Miss Delamar's Understudy
by Richard Harding Davis
A young man runs two chances of marrying the wrong woman. He marries her
because she is beautiful, and because he persuades himself that every
other lovable attribute must be associated with such beauty, or because
she is in love with him. If this latter is the case, she gives certain
values to what he thinks and to what he says which no other woman gives,
and so he observes to himself, "This is the woman who best understands
You can reverse this and say that young women run the same risks, but as
men are seldom beautiful, the first danger is eliminated. Women still
marry men, however, because they are loved by them, and in time the
woman grows to depend upon this love and to need it, and is not content
without it, and so she consents to marry the man for no other reason
than because he cares for her. For if a dog, even, runs up to you
wagging his tail and acting as though he were glad to see you, you pat
him on the head and say, "What a nice dog." You like him because he
likes you, and not because he belongs to a fine breed of animal and
could take blue ribbons at bench shows.
This is the story of a young man who was in love with a beautiful woman,
and who allowed her beauty to compensate him for many other things. When
she failed to understand what he said to her he smiled and looked at her
and forgave her at once, and when she began to grow uninteresting, he
would take up his hat and go away, and so he never knew how very
uninteresting she might possibly be if she were given time enough in
which to demonstrate the fact. He never considered that, were he married
to her, he could not take up his hat and go away when she became
uninteresting, and that her remarks, which were not brilliant, could not
be smiled away either. They would rise up and greet him every morning,
and would be the last thing he would hear at night.
Miss Delamar's beauty was so conspicuous that to pretend not to notice
it was more foolish than well-bred. You got along more easily and simply
by accepting it at once, and referring to it, and enjoying its effect
upon other people. To go out of one's way to talk of other things when
every one, even Miss Delamar herself, knew what must be uppermost in
your mind, always seemed as absurd as to strain a point in politeness,
and to pretend not to notice that a guest had upset his claret, or any
other embarrassing fact. For Miss Delamar's beauty was so distinctly
embarrassing that this was the only way to meet it,—to smile and pass
it over and to try, if possible, to get on to something else. It was on
account of this extraordinary quality in her appearance that every one
considered her beauty as something which transcended her private
ownership, and which belonged by right to the polite world at large, to
any one who could appreciate it properly, just as though it were a
sunset or a great work of art or of nature. And so, when she gave away
her photographs no one thought it meant anything more serious than a
recognition on her part of the fact that it would have been unkind and
selfish in her not to have shared the enjoyment of so much loveliness
Consequently, when she sent one of her largest and most aggravatingly
beautiful photographs to young Stuart, it was no sign that she cared
especially for him.
How much young Stuart cared for Miss Delamar, however, was an open
question, and a condition yet to be discovered. That he cared for some
one, and cared so much that his imagination had begun to picture the
awful joys and responsibilities of marriage, was only too well known to
himself, and was a state of mind already suspected by his friends.
Stuart was a member of the New York bar, and the distinguished law firm
to which he belonged was very proud of its junior member, and treated
him with indulgence and affection, which was not unmixed with amusement.
For Stuart's legal knowledge had been gathered in many odd corners of
the globe, and was various and peculiar. It had been his pleasure to
study the laws by which men ruled other men in every condition of life,
and under every sun. The regulations of a new mining camp were fraught
with as great interest to him as the accumulated precedents of the
English Constitution, and he had investigated the rulings of the mixed
courts of Egypt and of the government of the little Dutch republic near
the Cape with as keen an effort to comprehend, as he had shown in
studying the laws of the American colonies and of the Commonwealth of
But he was not always serious, and it sometimes happened that after he
had arrived at some queer little island where the native prince and the
English governor sat in judgment together, his interest in the
intricacies of their laws would give way to the more absorbing
occupation of chasing wild boar or shooting at tigers from the top of an
elephant. And so he was not only regarded as an authority on many forms
of government and of law, into which no one else had ever taken the
trouble to look, but his books on big game were eagerly read and his
articles in the magazines were earnestly discussed, whether they told of
the divorce laws of Dakota, and the legal rights of widows in Cambodia,
or the habits of the Mexican lion.
Stuart loved his work better than he knew, but how well he loved Miss
Delamar neither he nor his friends could tell. She was the most
beautiful and lovely creature that he had ever seen, and of that only
was he certain.
