The Visit of the Master by
“Have you ever read any of Marian Haviland
I didn’t expect, when I put the question, to fall right
into a mine of information. It was out of my line, moreover,
to talk about authors and books at dinner. But the
topic had popped inconsequently into my head, and there
was certainly something about the quiet, sly-looking Jane-Austenish
woman at my left that inspired confidence.
“I’m distinctly curious about her,” I added. “She’s
sprung up so soon, so authoritatively. And she’s so
Up to this point my companion had only listened more
quietly, more slyly, than ever; but her eyes now opened
wide, her eyebrows went whimsically high, and she
turned to me with a twinkling smile.
“New? You really think so?”
She gave me no time, either, to correct my statement.
“I didn’t suppose any one still thought that—except,
possibly— Have you ever read Hurrell Oaks?”
I nodded gropingly.
“Miss Haviland was a teacher of mine at Newfair
when it happened. That was eight, ten years ago.
“I don’t ‘see’ anything.”
“But you do Hurrell Oaks—you’re, you’re really all
‘for’ him, I mean? So you’d adore it. It’s pathetic,
too. Though it is funny!” she cried, avid to tell me
more about whatever “it” was.
But the inevitable shift in table talk veered us apart
at that moment; and it wasn’t until after the long meal
was over that we came together again, and could choose
a quiet corner away from interruptions.
“Here goes, now,” she began, “if you’re ready?”
Miss Haviland must have been about thirty when I first
saw her. She was tall, handsome in an angular way.
Her face was large, her features regular, though somewhat
heavy, her coloring brilliant, and her dark hair
grayish even then. She was of a stocky leanness, a ruggedness
indigenous to northern New England—and
perhaps she did “come” from New England; wanderers
from those climes can flourish so prodigiously,
you know—which only made her pretentious garb and
manner the more conspicuous.
To see her at those college parties! She wore black
evening-gowns, and a string—a “rope,” I think you
could call it—of imitation pearls, and carried a fan
always, and a loose wrap with some bright lining, and fur
on the neck and sleeves, which she’d just throw, as if
carelessly, over her shoulders. We used irreverently to
say that she had “corrupted” (one of her favorite
words) the premise of the old motto, “When you’re in
Rome” to “Whether or not you’re in Rome,” so did she
insist on being—or trying to be—incongruously grande
dame and not “of” the milieu she was privileged to
adorn. Without ever letting herself mix with those gatherings
really, she’d show her condescension by choosing
a place in the most mixing group, and there carry out her
aloofness by just smiling and peering reservedly at—at
the way a man set a glass of water upon the table, for
instance, as if that constituted enough to judge him by;
as if he’d laid his soul, also, sufficiently bare to her in the
process. And she must have been, as you’ve seen, a resourceful
observer; she had a gift for reacting from
people; though how much depended upon the people and
what they did and said, and how much upon what she unconsciously—or
consciously—adapted from Hurrell
Oaks while she gauged them, is a question. The result
at least fits the needs of a gaping public. But I’m
All this—in fact, everything about her—took George
Norton by storm when he turned up, fresh from a freshwater
university farther west, to fill the Slocum professorship.
He found in her the splendor that he’d been
stranded away from in “real life,” and had never had
time or imagination to find in books. She represented
great, glorious things beyond his ken—civilization, culture,
society, foreign lands across the sea for which his
appetite had been whetted by the holiday tour he took to
Bermuda after getting his A.B. with highest honors in
history and government. He was about forty or so, and
lived alone with his mother.
Rumor had it (and it may have been well founded, it’s
so difficult to tell what goes on in the minds of those
small, meek men), that he had always wanted to discover
an “Egeria-like woman,” and that, once he stepped into
Mrs. Braxton’s drawing-room and saw—and heard—Miss
Haviland discoursing on “The Overtones in Swinburne’s
Prose,” his wildest hope was realized. Be that
as it may, his recognition must have been overpowering
to have won her attention so easily; for her standards
wouldn’t have permitted her, by any stretch of imagination,
to think of him as an Egeria’s man—however she
may have felt she merited one.
