should be afraid—"
"You will care for it in time," Mrs. Quentin said suddenly.
Miss Fenno drew back, releasing her hand. "In time?"
"Yes; when there's nothing else left." She stared a moment at the
pictures. "My poor child," she broke out, "I've heard all you say so
"You've heard it?"
"Yes—from myself. I felt as you do, I argued as you do, I acted as I
mean to prevent your doing, when I married Alan's father."
The long empty gallery seemed to reverberate with the girl's startled
exclamation—"Oh, Mrs. Quentin—"
"Hush; let me speak. Do you suppose I'd do this if you were the kind of
pink-and-white idiot he ought to have married? It's because I see
you're alive, as I was, tingling with beliefs, ambitions, energies, as
I was—that I can't see you walled up alive, as I was, without
stretching out a hand to save you!" She sat gazing rigidly forward, her
eyes on the pictures, speaking in the low precipitate tone of one who
tries to press the meaning of a lifetime into a few breathless
"When I met Alan's father," she went on, "I knew nothing of his—his
work. We met abroad, where I had been living with my mother. That was
twenty-six years ago, when the Radiator was less—less notorious than
it is now. I knew my husband owned a newspaper—a great newspaper—and
nothing more. I had never seen a copy of the Radiator; I had no
notion what it stood for, in politics—or in other ways. We were
married in Europe, and a few months afterward we came to live here.
People were already beginning to talk about the Radiator. My husband,
on leaving college, had bought it with some money an old uncle had left
him, and the public at first was merely curious to see what an
ambitious, stirring young man without any experience of journalism was
going to make out of his experiment. They found first of all that he
was going to make a great deal of money out of it. I found that out
too. I was so happy in other ways that it didn't make much difference
at first; though it was pleasant to be able to help my mother, to be
generous and charitable, to live in a nice house, and wear the handsome
gowns he liked to see me in. But still it didn't really count—it
counted so little that when, one day, I learned what the Radiator
was, I would have gone out into the streets barefooted rather than live
another hour on the money it brought in...." Her voice sank, and she
paused to steady it. The girl at her side did not speak or move. "I
shall never forget that day," she began again. "The paper had stripped
bare some family scandal—some miserable bleeding secret that a dozen
unhappy people had been struggling to keep out of print—that would
have been kept out if my husband had not—Oh, you must guess the rest!
I can't go on!"
She felt a hand on hers. "You mustn't go on, Mrs. Quentin," the girl
"Yes, I must—I must! You must be made to understand." She drew a deep
breath. "My husband was not like Alan. When he found out how I felt
about it he was surprised at first—but gradually he began to see—or
at least I fancied he saw—the hatefulness of it. At any rate he saw
how I suffered, and he offered to give up the whole thing—to sell the
paper. It couldn't be done all of a sudden, of course—he made me see
that—for he had put all his money in it, and he had no special
aptitude for any other kind of work. He was a born journalist—like
Alan. It was a great sacrifice for him to give up the paper, but he
promised to do it—in time—when a good opportunity offered. Meanwhile,
of course, he wanted to build it up, to increase the circulation—and
to do that he had to keep on in the same way—he made that clear to me.
I saw that we were in a vicious circle. The paper, to sell well, had to
be made more and more detestable and disgraceful. At first I
rebelled—but somehow—I can't tell you how it was—after that first
concession the ground seemed to give under me: with every struggle I
sank deeper. And then—then Alan was born. He was such a delicate baby
that there was very little hope of saving him. But money did it—the
money from the paper. I took him abroad to see the best physicians—I
took him to a warm climate every winter. In hot weather the doctors
recommended sea air, and we had a yacht and cruised every summer. I
owed his life to the Radiator. And when he began to grow stronger the
habit was formed—the habit of luxury. He could not get on without the
things he had always been used to. He pined in bad air; he drooped
under monotony and discomfort; he throve on variety, amusement, travel,
every kind of novelty and excitement. And all I wanted for him his
inexhaustible foster-mother was there to give!
"My husband said nothing, but he must have seen how things were going.
There was no more talk of giving up the Radiator. He never reproached
me with my inconsistency, but I thought he must despise me, and the
thought made me reckless. I determined to ignore the paper
altogether—to take what it gave as though I didn't know where it came
from. And to excuse this I invented the theory that one may, so to
speak, purify money by putting it to good uses. I gave away a great
deal in charity—I indulged myself very little at first. All the money
that was not spent on Alan I tried to do good with. But gradually, as
my boy grew up, the problem became more complicated. How was I to
protect Alan from the contamination I had let him live in? I couldn't
preach by example—couldn't hold up his father as a warning, or
denounce the money we were living on. All I could do was to disguise
the inner ugliness of life by making it beautiful outside—to build a
wall of beauty between him and the facts of life, turn his tastes and
interests another way, hide the Radiator from him as a smiling woman
at a ball may hide a cancer in her breast! Just as Alan was entering
college his father died. Then I saw my way clear. I had loved my
husband—and yet I drew my first free breath in years. For the
Radiator had been left to Alan outright—there was nothing on earth
to prevent his selling it when he came of age. And there was no excuse
for his not selling it. I had brought him up to depend on money, but
the paper had given us enough money to gratify all his tastes. At last
we could turn on the monster that had nourished us. I felt a savage joy
in the thought—I could hardly bear to wait till Alan came of age. But
I had never spoken to him of the paper, and I didn't dare speak of it
now. Some false shame kept me back, some vague belief in his ignorance.
