By Edith Wharton
Professor Joslin, who, as our readers are doubtless aware, is engaged in
writing the life of Mrs. Aubyn, asks us to state that he will be greatly
indebted to any of the famous novelist's friends who will furnish him with
information concerning the period previous to her coming to England. Mrs.
Aubyn had so few intimate friends, and consequently so few regular
correspondents, that letters will be of special value. Professor Joslin's
address is 10 Augusta Gardens, Kensington, and he begs us to say that he
"will promptly return any documents entrusted to him."
Glennard dropped the Spectator and sat looking into the fire. The club was
filling up, but he still had to himself the small inner room, with its
darkening outlook down the rain-streaked prospect of Fifth Avenue. It was
all dull and dismal enough, yet a moment earlier his boredom had been
perversely tinged by a sense of resentment at the thought that, as things
were going, he might in time have to surrender even the despised privilege
of boring himself within those particular four walls. It was not that he
cared much for the club, but that the remote contingency of having to give
it up stood to him, just then, perhaps by very reason of its
insignificance and remoteness, for the symbol of his increasing
abnegations; of that perpetual paring-off that was gradually reducing
existence to the naked business of keeping himself alive. It was the
futility of his multiplied shifts and privations that made them seem
unworthy of a high attitude; the sense that, however rapidly he eliminated
the superfluous, his cleared horizon was likely to offer no nearer view of
the one prospect toward which he strained. To give up things in order to
marry the woman one loves is easier than to give them up without being
brought appreciably nearer to such a conclusion.
Through the open door he saw young Hollingsworth rise with a yawn from the
ineffectual solace of a brandy-and-soda and transport his purposeless
person to the window. Glennard measured his course with a contemptuous
eye. It was so like Hollingsworth to get up and look out of the window
just as it was growing too dark to see anything! There was a man rich
enough to do what he pleased—had he been capable of being pleased—yet
barred from all conceivable achievement by his own impervious dulness;
while, a few feet off, Glennard, who wanted only enough to keep a decent
coat on his back and a roof over the head of the woman he loved, Glennard,
who had sweated, toiled, denied himself for the scant measure of
opportunity that his zeal would have converted into a kingdom—sat
wretchedly calculating that, even when he had resigned from the club, and
knocked off his cigars, and given up his Sundays out of town, he would
still be no nearer attainment.
The Spectator had slipped to his feet and as he picked it up his eye fell
again on the paragraph addressed to the friends of Mrs. Aubyn. He had read
it for the first time with a scarcely perceptible quickening of attention:
her name had so long been public property that his eye passed it
unseeingly, as the crowd in the street hurries without a glance by some
"Information concerning the period previous to her coming to England...."
The words were an evocation. He saw her again as she had looked at their
first meeting, the poor woman of genius with her long pale face and
short-sighted eyes, softened a little by the grace of youth and
inexperience, but so incapable even then of any hold upon the pulses. When
she spoke, indeed, she was wonderful, more wonderful, perhaps, than when
later, to Glennard's fancy at least, the conscious of memorable things
uttered seemed to take from even her most intimate speech the perfect
bloom of privacy. It was in those earliest days, if ever, that he had come
near loving her; though even then his sentiment had lived only in the
intervals of its expression. Later, when to be loved by her had been a
state to touch any man's imagination, the physical reluctance had,
inexplicably, so overborne the intellectual attraction, that the last
years had been, to both of them, an agony of conflicting impulses. Even
now, if, in turning over old papers, his hand lit on her letters, the
touch filled him with inarticulate misery....
"She had so few intimate friends... that letters will be of special
value." So few intimate friends! For years she had had but one; one who in
the last years had requited her wonderful pages, her tragic outpourings of
love, humility, and pardon, with the scant phrases by which a man evades
the vulgarest of sentimental importunities. He had been a brute in spite
of himself, and sometimes, now that the remembrance of her face had faded,
and only her voice and words remained with him, he chafed at his own
inadequacy, his stupid inability to rise to the height of her passion. His
egoism was not of a kind to mirror its complacency in the adventure. To
have been loved by the most brilliant woman of her day, and to have been
incapable of loving her, seemed to him, in looking back, the most derisive
evidence of his limitations; and his remorseful tenderness for her memory
was complicated with a sense of irritation against her for having given
him once for all the measure of his emotional capacity. It was not often,
however, that he thus probed the past. The public, in taking possession of
Mrs. Aubyn, had eased his shoulders of their burden. There was something
fatuous in an attitude of sentimental apology toward a memory already
classic: to reproach one's self for not having loved Margaret Aubyn was a
good deal like being disturbed by an inability to admire the Venus of
Milo. From her cold niche of fame she looked down ironically enough on his
self-flagellations.... It was only when he came on something that belonged
to her that he felt a sudden renewal of the old feeling, the strange dual
impulse that drew him to her voice but drove him from her hand, so that
even now, at sight of anything she had touched, his heart contracted
painfully. It happened seldom nowadays. Her little presents, one by one,
had disappeared from his rooms, and her letters, kept from some
unacknowledged puerile vanity in the possession of such treasures, seldom
came beneath his hand....
"Her letters will be of special value—" Her letters! Why, he must
have hundreds of them—enough to fill a volume. Sometimes it used to
seem to him that they came with every post—he used to avoid looking
in his letter-box when he came home to his rooms—but her writing
seemed to spring out at him as he put his key in the door—.
He stood up and strolled into the other room. Hollingsworth, lounging away
from the window, had joined himself to a languidly convivial group of men
to whom, in phrases as halting as though they struggled to define an
ultimate idea, he was expounding the cursed nuisance of living in a hole
with such a damned climate that one had to get out of it by February, with
the contingent difficulty of there being no place to take one's yacht to
in winter but that other played-out hole, the Riviera. From the outskirts
of this group Glennard wandered to another, where a voice as different as
possible from Hollingsworth's colorless organ dominated another circle of
"Come and hear Dinslow talk about his patent: admission free," one of the
men sang out in a tone of mock resignation.
Dinslow turned to Glennard the confident pugnacity of his smile. "Give it
another six months and it'll be talking about itself," he declared. "It's
pretty nearly articulate now."
"Can it say papa?" someone else inquired.
Dinslow's smile broadened. "You'll be deuced glad to say papa to IT a year
from now," he retorted. "It'll be able to support even you in affluence.
Look here, now, just let me explain to you—"
Glennard moved away impatiently. The men at the club—all but those
who were "in it"—were proverbially "tired" of Dinslow's patent, and
none more so than Glennard, whose knowledge of its merits made it loom
large in the depressing catalogue of lost opportunities. The relations
between the two men had always been friendly, and Dinslow's urgent offers
to "take him in on the ground floor" had of late intensified Glennard's
sense of his own inability to meet good luck half way. Some of the men who
had paused to listen were already in evening clothes, others on their way
home to dress; and Glennard, with an accustomed twinge of humiliation,
said to himself that if he lingered among them it was in the miserable
hope that one of the number might ask him to dine. Miss Trent had told him
that she was to go to the opera that evening with her rich aunt; and if he
should have the luck to pick up a dinner-invitation he might join her
there without extra outlay.
He moved about the room, lingering here and there in a tentative
affectation of interest; but though the men greeted him pleasantly no one
asked him to dine. Doubtless they were all engaged, these men who could
afford to pay for their dinners, who did not have to hunt for invitations
as a beggar rummages for a crust in an ash-barrel! But no—as
Hollingsworth left the lessening circle about the table an admiring youth
called out—"Holly, stop and dine!"
Hollingsworth turned on him the crude countenance that looked like the
wrong side of a more finished face. "Sorry I can't. I'm in for a beastly
Glennard threw himself into an arm-chair. Why go home in the rain to
dress? It was folly to take a cab to the opera, it was worse folly to go
there at all. His perpetual meetings with Alexa Trent were as unfair to
the girl as they were unnerving to himself. Since he couldn't marry her,
it was time to stand aside and give a better man the chance—and his
thought admitted the ironical implication that in the terms of expediency
the phrase might stand for Hollingsworth.
He dined alone and walked home to his rooms in the rain. As he turned into
Fifth Avenue he caught the wet gleam of carriages on their way to the
opera, and he took the first side street, in a moment of irritation
against the petty restrictions that thwarted every impulse. It was
ridiculous to give up the opera, not because one might possibly be bored
there, but because one must pay for the experiment.
In his sitting-room, the tacit connivance of the inanimate had centred the
lamp-light on a photograph of Alexa Trent, placed, in the obligatory
silver frame, just where, as memory officiously reminded him, Margaret
Aubyn's picture had long throned in its stead. Miss Trent's features
cruelly justified the usurpation. She had the kind of beauty that comes of
a happy accord of face and spirit. It is not given to many to have the
lips and eyes of their rarest mood, and some women go through life behind
a mask expressing only their anxiety about the butcher's bill or their
inability to see a joke. With Miss Trent, face and mind had the same high
serious contour. She looked like a throned Justice by some grave
Florentine painter; and it seemed to Glennard that her most salient
attribute, or that at least to which her conduct gave most consistent
expression, was a kind of passionate justice—the intuitive feminine
justness that is so much rarer than a reasoned impartiality. Circumstances
had tragically combined to develop this instinct into a conscious habit.
She had seen more than most girls of the shabby side of life, of the
perpetual tendency of want to cramp the noblest attitude. Poverty and
misfortune had overhung her childhood and she had none of the pretty
delusions about life that are supposed to be the crowning grace of
girlhood. This very competence, which gave her a touching reasonableness,
made Glennard's situation more difficult than if he had aspired to a
princess bred in the purple. Between them they asked so little—they
knew so well how to make that little do—but they understood also,
and she especially did not for a moment let him forget, that without that
little the future they dreamed of was impossible.
The sight of her photograph quickened Glennard's exasperation. He was sick
and ashamed of the part he was playing. He had loved her now for two
years, with the tranquil tenderness that gathers depth and volume as it
nears fulfilment; he knew that she would wait for him—but the
certitude was an added pang. There are times when the constancy of the
woman one cannot marry is almost as trying as that of the woman one does
not want to.
Glennard turned up his reading-lamp and stirred the fire. He had a long
evening before him and he wanted to crowd out thought with action. He had
brought some papers from his office and he spread them out on his table
and squared himself to the task....
It must have been an hour later that he found himself automatically
fitting a key into a locked drawer. He had no more notion than a
somnambulist of the mental process that had led up to this action. He was
just dimly aware of having pushed aside the papers and the heavy calf
volumes that a moment before had bounded his horizon, and of laying in
their place, without a trace of conscious volition, the parcel he had
taken from the drawer.
The letters were tied in packets of thirty or forty. There were a great
many packets. On some of the envelopes the ink was fading; on others,
which bore the English post-mark, it was still fresh. She had been dead
hardly three years, and she had written, at lengthening intervals, to the
He undid one of the earlier packets—little notes written during
their first acquaintance at Hillbridge. Glennard, on leaving college, had
begun life in his uncle's law office in the old university town. It was
there that, at the house of her father, Professor Forth, he had first met
the young lady then chiefly distinguished for having, after two years of a
conspicuously unhappy marriage, returned to the protection of the paternal
Mrs. Aubyn was at that time an eager and somewhat tragic young woman, of
complex mind and undeveloped manners, whom her crude experience of
matrimony had fitted out with a stock of generalizations that exploded
like bombs in the academic air of Hillbridge. In her choice of a husband
she had been fortunate enough, if the paradox be permitted, to light on
one so signally gifted with the faculty of putting himself in the wrong
that her leaving him had the dignity of a manifesto—made her, as it
were, the spokeswoman of outraged wifehood. In this light she was
cherished by that dominant portion of Hillbridge society which was least
indulgent to conjugal differences, and which found a proportionate
pleasure in being for once able to feast openly on a dish liberally
seasoned with the outrageous. So much did this endear Mrs. Aubyn to the
university ladies that they were disposed from the first to allow her more
latitude of speech and action than the ill-used wife was generally
accorded in Hillbridge, where misfortune was still regarded as a
visitation designed to put people in their proper place and make them feel
the superiority of their neighbors. The young woman so privileged combined
with a kind of personal shyness an intellectual audacity that was like a
deflected impulse of coquetry: one felt that if she had been prettier she
would have had emotions instead of ideas. She was in fact even then what
she had always remained: a genius capable of the acutest generalizations,
but curiously undiscerning where her personal susceptibilities were
concerned. Her psychology failed her just where it serves most women and
one felt that her brains would never be a guide to her heart. Of all this,
however, Glennard thought little in the first year of their acquaintance.
He was at an age when all the gifts and graces are but so much
undiscriminated food to the ravening egoism of youth. In seeking Mrs.
Aubyn's company he was prompted by an intuitive taste for the best as a
pledge of his own superiority. The sympathy of the cleverest woman in
Hillbridge was balm to his craving for distinction: it was public
confirmation of his secret sense that he was cut out for a bigger place.
It must not be understood that Glennard was vain. Vanity contents itself
with the coarsest diet; there is no palate so fastidious as that of
self-distrust. To a youth of Glennard's aspirations the encouragement of a
clever woman stood for the symbol of all success. Later, when he had begun
to feel his way, to gain a foothold, he would not need such support; but
it served to carry him lightly and easily over what is often a period of
insecurity and discouragement.
It would be unjust, however, to represent his interest in Mrs. Aubyn as a
matter of calculation. It was as instinctive as love, and it missed being
love by just such a hair-breadth deflection from the line of beauty as had
determined the curve of Mrs. Aubyn's lips. When they met she had just
published her first novel, and Glennard, who afterward had an ambitious
man's impatience of distinguished women, was young enough to be dazzled by
the semi-publicity it gave her. It was the kind of book that makes elderly
ladies lower their voices and call each other "my dear" when they
furtively discuss it; and Glennard exulted in the superior knowledge of
the world that enabled him to take as a matter of course sentiments over
which the university shook its head. Still more delightful was it to hear
Mrs. Aubyn waken the echoes of academic drawing-rooms with audacities
surpassing those of her printed page. Her intellectual independence gave a
touch of comradeship to their intimacy, prolonging the illusion of college
friendships based on a joyous interchange of heresies. Mrs. Aubyn and
Glennard represented to each other the augur's wink behind the Hillbridge
idol: they walked together in that light of young omniscience from which
fate so curiously excludes one's elders.
Husbands who are notoriously inopportune, may even die inopportunely, and
this was the revenge that Mr. Aubyn, some two years after her return to
Hillbridge, took upon his injured wife. He died precisely at the moment
when Glennard was beginning to criticise her. It was not that she bored
him; she did what was infinitely worse—she made him feel his
inferiority. The sense of mental equality had been gratifying to his raw
ambition; but as his self-knowledge defined itself, his understanding of
her also increased; and if man is at times indirectly flattered by the
moral superiority of woman, her mental ascendency is extenuated by no such
oblique tribute to his powers. The attitude of looking up is a strain on
the muscles; and it was becoming more and more Glennard's opinion that
brains, in a woman, should be merely the obverse of beauty. To beauty Mrs.
Aubyn could lay no claim; and while she had enough prettiness to
exasperate him by her incapacity to make use of it, she seemed invincibly
ignorant of any of the little artifices whereby women contrive to palliate
their defects and even to turn them into graces. Her dress never seemed a
part of her; all her clothes had an impersonal air, as though they had
belonged to someone else and been borrowed in an emergency that had
somehow become chronic. She was conscious enough of her deficiencies to
try to amend them by rash imitations of the most approved models; but no
woman who does not dress well intuitively will ever do so by the light of
reason, and Mrs. Aubyn's plagiarisms, to borrow a metaphor of her trade,
somehow never seemed to be incorporated with the text.