Stuart was sitting in the club one day when the conversation turned to
matrimony. He was among his own particular friends, the men before whom
he could speak seriously or foolishly without fear of being
misunderstood or of having what he said retold and spoiled in the
telling. There was Seldon, the actor, and Rives who painted pictures,
and young Sloane, who travelled for pleasure and adventure, and Weimer
who stayed at home and wrote for the reviews. They were all bachelors,
and very good friends, and jealously guarded their little circle from
the intrusion of either men or women.
"Of course the chief objection to marriage," Stuart said—it was the
very day in which the picture had been sent to his rooms—"is the old
one that you can't tell anything about it until you are committed to it
forever. It is a very silly thing to discuss even, because there is no
way of bringing it about, but there really should be some sort of a
preliminary trial. As the man says in the play, 'you wouldn't buy a
watch without testing it first.' You don't buy a hat even without
putting it on, and finding out whether it is becoming or not, or whether
your peculiar style of ugliness can stand it. And yet men go gayly off
and get married, and make the most awful promises, and alter their whole
order of life and risk the happiness of some lovely creature on trust,
as it were, knowing absolutely nothing of the new conditions and
responsibilities of the life before them. Even a river pilot has to
serve an apprenticeship before he gets a license, and yet we are allowed
to take just as great risks, and only because we want to take them.
It's awful, and it's all wrong."
"Well, I don't see what one is going to do about it," commented young
Sloane, lightly, "except to get divorced. That road is always open."
Sloane was starting the next morning for the Somali Country, in
Abyssinia, to shoot rhinoceros, and his interest in matrimony was in
consequence somewhat slight.
"It isn't the fear of the responsibilities that keeps Stuart, nor any
one of us back," said Weimer, contemptuously. "It's because we're
selfish. That's the whole truth of the matter. We love our work, or our
pleasure, or to knock about the world, better than we do any particular
woman. When one of us comes to love the woman best, his conscience won't
trouble him long about the responsibilities of marrying her."
"Not at all," said Stuart, "I am quite sincere; I maintain that there
should be a preliminary stage. Of course there can't be, and it's absurd
to think of it, but it would save a lot of unhappiness."
"Well," said Seldon, dryly, "when you've invented a way to prevent
marriage from being a lottery, let me know, will you?" He stood up and
smiled nervously. "Any of you coming to see us to-night?" he asked.
"That's so," exclaimed Weimer, "I forgot. It's the first night of 'A
Fool and His Money,' isn't it? Of course we're coming."
"I told them to put a box away for you in case you wanted it," Seldon
continued. "Don't expect much. It's a silly piece, and I've a silly
part, and I'm very bad in it. You must come around to supper, and tell
me where I'm bad in it, and we will talk it over. You coming, Stuart?"
"My dear old man," said Stuart, reproachfully. "Of course I am. I've had
my seats for the last three weeks. Do you suppose I could miss hearing
you mispronounce all the Hindostanee I've taught you?"
"Well, good-night then," said the actor, waving his hand to his friends
as he moved away. "'We, who are about to die, salute you!'"
"Good luck to you," said Sloane, holding up his glass. "To the Fool and
His Money," he laughed. He turned to the table again, and sounded the
bell for the waiter. "Now let's send him a telegram and wish him
success, and all sign it," he said, "and don't you fellows tell him that
I wasn't in front to-night. I've got to go to a dinner the Travellers'
Club are giving me." There was a protesting chorus of remonstrance. "Oh,
I don't like it any better than you do," said Sloane, "but I'll get away
early and join you before the play's over. No one in the Travellers'
Club, you see, has ever travelled farther from New York than London or
the Riviera, and so when a member starts for Abyssinia they give him a
dinner, and he has to take himself very seriously indeed, and cry with
Seldon, 'I who am about to die, salute you.' If that man there was any
use," he added, interrupting himself and pointing with his glass at
Stuart, "he'd pack up his things to-night and come with me."
"Oh, don't urge him," remonstrated Weimer, who had travelled all over
the world in imagination, with the aid of globes and maps, but never had
got any farther from home than Montreal. "We can't spare Stuart. He has
to stop here and invent a preliminary marriage state, so that if he
finds he doesn't like a girl, he can leave her before it is too late."
"You sail at seven, I believe, and from Hoboken, don't you?" asked
Stuart undisturbed. "If you'll start at eleven from the New York side, I
think I'll go with you, but I hate getting up early; and then you see—I
know what dangers lurk in Abyssinia, but who could tell what might not
happen to him in Hoboken?"
