Carnations

by Anne Douglas Sedgwick

I

RUPERT WILSON came into the studio where his wife, who had been out sketching all the morning, was washing her paint-brushes, carefully turning and rubbing them in a pot of turpentine. She wore her painting apron, for Marian in the midst of her artistic avocations was always neat and spotless; and, half turned from him as she was, she did not look round as he entered. Rupert carried his stick, a rustic, ashen stick of which he was very fond, and his Panama hat; he was going out and Marian probably knew that he was going out, and where; this made it more difficult to say in a sufficiently disengaged voice, “I’m just going down to see Mrs. Dallas for a little while.”

“Oh! are you?” said Marian. She continued to stir her brushes, and though her wish, also, very evidently was to appear disengaged and indifferent, she was not able to carry it out, for she added, as if irrepressibly, “You need hardly have taken the trouble to come and tell me that.”

Rupert looked at her, and since she did not look at him, it was very intently, as if to measure to the full the difference between this Marian and the Marian he had known and believed in. It was hard to realize that his wife should show a trivial and unworthy jealousy and should strike him such a blow; for that it was a blow he knew from the heat in his cheek and the quickening of his pulse; but, as he looked at her, standing there turned from him, her blue apron girt about her, her black hair bound so gracefully around her head, the realization uppermost in his mind was that Marian, since the second baby had come, had grown very stout and matronly. He seemed to see it to-day for the first time, as if his awareness of it came to emphasize his sudden consciousness of her spiritual deficiency.

When he had met and fallen so very deeply in love with Marian, she had been, if not slender, yet of a supple and shapely form, with just roundness and softness enough to contrast delightfully with her rather boyish head, her air, clear, fresh, frank, of efficiency and swiftness. He had, of course, found her a great deal more than clear and fresh and frank; but, entangled as he had been in that wretched love-affair with Aimée Pollard,—the pretty, untalented young actress who had so shamefully misused him,—torn to pieces and sunken in quagmires as he had been, these qualities in Marian had reached him first like a draught of cold spring water, like dawn over valley hills. These were the metaphors he had very soon used to her when she had applied her firm, kind hands to the disentangling of his knots and her merry, steady mind to tracing out for him the path of honourable retreat. He had found her so wonderful and lovely and had fallen so much in love with her that his ardour, aided by her quiet fidelity, had overborne all the opposition of her people. Foolish, conventional people they were,—their opposition based, it appeared, almost unimaginably to his generous young mind, on the fact that Marian happened to have money and that he had none, except what he might make by his books; and also, though it was nearly as unimaginable, on the fact that a good many of these people were in the peerage. Marian, a year before he had met her, had broken away from the stereotyped routine of their country life and had come to London to study painting; and it was that Marian of the past who had seemed to share to the full all his idealisms. They had married within three months of their meeting.

From such a dawn, white, fresh, blissful, to this dull daylight! from such a Marian to this narrow-minded matron! Marian still had beauty. Her clear eyes were as blue, her wide, pale lips as sweet; but she was a matron. Her neck had grown shorter, her chin heavier; the girlish grace of glance and smile seemed muted, muffled by their setting; there was no longer any poetry in her physique. And as Rupert stood looking at her and seeing all this, his sense of grievance, though he was unaware of this factor in it, grew deeper.

A little while passed before he said,—and it was, he felt, with dignity,—“I really don’t know what you mean by that, Marian.”

She had now finished her brushes and had taken up her palette. She began to scrape the edges as she answered,—and her voice was not schooled, it was heavy with its irony and gloom,—“Don’t you? I’m sorry.” “I trust indeed that it doesn’t mean that you are jealous of my friendship for Mrs. Dallas?”

“Friendship? Oh, no; I’m not jealous of any friendship.”

“Of my affection, then; of my love, if you like,” said Rupert. “You know perfectly well what I feel about all that—and I thought you felt it, too. It’s the very centre of my life, of my art; my books turn on it. It’s the thing I have most of all to say to the world. Love isn’t a measured, limited thing; its nature is to grow and give. My love for Mrs. Dallas doesn’t touch your and my relation; it enriches it rather.”

Marian scraped her palette and said nothing. He could see her cheek, the cheek that ran too massively into her neck. Marian’s skin was white and fine; a faint colour now rose to it; a faint colour was, in Marian, a deep blush.

To see her blush like that gave him an odd sensation. It was as if the blush were echoed in his heart; he felt it grow and melt softly, and there drifted through his mind a thought of Mrs. Dallas and of her magic.

Through the studio window, draped with its summer creepers, he could see the two perambulators moored in the shade of the lime tree on the lawn. The babies were having their afternoon sleep. He was very fond of his children; and to feel, now, mingling with the strange, yearning glow, this pause of contemplative fondness, was to feel himself justified anew and anew aggrieved. The glow of tenderness seemed to envelope the babies as well as Mrs. Dallas. And it shut out Marian.

What had she to complain of? Was he not a tender husband and a loving father? Could she suspect his love for Mrs. Dallas—it was she herself who had forced him to use that word—of grossness or vulgarity? It was as high and as pure as his love for her.

His love for Marian had evolved into the perambulators, and this recognition, flitting unseasonably, vexed him with a sense of slight confusion that made him feel more injured than before. It was true that, theoretically, he held views so advanced as to justify, in true, self-dedicating passion, all manifestations. Practice and theory in his young life had been far apart; but the thought of passion, in connection with Mrs. Dallas, had, as it were, been made visible by Marian’s blush; and, slightly swinging his hat, slightly knotting his brows as he looked at the matronly Marian, he groped for some new formulation of his creed, since it was evident that however much he might love Marian it was no longer passion he felt for her. One must perhaps allow that passions could not be contemporaneous; but he had always combated this shackling view.

He stood there, gazing, trying to think it out,—a tall young man, well made yet slightly uncouth, with ruffled, heavy locks and large intent eyes. Something of the look of a not quite purely bred Saint Bernard puppy he had; confiding, young and foolish, with his knotted brow and nose a little overlong. And as he found himself unable to think it out and as Marian still stood silent, scraping, scraping away at the palette in an exasperating fashion, he said,—and now in an openly aggrieved voice,—“I thought you liked her yourself; I thought you quite loved her. You seemed to.”

Now that he was losing his temper, Marian was regaining hers. Her voice had all the advantage of quiet intentions as she answered, “I did like her; I thought her very charming. I don’t dislike her now. But I’m sorry to see a woman of her age behaving with so little dignity.”

“A woman of her age! Dignity!”

“She is at least forty-five.”

“I don’t follow your meaning. Is a woman of forty-five cut off from human relationships?”