I would wait till he was twenty-one, and then we should be free.
"I waited—the day came, and I spoke. You can guess his answer, I
suppose. He had no idea of selling the Radiator. It wasn't the money
he cared for—it was the career that tempted him. He was a born
journalist, and his ambition, ever since he could remember, had been to
carry on his father's work, to develop, to surpass it. There was
nothing in the world as interesting as modern journalism. He couldn't
imagine any other kind of life that wouldn't bore him to death. A
newspaper like the Radiator might be made one of the biggest powers
on earth, and he loved power, and meant to have all he could get. I
listened to him in a kind of trance. I couldn't find a word to say. His
father had had scruples—he had none. I seemed to realize at once that
argument would be useless. I don't know that I even tried to plead with
him—he was so bright and hard and inaccessible! Then I saw that he
was, after all, what I had made him—the creature of my concessions, my
connivances, my evasions. That was the price I had paid for him—I had
kept him at that cost!
"Well—I had kept him, at any rate. That was the feeling that
survived. He was my boy, my son, my very own—till some other woman
took him. Meanwhile the old life must go on as it could. I gave up the
struggle. If at that point he was inaccessible, at others he was close
to me. He has always been a perfect son. Our tastes grew together—we
enjoyed the same books, the same pictures, the same people. All I had
to do was to look at him in profile to see the side of him that was
really mine. At first I kept thinking of the dreadful other side—but
gradually the impression faded, and I kept my mind turned from it, as
one does from a deformity in a face one loves. I thought I had made my
last compromise with life—had hit on a modus vivendi that would last
"And then he met you. I had always been prepared for his marrying, but
not a girl like you. I thought he would choose a sweet thing who would
never pry into his closets—he hated women with ideas! But as soon as I
saw you I knew the struggle would have to begin again. He is so much
stronger than his father—he is full of the most monstrous convictions.
And he has the courage of them, too—you saw last year that his love
for you never made him waver. He believes in his work; he adores it—it
is a kind of hideous idol to which he would make human sacrifices! He
loves you still—I've been honest with you—but his love wouldn't
change him. It is you who would have to change—to die gradually, as I
have died, till there is only one live point left in me. Ah, if one
died completely—that's simple enough! But something persists—remember
that—a single point, an aching nerve of truth. Now and then you may
drug it—but a touch wakes it again, as your face has waked it in me.
There's always enough of one's old self left to suffer with...."
She stood up and faced the girl abruptly. "What shall I tell Alan?" she
Miss Fenno sat motionless, her eyes on the ground. Twilight was falling
on the gallery—a twilight which seemed to emanate not so much from the
glass dome overhead as from the crepuscular depths into which the faces
of the pictures were receding. The custodian's step sounded warningly
down the corridor. When the girl looked up she was alone.
A VENETIAN NIGHT'S ENTERTAINMENT
THIS is the story that, in the dining-room of the old Beacon Street house (now
the Aldebaran Club), Judge Anthony Bracknell, of the famous East India firm of
Bracknell & Saulsbee, when the ladies had withdrawn to the oval parlour (and
Maria's harp was throwing its gauzy web of sound across the Common), used to
relate to his grandsons, about the year that Buonaparte marched upon Moscow.
"Him Venice!" said the Lascar with the big earrings; and Tony Bracknell, leaning
on the high gunwale of his father's East Indiaman, the Hepzibah B., saw far off,
across the morning sea, a faint vision of towers and domes dissolved in golden
It was a rare February day of the year 1760, and a young Tony, newly of age, and
bound on the grand tour aboard the crack merchantman of old Bracknell's fleet,
felt his heart leap up as the distant city trembled into shape. Venice!
The name, since childhood, had been a magician's wand to him. In the hall of the
old Bracknell house at Salem there hung a series of yellowing prints which Uncle
Richard Saulsbee had brought home from one of his long voyages: views of heathen
mosques and palaces, of the Grand Turk's Seraglio, of St. Peter's Church in
Rome; and, in a corner—the corner nearest the rack where the old flintlocks
hung—a busy merry populous scene, entitled: St. Mark's Square in Venice.
This picture, from the first, had singularly taken little Tony's fancy. His
unformulated criticism on the others was that they lacked action. True, in the
view of St. Peter's an experienced-looking gentleman in a full-bottomed wig was
pointing out the fairly obvious monument to a bashful companion, who had
presumably not ventured to raise his eyes to it; while, at the doors of the
Seraglio, a group of turbaned infidels observed with less hesitancy the approach
of a veiled lady on a camel. But in Venice so many things were happening at
once—more, Tony was sure, than had ever happened in Boston in a twelve-month or
in Salem in a long lifetime. For here, by their garb, were people of every
nation on earth, Chinamen, Turks, Spaniards, and many more, mixed with a
parti-coloured throng of gentry, lacqueys, chapmen, hucksters, and tall
personages in parsons' gowns who stalked through the crowd with an air of
mastery, a string of parasites at their heels. And all these people seemed to be
diverting themselves hugely, chaffering with the hucksters, watching the antics
of trained dogs and monkeys, distributing doles to maimed beggars or having
their pockets picked by slippery-looking fellows in black—the whole with such an
air of ease and good-humour that one felt the cut-purses to be as much a part of
the show as the tumbling acrobats and animals.