When Stuart returned to his room, he found a large package set upright
in an armchair and enveloped by many wrappings; but the handwriting on
the outside told him at once from whom it came and what it might be, and
he pounced upon it eagerly and tore it from its covers. The photograph
was a very large one, and the likeness to the original so admirable that
the face seemed to smile and radiate with all the loveliness and beauty
of Miss Delamar herself. Stuart beamed upon it with genuine surprise and
pleasure, and exclaimed delightedly to himself. There was a living
quality about the picture which made him almost speak to it, and thank
Miss Delamar through it for the pleasure she had given him and the honor
she had bestowed. He was proud, flattered, and triumphant, and while he
walked about the room deciding where he would place it, and holding the
picture respectfully before him, he smiled upon it with grateful
He decided against his dressing-table as being too intimate a place for
it, and so carried the picture on from his bedroom to the dining-room
beyond, where he set it among his silver on the sideboard. But so
little of his time was spent in this room that he concluded he would
derive but little pleasure from it there, and so bore it back again into
his library, where there were many other photographs and portraits, and
where to other eyes than his own it would be less conspicuous.
He tried it first in one place and then in another; but in each position
the picture predominated and asserted itself so markedly, that Stuart
gave up the idea of keeping it inconspicuous, and placed it prominently
over the fire-place, where it reigned supreme above every other object
in the room. It was not only the most conspicuous object there, but the
living quality which it possessed in so marked a degree, and which was
due to its naturalness of pose and the excellence of the likeness, made
it permeate the place like a presence and with the individuality of a
real person. Stuart observed this effect with amused interest, and noted
also that the photographs of other women had become commonplace in
comparison like lithographs in a shop window, and that the more
masculine accessories of a bachelor's apartment had grown suddenly
aggressive and out of keeping. The liquor case and the racks of arms
and of barbarous weapons which he had collected with such pride seemed
to have lost their former value and meaning, and he instinctively began
to gather up the mass of books and maps and photographs and pipes and
gloves which lay scattered upon the table, and to put them in their
proper place, or to shove them out of sight altogether. "If I'm to live
up to that picture," he thought, "I must see that George keeps this room
in better order—and I must stop wandering round here in my bath-robe."
His mind continued on the picture while he was dressing, and he was so
absorbed in it and in analyzing the effect it had had upon him, that his
servant spoke twice before he heard him.
"No," he answered, "I shall not dine here to-night." Dining at home was
with him a very simple affair, and a somewhat lonely one, and he avoided
it almost nightly by indulging himself in a more expensive fashion.
But even as he spoke an idea came to Stuart which made him reconsider
his determination, and which struck him as so amusing, that he stopped
pulling at his tie and smiled delightedly at himself in the glass before
"Yes," he said, still smiling, "I will dine here to-night. Get me
anything in a hurry. You need not wait now; go get the dinner up as soon
The effect which the photograph of Miss Delamar had upon him, and the
transformation it had accomplished in his room, had been as great as
would have marked the presence there of the girl herself. While
considering this it had come to Stuart, like a flash of inspiration,
that here was a way by which he could test the responsibilities and
conditions of married life without compromising either himself, or the
girl to whom he would suppose himself to be married.
"I will put that picture at the head of the table," he said, "and I will
play that it is she herself, her own, beautiful, lovely self, and I will
talk to her and exchange views with her, and make her answer me just as
she would were we actually married and settled." He looked at his watch
and found it was just seven o'clock. "I will begin now," he said, "and
I will keep up the delusion until midnight. To-night is the best time to
try the experiment because the picture is new now, and its influence
will be all the more real. In a few weeks it may have lost some of its
freshness and reality and will have become one of the fixtures in the
Stuart decided that under these new conditions it would be more pleasant
to dine at Delmonico's, and he was on the point of asking the Picture
what she thought of it, when he remembered that while it had been
possible for him to make a practice of dining at that place as a
bachelor, he could not now afford so expensive a luxury, and he decided
that he had better economize in that particular and go instead to one of
the table d'hôte restaurants in the neighborhood. He regretted not
having thought of this sooner, for he did not care to dine at a table
d'hôte in evening dress, as in some places it rendered him conspicuous.
