The Greater Inclination
by Edith Wharton
THE MUSE'S TRAGEDY
THE TWILIGHT OF
A CUP OF COLD
THE MUSE'S TRAGEDY
Danyers afterwards liked to fancy that he had recognized Mrs.
Anerton at once; but that, of course, was absurd, since he had seen no
portrait of her—she affected a strict anonymity, refusing even her
photograph to the most privileged—and from Mrs. Memorall, whom he
revered and cultivated as her friend, he had extracted but the one
impressionist phrase: “Oh, well, she's like one of those old prints
where the lines have the value of color.”
He was almost certain, at all events, that he had been thinking of
Mrs. Anerton as he sat over his breakfast in the empty hotel
restaurant, and that, looking up on the approach of the lady who seated
herself at the table near the window, he had said to himself, “That
might be she.”
Ever since his Harvard days—he was still young enough to think of
them as immensely remote—Danyers had dreamed of Mrs. Anerton, the
Silvia of Vincent Rendle's immortal sonnet-cycle, the Mrs. A. of the
Life and Letters. Her name was enshrined in some of the noblest
English verse of the nineteenth century—and of all past or future
centuries, as Danyers, from the stand-point of a maturer judgment,
still believed. The first reading of certain poems—of the Antinous, the Pia Tolomei, the Sonnets to Silvia,—had been epochs
in Danyers's growth, and the verse seemed to gain in mellowness, in
amplitude, in meaning as one brought to its interpretation more
experience of life, a finer emotional sense. Where, in his boyhood, he
had felt only the perfect, the almost austere beauty of form, the
subtle interplay of vowel-sounds, the rush and fulness of lyric
emotion, he now thrilled to the close-packed significance of each line,
the allusiveness of each word—his imagination lured hither and thither
on fresh trails of thought, and perpetually spurred by the sense that,
beyond what he had already discovered, more marvellous regions lay
waiting to be explored. Danyers had written, at college, the prize
essay on Rendle's poetry (it chanced to be the moment of the great
man's death); he had fashioned the fugitive verse of his own
storm-and-stress period on the forms which Rendle had first given to
English metre; and when two years later the Life and Letters
appeared, and the Silvia of the sonnets took substance as Mrs. A., he
had included in his worship of Rendle the woman who had inspired not
only such divine verse but such playful, tender, incomparable prose.
Danyers never forgot the day when Mrs. Memorall happened to mention
that she knew Mrs. Anerton. He had known Mrs. Memorall for a year or
more, and had somewhat contemptuously classified her as the kind of
woman who runs cheap excursions to celebrities; when one afternoon she
remarked, as she put a second lump of sugar in his tea:
“Is it right this time? You're almost as particular as Mary
“Yes, I never can remember how she likes her tea. Either it's
lemon with sugar, or lemon without sugar, or cream without
either, and whichever it is must be put into the cup before the tea is
poured in; and if one hasn't remembered, one must begin all over again.
I suppose it was Vincent Rendle's way of taking his tea and has become
a sacred rite.”
“Do you know Mrs. Anerton?” cried Danyers, disturbed by this
careless familiarity with the habits of his divinity.
“'And did I once see Shelley plain?' Mercy, yes! She and I were at
school together—she's an American, you know. We were at a pension
near Tours for nearly a year; then she went back to New York, and I
didn't see her again till after her marriage. She and Anerton spent a
winter in Rome while my husband was attached to our Legation there, and
she used to be with us a great deal.” Mrs. Memorall smiled
reminiscently. “It was the winter.”
“The winter they first met?”
“Precisely—but unluckily I left Rome just before the meeting took
place. Wasn't it too bad? I might have been in the Life and Letters. You know he mentions that stupid Madame Vodki, at whose house he first
“And did you see much of her after that?”
“Not during Rendle's life. You know she has lived in Europe almost
entirely, and though I used to see her off and on when I went abroad,
she was always so engrossed, so preoccupied, that one felt one wasn't
wanted. The fact is, she cared only about his friends—she separated
herself gradually from all her own people. Now, of course, it's
different; she's desperately lonely; she's taken to writing to me now
and then; and last year, when she heard I was going abroad, she asked
me to meet her in Venice, and I spent a week with her there.”
Mrs. Memorall smiled and shook her head. “Oh, I never was allowed a
peep at him; none of her old friends met him, except by
accident. Ill-natured people say that was the reason she kept him so
long. If one happened in while he was there, he was hustled into
Anerton's study, and the husband mounted guard till the inopportune
visitor had departed. Anerton, you know, was really much more
ridiculous about it than his wife. Mary was too clever to lose her
head, or at least to show she'd lost it—but Anerton couldn't conceal
his pride in the conquest. I've seen Mary shiver when he spoke of
Rendle as our poet. Rendle always had to have a certain seat at
the dinner-table, away from the draught and not too near the fire, and
a box of cigars that no one else was allowed to touch, and a
writing-table of his own in Mary's sitting-room—and Anerton was always
telling one of the great man's idiosyncrasies: how he never would cut
the ends of his cigars, though Anerton himself had given him a gold
cutter set with a star-sapphire, and how untidy his writing-table was,
and how the house- maid had orders always to bring the waste-paper
basket to her mistress before emptying it, lest some immortal verse
should be thrown into the dust-bin.”
“The Anertons never separated, did they?”
“Separated? Bless you, no. He never would have left Rendle! And
besides, he was very fond of his wife.”
“Oh, she saw he was the kind of man who was fated to make himself
ridiculous, and she never interfered with his natural tendencies.”
From Mrs. Memorall, Danyers further learned that Mrs. Anerton, whose
husband had died some years before her poet, now divided her life
between Rome, where she had a small apartment, and England, where she
occasionally went to stay with those of her friends who had been
Rendle's. She had been engaged, for some time after his death, in
editing some juvenilia which he had bequeathed to her care; but that
task being accomplished, she had been left without definite occupation,
and Mrs. Memorall, on the occasion of their last meeting, had found her
listless and out of spirits.
“She misses him too much—her life is too empty. I told her so—I
told her she ought to marry.”
“Why not, pray? She's a young woman still—what many people would
call young,” Mrs. Memorall interjected, with a parenthetic glance at
the mirror. “Why not accept the inevitable and begin over again? All
the King's horses and all the King's men won't bring Rendle to life-and
besides, she didn't marry him when she had the chance.”
Danyers winced slightly at this rude fingering of his idol. Was it
possible that Mrs. Memorall did not see what an anti-climax such a
marriage would have been? Fancy Rendle “making an honest woman” of
Silvia; for so society would have viewed it! How such a reparation
would have vulgarized their past—it would have been like “restoring” a
masterpiece; and how exquisite must have been the perceptions of the
woman who, in defiance of appearances, and perhaps of her own secret
inclination, chose to go down to posterity as Silvia rather than as
Mrs. Vincent Rendle!
Mrs. Memorall, from this day forth, acquired an interest in
Danyers's eyes. She was like a volume of unindexed and discursive
memoirs, through which he patiently plodded in the hope of finding
embedded amid layers of dusty twaddle some precious allusion to the
subject of his thought. When, some months later, he brought out his
first slim volume, in which the remodelled college essay on Rendle
figured among a dozen, somewhat overstudied “appreciations,” he offered
a copy to Mrs. Memorall; who surprised him, the next time they met,
with the announcement that she had sent the book to Mrs. Anerton.
Mrs. Anerton in due time wrote to thank her friend. Danyers was
privileged to read the few lines in which, in terms that suggested the
habit of “acknowledging” similar tributes, she spoke of the author's
“feeling and insight,” and was “so glad of the opportunity,” etc. He
went away disappointed, without clearly knowing what else he had
The following spring, when he went abroad, Mrs. Memorall offered him
letters to everybody, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Louise
Michel. She did not include Mrs. Anerton, however, and Danyers knew,
from a previous conversation, that Silvia objected to people who
“brought letters.” He knew also that she travelled during the summer,
and was unlikely to return to Rome before the term of his holiday
should be reached, and the hope of meeting her was not included among
The lady whose entrance broke upon his solitary repast in the
restaurant of the Hotel Villa d'Este had seated herself in such a way
that her profile was detached against the window; and thus viewed, her
domed forehead, small arched nose, and fastidious lip suggested a
silhouette of Marie Antoinette. In the lady's dress and movements—in
the very turn of her wrist as she poured out her coffee—Danyers
thought he detected the same fastidiousness, the same air of tacitly
excluding the obvious and unexceptional. Here was a woman who had been
much bored and keenly interested. The waiter brought her a Secolo,
and as she bent above it Danyers noticed that the hair rolled back from
her forehead was turning gray; but her figure was straight and slender,
and she had the invaluable gift of a girlish back.
The rush of Anglo-Saxon travel had not set toward the lakes, and
with the exception of an Italian family or two, and a hump-backed youth
with an abbe, Danyers and the lady had the marble halls of the
Villa d'Este to themselves.
When he returned from his morning ramble among the hills he saw her
sitting at one of the little tables at the edge of the lake. She was
writing, and a heap of books and newspapers lay on the table at her
side. That evening they met again in the garden. He had strolled out to
smoke a last cigarette before dinner, and under the black vaulting of
ilexes, near the steps leading down to the boat-landing, he found her
leaning on the parapet above the lake. At the sound of his approach she
turned and looked at him. She had thrown a black lace scarf over her
head, and in this sombre setting her face seemed thin and unhappy. He
remembered afterwards that her eyes, as they met his, expressed not so
much sorrow as profound discontent.
To his surprise she stepped toward him with a detaining gesture.
“Mr. Lewis Danyers, I believe?”
“I am Mrs. Anerton. I saw your name on the visitors' list and wished
to thank you for an essay on Mr. Rendle's poetry—or rather to tell you
how much I appreciated it. The book was sent to me last winter by Mrs.
She spoke in even melancholy tones, as though the habit of
perfunctory utterance had robbed her voice of more spontaneous accents;
but her smile was charming. They sat down on a stone bench under the
ilexes, and she told him how much pleasure his essay had given her. She
thought it the best in the book—she was sure he had put more of
himself into it than into any other; was she not right in conjecturing
that he had been very deeply influenced by Mr. Rendle's poetry? Pour
comprendre il faut aimer, and it seemed to her that, in some ways,
he had penetrated the poet's inner meaning more completely than any
other critic. There were certain problems, of course, that he had left
untouched; certain aspects of that many-sided mind that he had perhaps
failed to seize—
“But then you are young,” she concluded gently, “and one could not
wish you, as yet, the experience that a fuller understanding would
She stayed a month at Villa d'Este, and Danyers was with her daily.
She showed an unaffected pleasure in his society; a pleasure so
obviously founded on their common veneration of Rendle, that the young
man could enjoy it without fear of fatuity. At first he was merely one
more grain of frankincense on the altar of her insatiable divinity; but
gradually a more personal note crept into their intercourse. If she
still liked him only because he appreciated Rendle, she at least
perceptibly distinguished him from the herd of Rendle's appreciators.
Her attitude toward the great man's memory struck Danyers as
perfect. She neither proclaimed nor disavowed her identity. She was
frankly Silvia to those who knew and cared; but there was no trace of
the Egeria in her pose. She spoke often of Rendle's books, but seldom
of himself; there was no posthumous conjugality, no use of the
possessive tense, in her abounding reminiscences. Of the master's
intellectual life, of his habits of thought and work, she never wearied
of talking. She knew the history of each poem; by what scene or episode
each image had been evoked; how many times the words in a certain line
had been transposed; how long a certain adjective had been sought, and
what had at last suggested it; she could even explain that one
impenetrable line, the torment of critics, the joy of detractors, the
last line of The Old Odysseus.
Danyers felt that in talking of these things she was no mere echo of
Rendle's thought. If her identity had appeared to be merged in his it
was because they thought alike, not because he had thought for her.
Posterity is apt to regard the women whom poets have sung as chance
pegs on which they hung their garlands; but Mrs. Anerton's mind was
like some fertile garden wherein, inevitably, Rendle's imagination had
rooted itself and flowered. Danyers began to see how many threads of
his complex mental tissue the poet had owed to the blending of her
temperament with his; in a certain sense Silvia had herself created the
Sonnets to Silvia.
To be the custodian of Rendle's inner self, the door, as it were, to
the sanctuary, had at first seemed to Danyers so comprehensive a
privilege that he had the sense, as his friendship with Mrs. Anerton
advanced, of forcing his way into a life already crowded. What room was
there, among such towering memories, for so small an actuality as his?
Quite suddenly, after this, he discovered that Mrs. Memorall knew
better: his fortunate friend was bored as well as lonely.
“You have had more than any other woman!” he had exclaimed to her
one day; and her smile flashed a derisive light on his blunder. Fool
that he was, not to have seen that she had not had enough! That she was
young still—do years count?—tender, human, a woman; that the living
have need of the living.
After that, when they climbed the alleys of the hanging park,
resting in one of the little ruined temples, or watching, through a
ripple of foliage, the remote blue flash of the lake, they did not
always talk of Rendle or of literature. She encouraged Danyers to speak
of himself; to confide his ambitions to her; she asked him the
questions which are the wise woman's substitute for advice.
“You must write,” she said, administering the most exquisite
flattery that human lips could give.
Of course he meant to write—why not to do something great in his
turn? His best, at least; with the resolve, at the outset, that his
best should be the best. Nothing less seemed possible with that
mandate in his ears. How she had divined him; lifted and disentangled
his groping ambitions; laid the awakening touch on his spirit with her
creative Let there be light!
It was his last day with her, and he was feeling very hopeless and
“You ought to write a book about him,” she went on gently.
Danyers started; he was beginning to dislike Rendle's way of walking
“You ought to do it,” she insisted. “A complete interpretation—a
summing- up of his style, his purpose, his theory of life and art. No
one else could do it as well.”
He sat looking at her perplexedly. Suddenly—dared he guess?
“I couldn't do it without you,” he faltered.
“I could help you—I would help you, of course.”
They sat silent, both looking at the lake.
It was agreed, when they parted, that he should rejoin her six weeks
later in Venice. There they were to talk about the book.
Lago d'Iseo, August 14th.
When I said good-by to you yesterday I promised to come back to
Venice in a week: I was to give you your answer then. I was not honest
in saying that; I didn't mean to go back to Venice or to see you again.
I was running away from you—and I mean to keep on running! If you
won't, I must. Somebody must save you from marrying a
disappointed woman of—well, you say years don't count, and why should
they, after all, since you are not to marry me?
That is what I dare not go back to say. You are not to marry me. We have had our month together in Venice (such a good month, was it
not?) and now you are to go home and write a book—any book but the one
we—didn't talk of!—and I am to stay here, attitudinizing among my
memories like a sort of female Tithonus. The dreariness of this
But you shall know the truth. I care for you, or at least for your
love, enough to owe you that.
You thought it was because Vincent Rendle had loved me that there
was so little hope for you. I had had what I wanted to the full; wasn't
that what you said? It is just when a man begins to think he
understands a woman that he may be sure he doesn't! It is because
Vincent Rendle didn't love me that there is no hope for you. I
never had what I wanted, and never, never, never will I stoop to
wanting anything else.
Do you begin to understand? It was all a sham then, you say? No, it
was all real as far as it went. You are young—you haven't learned, as
you will later, the thousand imperceptible signs by which one gropes
one's way through the labyrinth of human nature; but didn't it strike
you, sometimes, that I never told you any foolish little anecdotes
about him? His trick, for instance, of twirling a paper-knife round and
round between his thumb and forefinger while he talked; his mania for
saving the backs of notes; his greediness for wild strawberries, the
little pungent Alpine ones; his childish delight in acrobats and
jugglers; his way of always calling me you—dear you, every
letter began—I never told you a word of all that, did I? Do you
suppose I could have helped telling you, if he had loved me? These
little things would have been mine, then, a part of my life—of our
life—they would have slipped out in spite of me (it's only your
unhappy woman who is always reticent and dignified). But there never
was any “our life;” it was always “our lives” to the end....
If you knew what a relief it is to tell some one at last, you would
bear with me, you would let me hurt you! I shall never be quite so
lonely again, now that some one knows.
Let me begin at the beginning. When I first met Vincent Rendle I was
not twenty-five. That was twenty years ago. From that time until his
death, five years ago, we were fast friends. He gave me fifteen years,
perhaps the best fifteen years, of his life. The world, as you know,
thinks that his greatest poems were written during those years; I am
supposed to have “inspired” them, and in a sense I did. From the first,
the intellectual sympathy between us was almost complete; my mind must
have been to him (I fancy) like some perfectly tuned instrument on
which he was never tired of playing. Some one told me of his once
saying of me that I “always understood;” it is the only praise I ever
heard of his giving me. I don't even know if he thought me pretty,
though I hardly think my appearance could have been disagreeable to
him, for he hated to be with ugly people. At all events he fell into
the way of spending more and more of his time with me. He liked our
house; our ways suited him. He was nervous, irritable; people bored him
and yet he disliked solitude. He took sanctuary with us. When we
travelled he went with us; in the winter he took rooms near us in Rome.
In England or on the continent he was always with us for a good part of
the year. In small ways I was able to help him in his work; he grew
dependent on me. When we were apart he wrote to me continually—he
liked to have me share in all he was doing or thinking; he was
impatient for my criticism of every new book that interested him; I was
a part of his intellectual life. The pity of it was that I wanted to be
something more. I was a young woman and I was in love with him—not
because he was Vincent Rendle, but just because he was himself!
People began to talk, of course—I was Vincent Rendle's Mrs.
Anerton; when the Sonnets to Silvia appeared, it was whispered
that I was Silvia. Wherever he went, I was invited; people made up to
me in the hope of getting to know him; when I was in London my doorbell
never stopped ringing. Elderly peeresses, aspiring hostesses, love-sick
girls and struggling authors overwhelmed me with their assiduities. I
hugged my success, for I knew what it meant—they thought that Rendle
was in love with me! Do you know, at times, they almost made me think
so too? Oh, there was no phase of folly I didn't go through. You can't
imagine the excuses a woman will invent for a man's not telling her
that he loves her—pitiable arguments that she would see through at a
glance if any other woman used them! But all the while, deep down, I
knew he had never cared. I should have known it if he had made love to
me every day of his life. I could never guess whether he knew what
people said about us—he listened so little to what people said; and
cared still less, when he heard. He was always quite honest and
straightforward with me; he treated me as one man treats another; and
yet at times I felt he must see that with me it was different.
If he did see, he made no sign. Perhaps he never noticed—I am sure he
never meant to be cruel. He had never made love to me; it was no fault
of his if I wanted more than he could give me. The Sonnets to Silvia, you say? But what are they? A cosmic philosophy, not a love-poem;
addressed to Woman, not to a woman!
But then, the letters? Ah, the letters! Well, I'll make a clean
breast of it. You have noticed the breaks in the letters here and
there, just as they seem to be on the point of growing a
little—warmer? The critics, you may remember, praised the editor for
his commendable delicacy and good taste (so rare in these days!) in
omitting from the correspondence all personal allusions, all those
details intimes which should be kept sacred from the public gaze.
They referred, of course, to the asterisks in the letters to Mrs. A.
Those letters I myself prepared for publication; that is to say, I
copied them out for the editor, and every now and then I put in a line
of asterisks to make it appear that something had been left out. You
understand? The asterisks were a sham—there was nothing to leave
No one but a woman could understand what I went through during those
years—the moments of revolt, when I felt I must break away from it
all, fling the truth in his face and never see him again; the
inevitable reaction, when not to see him seemed the one unendurable
thing, and I trembled lest a look or word of mine should disturb the
poise of our friendship; the silly days when I hugged the delusion that
he must love me, since everybody thought he did; the long
periods of numbness, when I didn't seem to care whether he loved me or
not. Between these wretched days came others when our intellectual
accord was so perfect that I forgot everything else in the joy of
feeling myself lifted up on the wings of his thought. Sometimes, then,
the heavens seemed to be opened....
* * * * *
All this time he was so dear a friend! He had the genius of
friendship, and he spent it all on me. Yes, you were right when you
said that I have had more than any other woman. Il faut de l'adresse
pour aimer, Pascal says; and I was so quiet, so cheerful, so
frankly affectionate with him, that in all those years I am almost sure
I never bored him. Could I have hoped as much if he had loved me?
You mustn't think of him, though, as having been tied to my skirts.
He came and went as he pleased, and so did his fancies. There was a
girl once (I am telling you everything), a lovely being who called his
poetry “deep” and gave him Lucile on his birthday. He followed
her to Switzerland one summer, and all the time that he was dangling
after her (a little too conspicuously, I always thought, for a Great
Man), he was writing to me about his theory of
vowel-combinations—or was it his experiments in English hexameter? The
letters were dated from the very places where I knew they went and sat
by waterfalls together and he thought out adjectives for her hair. He
talked to me about it quite frankly afterwards. She was perfectly
beautiful and it had been a pure delight to watch her; but she would
talk, and her mind, he said, was “all elbows.” And yet, the next year,
when her marriage was announced, he went away alone, quite suddenly ...
and it was just afterwards that he published Love's Viaticum.
Men are queer!
After my husband died—I am putting things crudely, you see—I had a
return of hope. It was because he loved me, I argued, that he had never
spoken; because he had always hoped some day to make me his wife;
because he wanted to spare me the “reproach.” Rubbish! I knew well
enough, in my heart of hearts, that my one chance lay in the force of
habit. He had grown used to me; he was no longer young; he dreaded new
people and new ways; il avait pris son pli. Would it not be
easier to marry me?
I don't believe he ever thought of it. He wrote me what people call
“a beautiful letter;” he was kind; considerate, decently commiserating;
then, after a few weeks, he slipped into his old way of coming in every
afternoon, and our interminable talks began again just where they had
left off. I heard later that people thought I had shown “such good
taste” in not marrying him.
So we jogged on for five years longer. Perhaps they were the best
years, for I had given up hoping. Then he died.
After his death—this is curious—there came to me a kind of mirage
of love. All the books and articles written about him, all the reviews
of the “Life,” were full of discreet allusions to Silvia. I became
again the Mrs. Anerton of the glorious days. Sentimental girls and dear
lads like you turned pink when somebody whispered, “that was Silvia you
were talking to.” Idiots begged for my autograph—publishers urged me
to write my reminiscences of him—critics consulted me about the
reading of doubtful lines. And I knew that, to all these people, I was
the woman Vincent Rendle had loved.
After a while that fire went out too and I was left alone with my
past. Alone—quite alone; for he had never really been with me. The
intellectual union counted for nothing now. It had been soul to soul,
but never hand in hand, and there were no little things to remember him
Then there set in a kind of Arctic winter. I crawled into myself as
into a snow-hut. I hated my solitude and yet dreaded any one who
disturbed it. That phase, of course, passed like the others. I took up
life again, and began to read the papers and consider the cut of my
gowns. But there was one question that I could not be rid of, that
haunted me night and day. Why had he never loved me? Why had I been so
much to him, and no more? Was I so ugly, so essentially unlovable, that
though a man might cherish me as his mind's comrade, he could not care
for me as a woman? I can't tell you how that question tortured me. It
became an obsession.
My poor friend, do you begin to see? I had to find out what some
other man thought of me. Don't be too hard on me! Listen
first—consider. When I first met Vincent Rendle I was a young woman,
who had married early and led the quietest kind of life; I had had no
“experiences.” From the hour of our first meeting to the day of his
death I never looked at any other man, and never noticed whether any
other man looked at me. When he died, five years ago, I knew the extent
of my powers no more than a baby. Was it too late to find out? Should I
never know why?
Forgive me—forgive me. You are so young; it will be an episode, a
mere “document,” to you so soon! And, besides, it wasn't as deliberate,
as cold-blooded as these disjointed lines have made it appear. I didn't
plan it, like a woman in a book. Life is so much more complex than any
rendering of it can be. I liked you from the first—I was drawn to you
(you must have seen that)—I wanted you to like me; it was not a mere
psychological experiment. And yet in a sense it was that, too—I must
be honest. I had to have an answer to that question; it was a ghost
that had to be laid.
At first I was afraid—oh, so much afraid—that you cared for me
only because I was Silvia, that you loved me because you thought Rendle
had loved me. I began to think there was no escaping my destiny.
How happy I was when I discovered that you were growing jealous of
my past; that you actually hated Rendle! My heart beat like a girl's
when you told me you meant to follow me to Venice.
After our parting at Villa d'Este my old doubts reasserted
themselves. What did I know of your feeling for me, after all? Were you
capable of analyzing it yourself? Was it not likely to be two-thirds
vanity and curiosity, and one-third literary sentimentality? You might
easily fancy that you cared for Mary Anerton when you were really in
love with Silvia— the heart is such a hypocrite! Or you might be more
calculating than I had supposed. Perhaps it was you who had been
flattering my vanity in the hope (the pardonable hope!) of
turning me, after a decent interval, into a pretty little essay with a
When you arrived in Venice and we met again—do you remember the
music on the lagoon, that evening, from my balcony?—I was so afraid
you would begin to talk about the book—the book, you remember, was
your ostensible reason for coming. You never spoke of it, and I soon
saw your one fear was I might do so—might remind you of your
object in being with me. Then I knew you cared for me! yes, at that
moment really cared! We never mentioned the book once, did we, during
that month in Venice?
I have read my letter over; and now I wish that I had said this to
you instead of writing it. I could have felt my way then, watching your
face and seeing if you understood. But, no, I could not go back to
Venice; and I could not tell you (though I tried) while we were there
together. I couldn't spoil that month—my one month. It was so good,
for once in my life, to get away from literature....
You will be angry with me at first—but, alas! not for long. What I
have done would have been cruel if I had been a younger woman; as it
is, the experiment will hurt no one but myself. And it will hurt me
horribly (as much as, in your first anger, you may perhaps wish),
because it has shown me, for the first time, all that I have missed....
As she lay in her berth, staring at the shadows overhead, the rush
of the wheels was in her brain, driving her deeper and deeper into
circles of wakeful lucidity. The sleeping-car had sunk into its
night-silence. Through the wet window-pane she watched the sudden
lights, the long stretches of hurrying blackness. Now and then she
turned her head and looked through the opening in the hangings at her
husband's curtains across the aisle....
She wondered restlessly if he wanted anything and if she could hear
him if he called. His voice had grown very weak within the last months
and it irritated him when she did not hear. This irritability, this
increasing childish petulance seemed to give expression to their
imperceptible estrangement. Like two faces looking at one another
through a sheet of glass they were close together, almost touching, but
they could not hear or feel each other: the conductivity between them
was broken. She, at least, had this sense of separation, and she
fancied sometimes that she saw it reflected in the look with which he
supplemented his failing words. Doubtless the fault was hers. She was
too impenetrably healthy to be touched by the irrelevancies of disease.
Her self-reproachful tenderness was tinged with the sense of his
irrationality: she had a vague feeling that there was a purpose in his
helpless tyrannies. The suddenness of the change had found her so
unprepared. A year ago their pulses had beat to one robust measure;
both had the same prodigal confidence in an exhaustless future. Now
their energies no longer kept step: hers still bounded ahead of life,
preempting unclaimed regions of hope and activity, while his lagged
behind, vainly struggling to overtake her.
When they married, she had such arrears of living to make up: her
days had been as bare as the whitewashed school-room where she forced
innutritious facts upon reluctant children. His coming had broken in on
the slumber of circumstance, widening the present till it became the
encloser of remotest chances. But imperceptibly the horizon narrowed.
Life had a grudge against her: she was never to be allowed to spread
At first the doctors had said that six weeks of mild air would set
him right; but when he came back this assurance was explained as having
of course included a winter in a dry climate. They gave up their pretty
house, storing the wedding presents and new furniture, and went to
Colorado. She had hated it there from the first. Nobody knew her or
cared about her; there was no one to wonder at the good match she had
made, or to envy her the new dresses and the visiting-cards which were
still a surprise to her. And he kept growing worse. She felt herself
beset with difficulties too evasive to be fought by so direct a
temperament. She still loved him, of course; but he was gradually,
undefinably ceasing to be himself. The man she had married had been
strong, active, gently masterful: the male whose pleasure it is to
clear a way through the material obstructions of life; but now it was
she who was the protector, he who must be shielded from importunities
and given his drops or his beef-juice though the skies were falling.
The routine of the sick-room bewildered her; this punctual
administering of medicine seemed as idle as some uncomprehended
There were moments, indeed, when warm gushes of pity swept away her
instinctive resentment of his condition, when she still found his old
self in his eyes as they groped for each other through the dense medium
of his weakness. But these moments had grown rare. Sometimes he
frightened her: his sunken expressionless face seemed that of a
stranger; his voice was weak and hoarse; his thin-lipped smile a mere
muscular contraction. Her hand avoided his damp soft skin, which had
lost the familiar roughness of health: she caught herself furtively
watching him as she might have watched a strange animal. It frightened
her to feel that this was the man she loved; there were hours when to
tell him what she suffered seemed the one escape from her fears. But in
general she judged herself more leniently, reflecting that she had
perhaps been too long alone with him, and that she would feel
differently when they were at home again, surrounded by her robust and
buoyant family. How she had rejoiced when the doctors at last gave
their consent to his going home! She knew, of course, what the decision
meant; they both knew. It meant that he was to die; but they dressed
the truth in hopeful euphuisms, and at times, in the joy of
preparation, she really forgot the purpose of their journey, and
slipped into an eager allusion to next year's plans.
At last the day of leaving came. She had a dreadful fear that they
would never get away; that somehow at the last moment he would fail
her; that the doctors held one of their accustomed treacheries in
reserve; but nothing happened. They drove to the station, he was
installed in a seat with a rug over his knees and a cushion at his
back, and she hung out of the window waving unregretful farewells to
the acquaintances she had really never liked till then.
The first twenty-four hours had passed off well. He revived a little
and it amused him to look out of the window and to observe the humours
of the car. The second day he began to grow weary and to chafe under
the dispassionate stare of the freckled child with the lump of
chewing-gum. She had to explain to the child's mother that her husband
was too ill to be disturbed: a statement received by that lady with a
resentment visibly supported by the maternal sentiment of the whole
That night he slept badly and the next morning his temperature
frightened her: she was sure he was growing worse. The day passed
slowly, punctuated by the small irritations of travel. Watching his
tired face, she traced in its contractions every rattle and jolt of the
tram, till her own body vibrated with sympathetic fatigue. She felt the
others observing him too, and hovered restlessly between him and the
line of interrogative eyes. The freckled child hung about him like a
fly; offers of candy and picture- books failed to dislodge her: she
twisted one leg around the other and watched him imperturbably. The
porter, as he passed, lingered with vague proffers of help, probably
inspired by philanthropic passengers swelling with the sense that
“something ought to be done;” and one nervous man in a skull-cap was
audibly concerned as to the possible effect on his wife's health.
The hours dragged on in a dreary inoccupation. Towards dusk she sat
down beside him and he laid his hand on hers. The touch startled her.