As Tony advanced in years and experience this childish mumming lost its magic;
but not so the early imaginings it had excited. For the old picture had been but
the spring-board of fancy, the first step of a cloud-ladder leading to a land of
dreams. With these dreams the name of Venice remained associated; and all that
observation or report subsequently brought him concerning the place seemed, on a
sober warranty of fact, to confirm its claim to stand midway between reality and
illusion. There was, for instance, a slender Venice glass, gold-powdered as with
lily-pollen or the dust of sunbeams, that, standing in the corner cabinet
betwixt two Lowestoft caddies, seemed, among its lifeless neighbours, to
palpitate like an impaled butterfly. There was, farther, a gold chain of his
mother's, spun of that same sun-pollen, so thread-like, impalpable, that it
slipped through the fingers like light, yet so strong that it carried a heavy
pendant which seemed held in air as if by magic. Magic! That was the word
which the thought of Venice evoked. It was the kind of place, Tony felt, in
which things elsewhere impossible might naturally happen, in which two and two
might make five, a paradox elope with a syllogism, and a conclusion give the lie
to its own premiss. Was there ever a young heart that did not, once and again,
long to get away into such a world as that? Tony, at least, had felt the longing
from the first hour when the axioms in his horn-book had brought home to him his
heavy responsibilities as a Christian and a sinner. And now here was his wish
taking shape before him, as the distant haze of gold shaped itself into towers
and domes across the morning sea!
The Reverend Ozias Mounce, Tony's governor and bear-leader, was just putting a
hand to the third clause of the fourth part of a sermon on Free-Will and
Predestination as the Hepzibah B.'s anchor rattled overboard. Tony, in his haste
to be ashore, would have made one plunge with the anchor; but the Reverend
Ozias, on being roused from his lucubrations, earnestly protested against
leaving his argument in suspense. What was the trifle of an arrival at some
Papistical foreign city, where the very churches wore turbans like so many
Moslem idolators, to the important fact of Mr. Mounce's summing up his
conclusions before the Muse of Theology took flight? He should be happy, he
said, if the tide served, to visit Venice with Mr. Bracknell the next morning.
The next morning, ha!—Tony murmured a submissive "Yes, sir," winked at the
subjugated captain, buckled on his sword, pressed his hat down with a flourish,
and before the Reverend Ozias had arrived at his next deduction, was skimming
merrily shoreward in the Hepzibah's gig.
A moment more and he was in the thick of it! Here was the very world of the old
print, only suffused with sunlight and colour, and bubbling with merry noises.
What a scene it was! A square enclosed in fantastic painted buildings, and
peopled with a throng as fantastic: a bawling, laughing, jostling, sweating mob,
parti-coloured, parti-speeched, crackling and sputtering under the hot sun like
a dish of fritters over a kitchen fire. Tony, agape, shouldered his way through
the press, aware at once that, spite of the tumult, the shrillness, the
gesticulation, there was no undercurrent of clownishness, no tendency to
horse-play, as in such crowds on market-day at home, but a kind of facetious
suavity which seemed to include everybody in the circumference of one huge joke.
In such an air the sense of strangeness soon wore off, and Tony was beginning to
feel himself vastly at home, when a lift of the tide bore him against a
droll-looking bell-ringing fellow who carried above his head a tall metal tree
hung with sherbet-glasses.
The encounter set the glasses spinning and three or four spun off and clattered
to the stones. The sherbet-seller called on all the saints, and Tony, clapping a
lordly hand to his pocket, tossed him a ducat by mistake for a sequin. The
fellow's eyes shot out of their orbits, and just then a personable-looking young
man who had observed the transaction stepped up to Tony and said pleasantly, in
"I perceive, sir, that you are not familiar with our currency."
"Does he want more?" says Tony, very lordly; whereat the other laughed and
replied: "You have given him enough to retire from his business and open a
gaming-house over the arcade."
Tony joined in the laugh, and this incident bridging the preliminaries, the two
young men were presently hobnobbing over a glass of Canary in front of one of
the coffee-houses about the square. Tony counted himself lucky to have run
across an English-speaking companion who was good-natured enough to give him a
clue to the labyrinth; and when he had paid for the Canary (in the coin his
friend selected) they set out again to view the town. The Italian gentleman, who
called himself Count Rialto, appeared to have a very numerous acquaintance, and
was able to point out to Tony all the chief dignitaries of the state, the men of
ton and ladies of fashion, as well as a number of other characters of a kind not
openly mentioned in taking a census of Salem.
Tony, who was not averse from reading when nothing better offered, had perused
the "Merchant of Venice" and Mr. Otway's fine tragedy; but though these pieces
had given him a notion that the social usages of Venice differed from those at
home, he was unprepared for the surprising appearance and manners of the great
people his friend named to him. The gravest Senators of the Republic went in
prodigious striped trousers, short cloaks and feathered hats. One nobleman wore
a ruff and doctor's gown, another a black velvet tunic slashed with rose-colour;
while the President of the dreaded Council of Ten was a terrible strutting
fellow with a rapier-like nose, a buff leather jerkin and a trailing scarlet
cloak that the crowd was careful not to step on.