So, sooner than have this happen he decided to dine at home, as he had
originally intended when he first thought of attempting this experiment,
and then conducted the picture into dinner and placed her in an
armchair facing him, with the candles full upon the face.
"Now this is something like," he exclaimed, joyously. "I can't imagine
anything better than this. Here we are all to ourselves with no one to
bother us, with no chaperone, or chaperone's husband either, which is
generally worse. Why is it, my dear," he asked gayly, in a tone that he
considered affectionate and husbandly, "that the attractive chaperones
are always handicapped by such stupid husbands, and vice versa?"
"If that is true," replied the Picture, or replied Stuart, rather, for
the picture, "I cannot be a very attractive chaperone." Stuart bowed
politely at this, and then considered the point it had raised as to
whether he had, in assuming both characters, the right to pay himself
compliments. He decided against himself in this particular instance, but
agreed that he was not responsible for anything the Picture might say,
so long as he sincerely and fairly tried to make it answer him as he
thought the original would do under like circumstances. From what he
knew of the original under other conditions, he decided that he could
give a very close imitation of her point of view.
Stuart's interest in his dinner was so real that he found himself
neglecting his wife, and he had to pull himself up to his duty with a
sharp reproof. After smiling back at her for a moment or two until his
servant had again left them alone, he asked her to tell him what she had
been doing during the day.
"Oh, nothing very important," said the Picture. "I went shopping in the
Stuart stopped himself and considered this last remark doubtfully. "Now,
how do I know she would go shopping?" he asked himself. "People from
Harlem and women who like bargain counters, and who eat chocolate
meringue for lunch, and then stop in at a continuous performance, go
shopping. It must be the comic paper sort of wives who go about matching
shades and buying hooks and eyes. Yes, I must have made Miss Delamar's
understudy misrepresent her. I beg your pardon, my dear," he said aloud
to the Picture. "You did not go shopping this morning. You probably
went to a woman's luncheon somewhere. Tell me about that."
"Oh, yes, I went to lunch with the Antwerps," said the Picture, "and
they had that Russian woman there who is getting up subscriptions for
the Siberian prisoners. It's rather fine of her because it exiles her
from Russia. And she is a princess."
"That's nothing," Stuart interrupted, "they're all princesses when you
see them on Broadway."
"I beg your pardon," said the Picture.
"It's of no consequence," said Stuart, apologetically, "it's a comic
song. I forgot you didn't like comic songs. Well—go on."
"Oh, then I went to a tea, and then I stopped in to hear Madame Ruvier
read a paper on the Ethics of Ibsen, and she—"
Stuart's voice had died away gradually, and he caught himself wondering
whether he had told George to lay in a fresh supply of cigars. "I beg
your pardon," he said, briskly, "I was listening, but I was just
wondering whether I had any cigars left. You were saying that you had
been at Madame Ruvier's, and—"
"I am afraid that you were not interested," said the Picture. "Never
mind, it's my fault. Sometimes I think I ought to do things of more
interest, so that I should have something to talk to you about when you
Stuart wondered at what hour he would come home now that he was married.
As a bachelor he had been in the habit of stopping on his way up town
from the law office at the club, or to take tea at the houses of the
different girls he liked. Of course he could not do that now as a
married man. He would instead have to limit his calls to married women,
as all the other married men of his acquaintance did. But at the moment
he could not think of any attractive married women who would like his
dropping in on them in such a familiar manner, and the other sort did
not as yet appeal to him.
He seated himself in front of the coal-fire in the library, with the
Picture in a chair close beside him, and as he puffed pleasantly on his
cigar he thought how well this suited him, and how delightful it was to
find content in so simple and continuing a pleasure. He could almost
feel the pressure of his wife's hand as it lay in his own, as they sat
in silent sympathy looking into the friendly glow of the fire.
There was a long pleasant pause.
"They're giving Sloane a dinner to-night at the 'Travellers'," Stuart
said at last, "in honor of his going to Abyssinia."
Stuart pondered for some short time as to what sort of a reply Miss
Delamar's understudy ought to make to this innocent remark. He recalled
the fact that on numerous occasions the original had shown not only a
lack of knowledge in far-away places, but what was more trying, a lack
of interest as well. For the moment he could not see her robbed of her
pretty environment and tramping through undiscovered countries at his
side. So the Picture's reply, when it came, was strictly in keeping with
several remarks which Miss Delamar herself had made to him in the past.