But she wasn’t, with her looks and distinction and
learning, the sort to attract men readily. She was too
self-sufficient and flagrant, to begin with. She left no
medium of approach suggested. She offered no tender,
winning moments. Her aspect for men, as well as for
women, implied that she thought she knew their ways
and methods better than they did.... It shows as a
weakness in her stories, I think—the temerity with
which she assumes the masculine role, the possible hollowness
of her assumptions not once daunting her. Remember
the one that begins, “I had just peeked into
the bar of the Savoy Hotel”? I could never, when I read
it, think of anything except just how Marian Haviland
herself would look, in a black evening gown and her
other regalia, “peeking”—as she no doubt longed to
do. But I’m drifting again.... Her favor might have
fired the heart of a grand seigneur, I don’t know; to the
men of Newfair it was too much like a corrective. George
Norton, I guess, was the only one who ever craved it.
He courted the slavedom of learning to be her foremost
His courting went on at all the assemblages. The moment
he entered a room, you could see her drawing him
like a magnet; and him drawn, atom-like, with his little
round beard and swallow-tail coat and parsonish white
cravat, to wherever she ensconced herself. No sooner
would he get near than she’d address a remark almost
lavishly to somebody on the other side, and not deign to
notice until the topic had been well developed, and then
she would only frown distantly and say:
“Mr. Norton, how are you this evening?”
But he would bob, and smirk consciously, up and down
on his toes, and slap one hand against the other in an appreciative
manner; undismayed if she looked away to
talk quite exclusively to somebody else for another five
minutes, just perhaps glancing fugitively over at him
again to suggest:
“It’s too bad you must stand, Mr. Norton.” Or, when
another pause came, “Can’t you find a chair?”
But you could see her still holding him fast behind her
while she finished her own chat, and before she had
leisure to release him at last with some cue like:
“That chair, perhaps, over there—no, there, Mr.
Nice little man. He would fetch the very one. He
would even keep it suspended in the air until she pointed
out the exact spot and, with eyes and eyebrows tense,
nodded approval of her scheme—asking him, however,
after he was seated, to stand a moment, so she could move
her own chair a bit farther to the right, away from the
person whose foot had been planted, as she all the time
knew, upon a rung of it.
He would yearn up to her presently and murmur, “A
beautiful room, don’t you think, Miss Haviland?”
At which she would wince, and whisper down in his
ear; and he wag his head and roll his eyes surreptitiously,
sure of not appearing to observe any details she was kind
enough to instruct him on. He would smile gratefully,
proudly, after it was over, as if her words had put them
into a state of blissful communion.
I remember well the day I met them together when she
told me Hurrell Oaks was coming to Newfair. I can see
her now as she sauntered across the campus, in slow,
longish strides, and the would-be graceful little spring
she gave when her feet touched the ground, and her head
set conveniently forward on her shoulders. She looked
at me, and then smiled as if to let me know that it wasn’t
her fault if she had to take me all in so at a glance. Why,
in a glance like that she’d stare you up and down. If
your hat was right, she’d go on toward your feet, and
if your shoe-lacings were tied criss-cross instead of
straight, it meant something quite deplorable. And if
she wasn’t fortunate enough to meet you or anybody else
on the way, she doubtless scrutinized the sky and trees
and grass with the same connoisseurship. I actually
believe she had ideas on how birds ought to fly, and compared
the way they flew at Ravenna with the way they
flew at Newfair.
That was autumn of my senior year. Miss Haviland’s
first book had been published by then, and acclaimed by
the critics. The stories, as they appeared one by one in
the magazines, had each in turn thrown Newfair into a
panic of surprise and admiration.
Nobody ever knew, you see, until they began, what
Miss Haviland did during the long periods she shut herself
up in that little apartment of hers in the New Gainsborough.
If, as you say, she seemed to burst so suddenly,
so authoritatively, into print for you, think what
it must have meant for us when we saw such dexterity
and finish unfurled all at once in the pages of the Standard.
