THE LOOKING GLASS
By J.D. BERESFORD
(From The Cornhill Magazine)
This was the first communication that had come from her aunt in
"I think your aunt has forgiven me, at last," her father said as he
passed the letter across the table.
Rachel looked first at the signature. It seemed strange to see her own
name there. It was as if her individuality, her very identity, was
impugned by the fact that there should be two Rachel Deanes. Moreover
there was a likeness between her aunt's autograph and her own, a
characteristic turn in the looping of the letters, a hint of the same
decisiveness and precision. If Rachel had been educated fifty years
earlier, she might have written her name in just that manner.
"You're very like her in some ways," her father said, as she still
stared at the signature.
Rachel's eyelids drooped and her expression indicated a faint,
suppressed intolerance of her father's remark. He said the same things
so often, and in so precisely the same tone, that she had formed a
habit of automatically rejecting the truth of certain of his
statements. He had always appeared to her as senile. He had been over
fifty when she was born, and ever since she could remember she had
doubted the correctness of his information. She was, she had often told
herself, "a born sceptic; an ultra-modern." She had a certain
veneration for the more distant past, but none for her father's period.
"Victorianism" was to her a term of abuse. She had long since condemned
alike the ethic and the aesthetic of the nineteenth century as
represented by her father's opinions; so, that, even now, when his
familiar comment coincided so queerly with her own thought, she
instinctively disbelieved him. Yet, as always, she was gentle in her
answer. She condescended from the heights of her youth and vigour to
"I should think you must almost have forgotten what Aunt Rachel was
like, dear," she said. "How many years is it since you've seen her?"
"More than forty; more than forty," her father said, ruminating
profoundly. "We disagreed, we invariably disagreed. Rachel always
prided herself on being so modern. She read Huxley and Darwin and
things like that. Altogether beyond me, I admit. Still, it seems to me
that the old truths have endured, and will—in spite of all—in spite
Rachel straightened her shoulders and lifted her head; there was
disdain in her face, but none in her voice as she replied:
"And so it seems that she wants to see me."
She was excited at the thought of meeting this traditional, this almost
mythical aunt whom she had so often heard about. Sometimes she had
wondered if the personality of this remarkable relative had not been a
figment of her father's imagination, long pondered, and reconstructed
out of half-forgotten material. But this letter of hers that now lay on
the breakfast table was admirable in character. There was something of
condescension and intolerance expressed in the very restraint of its
tone. She had written a kindly letter, but the kindliness had an air of
pity. It was all consistent enough with what her father had told her.
Mr. Deane came out of his reminiscences with a sigh.
"Yes, yes; she wants to see you, my dear," he said. "I think you had
better accept this invitation to stay with her. She—she is rich,
almost wealthy; and I, as you know, have practically nothing to leave
you—practically nothing. If she took a fancy to you…."
He sighed again, and Rachel knew that for the hundredth time he was
regretting his own past weakness. He had been so foolish in money
matters, frittering away his once considerable capital in aimless
speculations. He and his sister had shared equally under their father's
will, but while he had been at last compelled to sink the greater part
of what was left to him in an annuity, she had probably increased her
"I'll certainly go, if you can spare me for a whole fortnight," Rachel
said. "I'm all curiosity to see this remarkable aunt. By the way, how
old is she?"
"There were only fifteen months between us," Mr. Deane said, "so she
must be,—dear me, yes;—she must be seventy-three. Dear, dear. Fancy
Rachel being seventy-three! I always think of her as being about your
age. It seems so absurd to think of her as old…."
He continued his reflections, but Rachel was not listening. He was
asking for the understanding of the young; quite unaware of his
senility, reaching out over half a century to try to touch the
comprehension and sympathy of his daughter. But she was already bent on
her own adventure, looking forward eagerly to a visit to London that
promised delights other than the inspection of the mysterious,
traditional aunt whom she had so long known by report.
For this invitation had come very aptly. Rachel pondered that, later in
the morning, with a glow of ecstatic resignation to her charming fate.
She found the guiding hand of a romantic inevitability in the fact that
she and Adrian Flemming were to meet so soon. It had seemed so unlikely
that they would see each other again for many months. They had only met
three times; but they knew, although their friendship had been too
green for either of them to admit the knowledge before he had gone back
to town. He had, indeed, hinted far more in his two letters than he had
ever dared to say. He was sensitive, he lacked self-confidence; but
Rachel adored him for just those failings she criticised so hardly in
her father. She took out her letters and re-read them, thrilling with
the realisation that in her answer she would have such a perfectly
amazing surprise for him. She would refer to it quite casually,
somewhere near the end. She would write: "By the way, it's just
possible that we may meet again before long as I am going to stay with
my aunt, Miss Deane, in Tavistock Square." He would understand all that
lay behind such an apparently careless reference, for she had told him
that she "never went to London," had only once in her life ever been
She was in her own room, and she stood, now, before the cheval glass
and studied herself; raising her chin and slightly pursing her lips,
staring superciliously at her own image under half-lowered eyelids.