“From some, certainly; if she has any regard, as I say, for her dignity. And a woman in Mrs. Dallas’s position ought to be particularly careful.”

“Mrs. Dallas’s position!” She really reduced him to disgusted exclamations.

“You know, Rupert, that there are all sorts of stories about her. You know that Mrs. Trotter told us that her first husband divorced her on account of Colonel Dallas.—Other stories, too.”

"Upon my word! You astonish me, Marian! You heard all these vile tales when we first came here,—from people, too, who you’ll observe, run to Mrs. Dallas’s dinner-parties whenever they have the chance,—and you didn’t seem to mind them much when you were going there almost every day—and taking every one you knew to see her. What about your Aunt Sophy—if you believed these stories?—An old dragon of conventionality like your Aunt Sophy! You took her again and again, and arranged that luncheon in London with her when you and Mrs. Dallas went up—so that they should have another chance really to make friends. I remember you used the expression, ‘really make friends.’ It’s odd to hear you talking of stories at this late hour." “I only talk of them because Mrs. Dallas has made me remember them. I am quite as open-minded as you are about such things. I was just as ready to think well of her—even if they were true. Why do you call them vile? You wouldn’t think it wrong for a woman to leave her husband if she didn’t love him, and to go with a man she did love. If Mrs. Dallas did that, why is it vile to say so?—Aunt Sophy, as a matter of fact, said it was a different story. And she was charmed with Mrs. Dallas, just as I’d determined she should be, stories or no stories. I did all I could for her, because I counted myself her friend and thought it a shame that any one so charming should be handicapped in any way. But I didn’t imagine that a friend would try to take my husband from me.” Marian spoke with severe and deliberate calm.

“I like that! I really do like that!” said Rupert, laughing bitterly. “It’s really funny to hear you talk as if Mrs. Dallas could owe you anything! I wish she could hear you! I wish we could have her dispassionate opinion of that hideous old bore of an Aunt Sophy. It was obvious enough that she put up with her simply and solely through friendship for you. Do all you could for her! A woman who has hordes of friends—charming, finished, cosmopolitan people of the world! Why, my dear girl, it’s she, let me tell you, who has given you more chances than you ever had in your life for meeting really interesting people! They’re not the sort you’d be likely to meet at your Aunt Sophy’s, certainly. They’d perish in her milieu!”

“Mrs. Dallas doesn’t perish in it,” Marian coldly commented. “On the contrary, I never saw her more alert. She didn’t seem to find Aunt Sophy in the least a bore. She was very much pleased indeed to lunch there and she has looked her up every time she’s gone to London since; moreover, she’s going to stay with her at Crofts this autumn. It doesn’t look like boredom.”

“I wish her joy of Crofts! She’s a complete woman of the world, of course, and she knows how to put up with all sorts and conditions of bores. She’s taken on Lady Sophy because she’s your friend. It’s pitiful—it’s unbelievable to see her so misjudged!—Take me from you! I’ve never gone there but she’s asked me why you didn’t come. She still sends you flowers pretty well every day. Those are hers, I see. I’m glad that you’ve deigned to put them in water.”

The tall sheaf of carnations, white and rose and yellow, that stood in a jug on a shelf in the studio must, evidently, have come from Mrs. Dallas’s garden. No other person grew such carnations. The garden at Ashleigh Lodge, this pleasant country house that they had taken for the six summer months, was not its strong point, and Mrs. Dallas had kept them reinforced from her abundance. Rupert associated the carnations, their soft and glowing colours, their formal grace and spicy sweetness, with the whole growth of his devotion to Mrs. Dallas. He fixed his indignant eyes on them now.

“Of course I put them into water. I am going to arrange them and take them into the drawing-room presently,” said Marian with her hateful calm. “But they give me no more pleasure. Nor does she. She is like them. They are heartless flowers and she is a heartless woman. I see quite plainly now what I didn’t see before. She’s that type,—the smiling, calculating siren. She lives for admiration; she’s herself only when she has someone at her feet, and she’s seen to it that you should be,—though I’m bound to say that you haven’t made it difficult for her. It fits in with all the stories.”

Rupert, at this, turned away and went out. He thrust his hat firmly down on his fair locks and swung his stick as he strode by the little footpath through the woods. Bitter disappointment with Marian surged in him, and hot anger, but above all an atoning tenderness that seemed almost to break his heart in its longing to protect and justify the woman so traduced by her. His head throbbed and drummed as he went. To have it come to this! To have such hands laid on it—their love! their silent, hidden love! That Mrs. Dallas returned his love he seemed to see, with many other things, clearly, rapturously, if with trembling, for the first time to-day. He saw it with Marian’s unworthiness; Marian’s unworthiness had shown it to him; and now, exulting, he claimed it. She loved him, veiling the depth in her vagueness, her aloofness, her indulgent irony. His mind retraced, with yearning gratitude, the steps of their relationship. No one had ever been to him what she was. How she helped and lifted him! How juvenile and undiscriminating in their happy acceptances were Marian’s appreciations of his work beside Mrs. Dallas’s half-idle comments. He had read through to her, in manuscript, all his last novel; and Marian had not seen it yet. He had not wanted to read it to Marian; and she, besides, had been very busy with her painting.

Mrs. Dallas had listened to the novel almost every day, sitting in the shade of her veranda, in her white dress, with the hands that, unless she were gardening, seemed always exquisitely idle, yet that in their idleness seemed to dream and smile;—he could see the white skin, the delicate finger-tips, the pearls and rubies slipping down, and his heart contracted with a pang and ecstasy as he saw himself holding her hand, kissing it. He must kiss it, to-day, and he must tell her. For she needed him; he was sure of it. She needed him terribly. If she lifted him, yet how much, too, he could lift her, out of the lethargic shallows and sullen quagmires of her life.

She could not be happy with her husband. He felt himself shut his eyes before the retrospect of what the disenchantments and disasters must be that lay behind her. If she had taken great risks, with that heart of highest courage he divined in her, if she had faced great sacrifices for her present husband, what wonder that her loveliness was now clouded by that irony and languor? She was not kind to Colonel Dallas; he could not hide from himself that she was not kind to him; but, as he owned it, he yearned over her with a deeper comprehension of tenderness, feeling his rights the greater. How could she be kind to the selfish, complaining, elegant old man?—for, to Rupert, Colonel Dallas’s fifty-five years seemed old. She never said anything actually sharp or disagreeable to him—even when he was at his most fretful and tiresome; but when he was least so she was not any the kinder, and by her glances, by the inflections of her cool and indolent voice in answering him, she displayed to the full, to others and to himself, did he take the pains to see it, how dull and how tiresome she found him. No; she was like a weary, naughty child in this; and seeing her as a child, with a child’s faults—and did it not prove how unblinded his love must be that he should see it?—he felt himself fold her to his heart in a tenderness more than a lover’s; a paternal passion was in it; he had known that it must be in true love; he had said so in one of his books. How his books would grow from his knowledge of her!