He seemed to be calling her from far off. She looked at him helplessly
and his smile went through her like a physical pang.
“Are you very tired?” she asked.
“No, not very.”
“We'll be there soon now.”
“Yes, very soon.”
“This time to-morrow—”
He nodded and they sat silent. When she had put him to bed and
crawled into her own berth she tried to cheer herself with the thought
that in less than twenty-four hours they would be in New York. Her
people would all be at the station to meet her—she pictured their
round unanxious faces pressing through the crowd. She only hoped they
would not tell him too loudly that he was looking splendidly and would
be all right in no time: the subtler sympathies developed by long
contact with suffering were making her aware of a certain coarseness of
texture in the family sensibilities.
Suddenly she thought she heard him call. She parted the curtains and
listened. No, it was only a man snoring at the other end of the car.
His snores had a greasy sound, as though they passed through tallow.
She lay down and tried to sleep... Had she not heard him move? She
started up trembling... The silence frightened her more than any sound.
He might not be able to make her hear—he might be calling her now...
What made her think of such things? It was merely the familiar tendency
of an over-tired mind to fasten itself on the most intolerable chance
within the range of its forebodings.... Putting her head out, she
listened; but she could not distinguish his breathing from that of the
other pairs of lungs about her. She longed to get up and look at him,
but she knew the impulse was a mere vent for her restlessness, and the
fear of disturbing him restrained her.... The regular movement of his
curtain reassured her, she knew not why; she remembered that he had
wished her a cheerful good-night; and the sheer inability to endure her
fears a moment longer made her put them from her with an effort of her
whole sound tired body. She turned on her side and slept.
She sat up stiffly, staring out at the dawn. The train was rushing
through a region of bare hillocks huddled against a lifeless sky. It
looked like the first day of creation. The air of the car was close,
and she pushed up her window to let in the keen wind. Then she looked
at her watch: it was seven o'clock, and soon the people about her would
be stirring. She slipped into her clothes, smoothed her dishevelled
hair and crept to the dressing-room. When she had washed her face and
adjusted her dress she felt more hopeful. It was always a struggle for
her not to be cheerful in the morning. Her cheeks burned deliciously
under the coarse towel and the wet hair about her temples broke into
strong upward tendrils. Every inch of her was full of life and
elasticity. And in ten hours they would be at home!
She stepped to her husband's berth: it was time for him to take his
early glass of milk. The window-shade was down, and in the dusk of the
curtained enclosure she could just see that he lay sideways, with his
face away from her. She leaned over him and drew up the shade. As she
did so she touched one of his hands. It felt cold....
She bent closer, laying her hand on his arm and calling him by name.
He did not move. She spoke again more loudly; she grasped his shoulder
and gently shook it. He lay motionless. She caught hold of his hand
again: it slipped from her limply, like a dead thing. A dead thing? ...
Her breath caught. She must see his face. She leaned forward, and
hurriedly, shrinkingly, with a sickening reluctance of the flesh, laid
her hands on his shoulders and turned him over. His head fell back; his
face looked small and smooth; he gazed at her with steady eyes.
She remained motionless for a long time, holding him thus; and they
looked at each other. Suddenly she shrank back: the longing to scream,
to call out, to fly from him, had almost overpowered her. But a strong
hand arrested her. Good God! If it were known that he was dead they
would be put off the train at the next station—
In a terrifying flash of remembrance there arose before her a scene
she had once witnessed in travelling, when a husband and wife, whose
child had died in the train, had been thrust out at some chance
station. She saw them standing on the platform with the child's body
between them; she had never forgotten the dazed look with which they
followed the receding train. And this was what would happen to her.
Within the next hour she might find herself on the platform of some
strange station, alone with her husband's body.... Anything but that!
It was too horrible—She quivered like a creature at bay.
As she cowered there, she felt the train moving more slowly. It was
coming then—they were approaching a station! She saw again the husband
and wife standing on the lonely platform; and with a violent gesture
she drew down the shade to hide her husband's face.
Feeling dizzy, she sank down on the edge of the berth, keeping away
from his outstretched body, and pulling the curtains close, so that he
and she were shut into a kind of sepulchral twilight. She tried to
think. At all costs she must conceal the fact that he was dead. But
how? Her mind refused to act: she could not plan, combine. She could
think of no way but to sit there, clutching the curtains, all day
She heard the porter making up her bed; people were beginning to
move about the car; the dressing-room door was being opened and shut.
She tried to rouse herself. At length with a supreme effort she rose to
her feet, stepping into the aisle of the car and drawing the curtains
tight behind her. She noticed that they still parted slightly with the
motion of the car, and finding a pin in her dress she fastened them
together. Now she was safe. She looked round and saw the porter. She
fancied he was watching her.
“Ain't he awake yet?” he enquired.
“No,” she faltered.
“I got his milk all ready when he wants it. You know you told me to
have it for him by seven.”
She nodded silently and crept into her seat.
At half-past eight the train reached Buffalo. By this time the other
passengers were dressed and the berths had been folded back for the
day. The porter, moving to and fro under his burden of sheets and
pillows, glanced at her as he passed. At length he said: “Ain't he
going to get up? You know we're ordered to make up the berths as early
as we can.”
She turned cold with fear. They were just entering the station.
“Oh, not yet,” she stammered. “Not till he's had his milk. Won't you
get it, please?”
“All right. Soon as we start again.”
When the train moved on he reappeared with the milk. She took it
from him and sat vaguely looking at it: her brain moved slowly from one
idea to another, as though they were stepping-stones set far apart
across a whirling flood. At length she became aware that the porter
still hovered expectantly.
“Will I give it to him?” he suggested.
“Oh, no,” she cried, rising. “He—he's asleep yet, I think—”
She waited till the porter had passed on; then she unpinned the
curtains and slipped behind them. In the semi-obscurity her husband's
face stared up at her like a marble mask with agate eyes. The eyes were
dreadful. She put out her hand and drew down the lids. Then she
remembered the glass of milk in her other hand: what was she to do with
it? She thought of raising the window and throwing it out; but to do so
she would have to lean across his body and bring her face close to his.
She decided to drink the milk.
She returned to her seat with the empty glass and after a while the
porter came back to get it.
“When'll I fold up his bed?” he asked.
“Oh, not now—not yet; he's ill—he's very ill. Can't you let him
stay as he is? The doctor wants him to lie down as much as possible.”
He scratched his head. “Well, if he's really sick—”
He took the empty glass and walked away, explaining to the
passengers that the party behind the curtains was too sick to get up
She found herself the centre of sympathetic eyes. A motherly woman
with an intimate smile sat down beside her.
“I'm real sorry to hear your husband's sick. I've had a remarkable
amount of sickness in my family and maybe I could assist you. Can I
take a look at him?”
“Oh, no—no, please! He mustn't be disturbed.”
The lady accepted the rebuff indulgently.
“Well, it's just as you say, of course, but you don't look to me as
if you'd had much experience in sickness and I'd have been glad to
assist you. What do you generally do when your husband's taken this
“I—I let him sleep.”
“Too much sleep ain't any too healthful either. Don't you give him
“Don't you wake him to take it?”
“When does he take the next dose?”
“Not for—two hours—”
The lady looked disappointed. “Well, if I was you I'd try giving it
oftener. That's what I do with my folks.”
After that many faces seemed to press upon her. The passengers were
on their way to the dining-car, and she was conscious that as they
passed down the aisle they glanced curiously at the closed curtains.
One lantern- jawed man with prominent eyes stood still and tried to
shoot his projecting glance through the division between the folds. The
freckled child, returning from breakfast, waylaid the passers with a
buttery clutch, saying in a loud whisper, “He's sick;” and once the
conductor came by, asking for tickets. She shrank into her corner and
looked out of the window at the flying trees and houses, meaningless
hieroglyphs of an endlessly unrolled papyrus.
Now and then the train stopped, and the newcomers on entering the
car stared in turn at the closed curtains. More and more people seemed
to pass—their faces began to blend fantastically with the images
surging in her brain....
Later in the day a fat man detached himself from the mist of faces.
He had a creased stomach and soft pale lips. As he pressed himself into
the seat facing her she noticed that he was dressed in black
broadcloth, with a soiled white tie.
“Husband's pretty bad this morning, is he?”
“Dear, dear! Now that's terribly distressing, ain't it?” An
apostolic smile revealed his gold-filled teeth.
“Of course you know there's no sech thing as sickness. Ain't that a
lovely thought? Death itself is but a deloosion of our grosser senses.
On'y lay yourself open to the influx of the sperrit, submit yourself
passively to the action of the divine force, and disease and
dissolution will cease to exist for you. If you could indooce your
husband to read this little pamphlet—”
The faces about her again grew indistinct. She had a vague
recollection of hearing the motherly lady and the parent of the
freckled child ardently disputing the relative advantages of trying
several medicines at once, or of taking each in turn; the motherly lady
maintaining that the competitive system saved time; the other objecting
that you couldn't tell which remedy had effected the cure; their voices
went on and on, like bell-buoys droning through a fog.... The porter
came up now and then with questions that she did not understand, but
that somehow she must have answered since he went away again without
repeating them; every two hours the motherly lady reminded her that her
husband ought to have his drops; people left the car and others
Her head was spinning and she tried to steady herself by clutching
at her thoughts as they swept by, but they slipped away from her like
bushes on the side of a sheer precipice down which she seemed to be
falling. Suddenly her mind grew clear again and she found herself
vividly picturing what would happen when the train reached New York.
She shuddered as it occurred to her that he would be quite cold and
that some one might perceive he had been dead since morning.
She thought hurriedly:—“If they see I am not surprised they will
suspect something. They will ask questions, and if I tell them the
truth they won't believe me—no one would believe me! It will be
terrible”—and she kept repeating to herself:—“I must pretend I don't
know. I must pretend I don't know. When they open the curtains I must
go up to him quite naturally—and then I must scream.” ... She had an
idea that the scream would be very hard to do.
Gradually new thoughts crowded upon her, vivid and urgent: she tried
to separate and restrain them, but they beset her clamorously, like her
school-children at the end of a hot day, when she was too tired to
silence them. Her head grew confused, and she felt a sick fear of
forgetting her part, of betraying herself by some unguarded word or
“I must pretend I don't know,” she went on murmuring. The words had
lost their significance, but she repeated them mechanically, as though
they had been a magic formula, until suddenly she heard herself saying:
“I can't remember, I can't remember!”
Her voice sounded very loud, and she looked about her in terror; but
no one seemed to notice that she had spoken.
As she glanced down the car her eye caught the curtains of her
husband's berth, and she began to examine the monotonous arabesques
woven through their heavy folds. The pattern was intricate and
difficult to trace; she gazed fixedly at the curtains and as she did so
the thick stuff grew transparent and through it she saw her husband's
face—his dead face. She struggled to avert her look, but her eyes
refused to move and her head seemed to be held in a vice. At last, with
an effort that left her weak and shaking, she turned away; but it was
of no use; close in front of her, small and smooth, was her husband's
face. It seemed to be suspended in the air between her and the false
braids of the woman who sat in front of her. With an uncontrollable
gesture she stretched out her hand to push the face away, and suddenly
she felt the touch of his smooth skin. She repressed a cry and half
started from her seat. The woman with the false braids looked around,
and feeling that she must justify her movement in some way she rose and
lifted her travelling-bag from the opposite seat. She unlocked the bag
and looked into it; but the first object her hand met was a small flask
of her husband's, thrust there at the last moment, in the haste of
departure. She locked the bag and closed her eyes ... his face was
there again, hanging between her eye-balls and lids like a waxen mask
against a red curtain....
She roused herself with a shiver. Had she fainted or slept? Hours
seemed to have elapsed; but it was still broad day, and the people
about her were sitting in the same attitudes as before.
A sudden sense of hunger made her aware that she had eaten nothing
since morning. The thought of food filled her with disgust, but she
dreaded a return of faintness, and remembering that she had some
biscuits in her bag she took one out and ate it. The dry crumbs choked
her, and she hastily swallowed a little brandy from her husband's
flask. The burning sensation in her throat acted as a counter-irritant,
momentarily relieving the dull ache of her nerves. Then she felt a
gently-stealing warmth, as though a soft air fanned her, and the
swarming fears relaxed their clutch, receding through the stillness
that enclosed her, a stillness soothing as the spacious quietude of a
summer day. She slept.
Through her sleep she felt the impetuous rush of the train. It
seemed to be life itself that was sweeping her on with headlong
inexorable force— sweeping her into darkness and terror, and the awe
of unknown days.—Now all at once everything was still—not a sound,
not a pulsation... She was dead in her turn, and lay beside him with
smooth upstaring face. How quiet it was!—and yet she heard feet
coming, the feet of the men who were to carry them away... She could
feel too—she felt a sudden prolonged vibration, a series of hard
shocks, and then another plunge into darkness: the darkness of death
this time—a black whirlwind on which they were both spinning like
leaves, in wild uncoiling spirals, with millions and millions of the
* * * * *
She sprang up in terror. Her sleep must have lasted a long time, for
the winter day had paled and the lights had been lit. The car was in
confusion, and as she regained her self-possession she saw that the
passengers were gathering up their wraps and bags. The woman with the
false braids had brought from the dressing-room a sickly ivy-plant in a
bottle, and the Christian Scientist was reversing his cuffs. The porter
passed down the aisle with his impartial brush. An impersonal figure
with a gold-banded cap asked for her husband's ticket. A voice shouted
“Baig- gage express!” and she heard the clicking of metal as the
passengers handed over their checks.
Presently her window was blocked by an expanse of sooty wall, and
the train passed into the Harlem tunnel. The journey was over; in a few
minutes she would see her family pushing their joyous way through the
throng at the station. Her heart dilated. The worst terror was past....
“We'd better get him up now, hadn't we?” asked the porter, touching
He had her husband's hat in his hand and was meditatively revolving
it under his brush.
She looked at the hat and tried to speak; but suddenly the car grew
dark. She flung up her arms, struggling to catch at something, and fell
face downward, striking her head against the dead man's berth.
She was very pretty when I first knew her, with the sweet straight
nose and short upper lip of the cameo-brooch divinity, humanized by a
dimple that flowered in her cheek whenever anything was said possessing
the outward attributes of humor without its intrinsic quality. For the
dear lady was providentially deficient in humor: the least hint of the
real thing clouded her lovely eye like the hovering shadow of an
I don't think nature had meant her to be “intellectual;” but what
can a poor thing do, whose husband has died of drink when her baby is
hardly six months old, and who finds her coral necklace and her
grandfather's edition of the British Dramatists inadequate to the
demands of the creditors?
Her mother, the celebrated Irene Astarte Pratt, had written a poem
in blank verse on “The Fall of Man;” one of her aunts was dean of a
girls' college; another had translated Euripides—with such a family,
the poor child's fate was sealed in advance. The only way of paying her
husband's debts and keeping the baby clothed was to be intellectual;
and, after some hesitation as to the form her mental activity was to
take, it was unanimously decided that she was to give lectures.
They began by being drawing-room lectures. The first time I saw her
she was standing by the piano, against a flippant background of Dresden
china and photographs, telling a roomful of women preoccupied with
their spring bonnets all she thought she knew about Greek art. The
ladies assembled to hear her had given me to understand that she was
“doing it for the baby,” and this fact, together with the shortness of
her upper lip and the bewildering co-operation of her dimple, disposed
me to listen leniently to her dissertation. Happily, at that time Greek
art was still, if I may use the phrase, easily handled: it was as
simple as walking down a museum- gallery lined with pleasant familiar
Venuses and Apollos. All the later complications—the archaic and
archaistic conundrums; the influences of Assyria and Asia Minor; the
conflicting attributions and the wrangles of the erudite—still
slumbered in the bosom of the future “scientific critic.” Greek art in
those days began with Phidias and ended with the Apollo Belvedere; and
a child could travel from one to the other without danger of losing his
Mrs. Amyot had two fatal gifts: a capacious but inaccurate memory,
and an extraordinary fluency of speech. There was nothing she did not
remember— wrongly; but her halting facts were swathed in so many
layers of rhetoric that their infirmities were imperceptible to her
friendly critics. Besides, she had been taught Greek by the aunt who
had translated Euripides; and the mere sound of the [Greek: ais] and
[Greek: ois] that she now and then not unskilfully let slip (correcting
herself, of course, with a start, and indulgently mistranslating the
phrase), struck awe to the hearts of ladies whose only “accomplishment"
was French—if you didn't speak too quickly.
I had then but a momentary glimpse of Mrs. Amyot, but a few months
later I came upon her again in the New England university town where
the celebrated Irene Astarte Pratt lived on the summit of a local
Parnassus, with lesser muses and college professors respectfully
grouped on the lower ledges of the sacred declivity. Mrs. Amyot, who,
after her husband's death, had returned to the maternal roof (even
during her father's lifetime the roof had been distinctively maternal),
Mrs. Amyot, thanks to her upper lip, her dimple and her Greek, was
already esconced in a snug hollow of the Parnassian slope.
After the lecture was over it happened that I walked home with Mrs.
Amyot. From the incensed glances of two or three learned gentlemen who
were hovering on the door-step when we emerged, I inferred that Mrs.
Amyot, at that period, did not often walk home alone; but I doubt
whether any of my discomfited rivals, whatever his claims to favor, was
ever treated to so ravishing a mixture of shyness and self-abandonment,
of sham erudition and real teeth and hair, as it was my privilege to
enjoy. Even at the opening of her public career Mrs. Amyot had a tender
eye for strangers, as possible links with successive centres of culture
to which in due course the torch of Greek art might be handed on.
She began by telling me that she had never been so frightened in her
life. She knew, of course, how dreadfully learned I was, and when, just
as she was going to begin, her hostess had whispered to her that I was
in the room, she had felt ready to sink through the floor. Then (with a
flying dimple) she had remembered Emerson's line—wasn't it
Emerson's?—that beauty is its own excuse for seeing, and that
had made her feel a little more confident, since she was sure that no
one saw beauty more vividly than she—as a child she used to sit
for hours gazing at an Etruscan vase on the bookcase in the library,
while her sisters played with their dolls—and if seeing beauty
was the only excuse one needed for talking about it, why, she was sure
I would make allowances and not be too critical and sarcastic,
especially if, as she thought probable, I had heard of her having lost
her poor husband, and how she had to do it for the baby.
Being abundantly assured of my sympathy on these points, she went on
to say that she had always wanted so much to consult me about her
lectures. Of course, one subject wasn't enough (this view of the
limitations of Greek art as a “subject” gave me a startling idea of the
rate at which a successful lecturer might exhaust the universe); she
must find others; she had not ventured on any as yet, but she had
thought of Tennyson—didn't I love Tennyson? She worshipped
him so that she was sure she could help others to understand him; or
what did I think of a “course” on Raphael or Michelangelo—or on the
heroines of Shakespeare? There were some fine steel-engravings of
Raphael's Madonnas and of the Sistine ceiling in her mother's library,
and she had seen Miss Cushman in several Shakespearian roles, so
that on these subjects also she felt qualified to speak with authority.
When we reached her mother's door she begged me to come in and talk
the matter over; she wanted me to see the baby—she felt as though I
should understand her better if I saw the baby—and the dimple flashed
through a tear.
The fear of encountering the author of “The Fall of Man,” combined
with the opportune recollection of a dinner engagement, made me evade
this appeal with the promise of returning on the morrow. On the morrow,
I left too early to redeem my promise; and for several years afterwards
I saw no more of Mrs. Amyot.
My calling at that time took me at irregular intervals from one to
another of our larger cities, and as Mrs. Amyot was also peripatetic it
was inevitable that sooner or later we should cross each other's path.
It was therefore without surprise that, one snowy afternoon in Boston,
I learned from the lady with whom I chanced to be lunching that, as
soon as the meal was over, I was to be taken to hear Mrs. Amyot
“On Greek art?” I suggested.
“Oh, you've heard her then? No, this is one of the series called
'Homes and Haunts of the Poets.' Last week we had Wordsworth and the
Lake Poets, to-day we are to have Goethe and Weimar. She is a wonderful
creature—all the women of her family are geniuses. You know, of
course, that her mother was Irene Astarte Pratt, who wrote a poem on
'The Fall of Man'; N.P. Willis called her the female Milton of America.
One of Mrs. Amyot's aunts has translated Eurip—”
“And is she as pretty as ever?” I irrelevantly interposed.
My hostess looked shocked. “She is excessively modest and retiring.
She says it is actual suffering for her to speak in public. You know
she only does it for the baby.”
Punctually at the hour appointed, we took our seats in a
lecture-hall full of strenuous females in ulsters. Mrs. Amyot was
evidently a favorite with these austere sisters, for every corner was
crowded, and as we entered a pale usher with an educated
mispronunciation was setting forth to several dejected applicants the
impossibility of supplying them with seats.
Our own were happily so near the front that when the curtains at the
back of the platform parted, and Mrs. Amyot appeared, I was at once
able to establish a comparison between the lady placidly dimpling to
the applause of her public and the shrinking drawing-room orator of my
Mrs. Amyot was as pretty as ever, and there was the same curious
discrepancy between the freshness of her aspect and the stateness of
her theme, but something was gone of the blushing unsteadiness with
which she had fired her first random shots at Greek art. It was not
that the shots were less uncertain, but that she now had an air of
assuming that, for her purpose, the bull's-eye was everywhere, so that
there was no need to be flustered in taking aim. This assurance had so
facilitated the flow of her eloquence that she seemed to be performing
a trick analogous to that of the conjuror who pulls hundreds of yards
of white paper out of his mouth. From a large assortment of stock
adjectives she chose, with unerring deftness and rapidity, the one that
taste and discrimination would most surely have rejected, fitting out
her subject with a whole wardrobe of slop-shop epithets irrelevant in
cut and size. To the invaluable knack of not disturbing the association
of ideas in her audience, she added the gift of what may be called a
confidential manner—so that her fluent generalizations about Goethe
and his place in literature (the lecture was, of course, manufactured
out of Lewes's book) had the flavor of personal experience, of views
sympathetically exchanged with her audience on the best way of knitting
children's socks, or of putting up preserves for the winter. It was, I
am sure, to this personal accent—the moral equivalent of her
dimple—that Mrs. Amyot owed her prodigious, her irrational success. It
was her art of transposing second-hand ideas into first-hand emotions
that so endeared her to her feminine listeners.
To any one not in search of “documents” Mrs. Amyot's success was
hardly of a kind to make her more interesting, and my curiosity flagged
with the growing conviction that the “suffering” entailed on her by
public speaking was at most a retrospective pang. I was sure that she
had reached the point of measuring and enjoying her effects, of
deliberately manipulating her public; and there must indeed have been a
certain exhilaration in attaining results so considerable by means
involving so little conscious effort. Mrs. Amyot's art was simply an
extension of coquetry: she flirted with her audience.
In this mood of enlightened skepticism I responded but languidly to
my hostess's suggestion that I should go with her that evening to see
Mrs. Amyot. The aunt who had translated Euripides was at home on
Saturday evenings, and one met “thoughtful” people there, my hostess
explained: it was one of the intellectual centres of Boston. My mood
remained distinctly resentful of any connection between Mrs. Amyot and
intellectuality, and I declined to go; but the next day I met Mrs.
Amyot in the street.
She stopped me reproachfully. She had heard I was in Boston; why had
I not come last night? She had been told that I was at her lecture, and
it had frightened her—yes, really, almost as much as years ago in
Hillbridge. She never could get over that stupid shyness, and
the whole business was as distasteful to her as ever; but what could
she do? There was the baby— he was a big boy now, and boys were so
expensive! But did I really think she had improved the least little
bit? And why wouldn't I come home with her now, and see the boy, and
tell her frankly what I had thought of the lecture? She had plenty of
flattery—people were so kind, and every one knew that she did
it for the baby—but what she felt the need of was criticism, severe,
discriminating criticism like mine—oh, she knew that I was dreadfully
I went home with her and saw the boy. In the early heat of her
Tennyson- worship Mrs. Amyot had christened him Lancelot, and he looked
it. Perhaps, however, it was his black velvet dress and the
exasperating length of his yellow curls, together with the fact of his
having been taught to recite Browning to visitors, that raised to
fever-heat the itching of my palms in his Infant-Samuel-like presence.
I have since had reason to think that he would have preferred to be
called Billy, and to hunt cats with the other boys in the block: his
curls and his poetry were simply another outlet for Mrs. Amyot's
But if Lancelot was not genuine, his mother's love for him was. It
justified everything—the lectures were for the baby, after all.
I had not been ten minutes in the room before I was pledged to help
Mrs. Amyot carry out her triumphant fraud. If she wanted to lecture on
Plato she should—Plato must take his chance like the rest of us! There
was no use, of course, in being “discriminating.” I preserved
sufficient reason to avoid that pitfall, but I suggested “subjects” and
made lists of books for her with a fatuity that became more obvious as
time attenuated the remembrance of her smile; I even remember thinking
that some men might have cut the knot by marrying her, but I handed
over Plato as a hostage and escaped by the afternoon train.
The next time I saw her was in New York, when she had become so
fashionable that it was a part of the whole duty of woman to be seen at
her lectures. The lady who suggested that of course I ought to go and
hear Mrs. Amyot, was not very clear about anything except that she was
perfectly lovely, and had had a horrid husband, and was doing it to
support her boy. The subject of the discourse (I think it was on
Ruskin) was clearly of minor importance, not only to my friend, but to
the throng of well-dressed and absent-minded ladies who rustled in
late, dropped their muffs and pocket-books, and undisguisedly lost
themselves in the study of each other's apparel. They received Mrs.
Amyot with warmth, but she evidently represented a social obligation
like going to church, rather than any more personal interest; in fact,
I suspect that every one of the ladies would have remained away, had
they been sure that none of the others were coming.
Whether Mrs. Amyot was disheartened by the lack of sympathy between
herself and her hearers, or whether the sport of arousing it had become
a task, she certainly imparted her platitudes with less convincing
warmth than of old. Her voice had the same confidential inflections,
but it was like a voice reproduced by a gramophone: the real woman
seemed far away. She had grown stouter without losing her dewy
freshness, and her smart gown might have been taken to show either the
potentialities of a settled income, or a politic concession to the
taste of her hearers. As I listened I reproached myself for ever having
suspected her of self-deception in saying that she took no pleasure in
her work. I was sure now that she did it only for Lancelot, and judging
from the size of her audience and the price of the tickets I concluded
that Lancelot must be receiving a liberal education.
I was living in New York that winter, and in the rotation of dinners
I found myself one evening at Mrs. Amyot's side. The dimple came out at
my greeting as punctually as a cuckoo in a Swiss clock, and I detected
the same automatic quality in the tone in which she made her usual
pretty demand for advice. She was like a musical-box charged with
popular airs. They succeeded one another with breathless rapidity, but
there was a moment after each when the cylinders scraped and whizzed.
Mrs. Amyot, as I found when I called on her, was living in a sunny
flat, with a sitting-room full of flowers and a tea-table that had the
air of expecting visitors. She owned that she had been ridiculously
successful. It was delightful, of course, on Lancelot's account.
Lancelot had been sent to the best school in the country, and if things
went well and people didn't tire of his silly mother he was to go to
Harvard afterwards. During the next two or three years Mrs. Amyot kept
her flat in New York, and radiated art and literature upon the suburbs.
I saw her now and then, always stouter, better dressed, more successful
and more automatic: she had become a lecturing-machine.
I went abroad for a year or two and when I came back she had
disappeared. I asked several people about her, but life had closed over
her. She had been last heard of as lecturing—still lecturing—but no
one seemed to know when or where.
It was in Boston that I found her at last, forlornly swaying to the
oscillations of an overhead strap in a crowded trolley-car. Her face
had so changed that I lost myself in a startled reckoning of the time
that had elapsed since our parting. She spoke to me shyly, as though
aware of my hurried calculation, and conscious that in five years she
ought not to have altered so much as to upset my notion of time. Then
she seemed to set it down to her dress, for she nervously gathered her
cloak over a gown that asked only to be concealed, and shrank into a
seat behind the line of prehensile bipeds blocking the aisle of the
It was perhaps because she so obviously avoided me that I felt for
the first time that I might be of use to her; and when she left the car
I made no excuse for following her.
She said nothing of needing advice and did not ask me to walk home
with her, concealing, as we talked, her transparent preoccupations
under the guise of a sudden interest in all I had been doing since she
had last seen me. Of what concerned her, I learned only that Lancelot
was well and that for the present she was not lecturing—she was tired
and her doctor had ordered her to rest. On the doorstep of a shabby
house she paused and held out her hand. She had been so glad to see me
and perhaps if I were in Boston again—the tired dimple, as it were,
bowed me out and closed the door on the conclusion of the phrase.
Two or three weeks later, at my club in New York, I found a letter
from her. In it she owned that she was troubled, that of late she had
been unsuccessful, and that, if I chanced to be coming back to Boston,
and could spare her a little of that invaluable advice which—. A few
days later the advice was at her disposal. She told me frankly what had
happened. Her public had grown tired of her. She had seen it coming on
for some time, and was shrewd enough in detecting the causes. She had
more rivals than formerly—younger women, she admitted, with a smile
that could still afford to be generous—and then her audiences had
grown more critical and consequently more exacting. Lecturing—as she
understood it— used to be simple enough. You chose your
topic—Raphael, Shakespeare, Gothic Architecture, or some such big
familiar “subject”—and read up about it for a week or so at the
Athenaeum or the Astor Library, and then told your audience what you
had read. Now, it appeared, that simple process was no longer adequate.
People had tired of familiar “subjects”; it was the fashion to be
interested in things that one hadn't always known about—natural
selection, animal magnetism, sociology and comparative folk-lore;
while, in literature, the demand had become equally difficult to meet,
since Matthew Arnold had introduced the habit of studying the
“influence” of one author on another. She had tried lecturing on
influences, and had done very well as long as the public was satisfied
with the tracing of such obvious influences as that of Turner on
Ruskin, of Schiller on Goethe, of Shakespeare on English literature;
but such investigations had soon lost all charm for her
too-sophisticated audiences, who now demanded either that the influence
or the influenced should be quite unknown, or that there should be no
perceptible connection between the two. The zest of the performance lay
in the measure of ingenuity with which the lecturer established a
relation between two people who had probably never heard of each other,
much less read each other's works. A pretty Miss Williams with red hair
had, for instance, been lecturing with great success on the influence
of the Rosicrucians upon the poetry of Keats, while somebody else had
given a “course” on the influence of St. Thomas Aquinas upon Professor
Mrs. Amyot, warmed by my participation in her distress, went on to
say that the growing demand for evolution was what most troubled her.