Unbeknownst she had been working and writing
and waiting for years, with an indefatigable and indomitable
and clear-sighted vision of becoming an author. It
was her aim, people have told me since, from the time
she was a girl.
She had been to Harvard, summers, and taken all the
courses which the vacation curriculum afforded—unnoticed,
unapplauded, it is said, by her instructors. She
had traveled—not so widely, either, but cleverly, eclectically,
domineeringly, with her sole end in view. After
five minutes with only—say—a timetable, acquired, let
us suppose, at Cook’s, Topica, she could as showily
allude to any express de luxe there mentioned—be it for
Tonkin or Salamanca—as the most confirmed passenger
ever upon it. She had mastered French and Italian. And
she had—first and last and betweenwhiles—read Hurrell
Oaks. I venture to say there wasn’t a vowel—or
consonant, for that matter—of the seventy-odd volumes
she hadn’t persistently, enamouredly, and enviously devoured.
At Newfair, people had by this time, of course, compared
her “work” with the “works” of Hurrell Oaks;
but you know how few people have the patience or the
taste to “take him in”? And the result of comparisons
almost invariably was that Marian Haviland was better.
She had assimilated some of the psychology, much of the
method, and a little of the charm; and had crossed all her
T’s and dotted her I’s, and revised and simplified the
style, as one person put it, for “the use of schools”; and
brought what Hurrell Oaks called “the base rattle of the
foreground” fully into play.
Instead of being accused of having got so much from
him, she was credited, one thought, with having given
him a good deal. You might have guessed, to hear
people at Newfair talk, that she was partly responsible
for the ovations being tendered him over the country during
the season of his return—the first time in fifteen
years—to his native land.
“Mrs. ——,” Miss Haviland explained, mentioning a
well-known metropolitan name, “has written me” (of
course she would be the one literary fact at Newfair to
write to on such matters) “to ask if we can possibly do
with Mr. Oaks overnight.”
I gaped under my handkerchief at the fluency of her
“But I don’t just know how,” she went on, “we could
make him comfortable. Mrs. Edgerton won’t be well in
time. And he mustn’t stay at the Greens’.” She waxed
indignant at the very possibility. “In her guest-room,
my dear? With those Honiton laces, and that scorbutic
carpet, and the whirligig pattern on the walls—and the
windows giving on the parti-colored slate roof of the
I tried, in spite of myself, to think commensurately.
“And Mrs. Kneeland’s waitress wears ear-rings!...
No. Now I’ve been thinking—don’t hurry along so,
George. You never keep in line! It spoils the pleasure
of walking when one constantly outsteps you like
“Pardon,” said George, and fell back.
Miss Haviland winced and shifted her maroon parasol
to the shoulder on his side, and smiled attentively at me
to sweeten the interval, and continued:
“Now I, if you’re interested to hear—”
I was very interested, and told her so. It always
piqued my curiosity, moreover, to think why Miss Haviland
picked me out—young as I was—for such confidences.
I believe it was mostly because I always stared
at her so; which she mistook, characteristically, for sheer
Even as she spoke, I was remarking to myself the
frilled languor of her dress, and her firm rather large-boned
throat, and the moisture—for it was hot—under
the imitation pearls, and the competent grip of her hand
on the long onyx handle of her parasol.
She stopped short of a sudden. George took a few steps
ahead. She lifted her parasol over to the other shoulder
and looked at him, and he fell into line again, a sensitive,
pleased, proud smile showing above his little round beard.
“Now I think it would be better—simpler, more dignified,
and less ghastly for him—if he came, say, to
luncheon, and if we arranged for a small, a very small,
group of the people he’d care most to see—he doesn’t,
poor fellow, want to see many of us!—a small group, I
say, to come—George! Please! It makes me nervous,
it interrupts me, and it is very bad for the path....
Cover it up now with your foot. No—here—let me
“Pardon,” said George, cheerfully.