II

HE had now passed through the woods and crossed the road and entered the footpath that ran down to Woodlands, the small house encircled by birch and fir woods where, for now some four or five years, the Dallases had pitched their errant tent. One could reach it, also, by the road; but Rupert always took this short cut that brought him out at a little gate opening on the upper lawn. There was an upper and a lower lawn at Woodlands; on the upper Colonel Dallas had a putting-green; the lower was a tiny square surrounded by Mrs. Dallas’s beds of carnations. Rupert, when he emerged upon the putting-green, could look down past the red-tiled roofs and the white rough-cast walls of the house at the carnations, massed in their appointed colours—from deep to palest rose, from fawn and citron to snowy white—among flagged paths.

Mrs. Dallas had told him, in one of her infrequent moments of communicativeness, that during years of wandering as a soldier’s wife—her first husband, also, had been a soldier—she had come to be known as the woman who could make things grow anywhere. She had grown flowers in sands and marshes. She had snatched it might be but the one season of fulfilment from the most temporary of sojournings—in China, in India, in Africa. Sometimes only bulbs would grow; sometimes only roses; but what she tried for, always, and had never attained in more perfection than at Woodlands, was carnations. They were her favourite flower and they atoned to her here, she said, for living in a house that made her always think of an ornamental bottle of some popular dentifrice, so red and white, so fresh and spick and span, and with such a well-advertised air, was Woodlands. Her carnations were the only things of which he had ever heard her speak with feeling. Rupert, as he looked down at them from the upper lawn and descended the stone steps, felt his heart beating violently.

A veranda ran along the front of Woodlands, and Mrs. Dallas was sitting on it, just outside her drawing-room windows. The shaded depths of the room behind her glimmered here and there with the half-drowned brightness of crystal, porcelain, lacquer,—the things, none very good but all rather charming, that she had picked up for a song in the course of her wanderings; and she sat there, rather like a siren indeed, at the mouth of her cavern, its treasures seeming to shine in the translucent darkness behind her as if through water. Rupert, remembering and accepting the simile, saw her as a siren, a creature of poetry and romance, though he recognized that her poetry, like her romance, was hidden from the ordinary observer. Even to his eyes she always appeared first and foremost as a woman of extreme fashion, and his other perceptions of her were tinged with the half-tormenting, half-delicious pungency of this one, for Rupert had known till now no women of fashion. He had passed his youth, until going to Oxford, in a provincial town, where his father, an admirable and sagacious man, was a hard-worked doctor; and his only glimpses of society had been in his encounters, always displeasing to him, with Marian’s tiresome and conventional kinsfolk and the few haphazard contacts in London that came in the way of a young writer. Mrs. Dallas might embody poetry and romance, but she also embodied luxury and the exercised and competent economy that made it possible. She might have to live in small, gimcrack Woodlands and do without a motor; but she had her maid. The slices of bacon at breakfast were carefully computed; but the coffee was of the best and blackest.

To-day, as always when he had seen her, she seemed ready for any possible social emergency. She could have stepped from her veranda, with those wonderfully cut little white shoes, into the smartest of garden-parties, or have received in her shimmering cavern the unexpected visit of a royal personage; and her soft white linen with its heavy Italian embroideries clotted, like thick cream, about the hem and wrists and breast, would have been as exquisitely appropriate as it was to this empty afternoon of reverie.

She was a small, very shapely woman, soft and curved and compact. Her coiffure would have looked old-fashioned in its artifice and elegance, and with its “royal fringe,” were it not for its air of a rightness as unquestionable as that of some foreign princess’s, who kept and did not follow fashions. Mrs. Dallas’s face, too, was small and colourless and slightly faded; her hair was of a lighter brown than her arched eyebrows and her melancholy and dissatisfied eyes; her eyelids, tinged with a dusky mauve, drooped heavily and made her always look a little sleepy; the smiling line of her full-lipped yet minute mouth was ironic rather than mirthful. To have called it a bewitching or an alluring face would have been to imply a mobility it did not possess; but it was potent through its very passivity; it was provocative through its profound and slumbrous indifference.

There was certainly no hint of allurement in the glance she turned on Rupert Wilson as he came round the corner of the veranda; it was, indeed, even to his rapt preoccupation, a little harder in its quiet attentiveness than usual; yet she smiled at him, and her smile was always sweet, holding out a languid hand in silence and leaving it to him to say, “You expected me.”

It was hardly a question, and Mrs. Dallas gave it no answer. He had, indeed, come to see her every day for many weeks now. But yesterday had finished the novel, and to-day was almost the first they had had without some definite programme of reading.

Rupert sat down on the steps of the veranda at her feet and took off his hat and looked out across the carnations; and since she said nothing, he, too, was silent, and to his trembling young heart the silence was full of new avowals.

Colonel Dallas’s smoking-room also opened on the veranda, and as they sat there he came out. He was a tall, heavy man, with large pale cheeks drooping on either side of a white moustache, and a gloomy eye that could become fretful. He cast now a glance that was only gloomy at his wife and her companion.

“Beastly hot day,” he said, to her rather than to Rupert. “It’s worse in the house than out, I think.”

“Are you going over to the Trotters' for tea and croquet?” his wife inquired.

“To the Trotters'? Why should I go to the Trotters'?”

“They asked you, and you accepted.”

“Well, I certainly don’t feel inclined to endure that broiling walk for the sake of les beaux yeux of Madame Trotter et filles. It’s a dull neighbourhood, this, but the Trotters are, perhaps, when all’s done and told, the dullest people in it.”

“You’ve always seemed to get on particularly well with them, I’ve thought,” said Mrs. Dallas, in the voice that when it seemed considerate could contrive to be most disparaging. “It’s a pity not to go. You need a walk. You can’t afford Carlsbad this year, you know.”

“I need hardly be reminded of that,” said Colonel Dallas, and now it was fretfully. “To run the risk of apoplexy on the road and to drink the Trotters' foul Indian tea is hardly an equivalent. No; I shall practise some putting shots, and perhaps, if it gets cooler towards evening, I’ll go over to the links. The Trotters can manage without me.—What time do the Varleys arrive?”

“At seven-thirty. There’s no other train they could arrive by, as far as I’m aware.”