Candidly, she admired herself; but she could not help that assumption
of a disdainful criticism. It seemed to give her confidence in her own
integrity; hiding that annoying shadow of doubt which sometimes fell
upon her when she caught sight of her reflection by chance and
But no thought of doubt flawed her satisfaction this morning. A sense
of power came to her, a tranquil realisation that she could charm
Adrian as she would. With a graceful, habitual gesture she put up her
hand and lightly touched her cheek with a soft, caressing movement of
The elderly parlour-maid showed Rachel straight to her bedroom when she
arrived at Tavistock Square, indicating on the way the extensive-looking
first-floor drawing-room, in which tea and her first sight of the
wonderful aunt would await Rachel in half an hour. She had been
eager and excited. The air and promise of London had thrilled her,
but she found some influence in the atmosphere of the big house that
was vaguely repellent, almost sinister.
Her bedroom was expensively furnished and beautifully kept; some of the
pieces were, she supposed, genuine antiques, perhaps immensely
valuable. But how could she ever feel at home there? She was hampered
by the necessity for moving circumspectly among this aged delicate
stuff; so wonderfully preserved and yet surely fragile and decrepit at
the heart. That spindling escritoire, for instance, and that mincing
Louis Quinze settee, ought to be taking their well-earned leisure in
some museum. It would be indecent to write at the one or sit on the
other. They were relics of the past, foolishly pretending an ability
for service when their life had been sapped by dry-rot and their
original functions outlived.
"Well, if ever I have a house of my own," Rachel thought regarding
these ancient splendours, "I'll furnish it with something I shan't be
With a gesture of dismissal she turned and looked out of the window.
From the square came the sounds of a motor drawing up at a neighbouring
house; she heard the throbbing of the engine, the slam of the door, and
then the strong, sonorous tones of a man's voice. That was her proper
milieu, she reflected, among the strong vital things. Even after
twenty minutes in that bedroom she had begun to feel enervated, as if
she herself were also beginning to suffer from dry-rot….
She was anxious and uneasy as she went slowly downstairs to the
drawing-room. Her anticipations of this meeting with her intimidating,
wealthy aunt had changed within the last half-hour. Her first idea of
Miss Deane had been of a robust, stout woman, frank in her speech and
inclined to be very critical of the newly found niece whom she had
chosen to inspect. Now, she was prepared rather to expect a fragile,
rather querulous old lady, older even than her years; an aunt to be
talked to in a lowered voice and treated with the same delicate care
that must be extended to her furniture.
Rachel paused with her hand on the drawing-room door, and sighed at the
thought of all the repressions and nervous strains that this visit
might have in store for her.
She entered the room almost on tiptoe, and then stood stock-still,
suddenly shocked and bewildered with surprise. Whatever she had
expected, it was not this. For a moment she was unable to believe that
the sprightly, painted and bedizened figure before her could possibly
be that of her aunt. Her head was crowned with an exuberant brown wig,
her heavy eyebrows were grotesquely blackened, her hollow cheeks stiff
with powder, her lips brightened to a fantastic scarlet. And she was
posed there, standing before the tea-table with her head a little back,
looking at her niece with a tolerant condescension, with the air of a
superb young beauty, self-conscious and proud of her charms.
"Hm! So you're my semi-mythical niece," she said, putting up her
lorgnette. "I'm glad at any rate to find that you're not, after all, a
fabulous creature." She spoke in a high, rather thin voice that
produced an effect of effort, as if she were playing on the top octave
of a flute.
Rachel had never in her life felt so gauche and awkward.
"Yes—I—you know, aunt, I had begun to wonder if you were not
fabulous, too," she tried, desperately anxious to seem at ease. She was
afraid to look at that, to her, grotesque figure, afraid to show by
some unconscious reflex her dislike for its ugliness. As she took the
bony, ring-bedecked hand that was held out to her, she kept her eyes
away from her aunt's face.
Miss Deane, however, would not permit that evasion.
"Hold your head up, my dear, I want to look at you," she said, and when
Rachel reluctantly obeyed, continued, "Yes, you're more like my father
than your own, which means that you're like me, for I took after him,
too, so every one said."
Rachel drew in her breath with a little gasp. Was it possible that her
aunt could imagine for one instant that there was any likeness between
"Our—our names are the same," she said nervously.
Miss Deane nodded. "There's more in it than that," she said with a
touch of complacence; "and there's no reason why there shouldn't be.
It's good Mendelism that you should take after an aunt rather than
either of your parents."
"And you really think that we are alike?" Rachel asked feebly, looking
in vain for any sign of a quizzical humour in her aunt's face.
Miss Deane looked down under her half-lowered eyelids with a proud air
of tolerance. "Ah, well, a little without doubt," she said, as though
the advantages of the difference were on her own side. "Now sit down
and have your tea, my dear."
Rachel obeyed with a vague wonder in her mind as to why that look of
tolerance should be so familiar. It seemed to her as if it was
something she had felt rather than seen; and as tea progressed she
found herself half furtively studying the raddled ugliness of her
aunt's face in the search for possible relics of a beautiful youth.