Her grandfather had been a pillar of the Presbyterian ministry, and the
idea of her lecturing on Darwin or Herbert Spencer was deeply shocking
to her mother and aunts. In one sense the family had staked its
literary as well as its spiritual hopes on the literal inspiration of
Genesis: what became of “The Fall of Man” in the light of modern
The upshot of it was that she had ceased to lecture because she
could no longer sell tickets enough to pay for the hire of a
lecture-hall; and as for the managers, they wouldn't look at her. She
had tried her luck all through the Eastern States and as far south as
Washington; but it was of no use, and unless she could get hold of some
new subjects—or, better still, of some new audiences—she must simply
go out of the business. That would mean the failure of all she had
worked for, since Lancelot would have to leave Harvard. She paused, and
wept some of the unbecoming tears that spring from real grief.
Lancelot, it appeared, was to be a genius. He had passed his opening
examinations brilliantly; he had “literary gifts”; he had written
beautiful poetry, much of which his mother had copied out, in
reverentially slanting characters, in a velvet-bound volume which she
drew from a locked drawer.
Lancelot's verse struck me as nothing more alarming than
growing-pains; but it was not to learn this that she had summoned me.
What she wanted was to be assured that he was worth working for, an
assurance which I managed to convey by the simple stratagem of
remarking that the poems reminded me of Swinburne—and so they did, as
well as of Browning, Tennyson, Rossetti, and all the other poets who
supply young authors with original inspirations.
This point being established, it remained to be decided by what
means his mother was, in the French phrase, to pay herself the luxury
of a poet. It was clear that this indulgence could be bought only with
counterfeit coin, and that the one way of helping Mrs. Amyot was to
become a party to the circulation of such currency. My fetish of
intellectual integrity went down like a ninepin before the appeal of a
woman no longer young and distinctly foolish, but full of those dear
contradictions and irrelevancies that will always make flesh and blood
prevail against a syllogism. When I took leave of Mrs. Amyot I had
promised her a dozen letters to Western universities and had half
pledged myself to sketch out a lecture on the reconciliation of science
In the West she achieved a success which for a year or more
embittered my perusal of the morning papers. The fascination that lures
the murderer back to the scene of his crime drew my eye to every
paragraph celebrating Mrs. Amyot's last brilliant lecture on the
influence of something upon somebody; and her own letters—she
overwhelmed me with them—spared me no detail of the entertainment
given in her honor by the Palimpsest Club of Omaha or of her reception
at the University of Leadville. The college professors were especially
kind: she assured me that she had never before met with such
discriminating sympathy. I winced at the adjective, which cast a sudden
light on the vast machinery of fraud that I had set in motion. All over
my native land, men of hitherto unblemished integrity were conniving
with me in urging their friends to go and hear Mrs. Amyot lecture on
the reconciliation of science and religion! My only hope was that,
somewhere among the number of my accomplices, Mrs. Amyot might find one
who would marry her in the defense of his convictions.
None, apparently, resorted to such heroic measures; for about two
years later I was startled by the announcement that Mrs. Amyot was
lecturing in Trenton, New Jersey, on modern theosophy in the light of
the Vedas. The following week she was at Newark, discussing
Schopenhauer in the light of recent psychology. The week after that I
was on the deck of an ocean steamer, reconsidering my share in Mrs.
Amyot's triumphs with the impartiality with which one views an episode
that is being left behind at the rate of twenty knots an hour. After
all, I had been helping a mother to educate her son.
The next ten years of my life were spent in Europe, and when I came
home the recollection of Mrs. Amyot had become as inoffensive as one of
those pathetic ghosts who are said to strive in vain to make themselves
visible to the living. I did not even notice the fact that I no longer
heard her spoken of; she had dropped like a dead leaf from the bough of
A year or two after my return I was condemned to one of the worst
punishments a worker can undergo—an enforced holiday. The doctors who
pronounced the inhuman sentence decreed that it should be worked out in
the South, and for a whole winter I carried my cough, my thermometer
and my idleness from one fashionable orange-grove to another. In the
vast and melancholy sea of my disoccupation I clutched like a drowning
man at any human driftwood within reach. I took a critical and
depreciatory interest in the coughs, the thermometers and the idleness
of my fellow-sufferers; but to the healthy, the occupied, the transient
I clung with undiscriminating enthusiasm.
In no other way can I explain, as I look back on it, the importance
I attached to the leisurely confidences of a new arrival with a brown
beard who, tilted back at my side on a hotel veranda hung with roses,
imparted to me one afternoon the simple annals of his past. There was
nothing in the tale to kindle the most inflammable imagination, and
though the man had a pleasant frank face and a voice differing
agreeably from the shrill inflections of our fellow-lodgers, it is
probable that under different conditions his discursive history of
successful business ventures in a Western city would have affected me
somewhat in the manner of a lullaby.
Even at the tune I was not sure I liked his agreeable voice: it had
a self-importance out of keeping with the humdrum nature of his story,
as though a breeze engaged in shaking out a table-cloth should have
fancied itself inflating a banner. But this criticism may have been a
mere mark of my own fastidiousness, for the man seemed a simple fellow,
satisfied with his middling fortunes, and already (he was not much past
thirty) deep-sunk in conjugal content.
He had just started on an anecdote connected with the cutting of his
eldest boy's teeth, when a lady I knew, returning from her late drive,
paused before us for a moment in the twilight, with the smile which is
the feminine equivalent of beads to savages.
“Won't you take a ticket?” she said sweetly.
Of course I would take a ticket—but for what? I ventured to
“Oh, that's so good of you—for the lecture this evening. You
needn't go, you know; we're none of us going; most of us have been
through it already at Aiken and at Saint Augustine and at Palm Beach.
I've given away my tickets to some new people who've just come from the
North, and some of us are going to send our maids, just to fill up the
“And may I ask to whom you are going to pay this delicate
“Oh, I thought you knew—to poor Mrs. Amyot. She's been lecturing
all over the South this winter; she's simply haunted me ever
since I left New York—and we had six weeks of her at Bar Harbor last
summer! One has to take tickets, you know, because she's a widow and
does it for her son—to pay for his education. She's so plucky and nice
about it, and talks about him in such a touching unaffected way, that
everybody is sorry for her, and we all simply ruin ourselves in
tickets. I do hope that boy's nearly educated!”
“Mrs. Amyot? Mrs. Amyot?” I repeated. “Is she still educating
“Oh, do you know about her? Has she been at it long? There's some
comfort in that, for I suppose when the boy's provided for the poor
thing will be able to take a rest—and give us one!”
She laughed and held out her hand.
“Here's your ticket. Did you say tickets—two? Oh, thanks. Of
course you needn't go.”
“But I mean to go. Mrs. Amyot is an old friend of mine.”
“Do you really? That's awfully good of you. Perhaps I'll go too if I
can persuade Charlie and the others to come. And I wonder”—in a
well-directed aside—“if your friend—?”
I telegraphed her under cover of the dusk that my friend was of too
recent standing to be drawn into her charitable toils, and she masked
her mistake under a rattle of friendly adjurations not to be late, and
to be sure to keep a seat for her, as she had quite made up her mind to
go even if Charlie and the others wouldn't.
The flutter of her skirts subsided in the distance, and my neighbor,
who had half turned away to light a cigar, made no effort to reopen the
conversation. At length, fearing he might have overheard the allusion
to himself, I ventured to ask if he were going to the lecture that
“Much obliged—I have a ticket,” he said abruptly.
This struck me as in such bad taste that I made no answer; and it
was he who spoke next.
“Did I understand you to say that you were an old friend of Mrs.
“I think I may claim to be, if it is the same Mrs. Amyot I had the
pleasure of knowing many years ago. My Mrs. Amyot used to lecture
“To pay for her son's education?”
“I believe so.”
“Well—see you later.”
He got up and walked into the house.
In the hotel drawing-room that evening there was but a meagre
sprinkling of guests, among whom I saw my brown-bearded friend sitting
alone on a sofa, with his head against the wall. It could not have been
curiosity to see Mrs. Amyot that had impelled him to attend the
performance, for it would have been impossible for him, without
changing his place, to command the improvised platform at the end of
the room. When I looked at him he seemed lost in contemplation of the
The lady from whom I had bought my tickets fluttered in late,
unattended by Charlie and the others, and assuring me that she would
scream if we had the lecture on Ibsen—she had heard it three times
already that winter. A glance at the programme reassured her: it
informed us (in the lecturer's own slanting hand) that Mrs. Amyot was
to lecture on the Cosmogony.
After a long pause, during which the small audience coughed and
moved its chairs and showed signs of regretting that it had come, the
door opened, and Mrs. Amyot stepped upon the platform. Ah, poor lady!
Some one said “Hush!”, the coughing and chair-shifting subsided, and
It was like looking at one's self early in the morning in a cracked
mirror. I had no idea I had grown so old. As for Lancelot, he must have
a beard. A beard? The word struck me, and without knowing why I glanced
across the room at my bearded friend on the sofa. Oddly enough he was
looking at me, with a half-defiant, half-sullen expression; and as our
glances crossed, and his fell, the conviction came to me that he was
I don't remember a word of the lecture; and yet there were enough of
them to have filled a good-sized dictionary. The stream of Mrs. Amyot's
eloquence had become a flood: one had the despairing sense that she had
sprung a leak, and that until the plumber came there was nothing to be
done about it.
The plumber came at length, in the shape of a clock striking ten; my
companion, with a sigh of relief, drifted away in search of Charlie and
the others; the audience scattered with the precipitation of people who
had discharged a duty; and, without surprise, I found the brown-bearded
stranger at my elbow.
We stood alone in the bare-floored room, under the flaring
“I think you told me this afternoon that you were an old friend of
Mrs. Amyot's?” he began awkwardly.
“Will you come in and see her?”
“Now? I shall be very glad to, if—”
“She's ready; she's expecting you,” he interposed.
He offered no further explanation, and I followed him in silence. He
led me down the long corridor, and pushed open the door of a
“Mother,” he said, closing the door after we had entered, “here's
the gentleman who says he used to know you.”
Mrs. Amyot, who sat in an easy-chair stirring a cup of bouillon,
looked up with a start. She had evidently not seen me in the audience,
and her son's description had failed to convey my identity. I saw a
frightened look in her eyes; then, like a frost flower on a
window-pane, the dimple expanded on her wrinkled cheek, and she held
out her hand.
“I'm so glad,” she said, “so glad!”
She turned to her son, who stood watching us. “You must have told
Lancelot all about me—you've known me so long!”
“I haven't had time to talk to your son—since I knew he was your
son,” I explained.
Her brow cleared. “Then you haven't had time to say anything very
dreadful?” she said with a laugh.
“It is he who has been saying dreadful things,” I returned, trying
to fall in with her tone.
I saw my mistake. “What things?” she faltered.
“Making me feel how old I am by telling me about his children.”
“My grandchildren!” she exclaimed with a blush.
“Well, if you choose to put it so.”
She laughed again, vaguely, and was silent. I hesitated a moment and
then put out my hand.
“I see you are tired. I shouldn't have ventured to come in at this
hour if your son—”
The son stepped between us. “Yes, I asked him to come,” he said to
his mother, in his clear self-assertive voice. “I haven't told
him anything yet; but you've got to—now. That's what I brought him
His mother straightened herself, but I saw her eye waver.
“Lancelot—” she began.
“Mr. Amyot,” I said, turning to the young man, “if your mother will
let me come back to-morrow, I shall be very glad—”
He struck his hand hard against the table on which he was leaning.
“No, sir! It won't take long, but it's got to be said now.”
He moved nearer to his mother, and I saw his lip twitch under his
beard. After all, he was younger and less sure of himself than I had
“See here, mother,” he went on, “there's something here that's got
to be cleared up, and as you say this gentleman is an old friend of
yours it had better be cleared up in his presence. Maybe he can help
explain it—and if he can't, it's got to be explained to him.”
Mrs. Amyot's lips moved, but she made no sound. She glanced at me
helplessly and sat down. My early inclination to thrash Lancelot was
beginning to reassert itself. I took up my hat and moved toward the
“Mrs. Amyot is under no obligation to explain anything whatever to
me,” I said curtly.
“Well! She's under an obligation to me, then—to explain something
in your presence.” He turned to her again. “Do you know what the people
in this hotel are saying? Do you know what he thinks—what they all
think? That you're doing this lecturing to support me—to pay for my
education! They say you go round telling them so. That's what they buy
the tickets for— they do it out of charity. Ask him if it isn't what
they say—ask him if they weren't joking about it on the piazza before
dinner. The others think I'm a little boy, but he's known you for
years, and he must have known how old I was. He must have known
it wasn't to pay for my education!”
He stood before her with his hands clenched, the veins beating in
his temples. She had grown very pale, and her cheeks looked hollow.
When she spoke her voice had an odd click in it.
“If—if these ladies and gentlemen have been coming to my lectures
out of charity, I see nothing to be ashamed of in that—” she faltered.
“If they've been coming out of charity to me,” he retorted,
“don't you see you've been making me a party to a fraud? Isn't there
any shame in that?” His forehead reddened. “Mother! Can't you see the
shame of letting people think I was a d—beat, who sponged on you for
my keep? Let alone making us both the laughing-stock of every place you
“I never did that, Lancelot!”
“Made you a laughing-stock—”
He stepped close to her and caught her wrist.
“Will you look me in the face and swear you never told people you
were doing this lecturing business to support me?”
There was a long silence. He dropped her wrist and she lifted a limp
handkerchief to her frightened eyes. “I did do it—to support you—to
educate you”—she sobbed.
“We're not talking about what you did when I was a boy. Everybody
who knows me knows I've been a grateful son. Have I ever taken a penny
from you since I left college ten years ago?”
“I never said you had! How can you accuse your mother of such
“Have you never told anybody in this hotel—or anywhere else in the
last ten years—that you were lecturing to support me? Answer me that!”
“How can you,” she wept, “before a stranger?”
“Haven't you said such things about me to strangers?” he
“Well—answer me, then. Say you haven't, mother!” His voice broke
unexpectedly and he took her hand with a gentler touch. “I'll believe
anything you tell me,” he said almost humbly.
She mistook his tone and raised her head with a rash clutch at
“I think you'd better ask this gentleman to excuse you first.”
“No, by God, I won't!” he cried. “This gentleman says he knows all
about you and I mean him to know all about me too. I don't mean that he
or anybody else under this roof shall go on thinking for another
twenty-four hours that a cent of their money has ever gone into my
pockets since I was old enough to shift for myself. And he sha'n't
leave this room till you've made that clear to him.”
He stepped back as he spoke and put his shoulders against the door.
“My dear young gentleman,” I said politely, “I shall leave this room
exactly when I see fit to do so—and that is now. I have already told
you that Mrs. Amyot owes me no explanation of her conduct.”
“But I owe you an explanation of mine—you and every one who has
bought a single one of her lecture tickets. Do you suppose a man who's
been through what I went through while that woman was talking to you in
the porch before dinner is going to hold his tongue, and not attempt to
justify himself? No decent man is going to sit down under that sort of
thing. It's enough to ruin his character. If you're my mother's friend,
you owe it to me to hear what I've got to say.”
He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead.
“Good God, mother!” he burst out suddenly, “what did you do it for?
Haven't you had everything you wanted ever since I was able to pay for
it? Haven't I paid you back every cent you spent on me when I was in
college? Have I ever gone back on you since I was big enough to work?”
He turned to me with a laugh. “I thought she did it to amuse
herself—and because there was such a demand for her lectures. Such
a demand! That's what she always told me. When we asked her to come
out and spend this winter with us in Minneapolis, she wrote back that
she couldn't because she had engagements all through the south, and her
manager wouldn't let her off. That's the reason why I came all the way
on here to see her. We thought she was the most popular lecturer in the
United States, my wife and I did! We were awfully proud of it too, I
can tell you.” He dropped into a chair, still laughing.
“How can you, Lancelot, how can you!” His mother, forgetful of my
presence, was clinging to him with tentative caresses. “When you didn't
need the money any longer I spent it all on the children—you know I
“Yes, on lace christening dresses and life-size rocking-horses with
real manes! The kind of thing children can't do without.”
“Oh, Lancelot, Lancelot—I loved them so! How can you believe such
falsehoods about me?”
“What falsehoods about you?”
“That I ever told anybody such dreadful things?”
He put her back gently, keeping his eyes on hers. “Did you never
tell anybody in this house that you were lecturing to support your
Her hands dropped from his shoulders and she flashed round on me in
“I know what I think of people who call themselves friends and who
come between a mother and her son!”
“Oh, mother, mother!” he groaned.
I went up to him and laid my hand on his shoulder.
“My dear man,” I said, “don't you see the uselessness of prolonging
“Yes, I do,” he answered abruptly; and before I could forestall his
movement he rose and walked out of the room.
There was a long silence, measured by the lessening reverberations
of his footsteps down the wooden floor of the corridor.
When they ceased I approached Mrs. Amyot, who had sunk into her
chair. I held out my hand and she took it without a trace of resentment
on her ravaged face.
“I sent his wife a seal-skin jacket at Christmas!” she said, with
the tears running down her cheeks.
Their railway-carriage had been full when the train left Bologna;
but at the first station beyond Milan their only remaining companion—a
courtly person who ate garlic out of a carpet-bag—had left his
crumb-strewn seat with a bow.
Lydia's eye regretfully followed the shiny broadcloth of his
retreating back till it lost itself in the cloud of touts and
cab-drivers hanging about the station; then she glanced across at
Gannett and caught the same regret in his look. They were both sorry to
“Par-ten-za!” shouted the guard. The train vibrated to a
sudden slamming of doors; a waiter ran along the platform with a tray
of fossilized sandwiches; a belated porter flung a bundle of shawls and
band-boxes into a third-class carriage; the guard snapped out a brief
Partensa! which indicated the purely ornamental nature of his first
shout; and the train swung out of the station.
The direction of the road had changed, and a shaft of sunlight
struck across the dusty red velvet seats into Lydia's corner. Gannett
did not notice it. He had returned to his Revue de Paris, and
she had to rise and lower the shade of the farther window. Against the
vast horizon of their leisure such incidents stood out sharply.
Having lowered the shade, Lydia sat down, leaving the length of the
carriage between herself and Gannett. At length he missed her and
“I moved out of the sun,” she hastily explained.
He looked at her curiously: the sun was beating on her through the
“Very well,” he said pleasantly; adding, “You don't mind?” as he
drew a cigarette-case from his pocket.
It was a refreshing touch, relieving the tension of her spirit with
the suggestion that, after all, if he could smoke—! The relief
was only momentary. Her experience of smokers was limited (her husband
had disapproved of the use of tobacco) but she knew from hearsay that
men sometimes smoked to get away from things; that a cigar might be the
masculine equivalent of darkened windows and a headache. Gannett, after
a puff or two, returned to his review.
It was just as she had foreseen; he feared to speak as much as she
did. It was one of the misfortunes of their situation that they were
never busy enough to necessitate, or even to justify, the postponement
of unpleasant discussions. If they avoided a question it was obviously,
unconcealably because the question was disagreeable. They had unlimited
leisure and an accumulation of mental energy to devote to any subject
that presented itself; new topics were in fact at a premium. Lydia
sometimes had premonitions of a famine-stricken period when there would
he nothing left to talk about, and she had already caught herself
doling out piecemeal what, in the first prodigality of their
confidences, she would have flung to him in a breath. Their silence
therefore might simply mean that they had nothing to say; but it was
another disadvantage of their position that it allowed infinite
opportunity for the classification of minute differences. Lydia had
learned to distinguish between real and factitious silences; and under
Gannett's she now detected a hum of speech to which her own thoughts
made breathless answer.
How could it be otherwise, with that thing between them? She glanced
up at the rack overhead. The thing was there, in her
dressing-bag, symbolically suspended over her head and his. He was
thinking of it now, just as she was; they had been thinking of it in
unison ever since they had entered the train. While the carriage had
held other travellers they had screened her from his thoughts; but now
that he and she were alone she knew exactly what was passing through
his mind; she could almost hear him asking himself what he should say
* * * * *
The thing had come that morning, brought up to her in an
innocent-looking envelope with the rest of their letters, as they were
leaving the hotel at Bologna. As she tore it open, she and Gannett were
laughing over some ineptitude of the local guide-book—they had been
driven, of late, to make the most of such incidental humors of travel.
Even when she had unfolded the document she took it for some
unimportant business paper sent abroad for her signature, and her eye
travelled inattentively over the curly Whereases of the preamble
until a word arrested her:—Divorce. There it stood, an impassable
barrier, between her husband's name and hers.
She had been prepared for it, of course, as healthy people are said
to be prepared for death, in the sense of knowing it must come without
in the least expecting that it will. She had known from the first that
Tillotson meant to divorce her—but what did it matter? Nothing
mattered, in those first days of supreme deliverance, but the fact that
she was free; and not so much (she had begun to be aware) that freedom
had released her from Tillotson as that it had given her to Gannett.
This discovery had not been agreeable to her self-esteem. She had
preferred to think that Tillotson had himself embodied all her reasons
for leaving him; and those he represented had seemed cogent enough to
stand in no need of reinforcement. Yet she had not left him till she
met Gannett. It was her love for Gannett that had made life with
Tillotson so poor and incomplete a business. If she had never, from the
first, regarded her marriage as a full cancelling of her claims upon
life, she had at least, for a number of years, accepted it as a
provisional compensation,—she had made it “do.” Existence in the
commodious Tillotson mansion in Fifth Avenue—with Mrs. Tillotson
senior commanding the approaches from the second-story front
windows—had been reduced to a series of purely automatic acts. The
moral atmosphere of the Tillotson interior was as carefully screened
and curtained as the house itself: Mrs. Tillotson senior dreaded ideas
as much as a draught in her back. Prudent people liked an even
temperature; and to do anything unexpected was as foolish as going out
in the rain. One of the chief advantages of being rich was that one
need not be exposed to unforeseen contingencies: by the use of ordinary
firmness and common sense one could make sure of doing exactly the same
thing every day at the same hour. These doctrines, reverentially
imbibed with his mother's milk, Tillotson (a model son who had never
given his parents an hour's anxiety) complacently expounded to his
wife, testifying to his sense of their importance by the regularity
with which he wore goloshes on damp days, his punctuality at meals, and
his elaborate precautions against burglars and contagious diseases.
Lydia, coming from a smaller town, and entering New York life through
the portals of the Tillotson mansion, had mechanically accepted this
point of view as inseparable from having a front pew in church and a
parterre box at the opera. All the people who came to the house
revolved in the same small circle of prejudices. It was the kind of
society in which, after dinner, the ladies compared the exorbitant
charges of their children's teachers, and agreed that, even with the
new duties on French clothes, it was cheaper in the end to get
everything from Worth; while the husbands, over their cigars, lamented
municipal corruption, and decided that the men to start a reform were
those who had no private interests at stake.
To Lydia this view of life had become a matter of course, just as
lumbering about in her mother-in-law's landau had come to seem the only
possible means of locomotion, and listening every Sunday to a
fashionable Presbyterian divine the inevitable atonement for having
thought oneself bored on the other six days of the week. Before she met
Gannett her life had seemed merely dull: his coming made it appear like
one of those dismal Cruikshank prints in which the people are all ugly
and all engaged in occupations that are either vulgar or stupid.
It was natural that Tillotson should be the chief sufferer from this
readjustment of focus. Gannett's nearness had made her husband
ridiculous, and a part of the ridicule had been reflected on herself.
Her tolerance laid her open to a suspicion of obtuseness from which she
must, at all costs, clear herself in Gannett's eyes.
She did not understand this until afterwards. At the time she
fancied that she had merely reached the limits of endurance. In so
large a charter of liberties as the mere act of leaving Tillotson
seemed to confer, the small question of divorce or no divorce did not
count. It was when she saw that she had left her husband only to be
with Gannett that she perceived the significance of anything affecting
their relations. Her husband, in casting her off, had virtually flung
her at Gannett: it was thus that the world viewed it. The measure of
alacrity with which Gannett would receive her would be the subject of
curious speculation over afternoon-tea tables and in club corners. She
knew what would be said—she had heard it so often of others! The
recollection bathed her in misery. The men would probably back Gannett
to “do the decent thing”; but the ladies' eye-brows would emphasize the
worthlessness of such enforced fidelity; and after all, they would be
right. She had put herself in a position where Gannett “owed” her
something; where, as a gentleman, he was bound to “stand the damage.”
The idea of accepting such compensation had never crossed her mind; the
so-called rehabilitation of such a marriage had always seemed to her
the only real disgrace. What she dreaded was the necessity of having to
explain herself; of having to combat his arguments; of calculating, in
spite of herself, the exact measure of insistence with which he pressed
them. She knew not whether she most shrank from his insisting too much
or too little. In such a case the nicest sense of proportion might be
at fault; and how easy to fall into the error of taking her resistance
for a test of his sincerity! Whichever way she turned, an ironical
implication confronted her: she had the exasperated sense of having
walked into the trap of some stupid practical joke.
Beneath all these preoccupations lurked the dread of what he was
thinking. Sooner or later, of course, he would have to speak; but that,
in the meantime, he should think, even for a moment, that there was any
use in speaking, seemed to her simply unendurable. Her sensitiveness on
this point was aggravated by another fear, as yet barely on the level
of consciousness; the fear of unwillingly involving Gannett in the
trammels of her dependence. To look upon him as the instrument of her
liberation; to resist in herself the least tendency to a wifely taking
possession of his future; had seemed to Lydia the one way of
maintaining the dignity of their relation. Her view had not changed,
but she was aware of a growing inability to keep her thoughts fixed on
the essential point—the point of parting with Gannett. It was easy to
face as long as she kept it sufficiently far off: but what was this act
of mental postponement but a gradual encroachment on his future? What
was needful was the courage to recognize the moment when, by some word
or look, their voluntary fellowship should be transformed into a
bondage the more wearing that it was based on none of those common
obligations which make the most imperfect marriage in some sort a
centre of gravity.
When the porter, at the next station, threw the door open, Lydia
drew back, making way for the hoped-for intruder; but none came, and
the train took up its leisurely progress through the spring
wheat-fields and budding copses. She now began to hope that Gannett
would speak before the next station. She watched him furtively,
half-disposed to return to the seat opposite his, but there was an
artificiality about his absorption that restrained her. She had never
before seen him read with so conspicuous an air of warding off
interruption. What could he be thinking of? Why should he be afraid to
speak? Or was it her answer that he dreaded?
The train paused for the passing of an express, and he put down his
book and leaned out of the window. Presently he turned to her with a
smile. “There's a jolly old villa out here,” he said.
His easy tone relieved her, and she smiled back at him as she
crossed over to his corner.
Beyond the embankment, through the opening in a mossy wall, she
caught sight of the villa, with its broken balustrades, its stagnant
fountains, and the stone satyr closing the perspective of a dusky
“How should you like to live there?” he asked as the train moved on.
“In some such place, I mean. One might do worse, don't you think so?
There must be at least two centuries of solitude under those yew-trees.
Shouldn't you like it?”
“I—I don't know,” she faltered. She knew now that he meant to
He lit another cigarette. “We shall have to live somewhere, you
know,” he said as he bent above the match.
Lydia tried to speak carelessly. “Je n'en vois pas la necessite!
Why not live everywhere, as we have been doing?”
“But we can't travel forever, can we?”
“Oh, forever's a long word,” she objected, picking up the review he
had thrown aside.
“For the rest of our lives then,” he said, moving nearer.
She made a slight gesture which caused his hand to slip from hers.
“Why should we make plans? I thought you agreed with me that it's
pleasanter to drift.”
He looked at her hesitatingly. “It's been pleasant, certainly; but I
suppose I shall have to get at my work again some day. You know I
haven't written a line since—all this time,” he hastily emended.
She flamed with sympathy and self-reproach. “Oh, if you mean that
—if you want to write—of course we must settle down. How stupid of me
not to have thought of it sooner! Where shall we go? Where do you think
you could work best? We oughtn't to lose any more time.”
He hesitated again. “I had thought of a villa in these parts. It's
quiet; we shouldn't be bothered. Should you like it?”
“Of course I should like it.” She paused and looked away. “But I
thought— I remember your telling me once that your best work had been
done in a crowd—in big cities. Why should you shut yourself up in a
Gannett, for a moment, made no reply. At length he said, avoiding
her eye as carefully as she avoided his: “It might be different now; I
can't tell, of course, till I try. A writer ought not to be dependent
on his milieu; it's a mistake to humor oneself in that way; and
I thought that just at first you might prefer to be—”
She faced him. “To be what?”
“Well—quiet. I mean—”
“What do you mean by 'at first'?” she interrupted.
He paused again. “I mean after we are married.”
She thrust up her chin and turned toward the window. “Thank you!”
she tossed back at him.
“Lydia!” he exclaimed blankly; and she felt in every fibre of her
averted person that he had made the inconceivable, the unpardonable
mistake of anticipating her acquiescence.
The train rattled on and he groped for a third cigarette. Lydia
“I haven't offended you?” he ventured at length, in the tone of a
man who feels his way.
She shook her head with a sigh. “I thought you understood,” she
moaned. Their eyes met and she moved back to his side.
“Do you want to know how not to offend me? By taking it for granted,
once for all, that you've said your say on this odious question and
that I've said mine, and that we stand just where we did this morning
before that— that hateful paper came to spoil everything between us!”
“To spoil everything between us? What on earth do you mean? Aren't
you glad to be free?”
“I was free before.”
“Not to marry me,” he suggested.
“But I don't want to marry you!” she cried.
She saw that he turned pale. “I'm obtuse, I suppose,” he said
slowly. “I confess I don't see what you're driving at. Are you tired of
the whole business? Or was I simply a—an excuse for getting
away? Perhaps you didn't care to travel alone? Was that it? And now you
want to chuck me?” His voice had grown harsh. “You owe me a straight
answer, you know; don't be tender-hearted!”
Her eyes swam as she leaned to him. “Don't you see it's because I
care— because I care so much? Oh, Ralph! Can't you see how it would
humiliate me? Try to feel it as a woman would! Don't you see the misery
of being made your wife in this way? If I'd known you as a girl—that
would have been a real marriage! But now—this vulgar fraud upon
society—and upon a society we despised and laughed at—this sneaking
back into a position that we've voluntarily forfeited: don't you see
what a cheap compromise it is? We neither of us believe in the abstract
'sacredness' of marriage; we both know that no ceremony is needed to
consecrate our love for each other; what object can we have in
marrying, except the secret fear of each that the other may escape, or
the secret longing to work our way back gradually—oh, very
gradually—into the esteem of the people whose conventional morality we
have always ridiculed and hated? And the very fact that, after a decent
interval, these same people would come and dine with us—the women who
talk about the indissolubility of marriage, and who would let me die in
a gutter to-day because I am 'leading a life of sin'— doesn't that
disgust you more than their turning their backs on us now? I can stand
being cut by them, but I couldn't stand their coming to call and asking
what I meant to do about visiting that unfortunate Mrs. So-and-so!”
She paused, and Gannett maintained a perplexed silence.
“You judge things too theoretically,” he said at length, slowly.
“Life is made up of compromises.”
“The life we ran away from—yes! If we had been willing to accept
them”— she flushed—“we might have gone on meeting each other at Mrs.