The colonel looked at his watch, drew his hat down over his eyes, and went slowly away round the corner of the house.

His wife’s eyes did not follow him, nor, it was evident, her thoughts.

“It has been rather oppressive, hasn’t it?” said Rupert, glancing up at her. “You haven’t been feeling it too much, I hope.”

“Not at all. I like it. I think it’s only people who don’t know how to be quiet who mind the heat,” said Mrs. Dallas. “This is the one time of the year that one can sit out of doors in a thin dress, and I am very grateful for it.” Even about small things Mrs. Dallas always seemed to have her mind quite made up. Her likes and dislikes, for all the inertness of her demeanour, were clear and unshifting. She sometimes made Rupert feel himself amorphous, vague, uncertain; and this feeling, though blissful, had yet its sting of sadness and anxiety.

“Well, some people aren’t able to be quiet, are they?” he observed. “On a day like this I always think of people in factories,—great, roaring, clanking places with the sun gnawing at their iron roofs,—and the pale, moist faces, the monotonously rapid hands.”

“Do you?” said Mrs. Dallas. She often said that, in that tone, when he gave expression to some enthusiasm or sympathy. She did not make him feel snubbed, but always, when she said, “Do you?” she made him feel young again, a little bewildered and a little sad. He imagined, to explain it in her, that people’s thoughts did not interest her, her woman’s intuition probing below their thoughts to their personalities. It was he, himself, with his heart full of devotion, that interested Mrs. Dallas. Yet it was not of him that she next spoke. “How is Marian?” she asked. “Is she painting to-day?”

He was aware that his face altered and that his colour rose. He had to steady something, in his glance and in his voice, the pressure of his new consciousness was so great, as he answered, “Yes, she’s been painting all the morning.”

“I haven’t seen her for some days now,” Mrs. Dallas remarked.

“No.” The longing in him to confide in her, to pour out his grief and his devotion, was so strong that for the moment he could find only the simple negative.

“I quite miss Marian,” Mrs. Dallas added.

He looked down at the little foot placed on a cushion beside him, and he said, “You’ve always been so kind, so charming to Marian.” He remembered Marian’s words with a deepened wrath and tenderness.

“Have I? I’m glad you think so. It’s been very easy,” said Mrs. Dallas.

A silence fell.

“May I talk to you?” Rupert jerked out suddenly. “May I tell you things I’ve been feeling? I have been feeling so much—about you—about myself.—I long to tell you.”

“By all means tell me,” said Mrs. Dallas with great placidity; and one could see that she had often made the same sort of reply to the same sort of appeal.

“You know what you have been to me,” said Rupert, turning on the step so that he could look up at her. “You know how it’s all grown—beautifully, inevitably. No one has ever been to me what you are.”

Mrs. Dallas’s sleepy eyes rested on him, and her delicate nostrils, slightly dilating, might have been, though without excitement, inhaling a familiar incense.

“I do love you so much,” said Rupert in a trembling voice, gazing at her; “I do love you. You understand what I mean. You know me now and you couldn’t misunderstand. I want to serve you. I want to help you. I want you to lean on me and trust me—to let me be everything to you that I can.” And as he spoke he stretched out his hand and laid it on her hands folded in her lap.

Mrs. Dallas let it lie there, and she looked back at him, not moved, apparently, but a little grave. “No, I don’t think I misunderstand your feeling,” she said after a moment. “Of course I’ve seen it plainly.”

“Yes, yes, I knew you did.—And that you accepted it,—dearest—loveliest—best.” He had drawn her hand to him now and he pressed his lips upon it. And as he kissed Mrs. Dallas’s hand, as that imagined happiness was consummated, he felt his mind cloud suddenly, as if in a cloud of fragrance, and, thought sinking away from him, he knew only an aching sweetness, the white, warm hand against his lips, the darkness of the glimmering room near by, and the scent of the carnations, exhaling their spices in the hot sunshine. Closing his eyes, he breathed quickly. And above him, a little paler, Mrs. Dallas, for a moment, as if with the conscious acceptance of a familiar ritual, also closed her eyes and breathed in, with the scent of her carnations, the immortal fragrance of the youth and passion that, to her, could soon no longer come. “Dear boy!” she murmured.

They heard the step of Colonel Dallas descending from the upper lawn. Rupert drew back sharply; Mrs. Dallas softly replaced her hand upon the other in her lap. Her husband appeared, and he looked very fretful.

“The sun is quite tropical. It’s impossible to play in it. We don’t get a breath of air down in this hole.” He took out his watch—Colonel Dallas was always taking out his watch. “What time is tea?” he asked.

“At five o’clock, as usual, I suppose,” said his wife.

“It’s only just past four,” said the colonel, with the bitterly resigned air of one who loses a wager he had hardly hoped to win. “I shall go to the Trotters'. It’s better than being baked in this oven. Their lawn is shaded at all events.” He spoke as if there had been some attempt to dissuade him from the alleviations of the Trotters' lawn.

“I don’t know why you didn’t go half an hour ago,” said his wife. “You’ve so often discovered that the sun is tropical on the upper lawn at this hour.” And as the colonel moved off she added, “Just tell them that I’ll have lemon-squash instead of tea, will you?”

It was a rather absurd little interlude; yet it had its point, its appropriateness; it fitted in with those thoughts of succour, and Rupert tried, now, to recover them, saying, after the gate had closed upon the colonel and keeping still at his little distance, “Are you very unhappy?”

How he was to help Mrs. Dallas except by loving her and coming to see her every day and being allowed to kiss her and hold her hand he did not clearly know, but it seemed the moment for returning to those offers of service. He did not attempt to regain her hand. Mingling with the rapture, when the kiss and the scent of the carnations had blurred his mind, there was also a sense of fear. He was different; and there was more in his love than he had known.

“Very unhappy? Not more than most people, I suppose. Why?” Mrs. Dallas asked. Her tone was changed. Her moment of diffusion, of languor and acceptance, was gone by.

“Why?” Rupert felt the change and the question hurt him. “When that’s your life?—This?”

“By that, do you mean my husband?” Mrs. Dallas inquired kindly. “He’s not my life. As for this—if you mean my situation and occupation—having love made to me by a pleasant young man while I smell carnations, I can assure you that there’s nothing I enjoy much more.”

She did more than hurt him now; she astonished him. “Don’t!” he breathed. It was as if something beautiful were being taken from him. Instinctively he stretched out his hand for hers and again she gave it; but now she looked clearly at him, a touch of malice in her smile, though her smile was always sweet.

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t pretend to be hard—flippant. Don’t hide from me. Give yourself to the real beauty that we have found.”