"Ah, I think you're beginning to see it, too," Miss Deane said, marking
her niece's scrutiny. "It grows on one, doesn't it?"
Rachel shivered slightly. "Yes, it does," she said experimentally,
watching her aunt's face for some indication of a malicious teasing
humour. It seemed to her so incredible that this hideous parody of her
own youth could honestly believe that any physical likeness still
Miss Deane, however, was faintly simpering. "I have been told that I've
changed very little," she said; and Rachel suppressed a sigh of
impatience at the reflection that she was expected to play up to this
"Of course, I can't judge of that," she said, "as we met for the first
time five minutes ago."
"No, no, you can't judge of that," her aunt replied, with the
half-bashful emphasis of one who awaits a compliment.
Rachel decided to plunge. "But you do look extraordinarily young for
your age still," she lied desperately.
Miss Deane straightened her back and toyed with a teaspoon. "I have
always taken great care of myself," she said.
Unquestionably she believed it, Rachel decided. This was no pose, but a
horrible piece of self-deception. This raddled, repulsive creature had
actually persuaded herself into the delusion that she still had the
appearance of a young girl. Heaven help her if that delusion were ever
Yet outside this one obsession Miss Deane, as Rachel soon discovered,
had a clear and well-balanced mind. For, now that she had received her
desired assurance from this new quarter, she began to talk of other
things. Her boasted "modernism," it is true, had a smack of the stiff,
broadcloth savour of the eighties, but she had a point of view that
coincided far more nearly with Rachel's own than did that of her
father. Her aunt, at least, had outlived the worst superstitions and
inanities of the mid-Victorians.
Indeed, by the time tea was finished Rachel's spirits were beginning to
revive. She would have to be very careful in her treatment of her aunt,
but on the whole it would not perhaps be so bad; and presently she
would see Adrian again. She would almost certainly get a letter from
him by the last post, making some appointment to meet her, and after
that she would introduce him to Miss Deane. She had a feeling that Miss
Deane would not raise any objection; that she might even welcome the
visit of a young man to her house.
The time was passing so easily that Rachel was surprised when she heard
the gong sound.
"Does that mean it's time to dress already?" she asked.
Miss Deane nodded. "You've an hour before dinner," she said, "but I'll
go up now. I like to be leisurely over my toilet."
She rose as she spoke, but as she crossed the room, she paused with
what seemed to be a little jerk of surprise as she caught sight of her
own reflection in a tall mirror above one of the gilt-legged console
tables against the wall. Then she deliberately stopped, turned and
surveyed herself, half contemptuously, under lowered eyelids, with a
set of her head and back that belied plainly enough the pout of her
critical lips. And having admired that haggard image, she lifted her
wasted hand and delicately touched her whitened, hollow cheeks with the
tips of her heavily jewelled fingers.
Rachel stared in horror. It seemed to her just then as if the
reflection of her aunt in the mirror was indeed that of herself grown
instantly and mysteriously old. For now, whether because the reversal
of the image by the mirror or because of that perfect duplication of
her own characteristic pose and gesture, the likeness had flashed out
clear and unmistakable. She saw that her father had been right. Once,
incalculable ages ago, this repulsive old woman might have been very
She slipped quickly out of the room and ran upstairs. She felt that she
must instantly put that question to the test; search herself for the
signs of coming age as she had so recently searched her aunt's face for
the indications of her former youth.
But when, with an effect of challenge, she scrutinised her reflection
in the tall cheval glass, the likeness appeared to have vanished. She
saw her head thrust a little forward, her arms stiff, and in her whole
pose an air of vigorous defiance. She was prepared to admit that she
was ugly at that moment, if the ugliness was of another kind than that
she had seen downstairs. No! She drew herself up, more than a little
relieved by the result of her test. The likeness was all a fancy, the
result of suggestions, first by her father and then by Miss Deane
herself. And she need at least have no fear that she was ugly. Why….
She paused suddenly, and the light died out of her face. Her image was
looking back at her stiffly, superciliously, with, so it seemed to her,
the contemptible simper of one who still fatuously admires the thing
that has long since lost its charm. She caught her breath and clenched
her hands, drawing down her rather heavy eyebrows in an expression of
angry scorn. "Oh! never, never, never again, will I look at myself like
that," Rachel vowed fiercely.
She was to find, however, before this first evening was over, that the
mere avoidance of that one pose before the mirror would not suffice to
lay the ghost of the suspicion that was beginning to haunt her.
At the very outset a new version of the likeness was presented to her
when, during the first course of dinner, Miss Deane, with a lowering
frown of her blackened eyebrows, found occasion to reprimand the
elderly parlour-maid. For a moment Rachel was again puzzled by the
intriguing sense of the familiar, before she remembered her own scowl
at the looking-glass an hour before. "Do I really frown like that?" she
thought. And on the instant found herself feeling like her aunt.