"Yes," said the Picture, politely, "and where is Abyssinia—in India,
"No, not exactly," corrected Stuart, mildly; "you pass it on your way to
India, though, as you go through the Red Sea. Sloane is taking
Winchesters with him and a double express and a 'five fifty.' He wants
to test their penetration. I think myself that the express is the best,
but he says Selous and Chanler think very highly of the Winchester. I
don't know, I never shot a rhinoceros. The time I killed that elephant,"
he went on, pointing at two tusks that stood with some assegais in a
corner, "I used an express, and I had to let go with both barrels. I
suppose, though, if I'd needed a third shot I'd have wished it was a
Winchester. He was charging the smoke, you see, and I couldn't get away
because I'd caught my foot—but I told you about that, didn't I?" Stuart
interrupted himself to ask politely.
"Yes," said the Picture, cheerfully, "I remember it very well; it was
very foolish of you."
Stuart straightened himself with a slightly injured air and avoided the
Picture's eye. He had been stopped midway in what was one of his
favorite stories, and it took a brief space of time for him to recover
himself, and to sink back again into the pleasant lethargy in which he
had been basking.
"Still," he said, "I think the express is the better gun."
"Oh, is an 'express' a gun?" exclaimed the Picture, with sudden
interest. "Of course, I might have known."
Stuart turned in his chair and surveyed the Picture in some surprise.
"But, my dear girl," he remonstrated kindly, "why didn't you ask, if you
didn't know what I was talking about. What did you suppose it was?"
"I didn't know," said the Picture, "I thought it was something to do
with his luggage. Abyssinia sounds so far away," she explained, smiling
sweetly. "You can't expect one to be interested in such queer places,
"No," Stuart answered, reluctantly, and looking steadily at the fire, "I
suppose not. But you see, my dear," he said, "I'd have gone with him, if
I hadn't married you, and so I am naturally interested in his outfit.
They wanted me to make a comparative study of the little
semi-independent states down there, and of how far the Italian
government allows them to rule themselves. That's what I was to have
But the Picture hastened to reassure him. "Oh, you mustn't think," she
exclaimed, quickly, "that I mean to keep you at home. I love to travel,
too. I want you to go on exploring places just as you've always done,
only now I will go with you. We might do the Cathedral towns, for
"The what!" gasped Stuart, raising his head. "Oh, yes, of course," he
added, hurriedly, sinking back into his chair with a slightly bewildered
expression. "That would be very nice. Perhaps your mother would like to
go too; it's not a dangerous expedition, is it? I was thinking of
taking you on a trip through the South Seas—but I suppose the Cathedral
towns are just as exciting. Or we might even penetrate as far into the
interior as the English lakes and read Wordsworth and Coleridge as we
Miss Delamar's understudy observed him closely for a moment, but he made
no sign, and so she turned her eyes again to the fire with a slightly
troubled look. She had not a strong sense of humor, but she was very
Stuart's conscience troubled him for the next few moments, and he
endeavored to make up for his impatience of the moment before, by
telling the Picture how particularly well she was looking.
"It seems almost selfish to keep it all to myself," he mused.
"You don't mean," inquired the Picture, with tender anxiety, "that you
want any one else here, do you? I'm sure I could be content to spend
every evening like this. I've had enough of going out and talking to
people I don't care about. Two seasons," she added, with the superior
air of one who has put away childish things, "was quite enough of it for
"Well, I never took it as seriously as that," said Stuart, "but, of
course, I don't want any one else here to spoil our evening. It is
He assured himself that it was perfect, but he wondered what was the
loyal thing for a married couple to do when the conversation came to a
dead stop. And did the conversation come to a stop because they
preferred to sit in silent sympathy and communion, or because they had
nothing interesting to talk about? Stuart doubted if silence was the
truest expression of the most perfect confidence and sympathy. He
generally found when he was interested, that either he or his companion
talked all the time. It was when he was bored that he sat silent. But it
was probably different with married people. Possibly they thought of
each other during these pauses, and of their own affairs and interests,
and then he asked himself how many interests could one fairly retain
with which the other had nothing to do?
"I suppose," thought Stuart, "that I had better compromise and read
aloud. Should you like me to read aloud?" he asked, doubtfully.