He smiled slightly. “I didn't know that we ran away to found a new
system of ethics. I supposed it was because we loved each other.”
“Life is complex, of course; isn't it the very recognition of that
fact that separates us from the people who see it tout d'une piece?
If they are right—if marriage is sacred in itself and the
individual must always be sacrificed to the family—then there can be
no real marriage between us, since our—our being together is a protest
against the sacrifice of the individual to the family.” She interrupted
herself with a laugh. “You'll say now that I'm giving you a lecture on
sociology! Of course one acts as one can—as one must, perhaps—pulled
by all sorts of invisible threads; but at least one needn't pretend,
for social advantages, to subscribe to a creed that ignores the
complexity of human motives—that classifies people by arbitrary signs,
and puts it in everybody's reach to be on Mrs. Tillotson's
visiting-list. It may be necessary that the world should be ruled by
conventions—but if we believed in them, why did we break through them?
And if we don't believe in them, is it honest to take advantage of the
protection they afford?”
Gannett hesitated. “One may believe in them or not; but as long as
they do rule the world it is only by taking advantage of their
protection that one can find a modus vivendi.”
“Do outlaws need a modus vivendi?”
He looked at her hopelessly. Nothing is more perplexing to man than
the mental process of a woman who reasons her emotions.
She thought she had scored a point and followed it up passionately.
“You do understand, don't you? You see how the very thought of the
thing humiliates me! We are together to-day because we choose to
be—don't let us look any farther than that!” She caught his hands. “
Promise me you'll never speak of it again; promise me you'll never
think of it even,” she implored, with a tearful prodigality of
Through what followed—his protests, his arguments, his final
unconvinced submission to her wishes—she had a sense of his but
half-discerning all that, for her, had made the moment so tumultuous.
They had reached that memorable point in every heart-history when, for
the first time, the man seems obtuse and the woman irrational. It was
the abundance of his intentions that consoled her, on reflection, for
what they lacked in quality. After all, it would have been worse,
incalculably worse, to have detected any over-readiness to understand
When the train at night-fall brought them to their journey's end at
the edge of one of the lakes, Lydia was glad that they were not, as
usual, to pass from one solitude to another. Their wanderings during
the year had indeed been like the flight of outlaws: through Sicily,
Dalmatia, Transylvania and Southern Italy they had persisted in their
tacit avoidance of their kind. Isolation, at first, had deepened the
flavor of their happiness, as night intensifies the scent of certain
flowers; but in the new phase on which they were entering, Lydia's
chief wish was that they should be less abnormally exposed to the
action of each other's thoughts.
She shrank, nevertheless, as the brightly-looming bulk of the
fashionable Anglo-American hotel on the water's brink began to radiate
toward their advancing boat its vivid suggestion of social order,
visitors' lists, Church services, and the bland inquisition of the
table-d'hote. The mere fact that in a moment or two she must take
her place on the hotel register as Mrs. Gannett seemed to weaken the
springs of her resistance.
They had meant to stay for a night only, on their way to a lofty
village among the glaciers of Monte Rosa; but after the first plunge
into publicity, when they entered the dining-room, Lydia felt the
relief of being lost in a crowd, of ceasing for a moment to be the
centre of Gannett's scrutiny; and in his face she caught the reflection
of her feeling. After dinner, when she went upstairs, he strolled into
the smoking-room, and an hour or two later, sitting in the darkness of
her window, she heard his voice below and saw him walking up and down
the terrace with a companion cigar at his side. When he came up he told
her he had been talking to the hotel chaplain—a very good sort of
“Queer little microcosms, these hotels! Most of these people live
here all summer and then migrate to Italy or the Riviera. The English
are the only people who can lead that kind of life with dignity—those
soft-voiced old ladies in Shetland shawls somehow carry the British
Empire under their caps. Civis Romanus sum. It's a curious
study—there might be some good things to work up here.”
He stood before her with the vivid preoccupied stare of the novelist
on the trail of a “subject.” With a relief that was half painful she
noticed that, for the first time since they had been together, he was
hardly aware of her presence. “Do you think you could write here?”
“Here? I don't know.” His stare dropped. “After being out of things
so long one's first impressions are bound to be tremendously vivid, you
know. I see a dozen threads already that one might follow—”
He broke off with a touch of embarrassment.
“Then follow them. We'll stay,” she said with sudden decision.
“Stay here?” He glanced at her in surprise, and then, walking to the
window, looked out upon the dusky slumber of the garden.
“Why not?” she said at length, in a tone of veiled irritation.
“The place is full of old cats in caps who gossip with the chaplain.
Shall you like—I mean, it would be different if—”
She flamed up.
“Do you suppose I care? It's none of their business.”
“Of course not; but you won't get them to think so.”
“They may think what they please.”
He looked at her doubtfully.
“It's for you to decide.”
“We'll stay,” she repeated.
Gannett, before they met, had made himself known as a successful
writer of short stories and of a novel which had achieved the
distinction of being widely discussed. The reviewers called him
“promising,” and Lydia now accused herself of having too long
interfered with the fulfilment of his promise. There was a special
irony in the fact, since his passionate assurances that only the
stimulus of her companionship could bring out his latent faculty had
almost given the dignity of a “vocation” to her course: there had been
moments when she had felt unable to assume, before posterity, the
responsibility of thwarting his career. And, after all, he had not
written a line since they had been together: his first desire to write
had come from renewed contact with the world! Was it all a mistake
then? Must the most intelligent choice work more disastrously than the
blundering combinations of chance? Or was there a still more
humiliating answer to her perplexities? His sudden impulse of activity
so exactly coincided with her own wish to withdraw, for a time, from
the range of his observation, that she wondered if he too were not
seeking sanctuary from intolerable problems.
“You must begin to-morrow!” she cried, hiding a tremor under the
laugh with which she added, “I wonder if there's any ink in the
* * * * *
Whatever else they had at the Hotel Bellosguardo, they had, as Miss
Pinsent said, “a certain tone.” It was to Lady Susan Condit that they
owed this inestimable benefit; an advantage ranking in Miss Pinsent's
opinion above even the lawn tennis courts and the resident chaplain. It
was the fact of Lady Susan's annual visit that made the hotel what it
was. Miss Pinsent was certainly the last to underrate such a
privilege:—“It's so important, my dear, forming as we do a little
family, that there should be some one to give the tone; and no
one could do it better than Lady Susan—an earl's daughter and a person
of such determination. Dear Mrs. Ainger now—who really ought,
you know, when Lady Susan's away— absolutely refuses to assert
herself.” Miss Pinsent sniffed derisively. “A bishop's niece!—my dear,
I saw her once actually give in to some South Americans—and before us
all. She gave up her seat at table to oblige them—such a lack of
dignity! Lady Susan spoke to her very plainly about it afterwards.”
Miss Pinsent glanced across the lake and adjusted her auburn front.
“But of course I don't deny that the stand Lady Susan takes is not
always easy to live up to—for the rest of us, I mean. Monsieur
Grossart, our good proprietor, finds it trying at times, I know—he has
said as much, privately, to Mrs. Ainger and me. After all, the poor man
is not to blame for wanting to fill his hotel, is he? And Lady Susan is
so difficult—so very difficult—about new people. One might almost say
that she disapproves of them beforehand, on principle. And yet she's
had warnings— she very nearly made a dreadful mistake once with the
Duchess of Levens, who dyed her hair and—well, swore and smoked. One
would have thought that might have been a lesson to Lady Susan.” Miss
Pinsent resumed her knitting with a sigh. “There are exceptions, of
course. She took at once to you and Mr. Gannett—it was quite
remarkable, really. Oh, I don't mean that either—of course not! It was
perfectly natural—we all thought you so charming and
interesting from the first day—we knew at once that Mr. Gannett was
intellectual, by the magazines you took in; but you know what I mean.
Lady Susan is so very—well, I won't say prejudiced, as Mrs. Ainger
does—but so prepared not to like new people, that her taking to
you in that way was a surprise to us all, I confess.”
Miss Pinsent sent a significant glance down the long laurustinus
alley from the other end of which two people—a lady and
gentleman—were strolling toward them through the smiling neglect of
“In this case, of course, it's very different; that I'm willing to
admit. Their looks are against them; but, as Mrs. Ainger says, one
can't exactly tell them so.”
“She's very handsome,” Lydia ventured, with her eyes on the lady,
who showed, under the dome of a vivid sunshade, the hour-glass figure
and superlative coloring of a Christmas chromo.
“That's the worst of it. She's too handsome.”
“Well, after all, she can't help that.”
“Other people manage to,” said Miss Pinsent skeptically.
“But isn't it rather unfair of Lady Susan—considering that nothing
is known about them?”
“But, my dear, that's the very thing that's against them. It's
infinitely worse than any actual knowledge.”
Lydia mentally agreed that, in the case of Mrs. Linton, it possibly
“I wonder why they came here?” she mused.
“That's against them too. It's always a bad sign when loud people
come to a quiet place. And they've brought van-loads of boxes—her maid
told Mrs. Ainger's that they meant to stop indefinitely.”
“And Lady Susan actually turned her back on her in the salon?
“My dear, she said it was for our sakes: that makes it so
unanswerable! But poor Grossart is in a way! The Lintons have
taken his most expensive suite, you know—the yellow damask
drawing-room above the portico—and they have champagne with every
They were silent as Mr. and Mrs. Linton sauntered by; the lady with
tempestuous brows and challenging chin; the gentleman, a blond
stripling, trailing after her, head downward, like a reluctant child
dragged by his nurse.
“What does your husband think of them, my dear?” Miss Pinsent
whispered as they passed out of earshot.
Lydia stooped to pick a violet in the border.
“He hasn't told me.”
“Of your speaking to them, I mean. Would he approve of that? I know
how very particular nice Americans are. I think your action might make
a difference; it would certainly carry weight with Lady Susan.”
“Dear Miss Pinsent, you flatter me!”
Lydia rose and gathered up her book and sunshade.
“Well, if you're asked for an opinion—if Lady Susan asks you for
one—I think you ought to be prepared,” Miss Pinsent admonished her as
she moved away.
Lady Susan held her own. She ignored the Lintons, and her little
family, as Miss Pinsent phrased it, followed suit. Even Mrs. Ainger
agreed that it was obligatory. If Lady Susan owed it to the others not
to speak to the Lintons, the others clearly owed it to Lady Susan to
back her up. It was generally found expedient, at the Hotel
Bellosguardo, to adopt this form of reasoning.
Whatever effect this combined action may have had upon the Lintons,
it did not at least have that of driving them away. Monsieur Grossart,
after a few days of suspense, had the satisfaction of seeing them
settle down in his yellow damask premier with what looked like a
permanent installation of palm-trees and silk sofa-cushions, and a
gratifying continuance in the consumption of champagne. Mrs. Linton
trailed her Doucet draperies up and down the garden with the same
challenging air, while her husband, smoking innumerable cigarettes,
dragged himself dejectedly in her wake; but neither of them, after the
first encounter with Lady Susan, made any attempt to extend their
acquaintance. They simply ignored their ignorers. As Miss Pinsent
resentfully observed, they behaved exactly as though the hotel were
It was therefore a matter of surprise, as well as of displeasure, to
Lydia, to find, on glancing up one day from her seat in the garden,
that the shadow which had fallen across her book was that of the
enigmatic Mrs. Linton.
“I want to speak to you,” that lady said, in a rich hard voice that
seemed the audible expression of her gown and her complexion.
Lydia started. She certainly did not want to speak to Mrs. Linton.
“Shall I sit down here?” the latter continued, fixing her
intensely-shaded eyes on Lydia's face, “or are you afraid of being seen
“Afraid?” Lydia colored. “Sit down, please. What is it that you wish
Mrs. Linton, with a smile, drew up a garden-chair and crossed one
open- work ankle above the other.
“I want you to tell me what my husband said to your husband last
Lydia turned pale.
“My husband—to yours?” she faltered, staring at the other.
“Didn't you know they were closeted together for hours in the
smoking-room after you went upstairs? My man didn't get to bed until
nearly two o'clock and when he did I couldn't get a word out of him.
When he wants to be aggravating I'll back him against anybody living!”
Her teeth and eyes flashed persuasively upon Lydia. “But you'll tell me
what they were talking about, won't you? I know I can trust you—you
look so awfully kind. And it's for his own good. He's such a precious
donkey and I'm so afraid he's got into some beastly scrape or other. If
he'd only trust his own old woman! But they're always writing to him
and setting him against me. And I've got nobody to turn to.” She laid
her hand on Lydia's with a rattle of bracelets. “You'll help me, won't
Lydia drew back from the smiling fierceness of her brows.
“I'm sorry—but I don't think I understand. My husband has said
nothing to me of—of yours.”
The great black crescents above Mrs. Linton's eyes met angrily.
“I say—is that true?” she demanded.
Lydia rose from her seat.
“Oh, look here, I didn't mean that, you know—you mustn't take one
up so! Can't you see how rattled I am?”
Lydia saw that, in fact, her beautiful mouth was quivering beneath
“I'm beside myself!” the splendid creature wailed, dropping into her
“I'm so sorry,” Lydia repeated, forcing herself to speak kindly;
“but how can I help you?”
Mrs. Linton raised her head sharply.
“By finding out—there's a darling!”
“Finding what out?”
“What Trevenna told him.”
“Trevenna—?” Lydia echoed in bewilderment.
Mrs. Linton clapped her hand to her mouth.
“Oh, Lord—there, it's out! What a fool I am! But I supposed of
course you knew; I supposed everybody knew.” She dried her eyes and
bridled. “Didn't you know that he's Lord Trevenna? I'm Mrs. Cope.”
Lydia recognized the names. They had figured in a flamboyant
elopement which had thrilled fashionable London some six months
“Now you see how it is—you understand, don't you?” Mrs. Cope
continued on a note of appeal. “I knew you would—that's the reason I
came to you. I suppose he felt the same thing about your
husband; he's not spoken to another soul in the place.” Her face grew
anxious again. “He's awfully sensitive, generally—he feels our
position, he says—as if it wasn't my place to feel that! But
when he does get talking there's no knowing what he'll say. I know he's
been brooding over something lately, and I must find out what it
is—it's to his interest that I should. I always tell him that I think
only of his interest; if he'd only trust me! But he's been so odd
lately—I can't think what he's plotting. You will help me, dear?”
Lydia, who had remained standing, looked away uncomfortably.
“If you mean by finding out what Lord Trevenna has told my husband,
I'm afraid it's impossible.”
“Because I infer that it was told in confidence.”
Mrs. Cope stared incredulously.
“Well, what of that? Your husband looks such a dear—any one can see
he's awfully gone on you. What's to prevent your getting it out of
“I'm not a spy!” she exclaimed.
“A spy—a spy? How dare you?” Mrs. Cope flamed out. “Oh, I don't
mean that either! Don't be angry with me—I'm so miserable.” She
essayed a softer note. “Do you call that spying—for one woman to help
out another? I do need help so dreadfully! I'm at my wits' end with
Trevenna, I am indeed. He's such a boy—a mere baby, you know; he's
only two-and-twenty.” She dropped her orbed lids. “He's younger than
me—only fancy! a few months younger. I tell him he ought to listen to
me as if I was his mother; oughtn't he now? But he won't, he won't! All
his people are at him, you see—oh, I know their little game!
Trying to get him away from me before I can get my divorce—that's what
they're up to. At first he wouldn't listen to them; he used to toss
their letters over to me to read; but now he reads them himself, and
answers 'em too, I fancy; he's always shut up in his room, writing. If
I only knew what his plan is I could stop him fast enough—he's such a
simpleton. But he's dreadfully deep too—at times I can't make him out.
But I know he's told your husband everything—I knew that last night
the minute I laid eyes on him. And I must find out—you must
help me—I've got no one else to turn to!”
She caught Lydia's fingers in a stormy pressure.
“Say you'll help me—you and your husband.”
Lydia tried to free herself.
“What you ask is impossible; you must see that it is. No one could
interfere in—in the way you ask.”
Mrs. Cope's clutch tightened.
“You won't, then? You won't?”
“Certainly not. Let me go, please.”
Mrs. Cope released her with a laugh.
“Oh, go by all means—pray don't let me detain you! Shall you go and
tell Lady Susan Condit that there's a pair of us—or shall I save you
the trouble of enlightening her?”
Lydia stood still in the middle of the path, seeing her antagonist
through a mist of terror. Mrs. Cope was still laughing.
“Oh, I'm not spiteful by nature, my dear; but you're a little more
than flesh and blood can stand! It's impossible, is it? Let you go,
indeed! You're too good to be mixed up in my affairs, are you? Why, you
little fool, the first day I laid eyes on you I saw that you and I were
both in the same box—that's the reason I spoke to you.”
She stepped nearer, her smile dilating on Lydia like a lamp through
“You can take your choice, you know; I always play fair. If you'll
tell I'll promise not to. Now then, which is it to be?”
Lydia, involuntarily, had begun to move away from the pelting storm
of words; but at this she turned and sat down again.
“You may go,” she said simply. “I shall stay here.”
She stayed there for a long time, in the hypnotized contemplation,
not of Mrs. Cope's present, but of her own past. Gannett, early that
morning, had gone off on a long walk—he had fallen into the habit of
taking these mountain-tramps with various fellow-lodgers; but even had
he been within reach she could not have gone to him just then. She had
to deal with herself first. She was surprised to find how, in the last
months, she had lost the habit of introspection. Since their coming to
the Hotel Bellosguardo she and Gannett had tacitly avoided themselves
and each other.
She was aroused by the whistle of the three o'clock steamboat as it
neared the landing just beyond the hotel gates. Three o'clock! Then
Gannett would soon be back—he had told her to expect him before four.
She rose hurriedly, her face averted from the inquisitorial facade of
the hotel. She could not see him just yet; she could not go indoors.
She slipped through one of the overgrown garden-alleys and climbed a
steep path to the hills.
It was dark when she opened their sitting-room door. Gannett was
sitting on the window-ledge smoking a cigarette. Cigarettes were now
his chief resource: he had not written a line during the two months
they had spent at the Hotel Bellosguardo. In that respect, it had
turned out not to be the right milieu after all.
He started up at Lydia's entrance.
“Where have you been? I was getting anxious.”
She sat down in a chair near the door.
“Up the mountain,” she said wearily.
Gannett threw away his cigarette: the sound of her voice made him
want to see her face.
“Shall we have a little light?” he suggested.
She made no answer and he lifted the globe from the lamp and put a
match to the wick. Then he looked at her.
“Anything wrong? You look done up.”
She sat glancing vaguely about the little sitting-room, dimly lit by
the pallid-globed lamp, which left in twilight the outlines of the
furniture, of his writing-table heaped with books and papers, of the
tea-roses and jasmine drooping on the mantel-piece. How like home it
had all grown—how like home!
“Lydia, what is wrong?” he repeated.
She moved away from him, feeling for her hatpins and turning to lay
her hat and sunshade on the table.
Suddenly she said: “That woman has been talking to me.”
“That woman? What woman?”
“Mrs. Linton—Mrs. Cope.”
He gave a start of annoyance, still, as she perceived, not grasping
the full import of her words.
“The deuce! She told you—?”
“She told me everything.”
Gannett looked at her anxiously.
“What impudence! I'm so sorry that you should have been exposed to
“Exposed!” Lydia laughed.
Gannett's brow clouded and they looked away from each other.
“Do you know why she told me? She had the best of reasons.
The first time she laid eyes on me she saw that we were both in the
“So it was natural, of course, that she should turn to me in a
“It seems she has reason to think that Lord Trevenna's people are
trying to get him away from her before she gets her divorce—”
“And she fancied he had been consulting with you last night as
to—as to the best way of escaping from her.”
Gannett stood up with an angry forehead.
“Well—what concern of yours was all this dirty business? Why should
she go to you?”
“Don't you see? It's so simple. I was to wheedle his secret out of
“To oblige that woman?”
“Yes; or, if I was unwilling to oblige her, then to protect myself.”
“To protect yourself? Against whom?”
“Against her telling every one in the hotel that she and I are in
the same box.”
“She threatened that?”
“She left me the choice of telling it myself or of doing it for me.”
There was a long silence. Lydia had seated herself on the sofa,
beyond the radius of the lamp, and he leaned against the window. His
next question surprised her.
“When did this happen? At what time, I mean?” She looked at him
“I don't know—after luncheon, I think. Yes, I remember; it must
have been at about three o'clock.”
He stepped into the middle of the room and as he approached the
light she saw that his brow had cleared.
“Why do you ask?” she said.
“Because when I came in, at about half-past three, the mail was just
being distributed, and Mrs. Cope was waiting as usual to pounce on her
letters; you know she was always watching for the postman. She was
standing so close to me that I couldn't help seeing a big
official-looking envelope that was handed to her. She tore it open,
gave one look at the inside, and rushed off upstairs like a whirlwind,
with the director shouting after her that she had left all her other
letters behind. I don't believe she ever thought of you again after
that paper was put into her hand.”
“Because she was too busy. I was sitting in the window, watching for
you, when the five o'clock boat left, and who should go on board, bag
and baggage, valet and maid, dressing-bags and poodle, but Mrs. Cope
and Trevenna. Just an hour and a half to pack up in! And you should
have seen her when they started. She was radiant—shaking hands with
everybody— waving her handkerchief from the deck—distributing bows
and smiles like an empress. If ever a woman got what she wanted just in
the nick of time that woman did. She'll be Lady Trevenna within a week,
“You think she has her divorce?”
“I'm sure of it. And she must have got it just after her talk with
Lydia was silent.
At length she said, with a kind of reluctance, “She was horribly
angry when she left me. It wouldn't have taken long to tell Lady Susan
“Lady Susan Condit has not been told.”
“How do you know?”
“Because when I went downstairs half an hour ago I met Lady Susan on
He stopped, half smiling.
“And she stopped to ask if I thought you would act as patroness to a
charity concert she is getting up.”
In spite of themselves they both broke into a laugh. Lydia's ended
in sobs and she sank down with her face hidden. Gannett bent over her,
seeking her hands.
“That vile woman—I ought to have warned you to keep away from her;
I can't forgive myself! But he spoke to me in confidence; and I never
dreamed—well, it's all over now.”
Lydia lifted her head.
“Not for me. It's only just beginning.”
“What do you mean?”
She put him gently aside and moved in her turn to the window. Then
she went on, with her face turned toward the shimmering blackness of
the lake, “You see of course that it might happen again at any moment.”
“This—this risk of being found out. And we could hardly count again
on such a lucky combination of chances, could we?”
He sat down with a groan.
Still keeping her face toward the darkness, she said, “I want you to
go and tell Lady Susan—and the others.”
Gannett, who had moved towards her, paused a few feet off.
“Why do you wish me to do this?” he said at length, with less
surprise in his voice than she had been prepared for.
“Because I've behaved basely, abominably, since we came here:
letting these people believe we were married—lying with every breath I
“Yes, I've felt that too,” Gannett exclaimed with sudden energy.
The words shook her like a tempest: all her thoughts seemed to fall
about her in ruins.
“You—you've felt so?”
“Of course I have.” He spoke with low-voiced vehemence. “Do you
suppose I like playing the sneak any better than you do? It's
He had dropped on the arm of a chair, and they stared at each other
like blind people who suddenly see.
“But you have liked it here,” she faltered.
“Oh, I've liked it—I've liked it.” He moved impatiently. “Haven't
“Yes,” she burst out; “that's the worst of it—that's what I can't
bear. I fancied it was for your sake that I insisted on
staying—because you thought you could write here; and perhaps just at
first that really was the reason. But afterwards I wanted to stay
myself—I loved it.” She broke into a laugh. “Oh, do you see the full
derision of it? These people—the very prototypes of the bores you took
me away from, with the same fenced— in view of life, the same
keep-off-the-grass morality, the same little cautious virtues and the
same little frightened vices—well, I've clung to them, I've delighted
in them, I've done my best to please them. I've toadied Lady Susan,
I've gossiped with Miss Pinsent, I've pretended to be shocked with Mrs.
Ainger. Respectability! It was the one thing in life that I was sure I
didn't care about, and it's grown so precious to me that I've stolen it
because I couldn't get it in any other way.”
She moved across the room and returned to his side with another
“I who used to fancy myself unconventional! I must have been born
with a card-case in my hand. You should have seen me with that poor
woman in the garden. She came to me for help, poor creature, because
she fancied that, having 'sinned,' as they call it, I might feel some
pity for others who had been tempted in the same way. Not I! She didn't
know me. Lady Susan would have been kinder, because Lady Susan wouldn't
have been afraid. I hated the woman—my one thought was not to be seen
with her—I could have killed her for guessing my secret. The one thing
that mattered to me at that moment was my standing with Lady Susan!”
Gannett did not speak.
“And you—you've felt it too!” she broke out accusingly. “You've
enjoyed being with these people as much as I have; you've let the
chaplain talk to you by the hour about 'The Reign of Law' and Professor
Drummond. When they asked you to hand the plate in church I was
watching you—you wanted to accept.”
She stepped close, laying her hand on his arm.
“Do you know, I begin to see what marriage is for. It's to keep
people away from each other. Sometimes I think that two people who love
each other can be saved from madness only by the things that come
between them—children, duties, visits, bores, relations—the things
that protect married people from each other. We've been too close
together—that has been our sin. We've seen the nakedness of each
She sank again on the sofa, hiding her face in her hands.
Gannett stood above her perplexedly: he felt as though she were
being swept away by some implacable current while he stood helpless on
At length he said, “Lydia, don't think me a brute—but don't you see
yourself that it won't do?”
“Yes, I see it won't do,” she said without raising her head.
His face cleared.
“Then we'll go to-morrow.”
“To Paris; to be married.”
For a long time she made no answer; then she asked slowly, “Would
they have us here if we were married?”
“Have us here?”
“I mean Lady Susan—and the others.”
“Have us here? Of course they would.”
“Not if they knew—at least, not unless they could pretend not to
He made an impatient gesture.
“We shouldn't come back here, of course; and other people needn't
know—no one need know.”
She sighed. “Then it's only another form of deception and a meaner
one. Don't you see that?”
“I see that we're not accountable to any Lady Susans on earth!”
“Then why are you ashamed of what we are doing here?”
“Because I'm sick of pretending that you're my wife when you're
not—when you won't be.”
She looked at him sadly.
“If I were your wife you'd have to go on pretending. You'd have to
pretend that I'd never been—anything else. And our friends would have
to pretend that they believed what you pretended.”
Gannett pulled off the sofa-tassel and flung it away.
“You're impossible,” he groaned.
“It's not I—it's our being together that's impossible. I only want
you to see that marriage won't help it.”
“What will help it then?”
She raised her head.
“My leaving you.”
“Your leaving me?” He sat motionless, staring at the tassel which
lay at the other end of the room. At length some impulse of retaliation
for the pain she was inflicting made him say deliberately:
“And where would you go if you left me?”
“Oh!” she cried.
He was at her side in an instant.
“Lydia—Lydia—you know I didn't mean it; I couldn't mean it! But
you've driven me out of my senses; I don't know what I'm saying. Can't
you get out of this labyrinth of self-torture? It's destroying us
“That's why I must leave you.”
“How easily you say it!” He drew her hands down and made her face
him. “You're very scrupulous about yourself—and others. But have you
thought of me? You have no right to leave me unless you've ceased to
“It's because I care—”
“Then I have a right to be heard. If you love me you can't leave
Her eyes defied him.
He dropped her hands and rose from her side.
“Can you?” he said sadly.
The hour was late and the lamp flickered and sank. She stood up with
a shiver and turned toward the door of her room.
At daylight a sound in Lydia's room woke Gannett from a troubled
sleep. He sat up and listened. She was moving about softly, as though
fearful of disturbing him. He heard her push back one of the creaking
shutters; then there was a moment's silence, which seemed to indicate
that she was waiting to see if the noise had roused him.
Presently she began to move again. She had spent a sleepless night,
probably, and was dressing to go down to the garden for a breath of
air. Gannett rose also; but some undefinable instinct made his
movements as cautious as hers. He stole to his window and looked out
through the slats of the shutter.
It had rained in the night and the dawn was gray and lifeless. The
cloud- muffled hills across the lake were reflected in its surface as
in a tarnished mirror. In the garden, the birds were beginning to shake
the drops from the motionless laurustinus-boughs.
An immense pity for Lydia filled Gannett's soul. Her seeming
intellectual independence had blinded him for a time to the feminine
cast of her mind. He had never thought of her as a woman who wept and
clung: there was a lucidity in her intuitions that made them appear to
be the result of reasoning. Now he saw the cruelty he had committed in
detaching her from the normal conditions of life; he felt, too, the
insight with which she had hit upon the real cause of their suffering.
Their life was “impossible,” as she had said—and its worst penalty was
that it had made any other life impossible for them. Even had his love
lessened, he was bound to her now by a hundred ties of pity and
self-reproach; and she, poor child! must turn back to him as Latude
returned to his cell....
A new sound startled him: it was the stealthy closing of Lydia's
door. He crept to his own and heard her footsteps passing down the
corridor. Then he went back to the window and looked out.
A minute or two later he saw her go down the steps of the porch and
enter the garden. From his post of observation her face was invisible,
but something about her appearance struck him. She wore a long
travelling cloak and under its folds he detected the outline of a bag
or bundle. He drew a deep breath and stood watching her.
She walked quickly down the laurustinus alley toward the gate; there
she paused a moment, glancing about the little shady square. The stone
benches under the trees were empty, and she seemed to gather resolution
from the solitude about her, for she crossed the square to the
steam-boat landing, and he saw her pause before the ticket-office at
the head of the wharf. Now she was buying her ticket. Gannett turned
his head a moment to look at the clock: the boat was due in five
minutes. He had time to jump into his clothes and overtake her—
He made no attempt to move; an obscure reluctance restrained him. If
any thought emerged from the tumult of his sensations, it was that he
must let her go if she wished it. He had spoken last night of his
rights: what were they? At the last issue, he and she were two separate
beings, not made one by the miracle of common forbearances, duties,
abnegations, but bound together in a noyade of passion that left
them resisting yet clinging as they went down.
After buying her ticket, Lydia had stood for a moment looking out
across the lake; then he saw her seat herself on one of the benches
near the landing. He and she, at that moment, were both listening for
the same sound: the whistle of the boat as it rounded the nearest
promontory. Gannett turned again to glance at the clock: the boat was
Where would she go? What would her life be when she had left him?
She had no near relations and few friends. There was money enough ...
but she asked so much of life, in ways so complex and immaterial. He
thought of her as walking bare-footed through a stony waste. No one
would understand her—no one would pity her—and he, who did both, was
powerless to come to her aid....
He saw that she had risen from the bench and walked toward the edge
of the lake. She stood looking in the direction from which the
steamboat was to come; then she turned to the ticket-office, doubtless
to ask the cause of the delay. After that she went back to the bench
and sat down with bent head. What was she thinking of?