That, indeed, was the horror that, despite every effort of resistance,
deepened steadily as the evening wore on. Miss Deane had, without
question, lost every trace of her beauty; but her character, her spirit
was unchanged, and it was, so Rachel increasingly believed, the very
spit and replica of her own.
They had the same characteristic gestures and expressions; the look of
kindly tolerance with which her aunt regarded Rachel was precisely the
same as that with which Rachel regarded her father. When her aunt's
voice dropped in speaking from the rather shrill, strained tone that
was obviously not natural to her, Rachel heard the inflexions of her
own voice. And as her knowledge of Miss Deane grew, so, also, did that
haunting unpleasant feeling of looking and speaking in precisely the
same manner. It seemed to her as if she were being invaded by an alien
personality; as if the character she had known and cherished all her
life were no longer her own, but merely a casual inheritance from some
unknown ancestor. Her very integrity was threatened by her
consciousness of that likeness, her pride of individuality. She was
not, after all, a unique personality, but merely another version—if
she were even that?—of a Miss Rachel Deane born in the middle of the
Moreover, with that growing recognition of likeness in character, there
came the thought that she in time might look even as her aunt looked at
this present moment. She also would lose her beauty, until no facial
resemblance could be traced between the hag she was and the beauty she
had once been. For, through all her torment, Rachel proudly clung to
the certainty that, physically at least, there was no sort of likeness
between her aunt and herself.
Miss Deane's belief in that matter, however, was soon proved to be
otherwise; for when they were alone together in the drawing-room after
dinner, and the topic so inevitably present to both their minds came to
the surface of conversation, she unexpectedly said: "But we're
evidently the poles apart in character and manner, my dear."
"Oh! do you think so?" Rachel exclaimed. "I—it's a queer thing to say
perhaps—but I curiously feel like you, aunt; when you speak sometimes
and—and when I watch the way you do things."
Miss Deane shook her head. "I admit the physical resemblance," she
said; "otherwise, my dear, we are utterly different."
Did she too, Rachel wondered, resent the aspersion of her integrity?
By the last post Rachel received her expected letter from Adrian
Flemming. Her aunt separated it from the others brought in by her maid
and passed it across to her niece with a slight hint of displeasure in
her face. "Miss Rachel Deane, junior," she said. "Really, it hadn't
occurred to me how difficult it will be to distinguish our letters. I
hope my friends won't take to addressing me as Miss Deane, senior.
Properly, of course, I am Miss Deane, and you Miss Rachel, but I'll
admit there's sure to be some confusion. Now, my dear, I expect you're
tired. You'd better run up to bed."
Rachel was willing enough to go. She was glad to have an opportunity to
read her letter in solitude; she was even more glad to get away from
the company of this living echo of herself. "I believe I should go mad
if I had to live with her," she reflected. "I should get into the way
of copying her. I should begin to grow old before my time."
When she reached her bedroom, she put down her letter unopened on the
toilet-table and once more stared searchingly at her own reflection in
the mirror. Was there any least trace of a physical likeness, she asked
herself; and began in imagination to follow the possible stages of the
change that time would inevitably work upon her. She shrugged her
shoulders. If there were indeed any sort of facial resemblance between
herself and her aunt, no one would ever see it except in Miss Deane,
and she was obsessed with a senile vanity. Yet was it, after all,
Rachel began to wonder, an unnatural obsession? Might she not in time
suffer from it herself? The change would be so slow, so infinitely
gradual; and always one would be cherishing the old, loved image of
youth and beauty, falling in love with it, like a deluded Hyacinth, and
coming to be deceived by the fantasy of an unchanging appearance of
youth. Looking always for the desired thing, she would suffer from the
hallucination that the thing existed in fact, and imagine that the only
artifice needed to perfect the illusion was a touch of paint and
powder. No doubt her aunt—perhaps searching her own image in the
mirror at this moment—saw not herself but a picture of her niece. She
was hypnotised by the suggestion of a pose and the desire of her own
mind. In time, Rachel herself might also become the victim of a similar
Oh! it was horrible! With a shudder, she picked up her letter and
turned away from the looking-glass. She would forget that ghastly
warning in the thought of the joys proper to her youth. She would think
of Adrian and of her next meeting with him. She opened her letter to
find that he had, rather timorously, suggested that she should meet him
the next afternoon—at the Marble Arch at three o'clock, if he heard
nothing from her in the meantime.
For a few minutes she lost herself in delighted anticipation, and then
slowly, insidiously, a new speculation crept into her mind. What would
be the effect upon Adrian if he saw her and her aunt together? Would he
recognise the likeness and, anticipating the movement of more than half
a century, see her in one amazing moment as she would presently become?
And, in any case, what a terrible train of suggestion might not be
started in his mind by the impression left upon him by the old woman?
Once he had seen Miss Deane, Rachel's every gesture would serve to
remind him of that repulsive image of raddled, deluded age. It might
well be that, in time, he would come to see Rachel as she would
presently be rather than as she was. It would be a hideous reversal of
the old romance; instead of seeing the girl in the old woman, he would
foresee the harridan in the girl!