It was all vastly diverting, and Tony would gladly have gone on forever; but he
had given his word to the captain to be at the landing-place at sunset, and here
was dusk already creeping over the skies! Tony was a man of honour; and having
pressed on the Count a handsome damascened dagger selected from one of the
goldsmiths' shops in a narrow street lined with such wares, he insisted on
turning his face toward the Hepzibah's gig. The Count yielded reluctantly; but
as they came out again on the square they were caught in a great throng pouring
toward the doors of the cathedral.
"They go to Benediction," said the Count. "A beautiful sight, with many lights
and flowers. It is a pity you cannot take a peep at it."
Tony thought so too, and in another minute a legless beggar had pulled back the
leathern flap of the cathedral door, and they stood in a haze of gold and
perfume that seemed to rise and fall on the mighty undulations of the organ.
Here the press was as thick as without; and as Tony flattened himself against a
pillar, he heard a pretty voice at his elbow:—"Oh, sir, oh, sir, your sword!"
He turned at sound of the broken English, and saw a girl who matched the voice
trying to disengage her dress from the tip of his scabbard. She wore one of the
voluminous black hoods which the Venetian ladies affected, and under its
projecting eaves her face spied out at him as sweet as a nesting bird.
In the dusk their hands met over the scabbard, and as she freed herself a shred
of her lace flounce clung to Tony's enchanted fingers. Looking after her, he saw
she was on the arm of a pompous-looking graybeard in a long black gown and
scarlet stockings, who, on perceiving the exchange of glances between the young
people, drew the lady away with a threatening look.
The Count met Tony's eye with a smile. "One of our Venetian beauties," said he;
"the lovely Polixena Cador. She is thought to have the finest eyes in Venice."
"She spoke English," stammered Tony.
"Oh—ah—precisely: she learned the language at the Court of Saint James's, where
her father, the Senator, was formerly accredited as Ambassador. She played as an
infant with the royal princes of England."
"And that was her father?"
"Assuredly: young ladies of Donna Polixena's rank do not go abroad save with
their parents or a duenna."
Just then a soft hand slid into Tony's. His heart gave a foolish bound, and he
turned about half-expecting to meet again the merry eyes under the hood; but saw
instead a slender brown boy, in some kind of fanciful page's dress, who thrust a
folded paper between his fingers and vanished in the throng. Tony, in a tingle,
glanced surreptitiously at the Count, who appeared absorbed in his prayers. The
crowd, at the ringing of a bell, had in fact been overswept by a sudden wave of
devotion; and Tony seized the moment to step beneath a lighted shrine with his
"I am in dreadful trouble and implore your help. Polixena"—he read; but hardly
had he seized the sense of the words when a hand fell on his shoulder, and a
stern-looking man in a cocked hat, and bearing a kind of rod or mace, pronounced
a few words in Venetian.
Tony, with a start, thrust the letter in his breast, and tried to jerk himself
free; but the harder he jerked the tighter grew the other's grip, and the Count,
presently perceiving what had happened, pushed his way through the crowd, and
whispered hastily to his companion: "For God's sake, make no struggle. This is
serious. Keep quiet and do as I tell you."
Tony was no chicken-heart. He had something of a name for pugnacity among the
lads of his own age at home, and was not the man to stand in Venice what he
would have resented in Salem; but the devil of it was that this black fellow
seemed to be pointing to the letter in his breast; and this suspicion was
confirmed by the Count's agitated whisper.
"This is one of the agents of the Ten.—For God's sake, no outcry." He exchanged
a word or two with the mace-bearer and again turned to Tony. "You have been seen
concealing a letter about your person—"
"And what of that?" says Tony furiously.
"Gently, gently, my master. A letter handed to you by the page of Donna Polixena
Cador.—A black business! Oh, a very black business! This Cador is one of the
most powerful nobles in Venice—I beseech you, not a word, sir! Let me
His hand on Tony's shoulder, he carried on a rapid dialogue with the potentate
in the cocked hat.
"I am sorry, sir—but our young ladies of rank are as jealously guarded as the
Grand Turk's wives, and you must be answerable for this scandal. The best I can
do is to have you taken privately to the Palazzo Cador, instead of being brought
before the Council. I have pleaded your youth and inexperience"—Tony winced at
this—"and I think the business may still be arranged."
Meanwhile the agent of the Ten had yielded his place to a sharp-featured
shabby-looking fellow in black, dressed somewhat like a lawyer's clerk, who laid
a grimy hand on Tony's arm, and with many apologetic gestures steered him
through the crowd to the doors of the church. The Count held him by the other
arm, and in this fashion they emerged on the square, which now lay in darkness
save for the many lights twinkling under the arcade and in the windows of the
gaming-rooms above it.
Tony by this time had regained voice enough to declare that he would go where
they pleased, but that he must first say a word to the mate of the Hepzibah, who
had now been awaiting him some two hours or more at the landing-place.
The Count repeated this to Tony's custodian, but the latter shook his head and
rattled off a sharp denial.