The whistle sounded; she started up, and Gannett involuntarily made
a movement toward the door. But he turned back and continued to watch
her. She stood motionless, her eyes on the trail of smoke that preceded
the appearance of the boat. Then the little craft rounded the point, a
dead- white object on the leaden water: a minute later it was puffing
and backing at the wharf.
The few passengers who were waiting—two or three peasants and a
snuffy priest—were clustered near the ticket-office. Lydia stood apart
under the trees.
The boat lay alongside now; the gang-plank was run out and the
peasants went on board with their baskets of vegetables, followed by
the priest. Still Lydia did not move. A bell began to ring querulously;
there was a shriek of steam, and some one must have called to her that
she would be late, for she started forward, as though in answer to a
summons. She moved waveringly, and at the edge of the wharf she paused.
Gannett saw a sailor beckon to her; the bell rang again and she stepped
upon the gang-plank.
Half-way down the short incline to the deck she stopped again; then
she turned and ran back to the land. The gang-plank was drawn in, the
bell ceased to ring, and the boat backed out into the lake. Lydia, with
slow steps, was walking toward the garden....
As she approached the hotel she looked up furtively and Gannett drew
back into the room. He sat down beside a table; a Bradshaw lay at his
elbow, and mechanically, without knowing what he did, he began looking
out the trains to Paris....
“My daughter Irene,” said Mrs. Carstyle (she made it rhyme with
tureen), “has had no social advantages; but if Mr. Carstyle had
chosen—” she paused significantly and looked at the shabby sofa on the
opposite side of the fire-place as though it had been Mr. Carstyle.
Vibart was glad that it was not.
Mrs. Carstyle was one of the women who make refinement vulgar. She
invariably spoke of her husband as Mr. Carstyle and, though she
had but one daughter, was always careful to designate the young lady by
name. At luncheon she had talked a great deal of elevating influences
and ideals, and had fluctuated between apologies for the overdone
mutton and affected surprise that the bewildered maid-servant should
have forgotten to serve the coffee and liqueurs as usual.
Vibart was almost sorry that he had come. Miss Carstyle was still
beautiful—almost as beautiful as when, two days earlier, against the
leafy background of a June garden-party, he had seen her for the first
time—but her mother's expositions and elucidations cheapened her
beauty as sign-posts vulgarize a woodland solitude. Mrs. Carstyle's eye
was perpetually plying between her daughter and Vibart, like an empty
cab in quest of a fare. Miss Carstyle, the young man decided, was the
kind of girl whose surroundings rub off on her; or was it rather that
Mrs. Carstyle's idiosyncrasies were of a nature to color every one
within reach? Vibart, looking across the table as this consolatory
alternative occurred to him, was sure that they had not colored Mr.
Carstyle; but that, perhaps, was only because they had bleached him
instead. Mr. Carstyle was quite colorless; it would have been
impossible to guess his native tint. His wife's qualities, if they had
affected him at all, had acted negatively. He did not apologize for the
mutton, and he wandered off after luncheon without pretending to wait
for the diurnal coffee and liqueurs; while the few remarks that he had
contributed to the conversation during the meal had not been in the
direction of abstract conceptions of life. As he strayed away, with his
vague oblique step, and the stoop that suggested the habit of dodging
missiles, Vibart, who was still in the age of formulas, found himself
wondering what life could be worth to a man who had evidently resigned
himself to travelling with his back to the wind; so that Mrs.
Carstyle's allusion to her daughter's lack of advantages (imparted
while Irene searched the house for an undiscoverable cigarette) had an
appositeness unintended by the speaker.
“If Mr. Carstyle had chosen,” that lady repeated, “we might have had
our city home” (she never used so small a word as town) “and Ireen
could have mixed in the society to which I myself was accustomed at her
age.” Her sigh pointed unmistakably to a past when young men had come
to luncheon to see her.
The sigh led Vibart to look at her, and the look led him to the
unwelcome conclusion that Irene “took after” her mother. It was
certainly not from the sapless paternal stock that the girl had drawn
her warm bloom: Mrs. Carstyle had contributed the high lights to the
Mrs. Carstyle caught his look and appropriated it with the
complacency of a vicarious beauty. She was quite aware of the value of
her appearance as guaranteeing Irene's development into a fine woman.
“But perhaps,” she continued, taking up the thread of her
explanation, “you have heard of Mr. Carstyle's extraordinary
hallucination. Mr. Carstyle knows that I call it so—as I tell him, it
is the most charitable view to take.”
She looked coldly at the threadbare sofa and indulgently at the
young man who filled a corner of it.
“You may think it odd, Mr. Vibart, that I should take you into my
confidence in this way after so short an acquaintance, but somehow I
can't help regarding you as a friend already. I believe in those
intuitive sympathies, don't you? They have never misled me—” her lids
drooped retrospectively—“and besides, I always tell Mr. Carstyle that
on this point I will have no false pretences. Where truth is concerned
I am inexorable, and I consider it my duty to let our friends know that
our restricted way of living is due entirely to choice—to Mr.
Carstyle's choice. When I married Mr. Carstyle it was with the
expectation of living in New York and of keeping my carriage; and there
is no reason for our not doing so—there is no reason, Mr. Vibart, why
my daughter Ireen should have been denied the intellectual advantages
of foreign travel. I wish that to be understood. It is owing to her
father's deliberate choice that Ireen and I have been imprisoned in the
narrow limits of Millbrook society. For myself I do not complain. If
Mr. Carstyle chooses to place others before his wife it is not for his
wife to repine. His course may be noble—Quixotic; I do not allow
myself to pronounce judgment on it, though others have thought that in
sacrificing his own family to strangers he was violating the most
sacred obligations of domestic life. This is the opinion of my pastor
and of other valued friends; but, as I have always told them, for
myself I make no claims. Where my daughter Ireen is concerned it is
It was a relief to Vibart when, at this point, Mrs. Carstyle's
discharge of her duty was cut short by her daughter's reappearance.
Irene had been unable to find a cigarette for Mr. Vibart, and her
mother, with beaming irrelevance, suggested that in that case she had
better show him the garden.
The Carstyle house stood but a few yards back from the brick-paved
Millbrook street, and the garden was a very small place, unless
measured, as Mrs. Carstyle probably intended that it should be, by the
extent of her daughter's charms. These were so considerable that Vibart
walked back and forward half a dozen times between the porch and the
gate, before he discovered the limitations of the Carstyle domain. It
was not till Irene had accused him of being sarcastic and had confided
in him that “the girls” were furious with her for letting him talk to
her so long at his aunt's garden-party, that he awoke to the exiguity
of his surroundings; and then it was with a touch of irritation that he
noticed Mr. Carstyle's inconspicuous profile bent above a newspaper in
one of the lower windows. Vibart had an idea that Mr. Carstyle, while
ostensibly reading the paper, had kept count of the number of times
that his daughter had led her companion up and down between the
syringa-bushes; and for some undefinable reason he resented Mr.
Carstyle's unperturbed observation more than his wife's zealous
self-effacement. To a man who is trying to please a pretty girl there
are moments when the proximity of an impartial spectator is more
disconcerting than the most obvious connivance; and something about Mr.
Carstyle's expression conveyed his good-humored indifference to Irene's
When the garden-gate closed behind Vibart he had become aware that
his preoccupation with the Carstyles had shifted its centre from the
daughter to the father; but he was accustomed to such emotional
surprises, and skilled in seizing any compensations they might offer.
The Carstyles belonged to the all-the-year-round Millbrook of
paper-mills, cable-cars, brick pavements and church sociables, while
Mrs. Vance, the aunt with whom Vibart lived, was an ornament of the
summer colony whose big country-houses dotted the surrounding hills.
Mrs. Vance had, however, no difficulty in appeasing the curiosity which
Mrs. Carstyle's enigmatic utterances had aroused in the young man. Mrs.
Carstyle's relentless veracity vented itself mainly on the “summer
people,” as they were called: she did not propose that any one within
ten miles of Millbrook should keep a carriage without knowing that she
was entitled to keep one too. Mrs. Vance remarked with a sigh that Mrs.
Carstyle's annual demand to have her position understood came in as
punctually as the taxes and the water- rates.
“My dear, it's simply this: when Andrew Carstyle married her years
ago— Heaven knows why he did; he's one of the Albany Carstyles, you
know, and she was a daughter of old Deacon Ash of South
Millbrook—well, when he married her he had a tidy little income, and I
suppose the bride expected to set up an establishment in New York and
be hand-in-glove with the whole Carstyle clan. But whether he was
ashamed of her from the first, or for some other unexplained reason, he
bought a country-place and settled down here for life. For a few years
they lived comfortably enough, and she had plenty of smart clothes, and
drove about in a victoria calling on the summer people. Then, when the
beautiful Irene was about ten years old, Mr. Carstyle's only brother
died, and it turned out that he had made away with a lot of
trust-property. It was a horrid business: over three hundred thousand
dollars were gone, and of course most of it had belonged to widows and
orphans. As soon as the facts were made known, Andrew Carstyle
announced that he would pay back what his brother had stolen. He sold
his country-place and his wife's carriage, and they moved to the little
house they live in now. Mr. Carstyle's income is probably not as large
as his wife would like to have it thought, and though I'm told he puts
aside, a good part of it every year to pay off his brother's
obligations, I fancy the debt won't be discharged for some time to
come. To help things along he opened a law office—he had studied law
in his youth—but though he is said to be clever I hear that he has
very little to do. People are afraid of him: he's too dry and quiet.
Nobody believes in a man who doesn't believe in himself, and Mr.
Carstyle always seems to be winking at you through a slit in his
professional manner. People don't like it—his wife doesn't like it. I
believe she would have accepted the sacrifice of the country-place and
the carriage if he had struck an attitude and talked about doing his
duty. It was his regarding the whole thing as a matter of course that
exasperated her. What is the use of doing something difficult in a way
that makes it look perfectly easy? I feel sorry for Mrs. Carstyle.
She's lost her house and her carriage, and she hasn't been allowed to
Vibart had listened attentively.
“I wonder what Miss Carstyle thinks of it?” he mused.
Mrs. Vance looked at him with a tentative smile. “I wonder what
you think of Miss Carstyle?” she returned,
His answer reassured her.
“I think she takes after her mother,” he said.
“Ah,” cried his aunt cheerfully, “then I needn't write to your
mother, and I can have Irene at all my parties!”
Miss Carstyle was an important factor in the restricted social
combinations of a Millbrook hostess. A local beauty is always a useful
addition to a Saturday-to-Monday house-party, and the beautiful Irene
was served up as a perennial novelty to the jaded guests of the summer
colony. As Vibart's aunt remarked, she was perfect till she became
playful, and she never became playful till the third day.
Under these conditions, it was natural that Vibart should see a good
deal of the young lady, and before he was aware of it he had drifted
into the anomalous position of paying court to the daughter in order to
ingratiate himself with the father. Miss Carstyle was beautiful, Vibart
was young, and the days were long in his aunt's spacious and
distinguished house; but it was really the desire to know something
more of Mr. Carstyle that led the young man to partake so often of that
gentleman's overdone mutton. Vibart's imagination had been touched by
the discovery that this little huddled-up man, instead of travelling
with the wind, was persistently facing a domestic gale of considerable
velocity. That he should have paid off his brother's debt at one stroke
was to the young man a conceivable feat; but that he should go on
methodically and uninterruptedly accumulating the needed amount, under
the perpetual accusation of Irene's inadequate frocks and Mrs.
Carstyle's apologies for the mutton, seemed to Vibart proof of
unexampled heroism. Mr. Carstyle was as inaccessible as the average
American parent, and led a life so detached from the preoccupations of
his womankind that Vibart had some difficulty in fixing his attention.
To Mr. Carstyle, Vibart was simply the inevitable young man who had
been hanging about the house ever since Irene had left school; and
Vibart's efforts to differentiate himself from this enamored
abstraction were hampered by Mrs. Carstyle's cheerful assumption that
he was the young man, and by Irene's frank appropriation of his
In this extremity he suddenly observed a slight but significant
change in the manner of the two ladies. Irene, instead of charging him
with being sarcastic and horrid, and declaring herself unable to
believe a word he said, began to receive his remarks with the
impersonal smile which he had seen her accord to the married men of his
aunt's house-parties; while Mrs. Carstyle, talking over his head to an
invisible but evidently sympathetic and intelligent listener, debated
the propriety of Irene's accepting an invitation to spend the month of
August at Narragansett. When Vibart, rashly trespassing on the rights
of this unseen oracle, remarked that a few weeks at the seashore would
make a delightful change for Miss Carstyle, the ladies looked at him
and then laughed.
It was at this point that Vibart, for the first time, found himself
observed by Mr. Carstyle. They were grouped about the debris of a
luncheon which had ended precipitously with veal stew (Mrs. Carstyle
explaining that poor cooks always failed with their sweet dish
when there was company) and Mr. Carstyle, his hands thrust in his
pockets, his lean baggy-coated shoulders pressed against his
chair-back, sat contemplating his guest with a smile of unmistakable
approval. When Vibart caught his eye the smile vanished, and Mr.
Carstyle, dropping his glasses from the bridge of his thin nose, looked
out of the window with the expression of a man determined to prove an
alibi. But Vibart was sure of the smile: it had established, between
his host and himself, a complicity which Mr. Carstyle's attempted
evasion served only to confirm.
On the strength of this incident Vibart, a few days later, called at
Mr. Carstyle's office. Ostensibly, the young man had come to ask, on
his aunt's behalf, some question on a point at issue between herself
and the Millbrook telephone company; but his purpose in offering to
perform the errand had been the hope of taking up his intercourse with
Mr. Carstyle where that gentleman's smile had left it. Vibart was not
disappointed. In a dingy office, with a single window looking out on a
blank wall, he found Mr. Carstyle, in an alpaca coat, reading
It evidently did not occur to him that Vibart had come on business,
and the warmth of his welcome gave the young man a sense of furnishing
the last word in a conjugal argument in which, for once, Mr. Carstyle
had come off triumphant.
The legal question disposed of, Vibart reverted to Montaigne: had
Mr. Carstyle seen young So-and-so's volume of essays? There was one on
Montaigne that had a decided flavor: the point of view was curious.
Vibart was surprised to find that Mr. Carstyle had heard of young
So-and-so. Clever young men are given to thinking that their elders
have never got beyond Macaulay; but Mr. Carstyle seemed sufficiently
familiar with recent literature not to take it too seriously. He
accepted Vibart's offer of young So-and-so's volume, admitting that his
own library was not exactly up-to-date.
Vibart went away musing. The next day he came back with the volume
of essays. It seemed to be tacitly understood that he was to call at
the office when he wished to see Mr. Carstyle, whose legal engagements
did not seriously interfere with the pursuit of literature.
For a week or ten days Mrs. Carstyle, in Vibart's presence,
continued to take counsel with her unseen adviser on the subject of her
daughter's visit to Narragansett. Once or twice Irene dropped her
impersonal smile to tax Vibart with not caring whether she went or not;
and Mrs. Carstyle seized a moment of tete-a-tete to confide in
him that the dear child hated the idea of leaving, and was going only
because her friend Mrs. Higby would not let her off. Of course, if it
had not been for Mr. Carstyle's peculiarities they would have had their
own seaside home—at Newport, probably: Mrs. Carstyle preferred the
tone of Newport—and Irene would not have been dependent on the
charity of her friends; but as it was, they must be thankful for
small mercies, and Mrs. Higby was certainly very kind in her way, and
had a charming social position—for Narragansett.
These confidences, however, were soon superseded by an exchange,
between mother and daughter, of increasingly frequent allusions to the
delights of Narragansett, the popularity of Mrs. Higby, and the
jolliness of her house; with an occasional reference on Mrs. Carstyle's
part to the probability of Hewlett Bain's being there as usual—hadn't
Irene heard from Mrs. Higby that he was to be there? Upon this note
Miss Carstyle at length departed, leaving Vibart to the undisputed
enjoyment of her father's company.
Vibart had at no time a keen taste for the summer joys of Millbrook,
and the family obligation which, for several months of the year, kept
him at his aunt's side (Mrs. Vance was a childless widow and he filled
the onerous post of favorite nephew) gave a sense of compulsion to the
light occupations that chequered his leisure. Mrs. Vance, who fancied
herself lonely when he was away, was too much engaged with notes,
telegrams and arriving and departing guests, to do more than
breathlessly smile upon his presence, or implore him to take the
dullest girl of the party for a drive (and would he go by way of
Millbrook, like a dear, and stop at the market to ask why the lobsters
hadn't come?); and the house itself, and the guests who came and went
in it like people rushing through a railway- station, offered no points
of repose to his thoughts. Some houses are companions in themselves:
the walls, the book-shelves, the very chairs and tables, have the
qualities of a sympathetic mind; but Mrs. Vance's interior was as
impersonal as the setting of a classic drama.
These conditions made Vibart cultivate an assiduous exchange of
books between himself and Mr. Carstyle. The young man went down almost
daily to the little house in the town, where Mrs. Carstyle, who had now
an air of receiving him in curl-papers, and of not always immediately
distinguishing him from the piano-tuner, made no effort to detain him
on his way to her husband's study.
Now and then, at the close of one of Vibart's visits, Mr. Carstyle
put on a mildewed Panama hat and accompanied the young man for a mile
or two on his way home. The road to Mrs. Vance's lay through one of the
most amiable suburbs of Millbrook, and Mr. Carstyle, walking with his
slow uneager step, his hat pushed back, and his stick dragging behind
him, seemed to take a philosophic pleasure in the aspect of the trim
lawns and opulent gardens.
Vibart could never induce his companion to prolong his walk as far
as Mrs. Vance's drawing-room; but one afternoon, when the distant hills
lay blue beyond the twilight of overarching elms, the two men strolled
on into the country past that lady's hospitable gateposts.
It was a still day, the road was deserted, and every sound came
sharply through the air. Mr. Carstyle was in the midst of a
disquisition on Diderot, when he raised his head and stood still.
“What's that?” he said. “Listen!”
Vibart listened and heard a distant storm of hoof-beats. A moment
later, a buggy drawn by a pair of trotters swung round the turn of the
road. It was about thirty yards off, coming toward them at full speed.
The man who drove was leaning forward with outstretched arms; beside
him sat a girl.
Suddenly Vibart saw Mr. Carstyle jump into the middle of the road,
in front of the buggy. He stood there immovable, his arms extended, his
legs apart, in an attitude of indomitable resistance. Almost at the
same moment Vibart realized that the man in the buggy had his horses in
“They're not running!” Vibart shouted, springing into the road and
catching Mr. Carstyle's alpaca sleeve. The older man looked around
vaguely: he seemed dazed.
“Come away, sir, come away!” cried Vibart, gripping his arm. The
buggy swept past them, and Mr. Carstyle stood in the dust gazing after
At length he drew out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead. He
was very pale and Vibart noticed that his hand shook.
“That was a close call, sir, wasn't it? I suppose you thought they
“Yes,” said Mr. Carstyle slowly, “I thought they were running.”
“It certainly looked like it for a minute. Let's sit down, shall we?
I feel rather breathless myself.”
Vibart saw that his friend could hardly stand. They seated
themselves on a tree-trunk by the roadside, and Mr. Carstyle continued
to wipe his forehead in silence.
At length he turned to Vibart and said abruptly:
“I made straight for the middle of the road, didn't I? If there
had been a runaway I should have stopped it?”
Vibart looked at him in surprise.
“You would have tried to, undoubtedly, unless I'd had time to drag
Mr. Carstyle straightened his narrow shoulders.
“There was no hesitation, at all events? I—I showed no signs
“I should say not, sir; it was I who funked it for you.”
Mr. Carstyle was silent: his head had dropped forward and he looked
like an old man.
“It was just my cursed luck again!” he exclaimed suddenly in a loud
For a moment Vibart thought that he was wandering; but he raised his
head and went on speaking in more natural tones.
“I daresay I appeared ridiculous enough to you just now, eh? Perhaps
you saw all along that the horses weren't running? Your eyes are
younger than mine; and then you're not always looking out for runaways,
as I am. Do you know that in thirty years I've never seen a runaway?”
“You're fortunate,” said Vibart, still bewildered.
“Fortunate? Good God, man, I've prayed to see one: not a
runaway especially, but any bad accident; anything that endangered
people's lives. There are accidents happening all the time all over the
world; why shouldn't I ever come across one? It's not for want of
trying! At one time I used to haunt the theatres in the hope of a fire:
fires in theatres are so apt to be fatal. Well, will you believe it? I
was in the Brooklyn theatre the night before it burned down; I left the
old Madison Square Garden half an hour before the walls fell in. And
it's the same way with street accidents—I always miss them; I'm always
just too late. Last year there was a boy knocked down by a cable-car at
our corner; I got to my gate just as they were carrying him off on a
stretcher. And so it goes. If anybody else had been walking along this
road, those horses would have been running away. And there was a girl
in the buggy, too—a mere child!”
Mr. Carstyle's head sank again.
“You're wondering what this means,” he began after another pause. “I
was a little confused for a moment—must have seemed incoherent.” His
voice cleared and he made an effort to straighten himself. “Well, I was
a damned coward once and I've been trying to live it down ever since.”
Vibart looked at him incredulously and Mr. Carstyle caught the look
with a smile.
“Why not? Do I look like a Hercules?” He held up his loose-skinned
hand and shrunken wrist. “Not built for the part, certainly; but that
doesn't count, of course. Man's unconquerable soul, and all the rest of
it ... well, I was a coward every inch of me, body and soul.”
He paused and glanced up and down the road. There was no one in
“It happened when I was a young chap just out of college. I was
travelling round the world with another youngster of my own age and an
older man— Charles Meriton—who has since made a name for himself. You
may have heard of him.”
“Meriton, the archaeologist? The man who discovered those ruined
African cities the other day?”
“That's the man. He was a college tutor then, and my father, who had
known him since he was a boy, and who had a very high opinion of him,
had asked him to make the tour with us. We both—my friend Collis and
I—had an immense admiration for Meriton. He was just the fellow to
excite a boy's enthusiasm: cool, quick, imperturbable—the kind of man
whose hand is always on the hilt of action. His explorations had led
him into all sorts of tight places, and he'd shown an extraordinary
combination of calculating patience and reckless courage. He never
talked about his doings; we picked them up from various people on our
journey. He'd been everywhere, he knew everybody, and everybody had
something stirring to tell about him. I daresay this account of the man
sounds exaggerated; perhaps it is; I've never seen him since; but at
that time he seemed to me a tremendous fellow—a kind of scientific
Ajax. He was a capital travelling-companion, at any rate:
good-tempered, cheerful, easily amused, with none of the
been-there-before superiority so irritating to youngsters. He made us
feel as though it were all as new to him as to us: he never chilled our
enthusiasms or took the bloom off our surprises. There was nobody else
whose good opinion I cared as much about: he was the biggest thing in
“On the way home Collis broke down with diphtheria. We were in the
Mediterranean, cruising about the Sporades in a felucca. He was taken
ill at Chios. The attack came on suddenly and we were afraid to run the
risk of taking him back to Athens in the felucca. We established
ourselves in the inn at Chios and there the poor fellow lay for weeks.
Luckily there was a fairly good doctor on the island and we sent to
Athens for a sister to help with the nursing. Poor Collis was
desperately bad: the diphtheria was followed by partial paralysis. The
doctor assured us that the danger was past; he would gradually regain
the use of his limbs; but his recovery would be slow. The sister
encouraged us too—she had seen such cases before; and he certainly did
improve a shade each day. Meriton and I had taken turns with the sister
in nursing him, but after the paralysis had set in there wasn't much to
do, and there was nothing to prevent Meriton's leaving us for a day or
two. He had received word from some place on the coast of Asia Minor
that a remarkable tomb had been discovered somewhere in the interior;
he had not been willing to take us there, as the journey was not a
particularly safe one; but now that we were tied up at Chios there
seemed no reason why he shouldn't go and take a look at the place. The
expedition would not take more than three days; Collis was
convalescent; the doctor and nurse assured us that there was no cause
for uneasiness; and so Meriton started off one evening at sunset. I
walked down to the quay with him and saw him rowed off to the felucca.
I would have given a good deal to be going with him; the prospect of
danger allured me.
“'You'll see that Collis is never left alone, won't you?' he shouted
back to me as the boat pulled out into the harbor; I remembered I
rather resented the suggestion.
“I walked back to the inn and went to bed: the nurse sat up with
Collis at night. The next morning I relieved her at the usual hour. It
was a sultry day with a queer coppery-looking sky; the air was
stifling. In the middle of the day the nurse came to take my place
while I dined; when I went back to Collis's room she said she would go
out for a breath of air.
“I sat down by Collis's bed and began to fan him with the fan the
sister had been using. The heat made him uneasy and I turned him over
in bed, for he was still helpless: the whole of his right side was
numb. Presently he fell asleep and I went to the window and sat looking
down on the hot deserted square, with a bunch of donkeys and their
drivers asleep in the shade of the convent-wall across the way. I
remember noticing the blue beads about the donkeys' necks.... Were you
ever in an earthquake? No? I'd never been in one either. It's an
indescribable sensation ... there's a Day of Judgment feeling in the
air. It began with the donkeys waking up and trembling; I noticed that
and thought it queer. Then the drivers jumped up—I saw the terror in
their faces. Then a roar.... I remember noticing a big black crack in
the convent-wall opposite—a zig-zag crack, like a flash of lightning
in a wood-cut.... I thought of that, too, at the time; then all the
bells in the place began to ring—it made a fearful discord.... I saw
people rushing across the square ... the air was full of crashing
noises. The floor went down under me in a sickening way and then jumped
back and pitched me to the ceiling ... but where was the
ceiling? And the door? I said to myself: We're two stories up—the
stairs are just wide enough for one.... I gave one glance at
Collis: he was lying in bed, wide awake, looking straight at me. I ran.
Something struck me on the head as I bolted downstairs—I kept on
running. I suppose the knock I got dazed me, for I don't remember much
of anything till I found myself in a vineyard a mile from the town. I
was roused by the warm blood running down my nose and heard myself
explaining to Meriton exactly how it had happened....
“When I crawled back to the town they told me that all the houses
near the inn were in ruins and that a dozen people had been killed.
Collis was among them, of course. The ceiling had come down on him.”
Mr. Carstyle wiped his forehead. Vibart sat looking away from him.
“Two days later Meriton came back. I began to tell him the story,
but he interrupted me.
“'There was no one with him at the time, then? You'd left him
“'No, he wasn't alone.'
“'Who was with him? You said the sister was out.'
“'I was with him.'
“'You were with him?'
“I shall never forget Meriton's look. I believe I had meant to
explain, to accuse myself, to shout out my agony of soul; but I saw the
uselessness of it. A door had been shut between us. Neither of us spoke
another word. He was very kind to me on the way home; he looked after
me in a motherly way that was a good deal harder to stand than his open
contempt. I saw the man was honestly trying to pity me; but it was no
good—he simply couldn't.”
Mr. Carstyle rose slowly, with a certain stiffness.
“Shall we turn toward home? Perhaps I'm keeping you.”
They walked on a few steps in silence; then he spoke again.
“That business altered my whole life. Of course I oughtn't to have
allowed it to—that was another form of cowardice. But I saw myself
only with Meriton's eyes—it is one of the worst miseries of youth that
one is always trying to be somebody else. I had meant to be a
Meriton—I saw I'd better go home and study law....
“It's a childish fancy, a survival of the primitive savage, if you
like; but from that hour to this I've hankered day and night for a
chance to retrieve myself, to set myself right with the man I meant to
be. I want to prove to that man that it was all an accident—an
unaccountable deviation from my normal instincts; that having once been
a coward doesn't mean that a man's cowardly... and I can't, I can't!”
Mr. Carstyle's tone had passed insensibly from agitation to irony.
He had got back to his usual objective stand-point.
“Why, I'm a perfect olive-branch,” he concluded, with his dry
indulgent laugh; “the very babies stop crying at my approach—I carry a
sort of millennium about with me—I'd make my fortune as an agent of
the Peace Society. I shall go to the grave leaving that other man
Vibart walked back with him to Millbrook. On her doorstep they met
Mrs. Carstyle, flushed and feathered, with a card-case and dusty boots.
“I don't ask you in,” she said plaintively, to Vibart, “because I
can't answer for the food this evening. My maid-of-all-work tells me
that she's going to a ball—which is more than I've done in years! And
besides, it would be cruel to ask you to spend such a hot evening in
our stuffy little house—the air is so much cooler at Mrs. Vance's.
Remember me to Mrs. Vance, please, and tell her how sorry I am that I
can no longer include her in my round of visits. When I had my carriage
I saw the people I liked, but now that I have to walk, my social
opportunities are more limited. I was not obliged to do my visiting on
foot when I was younger, and my doctor tells me that to persons
accustomed to a carriage no exercise is more injurious than walking.”
She glanced at her husband with a smile of unforgiving sweetness.
“Fortunately,” she concluded, “it agrees with Mr. Carstyle.”
THE TWILIGHT OF THE GOD
A Newport drawing-room. Tapestries, flowers, bric-a-brac. Through
the windows, a geranium-edged lawn, the cliffs and the sea. Isabel
Warland sits reading. Lucius Warland enters in flannels and a
Isabel. Back already?
Warland. The wind dropped—it turned into a drifting race.
Langham took me off the yacht on his launch. What time is it? Two
o'clock? Where's Mrs. Raynor?
Isabel. On her way to New York.
Warland. To New York?
Isabel. Precisely. The boat must be just leaving; she started
an hour ago and took Laura with her. In fact I'm alone in the
house—that is, until this evening. Some people are coming then.
Warland. But what in the world—
Isabel. Her aunt, Mrs. Griscom, has had a fit. She has them
constantly. They're not serious—at least they wouldn't be, if Mrs.
Griscom were not so rich—and childless. Naturally, under the
circumstances, Marian feels a peculiar sympathy for her; her position
is such a sad one; there's positively no one to care whether she lives
or dies—except her heirs. Of course they all rush to Newburgh whenever
she has a fit. It's hard on Marian, for she lives the farthest away;
but she has come to an understanding with the housekeeper, who always
telegraphs her first, so that she gets a start of several hours. She
will be at Newburgh to-night at ten, and she has calculated that the
others can't possibly arrive before midnight.
Warland. You have a delightful way of putting things. I
suppose you'd talk of me like that.
Isabel. Oh, no. It's too humiliating to doubt one's husband's
Warland. I wish I had a rich aunt who had fits.
Isabel. If I were wishing I should choose heart-disease.
Warland. There's no doing anything without money or
Isabel (picking up her book). Have you heard from Washington?
Warland. Yes. That's what I was going to speak of when I
asked for Mrs. Raynor. I wanted to bid her good-bye.
Isabel. You're going?
Warland. By the five train. Fagott has just wired me that the
Ambassador will be in Washington on Monday. He hasn't named his
secretaries yet, but there isn't much hope for me. He has a nephew—
Isabel. They always have. Like the Popes.