Miss Haviland winced again. “I don’t know about
trains,” she went on, “but we can look one out for him”
(she facilely avoided the American idiom) “and then
motor him to town in—in Mrs. Edgerton’s car. Don’t
you think that will be more comme il faut?”
“He’ll be so pleased, he’ll enjoy so much meeting
her!” exclaimed George to me, rising on his toes repeatedly
and rubbing his small dry hands together. “Won’t
Miss Haviland turned to him severely, and at a signal
he drew his arm up and she slipped hers through it.
“To worry now is a bit premature, perhaps,” she called
back. “We’re off to see the new Discobulus. I fear it’s
modeled on a late Roman copy.”
And I saw her, when I glanced over my shoulder a
second later, pause again and withdraw her arm to point
to the Memorial Library.
“What will he think of a disgrace like that, George?”
I heard her imprecating.... “What? You don’t see—that
the architect’s left off a line of leaves from the
capitals? Come on.”
Hurrell Oaks may have been over-fastidious. Yes.
But his discernments were the needs of a glowing temperament;
they grew naturally out of ideals his incomparable
sensitiveness created. Whereas hers—Marian
Haviland’s—though derived from him, had all the—what
shall I say?—snobbishness, which his lacked utterly.
I can’t estimate that side of her, even now, not in
view of all her accomplishments, even, except as being a
little bit cheap.
I didn’t, of course, though, gather at her first mention
of his coming half that it meant to her. And she
wouldn’t, I might have known, with her regard for the
nuances, have let it baldly appear. But I discovered
afterward that she had made all sorts of overtures—done
her utmost to divert him to Newfair. She didn’t know
him; had never set eyes on him; but her reputation,
which was considerable even then, helped her a good
deal. For she solicited news of him from her publishers;
and she wrote Mrs. ——, whatever her name was, finally,
when she learned that that was the real right source to
appeal to, a no doubt handsome letter, whence came the
reply Miss Haviland had quoted to me, but which, as I
also afterward found out, only asked very simply, “in
view of the uncertainty of Mr. Oaks’s plans,” whether or
not he could, in case he had to, “spend the night there.”
Well, it eventuated, not strictly in accord with her wire-pulling,
that Hurrell Oaks’s route was changed so he
could “run through” in the late afternoon “for a look at
the college.” He was to be motoring to a place somewhere
near, as it happened, and the Newfair detour would
lengthen his schedule by only an hour or two. Word of
it didn’t come to her directly, either; that letter was addressed
to the president. But it was humbly referred to
Miss Haviland in the course of things, and she took the
matter—what was left of it—into her own hands.
“No,” she answered, unyielding to the various suggestions
that cropped up. “But I’ll tell you what I am
willing to do: I will give up my own little flat. Living
in London as he does, he will feel—quite at home
Funny though it is, looking back over it, it had also,
when all was said and done—particularly when all was
done—its pathetic side. For Hurrell Oaks was the one
sincere passion of her life. He was religion and—and
everything to her. The prospect of seeing him in the
flesh, of hearing him viva voce, was more than she had
ever piously believed could come to pass.
However much she imitated him—and remember,
a large following bears witness to her skill—however
she failed in his beauty and poetry and thoroughbredness,
she must have had a deep, a discriminating love
of his genius to have taken her thus far. No wonder
she couldn’t, with her precise sense of justice, not be the
chosen person at Newfair to receive him. But nobody
dared question the justice of it, really. Wasn’t she the
raison d’être of his coming?—of his being anywhere at
all, as some people thought?
Her very demeanor was mellowed by the prospect.
She set about the task of preparation with an ardor as
unprofessed as it was apparent. She doffed the need of
impressing any one in her zeal to get ready to impress
Her tone became warm and affluent as she went about
asking this person and that to lend things for the great
day: Mrs. Edgerton’s Monet, Mrs. Braxton’s brocades;
a fur rug of Mrs. Green’s she solicited one noon on the
campus as if from a generous impulse to slight no one.