The Picture brightened perceptibly at this, and said that she thought
that would be charming. "We might make it quite instructive," she
suggested, entering eagerly into the idea. "We ought to agree to read so
many pages every night. Suppose we begin with Guizot's 'History of
France.' I have always meant to read that, the illustrations look so
"Yes, we might do that," assented Stuart, doubtfully. "It is in six
volumes, isn't it? Suppose now, instead," he suggested, with an
impartial air, "we begin that to-morrow night, and go this evening to
see Seldon's new play, 'The Fool and His Money.' It's not too late, and
he has saved a box for us, and Weimer and Rives and Sloane will be
The Picture's beautiful face settled for just an instant in an
expression of disappointment. "Of course," she replied slowly, "if you
wish it. But I thought you said," she went on with a sweet smile, "that
this was perfect. Now you want to go out again. Isn't this better than a
hot theatre? You might put up with it for one evening, don't you think?"
"Put up with it!" exclaimed Stuart, enthusiastically; "I could spend
every evening so. It was only a suggestion. It wasn't that I wanted to
go so much as that I thought Seldon might be a little hurt if I didn't.
But I can tell him you were not feeling very well, and that we will come
some other evening. He generally likes to have us there on the first
night, that's all. But he'll understand."
"Oh," said the Picture, "if you put it in the light of a duty to your
friend, of course we will go."
"Not at all," replied Stuart, heartily; "I will read something. I
should really prefer it. How would you like something of Browning's?"
"Oh, I read all of Browning once," said the Picture, "I think I should
like something new."
Stuart gasped at this, but said nothing, and began turning over the
books on the centre table. He selected one of the monthly magazines, and
choosing a story which neither of them had read, sat down comfortably in
front of the fire, and finished it without interruption and to the
satisfaction of the Picture and himself. The story had made the half
hour pass very pleasantly, and they both commented on it with interest.
"I had an experience once myself something like that," said Stuart, with
a pleased smile of recollection; "it happened in Paris"—he began with
the deliberation of a man who is sure of his story—"and it turned out
in much the same way. It didn't begin in Paris; it really began while we
were crossing the English Channel to—"
"Oh, you mean about the Russian who took you for some one else and had
you followed," said the Picture. "Yes, that was like it, except that in
your case nothing happened."
Stuart took his cigar from between his lips and frowned severely at the
lighted end for some little time before he spoke.
"My dear," he remonstrated, gently, "you mustn't tell me I've told you
all my old stories before. It isn't fair. Now that I'm married, you see,
I can't go about and have new experiences, and I've got to make use of
the old ones."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," exclaimed the Picture, remorsefully. "I didn't mean
to be rude. Please tell me about it. I should like to hear it again,
ever so much. I should like to hear it again, really."
"Nonsense," said Stuart, laughing and shaking his head. "I was only
joking; personally I hate people who tell long stories. That doesn't
matter. I was thinking of something else."
He continued thinking of something else, which was, that though he had
been in jest when he spoke of having given up the chance of meeting
fresh experiences, he had nevertheless described a condition, and a
painfully true one. His real life seemed to have stopped, and he saw
himself in the future looking back and referring to it, as though it
were the career of an entirely different person, of a young man, with
quick sympathies which required satisfying, as any appetite requires
food. And he had an uncomfortable doubt that these many ever-ready
sympathies would rebel if fed on only one diet.
The Picture did not interrupt him in his thoughts, and he let his mind
follow his eyes as they wandered over the objects above him on the
mantle-shelf. They all meant something from the past,—a busy, wholesome
past which had formed habits of thought and action, habits he could no
longer enjoy alone, and which, on the other hand, it was quite
impossible for him to share with any one else. He was no longer to be
Stuart stirred uneasily in his chair and poked at the fire before him.
"Do you remember the day you came to see me," said the Picture,
sentimentally, "and built the fire yourself and lighted some girl's
letters to make it burn?"
"Yes," said Stuart, "that is, I said that they were some girl's
letters. It made it more picturesque. I am afraid they were bills. I
should say I did remember it," he continued, enthusiastically. "You wore
a black dress and little red slippers with big black rosettes, and you
looked as beautiful as—as night—as a moonlight night."
The Picture frowned slightly.
"You are always telling me about how I looked," she complained; "can't
you remember any time when we were together without remembering what I
had on and how I appeared?"