Genius is of small use to a woman who does not know how to do her hair.
The fame that came to Mrs. Aubyn with her second book left Glennard's
imagination untouched, or had at most the negative effect of removing her
still farther from the circle of his contracting sympathies. We are all
the sport of time; and fate had so perversely ordered the chronology of
Margaret Aubyn's romance that when her husband died Glennard felt as
though he had lost a friend.
It was not in his nature to be needlessly unkind; and though he was in the
impregnable position of the man who has given a woman no more definable
claim on him than that of letting her fancy that he loves her, he would
not for the world have accentuated his advantage by any betrayal of
indifference. During the first year of her widowhood their friendship
dragged on with halting renewals of sentiment, becoming more and more a
banquet of empty dishes from which the covers were never removed; then
Glennard went to New York to live and exchanged the faded pleasures of
intercourse for the comparative novelty of correspondence. Her letters,
oddly enough, seemed at first to bring her nearer than her presence. She
had adopted, and she successfully maintained, a note as affectionately
impersonal as his own; she wrote ardently of her work, she questioned him
about his, she even bantered him on the inevitable pretty girl who was
certain before long to divert the current of his confidences. To Glennard,
who was almost a stranger in New York, the sight of Mrs. Aubyn's writing
was like a voice of reassurance in surroundings as yet insufficiently
aware of him. His vanity found a retrospective enjoyment in the sentiment
his heart had rejected, and this factitious emotion drove him once or
twice to Hillbridge, whence, after scenes of evasive tenderness, he
returned dissatisfied with himself and her. As he made room for himself in
New York and peopled the space he had cleared with the sympathies at the
disposal of agreeable and self-confident young men, it seemed to him
natural to infer that Mrs. Aubyn had refurnished in the same manner the
void he was not unwilling his departure should have left. But in the
dissolution of sentimental partnerships it is seldom that both associates
are able to withdraw their funds at the same time; and Glennard gradually
learned that he stood for the venture on which Mrs. Aubyn had
irretrievably staked her all. It was not the kind of figure he cared to
cut. He had no fancy for leaving havoc in his wake and would have
preferred to sow a quick growth of oblivion in the spaces wasted by his
unconsidered inroads; but if he supplied the seed it was clearly Mrs.
Aubyn's business to see to the raising of the crop. Her attitude seemed
indeed to throw his own reasonableness into distincter relief: so that
they might have stood for thrift and improvidence in an allegory of the
It was not that Mrs. Aubyn permitted herself to be a pensioner on his
bounty. He knew she had no wish to keep herself alive on the small change
of sentiment; she simply fed on her own funded passion, and the luxuries
it allowed her made him, even then, dimly aware that she had the secret of
an inexhaustible alchemy.
Their relations remained thus negatively tender till she suddenly wrote
him of her decision to go abroad to live. Her father had died, she had no
near ties in Hillbridge, and London offered more scope than New York to
her expanding personality. She was already famous and her laurels were yet
For a moment the news roused Glennard to a jealous sense of lost
opportunities. He wanted, at any rate, to reassert his power before she
made the final effort of escape. They had not met for over a year, but of
course he could not let her sail without seeing her. She came to New York
the day before her departure, and they spent its last hours together.
Glennard had planned no course of action—he simply meant to let
himself drift. They both drifted, for a long time, down the languid
current of reminiscence; she seemed to sit passive, letting him push his
way back through the overgrown channels of the past. At length she
reminded him that they must bring their explorations to an end. He rose to
leave, and stood looking at her with the same uncertainty in his heart. He
was tired of her already—he was always tired of her—yet he was
not sure that he wanted her to go.
"I may never see you again," he said, as though confidently appealing to
Her look enveloped him. "And I shall see you always—always!"
"Why go then—?" escaped him.
"To be nearer you," she answered; and the words dismissed him like a
The door was never to reopen; but through its narrow crack Glennard, as
the years went on, became more and more conscious of an inextinguishable
light directing its small ray toward the past which consumed so little of
his own commemorative oil. The reproach was taken from this thought by
Mrs. Aubyn's gradual translation into terms of universality. In becoming a
personage she so naturally ceased to be a person that Glennard could
almost look back to his explorations of her spirit as on a visit to some
famous shrine, immortalized, but in a sense desecrated, by popular
Her letters, from London, continued to come with the same tender
punctuality; but the altered conditions of her life, the vistas of new
relationships disclosed by every phrase, made her communications as
impersonal as a piece of journalism. It was as though the state, the
world, indeed, had taken her off his hands, assuming the maintenance of a
temperament that had long exhausted his slender store of reciprocity.
In the retrospective light shed by the letters he was blinded to their
specific meaning. He was not a man who concerned himself with literature,
and they had been to him, at first, simply the extension of her brilliant
talk, later the dreaded vehicle of a tragic importunity. He knew, of
course, that they were wonderful; that, unlike the authors who give their
essence to the public and keep only a dry rind for their friends, Mrs.
Aubyn had stored of her rarest vintage for this hidden sacrament of
tenderness. Sometimes, indeed, he had been oppressed, humiliated almost,
by the multiplicity of her allusions, the wide scope of her interests, her
persistence in forcing her superabundance of thought and emotion into the
shallow receptacle of his sympathy; but he had never thought of the
letters objectively, as the production of a distinguished woman; had never
measured the literary significance of her oppressive prodigality. He was
almost frightened now at the wealth in his hands; the obligation of her
love had never weighed on him like this gift of her imagination: it was as
though he had accepted from her something to which even a reciprocal
tenderness could not have justified his claim.
He sat a long time staring at the scattered pages on his desk; and in the
sudden realization of what they meant he could almost fancy some
alchemistic process changing them to gold as he stared. He had the sense
of not being alone in the room, of the presence of another self observing
from without the stirring of subconscious impulses that sent flushes of
humiliation to his forehead. At length he stood up, and with the gesture
of a man who wishes to give outward expression to his purpose—to
establish, as it were, a moral alibi—swept the letters into a heap
and carried them toward the grate. But it would have taken too long to
burn all the packets. He turned back to the table and one by one fitted
the pages into their envelopes; then he tied up the letters and put them
back into the locked drawer.
It was one of the laws of Glennard's intercourse with Miss Trent that he
always went to see her the day after he had resolved to give her up. There
was a special charm about the moments thus snatched from the jaws of
renunciation; and his sense of their significance was on this occasion so
keen that he hardly noticed the added gravity of her welcome.
His feeling for her had become so vital a part of him that her nearness
had the quality of imperceptibly readjusting his point of view, so that
the jumbled phenomena of experience fell at once into a rational
perspective. In this redistribution of values the sombre retrospect of the
previous evening shrank to a mere cloud on the edge of consciousness.
Perhaps the only service an unloved woman can render the man she loves is
to enhance and prolong his illusions about her rival. It was the fate of
Margaret Aubyn's memory to serve as a foil to Miss Trent's presence, and
never had the poor lady thrown her successor into more vivid relief.
Miss Trent had the charm of still waters that are felt to be renewed by
rapid currents. Her attention spread a tranquil surface to the
demonstrations of others, and it was only in days of storm that one felt
the pressure of the tides. This inscrutable composure was perhaps her
chief grace in Glennard's eyes. Reserve, in some natures, implies merely
the locking of empty rooms or the dissimulation of awkward encumbrances;
but Miss Trent's reticence was to Glennard like the closed door to the
sanctuary, and his certainty of divining the hidden treasure made him
content to remain outside in the happy expectancy of the neophyte.
"You didn't come to the opera last night," she began, in the tone that
seemed always rather to record a fact than to offer a reflection on it.
He answered with a discouraged gesture. "What was the use? We couldn't
"Not as well as here," she assented; adding, after a meditative pause, "As
you didn't come I talked to Aunt Virginia instead."
"Ah!" he returned, the fact being hardly striking enough to detach him
from the contemplation of her hands, which had fallen, as was their wont,
into an attitude full of plastic possibilities. One felt them to be hands
that, moving only to some purpose, were capable of intervals of serene
"We had a long talk," Miss Trent went on; and she waited again before
adding, with the increased absence of stress that marked her graver
communications, "Aunt Virginia wants me to go abroad with her."
Glennard looked up with a start. "Abroad? When?"
"Now—next month. To be gone two years."
He permitted himself a movement of tender derision. "Does she really?
Well, I want you to go abroad with ME—for any number of years. Which
offer do you accept?"
"Only one of them seems to require immediate consideration," she returned,
with a smile.
Glennard looked at her again. "You're not thinking of it?"
Her gaze dropped and she unclasped her hands. Her movements were so rare
that they might have been said to italicize her words. "Aunt Virginia
talked to me very seriously. It will be a great relief to mother and the
others to have me provided for in that way for two years. I must think of
that, you know." She glanced down at her gown which, under a renovated
surface, dated back to the first days of Glennard's wooing. "I try not to
cost much—but I do."
"Good Lord!" Glennard groaned.
They sat silent till at length she gently took up the argument. "As the
eldest, you know, I'm bound to consider these things. Women are such a
burden. Jim does what he can for mother, but with his own children to
provide for it isn't very much. You see, we're all poor together."
"Your aunt isn't. She might help your mother."
"She does—in her own way."
"Exactly—that's the rich relation all over! You may be miserable in
any way you like, but if you're to be happy you've got to be so in her way—and
in her old gowns."
"I could be very happy in Aunt Virginia's old gowns," Miss Trent
"Abroad, you mean?"
"I mean wherever I felt that I was helping. And my going abroad will
"Of course—I see that. And I see your considerateness in putting its
"In dwelling simply on what the going will take you from, not on what it
will bring you to. It means a lot to a woman, of course, to get away from
a life like this." He summed up in a disparaging glance the background of
indigent furniture. "The question is how you'll like coming back to it."
She seemed to accept the full consequences of his thought. "I only know I
don't like leaving it."
He flung back sombrely, "You don't even put it conditionally then?"
Her gaze deepened. "On what?"
He stood up and walked across the room. Then he came back and paused
before her. "On the alternative of marrying me."
The slow color—even her blushes seemed deliberate—rose to her
lower lids; her lips stirred, but the words resolved themselves into a
smile and she waited.
He took another turn, with the thwarted step of the man whose nervous
exasperation escapes through his muscles.
"And to think that in fifteen years I shall have a big practice!"
Her eyes triumphed for him. "In less!"
"The cursed irony of it! What do I care for the man I shall be then? It's
slaving one's life away for a stranger!" He took her hands abruptly.
"You'll go to Cannes, I suppose, or Monte Carlo? I heard Hollingsworth say
to-day that he meant to take his yacht over to the Mediterranean—"
She released herself. "If you think that—"
"I don't. I almost wish I did. It would be easier, I mean." He broke off
incoherently. "I believe your Aunt Virginia does, though. She somehow
connotes Hollingsworth and the Mediterranean." He caught her hands again.
"Alexa—if we could manage a little hole somewhere out of town?"
"Could we?" she sighed, half yielding.
"In one of those places where they make jokes about the mosquitoes," he
pressed her. "Could you get on with one servant?"
"Could you get on without varnished boots?"
"Promise me you won't go, then!"
"What are you thinking of, Stephen?"
"I don't know," he stammered, the question giving unexpected form to his
intention. "It's all in the air yet, of course; but I picked up a tip the
"You're not speculating?" she cried, with a kind of superstitious terror.
"Lord, no. This is a sure thing—I almost wish it wasn't; I mean if I
can work it—" He had a sudden vision of the comprehensiveness of the
temptation. If only he had been less sure of Dinslow! His assurance gave
the situation the base element of safety.
"I don't understand you," she faltered.
"Trust me, instead!" he adjured her, with sudden energy; and turning on
her abruptly, "If you go, you know, you go free," he concluded.
She drew back, paling a little. "Why do you make it harder for me?"
"To make it easier for myself," he retorted.
Glennard, the next afternoon, leaving his office earlier than usual,
turned, on his way home, into one of the public libraries.
He had the place to himself at that closing hour, and the librarian was
able to give an undivided attention to his tentative request for letters—collections
of letters. The librarian suggested Walpole.
"I meant women—women's letters."
The librarian proffered Hannah More and Miss Martineau.
Glennard cursed his own inarticulateness. "I mean letters to—to some
one person—a man; their husband—or—"
"Ah," said the inspired librarian, "Eloise and Abailard."
"Well—something a little nearer, perhaps," said Glennard, with
lightness. "Didn't Merimee—"
"The lady's letters, in that case, were not published."
"Of course not," said Glennard, vexed at his blunder.
"There are George Sand's letters to Flaubert."
"Ah!" Glennard hesitated. "Was she—were they—?" He chafed at
his own ignorance of the sentimental by-paths of literature.
"If you want love-letters, perhaps some of the French eighteenth century
correspondences might suit you better—Mlle. Aisse or Madame de
But Glennard insisted. "I want something modern—English or American.
I want to look something up," he lamely concluded.
The librarian could only suggest George Eliot.
"Well, give me some of the French things, then—and I'll have
Merimee's letters. It was the woman who published them, wasn't it?"
He caught up his armful, transferring it, on the doorstep, to a cab which
carried him to his rooms. He dined alone, hurriedly, at a small restaurant
near by, and returned at once to his books.
Late that night, as he undressed, he wondered what contemptible impulse
had forced from him his last words to Alexa Trent. It was bad enough to
interfere with the girl's chances by hanging about her to the obvious
exclusion of other men, but it was worse to seem to justify his weakness
by dressing up the future in delusive ambiguities. He saw himself sinking
from depth to depth of sentimental cowardice in his reluctance to renounce
his hold on her; and it filled him with self-disgust to think that the
highest feeling of which he supposed himself capable was blent with such
His awakening was hardly cheered by the sight of her writing. He tore her
note open and took in the few lines—she seldom exceeded the first
page—with the lucidity of apprehension that is the forerunner of
"My aunt sails on Saturday and I must give her my answer the day after
to-morrow. Please don't come till then—I want to think the question
over by myself. I know I ought to go. Won't you help me to be reasonable?"
It was settled, then. Well, he would be reasonable; he wouldn't stand in
her way; he would let her go. For two years he had been living some other,
luckier man's life; the time had come when he must drop back into his own.
He no longer tried to look ahead, to grope his way through the endless
labyrinth of his material difficulties; a sense of dull resignation closed
in on him like a fog.
"Hullo, Glennard!" a voice said, as an electric-car, late that afternoon,
dropped him at an uptown corner.
He looked up and met the interrogative smile of Barton Flamel, who stood
on the curbstone watching the retreating car with the eye of a man
philosophic enough to remember that it will be followed by another.
Glennard felt his usual impulse of pleasure at meeting Flamel; but it was
not in this case curtailed by the reaction of contempt that habitually
succeeded it. Probably even the few men who had known Flamel since his
youth could have given no good reason for the vague mistrust that he
inspired. Some people are judged by their actions, others by their ideas;
and perhaps the shortest way of defining Flamel is to say that his
well-known leniency of view was vaguely divined to include himself. Simple
minds may have resented the discovery that his opinions were based on his
perceptions; but there was certainly no more definite charge against him
than that implied in the doubt as to how he would behave in an emergency,
and his company was looked upon as one of those mildly unwholesome
dissipations to which the prudent may occasionally yield. It now offered
itself to Glennard as an easy escape from the obsession of moral problems,
which somehow could no more be worn in Flamel's presence than a surplice
in the street.