And even when Mrs. Green suggested timidly that she
would be glad “to pay for having the invitations engraved,”
Miss Haviland didn’t correct her. But—
“No, dear,” she said. “I think I won’t let you do that
much—really. There aren’t to be so many, and I shall
be able to write them myself in no time.”
I can see her now, fingering her pearls and peering as
hospitably as she could manage into Mrs. Green’s commonplace
eyes, and George Norton hurrying across the
grass to catch a word with her without avail. He was
the only person whom she was, during those perfervid
preliminaries, one bit cruel to.
But him she overlooked entirely. She didn’t seem to
see him that day at all. She just peered obliquely beyond
him, and, engrossed quite genuinely, no doubt, in Mrs.
Green’s fur rug, took her arm and strolled off. She
had lost, for the time being, all use for him. He was left
deserted and alone at the teas and gatherings, magnetized
from one spot to another whither she moved forgetfully
I met him in the park and pitied his shy, inept efforts
not to appear neglected.
“Well, I kind of think it may rain,” he essayed, half
clasping his small hands behind him and looking sociably
up around the sky for a cloud. “But I don’t know as it
will, after all.” And then, “Have you seen Miss Haviland
lately?” he asked out in spite of himself.
“Not since yesterday’s class.”
“How’s the improvements coming?”
“All right, I guess. The new stuff for the walls arrived,
I heard. It hasn’t been put on yet.”
“Oh—she’s papering, is she?”
He tried to sparkle appreciatively. “Well, it takes
time to do those things. You never know what you’re in
for. She’s well?”
And he swayed back and forth on his heels, and
teetered his head nervously. Poor thing! The gap he
had tried so hard to bridge was filled to brimming now
by the promised advent of Hurrell Oaks.
Miss Haviland called me on the telephone one afternoon
as the day was approaching to ask if I would lend
her my samovar; and she wanted I should bring it over
presently, if possible, as she was slowly getting things
right, and didn’t like to leave any more than was necessary
to the last moment. So I polished the copper up as
best I could and went ’round that evening to the New
Gainsborough to leave it.
The building looked very dismal to me, I recall. A
forlorn place it seemed to receive the great guest. It had
been a dormitory once, which had been given over, owing
to the inconveniences of the location, to accommodate unmarried
teachers. It was more like a refined factory than
an apartment-house. The high stoop had no railing, and
the pebbles which collected on the coarse granite steps
added to the general bleakness of the entrance. The inner
halls were grim, with plain match-board wainscots and
dingy paint, and narrow staircases that ascended steeply
from meager landings. Miss Haviland’s suite was three
But when I got inside it, I couldn’t believe my
Her door was slightly ajar—it was the way Miss Haviland
avoided the bother and the squalor of having to
let people in—and at my knock she called out in a restrained,
serene tone, “Come!” And I stepped through
the tiny vestibule into the study.
It was amazingly attractive—Hurrell Oaks himself
would have remarked it, I’ll wager. Nobody except
Marian Haviland could have wrought such a change.
Of course there were Mrs. Edgerton’s Monet, and Mrs.
Braxton’s brocades, and—yes—Mrs. Green’s fur rug,
to say nothing of numberless other borrowed objets, to
help out the lavishness of the effect; but the synthesis
was magnificent. Everything looked as if it had grown
there. One might have been in an Italian palace. And
Miss Haviland, seated at her new antique walnut desk
with the ormolu mounts, looked veritably like a chatelaine.
She had always, too—I ought to have seen it before—a
little resembled a chatelaine, a chatelaine without
But she had for the moment her castle now—enough
of it to complete the picture, at any rate. There was a
low smoldering fire on the hearth, and the breeze that
played through the open window just swayed the heavy
damask hangings rhythmically. My samovar, as I set
it down on a carved consol near the door, looked too
crude and crass to warrant the excuse of my coming.
She read my dazed approval in a glance and laid down
her pen, and, with one experienced coup d’œil over the
manuscript before her, leaned back, clasping the edge of
her desk with both hands and staring at me. She was
wearing one of those black evening gowns, and a feather
fan was in easy reach of where she sat; and I noticed all
at once that the string of pearls was dangling from the
gas-jet above her head.