"I cannot," said Stuart, promptly. "I can recall lots of other things
besides, but I can't forget how you looked. You have a fashion of
emphasizing episodes in that way which is entirely your own. But, as I
say, I can remember something else. Do you remember, for instance, when
we went up to West Point on that yacht? Wasn't it a grand day, with the
autumn leaves on both sides of the Hudson, and the dress parade, and the
dance afterward at the hotel?"
"Yes, I should think I did," said the Picture, smiling. "You spent all
your time examining cannon, and talking to the men about 'firing in
open order,' and left me all alone."
"Left you all alone! I like that," laughed Stuart; "all alone with about
"Well, but that was natural," returned the Picture. "They were men. It's
natural for a girl to talk to men, but why should a man want to talk to
"Well, I know better than that now," said Stuart.
He proceeded to show that he knew better by remaining silent for the
next half hour, during which time he continued to wonder whether this
effort to keep up a conversation was not radically wrong. He thought of
several things he might say, but he argued that it was an impossible
situation where a man had to make conversation with his own wife.
The clock struck ten as he sat waiting, and he moved uneasily in his
"What is it?" asked the Picture; "what makes you so restless?"
Stuart regarded the Picture timidly for a moment before he spoke. "I was
just thinking," he said, doubtfully, "that we might run down after all,
and take a look in at the last act; it's not too late even now. They're
sure to run behind on the first night. And then," he urged, "we can go
around and see Seldon. You have never been behind the scenes, have you?
It's very interesting."
"No, I have not, but if we do," remonstrated the Picture, pathetically,
"you know all those men will come trooping home with us. You know they
"But that's very complimentary," said Stuart. "Why, I like my friends to
like my wife."
"Yes, but you know how they stay when they get here," she answered; "I
don't believe they ever sleep. Don't you remember the last supper you
gave me before we were married, when Mrs. Starr and you all were
discussing Mr. Seldon's play? She didn't make a move to go until half
past two, and I was that sleepy, I couldn't keep my eyes open."
"Yes," said Stuart, "I remember. I'm sorry. I thought it was very
interesting. Seldon changed the whole second act on account of what she
said. Well, after this," he laughed with cheerful desperation, "I think
I shall make up for the part of a married man in a pair of slippers and
a dressing-gown, and then perhaps I won't be tempted to roam abroad at
"You must wear the gown they are going to give you at Oxford," said the
Picture, smiling placidly. "The one Aunt Lucy was telling me about. Why
do they give you a gown?" she asked. "It seems such an odd thing to do."
"The gown comes with the degree, I believe," said Stuart.
"But why do they give you a degree?" persisted the Picture; "you never
studied at Oxford, did you?"
Stuart moved slightly in his chair and shook his head. "I thought I told
you," he said, gently. "No, I never studied there. I wrote some books
on—things, and they liked them."
"Oh, yes, I remember now, you did tell me," said the Picture; "and I
told Aunt Lucy about it, and said we would be in England during the
season, when you got your degree, and she said you must be awfully
clever to get it. You see—she does appreciate you, and you always
treat her so distantly."
"Do I?" said Stuart; quietly; "I'm sorry."
"Will you have your portrait painted in it?" asked the Picture.
"In the gown. You are not listening," said the Picture, reproachfully.
"You ought to. Aunt Lucy says it's a beautiful shade of red silk, and
very long. Is it?"
"I don't know," said Stuart, he shook his head, and dropping his chin
into his hands, stared coldly down into the fire. He tried to persuade
himself that he had been vainglorious, and that he had given too much
weight to the honor which the University of Oxford would bestow upon
him; that he had taken the degree too seriously, and that the Picture's
view of it was the view of the rest of the world. But he could not
convince himself that he was entirely at fault.
"Is it too late to begin on Guizot?" suggested his Picture, as an
alternative to his plan. "It sounds so improving."
"Yes, it is much too late," answered Stuart, decidedly. "Besides, I
don't want to be improved. I want to be amused, or inspired, or
scolded. The chief good of friends is that they do one of these three
things, and a wife should do all three."
"Which shall I do?" asked the Picture, smiling good-humoredly.
Stuart looked at the beautiful face and at the reclining figure of the
woman to whom he was to turn for sympathy for the rest of his life, and
felt a cold shiver of terror, that passed as quickly as it came. He
reached out his hand and placed it on the arm of the chair where his
wife's hand should have been, and patted the place kindly. He would shut
his eyes to everything but that she was good and sweet and his wife.