Warland. Well, I'm going all the same. You'll explain to Mrs.
Raynor if she gets back before I do? Are there to be people at dinner?
I don't suppose it matters. You can always pick up an extra man on a
Isabel. By the way, that reminds me that Marian left me a
list of the people who are arriving this afternoon. My novel is so
absorbing that I forgot to look at it. Where can it be? Ah, here—Let
me see: the Jack Merringtons, Adelaide Clinton, Ned Lender—all from
New York, by seven P.M. train. Lewis Darley to-night, by Fall River
boat. John Oberville, from Boston at five P.M. Why, I didn't know—
Warland (excitedly). John Oberville? John Oberville? Here?
To-day at five o'clock? Let me see—let me look at the list. Are you
sure you're not mistaken? Why, she never said a word! Why the deuce
didn't you tell me?
Isabel. I didn't know.
Isabel. Why, what difference does it make?
Warland. What difference? What difference? Don't look at me
as if you didn't understand English! Why, if Oberville's coming—(a
pause) Look here, Isabel, didn't you know him very well at one time?
Isabel. Very well—yes.
Warland. I thought so—of course—I remember now; I heard all
about it before I met you. Let me see—didn't you and your mother spend
a winter in Washington when he was Under-secretary of State?
Isabel. That was before the deluge.
Warland. I remember—it all comes back to me. I used to hear
it said that he admired you tremendously; there was a report that you
were engaged. Don't you remember? Why, it was in all the papers. By
Jove, Isabel, what a match that would have been!
Isabel. You are disinterested!
Warland. Well, I can't help thinking—
Isabel. That I paid you a handsome compliment?
Warland (preoccupied). Eh?—Ah, yes—exactly. What was I
saying? Oh— about the report of your engagement. (Playfully.)
He was awfully gone on you, wasn't he?
Isabel. It's not for me to diminish your triumph.
Warland. By Jove, I can't think why Mrs. Raynor didn't tell
me he was coming. A man like that—one doesn't take him for granted,
like the piano- tuner! I wonder I didn't see it in the papers.
Isabel. Is he grown such a great man?
Warland. Oberville? Great? John Oberville? I'll tell you what
he is—the power behind the throne, the black Pope, the King-maker and
all the rest of it. Don't you read the papers? Of course I'll never get
on if you won't interest yourself in politics. And to think you might
have married that man!
Isabel. And got you your secretaryship!
Warland. Oberville has them all in the hollow of his hand.
Isabel. Well, you'll see him at five o'clock.
Warland. I don't suppose he's ever heard of me, worse
luck! (A silence.) Isabel, look here. I never ask questions, do
I? But it was so long ago—and Oberville almost belongs to history—he
will one of these days at any rate. Just tell me—did he want to marry
Isabel. Since you answer for his immortality—(after a
pause) I was very much in love with him.
Warland. Then of course he did. (Another pause.) But
what in the world—
Isabel (musing). As you say, it was so long ago; I don't see
why I shouldn't tell you. There was a married woman who had—what is
the correct expression?—made sacrifices for him. There was only one
sacrifice she objected to making—and he didn't consider himself free.
It sounds rather rococo, doesn't it? It was odd that she died
the year after we were married.
Isabel (following her own thoughts). I've never seen him
since; it must be ten years ago. I'm certainly thirty-two, and I was
just twenty-two then. It's curious to talk of it. I had put it away so
carefully. How it smells of camphor! And what an old-fashioned cut it
has! (Rising.) Where's the list, Lucius? You wanted to know if
there were to be people at dinner tonight—
Warland. Here it is—but never mind. Isabel—(silence)
Warland. It's odd he never married.
Isabel. The comparison is to my disadvantage. But then I met
Warland. Don't be so confoundedly sarcastic. I wonder how
he'll feel about seeing you. Oh, I don't mean any sentimental rot, of
course... but you're an uncommonly agreeable woman. I daresay he'll be
pleased to see you again; you're fifty times more attractive than when
I married you.
Isabel. I wish your other investments had appreciated at the
same rate. Unfortunately my charms won't pay the butcher.
Warland. Damn the butcher!
Isabel. I happened to mention him because he's just written
again; but I might as well have said the baker or the
candlestick-maker. The candlestick-maker—I wonder what he is, by the
way? He must have more faith in human nature than the others, for I
haven't heard from him yet. I wonder if there is a Creditor's Polite
Letter-writer which they all consult; their style is so exactly alike.
I advise you to pass through New York incognito on your way to
Washington; their attentions might be oppressive.
Warland. Confoundedly oppressive. What a dog's life it is! My
Isabel. Don't pity me. I didn't marry yon for a home.
Warland (after a pause). What did you marry me for, if
you cared for Oberville? (Another pause.) Eh?
Isabel, Don't make me regret my confidence.
Warland. I beg your pardon.
Isabel. Oh, it was only a subterfuge to conceal the fact that
I have no distinct recollection of my reasons. The fact is, a girl's
motives in marrying are like a passport—apt to get mislaid. One is so
seldom asked for either. But mine certainly couldn't have been
mercenary: I never heard a mother praise you to her daughters.
Warland. No, I never was much of a match.
Isabel. You impugn my judgment.
Warland. If I only had a head for business, now, I might have
done something by this time. But I'd sooner break stones in the road.
Isabel. It must be very hard to get an opening in that
profession. So many of my friends have aspired to it, and yet I never
knew any one who actually did it.
Warland. If I could only get the secretaryship. How that kind
of life would suit you! It's as much for you that I want it—
Isabel. And almost as much for the butcher. Don't belittle
the circle of your benevolence. (She walks across the room.)
Three o'clock already— and Marian asked me to give orders about the
carriages. Let me see—Mr. Oberville is the first arrival; if you'll
ring I will send word to the stable. I suppose you'll stay now?
Isabel. Not go to Washington. I thought you spoke as if he
could help you.
Warland. He could settle the whole thing in five minutes. The
President can't refuse him anything. But he doesn't know me; he may
have a candidate of his own. It's a pity you haven't seen him for so
long—and yet I don't know; perhaps it's just as well. The others don't
arrive till seven? It seems as if—How long is he going to be here?
Till to-morrow night, I suppose? I wonder what he's come for. The
Merringtons will bore him to death, and Adelaide, of course, will be
philandering with Lender. I wonder (a pause) if Darley likes
boating. (Rings the bell.)
Warland. Oh, I was only thinking—Where are the matches? One
may smoke here, I suppose? (He looks at his wife.) If I were you I'd
put on that black gown of yours to-night—the one with the
spangles.—It's only that Fred Langham asked me to go over to
Narragansett in his launch to-morrow morning, and I was thinking that I
might take Darley; I always liked Darley.
Isabel (to the footman who enters). Mrs. Raynor wishes the
dog-cart sent to the station at five o'clock to meet Mr. Oberville.
Footman. Very good, m'm. Shall I serve tea at the usual time,
Isabel. Yes. That is, when Mr. Oberville arrives.
Footman (going out). Very good, m'm.
Warland (to Isabel, who is moving toward the door). Where are
Isabel. To my room now—for a walk later.
Warland. Later? It's past three already.
Isabel. I've no engagement this afternoon.
Warland. Oh, I didn't know. (As she reaches the door.)
You'll be back, I suppose?
Isabel. I have no intention of eloping.
Warland. For tea, I mean?
Isabel. I never take tea. (Warland shrugs his shoulders.)
The same drawing-room. Isabel enters from the lawn in hat
and gloves. The tea-table is set out, and the footman just lighting the
lamp under the kettle.
Isabel. You may take the tea-things away. I never take tea.
Footman. Very good, m'm. (He hesitates.) I understood,
m'm, that Mr. Oberville was to have tea?
Isabel. Mr. Oberville? But he was to arrive long ago! What
time is it?
Footman. Only a quarter past five, m'm.
Isabel. A quarter past five? (She goes up to the clock.) Surely you're mistaken? I thought it was long after six. (To
herself.) I walked and walked—I must have walked too fast ... (
To the Footman.) I'm going out again. When Mr. Oberville arrives
please give him his tea without waiting for me. I shall not be back
Footman. Very good, m'm. Here are some letters, m'm.
Isabel (glancing at them with a movement of disgust). You may
send them up to my room.
Footman. I beg pardon, m'm, but one is a note from Mme.
Fanfreluche, and the man who brought it is waiting for an answer.
Isabel. Didn't you tell him I was out?
Footman. Yes, m'm. But he said he had orders to wait till you
Isabel. Ah—let me see. (She opens the note.) Ah, yes.
(A pause.) Please say that I am on my way now to Mme
Fanfreluche's to give her the answer in person. You may tell the man
that I have already started. Do you understand? Already started.
Footman. Yes, m'm.
Isabel. And—wait. (With an effort.) You may tell me
when the man has started. I shall wait here till then. Be sure you let
Footman. Yes, m'm. (He goes out.)
Isabel (sinking into a chair and hiding her face). Ah! (
After a moment she rises, taking up her gloves and sunshade, and walks
toward the window which opens on the lawn.) I'm so tired. (She
hesitates and turns back into the room.) Where can I go to? (She
sits down again by the tea- table, and bends over the kettle. The clock
strikes half-past five.)
Isabel (picking up her sunshade, walks back to the window). If
I must meet one of them...
Oberville (speaking in the hall). Thanks. I'll take tea first.
(He enters the room, and pauses doubtfully on seeing Isabel.)
Isabel (stepping towards him with a smile). It's not that I've
changed, of course, but only that I happened to have my back to the
light. Isn't that what you are going to say?
Oberville. Mrs. Warland!
Isabel. So you really have become a great man! They
always remember people's names.
Oberville. Were you afraid I was going to call you Isabel?
Isabel. Bravo! Crescendo!
Oberville. But you have changed, all the same.
Isabel. You must indeed have reached a dizzy eminence, since
you can indulge yourself by speaking the truth!
Oberville. It's your voice. I knew it at once, and yet it's
Isabel. I hope it can still convey the pleasure I feel in
seeing an old friend. (She holds out her hand. He takes it.) You
know, I suppose, that Mrs. Raynor is not here to receive you? She was
called away this morning very suddenly by her aunt's illness.
Oberville. Yes. She left a note for me. (Absently.)
I'm sorry to hear of Mrs. Griscom's illness.
Isabel. Oh, Mrs. Griscom's illnesses are less alarming than
her recoveries. But I am forgetting to offer you any tea. (She hands
him a cup.) I remember you liked it very strong.
Oberville. What else do you remember?
Isabel. A number of equally useless things. My mind is a
store-room of obsolete information.
Oberville. Why obsolete, since I am providing you with a use
Isabel. At any rate, it's open to question whether it was
worth storing for that length of time. Especially as there must have
been others more fitted—by opportunity—to undertake the duty.
Oberville. The duty?
Isabel. Of remembering how you like your tea.
Oberville (with a change of tone). Since you call it a duty—I
may remind you that it's one I have never asked any one else to
Isabel. As a duty! But as a pleasure?
Oberville. Do you really want to know?
Isabel. Oh, I don't require and charge you.
Oberville. You dislike as much as ever having the i's
Isabel. With a handwriting I know as well as yours!
Oberville (recovering his lightness of manner). Accomplished
woman! (He examines her approvingly.) I'd no idea that you were
here. I never was more surprised.
Isabel. I hope you like being surprised. To my mind it's an
Oberville. Is it? I'm sorry to hear that.
Isabel. Why? Have you a surprise to dispose of?
Oberville. I'm not sure that I haven't.
Isabel. Don't part with it too hastily. It may improve by
Oberville (tentatively). Does that mean that you don't want
Isabel. Heaven forbid! I want everything I can get.
Oberville. And you get everything you want. At least you used
Isabel. Let us talk of your surprise.
Oberville. It's to be yours, you know. (A pause. He speaks
gravely.) I find that I've never got over having lost you.
Isabel (also gravely). And is that a surprise—to you too?
Oberville. Honestly—yes. I thought I'd crammed my life full.
I didn't know there was a cranny left anywhere. At first, you know, I
stuffed in everything I could lay my hands on—there was such a big
void to fill. And after all I haven't filled it. I felt that the moment
I saw you. (A pause.) I'm talking stupidly.
Isabel. It would be odious if you were eloquent.
Oberville. What do you mean?
Isabel. That's a question you never used to ask me.
Oberville. Be merciful. Remember how little practise I've had
Isabel. In what?
Oberville. Never mind! (He rises and walks away; then
comes back and stands in front of her.) What a fool I was to give
Isabel. Oh, don't say that! I've lived on it!
Oberville. On my letting you go?
Isabel. On your letting everything go—but the right.
Oberville. Oh, hang the right! What is truth? We had the
right to be happy!
Isabel (with rising emotion). I used to think so sometimes.
Oberville. Did you? Triple fool that I was!
Isabel. But you showed me—
Oberville. Why, good God, we belonged to each other—and I
let you go! It's fabulous. I've fought for things since that weren't
worth a crooked sixpence; fought as well as other men. And you—you—I
lost you because I couldn't face a scene! Hang it, suppose there'd been
a dozen scenes—I might have survived them. Men have been known to.
They're not necessarily fatal.
Isabel. A scene?
Oberville. It's a form of fear that women don't understand.
How you must have despised me!
Isabel. You were—afraid—of a scene?
Oberville. I was a damned coward, Isabel. That's about the
size of it.
Isabel. Ah—I had thought it so much larger!
Oberville. What did you say?
Isabel. I said that you have forgotten to drink your tea. It must
be quite cold.
Isabel. Let me give you another cup.
Oberville (collecting himself). No—no. This is perfect.
Isabel. You haven't tasted it.
Oberville (falling into her mood) . You always made it to
perfection. Only you never gave me enough sugar.
Isabel. I know better now. (She puts another lump in his
Oberville (drinks his tea, and then says, with an air of
reproach). Isn't all this chaff rather a waste of time between two
old friends who haven't met for so many years?
Isabel (lightly). Oh, it's only a hors d'oeuvre—the
tuning of the instruments. I'm out of practise too.
Oberville. Let us come to the grand air, then. (Sits down
near her.) Tell me about yourself. What are you doing?
Isabel. At this moment? You'll never guess. I'm trying to
Oberville. To remember me?
Isabel. Until you came into the room just now my recollection
of you was so vivid; you were a living whole in my thoughts. Now I am
engaged in gathering up the fragments—in laboriously reconstructing
Oberville. I have changed so much, then?
Isabel. No, I don't believe that you've changed. It's only
that I see you differently. Don't you know how hard it is to convince
elderly people that the type of the evening paper is no smaller than
when they were young?
Oberville. I've shrunk then?
Isabel. You couldn't have grown bigger. Oh, I'm serious now;
you needn't prepare a smile. For years you were the tallest object on
my horizon. I used to climb to the thought of you, as people who live
in a flat country mount the church steeple for a view. It's wonderful
how much I used to see from there! And the air was so strong and pure!
Oberville. And now?
Isabel. Now I can fancy how delightful it must be to sit next
to you at dinner.
Oberville. You're unmerciful. Have I said anything to offend
Isabel. Of course not. How absurd!
Oberville. I lost my head a little—I forgot how long it is
since we have met. When I saw you I forgot everything except what you
had once been to me. (She is silent.) I thought you too generous
to resent that. Perhaps I have overtaxed your generosity. (A pause.) Shall I confess it? When I first saw you I thought for a moment that
you had remembered—as I had. You see I can only excuse myself by
saying something inexcusable.
Isabel (deliberately). Not inexcusable.
Isabel. I had remembered.
Isabel. But now—
Oberville. Ah, give me a moment before you unsay it!
Isabel. I don't mean to unsay it. There's no use in repealing
an obsolete law. That's the pity of it! You say you lost me ten years
ago. (A pause.) I never lost you till now.
Isabel. Only this morning you were my supreme court of
justice; there was no appeal from your verdict. Not an hour ago you
decided a case for me—against myself! And now—. And the worst of it
is that it's not because you've changed. How do I know if you've
changed? You haven't said a hundred words to me. You haven't been an
hour in the room. And the years must have enriched you—I daresay
you've doubled your capital. You've been in the thick of life, and the
metal you're made of brightens with use. Success on some men looks like
a borrowed coat; it sits on you as though it had been made to order. I
see all this; I know it; but I don't feel it. I don't feel
anything... anywhere... I'm numb. (A pause.) Don't laugh, but I
really don't think I should know now if you came into the room—unless
I actually saw you. (They are both silent.)
Oberville (at length). Then, to put the most merciful
interpretation upon your epigrams, your feeling for me was made out of
poorer stuff than mine for you.
Isabel. Perhaps it has had harder wear.
Oberville. Or been less cared for?
Isabel. If one has only one cloak one must wear it in all
Oberville. Unless it is so beautiful and precious that one
prefers to go cold and keep it under lock and key.
Isabel. In the cedar-chest of indifference—the key of which
is usually lost.
Oberville. Ah, Isabel, you're too pat! How much I preferred
Isabel. My hesitations? That reminds me how much your coming
has simplified things. I feel as if I'd had an auction sale of
Oberville. You speak in enigmas, and I have a notion that
your riddles are the reverse of the sphinx's—more dangerous to guess
than to give up. And yet I used to find your thoughts such good
Isabel. One cares so little for the style in which one's
praises are written.
Oberville. You've been praising me for the last ten minutes
and I find your style detestable. I would rather have you find fault
with me like a friend than approve me like a dilettante.
Isabel. A dilettante! The very word I wanted!
Oberville. I am proud to have enriched so full a vocabulary.
But I am still waiting for the word I want. (He grows serious.) Isabel, look in your heart—give me the first word you find there.
You've no idea how much a beggar can buy with a penny!
Isabel. It's empty, my poor friend, it's empty.
Oberville. Beggars never say that to each other.
Isabel. No; never, unless it's true.
Oberville (after another silence). Why do you look at me so
Isabel. I'm—what was it you said? Approving you as a
dilettante. Don't be alarmed; you can bear examination; I don't see
a crack anywhere. After all, it's a satisfaction to find that one's
idol makes a handsome bibelot.
Oberville (with an attempt at lightness). I was right
then—you're a collector?
Isabel (modestly). One must make a beginning. I think I shall
begin with you. (She smiles at him.) Positively, I must have you
on my mantel- shelf! (She rises and looks at the clock.) But
it's time to dress for dinner. (She holds out her hand to him and he
kisses it. They look at each other, and it is clear that he does not
quite understand, but is watching eagerly for his cue.)
Warland (coming in). Hullo, Isabel—you're here after all?
Isabel. And so is Mr. Oberville. (She looks straight at
Warland.) I stayed in on purpose to meet him. My husband—(The
two men bow.)
Warland (effusively). So glad to meet you. My wife talks of
you so often. She's been looking forward tremendously to your visit.
Oberville. It's a long time since I've had the pleasure of
seeing Mrs. Warland.
Isabel. But now we are going to make up for lost time. (As
he goes to the door.) I claim you to-morrow for the whole day.
Oberville bows and goes out.
Isabel. Lucius... I think you'd better go to Washington,
after all. (Musing.) Narragansett might do for the others,
though.... Couldn't you get Fred Langham to ask all the rest of the
party to go over there with him to-morrow morning? I shall have a
headache and stay at home. (He looks at her doubtfully.) Mr.
Oberville is a bad sailor.
Warland advances demonstratively.
Isabel (drawing back). It's time to go and dress. I think you
said the black gown with spangles?
A CUP OF COLD WATER
It was three o'clock in the morning, and the cotillion was at its
height, when Woburn left the over-heated splendor of the Gildermere
ballroom, and after a delay caused by the determination of the drowsy
footman to give him a ready-made overcoat with an imitation astrachan
collar in place of his own unimpeachable Poole garment, found himself
breasting the icy solitude of the Fifth Avenue. He was still smiling,
as he emerged from the awning, at his insistence in claiming his own
overcoat: it illustrated, humorously enough, the invincible force of
habit. As he faced the wind, however, he discerned a providence in his
persistency, for his coat was fur-lined, and he had a cold voyage
before him on the morrow.
It had rained hard during the earlier part of the night, and the
carriages waiting in triple line before the Gildermeres' door were
still domed by shining umbrellas, while the electric lamps extending
down the avenue blinked Narcissus-like at their watery images in the
hollows of the sidewalk. A dry blast had come out of the north, with
pledge of frost before daylight, and to Woburn's shivering fancy the
pools in the pavement seemed already stiffening into ice. He turned up
his coat-collar and stepped out rapidly, his hands deep in his
As he walked he glanced curiously up at the ladder-like door-steps
which may well suggest to the future archaeologist that all the streets
of New York were once canals; at the spectral tracery of the trees
about St. Luke's, the fretted mass of the Cathedral, and the mean vista
of the long side-streets. The knowledge that he was perhaps looking at
it all for the last time caused every detail to start out like a
challenge to memory, and lit the brown-stone house-fronts with the
glamor of sword-barred Edens.
It was an odd impulse that had led him that night to the Gildermere
ball; but the same change in his condition which made him stare
wonderingly at the houses in the Fifth Avenue gave the thrill of an
exploit to the tame business of ball-going. Who would have imagined,
Woburn mused, that such a situation as his would possess the priceless
quality of sharpening the blunt edge of habit?
It was certainly curious to reflect, as he leaned against the
doorway of Mrs. Gildermere's ball-room, enveloped in the warm
atmosphere of the accustomed, that twenty-four hours later the people
brushing by him with looks of friendly recognition would start at the
thought of having seen him and slur over the recollection of having
taken his hand!
And the girl he had gone there to see: what would she think of him?
He knew well enough that her trenchant classifications of life admitted
no overlapping of good and evil, made no allowance for that
incalculable interplay of motives that justifies the subtlest casuistry
of compassion. Miss Talcott was too young to distinguish the
intermediate tints of the moral spectrum; and her judgments were
further simplified by a peculiar concreteness of mind. Her bringing-up
had fostered this tendency and she was surrounded by people who
focussed life in the same way. To the girls in Miss Talcott's set, the
attentions of a clever man who had to work for his living had the zest
of a forbidden pleasure; but to marry such a man would be as
unpardonable as to have one's carriage seen at the door of a cheap
dress-maker. Poverty might make a man fascinating; but a settled income
was the best evidence of stability of character. If there were anything
in heredity, how could a nice girl trust a man whose parents had been
careless enough to leave him unprovided for?
Neither Miss Talcott nor any of her friends could be charged with
formulating these views; but they were implicit in the slope of every
white shoulder and in the ripple of every yard of imported tulle
dappling the foreground of Mrs. Gildermere's ball-room. The advantages
of line and colour in veiling the crudities of a creed are obvious to
emotional minds; and besides, Woburn was conscious that it was to the
cheerful materialism of their parents that the young girls he admired
owed that fine distinction of outline in which their skilfully-rippled
hair and skilfully-hung draperies cooeperated with the slimness and
erectness that came of participating in the most expensive sports,
eating the most expensive food and breathing the most expensive air.
Since the process which had produced them was so costly, how could they
help being costly themselves? Woburn was too logical to expect to give
no more for a piece of old Sevres than for a bit of kitchen crockery;
he had no faith in wonderful bargains, and believed that one got in
life just what one was willing to pay for. He had no mind to dispute
the taste of those who preferred the rustic simplicity of the earthen
crock; but his own fancy inclined to the piece of pate tendre
which must be kept in a glass case and handled as delicately as a
It was not merely by the external grace of these drawing-room
ornaments that Woburn's sensibilities were charmed. His imagination was
touched by the curious exoticism of view resulting from such
conditions; He had always enjoyed listening to Miss Talcott even more
than looking at her. Her ideas had the brilliant bloom and audacious
irrelevance of those tropical orchids which strike root in air. Miss
Talcott's opinions had no connection with the actual; her very
materialism had the grace of artificiality. Woburn had been enchanted
once by seeing her helpless before a smoking lamp: she had been obliged
to ring for a servant because she did not know how to put it out.
Her supreme charm was the simplicity that comes of taking it for
granted that people are born with carriages and country-places: it
never occurred to her that such congenital attributes could be matter
for self- consciousness, and she had none of the nouveau riche
prudery which classes poverty with the nude in art and is not sure how
to behave in the presence of either.
The conditions of Woburn's own life had made him peculiarly
susceptible to those forms of elegance which are the flower of ease.
His father had lost a comfortable property through sheer inability to
go over his agent's accounts; and this disaster, coming at the outset
of Woburn's school-days, had given a new bent to the family
temperament. The father characteristically died when the effort of
living might have made it possible to retrieve his fortunes; and
Woburn's mother and sister, embittered by this final evasion, settled
down to a vindictive war with circumstances. They were the kind of
women who think that it lightens the burden of life to throw over the
amenities, as a reduced housekeeper puts away her knick-knacks to make
the dusting easier. They fought mean conditions meanly; but Woburn, in
his resentment of their attitude, did not allow for the suffering which
had brought it about: his own tendency was to overcome difficulties by
conciliation rather than by conflict. Such surroundings threw into
vivid relief the charming figure of Miss Talcott. Woburn instinctively
associated poverty with bad food, ugly furniture, complaints and
recriminations: it was natural that he should be drawn toward the
luminous atmosphere where life was a series of peaceful and
good-humored acts, unimpeded by petty obstacles. To spend one's time in
such society gave one the illusion of unlimited credit; and also,
unhappily, created the need for it.
It was here in fact that Woburn's difficulties began. To marry Miss
Talcott it was necessary to be a rich man: even to dine out in her set
involved certain minor extravagances. Woburn had determined to marry
her sooner or later; and in the meanwhile to be with her as much as
As he stood leaning in the doorway of the Gildermere ball-room,
watching her pass him in the waltz, he tried to remember how it had
begun. First there had been the tailor's bill; the fur-lined overcoat
with cuffs and collar of Alaska sable had alone cost more than he had
spent on his clothes for two or three years previously. Then there were
theatre- tickets; cab-fares; florist's bills; tips to servants at the
country- houses where he went because he knew that she was invited; the
Omar Khayyam bound by Sullivan that he sent her at Christmas; the
contributions to her pet charities; the reckless purchases at fairs
where she had a stall. His whole way of life had imperceptibly changed
and his year's salary was gone before the second quarter was due.
He had invested the few thousand dollars which had been his portion
of his father's shrunken estate: when his debts began to pile up, he
took a flyer in stocks and after a few months of varying luck his
little patrimony disappeared. Meanwhile his courtship was proceeding at
an inverse ratio to his financial ventures. Miss Talcott was growing
tender and he began to feel that the game was in his hands. The
nearness of the goal exasperated him. She was not the girl to wait and
he knew that it must be now or never. A friend lent him five thousand
dollars on his personal note and he bought railway stocks on margin.
They went up and he held them for a higher rise: they fluctuated,
dragged, dropped below the level at which he had bought, and slowly
continued their uninterrupted descent. His broker called for more
margin; he could not respond and was sold out.
What followed came about quite naturally. For several years he had
been cashier in a well-known banking-house. When the note he had given
his friend became due it was obviously necessary to pay it and he used
the firm's money for the purpose. To repay the money thus taken, he
increased his debt to his employers and bought more stocks; and on
these operations he made a profit of ten thousand dollars. Miss Talcott
rode in the Park, and he bought a smart hack for seven hundred, paid
off his tradesmen, and went on speculating with the remainder of his
profits. He made a little more, but failed to take advantage of the
market and lost all that he had staked, including the amount taken from
the firm. He increased his over- draft by another ten thousand and lost
that; he over-drew a farther sum and lost again. Suddenly he woke to
the fact that he owed his employers fifty thousand dollars and that the
partners were to make their semi- annual inspection in two days. He
realized then that within forty-eight hours what he had called
borrowing would become theft.
There was no time to be lost: he must clear out and start life over
again somewhere else. The day that he reached this decision he was to
have met Miss Talcott at dinner. He went to the dinner, but she did not
appear: she had a headache, his hostess explained. Well, he was not to
have a last look at her, after all; better so, perhaps. He took leave
early and on his way home stopped at a florist's and sent her a bunch
of violets. The next morning he got a little note from her: the violets
had done her head so much good—she would tell him all about it that
evening at the Gildermere ball. Woburn laughed and tossed the note into
the fire. That evening he would be on board ship: the examination of
the books was to take place the following morning at ten.
Woburn went down to the bank as usual; he did not want to do
anything that might excite suspicion as to his plans, and from one or
two questions which one of the partners had lately put to him he
divined that he was being observed. At the bank the day passed
uneventfully. He discharged his business with his accustomed care and
went uptown at the usual hour.
In the first flush of his successful speculations he had set up
bachelor lodgings, moved by the temptation to get away from the dismal
atmosphere of home, from his mother's struggles with the cook and his
sister's curiosity about his letters. He had been influenced also by
the wish for surroundings more adapted to his tastes. He wanted to be
able to give little teas, to which Miss Talcott might come with a
married friend. She came once or twice and pronounced it all
delightful: she thought it so nice to have only a few Whistler
etchings on the walls and the simplest crushed levant for all one's
To these rooms Woburn returned on leaving the bank. His plans had
taken definite shape. He had engaged passage on a steamer sailing for
Halifax early the next morning; and there was nothing for him to do
before going on board but to pack his clothes and tear up a few
letters. He threw his clothes into a couple of portmanteaux, and when
these had been called for by an expressman he emptied his pockets and
counted up his ready money. He found that he possessed just fifty
dollars and seventy-five cents; but his passage to Halifax was paid,
and once there he could pawn his watch and rings. This calculation
completed, he unlocked his writing-table drawer and took out a handful
of letters. They were notes from Miss Talcott. He read them over and
threw them into the fire. On his table stood her photograph. He slipped
it out of its frame and tossed it on top of the blazing letters. Having
performed this rite, he got into his dress-clothes and went to a small
French restaurant to dine.
He had meant to go on board the steamer immediately after dinner;
but a sudden vision of introspective hours in a silent cabin made him
call for the evening paper and run his eye over the list of theatres.
It would be as easy to go on board at midnight as now.
He selected a new vaudeville and listened to it with surprising
freshness of interest; but toward eleven o'clock he again began to
dread the approaching necessity of going down to the steamer. There was
something peculiarly unnerving in the idea of spending the rest of the
night in a stifling cabin jammed against the side of a wharf.
He left the theatre and strolled across to the Fifth Avenue. It was
now nearly midnight and a stream of carriages poured up town from the
opera and the theatres. As he stood on the corner watching the familiar
spectacle it occurred to him that many of the people driving by him in
smart broughams and C-spring landaus were on their way to the
Gildermere ball. He remembered Miss Talcott's note of the morning and
wondered if she were in one of the passing carriages; she had spoken so
confidently of meeting him at the ball. What if he should go and take a
last look at her? There was really nothing to prevent it. He was not
likely to run across any member of the firm: in Miss Talcott's set his
social standing was good for another ten hours at least. He smiled in
anticipation of her surprise at seeing him, and then reflected with a
start that she would not be surprised at all.