“The new fixtures—the electric ones—will be
bronze,” she hastened to say.
I shall never forget, not to my dying day, the sight I
had of her sitting there; in that room, at that desk, in
a black evening gown—writing! And the string of
pearls she had slung across the condemned gas-jet by
way of subtle disarmament for her task! The whole
place had the hushed grand air of having been cleared
for action by some sophisticated gesture; as if—the
thought whimsically struck me—she might have just
rung for the “second man” and bidden him remove “all
the Pomeranians” lest they distract her.
“It’s too lovely, Miss Haviland; I can’t tell you what
I think it is,” I exclaimed, blankly.
She stood up, reached for the rope of pearls, and
slipped them over her head.
“I want you to see the hall,” she said. “Isn’t it
chic?... And the bedrooms. The men will leave their
hats in the south chamber—my room—in here; and
the women will have the other—this one.”
She preceded me. She was quite simple in her eagerness
to point out everything she had done. Her childlike
glee in it touched me. And she looked so tired.
She looked, in spite of her pomp and enthusiasm,
“How he—how Mr. Hurrell Oaks will love it,” I
cried, sincerely. “If he only realized, if he only could
know the pains you’ve taken for him.”
She leaned forward and let me judge for myself how
she felt. Her eyes glowed. I had never seen her with all
the barriers down.
“It isn’t a crumb of what’s due him,” she pleaded.
“Do you think I expect he’ll love it? No. It’s only the
best I could do—the best I can do—to save him the
shock of finding it all awful. Oh, I didn’t, I so don’t
want him to think we are—barbarians!”
She gave it out to me from the depths of her heart, and
I accepted it completely, with no reservations or comments.
It was the one real passion of her life, as I’ve
said. She was laying bare to me the utmost she had
done and longed to do for Hurrell Oaks.
“To think that he is coming here!” she murmured.
“I’ve waited and hoped so to see him—only to see
him—it’s about the most I’ve ever wanted. And it’s
going to happen, dear, in my own little rooms. He is
coming to me! Oh, you can’t know what he’s meant to
me in all the years—how I’ve studied and striven to
learn to be worthy of him! All—the little all I’ve got—I
owe to him—everything. He’s done more than anybody,
alive or dead, to teach me to be interested in life—to
make me happy.”
She threw her long arms around my shoulders and
pressed me to her, and kissed me on the forehead. The
chapel clock struck ten.
“You’ll come, too, won’t you?” she asked, stepping
back away from me in sudden cheerfulness. “For I
want you to see how wonderful he will be.”
She put her arms about me once more, and went with
me to the door when I left. In her forgetfulness of all
forms and codes she had become a perfect chatelaine.
She opened the door almost reluctantly, and stepped out
on to the meager landing, and stood there waving her
hand and calling out after me until I had got well down
the narrow staircase.
The day dawned at last. The hour had been set at five
o’clock, as Miss Haviland’s Shakespeare course wasn’t
over until three-thirty, and the faculty hadn’t seen fit,
after “mature consideration,” to give her pupils a holiday.
But the elect of Newfair were talking about the event,
and discussing what to wear, and whether they ought
to arrive on the dot of five or a few minutes after, or if
they wouldn’t be surer of seeing him “at his best” by
coming a few minutes before.
I met Professor Norton again in the park that morning.
“All ready for this afternoon?” I asked him.
His lips went tight together, and quivered in and out
over his small round beard as he tried to face me. And
then he looked down away, and began digging another
hole in the gravel walk with the broad toe of his congress
boot. He shot a glance at me, in a moment, and gazed off
at the falling leaves.
“Aren’t you interested in Hurrell Oaks?” I persisted.
“I’m interested in everything Marian Haviland likes,”
he declared, boldly, focusing his eyes full upon mine.
“But—but the apartment’s small, and—and I reckon
there wasn’t room.”