“I have just said that I enjoy it.”

“Enjoy is not the word,” said Rupert, in a low voice, looking down at the hand in his. “It’s an initiation. A dedication.”

“A dedication? To what?” Mrs. Dallas asked, and even more kindly; yet her kindness made her more removed.

Her words seemed to strike with soft yet bruising blows upon his heart. “To life. To love,” he answered.

“And what about Marian?” Mrs. Dallas inquired. And now, still gently, she withdrew her hand and leaned her cheek on it as, her elbow on the cushions of her chair, she bent her indolent but attentive gaze upon him. “I should have thought that dedication lay in that direction.”

His forehead was hot and his eyes, hurt, bewildered, indignant, challenged hers yet supplicated, too. “Please don’t let me think that I’m to hear mean conventionalities from you—as I have from Marian. You know,” he said, and his voice slightly shook, “that dedication isn’t a limiting, limited thing. You’ve read my books and cared for them, and understood them,—better, you made me feel, that I did myself,—so that you mustn’t pretend to forget. Love doesn’t shut out. It widens.”

“Does it?” said Mrs. Dallas. “And what,” she added, “were the mean conventionalities you heard from Marian? I’ve been wondering about Marian.”

“She is jealous,” said Rupert shortly, looking away. “I could hardly believe it, but she made it too plain. It seemed to take the foundation-stones of our life away to hear her. It made all our past, all the things I believed we shared, seem illusory. It made me feel that the Marian I’d loved and trusted was a stranger.”

Mrs. Dallas contemplated his averted face, and as she heard him her glance altered. It withdrew itself; it veiled itself; it became at once less kind and more indolent. “And you really don’t think Marian has anything to complain of?” she inquired presently.

“No, I do not,” said Rupert. “Nothing is taken from her.”

“Isn’t it? And if I became your mistress, would you still think she had nothing to complain of?” Mrs. Dallas asked the question in a tone of detached and impartial inquiry.

How far apart in the young man’s experience were theory and practice was manifested by the hot blush that sprang to his brow, the quick stare in which an acute eye might have read an ingenuous and provincial dismay. “My mistress?” he stammered. “You know that such a thought never entered my head.”

“Hasn’t it? Why not?”

“You know I only asked to serve—to help—to care for you.”

“You would think it wrong, then, to be unfaithful, technically, to your wife?”

“Wrong?” His brow showed the Saint-Bernard-puppy knot of perplexity. “It’s not a question of wrong. Wrongness lies only in the sort of love. Real love is sacred in all its expressions of itself; my ideal of love, just because it includes that one, can do without it.”

“But, on your theory, why should it do without it?” Mrs. Dallas, all mildness, inquired.

His mind was driven back to those questionings in the studio, when he had thought of the incongruous yet allied themes of passion and perambulators, and groped again, angrily, in the same obscurity. “It’s—it’s—a matter of convenience,” he found, frowning; “it—it wouldn’t work in with other beautiful things. It wouldn’t be convenient.”

“I’m glad to hear you find such a reasonable objection,” said Mrs. Dallas. “There could hardly be a better one. It wouldn’t be at all convenient. Though, I gather, if it could be made convenient, you still think that Marian would have nothing to complain of.”

“I don’t know why you are trying to pin me down like this.” Rupert, stooping, gathered some flakes of stone from the path and scattered them with a sharp gesture that expressed his exasperation. “You know what I believe. Love is free, free as air and sunshine. How can one stop one’s self from loving? Why should one? And if our love, yours and mine, could mean that complete relation, then, yes, the ideal thing, the really ideal thing, would be for Marian to feel it right and beautiful and to be glad that there should be two perfected and complete relations instead of one. As it is, that inclusive vision isn’t asked of her.”

“She’s not, in fact, to be asked to be a Mormon,” Mrs. Dallas remarked. “All that she has to put up with is that her husband should be in love, platonically, with another woman, and should have ceased to be in love with her. It’s hard, you know, when some one has been in love with you, to give it up.”

“But I have not ceased to love Marian!” Rupert cried. “Why should you suppose it? My love for you doesn’t shut out my love for her. It’s a vulgar old remnant of sexual savagery to think it does. A mother doesn’t love one child the less for loving another. Why can’t people purify and widen their minds by looking at the truth?—That jeer about Mormons is unworthy of you. Marriage is a prison unless husband and wife are both free to go on giving and growing. What does love mean but growth?”

Mrs. Dallas’s eyes had drifted away to her beds of carnations and they now rested on them for a little while. Rupert took up his hat and fanned himself. He was hot, and very miserable.

“It always strikes me, when I hear talk like yours,” said Mrs. Dallas presently, “that it is so much less generous and noble than it imagines itself to be. It’s the man, only, who frames the new code and the man, only, who is to enlarge himself and run two or three loves abreast.”

“Not at all. Marian is precisely as free as I am to love somebody else as well as me.”

“As free? Oh no,” said Mrs. Dallas, laughing softly. “Theoretically, perhaps, but not actually. Nature has seen to that. When women have babies and lose their figures it’s most unlikely that they’ll ever be given an opportunity to exercise their freedom. That fact in itself should make you reconsider your ideas about love. Own frankly that they apply only to men and don’t pretend to generosity. The only free women are the femmes galantes; and you’ll observe that they are seldom burdened with a nursery, and that they never grow fat.”

She touched, with an accuracy malignant in its clairvoyance, his subconscious awareness of Marian’s physical alteration. Something in him shrank away from her in fear and indignation. She was trying to make him see things from a false and petty standpoint, the standpoint of a woman of the world, a mere woman of the world—that world of shameful tolerances and cruel stupidities. “I don’t know anything about femmes galantes,” he said, “nor do I wish to. You misunderstand me if you think that by love I mean sensuality.”

With slightly lifted brows she looked out at the carnations; and had she been angry with him he could have felt less angry with her. He was, indeed, very angry with her when she remarked, tranquilly, “I don’t think you know what you mean by love.”

“I mean by love what Shelley meant by it,” Rupert declared.

"True love in this differs from gold and clay,
That to divide is not to take away.
Love is like understanding that grows bright
Gazing on many truths.

“I mean what all the true, great hearts of the world have meant by it,—poetry, rapture, religion; and they can only be sustained, renewed, created, by emotion, by passion, by sexual passion—if you like to call it by a name you imagine to be derogatory.” He felt himself warmed and sustained against the menace that emanated from her by the sound of his own familiar eloquence.