That picture presented itself to Rachel with a quite appalling effect
of conviction. She suddenly remembered a case she had known that had
remarkable points of resemblance—the case of a rather pretty girl with
an unpleasant younger brother who, so she had heard it said, "put men
off his sister" because of the facial likeness between them. She was
pretty and he was ugly, but they were unmistakably brother and sister.
Oh! it would be nothing less than folly to let Adrian and her aunt
meet, Rachel decided. In imagination, she could follow the process of
his growing dismay; she could see his puzzled stare as he watched Miss
Deane, and struggled to fix that tantalising suggestion of likeness to
some one he knew; his flash of illumination as he solved the puzzle and
turned with that gentle, winning smile of his to herself; and then the
progress of his disillusionment as, day by day, he realised more
plainly the intriguing similarities of expression and gesture, until he
felt that he was making love to the spirit of an aged spinster
temporarily disguised behind the appearance of beauty.
Rachel had believed on the first night of her arrival in Tavistock
Square that, so far as her love affair was concerned, she would be able
to avoid all danger by keeping her lover and her aunt unknown to each
other. She very soon found, however, that the spell Miss Deane seemed
to have put upon her was not to be laid by any effect of mere distance.
She and Adrian met rather shyly at their first appointment. Both of
them were a little conscious of having been overbold, one for having
suggested, and the other for having agreed to so significant an
assignation. And for the first few minutes their talk was nothing but a
quick, nervous reminiscence of their earlier meetings. They had to
recover the lost ground on which they had parted before they could go
on to any more intimate knowledge of each other. But for some reason
she had not yet realised, Rachel found it very difficult to recover
that lost ground. She knew that she was being unnecessarily distant and
cold, and though she inwardly accused herself of "putting on absurd
airs," her manner, as she was uncomfortably aware, remained at once
stilted and detached.
"I suppose it's because I'm self-conscious before all these people,"
she thought, and, indeed, Hyde Park was very full that afternoon.
And it was Adrian who first, a little desperately, tried to reach
across the barrier that was dividing them.
"You're different, rather, in town," he began shyly. "Is it the effect
of your aunt's grandeurs?"
"Am I different? I feel exactly the same," Rachel replied mechanically.
"You didn't think it was rather impudent of me to ask you to meet me
here, did you?" he went on anxiously.
She shook her head emphatically. "Oh! no, it wasn't that," she said.
"But then you admit that it was—something?" he pleaded.
"The people, perhaps," she admitted. "I—I feel so exposed to the
"We might walk across the Park if you preferred it," he suggested; "and
have tea at that place in Kensington Gardens? It would be quieter
She agreed to that willingly. She wanted to be alone with him. The
crowd made her nervous and self-conscious this afternoon. Always
before, she had delighted in moving among a crowd, appreciating and
enjoying the casual glances of admiration she received. Today she was
afraid of being noticed. She had a queer feeling that these smart,
clever people in the Park might see through her, if they stared too
closely. Just what they would discover she did not know; but she
suffered a disquieting qualm of uneasiness whenever she saw any one
observing her with attention.
They cut across the grass and, leaving the Serpentine on their left,
found two chairs in a quiet spot under the trees. Here, at least, they
were quite unwatched, but still Rachel found it impossible to regain
the relations that had existed between her and Adrian when they had
parted a month earlier. And Adrian, too, it seemed, was staring at her
with a new, inquisitive scrutiny.
"Why do you look at me like that?" she broke out at last. "Do you
notice any difference in me, or what? You—you've been staring so!"
"Difference!" he repeated. "Well, I told you just now, didn't I, that
you were different this afternoon?"
"Yes, but in what way?" she asked. "Do I—do I look different?"
He paused a little judiciously over his answer. "N—no," he hesitated.
"There's something, though. Don't be offended, will you, if I say that
you don't seem to be quite yourself to-day; not quite natural. I miss a
rather characteristic expression of yours. You've never once looked at
me with that rather tolerating air you used to put on."
"It was a horrid air," she said sharply. "I've made up my mind to cure
myself of it."
"Oh! no, don't," he protested. "It wasn't at all horrid. It was—don't
think I'm trying to pay you a compliment—it was, well, charming. I've
missed it dreadfully."
She turned and looked at him, determined to try an experiment. "This
sort of air, do you mean?" she asked, and with a sickening sensation of
presenting the very gestures and appearance of her aunt, she regarded
him under lowered eyelids with an expression of faintly supercilious
His smile at once thanked and answered her.
"But it's an abominable look," she exclaimed. "The look of an old, old,
painted woman, vain, ridiculous."
He stared at her in amazement. "How absurd!" he protested. "Why, it's
you; and you're certainly not old or painted nor unduly vain, and no
one could say you were ridiculous."
"And you want me to look like that?" she asked.
"It's—it's so you," he said shyly.