Whatever else she lacked that her beauty had covered up and hidden, and
the want of which had lain unsuspected in their previous formal
intercourse, could not be mended now. He would settle his step to hers,
and eliminate all those interests from his life which were not hers as
well. He had chosen a beautiful idol, and not a companion, for a wife.
He had tried to warm his hands at the fire of a diamond.
Stuart's eyes closed wearily as though to shut out the memories of the
past, or the foreknowledge of what the future was sure to be. His head
sank forward on his breast, and with his hand shading his eyes, he
looked beyond, through the dying fire, into the succeeding years.
The gay little French clock on the table sounded the hour of midnight
briskly, with a pert insistent clamor, and at the same instant a
boisterous and unruly knocking answered it from outside the library
Stuart rose uncertainly from his chair and surveyed the tiny clock face
with a startled expression of bewilderment and relief.
"Stuart!" his friends called impatiently from the hall. "Stuart, let us
in!" and without waiting further for recognition a merry company of
gentlemen pushed their way noisily into the room.
"Where the devil have you been?" demanded Weimer. "You don't deserve to
be spoken to at all after quitting us like that. But Seldon is so
good-natured," he went on, "that he sent us after you. It was a great
success, and he made a rattling good speech, and you missed the whole
thing; and you ought to be ashamed of yourself. We've asked half the
people in front to supper—two stray Englishmen, all the Wilton girls
and their governor, and the chap that wrote the play. And Seldon and his
brother Sam are coming as soon as they get their make-up off. Don't
stand there like that, but hurry. What have you been doing?"
Stuart gave a nervous, anxious laugh. "Oh, don't ask me," he cried. "It
was awful. I've been trying an experiment, and I had to keep it up until
midnight, and—I'm so glad you fellows have come," he continued, halting
midway in his explanation. "I was blue."
"You've been asleep in front of the fire," said young Sloane, "and
you've been dreaming."
"Perhaps," laughed Stuart, gayly, "perhaps. But I'm awake now in any
event. Sloane, old man," he cried, dropping both hands on the
youngster's shoulders. "How much money have you? Enough to take me to
Gibraltar? They can cable me the rest."
"Hoorah!" shouted Sloane, waltzing from one end of the room to the
other. "And we're off to Ab-yss-in-ia in the morn-ing," he sang.
"There's plenty in my money belt," he cried, slapping his sides, "you
can hear the ten-pound notes crackle whenever I breathe, and it's all
yours, my dear boy, and welcome. And I'll prove to you that the
Winchester is the better gun."
"All right," returned Stuart, gayly, "and I'll try to prove that the
Italians don't know how to govern a native state. But who is giving this
supper, anyway?" he demanded. "That is the main thing—that's what I
want to know."
"You've got to pack, haven't you?" suggested Rives.
"I'll pack when I get back," said Stuart, struggling into his greatcoat,
and searching in his pockets for his gloves. "Besides, my things are
always ready and there's plenty of time, the boat doesn't leave for six
"We'll all come back and help," said Weimer.
"Then I'll never get away," laughed Stuart. He was radiant, happy, and
excited, like a boy back from school for the holidays. But when they had
reached the pavement, he halted and ran his hand down into his pocket,
as though feeling for his latch-key, and stood looking doubtfully at his
"What is it now?" asked Rives, impatiently. "Have you forgotten
Stuart looked back at the front door in momentary indecision.
"Y-es," he answered. "I did forget something. But it doesn't matter," he
added, cheerfully, taking Sloane's arm.
"Come on," he said, "and so Seldon made a hit, did he? I am glad—and
tell me, old man, how long will we have to wait at Gib for the P. & O.?"
Stuart's servant had heard the men trooping down the stairs, laughing
and calling to one another as they went, and judging from this that they
had departed for the night, he put out all the lights in the library and
closed the piano, and lifted the windows to clear the room of the
tobacco-smoke. He did not notice the beautiful photograph sitting
upright in the armchair before the fireplace, and so left it alone in
the deserted library.
The cold night-air swept in through the open window and chilled the
silent room, and the dead coals in the grate dropped one by one into
the fender with a dismal echoing clatter; but the Picture still sat in
the armchair with the same graceful pose and the same lovely expression,
and smiled sweetly at the encircling darkness.