But Mrs. Dallas still tranquilly contemplated the carnations. “That’s the man’s point of view. The view of the artist, the creator. Perhaps there’s truth in it. Perhaps he can’t write his poems and paint his pictures without taking intoxicants. But it will never be the view of the woman. Mary Shelley will never really like it when Shelley makes love to Jane Clairmont; Marian will never like it when you make love to me. They’ll try to believe it’s the ideal, to please him, when they are the ones he is in love with; but when he is in love with other women they won’t go on believing.”

“That is their fault, their littleness, then. The wide, glorious outlook is theirs, too, if they choose to open their eyes. I don’t accept your antithesis for women,—humdrum respectability, roast mutton, milk pudding, or dissipation. I don’t believe that when a woman marries and becomes a mother she must turn her back on love.”

Mrs. Dallas at this began to laugh, unkindly. “Turn her back on love? No indeed. Why should she? Hasn’t she her husband and children, to say nothing of her friends, her father and mother, her sisters and brothers? You idealists seem always to forget these means of expansion. By love you mean simply and solely the intoxicant. Call it poetry and religion, if you like, but don’t expect other people, who merely see that you are intoxicated, to call it that.”

He sat, trying to think. Idly, half absently, with languid fingers, she seemed to be breaking his idols as though they had been silly little earthenware figures, not good enough—here was the stab, the bewilderment—for her drawing-room. And who was she to do it, this remote, mysterious creature, steeped in the perfume of her passionate past? He felt as he gazed at her that it was not only himself he must defend against her.

“It’s curious to me to hear you talk in this way.” He armed himself, as he spoke, with all that he could muster of wisdom and of weight. “You are the last woman I’d have expected to hear it from. You’ve made me your friend, so that I’d have a right to be frank, even if you hadn’t let me love you. What right have you to turn your back on all the beauty and romance of life—to smile at them and mock them? You haven’t allowed yourself to be bandaged and crippled by convention, I’m sure of it. You have followed your heart—bravely, truly—out into life. You have loved—and loved—and loved—I know it. It breathes from you. It’s all you’ve lived for.”

“And you think the result so satisfactory?” said Mrs. Dallas. She looked at him now, and if it was with irony it was with sadness. She turned from her question. “Well, if you like, I am one of the femmes galantes; they are of many types, you know; I wasn’t thinking, when I shocked you so, of the obvious, gross type. I was thinking of the woman who corresponds to you—the idealist, the spiritual femme galante. And, I’m convinced of it, for a woman, it doesn’t work. A man, if he is a big man, or has a big life,—it isn’t always the same thing by the way,—may have his succession of passions, or, as you’d claim,—and I don’t believe it,—his contemporaneities; he has a context to frame them in; they may fall into place. But a woman’s life can’t be calculated in those terms of dimension. It is big enough for the emotion that leads to marriage and to the loves that grow from that, the loves you think so little of. It is an emotion that can’t be repeated over and over again, simply because, in a normal life, it has grown into something else, something even better, I should say: a form of poetry and rapture and religion quite compatible with roast mutton and respectability. But the women who miss the normal life and who try to live on the emotions, they—well, I can only say that to my mind they always come to look silly. Silly is the only word for them.”

He stared at her. “You don’t look silly.”

“Why should I?” Mrs. Dallas asked. “I’m not of the idealist type. I don’t confuse intoxication with religion and think I have the one when I’ve only the other. I may have missed the real thing, but I’ve not repeated the emotion that ought to lead to it. You are quite mistaken in imagining that I’ve loved and loved and loved. I haven’t. I have allowed other people to love me. That, as you’ll own, is a very different matter. I am hard and cold and disillusioned. I am not soft and yearning and frustrated. Why should I look silly?”

He stared at her, and his heart was flooded with pain. What was she, then? What was her feeling for him? What had she meant? As she spoke and as he looked at her, the veil of romance dissolved from about her and he saw her for the first time with her own eyes,—devoid of poetry, a hard, cold, faded, worldly woman. Yet she was still a Sphinx, strange and alluring, and still he struggled against her, for her, saying hotly, though his heart was chilled, “If it’s true, you’ve hurt yourself—you’ve hurt yourself horribly, through fear of looking silly.”

“No, I’ve not hurt myself,” said Mrs. Dallas. “I’ve been hurt, perhaps; but I’ve not allowed my hurts to repeat themselves too often. Some things in life should be unique and final. The people who don’t keep them so become shoddy. Marian, for instance, is neither hard nor cold, nor shoddy either. You have made one of the mistakes that idealists are always making in imagining that she was humdrum respectability and that I was poetry and rapture and religion.—Oh, it’s no good protesting. If I had a double chin and thin hair you’d never have wanted to help my soul, however unhappy I was. And if Marian had sat about in carefully chosen clothes and looked mysterious and not let you feel sure that she cared about you, you would probably have remained in love with her. So please own that you have been mistaken and that on the one side is love, the love that Marian feels for you, although she knows you; because she knows you; and on the other is illusion, intoxication, sensuality; yes, my dear Rupert, such as you felt when I let you kiss my hand a little while ago.”

He sat, sullen, even sulky, half turned from her, and again he stooped and gathered up the flakes of stone and tossed them away down the path.

The clink and chink of ice and glass was heard approaching through the drawing-room, and the maid stepped out bearing the tray, which she set down on a wicker table before her mistress. The tall crystal jug, veiled in frosty rime, showed tones of jade and chalcedony, and fillets of lemon peel threaded it like pale, bright enamel. This gem-like beaker, the plate of golden cakes, with the scent of the carnations, with Mrs. Dallas’s little foot on its cushion, with her rings of pearl and ruby, had all been part of the magic she had meant to him. The very sound of the ice, dully yet resonantly chinking, brought a suffocating sense of nostalgia. It was over, all over. He was disenchanted. She was cruel to him, to him who had loved her. She had cut into him and killed bright, ingenuous, trustful things. And, in a placid voice, she asked him if he would have some cake, and filled his glass.

He took it from her and drank it off in silence. The icy, aromatic liquid seemed an antidote to that other intoxicant she had mocked. Irony flowed through his veins; a bitter-sweet sense of vengeful maturity. When he set down the glass, he looked up at her, and he felt himself measuring his sword against the stiletto of an adversary.

“Well, I’ve had my lesson,” he said. “I’ve been a generous but deluded idealist, it seems, in imagining that men and women are equals in their claims on life. Since I’m an artist, I have a right to my raptures, I take it. And poor Marian must be jealous with reason. Well, well; it’s an odd morality to hear preached.”

Mrs. Dallas still sipped her lemonade and she quietly considered him. She said nothing, and even after she had finished and set down her glass she sat for still a little while in silence.