Room? Was any place too small for him? It made
my blood—even at that age—boil.
“She’s had enough to do to keep half a dozen busy,”
I said, tactlessly.
“Has she?” he echoed in hope. “How—how’s she
“She’s been wonderful,” I said, feeling kindlier
toward her as I spoke. “She’s made that apartment
“I’m glad, I’m glad! I knew she had it in her. Did
the new sofa come?”
“Yes. Everything’s come. And you’d better come
yourself at five o’clock. I know she’s just forgotten—perhaps
your invitation got lost like Mrs. Purcell’s. She
only got hers an hour ago, I heard.”
“Really, now! Well, I’ll just go home and see. I
need a little nap, I guess. I haven’t been sleeping very
And he held out his hand, and nodded to me several
times, and gave me a sad, cheery, uncertain smile.
It was too bad. I was sure Miss Haviland had forgotten
him. I didn’t think—and I don’t think now—that
she wilfully omitted to send him an invitation. It
was only that her cup was too full to remember his small,
meek existence. I wondered if I dared remind her. I
was pretty busy all day, however. And I had to get
dressed and out by four, as I hadn’t posted my daily
theme yet, and the time would be up at half-past. But I
thought, even so late as then, that I’d better go by way of
the New Gainsborough, and if things seemed propitious,
drop a hint to her, for I felt free to say almost anything
after my experience of the other evening.
Things weren’t propitious, though, I can tell you.
I was still some distance from the building—it was
about fifteen minutes’ walk, I should say—when I heard
somebody calling to me in a distressed voice. I looked
’round behind me, and to the right and left; and when
finally I walked ahead I saw Miss Haviland fly out
through the swinging door of the New Gainsborough and
stand there at the top of the high granite stoop, beckoning
frantically. She had on a mauve-colored kimono,
which she was holding together rather desperately in
front, and her hair was uncaught behind and streaming
in the wind.
“Edith! Edith!” she called out. “Quick!”
She had never called me by my first name before.
What could it be?—at this late hour, too? She waited
a second to be sure I was coming, then dodged back
I ran. I sprang up the granite steps.
“See if you see anybody!” she commanded, breathlessly,
peeping out at me.
“No, I don’t,” I said, looking. “There’s nobody,
“But there must be,” she insisted. “Look again!
I did so. “There isn’t, Miss Haviland,” I said
back through the opening. “Why won’t you believe
“Go down again, do go right down,” she kept saying,
I shook my head. But at that she leaped out on to the
stoop and took me by the shoulder and pushed me.
“Run out behind the building—oh, be quick!” she
beseeched. “Look all along the road, and if you see anybody,
stop him and tell me!”
I ran. The road was empty. I came dazedly back.
“There’s nobody in sight,” I panted, “not a soul.”
“Run over to that tree where you can see ’round the
turn in the avenue!”
I ran again. I stretched my eyes in vain, but there
wasn’t a person of any sort or description.
“Once more—please!” She started down the steps
as I started up. “Over by the chapel—you may find
somebody walking. Hurry!”
I hurried. I was out of breath and hardly knew what
I was doing.
“They’re all in, getting ready, Miss Haviland. How
can you expect me to find anybody now?” I asked, pointlessly,
and in some indignation as I reapproached her.
But she rushed down the steps and stopped me halfway,
her mauve kimono fluttering open, and the gilt high-heeled
slippers she had donned in her haste gleaming
garishly against the unswept stone.
“Listen! Harken!” she whispered. “Do you hear
a motor? Don’t you? Try again!”
It was still as death.
I stared up at her in terror. Not till then did I realize
how serious it was. But I had never seen a woman look
like that. I had never seen the anguish of helplessness in
the hour of need written so plain. Her eyes seemed to
open wider and wider—I had to turn away—and awful
lines came on her forehead. She stretched out both arms
and uttered a long Oh-h! that started in her throat and
went up into a high-pitched note of pain. She was to me
positively like a wild woman.