"Where are you going? To the club?" Flamel asked; adding, as the younger
man assented, "Why not come to my studio instead? You'll see one bore
instead of twenty."
The apartment which Flamel described as his studio showed, as its one
claim to the designation, a perennially empty easel; the rest of its space
being filled with the evidences of a comprehensive dilettanteism. Against
this background, which seemed the visible expression of its owner's
intellectual tolerance, rows of fine books detached themselves with a
prominence, showing them to be Flamel's chief care.
Glennard glanced with the eye of untrained curiosity at the lines of
warm-toned morocco, while his host busied himself with the uncorking of
"You've got a splendid lot of books," he said.
"They're fairly decent," the other assented, in the curt tone of the
collector who will not talk of his passion for fear of talking of nothing
else; then, as Glennard, his hands in his pockets, began to stroll
perfunctorily down the long line of bookcases—"Some men," Flamel
irresistibly added, "think of books merely as tools, others as tooling.
I'm between the two; there are days when I use them as scenery, other days
when I want them as society; so that, as you see, my library represents a
makeshift compromise between looks and brains, and the collectors look
down on me almost as much as the students."
Glennard, without answering, was mechanically taking one book after
another from the shelves. His hands slipped curiously over the smooth
covers and the noiseless subsidence of opening pages. Suddenly he came on
a thin volume of faded manuscript.
"What's this?" he asked, with a listless sense of wonder.
"Ah, you're at my manuscript shelf. I've been going in for that sort of
thing lately." Flamel came up and looked over his shoulders. "That's a bit
of Stendhal—one of the Italian stories—and here are some
letters of Balzac to Madame Commanville."
Glennard took the book with sudden eagerness. "Who was Madame
"His sister." He was conscious that Flamel was looking at him with the
smile that was like an interrogation point. "I didn't know you cared for
this kind of thing."
"I don't—at least I've never had the chance. Have you many
collections of letters?"
"Lord, no—very few. I'm just beginning, and most of the interesting
ones are out of my reach. Here's a queer little collection, though—the
rarest thing I've got—half a dozen of Shelley's letters to Harriet
Westbrook. I had a devil of a time getting them—a lot of collectors
were after them."
Glennard, taking the volume from his hand, glanced with a kind of
repugnance at the interleaving of yellow cris-crossed sheets. "She was the
one who drowned herself, wasn't she?"
Flamel nodded. "I suppose that little episode adds about fifty per cent.
to their value," he said, meditatively.
Glennard laid the book down. He wondered why he had joined Flamel. He was
in no humor to be amused by the older man's talk, and a recrudescence of
personal misery rose about him like an icy tide.
"I believe I must take myself off," he said. "I'd forgotten an
He turned to go; but almost at the same moment he was conscious of a
duality of intention wherein his apparent wish to leave revealed itself as
a last effort of the will against the overmastering desire to stay and
unbosom himself to Flamel.
The older man, as though divining the conflict, laid a detaining pressure
on his arm.
"Won't the engagement keep? Sit down and try one of these cigars. I don't
often have the luck of seeing you here."
"I'm rather driven just now," said Glennard, vaguely. He found himself
seated again, and Flamel had pushed to his side a low stand holding a
bottle of Apollinaris and a decanter of cognac.
Flamel, thrown back in his capacious arm-chair, surveyed him through a
cloud of smoke with the comfortable tolerance of the man to whom no
inconsistencies need be explained. Connivance was implicit in the air. It
was the kind of atmosphere in which the outrageous loses its edge.
Glennard felt a gradual relaxing of his nerves.
"I suppose one has to pay a lot for letters like that?" he heard himself
asking, with a glance in the direction of the volume he had laid aside.
"Oh, so-do—depends on circumstances." Flamel viewed him
thoughtfully. "Are you thinking of collecting?"
Glennard laughed. "Lord, no. The other way round."
"Oh, I hardly know. I was thinking of a poor chap—"
Flamel filled the pause with a nod of interest.
"A poor chap I used to know—who died—he died last year—and
who left me a lot of letters, letters he thought a great deal of—he
was fond of me and left 'em to me outright, with the idea, I suppose, that
they might benefit me somehow—I don't know—I'm not much up on
such things—" he reached his hand to the tall glass his host had
"A collection of autograph letters, eh? Any big names?"
"Oh, only one name. They're all letters written to him—by one
person, you understand; a woman, in fact—"
"Oh, a woman," said Flamel, negligently.
Glennard was nettled by his obvious loss of interest. "I rather think
they'd attract a good deal of notice if they were published."
Flamel still looked uninterested. "Love-letters, I suppose?"
"Oh, just—the letters a woman would write to a man she knew well.
They were tremendous friends, he and she."
"And she wrote a clever letter?"
"Clever? It was Margaret Aubyn."
A great silence filled the room. It seemed to Glennard that the words had
burst from him as blood gushes from a wound.
"Great Scott!" said Flamel, sitting up. "A collection of Margaret Aubyn's
letters? Did you say YOU had them?"
"They were left me—by my friend."
"I see. Was he—well, no matter. You're to be congratulated, at any
rate. What are you going to do with them?"
Glennard stood up with a sense of weariness in all his bones. "Oh, I don't
know. I haven't thought much about it. I just happened to see that some
fellow was writing her life—"
"Joslin; yes. You didn't think of giving them to him?"
Glennard had lounged across the room and stood staring up at a bronze
Bacchus who drooped his garlanded head above the pediment of an Italian
cabinet. "What ought I to do? You're just the fellow to advise me." He
felt the blood in his cheek as he spoke.
Flamel sat with meditative eye. "What do you WANT to do with them?" he
"I want to publish them," said Glennard, swinging round with sudden energy—"If
"If you can? They're yours, you say?"
"They're mine fast enough. There's no one to prevent—I mean there
are no restrictions—" he was arrested by the sense that these
accumulated proofs of impunity might precisely stand as the strongest
check on his action.
"And Mrs. Aubyn had no family, I believe?"
"Then I don't see who's to interfere," said Flamel, studying his
Glennard had turned his unseeing stare on an ecstatic Saint Catherine
framed in tarnished gilding.
"It's just this way," he began again, with an effort. "When letters are as
personal as—as these of my friend's.... Well, I don't mind telling
you that the cash would make a heap of difference to me; such a lot that
it rather obscures my judgment—the fact is if I could lay my hand on
a few thousands now I could get into a big thing, and without appreciable
risk; and I'd like to know whether you think I'd be justified—under
the circumstances...." He paused, with a dry throat. It seemed to him at
the moment that it would be impossible for him ever to sink lower in his
own estimation. He was in truth less ashamed of weighing the temptation
than of submitting his scruples to a man like Flamel, and affecting to
appeal to sentiments of delicacy on the absence of which he had
consciously reckoned. But he had reached a point where each word seemed to
compel another, as each wave in a stream is forced forward by the pressure
behind it; and before Flamel could speak he had faltered out—"You
don't think people could say... could criticise the man...."
"But the man's dead, isn't he?"
"He's dead—yes; but can I assume the responsibility without—"
Flamel hesitated; and almost immediately Glennard's scruples gave way to
irritation. If at this hour Flamel were to affect an inopportune
The older man's answer reassured him. "Why need you assume any
responsibility? Your name won't appear, of course; and as to your
friend's, I don't see why his should, either. He wasn't a celebrity
himself, I suppose?"
"Then the letters can be addressed to Mr. Blank. Doesn't that make it all
Glennard's hesitation revived. "For the public, yes. But I don't see that
it alters the case for me. The question is, ought I to publish them at
"Of course you ought to." Flamel spoke with invigorating emphasis. "I
doubt if you'd be justified in keeping them back. Anything of Margaret
Aubyn's is more or less public property by this time. She's too great for
any one of us. I was only wondering how you could use them to the best
advantage—to yourself, I mean. How many are there?"
"Oh, a lot; perhaps a hundred—I haven't counted. There may be
"Gad! What a haul! When were they written?"
"I don't know—that is—they corresponded for years. What's the
odds?" He moved toward his hat with a vague impulse of flight.
"It all counts," said Flamel, imperturbably. "A long correspondence—one,
I mean, that covers a great deal of time—is obviously worth more
than if the same number of letters had been written within a year. At any
rate, you won't give them to Joslin? They'd fill a book, wouldn't they?"
"I suppose so. I don't know how much it takes to fill a book."
"Not love-letters, you say?"
"Why?" flashed from Glennard.
"Oh, nothing—only the big public is sentimental, and if they WERE—why,
you could get any money for Margaret Aubyn's love-letters."
Glennard was silent.
"Are the letters interesting in themselves? I mean apart from the
association with her name?"
"I'm no judge." Glennard took up his hat and thrust himself into his
overcoat. "I dare say I sha'n't do anything about it. And, Flamel—you
won't mention this to anyone?"
"Lord, no. Well, I congratulate you. You've got a big thing." Flamel was
smiling at him from the hearth.
Glennard, on the threshold, forced a response to the smile, while he
questioned with loitering indifference—"Financially, eh?"
"Rather; I should say so."
Glennard's hand lingered on the knob. "How much—should you say? You
know about such things."
"Oh, I should have to see the letters; but I should say—well, if
you've got enough to fill a book and they're fairly readable, and the book
is brought out at the right time—say ten thousand down from the
publisher, and possibly one or two more in royalties. If you got the
publishers bidding against each other you might do even better; but of
course I'm talking in the dark."
"Of course," said Glennard, with sudden dizziness. His hand had slipped
from the knob and he stood staring down at the exotic spirals of the
Persian rug beneath his feet.
"I'd have to see the letters," Flamel repeated.
"Of course—you'd have to see them...." Glennard stammered; and,
without turning, he flung over his shoulder an inarticulate "Good-by...."
The little house, as Glennard strolled up to it between the trees, seemed
no more than a gay tent pitched against the sunshine. It had the crispness
of a freshly starched summer gown, and the geraniums on the veranda
bloomed as simultaneously as the flowers in a bonnet. The garden was
prospering absurdly. Seed they had sown at random—amid laughing
counter-charges of incompetence—had shot up in fragrant defiance of
their blunders. He smiled to see the clematis unfolding its punctual wings
about the porch. The tiny lawn was smooth as a shaven cheek, and a crimson
rambler mounted to the nursery-window of a baby who never cried. A breeze
shook the awning above the tea-table, and his wife, as he drew near, could
be seen bending above a kettle that was just about to boil. So vividly did
the whole scene suggest the painted bliss of a stage setting, that it
would have been hardly surprising to see her step forward among the
flowers and trill out her virtuous happiness from the veranda-rail.
The stale heat of the long day in town, the dusty promiscuity of the
suburban train were now but the requisite foil to an evening of scented
breezes and tranquil talk. They had been married more than a year, and
each home-coming still reflected the freshness of their first day
together. If, indeed, their happiness had a flaw, it was in resembling too
closely the bright impermanence of their surroundings. Their love as yet
was but the gay tent of holiday-makers.
His wife looked up with a smile. The country life suited her, and her
beauty had gained depth from a stillness in which certain faces might have
"Are you very tired?" she asked, pouring his tea.
"Just enough to enjoy this." He rose from the chair in which he had thrown
himself and bent over the tray for his cream. "You've had a visitor?" he
commented, noticing a half-empty cup beside her own.
"Only Mr. Flamel," she said, indifferently.
She answered without show of surprise. "He left just now. His yacht is
down at Laurel Bay and he borrowed a trap of the Dreshams to drive over
Glennard made no comment, and she went on, leaning her head back against
the cushions of her bamboo-seat, "He wants us to go for a sail with him
Glennard meditatively stirred his tea. He was trying to think of the most
natural and unartificial thing to say, and his voice seemed to come from
the outside, as though he were speaking behind a marionette. "Do you want
"Just as you please," she said, compliantly. No affectation of
indifference could have been as baffling as her compliance. Glennard, of
late, was beginning to feel that the surface which, a year ago, he had
taken for a sheet of clear glass, might, after all, be a mirror reflecting
merely his own conception of what lay behind it.
"Do you like Flamel?" he suddenly asked; to which, still engaged with her
tea, she returned the feminine answer—"I thought you did."
"I do, of course," he agreed, vexed at his own incorrigible tendency to
magnify Flamel's importance by hovering about the topic. "A sail would be
rather jolly; let's go."
She made no reply and he drew forth the rolled-up evening papers which he
had thrust into his pocket on leaving the train. As he smoothed them out
his own countenance seemed to undergo the same process. He ran his eye
down the list of stocks and Flamel's importunate personality receded
behind the rows of figures pushing forward into notice like so many
bearers of good news. Glennard's investments were flowering like his
garden: the dryest shares blossomed into dividends, and a golden harvest
awaited his sickle.
He glanced at his wife with the tranquil air of the man who digests good
luck as naturally as the dry ground absorbs a shower. "Things are looking
uncommonly well. I believe we shall be able to go to town for two or three
months next winter if we can find something cheap."
She smiled luxuriously: it was pleasant to be able to say, with an air of
balancing relative advantages, "Really, on the baby's account I shall be
almost sorry; but if we do go, there's Kate Erskine's house... she'll let
us have it for almost nothing...."
"Well, write her about it," he recommended, his eyes travelling on in
search of the weather report. He had turned to the wrong page; and
suddenly a line of black characters leapt out at him as from an ambush.
"'Margaret Aubyn's Letters.' Two volumes. Out to-day. First edition of
five thousand sold out before leaving the press. Second edition ready next
week. THE BOOK OF THE YEAR...."
He looked up stupidly. His wife still sat with her head thrown back, her
pure profile detached against the cushions. She was smiling a little over
the prospect his last words had opened. Behind her head shivers of sun and
shade ran across the striped awning. A row of maples and a privet hedge
hid their neighbor's gables, giving them undivided possession of their
leafy half-acre; and life, a moment before, had been like their plot of
ground, shut off, hedged in from importunities, impenetrably his and hers.
Now it seemed to him that every maple-leaf, every privet-bud, was a
relentless human gaze, pressing close upon their privacy. It was as though
they sat in a brightly lit room, uncurtained from a darkness full of
hostile watchers.... His wife still smiled; and her unconsciousness of
danger seemed, in some horrible way, to put her beyond the reach of
He had not known that it would be like this. After the first odious weeks,
spent in preparing the letters for publication, in submitting them to
Flamel, and in negotiating with the publishers, the transaction had
dropped out of his consciousness into that unvisited limbo to which we
relegate the deeds we would rather not have done but have no notion of
undoing. From the moment he had obtained Miss Trent's promise not to sail
with her aunt he had tried to imagine himself irrevocably committed. After
that, he argued, his first duty was to her—she had become his
conscience. The sum obtained from the publishers by Flamel's adroit
manipulations and opportunely transferred to Dinslow's successful venture,
already yielded a return which, combined with Glennard's professional
earnings, took the edge of compulsion from their way of living, making it
appear the expression of a graceful preference for simplicity. It was the
mitigated poverty which can subscribe to a review or two and have a few
flowers on the dinner-table. And already in a small way Glennard was
beginning to feel the magnetic quality of prosperity. Clients who had
passed his door in the hungry days sought it out now that it bore the name
of a successful man. It was understood that a small inheritance, cleverly
invested, was the source of his fortune; and there was a feeling that a
man who could do so well for himself was likely to know how to turn over
other people's money.