"Impossible, sir," said the Count. "I entreat you not to insist. Any resistance
will tell against you in the end."
Tony fell silent. With a rapid eye he was measuring his chances of escape. In
wind and limb he was more than a mate for his captors, and boyhood's ruses were
not so far behind him but he felt himself equal to outwitting a dozen grown men;
but he had the sense to see that at a cry the crowd would close in on him. Space
was what he wanted: a clear ten yards, and he would have laughed at Doge and
Council. But the throng was thick as glue, and he walked on submissively,
keeping his eye alert for an opening. Suddenly the mob swerved aside after some
new show. Tony's fist shot out at the black fellow's chest, and before the
latter could right himself the young New Englander was showing a clean pair of
heels to his escort. On he sped, cleaving the crowd like a flood-tide in
Gloucester bay, diving under the first arch that caught his eye, dashing down a
lane to an unlit water-way, and plunging across a narrow hump-back bridge which
landed him in a black pocket between walls. But now his pursuers were at his
back, reinforced by the yelping mob. The walls were too high to scale, and for
all his courage Tony's breath came short as he paced the masonry cage in which
ill-luck had landed him. Suddenly a gate opened in one of the walls, and a slip
of a servant wench looked out and beckoned him. There was no time to weigh
chances. Tony dashed through the gate, his rescuer slammed and bolted it, and
the two stood in a narrow paved well between high houses.
THE servant picked up a lantern and signed to Tony to follow her. They climbed a
squalid stairway of stone, felt their way along a corridor, and entered a tall
vaulted room feebly lit by an oil-lamp hung from the painted ceiling. Tony
discerned traces of former splendour in his surroundings, but he had no time to
examine them, for a figure started up at his approach and in the dim light he
recognized the girl who was the cause of all his troubles.
She sprang toward him with outstretched hands, but as he advanced her face
changed and she shrank back abashed.
"This is a misunderstanding—a dreadful misunderstanding," she cried out in her
pretty broken English. "Oh, how does it happen that you are here?"
"Through no choice of my own, madam, I assure you!" retorted Tony, not
over-pleased by his reception.
"But why—how—how did you make this unfortunate mistake?"
"Why, madam, if you'll excuse my candour, I think the mistake was yours—"
"Mine?"—"in sending me a letter—"
"You—a letter?"—"by a simpleton of a lad, who must needs hand it to me
under your father's very nose—"
The girl broke in on him with a cry. "What! It was you who received my
letter?" She swept round on the little maid-servant and submerged her under a
flood of Venetian. The latter volleyed back in the same jargon, and as she did
so, Tony's astonished eye detected in her the doubleted page who had handed him
the letter in Saint Mark's.
"What!" he cried, "the lad was this girl in disguise?"
Polixena broke off with an irrepressible smile; but her face clouded instantly
and she returned to the charge.
"This wicked, careless girl—she has ruined me, she will be my undoing! Oh, sir,
how can I make you understand? The letter was not intended for you—it was meant
for the English Ambassador, an old friend of my mother's, from whom I hoped to
obtain assistance—oh, how can I ever excuse myself to you?"
"No excuses are needed, madam," said Tony, bowing; "though I am surprised, I
own, that any one should mistake me for an ambassador."
Here a wave of mirth again overran Polixena's face. "Oh, sir, you must pardon my
poor girl's mistake. She heard you speaking English, and—and—I had told her to
hand the letter to the handsomest foreigner in the church." Tony bowed again,
more profoundly. "The English Ambassador," Polixena added simply, "is a very
"I wish, madam, I were a better proxy!"
She echoed his laugh, and then clapped her hands together with a look of
anguish. "Fool that I am! How can I jest at such a moment? I am in dreadful
trouble, and now perhaps I have brought trouble on you also—Oh, my father! I
hear my father coming!" She turned pale and leaned tremblingly upon the little
Footsteps and loud voices were in fact heard outside, and a moment later the
red-stockinged Senator stalked into the room attended by half-a-dozen of the
magnificoes whom Tony had seen abroad in the square. At sight of him, all
clapped hands to their swords and burst into furious outcries; and though their
jargon was unintelligible to the young man, their tones and gestures made their
meaning unpleasantly plain. The Senator, with a start of anger, first flung
himself on the intruder; then, snatched back by his companions, turned
wrathfully on his daughter, who, at his feet, with outstretched arms and
streaming face, pleaded her cause with all the eloquence of young distress.
Meanwhile the other nobles gesticulated vehemently among themselves, and one, a
truculent-looking personage in ruff and Spanish cape, stalked apart, keeping a
jealous eye on Tony. The latter was at his wit's end how to comport himself, for
the lovely Polixena's tears had quite drowned her few words of English, and
beyond guessing that the magnificoes meant him a mischief he had no notion what
they would be at.
At this point, luckily, his friend Count Rialto suddenly broke in on the scene,
and was at once assailed by all the tongues in the room. He pulled a long face
at sight of Tony, but signed to the young man to be silent, and addressed
himself earnestly to the Senator. The latter, at first, would not draw breath to
hear him; but presently, sobering, he walked apart with the Count, and the two
conversed together out of earshot.