“I’m sorry I’ve seemed to preach,” she then remarked, “and I certainly think that Marian has every reason to be jealous. What more did I say? That a man isn’t as ridiculous and undignified as a woman when he falls in and out of love-affairs on the condition that he has a big life? That was it, wasn’t it?”

“That was it, and I’m glad to have your assurance that I am in no danger of being ridiculous or undignified.”

“Do you mean,” said Mrs. Dallas, looking at him, “that you think yours such a big life?”

It had been, before, his heart, its tenderness, its devotion and dedication, that she had cut into; it was into something deeper now, something more substantially and vitally at the centre of his life, something of which his heart and all its ardours were but tributaries. He was to learn that self-love could bleed with a fiercer, darker gush. The blood, as if foretelling his ordeal, sprang to his forehead as he looked back at her.

“I have my art,” he said, and he disdained any pretended humility; he spoke with pride and even with solemnity. “I live for my art. I don’t think that I am an insignificant man.”

“Don’t you?” said Mrs. Dallas. It was with an unaffected curiosity that her eyes rested on him, and it sank into him, drop by drop, like poison. “Not insignificant, perhaps,” she took up after a moment. “That’s not quite the word, perhaps. You are very intelligent and appreciative and good-hearted. I don’t suppose one can be quite insignificant if one is that. But—do you call it art, your writing? I wonder. Oh, you are quite right to live for it, of course, just as other men do for stock-broking or fox-hunting or print-collecting, or anything else that employs their energies or satisfies their tastes or brings in money; but, to count as art, a man’s activities must mean more than just his own satisfaction in them, mustn’t they? You write careful, intelligent, sentimental little books; but I can’t feel that the world would be any the poorer if you were to take to stock-broking or fox-hunting instead. No, it doesn’t seem to me, my dear Rupert, that your life is nearly large enough for a succession of love-affairs. It’s all right when one is young and looking for a mate; experiments are in order then; but you’ve found your mate, and you’ll soon be not so very young, and if on the strength of your art you imagine yourself entitled to unseasonable intoxications, you’ll become, in time, an emotional dram-drinker, one of those foolish old inebriates we are all familiar with, and you’ll spoil yourself for what you were meant to be and can be,—a devoted husband and an excellent père de famille.”

Stretched on his rack, broken, bleeding, Rupert stared at her. Who was this woman, this cruel, ambiguous woman who watched his agony with deliberating, drowsy eyes? There came into his mind the memory of a picture seen in childhood, some sentimental print that had strongly impressed his boyish sensibilities. A corner of a Roman amphitheatre, a rising tier of seats; sham architecture, sham Romans, no doubt, and a poor piece of claptrap, looked back on from his maturity; but the face of the Roman woman, leaning so quietly forward under its gold tiara, to watch, unmoved, the tormented combatants below, was it not like this face? Yes, she was of that stony-hearted breed, unaltered by the centuries.

The torment of his humiliation snatched at anger for a veil. He said, smiling, “You have been very successful till now in concealing your real opinion of me.”

“Have I concealed it?”

“My work certainly seemed to be of absorbing interest to you.”

“I listened to it; yes.”

“I didn’t imagine you’d stoop to feign interest. I didn’t imagine you’d take such pains to allure and flatter a commonplace young père de famille.”

“Did I take pains to allure and flatter him?”

“From the first!—From the very first!—That day we met!—My God!” Even now he could not help feeling himself, seeing himself, as one of his own heroes; and, for a moment, he bent his head upon his hands—as they would have done had a calamity as unimaginable as this befallen them. “That first day!—The apple-blossoms framing you! You stood under your white parasol in our orchard—and you smiled at me!”

“I generally do at agreeable-looking young men when I see that they admire me,” Mrs. Dallas commented.

“Oh, don’t pretend!—Don’t hide and shift!” He lifted fierce eyes; “It wasn’t only that. You seemed to care. You seemed to need me. You made it easy—inevitable. You came—and came; and you asked me here again and again.”

“Not 'me,'—'us,'” Mrs. Dallas amended suavely. She was looking at him, all this time, with that thoughtful, poisonous curiosity; and as he now sat, finding for the moment no words, his fury baffled by her quiet checkmating, she went on, “And afterwards I let you come alone because I saw that you admired me, and that is always pleasant to me. When, at first, as you say, I showed myself so affable, it was because I liked Marian. I do still like her; more than I ever liked you, my dear Rupert; if you are good-hearted and intelligent, she is more so, and she has more sense of humour than you have, and doesn’t take herself so seriously. And, to be quite frank, since we are talking it all out like this, I not only liked Marian, but saw that she could be of use to me. I’ve had, in some ways, a tiresome, tangled life, and things haven’t always gone as I wanted them to go, so that I don’t let opportunities for strengthening and straightening here and there pass me by. Through Marian I met several people I wanted to meet and make sure of. People useful to me. I think Marian quite understood and quite wanted to help. She would. She is of my world in a sense you aren’t, you know, my dear Rupert. And, in my idle way, I did take a good deal of trouble to be agreeable to her. It all turned out exceedingly well and I was very grateful to Marian. That’s one reason, you see, why I felt to-day that our little flirtation was going too far and must be put a stop to. I don’t want Marian to be jealous of me; it would be distinctly inconvenient. But there is more in it than that. I wouldn’t have put myself to this bother and talked things out like this if it hadn’t been because of my liking for Marian. It makes me angry to see that you don’t know how lucky you are to have such a wife. I want you to see how very lucky you are. I want you to see yourself as others see you,—a very unimportant young man, without position and without money, married to a quite unusually delightful girl who has both. This isn’t the young man’s fault, of course; one wouldn’t like him the less for it; but one does expect him to be aware of his own felicity. One does expect him to feel that, at present, his wife is too good for him. I don’t mean in the conventional sense; one wouldn’t ask him to recognize that; but in the sense of worth and charm and distinction, for those are the things he supposes himself to care for.”

She had, while she spoke of the “young man” thus impartially, turned her eyes from him, and they rested again on the beds of carnations. The sun had sunk behind the hill, and though the bright soft colours were unshadowed, they all lay in a different light and seemed to glow coolly in their own radiance, like jewels.

Rupert rose. His anger had passed from him. He no longer felt Mrs. Dallas to be an antagonist; but he felt her to be a stranger; and he felt himself to be a stranger. A sense of fear and loneliness and disembodiment had fallen upon him while he listened to her. He held out his hand to her. “Good-bye,” he said. “I think I must be going.”

She took his hand and looked up at him with the gaze so remote, so irrevocable. “Good-bye,” she said; “I hope to see you and Marian some day soon, perhaps.”