"But, just suppose," she cried, "that I went on looking like that after
I'd grown old and ugly. Think how hateful it would be to see a hideous
old woman posturing and pretending and making eyes. And, you see, if
one gets a habit, it's so hard to get rid of it. Think of me at
seventy, all painted and powdered, trying to seem as if I hadn't
altered and really believing that I hadn't."
He laughed that pleasant, kind laugh of his which had been one of the
first things in him that had so attracted her.
"Oh! I'll chance the future," he said. "Besides if—if it could ever
happen that—that your growing old came to me gradually, that I should
be seeing you every day, I mean, I shouldn't notice it. I should be old
too; and I should think you hadn't altered either." He was afraid, as
yet, to be too plain spoken, but his tone made it quite clear that he
asked for no greater happiness than that of seeing her grow old beside
She did not pretend to misunderstand him. "Would you? Perhaps you
would," she said. "But, all the same, I don't think you need insist on
He passed that by, too eager at the moment to claim the concession she
had offered him. "Is there any hope that I may be allowed to—to watch
you growing old?" he asked.
"Perhaps—if you'll let me do it in my own way," Rachel said.
Adrian shyly took her hand. "You mean that you will—that you don't
mind?" He put the question as if he had no doubt of its
"When did you begin to know?" he asked, awed by the wonder of this
stupendous thing that had happened to him.
"From the beginning, I think," Rachel murmured.
"So did I, from the very beginning—" he agreed, and from that they
dropped into sacred reminiscences and comparisons concerning the
innumerable things they had adoringly seen in each other and had had as
yet no opportunity to glory in.
And in the midst of all these new and bewildering, embarrassing,
delightful revelations and discoveries, Rachel completely forgot the
shadow that was haunting her, forgot how she looked or felt or acted,
forgot that there was or had ever been a terrible old woman who lived
in Tavistock Square and whose hold on life was maintained by her
horrible mimicry of youth. And then, in a moment, she was lifted out of
her dream and cruelly set down on the hard, unsympathetic earth by the
sound of her lover's voice.
"I suppose I'll have to meet your aunt?" he was saying. "Shall we go
back there now, and tell her?"
Rachel flushed, as if he had suggested some startling invasion of her
secret life. "Oh! no," she ejaculated impulsively.
Adrian looked his surprise. "But why not?" he asked. "I'm—I'm a
perfectly respectable, eligible party."
"I wasn't thinking of that," Rachel said.
"Is she a terrible dragon?" he inquired with a smile.
Rachel shook her head, rejecting the excuse offered in favour of a more
probable modification. "She's odd rather. She might prefer my giving
her some kind of notice," she said.
He accepted that without hesitation. "Will you warn her then?" he
replied. "And I'll come and do my duty to-morrow. I understand she's a
lady to be propitiated."
"Not to-morrow," Rachel said.
The irk and disgust of it all had returned to her with renewed force at
the first mention of her aunt's name. The thought of Miss Deane had
revived the repulsive sense of acting, speaking, looking like that aged
caricature of herself. Yet she wanted strangely enough, to get back to
Tavistock Square; for only there, it seemed to her, was she safe from
the examination of an inquisitive stare that might at any moment
penetrate her secret and reveal her as a posturing hag masquerading in
the alluring freshness of a young girl.
"I ought to be going back to her now," she said.
"But you promised that we should have tea together," Adrian
"Yes, I know; but please don't pester me. I'll see you again
to-morrow," Rachel returned with a touch of elderly hauteur. And,
despite all his entreaties, she would not be persuaded to change her
mind. Already he was looking at her with a touch of suspicion, she
thought; and as she checked his remonstrances, she was aware of doing
it with the air, the tone, the very look that were her inheritance from
endless generations of precisely similar ancestors.
If she could but have lived a double life, Rachel thought, her present
position might have been endurable, and then, in a few months or even
weeks, the problem would be solved for ever by her marriage with Adrian
and the final obliteration of Miss Deane from her memory. But she could
not live a double life. Day by day, as her intimacy with her aunt
increased, Rachel found it more difficult to forget her when she was
away from Tavistock Square. In the deepest and most beautiful moments
of her intercourse with Adrian, she was aware now of practising upon
him a subtle deception, of pretending that she was other than she was
in reality—an awareness that was constantly pricked and stimulated by
the continually growing consciousness of her likeness to Miss Deane.
Miss Deane on her part evidently took a great pleasure in her niece's
society. The fortnight of her original invitation had already been
exceeded, but she would not hear of Rachel's return to Devonshire.
"Why should you go back?" she demanded scornfully. "Your father doesn't
want you—Richard is one of those slip-shod people who prefer to live
alone. I used to try to stir him up, and he ran away from me. He'll run
away from you, my dear, in a few years' time. He hasn't the courage to
stand up to women like us."
Miss Deane unquestionably wanted her niece to stay with her. She was
even beginning to hint at the desirability of making the present
arrangement a permanent one.