But it was in the more intimate reward of his wife's happiness that
Glennard tasted the full flavor of success. Coming out of conditions so
narrow that those he offered her seemed spacious, she fitted into her new
life without any of those manifest efforts at adjustment that are as sore
to a husband's pride as the critical rearrangement of the bridal
furniture. She had given him, instead, the delicate pleasure of watching
her expand like a sea-creature restored to its element, stretching out the
atrophied tentacles of girlish vanity and enjoyment to the rising tide of
opportunity. And somehow—in the windowless inner cell of his
consciousness where self-criticism cowered—Glennard's course seemed
justified by its merely material success. How could such a crop of
innocent blessedness have sprung from tainted soil?
Now he had the injured sense of a man entrapped into a disadvantageous
bargain. He had not known it would be like this; and a dull anger gathered
at his heart. Anger against whom? Against his wife, for not knowing what
he suffered? Against Flamel, for being the unconscious instrument of his
wrong-doing? Or against that mute memory to which his own act had suddenly
given a voice of accusation? Yes, that was it; and his punishment
henceforth would be the presence, the unescapable presence, of the woman
he had so persistently evaded. She would always be there now. It was as
though he had married her instead of the other. It was what she had always
wanted—to be with him—and she had gained her point at last....
He sprang up, as though in an impulse of flight.... The sudden movement
lifted his wife's lids, and she asked, in the incurious voice of the woman
whose life is enclosed in a magic circle of prosperity—"Any news?"
"No—none—" he said, roused to a sense of immediate peril. The
papers lay scattered at his feet—what if she were to see them? He
stretched his arm to gather them up, but his next thought showed him the
futility of such concealment. The same advertisement would appear every
day, for weeks to come, in every newspaper; how could he prevent her
seeing it? He could not always be hiding the papers from her.... Well, and
what if she did see it? It would signify nothing to her, the chances were
that she would never even read the book.... As she ceased to be an element
of fear in his calculations the distance between them seemed to lessen and
he took her again, as it were, into the circle of his conjugal
protection.... Yet a moment before he had almost hated her!... He laughed
aloud at his senseless terrors.... He was off his balance, decidedly.
"What are you laughing at?" she asked.
He explained, elaborately, that he was laughing at the recollection of an
old woman in the train, an old woman with a lot of bundles, who couldn't
find her ticket.... But somehow, in the telling, the humor of the story
seemed to evaporate, and he felt the conventionality of her smile. He
glanced at his watch, "Isn't it time to dress?"
She rose with serene reluctance. "It's a pity to go in. The garden looks
They lingered side by side, surveying their domain. There was not space in
it, at this hour, for the shadow of the elm-tree in the angle of the
hedge; it crossed the lawn, cut the flower-border in two, and ran up the
side of the house to the nursery window. She bent to flick a caterpillar
from the honey-suckle; then, as they turned indoors, "If we mean to go on
the yacht next Sunday," she suggested, "oughtn't you to let Mr. Flamel
Glennard's exasperation deflected suddenly. "Of course I shall let him
know. You always seem to imply that I'm going to do something rude to
The words reverberated through her silence; she had a way of thus leaving
one space in which to contemplate one's folly at arm's length. Glennard
turned on his heel and went upstairs. As he dropped into a chair before
his dressing-table he said to himself that in the last hour he had sounded
the depths of his humiliation and that the lowest dregs of it, the very
bottom-slime, was the hateful necessity of having always, as long as the
two men lived, to be civil to Barton Flamel.
THE week in town had been sultry, and the men, in the Sunday emancipation
of white flannel and duck, filled the deck-chairs of the yacht with their
outstretched apathy, following, through a mist of cigarette-smoke, the
flitting inconsequences of the women. The part was a small one—Flamel
had few intimate friends—but composed of more heterogeneous atoms
than the little pools into which society usually runs. The reaction from
the chief episode of his earlier life had bred in Glennard an uneasy
distaste for any kind of personal saliency. Cleverness was useful in
business; but in society it seemed to him as futile as the sham cascades
formed by a stream that might have been used to drive a mill. He liked the
collective point of view that goes with the civilized uniformity of
dress-clothes, and his wife's attitude implied the same preference; yet
they found themselves slipping more and more into Flamel's intimacy. Alexa
had once or twice said that she enjoyed meeting clever people; but her
enjoyment took the negative form of a smiling receptivity; and Glennard
felt a growing preference for the kind of people who have their thinking
done for them by the community.
Still, the deck of the yacht was a pleasant refuge from the heat on shore,
and his wife's profile, serenely projected against the changing blue, lay
on his retina like a cool hand on the nerves. He had never been more
impressed by the kind of absoluteness that lifted her beauty above the
transient effects of other women, making the most harmonious face seem an
accidental collocation of features.
The ladies who directly suggested this comparison were of a kind
accustomed to take similar risks with more gratifying results. Mrs.
Armiger had in fact long been the triumphant alternative of those who
couldn't "see" Alexa Glennard's looks; and Mrs. Touchett's claims to
consideration were founded on that distribution of effects which is the
wonder of those who admire a highly cultivated country. The third lady of
the trio which Glennard's fancy had put to such unflattering uses, was
bound by circumstances to support the claims of the other two. This was
Mrs. Dresham, the wife of the editor of the Radiator. Mrs. Dresham was a
lady who had rescued herself from social obscurity by assuming the role of
her husband's exponent and interpreter; and Dresham's leisure being
devoted to the cultivation of remarkable women, his wife's attitude
committed her to the public celebration of their remarkableness. For the
conceivable tedium of this duty, Mrs. Dresham was repaid by the fact that
there were people who took HER for a remarkable woman; and who in turn
probably purchased similar distinction with the small change of her
reflected importance. As to the other ladies of the party, they were
simply the wives of some of the men—the kind of women who expect to
be talked to collectively and to have their questions left unanswered.
Mrs. Armiger, the latest embodiment of Dresham's instinct for the
remarkable, was an innocent beauty who for years had distilled dulness
among a set of people now self-condemned by their inability to appreciate
her. Under Dresham's tutelage she had developed into a "thoughtful woman,"
who read his leaders in the Radiator and bought the books he recommended.
When a new novel appeared, people wanted to know what Mrs. Armiger thought
of it; and a young gentleman who had made a trip in Touraine had recently
inscribed to her the wide-margined result of his explorations.
Glennard, leaning back with his head against the rail and a slit of
fugitive blue between his half-closed lids, vaguely wished she wouldn't
spoil the afternoon by making people talk; though he reduced his annoyance
to the minimum by not listening to what was said, there remained a latent
irritation against the general futility of words.
His wife's gift of silence seemed to him the most vivid commentary on the
clumsiness of speech as a means of intercourse, and his eyes had turned to
her in renewed appreciation of this finer faculty when Mrs. Armiger's
voice abruptly brought home to him the underrated potentialities of
"You've read them, of course, Mrs. Glennard?" he heard her ask; and, in
reply to Alexa's vague interrogation—"Why, the 'Aubyn Letters'—it's
the only book people are talking of this week."
Mrs. Dresham immediately saw her advantage. "You HAVEN'T read them? How
very extraordinary! As Mrs. Armiger says, the book's in the air; one
breathes it in like the influenza."
Glennard sat motionless, watching his wife.
"Perhaps it hasn't reached the suburbs yet," she said, with her unruffled
"Oh, DO let me come to you, then!" Mrs. Touchett cried; "anything for a
change of air! I'm positively sick of the book and I can't put it down.
Can't you sail us beyond its reach, Mr. Flamel?"
Flamel shook his head. "Not even with this breeze. Literature travels
faster than steam nowadays. And the worst of it is that we can't any of us
give up reading; it's as insidious as a vice and as tiresome as a virtue."
"I believe it IS a vice, almost, to read such a book as the 'Letters,'"
said Mrs. Touchett. "It's the woman's soul, absolutely torn up by the
roots—her whole self laid bare; and to a man who evidently didn't
care; who couldn't have cared. I don't mean to read another line; it's too
much like listening at a keyhole."
"But if she wanted it published?"
"Wanted it? How do we know she did?"
"Why, I heard she'd left the letters to the man—whoever he is—with
directions that they should be published after his death—"
"I don't believe it," Mrs. Touchett declared.
"He's dead then, is he?" one of the men asked.
"Why, you don't suppose if he were alive he could ever hold up his head
again, with these letters being read by everybody?" Mrs. Touchett
protested. "It must have been horrible enough to know they'd been written
to him; but to publish them! No man could have done it and no woman could
have told him to—"
"Oh, come, come," Dresham judicially interposed; "after all, they're not
"No—that's the worst of it; they're unloved letters," Mrs. Touchett
"Then, obviously, she needn't have written them; whereas the man, poor
devil, could hardly help receiving them."
"Perhaps he counted on the public to save him the trouble of reading
them," said young Hartly, who was in the cynical stage.
Mrs. Armiger turned her reproachful loveliness to Dresham. "From the way
you defend him, I believe you know who he is."
Everyone looked at Dresham, and his wife smiled with the superior air of
the woman who is in her husband's professional secrets. Dresham shrugged
"What have I said to defend him?"
"You called him a poor devil—you pitied him."
"A man who could let Margaret Aubyn write to him in that way? Of course I
"Then you MUST know who he is," cried Mrs. Armiger, with a triumphant air
Hartly and Flamel laughed and Dresham shook his head. "No one knows; not
even the publishers; so they tell me at least."
"So they tell you to tell us," Hartly astutely amended; and Mrs. Armiger
added, with the appearance of carrying the argument a point farther, "But
even if HE'S dead and SHE'S dead, somebody must have given the letters to
"A little bird, probably," said Dresham, smiling indulgently on her
"A little bird of prey then—a vulture, I should say—" another
"Oh, I'm not with you there," said Dresham, easily. "Those letters
belonged to the public."
"How can any letters belong to the public that weren't written to the
public?" Mrs. Touchett interposed.
"Well, these were, in a sense. A personality as big as Margaret Aubyn's
belongs to the world. Such a mind is part of the general fund of thought.
It's the penalty of greatness—one becomes a monument historique.
Posterity pays the cost of keeping one up, but on condition that one is
always open to the public."
"I don't see that that exonerates the man who gives up the keys of the
sanctuary, as it were."
"Who WAS he?" another voice inquired.
"Who was he? Oh, nobody, I fancy—the letter-box, the slit in the
wall through which the letters passed to posterity...."
"But she never meant them for posterity!"
"A woman shouldn't write such letters if she doesn't mean them to be
"She shouldn't write them to such a man!" Mrs. Touchett scornfully
"I never keep letters," said Mrs. Armiger, under the obvious impression
that she was contributing a valuable point to the discussion.
There was a general laugh, and Flamel, who had not spoken, said, lazily,
"You women are too incurably subjective. I venture to say that most men
would see in those letters merely their immense literary value, their
significance as documents. The personal side doesn't count where there's
so much else."
"Oh, we all know you haven't any principles," Mrs. Armiger declared; and
Alexa Glennard, lifting an indolent smile, said: "I shall never write you
a love-letter, Mr. Flamel."
Glennard moved away impatiently. Such talk was as tedious as the buzzing
of gnats. He wondered why his wife had wanted to drag him on such a
senseless expedition.... He hated Flamel's crowd—and what business
had Flamel himself to interfere in that way, standing up for the
publication of the letters as though Glennard needed his defence?...
Glennard turned his head and saw that Flamel had drawn a seat to Alexa's
elbow and was speaking to her in a low tone. The other groups had
scattered, straying in twos along the deck. It came over Glennard that he
should never again be able to see Flamel speaking to his wife without the
sense of sick mistrust that now loosened his joints....
Alexa, the next morning, over their early breakfast, surprised her husband
by an unexpected request.
"Will you bring me those letters from town?" she asked.
"What letters?" he said, putting down his cup. He felt himself as
helplessly vulnerable as a man who is lunged at in the dark.
"Mrs. Aubyn's. The book they were all talking about yesterday."
Glennard, carefully measuring his second cup of tea, said, with
deliberation, "I didn't know you cared about that sort of thing."
She was, in fact, not a great reader, and a new book seldom reached her
till it was, so to speak, on the home stretch; but she replied, with a
gentle tenacity, "I think it would interest me because I read her life
"Her life? Where did you get that?"
"Someone lent it to me when it came out—Mr. Flamel, I think."
His first impulse was to exclaim, "Why the devil do you borrow books of
Flamel? I can buy you all you want—" but he felt himself
irresistibly forced into an attitude of smiling compliance. "Flamel always
has the newest books going, hasn't he? You must be careful, by the way,
about returning what he lends you. He's rather crotchety about his
"Oh, I'm always very careful," she said, with a touch of competence that
struck him; and she added, as he caught up his hat: "Don't forget the
Why had she asked for the book? Was her sudden wish to see it the result
of some hint of Flamel's? The thought turned Glennard sick, but he
preserved sufficient lucidity to tell himself, a moment later, that his
last hope of self-control would be lost if he yielded to the temptation of
seeing a hidden purpose in everything she said and did. How much Flamel
guessed, he had no means of divining; nor could he predicate, from what he
knew of the man, to what use his inferences might be put. The very
qualities that had made Flamel a useful adviser made him the most
dangerous of accomplices. Glennard felt himself agrope among alien forces
that his own act had set in motion....
Alexa was a woman of few requirements; but her wishes, even in trifles,
had a definiteness that distinguished them from the fluid impulses of her
kind. He knew that, having once asked for the book, she would not forget
it; and he put aside, as an ineffectual expedient, his momentary idea of
applying for it at the circulating library and telling her that all the
copies were out. If the book was to be bought it had better be bought at
once. He left his office earlier than usual and turned in at the first
book-shop on his way to the train. The show-window was stacked with
conspicuously lettered volumes. "Margaret Aubyn" flashed back at him in
endless repetition. He plunged into the shop and came on a counter where
the name reiterated itself on row after row of bindings. It seemed to have
driven the rest of literature to the back shelves. He caught up a copy,
tossing the money to an astonished clerk who pursued him to the door with
the unheeded offer to wrap up the volumes.
In the street he was seized with a sudden apprehension. What if he were to
meet Flamel? The thought was intolerable. He called a cab and drove
straight to the station where, amid the palm-leaf fans of a perspiring
crowd, he waited a long half-hour for his train to start.
He had thrust a volume in either pocket and in the train he dared not draw
them out; but the detested words leaped at him from the folds of the
evening paper. The air seemed full of Margaret Aubyn's name. The motion of
the train set it dancing up and down on the page of a magazine that a man
in front of him was reading....
At the door he was told that Mrs. Glennard was still out, and he went
upstairs to his room and dragged the books from his pocket. They lay on
the table before him like live things that he feared to touch.... At
length he opened the first volume. A familiar letter sprang out at him,
each word quickened by its glaring garb of type. The little broken phrases
fled across the page like wounded animals in the open.... It was a
horrible sight.... A battue of helpless things driven savagely out of
shelter. He had not known it would be like this....
He understood now that, at the moment of selling the letters, he had
viewed the transaction solely as it affected himself: as an unfortunate
blemish on an otherwise presentable record. He had scarcely considered the
act in relation to Margaret Aubyn; for death, if it hallows, also makes
innocuous. Glennard's God was a god of the living, of the immediate, the
actual, the tangible; all his days he had lived in the presence of that
god, heedless of the divinities who, below the surface of our deeds and
passions, silently forge the fatal weapons of the dead.
A knock roused him and looking up he saw his wife. He met her glance in
silence, and she faltered out, "Are you ill?"
The words restored his self-possession. "Ill? Of course not. They told me
you were out and I came upstairs."