His meditations were cut short by a fall of sleety rain, and hailing
a hansom he gave the driver Mrs. Gildermere's address.
As he drove up the avenue he looked about him like a traveller in a
strange city. The buildings which had been so unobtrusively familiar
stood out with sudden distinctness: he noticed a hundred details which
had escaped his observation. The people on the sidewalks looked like
strangers: he wondered where they were going and tried to picture the
lives they led; but his own relation to life had been so suddenly
reversed that he found it impossible to recover his mental perspective.
At one corner he saw a shabby man lurking in the shadow of the side
street; as the hansom passed, a policeman ordered him to move on.
Farther on, Woburn noticed a woman crouching on the door-step of a
handsome house. She had drawn a shawl over her head and was sunk in the
apathy of despair or drink. A well-dressed couple paused to look at
her. The electric globe at the corner lit up their faces, and Woburn
saw the lady, who was young and pretty, turn away with a little
grimace, drawing her companion after her.
The desire to see Miss Talcott had driven Woburn to the
Gildermeres'; but once in the ball-room he made no effort to find her.
The people about him seemed more like strangers than those he had
passed in the street. He stood in the doorway, studying the petty
manoeuvres of the women and the resigned amenities of their partners.
Was it possible that these were his friends? These mincing women, all
paint and dye and whalebone, these apathetic men who looked as much
alike as the figures that children cut out of a folded sheet of paper?
Was it to live among such puppets that he had sold his soul? What had
any of these people done that was noble, exceptional, distinguished?
Who knew them by name even, except their tradesmen and the society
reporters? Who were they, that they should sit in judgment on him?
The bald man with the globular stomach, who stood at Mrs.
Gildermere's elbow surveying the dancers, was old Boylston, who had
made his pile in wrecking railroads; the smooth chap with glazed eyes,
at whom a pretty girl smiled up so confidingly, was Collerton, the
political lawyer, who had been mixed up to his own advantage in an ugly
lobbying transaction; near him stood Brice Lyndham, whose recent
failure had ruined his friends and associates, but had not visibly
affected the welfare of his large and expensive family. The slim fellow
dancing with Miss Gildermere was Alec Vance, who lived on a salary of
five thousand a year, but whose wife was such a good manager that they
kept a brougham and victoria and always put in their season at Newport
and their spring trip to Europe. The little ferret-faced youth in the
corner was Regie Colby, who wrote the Entre- Nous paragraphs in
the Social Searchlight: the women were charming to him and he
got all the financial tips he wanted from their husbands and fathers.
And the women? Well, the women knew all about the men, and flattered
them and married them and tried to catch them for their daughters. It
was a domino-party at which the guests were forbidden to unmask, though
they all saw through each other's disguises.
And these were the people who, within twenty-four hours, would be
agreeing that they had always felt there was something wrong about
Woburn! They would be extremely sorry for him, of course, poor devil;
but there are certain standards, after all—what would society be
without standards? His new friends, his future associates, were the
suspicious-looking man whom the policeman had ordered to move on, and
the drunken woman asleep on the door-step. To these he was linked by
the freemasonry of failure.
Miss Talcott passed him on Collerton's arm; she was giving him one
of the smiles of which Woburn had fancied himself sole owner. Collerton
was a sharp fellow; he must have made a lot in that last deal; probably
she would marry him. How much did she know about the transaction? She
was a shrewd girl and her father was in Wall Street. If Woburn's luck
had turned the other way she might have married him instead; and if he
had confessed his sin to her one evening, as they drove home from the
opera in their new brougham, she would have said that really it was of
no use to tell her, for she never could understand about
business, but that she did entreat him in future to be nicer to Regie
Colby. Even now, if he made a big strike somewhere, and came back in
ten years with a beard and a steam yacht, they would all deny that
anything had been proved against him, and Mrs. Collerton might blush
and remind him of their friendship. Well—why not? Was not all morality
based on a convention? What was the stanchest code of ethics but a
trunk with a series of false bottoms? Now and then one had the illusion
of getting down to absolute right or wrong, but it was only a false
bottom—a removable hypothesis—with another false bottom underneath.
There was no getting beyond the relative.
The cotillion had begun. Miss Talcott sat nearly opposite him: she
was dancing with young Boylston and giving him a Woburn-Collerton
smile. So young Boylston was in the syndicate too!
Presently Woburn was aware that she had forgotten young Boylston and
was glancing absently about the room. She was looking for some one, and
meant the some one to know it: he knew that Lost-Chord look in
A new figure was being formed. The partners circled about the room
and Miss Talcott's flying tulle drifted close to him as she passed.
Then the favors were distributed; white skirts wavered across the floor
like thistle-down on summer air; men rose from their seats and fresh
couples filled the shining parquet.
Miss Talcott, after taking from the basket a Legion of Honor in red
enamel, surveyed the room for a moment; then she made her way through
the dancers and held out the favor to Woburn. He fastened it in his
coat, and emerging from the crowd of men about the doorway, slipped his
arm about her. Their eyes met; hers were serious and a little sad. How
fine and slender she was! He noticed the little tendrils of hair about
the pink convolution of her ear. Her waist was firm and yet elastic;
she breathed calmly and regularly, as though dancing were her natural
motion. She did not look at him again and neither of them spoke.
When the music ceased they paused near her chair. Her partner was
waiting for her and Woburn left her with a bow.
He made his way down-stairs and out of the house. He was glad that
he had not spoken to Miss Talcott. There had been a healing power in
their silence. All bitterness had gone from him and he thought of her
now quite simply, as the girl he loved.
At Thirty-fifth Street he reflected that he had better jump into a
car and go down to his steamer. Again there rose before him the
repulsive vision of the dark cabin, with creaking noises overhead, and
the cold wash of water against the pier: he thought he would stop in a
cafe and take a drink. He turned into Broadway and entered a
brightly-lit cafe; but when he had taken his whisky and soda there
seemed no reason for lingering. He had never been the kind of man who
could escape difficulties in that way. Yet he was conscious that his
will was weakening; that he did not mean to go down to the steamer just
yet. What did he mean to do? He began to feel horribly tired and it
occurred to him that a few hours' sleep in a decent bed would make a
new man of him. Why not go on board the next morning at daylight?
He could not go back to his rooms, for on leaving the house he had
taken the precaution of dropping his latch-key into his letter-box; but
he was in a neighborhood of discreet hotels and he wandered on till he
came to one which was known to offer a dispassionate hospitality to
luggageless travellers in dress-clothes.
He pushed open the swinging door and found himself in a long
corridor with a tessellated floor, at the end of which, in a
brightly-lit enclosure of plate-glass and mahogany, the night-clerk
dozed over a copy of the Police Gazette. The air in the corridor
was rich in reminiscences of yesterday's dinners, and a bronzed
radiator poured a wave of dry heat into Woburn's face.
The night-clerk, roused by the swinging of the door, sat watching
Woburn's approach with the unexpectant eye of one who has full
confidence in his capacity for digesting surprises. Not that there was
anything surprising in Woburn's appearance; but the night-clerk's
callers were given to such imaginative flights in explaining their
luggageless arrival in the small hours of the morning, that he fared
habitually on fictions which would have staggered a less experienced
stomach. The night-clerk, whose unwrinkled bloom showed that he throve
on this high-seasoned diet, had a fancy for classifying his applicants
before they could frame their explanations.
“This one's been locked out,” he said to himself as he mustered
Having exercised his powers of divination with his accustomed
accuracy he listened without stirring an eye-lid to Woburn's statement;
merely replying, when the latter asked the price of a room,
“Very well,” said Woburn, pushing the money under the brass lattice,
“I'll go up at once; and I want to be called at seven.”
To this the night-clerk proffered no reply, but stretching out his
hand to press an electric button, returned apathetically to the perusal
of the Police Gazette. His summons was answered by the
appearance of a man in shirt-sleeves, whose rumpled head indicated that
he had recently risen from some kind of makeshift repose; to him the
night-clerk tossed a key, with the brief comment, “Ninety-seven;” and
the man, after a sleepy glance at Woburn, turned on his heel and
lounged toward the staircase at the back of the corridor.
Woburn followed and they climbed three flights in silence. At each
landing Woburn glanced down, the long passage-way lit by a lowered
gas-jet, with a double line of boots before the doors, waiting, like
yesterday's deeds, to carry their owners so many miles farther on the
morrow's destined road. On the third landing the man paused, and after
examining the number on the key, turned to the left, and slouching past
three or four doors, finally unlocked one and preceded Woburn into a
room lit only by the upward gleam of the electric globes in the street
The man felt in his pockets; then he turned to Woburn. “Got a
match?” he asked.
Woburn politely offered him one, and he applied it to the
gas-fixture which extended its jointed arm above an ash dressing-table
with a blurred mirror fixed between two standards. Having performed
this office with an air of detachment designed to make Woburn recognize
it as an act of supererogation, he turned without a word and vanished
down the passage- way.
Woburn, after an indifferent glance about the room, which seemed to
afford the amount of luxury generally obtainable for two dollars and a
half in a fashionable quarter of New York, locked the door and sat down
at the ink- stained writing-table in the window. Far below him lay the
pallidly-lit depths of the forsaken thoroughfare. Now and then he heard
the jingle of a horsecar and the ring of hoofs on the freezing
pavement, or saw the lonely figure of a policeman eclipsing the
illumination of the plate-glass windows on the opposite side of the
street. He sat thus for a long time, his elbows on the table, his chin
between his hands, till at length the contemplation of the abandoned
sidewalks, above which the electric globes kept Stylites-like vigil,
became intolerable to him, and he drew down the window-shade, and lit
the gas-fixture beside the dressing-table. Then he took a cigar from
his case, and held it to the flame.
The passage from the stinging freshness of the night to the stale
overheated atmosphere of the Haslemere Hotel had checked the
preternaturally rapid working of his mind, and he was now scarcely
conscious of thinking at all. His head was heavy, and he would have
thrown himself on the bed had he not feared to oversleep the hour fixed
for his departure. He thought it safest, instead, to seat himself once
more by the table, in the most uncomfortable chair that he could find,
and smoke one cigar after another till the first sign of dawn should
give an excuse for action.
He had laid his watch on the table before him, and was gazing at the
hour- hand, and trying to convince himself by so doing that he was
still wide awake, when a noise in the adjoining room suddenly
straightened him in his chair and banished all fear of sleep.
There was no mistaking the nature of the noise; it was that of a
woman's sobs. The sobs were not loud, but the sound reached him
distinctly through the frail door between the two rooms; it expressed
an utter abandonment to grief; not the cloud-burst of some passing
emotion, but the slow down-pour of a whole heaven of sorrow.
Woburn sat listening. There was nothing else to be done; and at
least his listening was a mute tribute to the trouble he was powerless
to relieve. It roused, too, the drugged pulses of his own grief: he was
touched by the chance propinquity of two alien sorrows in a great city
throbbing with multifarious passions. It would have been more in
keeping with the irony of life had he found himself next to a mother
singing her child to sleep: there seemed a mute commiseration in the
hand that had led him to such neighborhood.
Gradually the sobs subsided, with pauses betokening an effort at
self- control. At last they died off softly, like the intermittent
drops that end a day of rain.
“Poor soul,” Woburn mused, “she's got the better of it for the time.
I wonder what it's all about?”
At the same moment he heard another sound that made him jump to his
feet. It was a very low sound, but in that nocturnal silence which
gives distinctness to the faintest noises, Woburn knew at once that he
had heard the click of a pistol.
“What is she up to now?” he asked himself, with his eye on the door
between the two rooms; and the brightly-lit keyhole seemed to reply
with a glance of intelligence. He turned out the gas and crept to the
door, pressing his eye to the illuminated circle.
After a moment or two of adjustment, during which he seemed to
himself to be breathing like a steam-engine, he discerned a room like
his own, with the same dressing-table flanked by gas-fixtures, and the
same table in the window. This table was directly in his line of
vision; and beside it stood a woman with a small revolver in her hands.
The lights being behind her, Woburn could only infer her youth from her
slender silhouette and the nimbus of fair hair defining her head. Her
dress seemed dark and simple, and on a chair under one of the gas-jets
lay a jacket edged with cheap fur and a small travelling-bag. He could
not see the other end of the room, but something in her manner told him
that she was alone. At length she put the revolver down and took up a
letter that lay on the table. She drew the letter from its envelope and
read it over two or three times; then she put it back, sealing the
envelope, and placing it conspicuously against the mirror of the
There was so grave a significance in this dumb-show that Woburn felt
sure that her next act would be to return to the table and take up the
revolver; but he had not reckoned on the vanity of woman. After putting
the letter in place she still lingered at the mirror, standing a little
sideways, so that he could now see her face, which was distinctly
pretty, but of a small and unelastic mould, inadequate to the
expression of the larger emotions. For some moments she continued to
study herself with the expression of a child looking at a playmate who
has been scolded; then she turned to the table and lifted the revolver
to her forehead.
A sudden crash made her arm drop, and sent her darting backward to
the opposite side of the room. Woburn had broken down the door, and
stood torn and breathless in the breach.
“Oh!” she gasped, pressing closer to the wall.
“Don't be frightened,” he said; “I saw what you were going to do and
I had to stop you.”
She looked at him for a moment in silence, and he saw the terrified
flutter of her breast; then she said, “No one can stop me for long. And
besides, what right have you—”
“Every one has the right to prevent a crime,” he returned, the sound
of the last word sending the blood to his forehead.
“I deny it,” she said passionately. “Every one who has tried to live
and failed has the right to die.”
“Failed in what?”
“In everything!” she replied. They stood looking at each other in
At length he advanced a few steps.
“You've no right to say you've failed,” he said, “while you have
breath to try again.” He drew the revolver from her hand.
“Try again—try again? I tell you I've tried seventy times seven!”
“What have you tried?”
She looked at him with a certain dignity.
“I don't know,” she said, “that you've any right to question me—or
to be in this room at all—” and suddenly she burst into tears.
The discrepancy between her words and action struck the chord which,
in a man's heart, always responds to the touch of feminine unreason.
She dropped into the nearest chair, hiding her face in her hands, while
Woburn watched the course of her weeping.
At last she lifted her head, looking up between drenched lashes.
“Please go away,” she said in childish entreaty.
“How can I?” he returned. “It's impossible that I should leave you
in this state. Trust me—let me help you. Tell me what has gone wrong,
and let's see if there's no other way out of it.”
Woburn had a voice full of sensitive inflections, and it was now
trembling with profoundest pity. Its note seemed to reassure the girl,
for she said, with a beginning of confidence in her own tones, “But I
don't even know who you are.”
Woburn was silent: the words startled him. He moved nearer to her
and went on in the same quieting tone.
“I am a man who has suffered enough to want to help others. I don't
want to know any more about you than will enable me to do what I can
for you. I've probably seen more of life than you have, and if you're
willing to tell me your troubles perhaps together we may find a way out
She dried her eyes and glanced at the revolver.
“That's the only way out,” she said.
“How do you know? Are you sure you've tried every other?”
“Perfectly sure, I've written and written, and humbled myself like a
slave before him, and she won't even let him answer my letters. Oh, but
you don't understand”—she broke off with a renewal of weeping.
“I begin to understand—you're sorry for something you've done?”
“Oh, I've never denied that—I've never denied that I was wicked.”
“And you want the forgiveness of some one you care about?”
“My husband,” she whispered.
“You've done something to displease your husband?”
“To displease him? I ran away with another man!” There was a dismal
exultation in her tone, as though she were paying Woburn off for having
underrated her offense.
She had certainly surprised him; at worst he had expected a quarrel
over a rival, with a possible complication of mother-in-law. He
wondered how such helpless little feet could have taken so bold a step;
then he remembered that there is no audacity like that of weakness.
He was wondering how to lead her to completer avowal when she added
forlornly, “You see there's nothing else to do.”
Woburn took a turn in the room. It was certainly a narrower strait
than he had foreseen, and he hardly knew how to answer; but the first
flow of confession had eased her, and she went on without farther
“I don't know how I could ever have done it; I must have been
downright crazy. I didn't care much for Joe when I married him—he
wasn't exactly handsome, and girls think such a lot of that. But he
just laid down and worshipped me, and I was getting fond of him
in a way; only the life was so dull. I'd been used to a big city—I
come from Detroit—and Hinksville is such a poky little place; that's
where we lived; Joe is telegraph- operator on the railroad there. He'd
have been in a much bigger place now, if he hadn't—well, after all, he
behaved perfectly splendidly about that.
“I really was getting fond of him, and I believe I should have
realized in time how good and noble and unselfish he was, if his mother
hadn't been always sitting there and everlastingly telling me so. We
learned in school about the Athenians hating some man who was always
called just, and that's the way I felt about Joe. Whenever I did
anything that wasn't quite right his mother would say how differently
Joe would have done it. And she was forever telling me that Joe didn't
approve of this and that and the other. When we were alone he approved
of everything, but when his mother was round he'd sit quiet and let her
say he didn't. I knew he'd let me have my way afterwards, but somehow
that didn't prevent my getting mad at the time.
“And then the evenings were so long, with Joe away, and Mrs. Glenn
(that's his mother) sitting there like an image knitting socks for the
heathen. The only caller we ever had was the Baptist minister, and he
never took any more notice of me than if I'd been a piece of furniture.
I believe he was afraid to before Mrs. Glenn.”
She paused breathlessly, and the tears in her eyes were now of
“Well?” said Woburn gently.
“Well—then Arthur Hackett came along; he was travelling for a big
publishing firm in Philadelphia. He was awfully handsome and as clever
and sarcastic as anything. He used to lend me lots of novels and
magazines, and tell me all about society life in New York. All the
girls were after him, and Alice Sprague, whose father is the richest
man in Hinksville, fell desperately in love with him and carried on
like a fool; but he wouldn't take any notice of her. He never looked at
anybody but me.” Her face lit up with a reminiscent smile, and then
clouded again. “I hate him now,” she exclaimed, with a change of tone
that startled Woburn. “I'd like to kill him—but he's killed me
“Well, he bewitched me so I didn't know what I was doing; I was like
somebody in a trance. When he wasn't there I didn't want to speak to
anybody; I used to lie in bed half the day just to get away from folks;
I hated Joe and Hinksville and everything else. When he came back the
days went like a flash; we were together nearly all the time. I knew
Joe's mother was spying on us, but I didn't care. And at last it seemed
as if I couldn't let him go away again without me; so one evening he
stopped at the back gate in a buggy, and we drove off together and
caught the eastern express at River Bend. He promised to bring me to
New York.” She paused, and then added scornfully, “He didn't even do
Woburn had returned to his seat and was watching her attentively. It
was curious to note how her passion was spending itself in words; he
saw that she would never kill herself while she had any one to talk to.
“That was five months ago,” she continued, “and we travelled all
through the southern states, and stayed a little while near
Philadelphia, where his business is. He did things real stylishly at
first. Then he was sent to Albany, and we stayed a week at the Delavan
House. One afternoon I went out to do some shopping, and when I came
back he was gone. He had taken his trunk with him, and hadn't left any
address; but in my travelling-bag I found a fifty-dollar bill, with a
slip of paper on which he had written, 'No use coming after me; I'm
married.' We'd been together less than four months, and I never saw him
“At first I couldn't believe it. I stayed on, thinking it was a
joke—or that he'd feel sorry for me and come back. But he never came
and never wrote me a line. Then I began to hate him, and to see what a
wicked fool I'd been to leave Joe. I was so lonesome—I thought I'd go
crazy. And I kept thinking how good and patient Joe had been, and how
badly I'd used him, and how lovely it would be to be back in the little
parlor at Hinksville, even with Mrs. Glenn and the minister talking
about free-will and predestination. So at last I wrote to Joe. I wrote
him the humblest letters you ever read, one after another; but I never
got any answer.
“Finally I found I'd spent all my money, so I sold my watch and my
rings— Joe gave me a lovely turquoise ring when we were married—and
came to New York. I felt ashamed to stay alone any longer in Albany; I
was afraid that some of Arthur's friends, who had met me with him on
the road, might come there and recognize me. After I got here I wrote
to Susy Price, a great friend of mine who lives at Hinksville, and she
answered at once, and told me just what I had expected—that Joe was
ready to forgive me and crazy to have me back, but that his mother
wouldn't let him stir a step or write me a line, and that she and the
minister were at him all day long, telling him how bad I was and what a
sin it would be to forgive me. I got Susy's letter two or three days
ago, and after that I saw it was no use writing to Joe. He'll never
dare go against his mother and she watches him like a cat. I suppose I
deserve it—but he might have given me another chance! I know he would
if he could only see me.”
Her voice had dropped from anger to lamentation, and her tears again
Woburn looked at her with the pity one feels for a child who is
suddenly confronted with the result of some unpremeditated naughtiness.
“But why not go back to Hinksville,” he suggested, “if your husband
is ready to forgive you? You could go to your friend's house, and once
your husband knows you are there you can easily persuade him to see
“Perhaps I could—Susy thinks I could. But I can't go back; I
haven't got a cent left.”
“But surely you can borrow money? Can't you ask your friend to
forward you the amount of your fare?”
She shook her head.
“Susy ain't well off; she couldn't raise five dollars, and it costs
twenty-five to get back to Hinksville. And besides, what would become
of me while I waited for the money? They'll turn me out of here
to-morrow; I haven't paid my last week's board, and I haven't got
anything to give them; my bag's empty; I've pawned everything.”
“And don't you know any one here who would lend you the money?”
“No; not a soul. At least I do know one gentleman; he's a friend of
Arthur's, a Mr. Devine; he was staying at Rochester when we were there.
I met him in the street the other day, and I didn't mean to speak to
him, but he came up to me, and said he knew all about Arthur and how
meanly he had behaved, and he wanted to know if he couldn't help me—I
suppose he saw I was in trouble. He tried to persuade me to go and stay
with his aunt, who has a lovely house right round here in Twenty-fourth
Street; he must be very rich, for he offered to lend me as much money
as I wanted.”
“You didn't take it?”
“No,” she returned; “I daresay he meant to be kind, but I didn't
care to be beholden to any friend of Arthur's. He came here again
yesterday, but I wouldn't see him, so he left a note giving me his
aunt's address and saying she'd have a room ready for me at any time.”
There was a long silence; she had dried her tears and sat looking at
Woburn with eyes full of helpless reliance.
“Well,” he said at length, “you did right not to take that man's
money; but this isn't the only alternative,” he added, pointing to the
“I don't know any other,” she answered wearily. “I'm not smart
enough to get employment; I can't make dresses or do type-writing, or
any of the useful things they teach girls now; and besides, even if I
could get work I couldn't stand the loneliness. I can never hold my
head up again—I can't bear the disgrace. If I can't go back to Joe I'd
rather be dead.”
“And if you go back to Joe it will be all right?” Woburn suggested
with a smile.
“Oh,” she cried, her whole face alight, “if I could only go back to
They were both silent again; Woburn sat with his hands in his
pockets gazing at the floor. At length his silence seemed to rouse her
to the unwontedness of the situation, and she rose from her seat,
saying in a more constrained tone, “I don't know why I've told you all
“Because you believed that I would help you,” Woburn answered,
rising also; “and you were right; I'm going to send you home.”
She colored vividly. “You told me I was right not to take Mr.
Devine's money,” she faltered.
“Yes,” he answered, “but did Mr. Devine want to send you home?”
“He wanted me to wait at his aunt's a little while first and then
write to Joe again.”
“I don't—I want you to start tomorrow morning; this morning, I
mean. I'll take you to the station and buy your ticket, and your
husband can send me back the money.”
“Oh, I can't—I can't—you mustn't—” she stammered, reddening and
paling. “Besides, they'll never let me leave here without paying.”
“How much do you owe?”
“Very well; I'll pay that for you; you can leave me your revolver as
a pledge. But you must start by the first train; have you any idea at
what time it leaves the Grand Central?”
“I think there's one at eight.”
He glanced at his watch.
“In less than two hours, then; it's after six now.”
She stood before him with fascinated eyes.
“You must have a very strong will,” she said. “When you talk like
that you make me feel as if I had to do everything you say.”
“Well, you must,” said Woburn lightly. “Man was made to be obeyed.”
“Oh, you're not like other men,” she returned; “I never heard a
voice like yours; it's so strong and kind. You must be a very good man;
you remind me of Joe; I'm sure you've got just such a nature; and Joe
is the best man I've ever seen.”
Woburn made no reply, and she rambled on, with little pauses and
fresh bursts of confidence.
“Joe's a real hero, you know; he did the most splendid thing you
ever heard of. I think I began to tell you about it, but I didn't
finish. I'll tell you now. It happened just after we were married; I
was mad with him at the time, I'm afraid, but now I see how splendid he
was. He'd been telegraph operator at Hinksville for four years and was
hoping that he'd get promoted to a bigger place; but he was afraid to
ask for a raise. Well, I was very sick with a bad attack of pneumonia
and one night the doctor said he wasn't sure whether he could pull me
through. When they sent word to Joe at the telegraph office he couldn't
stand being away from me another minute. There was a poor consumptive
boy always hanging round the station; Joe had taught him how to
operate, just to help him along; so he left him in the office and tore
home for half an hour, knowing he could get back before the eastern
express came along.
“He hadn't been gone five minutes when a freight-train ran off the
rails about a mile up the track. It was a very still night, and the boy
heard the smash and shouting, and knew something had happened. He
couldn't tell what it was, but the minute he heard it he sent a message
over the wires like a flash, and caught the eastern express just as it
was pulling out of the station above Hinksville. If he'd hesitated a
second, or made any mistake, the express would have come on, and the
loss of life would have been fearful. The next day the Hinksville
papers were full of Operator Glenn's presence of mind; they all said
he'd be promoted. That was early in November and Joe didn't hear
anything from the company till the first of January. Meanwhile the boy
had gone home to his father's farm out in the country, and before
Christmas he was dead. Well, on New Year's day Joe got a notice from
the company saying that his pay was to be raised, and that he was to be
promoted to a big junction near Detroit, in recognition of his presence
of mind in stopping the eastern express. It was just what we'd both
been pining for and I was nearly wild with joy; but I noticed Joe
didn't say much. He just telegraphed for leave, and the next day he
went right up to Detroit and told the directors there what had really
happened. When he came back he told us they'd suspended him; I cried
every night for a week, and even his mother said he was a fool. After
that we just lived on at Hinksville, and six months later the company
took him back; but I don't suppose they'll ever promote him now.”
Her voice again trembled with facile emotion.
“Wasn't it beautiful of him? Ain't he a real hero?” she said. “And
I'm sure you'd behave just like him; you'd be just as gentle about
little things, and you'd never move an inch about big ones. You'd never
do a mean action, but you'd be sorry for people who did; I can see it
in your face; that's why I trusted you right off.”
Woburn's eyes were fixed on the window; he hardly seemed to hear
her. At length he walked across the room and pulled up the shade. The
electric lights were dissolving in the gray alembic of the dawn. A
milk-cart rattled down the street and, like a witch returning late from
the Sabbath, a stray cat whisked into an area. So rose the appointed
Woburn turned back, drawing from his pocket the roll of bills which
he had thrust there with so different a purpose. He counted them out,
and handed her fifteen dollars.
“That will pay for your board, including your breakfast this
morning,” he said. “We'll breakfast together presently if you like; and
meanwhile suppose we sit down and watch the sunrise. I haven't seen it
He pushed two chairs toward the window, and they sat down side by
side. The light came gradually, with the icy reluctance of winter; at
last a red disk pushed itself above the opposite house-tops and a long
cold gleam slanted across their window. They did not talk much; there
was a silencing awe in the spectacle.
Presently Woburn rose and looked again at his watch.
“I must go and cover up my dress-coat", he said, “and you had better
put on your hat and jacket. We shall have to be starting in half an
As he turned away she laid her hand on his arm.
“You haven't even told me your name,” she said.
“No,” he answered; “but if you get safely back to Joe you can call
“But how am I to send you the money?”
“Oh—well, I'll write you a line in a day or two and give you my
address; I don't know myself what it will be; I'm a wanderer on the
face of the earth.”
“But you must have my name if you mean to write to me.”
“Well, what is your name?”
“Ruby Glenn. And I think—I almost think you might send the letter
right to Joe's—send it to the Hinksville station.”
“Of course I promise.”
He went back into his room, thinking how appropriate it was that she
should have an absurd name like Ruby. As he re-entered the room, where
the gas sickened in the daylight, it seemed to him that he was
returning to some forgotten land; he had passed, with the last few
hours, into a wholly new phase of consciousness. He put on his fur
coat, turning up the collar and crossing the lapels to hide his white
tie. Then he put his cigar-case in his pocket, turned out the gas, and,
picking up his hat and stick, walked back through the open doorway.
Ruby Glenn had obediently prepared herself for departure and was
standing before the mirror, patting her curls into place. Her eyes were
still red, but she had the happy look of a child that has outslept its
grief. On the floor he noticed the tattered fragments of the letter
which, a few hours earlier, he had seen her place before the mirror.
“Shall we go down now?” he asked.
“Very well,” she assented; then, with a quick movement, she stepped
close to him, and putting her hands on his shoulders lifted her face to
“I believe you're the best man I ever knew,” she said, “the very
best— except Joe.”
She drew back blushing deeply, and unlocked the door which led into
the passage-way. Woburn picked up her bag, which she had forgotten, and
followed her out of the room. They passed a frowzy chambermaid, who
stared at them with a yawn. Before the doors the row of boots still
waited; there was a faint new aroma of coffee mingling with the smell
of vanished dinners, and a fresh blast of heat had begun to tingle
through the radiators.
In the unventilated coffee-room they found a waiter who had the
melancholy air of being the last survivor of an exterminated race, and
who reluctantly brought them some tea made with water which had not
boiled, and a supply of stale rolls and staler butter. On this meagre
diet they fared in silence, Woburn occasionally glancing at his watch;
at length he rose, telling his companion to go and pay her bill while
he called a hansom. After all, there was no use in economizing his
In a few moments she joined him under the portico of the hotel. The
hansom stood waiting and he sprang in after her, calling to the driver
to take them to the Forty-second Street station.
When they reached the station he found a seat for her and went to
buy her ticket. There were several people ahead of him at the window,
and when he had bought the ticket he found that it was time to put her
in the train. She rose in answer to his glance, and together they
walked down the long platform in the murky chill of the roofed-in air.
He followed her into the railway carriage, making sure that she had her
bag, and that the ticket was safe inside it; then he held out his hand,
in its pearl-coloured evening glove: he felt that the people in the
other seats were staring at them.
“Good-bye,” he said.
“Good-bye,” she answered, flushing gratefully. “I'll never
forget—never. And you will write, won't you? Promise!”
“Of course, of course,” he said, hastening from the carriage.