Rachel, however, was not flattered by this display of pleasure in her
society. She knew that it was due to no individual charm of her own,
but to the fact that she had become her aunt's mirror. For Miss Deane
no longer, in Rachel's presence at least, gazed at herself in the
looking-glass; she gazed at her niece instead. And as Rachel endured
the posings and simperings, the alternate adoration and fond contempt
with which her aunt regarded her, she was unable to resist the impulse
to reflect them. Every day she fell a little lower in that weakness,
and however slight the likeness had once been, she knew that now it
must be patent to every observer. She copied her aunt, mimicked,
duplicated her. It was easier to do that than fight the resemblance,
against her aunt's determination; and so, by unnoticed degrees, she had
permitted herself to become a lay figure upon which was dressed the
image of Miss Deane's youth. She had even come to desire the look of
almost sensual gratification on her aunt's face when she saw her niece
so perfectly reflecting her own well-remembered airs.
And Rachel, too, had come to avoid the looking-glass, dreading to see
there the poses and gesticulations of the old, repulsive woman whose
every feature and expression had become so sickeningly familiar.
And, in all that time, Adrian had not once been to the house in
Tavistock Square. Rachel had kept him away by what she felt had become
all too transparent excuses. That terror, at least, she felt must be
kept at bay. For she could not conceive it possible that, once he had
seen her and her aunt together, he could retain one spark of his
admiration. He would, he must, see her then as she was, see that her
contemptible vanity was the essential enduring thing, all that would
remain when time had stripped her of youth's allurement.
Nevertheless, the day came when Rachel could no longer endure to
deceive him. He had challenged her, at last, with hiding something from
him. Inevitably, he had become increasingly curious about her strange
reticences concerning the Miss Deane whom he, in turn, had grown to
regard as almost mythical; and all his suppressed suspicions had
suddenly found expression in a question.
"What are you hiding? Do you really live with your aunt in Tavistock
Square?" he had asked that day, with all the fierce intensity of a
Rachel had been stirred to a quick response. "Oh, if you don't believe
me, you'd better come and see for yourself," she had said. "Come this
afternoon—to tea." And afterwards, even when Adrian had humbly sought
to make amends for his unwarrantable jealousy, she had stuck to that
invitation. The moment that she had issued it, she had had a sense of
relief, a sense of having gratefully confessed her weakness. Adrian's
visit would consummate that confession, and thereafter she would have
no further secrets from him. And if he found that he could no longer
love her after he had seen her as she was, well, it would be better in
the end than that he should marry a simulacrum and make the discovery
by slow degrees.
"Yes, come this afternoon. We'll expect you about four" had been her
last words to him. And, now, she had to tell her aunt, who was still
unaware that such a person as Adrian Flemming existed. Rachel postponed
the telling until after lunch. Her knowledge of Miss Deane, though in
some respects it equalled her knowledge of her own mind, did not tell
her how her aunt would take this particular piece of news. She might
possibly, Rachel thought, be annoyed, fearful lest her beloved
looking-glass should be stolen from her. But she could wait no longer.
In half an hour Miss Deane would go upstairs to rest, and Adrian
himself would be in the house before she appeared again.
"I've something to tell you, aunt," Rachel began abruptly.
Miss Deane put up her lorgnette and surveyed her lovely portrait with
an interested air.
"Aunt—I've never told you and I know I ought to have," Rachel blurted
out. "But I'm—I'm engaged to a Mr. Adrian Flemming, and he's coming
here to call on you—to call on us, this afternoon at four o'clock."
Miss Deane closed her eyes and gave a little sigh.
"You might have given me rather longer notice, dear," she said.
"It isn't two yet," Rachel replied. "There are more than two hours to
get ready for him."
Miss Deane bridled slightly. "I must have my rest before he comes," she
said, and added: "I suppose you've told him about us, dear?"
"About you?" Rachel asked.
Miss Deane nodded, complacently.
"Well, not very much," Rachel admitted.
Miss Dean's look, as she playfully threatened Rachel with her
long-handled lorgnette, was distinctly sly.
"Then he doesn't know yet that there are two of us?" she simpered.
"Won't it be just a little bit of a shock to him, my dear?"
Rachel drew a long breath and leaned back in her chair. "Yes," she said
curtly, "I expect it will."
Never before had the realisation of that strange likeness seemed so
intolerable as at that moment. Even now her aunt was looking at her
with the very air and gesture which had once charmed her in her own
reflection, and that she knew still charmed and fascinated her lover.
It was an air and gesture of which she could never break herself. It
was natural to her, a true expression of something ineradicable in her
being. Indeed, one of the worst penalties imposed upon her during the
past month had been the omission of those pleasant ceremonies before
the mirror. She had somehow missed herself, lost the sweetest and most
adorable of companions!
Miss Deane got up, and holding herself very erect, moved with a little
mincing step towards the tall mirror over the console table. Rachel
held her breath. She saw that her aunt, suddenly aroused by this
thought of the coming lover, was returning mechanically to her old
habit of self-admiration. Was it possible, Rachel wondered, that the
sight of the image she would see in the looking-glass, contrasted now
with the memories of the living reflection she had so intimately
studied for the past four weeks, might shock her into a realisation of
the starkly hideous truth?