The books lay between them on the table; he wondered when she would see
them. She lingered tentatively on the threshold, with the air of leaving
his explanation on his hands. She was not the kind of woman who could be
counted on to fortify an excuse by appearing to dispute it.
"Where have you been?" Glennard asked, moving forward so that he
obstructed her vision of the books.
"I walked over to the Dreshams for tea."
"I can't think what you see in those people," he said with a shrug;
adding, uncontrollably—"I suppose Flamel was there?"
"No; he left on the yacht this morning."
An answer so obstructing to the natural escape of his irritation left
Glennard with no momentary resource but that of strolling impatiently to
the window. As her eyes followed him they lit on the books.
"Ah, you've brought them! I'm so glad," she exclaimed.
He answered over his shoulder, "For a woman who never reads you make the
most astounding exceptions!"
Her smile was an exasperating concession to the probability that it had
been hot in town or that something had bothered him.
"Do you mean it's not nice to want to read the book?" she asked. "It was
not nice to publish it, certainly; but after all, I'm not responsible for
that, am I?" She paused, and, as he made no answer, went on, still
smiling, "I do read sometimes, you know; and I'm very fond of Margaret
Aubyn's books. I was reading 'Pomegranate Seed' when we first met. Don't
you remember? It was then you told me all about her."
Glennard had turned back into the room and stood staring at his wife. "All
about her?" he repeated, and with the words remembrance came to him. He
had found Miss Trent one afternoon with the novel in her hand, and moved
by the lover's fatuous impulse to associate himself in some way with
whatever fills the mind of the beloved, had broken through his habitual
silence about the past. Rewarded by the consciousness of figuring
impressively in Miss Trent's imagination he had gone on from one anecdote
to another, reviving dormant details of his old Hillbridge life, and
pasturing his vanity on the eagerness with which she received his
reminiscences of a being already clothed in the impersonality of
The incident had left no trace in his mind; but it sprang up now like an
old enemy, the more dangerous for having been forgotten. The instinct of
self-preservation—sometimes the most perilous that man can exercise—made
him awkwardly declare—"Oh, I used to see her at people's houses,
that was all;" and her silence as usual leaving room for a multiplication
of blunders, he added, with increased indifference, "I simply can't see
what you can find to interest you in such a book."
She seemed to consider this intently. "You've read it, then?"
"I glanced at it—I never read such things."
"Is it true that she didn't wish the letters to be published?"
Glennard felt the sudden dizziness of the mountaineer on a narrow ledge,
and with it the sense that he was lost if he looked more than a step
"I'm sure I don't know," he said; then, summoning a smile, he passed his
hand through her arm. "I didn't have tea at the Dreshams, you know; won't
you give me some now?" he suggested.
That evening Glennard, under pretext of work to be done, shut himself into
the small study opening off the drawing-room. As he gathered up his papers
he said to his wife: "You're not going to sit indoors on such a night as
this? I'll join you presently outside."
But she had drawn her armchair to the lamp. "I want to look at my book,"
she said, taking up the first volume of the "Letters."
Glennard, with a shrug, withdrew into the study. "I'm going to shut the
door; I want to be quiet," he explained from the threshold; and she nodded
without lifting her eyes from the book.
He sank into a chair, staring aimlessly at the outspread papers. How was
he to work, while on the other side of the door she sat with that volume
in her hand? The door did not shut her out—he saw her distinctly,
felt her close to him in a contact as painful as the pressure on a bruise.
The sensation was part of the general strangeness that made him feel like
a man waking from a long sleep to find himself in an unknown country among
people of alien tongue. We live in our own souls as in an unmapped region,
a few acres of which we have cleared for our habitation; while of the
nature of those nearest us we know but the boundaries that march with
ours. Of the points in his wife's character not in direct contact with his
own, Glennard now discerned his ignorance; and the baffling sense of her
remoteness was intensified by the discovery that, in one way, she was
closer to him than ever before. As one may live for years in happy
unconsciousness of the possession of a sensitive nerve, he had lived
beside his wife unaware that her individuality had become a part of the
texture of his life, ineradicable as some growth on a vital organ; and he
now felt himself at once incapable of forecasting her judgment and
powerless to evade its effects.
To escape, the next morning, the confidences of the breakfast-table, he
went to town earlier than usual. His wife, who read slowly, was given to
talking over what she read, and at present his first object in life was to
postpone the inevitable discussion of the letters. This instinct of
protection in the afternoon, on his way uptown, guided him to the club in
search of a man who might be persuaded to come out to the country to dine.
The only man in the club was Flamel.
Glennard, as he heard himself almost involuntarily pressing Flamel to come
and dine, felt the full irony of the situation. To use Flamel as a shield
against his wife's scrutiny was only a shade less humiliating than to
reckon on his wife as a defence against Flamel.
He felt a contradictory movement of annoyance at the latter's ready
acceptance, and the two men drove in silence to the station. As they
passed the bookstall in the waiting-room Flamel lingered a moment and the
eyes of both fell on Margaret Aubyn's name, conspicuously displayed above
a counter stacked with the familiar volumes.
"We shall be late, you know," Glennard remonstrated, pulling out his
"Go ahead," said Flamel, imperturbably. "I want to get something—"
Glennard turned on his heel and walked down the platform. Flamel rejoined
him with an innocent-looking magazine in his hand; but Glennard dared not
even glance at the cover, lest it should show the syllables he feared.
The train was full of people they knew, and they were kept apart till it
dropped them at the little suburban station. As they strolled up the
shaded hill, Glennard talked volubly, pointing out the improvements in the
neighborhood, deploring the threatened approach of an electric railway,
and screening himself by a series of reflex adjustments from the imminent
risk of any allusion to the "Letters." Flamel suffered his discourse with
the bland inattention that we accord to the affairs of someone else's
suburb, and they reached the shelter of Alexa's tea-table without a
perceptible turn toward the dreaded topic.
The dinner passed off safely. Flamel, always at his best in Alexa's
presence, gave her the kind of attention which is like a beaconing light
thrown on the speaker's words: his answers seemed to bring out a latent
significance in her phrases, as the sculptor draws his statue from the
block. Glennard, under his wife's composure, detected a sensibility to
this manoeuvre, and the discovery was like the lightning-flash across a
nocturnal landscape. Thus far these momentary illuminations had served
only to reveal the strangeness of the intervening country: each fresh
observation seemed to increase the sum-total of his ignorance. Her
simplicity of outline was more puzzling than a complex surface. One may
conceivably work one's way through a labyrinth; but Alexa's candor was
like a snow-covered plain where, the road once lost, there are no
landmarks to travel by.
Dinner over, they returned to the veranda, where a moon, rising behind the
old elm, was combining with that complaisant tree a romantic enlargement
of their borders. Glennard had forgotten the cigars. He went to his study
to fetch them, and in passing through the drawing-room he saw the second
volume of the "Letters" lying open on his wife's table. He picked up the
book and looked at the date of the letter she had been reading. It was one
of the last... he knew the few lines by heart. He dropped the book and
leaned against the wall. Why had he included that one among the others? Or
was it possible that now they would all seem like that...?
Alexa's voice came suddenly out of the dusk. "May Touchett was right—it
IS like listening at a key-hole. I wish I hadn't read it!"
Flamel returned, in the leisurely tone of the man whose phrases are
punctuated by a cigarette, "It seems so to us, perhaps; but to another
generation the book will be a classic."
"Then it ought not to have been published till it had become a classic.
It's horrible, it's degrading almost, to read the secrets of a woman one
might have known." She added, in a lower tone, "Stephen DID know her—"
"Did he?" came from Flamel.
"He knew her very well, at Hillbridge, years ago. The book has made him
feel dreadfully... he wouldn't read it... he didn't want me to read it. I
didn't understand at first, but now I can see how horribly disloyal it
must seem to him. It's so much worse to surprise a friend's secrets than a
"Oh, Glennard's such a sensitive chap," Flamel said, easily; and Alexa
almost rebukingly rejoined, "If you'd known her I'm sure you'd feel as he
Glennard stood motionless, overcome by the singular infelicity with which
he had contrived to put Flamel in possession of the two points most
damaging to his case: the fact that he had been a friend of Margaret
Aubyn's, and that he had concealed from Alexa his share in the publication
of the letters. To a man of less than Flamel's astuteness it must now be
clear to whom the letters were addressed; and the possibility once
suggested, nothing could be easier than to confirm it by discreet
research. An impulse of self-accusal drove Glennard to the window. Why not
anticipate betrayal by telling his wife the truth in Flamel's presence? If
the man had a drop of decent feeling in him, such a course would be the
surest means of securing his silence; and above all, it would rid Glennard
of the necessity of defending himself against the perpetual criticism of
his wife's belief in him....
The impulse was strong enough to carry him to the window; but there a
reaction of defiance set in. What had he done, after all, to need defence
and explanation? Both Dresham and Flamel had, in his hearing, declared the
publication of the letters to be not only justifiable but obligatory; and
if the disinterestedness of Flamel's verdict might be questioned,
Dresham's at least represented the impartial view of the man of letters.
As to Alexa's words, they were simply the conventional utterance of the
"nice" woman on a question already decided for her by other "nice" women.
She had said the proper thing as mechanically as she would have put on the
appropriate gown or written the correct form of dinner-invitation.
Glennard had small faith in the abstract judgments of the other sex; he
knew that half the women who were horrified by the publication of Mrs.
Aubyn's letters would have betrayed her secrets without a scruple.
The sudden lowering of his emotional pitch brought a proportionate relief.
He told himself that now the worst was over and things would fall into
perspective again. His wife and Flamel had turned to other topics, and
coming out on the veranda, he handed the cigars to Flamel, saying,
cheerfully—and yet he could have sworn they were the last words he
meant to utter!—"Look here, old man, before you go down to Newport
you must come out and spend a few days with us—mustn't he, Alexa?"
Glennard had, perhaps unconsciously, counted on the continuance of this
easier mood. He had always taken pride in a certain robustness of fibre
that enabled him to harden himself against the inevitable, to convert his
failures into the building materials of success. Though it did not even
now occur to him that what he called the inevitable had hitherto been the
alternative he happened to prefer, he was yet obscurely aware that his
present difficulty was one not to be conjured by any affectation of
indifference. Some griefs build the soul a spacious house—but in
this misery of Glennard's he could not stand upright. It pressed against
him at every turn. He told himself that this was because there was no
escape from the visible evidences of his act. The "Letters" confronted him
everywhere. People who had never opened a book discussed them with
critical reservations; to have read them had become a social obligation in
circles to which literature never penetrates except in a personal guise.
Glennard did himself injustice, it was from the unexpected discovery of
his own pettiness that he chiefly suffered. Our self-esteem is apt to be
based on the hypothetical great act we have never had occasion to perform;
and even the most self-scrutinizing modesty credits itself negatively with
a high standard of conduct. Glennard had never thought himself a hero; but
he had been certain that he was incapable of baseness. We all like our
wrong-doings to have a becoming cut, to be made to order, as it were; and
Glennard found himself suddenly thrust into a garb of dishonor surely
meant for a meaner figure.
The immediate result of his first weeks of wretchedness was the resolve to
go to town for the winter. He knew that such a course was just beyond the
limit of prudence; but it was easy to allay the fears of Alexa who,
scrupulously vigilant in the management of the household, preserved the
American wife's usual aloofness from her husband's business cares.
Glennard felt that he could not trust himself to a winter's solitude with
her. He had an unspeakable dread of her learning the truth about the
letters, yet could not be sure of steeling himself against the suicidal
impulse of avowal. His very soul was parched for sympathy; he thirsted for
a voice of pity and comprehension. But would his wife pity? Would she
understand? Again he found himself brought up abruptly against his
incredible ignorance of her nature. The fact that he knew well enough how
she would behave in the ordinary emergencies of life, that he could count,
in such contingencies, on the kind of high courage and directness he had
always divined in her, made him the more hopeless of her entering into the
torturous psychology of an act that he himself could no longer explain or
understand. It would have been easier had she been more complex, more
feminine—if he could have counted on her imaginative sympathy or her
moral obtuseness—but he was sure of neither. He was sure of nothing
but that, for a time, he must avoid her. Glennard could not rid himself of
the delusion that by and by his action would cease to make its
consequences felt. He would not have cared to own to himself that he
counted on the dulling of his sensibilities: he preferred to indulge the
vague hypothesis that extraneous circumstances would somehow efface the
blot upon his conscience. In his worst moments of self-abasement he tried
to find solace in the thought that Flamel had sanctioned his course.
Flamel, at the outset, must have guessed to whom the letters were
addressed; yet neither then nor afterward had he hesitated to advise their
publication. This thought drew Glennard to him in fitful impulses of
friendliness, from each of which there was a sharper reaction of distrust
and aversion. When Flamel was not at the house, he missed the support of
his tacit connivance; when he was there, his presence seemed the assertion
of an intolerable claim.
Early in the winter the Glennards took possession of the little house that
was to cost them almost nothing. The change brought Glennard the immediate
relief of seeing less of his wife, and of being protected, in her
presence, by the multiplied preoccupations of town life. Alexa, who could
never appear hurried, showed the smiling abstraction of a pretty woman to
whom the social side of married life has not lost its novelty. Glennard,
with the recklessness of a man fresh from his first financial imprudence,
encouraged her in such little extravagances as her good sense at first
resisted. Since they had come to town, he argued, they might as well enjoy
themselves. He took a sympathetic view of the necessity of new gowns, he
gave her a set of furs at Christmas, and before the New Year they had
agreed on the obligation of adding a parlour-maid to their small
Providence the very next day hastened to justify this measure by placing
on Glennard's breakfast-plate an envelope bearing the name of the
publishers to whom he had sold Mrs. Aubyn's letters. It happened to be the
only letter the early post had brought, and he glanced across the table at
his wife, who had come down before him and had probably laid the envelope
on his plate. She was not the woman to ask awkward questions, but he felt
the conjecture of her glance, and he was debating whether to affect
surprise at the receipt of the letter, or to pass it off as a business
communication that had strayed to his house, when a check fell from the
envelope. It was the royalty on the first edition of the letters. His
first feeling was one of simple satisfaction. The money had come with such
infernal opportuneness that he could not help welcoming it. Before long,
too, there would be more; he knew the book was still selling far beyond
the publisher's previsions. He put the check in his pocket and left the
room without looking at his wife.
On the way to his office the habitual reaction set in. The money he had
received was the first tangible reminder that he was living on the sale of
his self-esteem. The thought of material benefit had been overshadowed by
his sense of the intrinsic baseness of making the letters known; now he
saw what an element of sordidness it added to the situation and how the
fact that he needed the money, and must use it, pledged him more
irrevocably than ever to the consequences of his act. It seemed to him, in
that first hour of misery, that he had betrayed his friend anew.
When, that afternoon, he reached home earlier than usual, Alexa's
drawing-room was full of a gayety that overflowed to the stairs. Flamel,
for a wonder, was not there; but Dresham and young Hartly, grouped about
the tea-table, were receiving with resonant mirth a narrative delivered in
the fluttered staccato that made Mrs. Armiger's conversation like the
ejaculations of a startled aviary.
She paused as Glennard entered, and he had time to notice that his wife,
who was busied about the tea-tray, had not joined in the laughter of the
"Oh, go on, go on," young Hartly rapturously groaned; and Mrs. Armiger met
Glennard's inquiry with the deprecating cry that really she didn't see
what there was to laugh at. "I'm sure I feel more like crying. I don't
know what I should have done if Alexa hadn't been home to give me a cup of
tea. My nerves are in shreds—yes, another, dear, please—" and
as Glennard looked his perplexity, she went on, after pondering on the
selection of a second lump of sugar, "Why, I've just come from the
reading, you know—the reading at the Waldorf."