He retraced his way along the platform, passed through the dismal
waiting- room and stepped out into the early sunshine. On the sidewalk
outside the station he hesitated awhile; then he strolled slowly down
Forty-second Street and, skirting the melancholy flank of the
Reservoir, walked across Bryant Park. Finally he sat down on one of the
benches near the Sixth Avenue and lit a cigar. The signs of life were
multiplying around him; he watched the cars roll by with their
increasing freight of dingy toilers, the shop-girls hurrying to their
work, the children trudging schoolward, their small vague noses red
with cold, their satchels clasped in woollen- gloved hands. There is
nothing very imposing in the first stirring of a great city's
activities; it is a slow reluctant process, like the waking of a heavy
sleeper; but to Woburn's mood the sight of that obscure renewal of
humble duties was more moving than the spectacle of an army with
He sat for a long time, smoking the last cigar in his case, and
murmuring to himself a line from Hamlet—the saddest, he thought, in
For every man hath business and desire.
Suddenly an unpremeditated movement made him feel the pressure of
Ruby Glenn's revolver in his pocket; it was like a devil's touch on his
arm, and he sprang up hastily. In his other pocket there were just four
dollars and fifty cents; but that didn't matter now. He had no thought
For a few minutes he loitered vaguely about the park; then the cold
drove him on again, and with the rapidity born of a sudden resolve he
began to walk down the Fifth Avenue towards his lodgings. He brushed
past a maid- servant who was washing the vestibule and ran up stairs to
his room. A fire was burning in the grate and his books and photographs
greeted him cheerfully from the walls; the tranquil air of the whole
room seemed to take it for granted that he meant to have his bath and
breakfast and go down town as usual.
He threw off his coat and pulled the revolver out of his pocket; for
some moments he held it curiously in his hand, bending over to examine
it as Ruby Glenn had done; then he laid it in the top drawer of a small
cabinet, and locking the drawer threw the key into the fire.
After that he went quietly about the usual business of his toilet.
In taking off his dress-coat he noticed the Legion of Honor which Miss
Talcott had given him at the ball. He pulled it out of his buttonhole
and tossed it into the fire-place. When he had finished dressing he saw
with surprise that it was nearly ten o'clock. Ruby Glenn was already
two hours nearer home.
Woburn stood looking about the room of which he had thought to take
final leave the night before; among the ashes beneath the grate he
caught sight of a little white heap which symbolized to his fancy the
remains of his brief correspondence with Miss Talcott. He roused
himself from this unseasonable musing and with a final glance at the
familiar setting of his past, turned to face the future which the last
hours had prepared for him.
He went down stairs and stepped out of doors, hastening down the
street towards Broadway as though he were late for an appointment.
Every now and then he encountered an acquaintance, whom he greeted with
a nod and smile; he carried his head high, and shunned no man's
At length he reached the doors of a tall granite building
honey-combed with windows. He mounted the steps of the portico, and
passing through the double doors of plate-glass, crossed a vestibule
floored with mosaic to another glass door on which was emblazoned the
name of the firm.
This door he also opened, entering a large room with wainscotted
subdivisions, behind which appeared the stooping shoulders of a row of
As Woburn crossed the threshold a gray-haired man emerged from an
inner office at the opposite end of the room.
At sight of Woburn he stopped short.
“Mr. Woburn!” he exclaimed; then he stepped nearer and added in a
low tone: “I was requested to tell you when you came that the members
of the firm are waiting; will you step into the private office?”
It was at Mrs. Mellish's, one Sunday afternoon last spring. We were
talking over George Lillo's portraits—a collection of them was being
shown at Durand-Ruel's—and a pretty woman had emphatically declared:—
“Nothing on earth would induce me to sit to him!”
There was a chorus of interrogations.
“Oh, because—he makes people look so horrid; the way one looks on
board ship, or early in the morning, or when one's hair is out of curl
and one knows it. I'd so much rather be done by Mr. Cumberton!”
Little Cumberton, the fashionable purveyor of rose-water pastels,
stroked his moustache to hide a conscious smile.
“Lillo is a genius—that we must all admit,” he said indulgently, as
though condoning a friend's weakness; “but he has an unfortunate
temperament. He has been denied the gift—so precious to an artist—of
perceiving the ideal. He sees only the defects of his sitters; one
might almost fancy that he takes a morbid pleasure in exaggerating
their weak points, in painting them on their worst days; but I honestly
believe he can't help himself. His peculiar limitations prevent his
seeing anything but the most prosaic side of human nature—
“'A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose is to him,
And it is nothing more.'“
Cumberton looked round to surprise an order in the eye of the lady
whose sentiments he had so deftly interpreted, but poetry always made
her uncomfortable, and her nomadic attention had strayed to other
topics. His glance was tripped up by Mrs. Mellish.
“Limitations? But, my dear man, it's because he hasn't any
limitations, because he doesn't wear the portrait-painter's
conventional blinders, that we're all so afraid of being painted by
him. It's not because he sees only one aspect of his sitters, it's
because he selects the real, the typical one, as instinctively as a
detective collars a pick-pocket in a crowd. If there's nothing to
paint—no real person—he paints nothing; look at the sumptuous
emptiness of his portrait of Mrs. Guy Awdrey”—(“Why,” the pretty woman
perplexedly interjected, “that's the only nice picture he ever did!”)
“If there's one positive trait in a negative whole he brings it out in
spite of himself; if it isn't a nice trait, so much the worse for the
sitter; it isn't Lillo's fault: he's no more to blame than a mirror.
Your other painters do the surface—he does the depths; they paint the
ripples on the pond, he drags the bottom. He makes flesh seem as
fortuitous as clothes. When I look at his portraits of fine ladies in
pearls and velvet I seem to see a little naked cowering wisp of a soul
sitting beside the big splendid body, like a poor relation in the
darkest corner of an opera-box. But look at his pictures of really
great people— how great they are! There's plenty of ideal
there. Take his Professor Clyde; how clearly the man's history is
written in those broad steady strokes of the brush: the hard work, the
endless patience, the fearless imagination of the great savant!
Or the picture of Mr. Domfrey—the man who has felt beauty without
having the power to create it. The very brush- work expresses the
difference between the two; the crowding of nervous tentative lines,
the subtler gradations of color, somehow convey a suggestion of
dilettantism. You feel what a delicate instrument the man is, how every
sense has been tuned to the finest responsiveness.” Mrs. Mellish
paused, blushing a little at the echo of her own eloquence. “My advice
is, don't let George Lillo paint you if you don't want to be found
out—or to find yourself out. That's why I've never let him do me
; I'm waiting for the day of judgment,” she ended with a laugh.
Every one but the pretty woman, whose eyes betrayed a quivering
impatience to discuss clothes, had listened attentively to Mrs.
Mellish. Lillo's presence in New York—he had come over from Paris for
the first time in twelve years, to arrange the exhibition of his
pictures—gave to the analysis of his methods as personal a flavor as
though one had been furtively dissecting his domestic relations. The
analogy, indeed, is not unapt; for in Lillo's curiously detached
existence it is difficult to figure any closer tie than that which
unites him to his pictures. In this light, Mrs. Mellish's flushed
harangue seemed not unfitted to the trivialities of the tea hour, and
some one almost at once carried on the argument by saying:—“But
according to your theory—that the significance of his work depends on
the significance of the sitter—his portrait of Vard ought to be a
master-piece; and it's his biggest failure.”
Alonzo Vard's suicide—he killed himself, strangely enough, the day
that Lillo's pictures were first shown—had made his portrait the chief
feature of the exhibition. It had been painted ten or twelve years
earlier, when the terrible “Boss” was at the height of his power; and
if ever man presented a type to stimulate such insight as Lillo's, that
man was Vard; yet the portrait was a failure. It was magnificently
composed; the technique was dazzling; but the face had been—well,
expurgated. It was Vard as Cumberton might have painted him—a common
man trying to look at ease in a good coat. The picture had never before
been exhibited, and there was a general outcry of disappointment. It
wasn't only the critics and the artists who grumbled. Even the big
public, which had gaped and shuddered at Vard, revelling in his genial
villany, and enjoying in his death that succumbing to divine wrath
which, as a spectacle, is next best to its successful defiance—even
the public felt itself defrauded. What had the painter done with their
hero? Where was the big sneering domineering face that figured so
convincingly in political cartoons and patent-medicine advertisements,
on cigar-boxes and electioneering posters? They had admired the man for
looking his part so boldly; for showing the undisguised blackguard in
every line of his coarse body and cruel face; the pseudo-gentleman of
Lillo's picture was a poor thing compared to the real Vard. It had been
vaguely expected that the great boss's portrait would have the zest of
an incriminating document, the scandalous attraction of secret memoirs;
and instead, it was as insipid as an obituary. It was as though the
artist had been in league with his sitter, had pledged himself to
oppose to the lust for post-mortem “revelations” an impassable blank
wall of negation. The public was resentful, the critics were aggrieved.
Even Mrs. Mellish had to lay down her arms.
“Yes, the portrait of Vard is a failure,” she admitted, “and
I've never known why. If he'd been an obscure elusive type of villain,
one could understand Lillo's missing the mark for once; but with that
face from the pit—!”
She turned at the announcement of a name which our discussion had
drowned, and found herself shaking hands with Lillo.
The pretty woman started and put her hands to her curls; Cumberton
dropped a condescending eyelid (he never classed himself by recognizing
degrees in the profession), and Mrs. Mellish, cheerfully aware that she
had been overheard, said, as she made room for Lillo—
“I wish you'd explain it.”
Lillo smoothed his beard and waited for a cup of tea. Then, “Would
there be any failures,” he said, “if one could explain them?”
“Ah, in some cases I can imagine it's impossible to seize the
type—or to say why one has missed it. Some people are like
daguerreotypes; in certain lights one can't see them at all. But surely
Vard was obvious enough. What I want to know is, what became of him?
What did you do with him? How did you manage to shuffle him out of
“It was much easier than you think. I simply missed an
“That a sign-painter would have seen!”
“Very likely. In fighting shy of the obvious one may miss the
“—And when I got back from Paris,” the pretty woman was heard to
wail, “I found all the women here were wearing the very models I'd
brought home with me!”
Mrs. Mellish, as became a vigilant hostess, got up and shuffled her
guests; and the question of Yard's portrait was dropped.
I left the house with Lillo; and on the way down Fifth Avenue, after
one of his long silences, he suddenly asked:
“Is that what is generally said of my picture of Vard? I don't mean
in the newspapers, but by the fellows who know?”
I said it was.
He drew a deep breath. “Well,” he said, “it's good to know that when
one tries to fail one can make such a complete success of it.”
“Tries to fail?”
“Well, no; that's not quite it, either; I didn't want to make a
failure of Vard's picture, but I did so deliberately, with my eyes
open, all the same. It was what one might call a lucid failure.”
“The why of it is rather complicated. I'll tell you some time—” He
hesitated. “Come and dine with me at the club by and by, and I'll tell
you afterwards. It's a nice morsel for a psychologist.”
At dinner he said little; but I didn't mind that. I had known him
for years, and had always found something soothing and companionable in
his long abstentions from speech. His silence was never unsocial; it
was bland as a natural hush; one felt one's self included in it, not
left out. He stroked his beard and gazed absently at me; and when we
had finished our coffee and liqueurs we strolled down to his studio.
At the studio—which was less draped, less posed, less consciously
“artistic” than those of the smaller men—he handed me a cigar, and
fell to smoking before the fire. When he began to talk it was of
indifferent matters, and I had dismissed the hope of hearing more of
Vard's portrait, when my eye lit on a photograph of the picture. I
walked across the room to look at it, and Lillo presently followed with
“It certainly is a complete disguise,” he muttered over my shoulder;
then he turned away and stooped to a big portfolio propped against the
“Did you ever know Miss Vard?” he asked, with his head in the
portfolio; and without waiting for my answer he handed me a crayon
sketch of a girl's profile.
I had never seen a crayon of Lillo's, and I lost sight of the
sitter's personality in the interest aroused by this new aspect of the
master's complex genius. The few lines—faint, yet how
decisive!—flowered out of the rough paper with the lightness of
opening petals. It was a mere hint of a picture, but vivid as some word
that wakens long reverberations in the memory.
I felt Lillo at my shoulder again.
“You knew her, I suppose?”
I had to stop and think. Why, of course I'd known her: a silent
handsome girl, showy yet ineffective, whom I had seen without seeing
the winter that society had capitulated to Vard. Still looking at the
crayon, I tried to trace some connection between the Miss Vard I
recalled and the grave young seraph of Lillo's sketch. Had the Vards
bewitched him? By what masterstroke of suggestion had he been beguiled
into drawing the terrible father as a barber's block, the commonplace
daughter as this memorable creature?
“You don't remember much about her? No, I suppose not. She was a
quiet girl and nobody noticed her much, even when—” he paused with a
smile— “you were all asking Vard to dine.”
I winced. Yes, it was true—we had all asked Vard to dine. It was
some comfort to think that fate had made him expiate our weakness.
Lillo put the sketch on the mantel-shelf and drew his arm-chair to
“It's cold to-night. Take another cigar, old man; and some whiskey?
There ought to be a bottle and some glasses in that cupboard behind
you... help yourself...”
About Vard's portrait? (he began.) Well, I'll tell you. It's a queer
story, and most people wouldn't see anything in it. My enemies might
say it was a roundabout way of explaining a failure; but you know
better than that. Mrs. Mellish was right. Between me and Vard there
could be no question of failure. The man was made for me—I felt that
the first time I clapped eyes on him. I could hardly keep from asking
him to sit to me on the spot; but somehow one couldn't ask favors of
the fellow. I sat still and prayed he'd come to me, though; for I was
looking for something big for the next Salon. It was twelve years
ago—the last time I was out ere—and I was ravenous for an
opportunity. I had the feeling—do you writer-fellows have it
too?—that there was something tremendous in me if it could only be got
out; and I felt Vard was the Moses to strike the rock. There were
vulgar reasons, too, that made me hunger for a victim. I'd been
grinding on obscurely for a good many years, without gold or glory, and
the first thing of mine that had made a noise was my picture of Pepita,
exhibited the year before. There'd been a lot of talk about that,
orders were beginning to come in, and I wanted to follow it up with a
rousing big thing at the next Salon. Then the critics had been
insinuating that I could do only Spanish things—I suppose I had
overdone the castanet business; it's a nursery-disease we all go
through—and I wanted to show that I had plenty more shot in my locker.
Don't you get up every morning meaning to prove you're equal to Balzac
or Thackeray? That's the way I felt then; only give me a chance,
I wanted to shout out to them; and I saw at once that Vard was my
I had come over from Paris in the autumn to paint Mrs.
Clingsborough, and I met Vard and his daughter at one of the first
dinners I went to. After that I could think of nothing but that man's
head. What a type! I raked up all the details of his scandalous
history; and there were enough to fill an encyclopaedia. The papers
were full of him just then; he was mud from head to foot; it was about
the time of the big viaduct steal, and irreproachable citizens were
forming ineffectual leagues to put him down. And all the time one kept
meeting him at dinners—that was the beauty of it! Once I remember
seeing him next to the Bishop's wife; I've got a little sketch of that
duet somewhere... Well, he was simply magnificent, a born ruler; what a
splendid condottiere he would have made, in gold armor, with a griffin
grinning on his casque! You remember those drawings of Leonardo's,
where the knight's face and the outline of his helmet combine in one
monstrous saurian profile? He always reminded me of that...
But how was I to get at him?—One day it occurred to me to try
talking to Miss Vard. She was a monosyllabic person, who didn't seem to
see an inch beyond the last remark one had made; but suddenly I found
myself blurting out, “I wonder if you know how extraordinarily
paintable your father is?” and you should have seen the change that
came over her. Her eyes lit up and she looked—well, as I've tried to
make her look there. (He glanced up at the sketch.) Yes, she said,
wasn't her father splendid, and didn't I think him one of the
handsomest men I'd ever seen?
That rather staggered me, I confess; I couldn't think her capable of
joking on such a subject, yet it seemed impossible that she should be
speaking seriously. But she was. I knew it by the way she looked at
Vard, who was sitting opposite, his wolfish profile thrown back, the
shaggy locks tossed off his narrow high white forehead. The girl
She went on to say how glad she was that I saw him as she did. So
many artists admired only regular beauty, the stupid Greek type that
was made to be done in marble; but she'd always fancied from what she'd
seen of my work—she knew everything I'd done, it appeared—that I
looked deeper, cared more for the way in which faces are modelled by
temperament and circumstance; “and of course in that sense,” she
concluded, “my father's face is beautiful.”
This was even more staggering; but one couldn't question her divine
sincerity. I'm afraid my one thought was to take advantage of it; and I
let her go on, perceiving that if I wanted to paint Vard all I had to
do was to listen.
She poured out her heart. It was a glorious thing for a girl, she
said, wasn't it, to be associated with such a life as that? She felt it
so strongly, sometimes, that it oppressed her, made her shy and stupid.
She was so afraid people would expect her to live up to him. But
that was absurd, of course; brilliant men so seldom had clever
children. Still—did I know?—she would have been happier, much
happier, if he hadn't been in public life; if he and she could have
hidden themselves away somewhere, with their books and music, and she
could have had it all to herself: his cleverness, his learning, his
immense unbounded goodness. For no one knew how good he was; no one but
herself. Everybody recognized his cleverness, his brilliant abilities;
even his enemies had to admit his extraordinary intellectual gifts, and
hated him the worse, of course, for the admission; but no one, no one
could guess what he was at home. She had heard of great men who were
always giving gala performances in public, but whose wives and
daughters saw only the empty theatre, with the footlights out and the
scenery stacked in the wings; but with him it was just the other way:
wonderful as he was in public, in society, she sometimes felt he wasn't
doing himself justice—he was so much more wonderful at home. It was
like carrying a guilty secret about with her: his friends, his
admirers, would never forgive her if they found out that he kept all
his best things for her!
I don't quite know what I felt in listening to her. I was chiefly
taken up with leading her on to the point I had in view; but even
through my personal preoccupation I remember being struck by the fact
that, though she talked foolishly, she didn't talk like a fool. She was
not stupid; she was not obtuse; one felt that her impassive surface was
alive with delicate points of perception; and this fact, coupled with
her crystalline frankness, flung me back on a startled revision of my
impressions of her father. He came out of the test more monstrous than
ever, as an ugly image reflected in clear water is made uglier by the
purity of the medium. Even then I felt a pang at the use to which fate
had put the mountain-pool of Miss Vard's spirit, and an uneasy sense
that my own reflection there was not one to linger over. It was odd
that I should have scrupled to deceive, on one small point, a girl
already so hugely cheated; perhaps it was the completeness of her
delusion that gave it the sanctity of a religious belief. At any rate,
a distinct sense of discomfort tempered the satisfaction with which, a
day or two later, I heard from her that her father had consented to
give me a few sittings.
I'm afraid my scruples vanished when I got him before my easel. He
was immense, and he was unexplored. From my point of view he'd never
been done before—I was his Cortez. As he talked the wonder grew. His
daughter came with him, and I began to think she was right in saying
that he kept his best for her. It wasn't that she drew him out, or
guided the conversation; but one had a sense of delicate vigilance,
hardly more perceptible than one of those atmospheric influences that
give the pulses a happier turn. She was a vivifying climate. I had
meant to turn the talk to public affairs, but it slipped toward books
and art, and I was faintly aware of its being kept there without undue
pressure. Before long I saw the value of the diversion. It was easy
enough to get at the political Vard: the other aspect was rarer and
more instructive. His daughter had described him as a scholar. He
wasn't that, of course, in any intrinsic sense: like most men of his
type he had gulped his knowledge standing, as he had snatched his food
from lunch-counters; the wonder of it lay in his extraordinary power of
assimilation. It was the strangest instance of a mind to which
erudition had given force and fluency without culture; his learning had
not educated his perceptions: it was an implement serving to slash
others rather than to polish himself. I have said that at first sight
he was immense; but as I studied him he began to lessen under my
scrutiny. His depth was a false perspective painted on a wall.
It was there that my difficulty lay: I had prepared too big a canvas
for him. Intellectually his scope was considerable, but it was like the
digital reach of a mediocre pianist—it didn't make him a great
musician. And morally he wasn't bad enough; his corruption wasn't
sufficiently imaginative to be interesting. It was not so much a means
to an end as a kind of virtuosity practised for its own sake, like a
highly-developed skill in cannoning billiard balls. After all, the
point of view is what gives distinction to either vice or virtue: a
morality with ground-glass windows is no duller than a narrow cynicism.
His daughter's presence—she always came with him—gave
unintentional emphasis to these conclusions; for where she was richest
he was naked. She had a deep-rooted delicacy that drew color and
perfume from the very centre of her being: his sentiments, good or bad,
were as detachable as his cuffs. Thus her nearness, planned, as I
guessed, with the tender intention of displaying, elucidating him, of
making him accessible in detail to my dazzled perceptions—this pious
design in fact defeated itself. She made him appear at his best, but
she cheapened that best by her proximity. For the man was vulgar to the
core; vulgar in spite of his force and magnitude; thin, hollow,
spectacular; a lath-and-plaster bogey—
Did she suspect it? I think not—then. He was wrapped in her
impervious faith... The papers? Oh, their charges were set down to
political rivalry; and the only people she saw were his hangers-on, or
the fashionable set who had taken him up for their amusement. Besides,
she would never have found out in that way: at a direct accusation her
resentment would have flamed up and smothered her judgment. If the
truth came to her, it would come through knowing intimately some
one—different; through—how shall I put it?—an imperceptible shifting
of her centre of gravity. My besetting fear was that I couldn't count
on her obtuseness. She wasn't what is called clever; she left that to
him; but she was exquisitely good; and now and then she had intuitive
felicities that frightened me. Do I make you see her? We fellows can
explain better with the brush; I don't know how to mix my words or lay
them on. She wasn't clever; but her heart thought— that's all I can
If she'd been stupid it would have been easy enough: I could have
painted him as he was. Could have? I did—brushed the face in one day
from memory; it was the very man! I painted it out before she came: I
couldn't bear to have her see it. I had the feeling that I held her
faith in him in my hands, carrying it like a brittle object through a
jostling mob; a hair's- breadth swerve and it was in splinters.
When she wasn't there I tried to reason myself out of these
subtleties. My business was to paint Vard as he was—if his daughter
didn't mind his looks, why should I? The opportunity was magnificent—I
knew that by the way his face had leapt out of the canvas at my first
touch. It would have been a big thing. Before every sitting I swore to
myself I'd do it; then she came, and sat near him, and I—didn't.
I knew that before long she'd notice I was shirking the face. Vard
himself took little interest in the portrait, but she watched me
closely, and one day when the sitting was over she stayed behind and
asked me when I meant to begin what she called “the likeness.” I
guessed from her tone that the embarrassment was all on my side, or
that if she felt any it was at having to touch a vulnerable point in my
pride. Thus far the only doubt that troubled her was a distrust of my
ability. Well, I put her off with any rot you please: told her she must
trust me, must let me wait for the inspiration; that some day the face
would come; I should see it suddenly— feel it under my brush... The
poor child believed me: you can make a woman believe almost anything
she doesn't quite understand. She was abashed at her philistinism, and
begged me not to tell her father—he would make such fun of her!
After that—well, the sittings went on. Not many, of course; Vard
was too busy to give me much time. Still, I could have done him ten
times over. Never had I found my formula with such ease, such
assurance; there were no hesitations, no obstructions—the face was
there, waiting for me; at times it almost shaped itself on the
canvas. Unfortunately Miss Vard was there too ...
All this time the papers were busy with the viaduct scandal. The
outcry was getting louder. You remember the circumstances? One of
Vard's associates—Bardwell, wasn't it?—threatened disclosures. The
rival machine got hold of him, the Independents took him to their
bosom, and the press shrieked for an investigation. It was not the
first storm Vard had weathered, and his face wore just the right shade
of cool vigilance; he wasn't the man to fall into the mistake of
appearing too easy. His demeanor would have been superb if it had been
inspired by a sense of his own strength; but it struck me rather as
based on contempt for his antagonists. Success is an inverted telescope
through which one's enemies are apt to look too small and too remote.
As for Miss Vard, her serenity was undiminished; but I half-detected a
defiance in her unruffled sweetness, and during the last sittings I had
the factitious vivacity of a hostess who hears her best china crashing.
One day it did crash: the head-lines of the morning papers
shouted the catastrophe at me:—“The Monster forced to
disgorge—Warrant out against Vard—Bardwell the Boss's Boomerang”—you
know the kind of thing.
When I had read the papers I threw them down and went out. As it
happened, Vard was to have given me a sitting that morning; but there
would have been a certain irony in waiting for him. I wished I had
finished the picture—I wished I'd never thought of painting it. I
wanted to shake off the whole business, to put it out of my mind, if I
could: I had the feeling—I don't know if I can describe it—that there
was a kind of disloyalty to the poor girl in my even acknowledging to
myself that I knew what all the papers were howling from the
I had walked for an hour when it suddenly occurred to me that Miss
Vard might, after all, come to the studio at the appointed hour. Why
should she? I could conceive of no reason; but the mere thought of
what, if she did come, my absence would imply to her, sent me
bolting back to Twelfth Street. It was a presentiment, if you like, for
she was there.
As she rose to meet me a newspaper slipped from her hand: I'd been
fool enough, when I went out, to leave the damned things lying all over
I muttered some apology for being late, and she said reassuringly:
“But my father's not here yet.”
“Your father—?” I could have kicked myself for the way I bungled
“He went out very early this morning, and left word that he would
meet me here at the usual hour.”
She faced me, with an eye full of bright courage, across the
newspaper lying between us.
“He ought to be here in a moment now—he's always so punctual. But
my watch is a little fast, I think.”
She held it out to me almost gaily, and I was just pretending to
compare it with mine, when there was a smart rap on the door and Vard
stalked in. There was always a civic majesty in his gait, an air of
having just stepped off his pedestal and of dissembling an oration in
his umbrella; and that day he surpassed himself. Miss Vard had turned
pale at the knock; but the mere sight of him replenished her veins, and
if she now avoided my eye, it was in mere pity for my discomfiture.
I was in fact the only one of the three who didn't instantly “play
up”; but such virtuosity was inspiring, and by the time Vard had thrown
off his coat and dropped into a senatorial pose, I was ready to pitch
into my work. I swore I'd do his face then and there; do it as she saw
it; she sat close to him, and I had only to glance at her while I
Vard himself was masterly: his talk rattled through my hesitations
and embarrassments like a brisk northwester sweeping the dry leaves
from its path. Even his daughter showed the sudden brilliance of a lamp
from which the shade has been removed. We were all surprisingly
vivid—it felt, somehow, as though we were being photographed by
It was the best sitting we'd ever had—but unfortunately it didn't
last more than ten minutes.
It was Vard's secretary who interrupted us—a slinking chap called
Cornley, who burst in, as white as sweetbread, with the face of a
depositor who hears his bank has stopped payment. Miss Vard started up
as he entered, but caught herself together and dropped back into her
chair. Vard, who had taken out a cigarette, held the tip tranquilly to
“You're here, thank God!” Cornley cried. “There's no time to be
lost, Mr. Vard. I've got a carriage waiting round the corner in
Vard looked at the tip of his cigarette.
“A carriage in Thirteenth Street? My good fellow, my own brougham is
at the door.”
“I know, I know—but they're there too, sir; or they will be,
inside of a minute. For God's sake, Mr. Vard, don't trifle!—There's a
way out by Thirteenth Street, I tell you”—
“Bardwell's myrmidons, eh?” said Vard. “Help me on with my overcoat,
Cornley, will you?”
Cornley's teeth chattered.
“Mr. Vard, your best friends ... Miss Vard, won't you speak to your
father?” He turned to me haggardly;—“We can get out by the back way?”
Vard stood towering—in some infernal way he seemed literally to
rise to the situation—one hand in the bosom of his coat, in the
attitude of patriotism in bronze. I glanced at his daughter: she hung
on him with a drowning look. Suddenly she straightened herself; there
was something of Vard in the way she faced her fears—a kind of
primitive calm we drawing- room folk don't have. She stepped to him and
laid her hand on his arm. The pause hadn't lasted ten seconds.
“Father—” she said.
Vard threw back his head and swept the studio with a sovereign eye.
“The back way, Mr. Vard, the back way,” Cornley whimpered. “For
God's sake, sir, don't lose a minute.”
Vard transfixed his abject henchman.
“I have never yet taken the back way,” he enunciated; and, with a
gesture matching the words, he turned to me and bowed.
“I regret the disturbance”—and he walked to the door. His daughter
was at his side, alert, transfigured.
“Stay here, my dear.”
They measured each other an instant; then he drew her arm in his.
She flung back one look at me—a paean of victory—and they passed out
with Cornley at their heels.
I wish I'd finished the face then; I believe I could have caught
something of the look she had tried to make me see in him. Unluckily I
was too excited to work that day or the next, and within the week the
whole business came out. If the indictment wasn't a put-up job—and on
that I believe there were two opinions—all that followed was. You
remember the farcical trial, the packed jury, the compliant judge, the
triumphant acquittal?... It's a spectacle that always carries
conviction to the voter: Vard was never more popular than after his
I didn't see Miss Vard for weeks. It was she who came to me at
length; came to the studio alone, one afternoon at dusk. She had—what
shall I say?—a veiled manner; as though she had dropped a fine gauze
between us. I waited for her to speak.
She glanced about the room, admiring a hawthorn vase I had picked up
at auction. Then, after a pause, she said:
“You haven't finished the picture?”
“Not quite,” I said.
She asked to see it, and I wheeled out the easel and threw the
“Oh,” she murmured, “you haven't gone on with the face?”
I shook my head.
She looked down on her clasped hands and up at the picture; not once
“You—you're going to finish it?”
“Of course,” I cried, throwing the revived purpose into my voice. By
God, I would finish it!
The merest tinge of relief stole over her face, faint as the first
thin chirp before daylight.
“Is it so very difficult?” she asked tentatively.
“Not insuperably, I hope.”
She sat silent, her eyes on the picture. At length, with an effort,
she brought out: “Shall you want more sittings?”
For a second I blundered between two conflicting conjectures; then
the truth came to me with a leap, and I cried out, “No, no more
She looked up at me then for the first time; looked too soon, poor
child; for in the spreading light of reassurance that made her eyes
like a rainy dawn, I saw, with terrible distinctness, the rout of her
disbanded hopes. I knew that she knew ...
I finished the picture and sent it home within a week. I tried to
make it —what you see.—Too late, you say? Yes—for her; but not for
me or for the public. If she could be made to feel, for a day longer,
for an hour even, that her miserable secret was a secret—why,
she'd made it seem worth while to me to chuck my own ambitions for that
* * * * *
Lillo rose, and taking down the sketch stood looking at it in
After a while I ventured, “And Miss Vard—?”
He opened the portfolio and put the sketch back, tying the strings
with deliberation. Then, turning to relight his cigar at the lamp, he
said: “She died last year, thank God.”