I watched her slowly raise one hand and unclasp it; I
saw within a small, a very small, white paper thing, which
she held closer to her face and gaped at, as if she couldn’t
believe the truth of what she saw.
“What is it? What is the matter, Miss Haviland?”
“Nothing,” she answered, quite calmly.... “Listen!
Don’t you hear—”
But she shuddered. “They’ll be coming, Miss Haviland.
Really! You’ve no time left.”
She tried to smile. It was uncanny. It was hardly
more than a distension of her pale wide lips—a relic,
merely, of spent resourcefulness. Then the blankness
went out of her face, her expression collapsed, and she
“Miss Haviland! Miss Haviland! Do let me help
you,” I begged, and I put my arm through hers and led
her inside the swinging door and up the narrow stairs.
“Mayn’t I do anything?”
She dragged herself heavily on by my side. But her
sobs ceased after the first flight. At the meager landing
before her door she broke away and stood erect and faced
me and held out her hand. The abruptness of the change
in her awed me. I watched her push the hair from over
her face and tilt her head back and shake it and gather
the folds of the kimono nonchalantly together; and resume
the old hard connoisseurship I had seen her exercise
from the beginning. Her eyes dilated tensely, and
her eyebrows went tensely up, and she gave me that
envisaging smile as of yore.
“It was nothing,” she said, “quite nothing. Won’t
you step in and wait?... I’m tired, I expect. I was
alone here, do you see, taking my bath. The servants”
(Mrs. Edgerton’s servants!) “hadn’t come. And that
knock on the door upset me. I thought—I thought—it
might be—the—the caterer” (she winced at the
word, and the wince seemed to help her to proceed)
“with the food. So I hurried out and down like
mad.... Thanks awfully, though. You’ll be back,
surely? Please do.”
I did go back, of course. I wouldn’t have missed it
for worlds—sad as it was. There wasn’t such a long
interval to wait, either. I wended my way, and found the
theme-box closed, and returned at about quarter past five.
When I entered, the assemblage was in full swing, and
Marian Haviland, in the black afternoon toilette she had
sent to New York for in honor of Hurrell Oaks’s visit,
was scintillating in the midst. She had donned her
pearls, and subdued her cheeks unbecomingly, and tinted
her lips; and, going from one person to another, she
would, in response to the indiscriminating compliments
they bestowed, just tap them each gaily on the shoulder
with her fan and explain that:
“Mr. Oaks was so sorry, but he couldn’t wait. Yes,
he was wonderful,” she would say, “perfectly. We had
an immemorial hour together. I shall never forget it—never.”
To this day I don’t blame her for lying. If she hadn’t
lied she never could have stood it. And she had to stand
it. What else could she do? She couldn’t hang a sign
on the door and turn the guests away after all their generous
sacrifices to the occasion.
George Norton, needless to say, wasn’t there. She had
forgotten—I insist upon that much—to ask him. But
two days later she announced her engagement to marry
him, and in another month’s time the knot was actually
My companion stopped short there, and leaned back in
her chair, expectantly staring at me.
“Like Marian Haviland Norton’s readers,” I said, “I
should like some of the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted a
little more plainly. Don’t spare me, either, as far as the
‘base rattle of the foreground’ is concerned. But tell
me, please, literally just what you think happened.”
She showed her disappointment at that; looked almost
aggrieved. Then she laughed out in spite of herself.
“Hurrell Oaks didn’t expect a party,” she declared;
“he didn’t, at all events, mean to have one. He didn’t—she
was right about that—‘want to see many of us.’
He didn’t want to see anybody. He just wanted to do
his manners. He couldn’t decently get out of that much.
And, although he may have been asked to come at exactly
five—nobody, of course, knows how his invitation was
worded—he reached Newfair earlier, perhaps unintentionally
so, and came instead at four, and knocked politely
for admittance. But Mrs. Edgerton’s servants, unfortunately,
hadn’t arrived, and Miss Haviland was, as
she herself admitted, taking a bath. She was no doubt
actually in the tub when Hurrell Oaks slipped his card
under the door.”