"I haven't been in town long enough to know anything," said Glennard,
taking the cup his wife handed him. "Who has been reading what?"
"That lovely girl from the South—Georgie—Georgie what's her
name—Mrs. Dresham's protegee—unless she's YOURS, Mr. Dresham!
Why, the big ball-room was PACKED, and all the women were crying like
idiots—it was the most harrowing thing I ever heard—"
"What DID you hear?" Glennard asked; and his wife interposed: "Won't you
have another bit of cake, Julia? Or, Stephen, ring for some hot toast,
please." Her tone betrayed a polite satiety of the topic under discussion.
Glennard turned to the bell, but Mrs. Armiger pursued him with her lovely
"Why, the 'Aubyn Letters'—didn't you know about it? The girl read
them so beautifully that it was quite horrible—I should have fainted
if there'd been a man near enough to carry me out."
Hartly's glee redoubled, and Dresham said, jovially, "How like you women
to raise a shriek over the book and then do all you can to encourage the
blatant publicity of the readings!"
Mrs. Armiger met him more than half-way on a torrent of self-accusal. "It
WAS horrid; it was disgraceful. I told your wife we ought all to be
ashamed of ourselves for going, and I think Alexa was quite right to
refuse to take any tickets—even if it was for a charity."
"Oh," her hostess murmured, indifferently, "with me charity begins at
home. I can't afford emotional luxuries."
"A charity? A charity?" Hartly exulted. "I hadn't seized the full beauty
of it. Reading poor Margaret Aubyn's love-letters at the Waldorf before
five hundred people for a charity! WHAT charity, dear Mrs. Armiger?"
"Why, the Home for Friendless Women—"
"It was well chosen," Dresham commented; and Hartly buried his mirth in
When they were alone Glennard, still holding his untouched cup of tea,
turned to his wife, who sat silently behind the kettle. "Who asked you to
take a ticket for that reading?"
"I don't know, really—Kate Dresham, I fancy. It was she who got it
"It's just the sort of damnable vulgarity she's capable of! It's loathsome—it's
His wife, without looking up, answered gravely, "I thought so too. It was
for that reason I didn't go. But you must remember that very few people
feel about Mrs. Aubyn as you do—"
Glennard managed to set down his cup with a steady hand, but the room
swung round with him and he dropped into the nearest chair. "As I do?" he
"I mean that very few people knew her when she lived in New York. To most
of the women who went to the reading she was a mere name, too remote to
have any personality. With me, of course, it was different—"
Glennard gave her a startled look. "Different? Why different?"
"Since you were her friend—"
"Her friend!" He stood up impatiently. "You speak as if she had had only
one—the most famous woman of her day!" He moved vaguely about the
room, bending down to look at some books on the table. "I hope," he added,
"you didn't give that as a reason, by the way?"
"For not going. A woman who gives reasons for getting out of social
obligations is sure to make herself unpopular or ridiculous.
The words were uncalculated; but in an instant he saw that they had
strangely bridged the distance between his wife and himself. He felt her
close on him, like a panting foe; and her answer was a flash that showed
the hand on the trigger.
"I seem," she said from the threshold, "to have done both in giving my
reason to you."
The fact that they were dining out that evening made it easy for him to
avoid Alexa till she came downstairs in her opera-cloak. Mrs. Touchett,
who was going to the same dinner, had offered to call for her, and
Glennard, refusing a precarious seat between the ladies' draperies,
followed on foot. The evening was interminable. The reading at the
Waldorf, at which all the women had been present, had revived the
discussion of the "Aubyn Letters" and Glennard, hearing his wife
questioned as to her absence, felt himself miserably wishing that she had
gone, rather than that her staying away should have been remarked. He was
rapidly losing all sense of proportion where the "Letters" were concerned.
He could no longer hear them mentioned without suspecting a purpose in the
allusion; he even yielded himself for a moment to the extravagance of
imagining that Mrs. Dresham, whom he disliked, had organized the reading
in the hope of making him betray himself—for he was already sure
that Dresham had divined his share in the transaction.
The attempt to keep a smooth surface on this inner tumult was as endless
and unavailing as efforts made in a nightmare. He lost all sense of what
he was saying to his neighbors and once when he looked up his wife's
glance struck him cold.
She sat nearly opposite him, at Flamel's side, and it appeared to Glennard
that they had built about themselves one of those airy barriers of talk
behind which two people can say what they please. While the reading was
discussed they were silent. Their silence seemed to Glennard almost
cynical—it stripped the last disguise from their complicity. A throb
of anger rose in him, but suddenly it fell, and he felt, with a curious
sense of relief, that at bottom he no longer cared whether Flamel had told
his wife or not. The assumption that Flamel knew about the letters had
become a fact to Glennard; and it now seemed to him better that Alexa
should know too.
He was frightened at first by the discovery of his own indifference. The
last barriers of his will seemed to be breaking down before a flood of
moral lassitude. How could he continue to play his part, to keep his front
to the enemy, with this poison of indifference stealing through his veins?
He tried to brace himself with the remembrance of his wife's scorn. He had
not forgotten the note on which their conversation had closed. If he had
ever wondered how she would receive the truth he wondered no longer—she
would despise him. But this lent a new insidiousness to his temptation,
since her contempt would be a refuge from his own. He said to himself
that, since he no longer cared for the consequences, he could at least
acquit himself of speaking in self-defence. What he wanted now was not
immunity but castigation: his wife's indignation might still reconcile him
to himself. Therein lay his one hope of regeneration; her scorn was the
moral antiseptic that he needed, her comprehension the one balm that could
When they left the dinner he was so afraid of speaking that he let her
drive home alone, and went to the club with Flamel.
HE rose next morning with the resolve to know what Alexa thought of him.
It was not anchoring in a haven, but lying to in a storm—he felt the
need of a temporary lull in the turmoil of his sensations.
He came home late, for they were dining alone and he knew that they would
have the evening together. When he followed her to the drawing-room after
dinner he thought himself on the point of speaking; but as she handed him
his coffee he said, involuntarily: "I shall have to carry this off to the
study, I've got a lot of work to-night."
Alone in the study he cursed his cowardice. What was it that had withheld
him? A certain bright unapproachableness seemed to keep him at arm's
length. She was not the kind of woman whose compassion could be
circumvented; there was no chance of slipping past the outposts; he would
never take her by surprise. Well—why not face her, then? What he
shrank from could be no worse than what he was enduring. He had pushed
back his chair and turned to go upstairs when a new expedient presented
itself. What if, instead of telling her, he were to let her find out for
herself and watch the effect of the discovery before speaking? In this way
he made over to chance the burden of the revelation.
The idea had been suggested by the sight of the formula enclosing the
publisher's check. He had deposited the money, but the notice accompanying
it dropped from his note-case as he cleared his table for work. It was the
formula usual in such cases and revealed clearly enough that he was the
recipient of a royalty on Margaret Aubyn's letters. It would be impossible
for Alexa to read it without understanding at once that the letters had
been written to him and that he had sold them....
He sat downstairs till he heard her ring for the parlor-maid to put out
the lights; then he went up to the drawing-room with a bundle of papers in
his hand. Alexa was just rising from her seat and the lamplight fell on
the deep roll of hair that overhung her brow like the eaves of a temple.
Her face had often the high secluded look of a shrine; and it was this
touch of awe in her beauty that now made him feel himself on the brink of
Lest the feeling should dominate him, he spoke at once. "I've brought you
a piece of work—a lot of old bills and things that I want you to
sort for me. Some are not worth keeping—but you'll be able to judge
of that. There may be a letter or two among them—nothing of much
account, but I don't like to throw away the whole lot without having them
looked over and I haven't time to do it myself."
He held out the papers and she took them with a smile that seemed to
recognize in the service he asked the tacit intention of making amends for
the incident of the previous day.
"Are you sure I shall know which to keep?"
"Oh, quite sure," he answered, easily—"and besides, none are of much
The next morning he invented an excuse for leaving the house without
seeing her, and when he returned, just before dinner, he found a visitor's
hat and stick in the hall. The visitor was Flamel, who was in the act of
He had risen, but Alexa remained seated; and their attitude gave the
impression of a colloquy that had prolonged itself beyond the limits of
speech. Both turned a surprised eye on Glennard and he had the sense of
walking into a room grown suddenly empty, as though their thoughts were
conspirators dispersed by his approach. He felt the clutch of his old
fear. What if his wife had already sorted the papers and had told Flamel
of her discovery? Well, it was no news to Flamel that Glennard was in
receipt of a royalty on the "Aubyn Letters."...
A sudden resolve to know the worst made him lift his eyes to his wife as
the door closed on Flamel. But Alexa had risen also, and bending over her
writing-table, with her back to Glennard, was beginning to speak
"I'm dining out to-night—you don't mind my deserting you? Julia
Armiger sent me word just now that she had an extra ticket for the last
Ambrose concert. She told me to say how sorry she was that she hadn't two—but
I knew YOU wouldn't be sorry!" She ended with a laugh that had the effect
of being a strayed echo of Mrs. Armiger's; and before Glennard could speak
she had added, with her hand on the door, "Mr. Flamel stayed so late that
I've hardly time to dress. The concert begins ridiculously early, and
Julia dines at half-past seven—"
Glennard stood alone in the empty room that seemed somehow full of an
ironical consciousness of what was happening. "She hates me," he murmured.
"She hates me...."
The next day was Sunday, and Glennard purposely lingered late in his room.
When he came downstairs his wife was already seated at the
breakfast-table. She lifted her usual smile to his entrance and they took
shelter in the nearest topic, like wayfarers overtaken by a storm. While
he listened to her account of the concert he began to think that, after
all, she had not yet sorted the papers, and that her agitation of the
previous day must be ascribed to another cause, in which perhaps he had
but an indirect concern. He wondered it had never before occurred to him
that Flamel was the kind of man who might very well please a woman at his
own expense, without need of fortuitous assistance. If this possibility
cleared the outlook it did not brighten it. Glennard merely felt himself
left alone with his baseness.
Alexa left the breakfast-table before him and when he went up to the
drawing-room he found her dressed to go out.
"Aren't you a little early for church?" he asked.
She replied that, on the way there, she meant to stop a moment at her
mother's; and while she drew on her gloves, he fumbled among the
knick-knacks on the mantel-piece for a match to light his cigarette.
"Well, good-by," she said, turning to go; and from the threshold she
added: "By the way, I've sorted the papers you gave me. Those that I
thought you would like to keep are on your study-table." She went
downstairs and he heard the door close behind her.
She had sorted the papers—she knew, then—she MUST know—and
she had made no sign!
Glennard, he hardly knew how, found himself once more in the study. On the
table lay the packet he had given her. It was much smaller—she had
evidently gone over the papers with care, destroying the greater number.
He loosened the elastic band and spread the remaining envelopes on his
desk. The publisher's notice was among them.
His wife knew and she made no sign. Glennard found himself in the case of
the seafarer who, closing his eyes at nightfall on a scene he thinks to
put leagues behind him before day, wakes to a port-hole framing the same
patch of shore. From the kind of exaltation to which his resolve had
lifted him he dropped to an unreasoning apathy. His impulse of confession
had acted as a drug to self-reproach. He had tried to shift a portion of
his burden to his wife's shoulders and now that she had tacitly refused to
carry it, he felt the load too heavy to be taken up again.
A fortunate interval of hard work brought respite from this phase of
sterile misery. He went West to argue an important case, won it, and came
back to fresh preoccupations. His own affairs were thriving enough to
engross him in the pauses of his professional work, and for over two
months he had little time to look himself in the face. Not unnaturally—for
he was as yet unskilled in the subtleties of introspection—he
mistook his temporary insensibility for a gradual revival of moral health.
He told himself that he was recovering his sense of proportion, getting to
see things in their true light; and if he now thought of his rash appeal
to his wife's sympathy it was as an act of folly from the consequences of
which he had been saved by the providence that watches over madmen. He had
little leisure to observe Alexa; but he concluded that the common-sense
momentarily denied him had counselled her uncritical acceptance of the
inevitable. If such a quality was a poor substitute for the passionate
justness that had once seemed to characterize her, he accepted the
alternative as a part of that general lowering of the key that seems
needful to the maintenance of the matrimonial duet. What woman ever
retained her abstract sense of justice where another woman was concerned?
Possibly the thought that he had profited by Mrs. Aubyn's tenderness was
not wholly disagreeable to his wife.
When the pressure of work began to lessen, and he found himself, in the
lengthening afternoons, able to reach home somewhat earlier, he noticed
that the little drawing-room was always full and that he and his wife
seldom had an evening alone together. When he was tired, as often
happened, she went out alone; the idea of giving up an engagement to
remain with him seemed not to occur to her. She had shown, as a girl,
little fondness for society, nor had she seemed to regret it during the
year they had spent in the country. He reflected, however, that he was
sharing the common lot of husbands, who proverbially mistake the early
ardors of housekeeping for a sign of settled domesticity. Alexa, at any
rate, was refuting his theory as inconsiderately as a seedling defeats the
gardener's expectations. An undefinable change had come over her. In one
sense it was a happy one, since she had grown, if not handsomer, at least
more vivid and expressive; her beauty had become more communicable: it was
as though she had learned the conscious exercise of intuitive attributes
and now used her effects with the discrimination of an artist skilled in
values. To a dispassionate critic (as Glennard now rated himself) the art
may at times have been a little too obvious. Her attempts at lightness
lacked spontaneity, and she sometimes rasped him by laughing like Julia
Armiger; but he had enough imagination to perceive that, in respect of the
wife's social arts, a husband necessarily sees the wrong side of the
In this ironical estimate of their relation Glennard found himself
strangely relieved of all concern as to his wife's feelings for Flamel.
From an Olympian pinnacle of indifference he calmly surveyed their
inoffensive antics. It was surprising how his cheapening of his wife put
him at ease with himself. Far as he and she were from each other they yet
had, in a sense, the tacit nearness of complicity. Yes, they were
accomplices; he could no more be jealous of her than she could despise
him. The jealousy that would once have seemed a blur on her whiteness now
appeared like a tribute to ideals in which he no longer believed....
Glennard was little given to exploring the outskirts of literature. He
always skipped the "literary notices" in the papers and he had small
leisure for the intermittent pleasures of the periodical. He had therefore
no notion of the prolonged reverberations which the "Aubyn Letters" had
awakened in the precincts of criticism. When the book ceased to be talked
about he supposed it had ceased to be read; and this apparent subsidence
of the agitation about it brought the reassuring sense that he had
exaggerated its vitality. The conviction, if it did not ease his
conscience, at least offered him the relative relief of obscurity: he felt
like an offender taken down from the pillory and thrust into the soothing
darkness of a cell.
But one evening, when Alexa had left him to go to a dance, he chanced to
turn over the magazines on her table, and the copy of the Horoscope, to
which he settled down with his cigar, confronted him, on its first page,
with a portrait of Margaret Aubyn. It was a reproduction of the photograph
that had stood so long on his desk. The desiccating air of memory had
turned her into the mere abstraction of a woman, and this unexpected
evocation seemed to bring her nearer than she had ever been in life. Was
it because he understood her better? He looked long into her eyes; little
personal traits reached out to him like caresses—the tired droop of
her lids, her quick way of leaning forward as she spoke, the movements of
her long expressive hands. All that was feminine in her, the quality he
had always missed, stole toward him from her unreproachful gaze; and now
that it was too late life had developed in him the subtler perceptions
which could detect it in even this poor semblance of herself. For a moment
he found consolation in the thought that, at any cost, they had thus been
brought together; then a flood of shame rushed over him. Face to face with
her, he felt himself laid bare to the inmost fold of consciousness. The
shame was deep, but it was a renovating anguish; he was like a man whom
intolerable pain has roused from the creeping lethargy of death....