"My dear sir," said the Count, at length turning to Tony with a perturbed
countenance, "it is as I feared, and you are fallen into a great misfortune."
"A great misfortune! A great trap, I call it!" shouted Tony, whose blood, by
this time, was boiling; but as he uttered the word the beautiful Polixena cast
such a stricken look on him that he blushed up to the forehead.
"Be careful," said the Count, in a low tone. "Though his Illustriousness does
not speak your language, he understands a few words of it, and—"
"So much the better!" broke in Tony; "I hope he will understand me if I ask him
in plain English what is his grievance against me."
The Senator, at this, would have burst forth again; but the Count, stepping
between, answered quickly: "His grievance against you is that you have been
detected in secret correspondence with his daughter, the most noble Polixena
Cador, the betrothed bride of this gentleman, the most illustrious Marquess
Zanipolo—" and he waved a deferential hand at the frowning hidalgo of the cape
"Sir," said Tony, "if that is the extent of my offence, it lies with the young
lady to set me free, since by her own avowal—" but here he stopped short, for,
to his surprise, Polixena shot a terrified glance at him.
"Sir," interposed the Count, "we are not accustomed in Venice to take shelter
behind a lady's reputation."
"No more are we in Salem," retorted Tony in a white heat. "I was merely about to
remark that, by the young lady's avowal, she has never seen me before."
Polixena's eyes signalled her gratitude, and he felt he would have died to
The Count translated his statement, and presently pursued: "His Illustriousness
observes that, in that case, his daughter's misconduct has been all the more
"Her misconduct? Of what does he accuse her?"
"Of sending you, just now, in the church of Saint Mark's, a letter which you
were seen to read openly and thrust in your bosom. The incident was witnessed by
his Illustriousness the Marquess Zanipolo, who, in consequence, has already
repudiated his unhappy bride."
Tony stared contemptuously at the black Marquess. "If his Illustriousness is so
lacking in gallantry as to repudiate a lady on so trivial a pretext, it is he
and not I who should be the object of her father's resentment."
"That, my dear young gentleman, is hardly for you to decide. Your only excuse
being your ignorance of our customs, it is scarcely for you to advise us how to
behave in matters of punctilio."
It seemed to Tony as though the Count were going over to his enemies, and the
thought sharpened his retort.
"I had supposed," said he, "that men of sense had much the same behaviour in all
countries, and that, here as elsewhere, a gentleman would be taken at his word.
I solemnly affirm that the letter I was seen to read reflects in no way on the
honour of this young lady, and has in fact nothing to do with what you suppose."
As he had himself no notion what the letter was about, this was as far as he
dared commit himself.
There was another brief consultation in the opposing camp, and the Count then
said:—"We all know, sir, that a gentleman is obliged to meet certain enquiries
by a denial; but you have at your command the means of immediately clearing the
lady. Will you show the letter to her father?"
There was a perceptible pause, during which Tony, while appearing to look
straight before him, managed to deflect an interrogatory glance toward Polixena.
Her reply was a faint negative motion, accompanied by unmistakable signs of
"Poor girl!" he thought, "she is in a worse case than I imagined, and whatever
happens I must keep her secret."
He turned to the Senator with a deep bow. "I am not," said he, "in the habit of
showing my private correspondence to strangers."
The Count interpreted these words, and Donna Polixena's father, dashing his hand
on his hilt, broke into furious invective, while the Marquess continued to nurse
his outraged feelings aloof.
The Count shook his head funereally. "Alas, sir, it is as I feared. This is not
the first time that youth and propinquity have led to fatal imprudence. But I
need hardly, I suppose, point out the obligation incumbent upon you as a man of
Tony stared at him haughtily, with a look which was meant for the Marquess. "And
what obligation is that?"
"To repair the wrong you have done—in other words, to marry the lady."
Polixena at this burst into tears, and Tony said to himself: "Why in heaven does
she not bid me show the letter?" Then he remembered that it had no
superscription, and that the words it contained, supposing them to have been
addressed to himself, were hardly of a nature to disarm suspicion. The sense of
the girl's grave plight effaced all thought of his own risk, but the Count's
last words struck him as so preposterous that he could not repress a smile.
"I cannot flatter myself," said he, "that the lady would welcome this solution."
The Count's manner became increasingly ceremonious. "Such modesty," he said,
"becomes your youth and inexperience; but even if it were justified it would
scarcely alter the case, as it is always assumed in this country that a young
lady wishes to marry the man whom her father has selected."
"But I understood just now," Tony interposed, "that the gentleman yonder was in
that enviable position."
"So he was, till circumstances obliged him to waive the privilege in your
"He does me too much honour; but if a deep sense of my unworthiness obliges me
"You are still," interrupted the Count, "labouring under a misapprehension. Your
choice in the matter is no more to be consulted than the lady's. Not to put too
fine a point on it, it is necessary that you should marry her within the hour."
Tony, at this, for all his spirit, felt the blood run thin in his veins. He
looked in silence at the threatening visages between himself and the door, stole
a side-glance at the high barred windows of the apartment, and then turned to
Polixena, who had fallen sobbing at her father's feet.
"And if I refuse?" said he.