But it seemed that the aged woman must be blind. She gave no start of
surprise as she paused before the glass; she showed no sign of anxiety
concerning the vision she saw there. Her left hand, in which she held
her lorgnette, had fallen to her side, and with the finger-tips of her
right she daintily caressed the hollows of her sunken cheeks. She
stayed there until Rachel, unable to endure the sight any longer, and
with some vague purpose of defiance in her mind, jumped to her feet,
crossed the room and stood shoulder by shoulder with her aunt staring
into the glass.
For a moment Miss Deane did not move; then, with a queer hesitation,
she dropped her right hand and slowly lifted her lorgnette.
Rachel felt a cold chill of horror invading her. Something fearful and
terrible was happening before her eyes; her aunt was shrinking,
withering, growing old in a moment. The stiffness had gone out of her
pose, her head had begun to droop; the proud contempt in her face was
giving way to the moping, resentful reminiscence of the aged. She still
held up her lorgnette, still stared half fearfully at the glaring
contrast that was presented to her, but her hand and arm had begun to
tremble under the strain, and, instant by, instant, all life and vigour
seemed to be draining away from her.
Then, suddenly, with a fierce effort she turned away her head,
straightened herself, and walked over to the door, passing out with a
high, thin cackle of laughter that had in it the suggestion of a
vehement, petulant derision; of a bitterness outmastering control.
Rachel shivered, but held her ground before the mirror. She had nothing
to fear from that contemplation. As for her aunt, she had had her day.
It was time she knew the truth.
"She had to know," Rachel repeated, addressing the dear likeness that
so proudly reflected her.
She found consolation in that thought. Her aunt had to know and
Rachel herself was only the chance instrument of the revelation. She
had not meant, so she persisted, to do more than vindicate her own
Nevertheless, her own passionate problem was not yet solved. Her aunt
would not, so Rachel believed, give way without a struggle. Had she not
made a gallant effort at recovery even as she left the room, and would
she not make a still greater effort while Adrian was there; assert her
rivalry if only in revenge?
She must meet that, Rachel decided, by presenting a contrast. She would
be meek and humble in her aunt's presence. Adrian might recognise the
admired airs and gestures in those of the old woman, but he should at
least have no opportunity to compare them….
And it was with this thought and intention in her mind that Rachel
received him, when he arrived with a lover's promptness a little before
"Are you so dreadfully nervous?" he asked her, when they were alone
together in the drawing-room. "You're like you were the first day we
met in town—different from your usual self."
"Oh! What a memory you have for my looks and behaviour," she replied
pettishly. "Of course, I'm nervous."
He tried to argue with her, questioning her as to Miss Deane's probable
reception of him, but she refused to answer. "You'll see for yourself
in a few minutes," she said; but the minutes passed and still Miss
Deane did not come.
At a quarter to five the elderly parlour-maid brought in tea. "Miss
Deane said you were not to wait for her, Miss Rachel," was the message
she delivered. "She'll be down presently, I was to say."
Rachel could not suppress a scornful twist of her mouth. She had no
doubt that her aunt was taking very special pains with her toilet;
trying to obliterate, perhaps, her recent vision before the console
glass. Rachel saw her entrance in imagination, stiff-necked and proud,
defying the criticisms of youth and the suggestions of age.
"Oh! why doesn't she come and let me get it over?" she passionately
demanded, and even as she spoke she heard the sounds of some one coming
down the stairs, not the accustomed sounds of her aunt's finicking,
high-heeled steps, but a shuffling and creaking, accompanied by the
murmurs of a weak, protesting voice.
Rachel jumped to her feet. She knew everything then—before the door
opened, and she saw first of all the shocked, scared face of the
elderly parlour-maid who supported the crumpled, palsied figure of the
old, old woman who, three hours before, had been so miraculously young,
magically upheld and supported then by the omnipotent strength of an
She only stayed in the drawing-room for five minutes; a querulous,
resentful old lady, malignantly jealous, so it seemed, of their vigour
and impatient of their sympathy.
When the parlour-maid had been sent for and Miss Deane had gone, Rachel
stood up and looked down at Adrian with all her old hauteur.
"Can you realise," she asked, "that once my aunt was supposed to be
very, very like me?"
He smiled and shook his head, as if the possibility was too absurd to
Rachel turned and looked at herself in the glass, raising her chin and
slightly pursing her lips, staring superciliously at her own image
under half-lowered eyelids.
"Some day I may be as she is now," she said, with the superb
contemptuous arrogance of youth.
Adrian was watching her with adoration. "You will never grow old," he
"So long as one does not get the idea of growing old into one's head,"
Rachel began speculatively….
* * * * *
But Miss Deane had got the idea so strongly now that she died that
Rachel was with her at the last.
The old woman was trying to mouth a text from the Bible.
"What did you say, dear?" Rachel murmured, bending over her, and caught
enough of the answer to guess that Miss Deane was mumbling again and
again: "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face."