He rose next morning to as fresh a sense of life as though his hour of
mute communion with Margaret Aubyn had been a more exquisite renewal of
their earlier meetings. His waking thought was that he must see her again;
and as consciousness affirmed itself he felt an intense fear of losing the
sense of her nearness. But she was still close to him; her presence
remained the sole reality in a world of shadows. All through his working
hours he was re-living with incredible minuteness every incident of their
obliterated past; as a man who has mastered the spirit of a foreign tongue
turns with renewed wonder to the pages his youth has plodded over. In this
lucidity of retrospection the most trivial detail had its significance,
and the rapture of recovery was embittered to Glennard by the perception
of all that he had missed. He had been pitiably, grotesquely stupid; and
there was irony in the thought that, but for the crisis through which he
was passing, he might have lived on in complacent ignorance of his loss.
It was as though she had bought him with her blood....
That evening he and Alexa dined alone. After dinner he followed her to the
drawing-room. He no longer felt the need of avoiding her; he was hardly
conscious of her presence. After a few words they lapsed into silence and
he sat smoking with his eyes on the fire. It was not that he was unwilling
to talk to her; he felt a curious desire to be as kind as possible; but he
was always forgetting that she was there. Her full bright presence,
through which the currents of life flowed so warmly, had grown as tenuous
as a shadow, and he saw so far beyond her—
Presently she rose and began to move about the room. She seemed to be
looking for something and he roused himself to ask what she wanted.
"Only the last number of the Horoscope. I thought I'd left it on this
table." He said nothing, and she went on: "You haven't seen it?"
"No," he returned coldly. The magazine was locked in his desk.
His wife had moved to the mantel-piece. She stood facing him and as he
looked up he met her tentative gaze. "I was reading an article in it—a
review of Mrs. Aubyn's letters," she added, slowly, with her deep,
Glennard stooped to toss his cigar into the fire. He felt a savage wish
that she would not speak the other woman's name; nothing else seemed to
matter. "You seem to do a lot of reading," he said.
She still earnestly confronted him. "I was keeping this for you—I
thought it might interest you," she said, with an air of gentle
He stood up and turned away. He was sure she knew that he had taken the
review and he felt that he was beginning to hate her again.
"I haven't time for such things," he said, indifferently. As he moved to
the door he heard her take a precipitate step forward; then she paused and
sank without speaking into the chair from which he had risen.
As Glennard, in the raw February sunlight, mounted the road to the
cemetery, he felt the beatitude that comes with an abrupt cessation of
physical pain. He had reached the point where self-analysis ceases; the
impulse that moved him was purely intuitive. He did not even seek a reason
for it, beyond the obvious one that his desire to stand by Margaret
Aubyn's grave was prompted by no attempt at a sentimental reparation, but
rather by the vague need to affirm in some way the reality of the tie
The ironical promiscuity of death had brought Mrs. Aubyn back to share the
narrow hospitality of her husband's last lodging; but though Glennard knew
she had been buried near New York he had never visited her grave. He was
oppressed, as he now threaded the long avenues, by a chilling vision of
her return. There was no family to follow her hearse; she had died alone,
as she had lived; and the "distinguished mourners" who had formed the
escort of the famous writer knew nothing of the woman they were committing
to the grave. Glennard could not even remember at what season she had been
buried; but his mood indulged the fancy that it must have been on some
such day of harsh sunlight, the incisive February brightness that gives
perspicuity without warmth. The white avenues stretched before him
interminably, lined with stereotyped emblems of affliction, as though all
the platitudes ever uttered had been turned to marble and set up over the
unresisting dead. Here and there, no doubt, a frigid urn or an insipid
angel imprisoned some fine-fibred grief, as the most hackneyed words may
become the vehicle of rare meanings; but for the most part the endless
alignment of monuments seemed to embody those easy generalizations about
death that do not disturb the repose of the living. Glennard's eye, as he
followed the way indicated to him, had instinctively sought some low mound
with a quiet headstone. He had forgotten that the dead seldom plan their
own houses, and with a pang he discovered the name he sought on the
cyclopean base of a granite shaft rearing its aggressive height at the
angle of two avenues.
"How she would have hated it!" he murmured.
A bench stood near and he seated himself. The monument rose before him
like some pretentious uninhabited dwelling; he could not believe that
Margaret Aubyn lay there. It was a Sunday morning and black figures moved
among the paths, placing flowers on the frost-bound hillocks. Glennard
noticed that the neighboring graves had been thus newly dressed; and he
fancied a blind stir of expectancy through the sod, as though the bare
mounds spread a parched surface to that commemorative rain. He rose
presently and walked back to the entrance of the cemetery. Several
greenhouses stood near the gates, and turning in at the first he asked for
"Anything in the emblematic line?" asked the anaemic man behind the
Glennard shook his head.
"Just cut flowers? This way, then." The florist unlocked a glass door and
led him down a moist green aisle. The hot air was choked with the scent of
white azaleas, white lilies, white lilacs; all the flowers were white;
they were like a prolongation, a mystical efflorescence, of the long rows
of marble tombstones, and their perfume seemed to cover an odor of decay.
The rich atmosphere made Glennard dizzy. As he leaned in the doorpost,
waiting for the flowers, he had a penetrating sense of Margaret Aubyn's
nearness—not the imponderable presence of his inner vision, but a
life that beat warm in his arms....
The sharp air caught him as he stepped out into it again. He walked back
and scattered the flowers over the grave. The edges of the white petals
shrivelled like burnt paper in the cold; and as he watched them the
illusion of her nearness faded, shrank back frozen.
The motive of his visit to the cemetery remained undefined save as a final
effort of escape from his wife's inexpressive acceptance of his shame. It
seemed to him that as long as he could keep himself alive to that shame he
would not wholly have succumbed to its consequences. His chief fear was
that he should become the creature of his act. His wife's indifference
degraded him; it seemed to put him on a level with his dishonor. Margaret
Aubyn would have abhorred the deed in proportion to her pity for the man.
The sense of her potential pity drew him back to her. The one woman knew
but did not understand; the other, it sometimes seemed, understood without
In its last disguise of retrospective remorse, his self-pity affected a
desire for solitude and meditation. He lost himself in morbid musings, in
futile visions of what life with Margaret Aubyn might have been. There
were moments when, in the strange dislocation of his view, the wrong he
had done her seemed a tie between them.
To indulge these emotions he fell into the habit, on Sunday afternoons, of
solitary walks prolonged till after dusk. The days were lengthening, there
was a touch of spring in the air, and his wanderings now usually led him
to the Park and its outlying regions.
One Sunday, tired of aimless locomotion, he took a cab at the Park gates
and let it carry him out to the Riverside Drive. It was a gray afternoon
streaked with east wind. Glennard's cab advanced slowly, and as he leaned
back, gazing with absent intentness at the deserted paths that wound under
bare boughs between grass banks of premature vividness, his attention was
arrested by two figures walking ahead of him. This couple, who had the
path to themselves, moved at an uneven pace, as though adapting their gait
to a conversation marked by meditative intervals. Now and then they
paused, and in one of these pauses the lady, turning toward her companion,
showed Glennard the outline of his wife's profile. The man was Flamel.
The blood rushed to Glennard's forehead. He sat up with a jerk and pushed
back the lid in the roof of the hansom; but when the cabman bent down he
dropped into his seat without speaking. Then, becoming conscious of the
prolonged interrogation of the lifted lid, he called out—"Turn—drive
back—anywhere—I'm in a hurry—"
As the cab swung round he caught a last glimpse of the two figures. They
had not moved; Alexa, with bent head, stood listening.
"My God, my God—" he groaned.
It was hideous—it was abominable—he could not understand it.
The woman was nothing to him—less than nothing—yet the blood
hummed in his ears and hung a cloud before him. He knew it was only the
stirring of the primal instinct, that it had no more to do with his
reasoning self than any reflex impulse of the body; but that merely
lowered anguish to disgust. Yes, it was disgust he felt—almost a
physical nausea. The poisonous fumes of life were in his lungs. He was
sick, unutterably sick....
He drove home and went to his room. They were giving a little dinner that
night, and when he came down the guests were arriving. He looked at his
wife: her beauty was extraordinary, but it seemed to him the beauty of a
smooth sea along an unlit coast. She frightened him.
He sat late that night in his study. He heard the parlor-maid lock the
front door; then his wife went upstairs and the lights were put out. His
brain was like some great empty hall with an echo in it; one thought
reverberated endlessly.... At length he drew his chair to the table and
began to write. He addressed an envelope and then slowly re-read what he
"MY DEAR FLAMEL,"
"Many apologies for not sending you sooner the enclosed check, which
represents the customary percentage on the sale of the Letters."
"Trusting you will excuse the oversight,
He let himself out of the darkened house and dropped the letter in the
post-box at the corner.
The next afternoon he was detained late at his office, and as he was
preparing to leave he heard someone asking for him in the outer room. He
seated himself again and Flamel was shown in.
The two men, as Glennard pushed aside an obstructive chair, had a moment
to measure each other; then Flamel advanced, and drawing out his
note-case, laid a slip of paper on the desk.
"My dear fellow, what on earth does this mean?" Glennard recognized his
"That I was remiss, simply. It ought to have gone to you before."
Flamel's tone had been that of unaffected surprise, but at this his accent
changed and he asked, quickly: "On what ground?"
Glennard had moved away from the desk and stood leaning against the
calf-backed volumes of the bookcase. "On the ground that you sold Mrs.
Aubyn's letters for me, and that I find the intermediary in such cases is
entitled to a percentage on the sale."
Flamel paused before answering. "You find, you say. It's a recent
"Obviously, from my not sending the check sooner. You see I'm new to the
"And since when have you discovered that there was any question of
business, as far as I was concerned?"
Glennard flushed and his voice rose slightly. "Are you reproaching me for
not having remembered it sooner?"
Flamel, who had spoken in the rapid repressed tone of a man on the verge
of anger, stared a moment at this and then, in his natural voice,
rejoined, good-humoredly, "Upon my soul, I don't understand you!"
The change of key seemed to disconcert Glennard. "It's simple enough—"
"Simple enough—your offering me money in return for a friendly
service? I don't know what your other friends expect!"
"Some of my friends wouldn't have undertaken the job. Those who would have
done so would probably have expected to be paid."
He lifted his eyes to Flamel and the two men looked at each other. Flamel
had turned white and his lips stirred, but he held his temperate note. "If
you mean to imply that the job was not a nice one, you lay yourself open
to the retort that you proposed it. But for my part I've never seen, I
never shall see, any reason for not publishing the letters."
"That's just it!"
"The certainty of your not seeing was what made me go to you. When a man's
got stolen goods to pawn he doesn't take them to the police-station."
"Stolen?" Flamel echoed. "The letters were stolen?"
Glennard burst into a coarse laugh. "How much longer to you expect me to
keep up that pretence about the letters? You knew well enough they were
written to me."
Flamel looked at him in silence. "Were they?" he said at length. "I didn't
"And didn't suspect it, I suppose," Glennard sneered.
The other was again silent; then he said, "I may remind you that,
supposing I had felt any curiosity about the matter, I had no way of
finding out that the letters were written to you. You never showed me the
"What does that prove? There were fifty ways of finding out. It's the kind
of thing one can easily do."
Flamel glanced at him with contempt. "Our ideas probably differ as to what
a man can easily do. It would not have been easy for me."
Glennard's anger vented itself in the words uppermost in his thought. "It
may, then, interest you to hear that my wife DOES know about the letters—has
known for some months...."
"Ah," said the other, slowly. Glennard saw that, in his blind clutch at a
weapon, he had seized the one most apt to wound. Flamel's muscles were
under control, but his face showed the undefinable change produced by the
slow infiltration of poison. Every implication that the words contained
had reached its mark; but Glennard felt that their obvious intention was
lost in the anguish of what they suggested. He was sure now that Flamel
would never have betrayed him; but the inference only made a wider outlet
for his anger. He paused breathlessly for Flamel to speak.
"If she knows, it's not through me." It was what Glennard had waited for.
"Through you, by God? Who said it was through you? Do you suppose I leave
it to you, or to anybody else, for that matter, to keep my wife informed
of my actions? I didn't suppose even such egregious conceit as yours could
delude a man to that degree!" Struggling for a foothold in the small
landslide of his dignity, he added, in a steadier tone, "My wife learned
the facts from me."
Flamel received this in silence. The other's outbreak seemed to have
reinforced his self-control, and when he spoke it was with a deliberation
implying that his course was chosen. "In that case I understand still less—"
"The meaning of this." He pointed to the check. "When you began to speak I
supposed you had meant it as a bribe; now I can only infer it was intended
as a random insult. In either case, here's my answer."
He tore the slip of paper in two and tossed the fragments across the desk
to Glennard. Then he turned and walked out of the office.
Glennard dropped his head on his hands. If he had hoped to restore his
self-respect by the simple expedient of assailing Flamel's, the result had
not justified his expectation. The blow he had struck had blunted the edge
of his anger, and the unforeseen extent of the hurt inflicted did not
alter the fact that his weapon had broken in his hands. He saw now that
his rage against Flamel was only the last projection of a passionate
self-disgust. This consciousness did not dull his dislike of the man; it
simply made reprisals ineffectual. Flamel's unwillingness to quarrel with
him was the last stage of his abasement.
In the light of this final humiliation his assumption of his wife's
indifference struck him as hardly so fatuous as the sentimental
resuscitation of his past. He had been living in a factitious world
wherein his emotions were the sycophants of his vanity, and it was with
instinctive relief that he felt its ruins crash about his head.
It was nearly dark when he left his office, and he walked slowly homeward
in the complete mental abeyance that follows on such a crisis. He was not
aware that he was thinking of his wife; yet when he reached his own door
he found that, in the involuntary readjustment of his vision, she had once
more become the central point of consciousness.
It had never before occurred to him that she might, after all, have missed
the purport of the document he had put in her way. What if, in her hurried
inspection of the papers, she had passed it over as related to the private
business of some client? What, for instance, was to prevent her concluding
that Glennard was the counsel of the unknown person who had sold the
"Aubyn Letters." The subject was one not likely to fix her attention—she
was not a curious woman.
Glennard at this point laid down his fork and glanced at her between the
candle-shades. The alternative explanation of her indifference was not
slow in presenting itself. Her head had the same listening droop as when
he had caught sight of her the day before in Flamel's company; the
attitude revived the vividness of his impression. It was simple enough,
after all. She had ceased to care for him because she cared for someone
As he followed her upstairs he felt a sudden stirring of his dormant
anger. His sentiments had lost all their factitious complexity. He had
already acquitted her of any connivance in his baseness, and he felt only
that he loved her and that she had escaped him. This was now, strangely
enough, his dominating thought: the consciousness that he and she had
passed through the fusion of love and had emerged from it as
incommunicably apart as though the transmutation had never taken place.
Every other passion, he mused, left some mark upon the nature; but love
passed like the flight of a ship across the waters.