The Count made a significant gesture. "I am not so foolish as to threaten a man
of your mettle. But perhaps you are unaware what the consequences would be to
Polixena, at this, struggling to her feet, addressed a few impassioned words to
the Count and her father; but the latter put her aside with an obdurate gesture.
The Count turned to Tony. "The lady herself pleads for you—at what cost you do
not guess—but as you see it is vain. In an hour his Illustriousness's chaplain
will be here. Meanwhile his Illustriousness consents to leave you in the custody
of your betrothed."
He stepped back, and the other gentlemen, bowing with deep ceremony to Tony,
stalked out one by one from the room. Tony heard the key turn in the lock, and
found himself alone with Polixena.
THE girl had sunk into a chair, her face hidden, a picture of shame and agony.
So moving was the sight that Tony once again forgot his own extremity in the
view of her distress. He went and kneeled beside her, drawing her hands from her
"Oh, don't make me look at you!" she sobbed; but it was on his bosom that she
hid from his gaze. He held her there a breathing-space, as he might have clasped
a weeping child; then she drew back and put him gently from her.
"What humiliation!" she lamented.
"Do you think I blame you for what has happened?"
"Alas, was it not my foolish letter that brought you to this plight? And how
nobly you defended me! How generous it was of you not to show the letter! If my
father knew I had written to the Ambassador to save me from this dreadful
marriage his anger against me would be even greater."
"Ah—it was that you wrote for?" cried Tony with unaccountable relief.
"Of course—what else did you think?"
"But is it too late for the Ambassador to save you?"
"From you?" A smile flashed through her tears. "Alas, yes." She drew back
and hid her face again, as though overcome by a fresh wave of shame.
Tony glanced about him. "If I could wrench a bar out of that window—" he
"Impossible! The court is guarded. You are a prisoner, alas.—Oh, I must speak!"
She sprang up and paced the room. "But indeed you can scarce think worse of me
than you do already—"
"I think ill of you?"
"Alas, you must! To be unwilling to marry the man my father has chosen for me—"
"Such a beetle-browed lout! It would be a burning shame if you married him."
"Ah, you come from a free country. Here a girl is allowed no choice."
"It is infamous, I say—infamous!"
"No, no—I ought to have resigned myself, like so many others."
"Resigned yourself to that brute! Impossible!"
"He has a dreadful name for violence—his gondolier has told my little maid such
tales of him! But why do I talk of myself, when it is of you I should be
"Of me, poor child?" cried Tony, losing his head.
"Yes, and how to save you—for I can save you! But every moment counts—and
yet what I have to say is so dreadful."
"Nothing from your lips could seem dreadful."
"Ah, if he had had your way of speaking!"
"Well, now at least you are free of him," said Tony, a little wildly; but at
this she stood up and bent a grave look on him.
"No, I am not free," she said; "but you are, if you will do as I tell you."
Tony, at this, felt a sudden dizziness; as though, from a mad flight through
clouds and darkness, he had dropped to safety again, and the fall had stunned
"What am I to do?" he said.
"Look away from me, or I can never tell you."
He thought at first that this was a jest, but her eyes commanded him, and
reluctantly he walked away and leaned in the embrasure of the window. She stood
in the middle of the room, and as soon as his back was turned she began to speak
in a quick monotonous voice, as though she were reciting a lesson.
"You must know that the Marquess Zanipolo, though a great noble, is not a rich
man. True, he has large estates, but he is a desperate spendthrift and gambler,
and would sell his soul for a round sum of ready money.—If you turn round I
shall not go on!—He wrangled horribly with my father over my dowry—he wanted me
to have more than either of my sisters, though one married a Procurator and the
other a grandee of Spain. But my father is a gambler too—oh, such fortunes as
are squandered over the arcade yonder! And so—and so—don't turn, I implore
you—oh, do you begin to see my meaning?"
She broke off sobbing, and it took all his strength to keep his eyes from her.
"Go on," he said.
"Will you not understand? Oh, I would say anything to save you! You don't know
us Venetians—we're all to be bought for a price. It is not only the brides who
are marketable—sometimes the husbands sell themselves too. And they think you
rich—my father does, and the others—I don't know why, unless you have shown your
money too freely—and the English are all rich, are they not? And—oh, oh—do you
understand? Oh, I can't bear your eyes!"
She dropped into a chair, her head on her arms, and Tony in a flash was at her
"My poor child, my poor Polixena!" he cried, and wept and clasped her.
"You are rich, are you not? You would promise them a ransom?" she
"To enable you to marry the Marquess?"
"To enable you to escape from this place. Oh, I hope I may never see your face
again." She fell to weeping once more, and he drew away and paced the floor in a
Presently she sprang up with a fresh air of resolution, and pointed to a clock
against the wall. "The hour is nearly over. It is quite true that my father is
gone to fetch his chaplain. Oh, I implore you, be warned by me! There is no
other way of escape."
"And if I do as you say—?"
"You are safe! You are free! I stake my life on it."
"And you—you are married to that villain?"
"But I shall have saved you. Tell me your name, that I may say it to myself when
I am alone."
"My name is Anthony. But you must not marry that fellow."
"You forgive me, Anthony? You don't think too badly of me?"
"I say you must not marry that fellow."
She laid a trembling hand on his arm. "Time presses," she adjured him, "and I
warn you there is no other way."