The words, with their quiet relapse on convention, made him feel himself in a new world. He had been thinking of final, fatal things, things dark and trenchant; she showed him compromise, continuity, commonplace good sense; and, dispossessed, bereft as he was, something in him struggled to place itself beside her in this alien atmosphere, to make itself a denizen of the new since he had forever lost the old world.

“Oh yes, I’ll tell her,” he said. And as he released her hand he found, “Thank you. I’m sure you meant it all most kindly.”

“It’s very nice of you to say so,” said Mrs. Dallas, smiling.

It was the world of convention; yet with all his bewildered groping for clues and footholds, he felt, dimly, as a glimmer before his eyes or a frail thread in his hands, that the smile was perhaps the most sincerely sweet that he had ever had from Mrs. Dallas. It was as if she saw his struggle and commended it.

III

HE walked away, up the steps, across the putting-green and out into the woods. He went slowly as he began the gradual ascent. He felt very tired, as though he had been beaten with rods, and there was in him a curious mingling of confusion and lucidity, of pain and contemplation. The present and the future were curtained with shame, uncertainty, and dismay; but the past was vivid, and, like a singular, outgrown husk, he seemed to look back at that Rupert on the veranda, so blind, so bland, so fatuous, and to see him as Mrs. Dallas had seen him.

Beyond the curtain was Marian. He knew that he went towards Marian as if towards safety and succour; yet all was opaque before his eyes, for who was it that Marian was to succour but that fatuous Rupert? and was it for such as he that he could seek support? How could he go to Marian and say, “I have been given eyes to see you as you are; help me, now, to be blind again to what I am.” No; he could not, if he were to follow his glimmer and hold his thread, seek succour from Marian.

When he reached the house he went into the drawing-room and found her sitting there in a cool dress, a book upon her knee. She did not see him as he entered quietly and he stood for some moments in the doorway looking at her.

She had been crying; her cheeks were white and her eyelids heavy; but though this perception came to him with a blow of feeling, it did not, for the moment, move him from his contemplation of her, with all that it brought of new and strange to the familiar.

She was strange, though she was not a stranger, as he had become to himself. He noted the black curves of her hair, the ample line of her bosom, the gentle, white maternal hand laid along the book. On a cabinet, above her head, he saw that she had very beautifully arranged the white, rose and yellow carnations. It was like her to do this justice to her rival’s gift; like her to place them there not only faithfully but beautifully. And as she sat, unaware of him, in the luminous evening air, he felt her to be full of enchantment and this enchantment to centre in the hand laid along the book. His eyes fixed themselves on the hand. It seemed a symbol of the Marian of grace and girlhood whom he had loved with such ardent presage of eternal faith, and of this Marian sitting quietly in her saddened and accepted life, not changed except in so far as she was yet more worthy of fidelity. He saw that she had passed through her ordeal and transcended it; he saw that she would never again show him jealousy; and he saw that as the old Marian he had, perhaps, forever lost her. A lover must always show jealousy. This was a wife, maternal and aloof.

He came into the room and she looked round at him. Her eyes, altered by weeping, were mild and alien. They were without hostility, without accusation; deliberating, gentle; the eyes of a wife. “Did you have a nice afternoon?” she asked laying down her book. “It’s been delicious, hasn’t it?”

Quite as irrevocably as Mrs. Dallas she made the world that he must enter. She, too, in her different way, a way founded on acceptance rather than rejection, showed him compromise and continuity. And nothing that Mrs. Dallas had said to him cut into him so horribly as to see Marian show him this new world.

An impulse came to fall on his knees beside her, bury his head in her lap, and pour out all his griefs. But already, and for Marian’s sake, now, he had learned a better wisdom. To fall and weep and confess would be, again, to act like one of his own heroes; and Marian, in her heart, knew all that there was to know of that old Rupert. He must make her now know, and make himself know, a new Rupert.

He sat down opposite her and, smiling a little, he said, “Mrs. Dallas has done with me.”

“Done with you!” Marian repeated. Her faint colour rose.

“Quite,” said Rupert, nodding; “in any way I’d thought she had me.”

“Do you mean,” said Marian, after a moment, “that she’s been horrid to you?”

“Not in the least, though it felt horrid. She merely let me see that I’d been mistaken.”

“Mistaken? In what way?”

“In almost every way. In my ideas about myself, and about life, and about her.—It wasn’t, for one thing, me she liked in particular, at all. It was you.”

Marian’s flush had deepened. “She seemed to like you very much indeed.”

“Only frivolously; not seriously. She showed me to-day how silly I’d been to think it anything but frivolous. She made me see that I’d been a serious ass.”

Marian sat looking at him. She was startled, and on his behalf—wonderful maternal instinct!—she was angry; yet—he saw it all in the sweet, subtle alteration of her face—she was happy, half incredulously yet marvelously happy. And as he saw her happiness, tears came to Rupert’s eyes and he felt himself, deeply and inarticulately, blessing Mrs. Dallas. She had been right. This was something “even better.”

“She’s an exceedingly clever woman,” he said, smiling at Marian, though she must see the tears. “And an exceedingly first-rate woman, too. And I’ll always be grateful to her. The question is,”—he got up and came and stood over his wife,—“I’ve been such an ass, darling. Can you forgive me?”

He had found her hand as he questioned her and he held it now up to his cheek closing his eyes, how differently!

IV

MRS. DALLAS, after her young friend had left her, sat on for quite a long while on the veranda. The concentration of her recent enterprise effaced itself from her eyes and lips. Her glance, steeping itself again in indolent and melancholy retrospects, fell into a reverie. Once or twice, putting up a languid hand, she yawned.

When the whole garden lay in coolness, she went in and got her gardening apron and gloves and basket of implements. It was an ideal moment for layering her carnations. Tripping out again on her little high-heeled shoes, she placed her kneeling-mat before a splendid plant and set to work. She scorned complicated aids. A box of long hairpins were her chief allies, and a sharp knife. Deftly she selected a blue-gray shoot and stripped the narrow leaves, sharply cut a transverse slit into the tender stalk, firmly bent and pinned the half-severed spray into the heaped earth where it was to make new roots and establish itself in a new life. And, as she did so, her mind reverting to thoughts of Rupert and of her rough usage of him, a simile came to her that made her smile, her hard and not unkindly smile. She did not regret it, though unquestionably she had had her own moment of reluctance and of loss. It had hurt him terribly, no doubt, as, if they had feeling, it must now hurt her carnations to be cut and bent and pinned. But “It might be the making of him,” Mrs. Dallas thought.