She sank into her usual seat near the lamp, and he leaned against the
chimney, moving about with an inattentive hand the knick-knacks on the
Suddenly he caught sight of her reflection in the mirror. She was looking
at him. He turned and their eyes met.
He moved across the room and stood before her.
"There's something that I want to say to you," he began in a low tone.
She held his gaze, but her color deepened. He noticed again, with a
jealous pang, how her beauty had gained in warmth and meaning. It was as
though a transparent cup had been filled with wine. He looked at her
"I've never prevented your seeing your friends here," he broke out. "Why
do you meet Flamel in out-of-the-way places? Nothing makes a woman so
She rose abruptly and they faced each other a few feet apart.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I saw you with him last Sunday on the Riverside Drive," he went on, the
utterance of the charge reviving his anger.
"Ah," she murmured. She sank into her chair again and began to play with a
paper-knife that lay on the table at her elbow.
Her silence exasperated him.
"Well?" he burst out. "Is that all you have to say?"
"Do you wish me to explain?" she asked, proudly.
"Do you imply I haven't the right to?"
"I imply nothing. I will tell you whatever you wish to know. I went for a
walk with Mr. Flamel because he asked me to."
"I didn't suppose you went uninvited. But there are certain things a
sensible woman doesn't do. She doesn't slink about in out-of-the-way
streets with men. Why couldn't you have seen him here?"
She hesitated. "Because he wanted to see me alone."
"Did he, indeed? And may I ask if you gratify all his wishes with equal
"I don't know that he has any others where I am concerned." She paused
again and then continued, in a lower voice that somehow had an under-note
of warning. "He wished to bid me good-by. He's going away."
Glennard turned on her a startled glance. "Going away?"
"He's going to Europe to-morrow. He goes for a long time. I supposed you
The last phrase revived his irritation. "You forget that I depend on you
for my information about Flamel. He's your friend and not mine. In fact,
I've sometimes wondered at your going out of your way to be so civil to
him when you must see plainly enough that I don't like him."
Her answer to this was not immediate. She seemed to be choosing her words
with care, not so much for her own sake as for his, and his exasperation
was increased by the suspicion that she was trying to spare him.
"He was your friend before he was mine. I never knew him till I was
married. It was you who brought him to the house and who seemed to wish me
to like him."
Glennard gave a short laugh. The defence was feebler than he had expected:
she was certainly not a clever woman.
"Your deference to my wishes is really beautiful; but it's not the first
time in history that a man has made a mistake in introducing his friends
to his wife. You must, at any rate, have seen since then that my
enthusiasm had cooled; but so, perhaps, has your eagerness to oblige me."
She met this with a silence that seemed to rob the taunt of half its
"Is that what you imply?" he pressed her.
"No," she answered with sudden directness. "I noticed some time ago that
you seemed to dislike him, but since then—"
"I've imagined that you had reasons for still wishing me to be civil to
him, as you call it."
"Ah," said Glennard, with an effort at lightness; but his irony dropped,
for something in her voice made him feel that he and she stood at last in
that naked desert of apprehension where meaning skulks vainly behind
"And why did you imagine this?" The blood mounted to his forehead.
"Because he told you that I was under obligations to him?"
She turned pale. "Under obligations?"
"Oh, don't let's beat about the bush. Didn't he tell you it was I who
published Mrs. Aubyn's letters? Answer me that."
"No," she said; and after a moment which seemed given to the weighing of
alternatives, she added: "No one told me."
"You didn't know then?"
She seemed to speak with an effort. "Not until—not until—"
"Till I gave you those papers to sort?"
Her head sank.
"You understood then?"
He looked at her immovable face. "Had you suspected—before?" was
slowly wrung from him.
"At times—yes—" Her voice dropped to a whisper.
"Why? From anything that was said—?"
There was a shade of pity in her glance. "No one said anything—no
one told me anything." She looked away from him. "It was your manner—"
"Whenever the book was mentioned. Things you said—once or twice—your
irritation—I can't explain—"
Glennard, unconsciously, had moved nearer. He breathed like a man who has
been running. "You knew, then, you knew"—he stammered. The avowal of
her love for Flamel would have hurt him less, would have rendered her less
remote. "You knew—you knew—" he repeated; and suddenly his
anguish gathered voice. "My God!" he cried, "you suspected it first, you
say—and then you knew it—this damnable, this accursed thing;
you knew it months ago—it's months since I put that paper in your
way—and yet you've done nothing, you've said nothing, you've made no
sign, you've lived alongside of me as if it had made no difference—no
difference in either of our lives. What are you made of, I wonder? Don't
you see the hideous ignominy of it? Don't you see how you've shared in my
disgrace? Or haven't you any sense of shame?"
He preserved sufficient lucidity, as the words poured from him, to see how
fatally they invited her derision; but something told him they had both
passed beyond the phase of obvious retaliations, and that if any chord in
her responded it would not be that of scorn.
He was right. She rose slowly and moved toward him.
"Haven't you had enough—without that?" she said, in a strange voice
He stared at her. "Enough—?"
An iron band seemed loosened from his temples. "You saw then...?" he
"Oh, God——oh, God——" she sobbed. She dropped
beside him and hid her anguish against his knees. They clung thus in
silence, a long time, driven together down the same fierce blast of shame.
When at length she lifted her face he averted his. Her scorn would have
hurt him less than the tears on his hands.
She spoke languidly, like a child emerging from a passion of weeping. "It
was for the money—?"
His lips shaped an assent.
"That was the inheritance—that we married on?"
She drew back and rose to her feet. He sat watching her as she wandered
away from him.
"You hate me," broke from him.
She made no answer.
"Say you hate me!" he persisted.
"That would have been so simple," she answered with a strange smile. She
dropped into a chair near the writing-table and rested a bowed forehead on
"Was it much—?" she began at length.
"Much—?" he returned, vaguely.
"The money?" That part of it seemed to count so little that for a moment
he did not follow her thought.
"It must be paid back," she insisted. "Can you do it?"
"Oh, yes," he returned, listlessly. "I can do it."
"I would make any sacrifice for that!" she urged.
He nodded. "Of course." He sat staring at her in dry-eyed self-contempt.
"Do you count on its making much difference?"
"In the way I feel—or you feel about me?"
She shook her head.
"It's the least part of it," he groaned.
"It's the only part we can repair."
"Good heavens! If there were any reparation—" He rose quickly and
crossed the space that divided them. "Why did you never speak?" he asked.
"Haven't you answered that yourself?"
"Just now—when you told me you did it for me." She paused a moment
and then went on with a deepening note—"I would have spoken if I
could have helped you."
"But you must have despised me."
"I've told you that would have been simpler."
"But how could you go on like this—hating the money?"
"I knew you would speak in time. I wanted you, first, to hate it as I
He gazed at her with a kind of awe. "You're wonderful," he murmured. "But
you don't yet know the depths I've reached."
She raised an entreating hand. "I don't want to!"
"You're afraid, then, that you'll hate me?"
"No—but that you'll hate ME. Let me understand without your telling
"You can't. It's too base. I thought you didn't care because you loved
She blushed deeply. "Don't—don't—" she warned him.
"I haven't the right to, you mean?"
"I mean that you'll be sorry."
He stood imploringly before her. "I want to say something worse—something
more outrageous. If you don't understand THIS you'll be perfectly
justified in ordering me out of the house."
She answered him with a glance of divination. "I shall understand—but
you'll be sorry."
"I must take my chance of that." He moved away and tossed the books about
the table. Then he swung round and faced her. "Does Flamel care for you?"
Her flush deepened, but she still looked at him without anger. "What would
be the use?" she said with a note of sadness.
"Ah, I didn't ask THAT," he penitently murmured.
To this adjuration he made no response beyond that of gazing at her with
an eye which seemed now to view her as a mere factor in an immense
redistribution of meanings.
"I insulted Flamel to-day. I let him see that I suspected him of having
told you. I hated him because he knew about the letters."
He caught the spreading horror of her eyes, and for an instant he had to
grapple with the new temptation they lit up. Then he said, with an effort—"Don't
blame him—he's impeccable. He helped me to get them published; but I
lied to him too; I pretended they were written to another man... a man who
She raised her arms in a gesture that seemed to ward off his blows.
"You DO despise me!" he insisted.
"Ah, that poor woman—that poor woman—" he heard her murmur.
"I spare no one, you see!" he triumphed over her. She kept her face
"You do hate me, you do despise me!" he strangely exulted.
"Be silent!" she commanded him; but he seemed no longer conscious of any
check on his gathering purpose.
"He cared for you—he cared for you," he repeated, "and he never told
you of the letters—"
She sprang to her feet. "How can you?" she flamed. "How dare you? THAT—!"
Glennard was ashy pale. "It's a weapon... like another...."
He smiled wretchedly. "I should have used it in his place."
"Stephen! Stephen!" she cried, as though to drown the blasphemy on his
lips. She swept to him with a rescuing gesture. "Don't say such things. I
forbid you! It degrades us both."
He put her back with trembling hands. "Nothing that I say of myself can
degrade you. We're on different levels."
"I'm on yours, whatever it is!"
He lifted his head and their gaze flowed together.
The great renewals take effect as imperceptibly as the first workings of
spring. Glennard, though he felt himself brought nearer to his wife, was
still, as it were, hardly within speaking distance. He was but laboriously
acquiring the rudiments of their new medium of communication; and he had
to grope for her through the dense fog of his humiliation, the distorting
vapor against which his personality loomed grotesque and mean.
Only the fact that we are unaware how well our nearest know us enables us
to live with them. Love is the most impregnable refuge of self-esteem, and
we hate the eye that reaches to our nakedness. If Glennard did not hate
his wife it was slowly, sufferingly, that there was born in him that
profounder passion which made his earlier feeling seem a mere commotion of
the blood. He was like a child coming back to the sense of an enveloping
presence: her nearness was a breast on which he leaned.
They did not, at first, talk much together, and each beat a devious track
about the outskirts of the subject that lay between them like a haunted
wood. But every word, every action, seemed to glance at it, to draw toward
it, as though a fount of healing sprang in its poisoned shade. If only
they might cut away through the thicket to that restoring spring!
Glennard, watching his wife with the intentness of a wanderer to whom no
natural sign is negligible, saw that she had taken temporary refuge in the
purpose of renouncing the money. If both, theoretically, owned the
inefficacy of such amends, the woman's instinctive subjectiveness made her
find relief in this crude form of penance. Glennard saw that she meant to
live as frugally as possible till what she deemed their debt was
discharged; and he prayed she might not discover how far-reaching, in its
merely material sense, was the obligation she thus hoped to acquit. Her
mind was fixed on the sum originally paid for the letters, and this he
knew he could lay aside in a year or two. He was touched, meanwhile, by
the spirit that made her discard the petty luxuries which she regarded as
the signs of their bondage. Their shared renunciations drew her nearer to
him, helped, in their evidence of her helplessness, to restore the full
protecting stature of his love. And still they did not speak.
It was several weeks later that, one afternoon by the drawing-room fire,
she handed him a letter that she had been reading when he entered.
"I've heard from Mr. Flamel," she said.
Glennard turned pale. It was as though a latent presence had suddenly
become visible to both. He took the letter mechanically.
"It's from Smyrna," she said. "Won't you read it?"
He handed it back. "You can tell me about it—his hand's so
illegible." He wandered to the other end of the room and then turned and
stood before her. "I've been thinking of writing to Flamel," he said.
She looked up.
"There's one point," he continued, slowly, "that I ought to clear up. I
told him you'd known about the letters all along; for a long time, at
least; and I saw it hurt him horribly. It was just what I meant to do, of
course; but I can't leave him to that false impression; I must write him."
She received this without outward movement, but he saw that the depths
were stirred. At length she returned, in a hesitating tone, "Why do you
call it a false impression? I did know."
"Yes, but I implied you didn't care."
He still stood looking down on her. "Don't you want me to set that right?"
he tentatively pursued.
She lifted her head and fixed him bravely. "It isn't necessary," she said.
Glennard flushed with the shock of the retort; then, with a gesture of
comprehension, "No," he said, "with you it couldn't be; but I might still
set myself right."
She looked at him gently. "Don't I," she murmured, "do that?"
"In being yourself merely? Alas, the rehabilitation's too complete! You
make me seem—to myself even—what I'm not; what I can never be.
I can't, at times, defend myself from the delusion; but I can at least
The flood was loosened, and kneeling by her he caught her hands. "Don't
you see that it's become an obsession with me? That if I could strip
myself down to the last lie—only there'd always be another one left
under it!—and do penance naked in the market-place, I should at
least have the relief of easing one anguish by another? Don't you see that
the worst of my torture is the impossibility of such amends?"
Her hands lay in his without returning pressure. "Ah, poor woman, poor
woman," he heard her sigh.
"Don't pity her, pity me! What have I done to her or to you, after all?
You're both inaccessible! It was myself I sold."
He took an abrupt turn away from her; then halted before her again. "How
much longer," he burst out, "do you suppose you can stand it? You've been
magnificent, you've been inspired, but what's the use? You can't wipe out
the ignominy of it. It's miserable for you and it does HER no good!"
She lifted a vivid face. "That's the thought I can't bear!" she cried.
"That it does her no good—all you're feeling, all you're suffering.
Can it be that it makes no difference?"
He avoided her challenging glance. "What's done is done," he muttered.
"Is it ever, quite, I wonder?" she mused. He made no answer and they
lapsed into one of the pauses that are a subterranean channel of
It was she who, after awhile, began to speak with a new suffusing
diffidence that made him turn a roused eye on her.
"Don't they say," she asked, feeling her way as in a kind of tender
apprehensiveness, "that the early Christians, instead of pulling down the
heathen temples—the temples of the unclean gods—purified them
by turning them to their own uses? I've always thought one might do that
with one's actions—the actions one loathes but can't undo. One can
make, I mean, a wrong the door to other wrongs or an impassable wall
against them...." Her voice wavered on the word. "We can't always tear
down the temples we've built to the unclean gods, but we can put good
spirits in the house of evil—the spirits of mercy and shame and
understanding, that might never have come to us if we hadn't been in such
She moved over to him and laid a hesitating hand on his. His head was bent
and he did not change his attitude. She sat down beside him without
speaking; but their silences now were fertile as rain-clouds—they
quickened the seeds of understanding.
At length he looked up. "I don't know," he said, "what spirits have come
to live in the house of evil that I built—but you're there and
that's enough for me. It's strange," he went on after another pause, "she
wished the best for me so often, and now, at last, it's through her that
it's come to me. But for her I shouldn't have known you—it's through
her that I've found you. Sometimes, do you know?—that makes it
hardest—makes me most intolerable to myself. Can't you see that it's
the worst thing I've got to face? I sometimes think I could have borne it
better if you hadn't understood! I took everything from her—everything—even
to the poor shelter of loyalty she'd trusted in—the only thing I
could have left her!—I took everything from her, I deceived her, I
despoiled her, I destroyed her—and she's given me YOU in return!"
His wife's cry caught him up. "It isn't that she's given ME to you—it
is that she's given you to yourself." She leaned to him as though swept
forward on a wave of pity. "Don't you see," she went on, as his eyes hung
on her, "that that's the gift you can't escape from, the debt you're
pledged to acquit? Don't you see that you've never before been what she
thought you, and that now, so wonderfully, she's made you into the man she
loved? THAT'S worth suffering for, worth dying for, to a woman—that's
the gift she would have wished to give!"
"Ah," he cried, "but woe to him by whom it cometh. What did I ever give
"The happiness of giving," she said.