For a moment he had a vision of his mother, sitting very upright, on a Sunday
evening, reading Dr. Tillotson's sermons in the best parlour at Salem; then he
swung round on the girl and caught both her hands in his. "Yes, there is," he
cried, "if you are willing. Polixena, let the priest come!"
She shrank back from him, white and radiant. "Oh, hush, be silent!" she said.
"I am no noble Marquess, and have no great estates," he cried. "My father is a
plain India merchant in the colony of Massachusetts—but if you—"
"Oh, hush, I say! I don't know what your long words mean. But I bless you, bless
you, bless you on my knees!" And she knelt before him, and fell to kissing his
He drew her up to his breast and held her there.
"You are willing, Polixena?" he said.
"No, no!" She broke from him with outstretched hands. "I am not willing. You
mistake me. I must marry the Marquess, I tell you!"
"On my money?" he taunted her; and her burning blush rebuked him.
"Yes, on your money," she said sadly.
"Why? Because, much as you hate him, you hate me still more?"
She was silent.
"If you hate me, why do you sacrifice yourself for me?" he persisted.
"You torture me! And I tell you the hour is past."
"Let it pass. I'll not accept your sacrifice. I will not lift a finger to help
another man to marry you."
"Oh, madman, madman!" she murmured.
Tony, with crossed arms, faced her squarely, and she leaned against the wall a
few feet off from him. Her breast throbbed under its lace and falbalas, and her
eyes swam with terror and entreaty.
"Polixena, I love you!" he cried.
A blush swept over her throat and bosom, bathing her in light to the verge of
her troubled brows.
"I love you! I love you!" he repeated.
And now she was on his breast again, and all their youth was in their lips. But
her embrace was as fleeting as a bird's poise and before he knew it he clasped
empty air, and half the room was between them.
She was holding up a little coral charm and laughing. "I took it from your fob,"
she said. "It is of no value, is it? And I shall not get any of the money, you
She continued to laugh strangely, and the rouge burned like fire in her ashen
"What are you talking of?" he said.
"They never give me anything but the clothes I wear. And I shall never see you
again, Anthony!" She gave him a dreadful look. "Oh, my poor boy, my poor love—'I
love you, I love you, Polixena!'"
He thought she had turned light-headed, and advanced to her with soothing words;
but she held him quietly at arm's length, and as he gazed he read the truth in
He fell back from her, and a sob broke from him as he bowed his head on his
"Only, for God's sake, have the money ready, or there may be foul play here,"
As she spoke there was a great tramping of steps outside and a burst of voices
on the threshold.
"It is all a lie," she gasped out, "about my marriage, and the Marquess, and the
Ambassador, and the Senator—but not, oh, not about your danger in this place—or
about my love," she breathed to him. And as the key rattled in the door she laid
her lips on his brow.
The key rattled, and the door swung open—but the black-cassocked gentleman who
stepped in, though a priest indeed, was no votary of idolatrous rites, but that
sound orthodox divine, the Reverend Ozias Mounce, looking very much perturbed at
his surroundings, and very much on the alert for the Scarlet Woman. He was
supported, to his evident relief, by the captain of the Hepzibah B., and the
procession was closed by an escort of stern-looking fellows in cocked hats and
small-swords, who led between them Tony's late friends the magnificoes, now as
sorry a looking company as the law ever landed in her net.
The captain strode briskly into the room, uttering a grunt of satisfaction as he
clapped eyes on Tony.
"So, Mr. Bracknell," said he, "you have been seeing the Carnival with this pack
of mummers, have you? And this is where your pleasuring has landed you? H'm—a
pretty establishment, and a pretty lady at the head of it." He glanced about the
apartment and doffed his hat with mock ceremony to Polixena, who faced him like
"Why, my girl," said he, amicably, "I think I saw you this morning in the
square, on the arm of the Pantaloon yonder; and as for that Captain Spavent—"
and he pointed a derisive finger at the Marquess—"I've watched him drive his
bully's trade under the arcade ever since I first dropped anchor in these
waters. Well, well," he continued, his indignation subsiding, "all's fair in
Carnival, I suppose, but this gentleman here is under sailing orders, and I fear
we must break up your little party."
At this Tony saw Count Rialto step forward, looking very small and explanatory,
and uncovering obsequiously to the captain.
"I can assure you, sir," said the Count in his best English, "that this incident
is the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding, and if you will oblige us by
dismissing these myrmidons, any of my friends here will be happy to offer
satisfaction to Mr. Bracknell and his companions."
Mr. Mounce shrank visibly at this, and the captain burst into a loud guffaw.
"Satisfaction?" says he. "Why, my cock, that's very handsome of you, considering
the rope's at your throats. But we'll not take advantage of your generosity, for
I fear Mr. Bracknell has already trespassed on it too long. You pack of
galley-slaves, you!" he spluttered suddenly, "decoying young innocents with that
devil's bait of yours—" His eye fell on Polixena, and his voice softened
unaccountably. "Ah, well, we must all see the Carnival once, I suppose," he
said. "All's well that ends well, as the fellow says in the play; and now, if
you please, Mr. Bracknell, if you'll take the reverend gentleman's arm there,
we'll bid adieu to our hospitable entertainers, and right about face for the