The Pretext by
MRS. RANSOM, when the front door had closed on her visitor, passed with a
spring from the drawing-room to the narrow hall, and thence up the narrow
stairs to her bedroom.
Though slender, and still light of foot, she did not always move so quickly:
hitherto, in her life, there had not been much to hurry for, save the
recurring domestic tasks that compel haste without fostering elasticity; but
some impetus of youth revived, communicated to her by her talk with Guy
Dawnish, now found expression in her girlish flight upstairs, her girlish
impatience to bolt herself into her room with her throbs and her blushes.
Her blushes? Was she really blushing?
She approached the cramped "Colonial" mirror above her plain prim
dressing-table: just such a meagre concession to the weakness of the flesh
as every old-fashioned house in Wentworth counted among its heirlooms. The
face reflected in this unflattering surface -- for even the mirrors of
Wentworth erred on the side of depreciation -- did not seem, at first sight,
a suitable theatre for the display of the tenderer emotions, and its owner
blushed more deeply as the fact was forced upon her.
Her fair hair had grown too thin -- it no longer quite hid the blue veins in
her candid forehead -- a forehead that one seemed to see turned toward
professorial desks, in large bare halls where a snowy winter light fell
uncompromisingly on rows of "thoughtful women." Her mouth was thin, too, and
a little strained; her lips were too pale; and there were lines in the
corners of her eyes. It was a face which had grown middle-aged while it
waited for the joys of youth.
Well -- but if she could still blush? Instinctively she drew back a little,
so that her scrutiny became less microscopic, and the pretty lingering pink
threw a veil over her pallor, the hollows in her temples, the faint wrinkles
of inexperience about her lips and eyes. How a little colour helped! It made
her eyes so deep and shining. She saw now why bad women rouged. . . . Her
redness deepened at the thought.
But suddenly she noticed for the first time that the collar of her dress was
cut too low. It showed the shrunken lines of the throat. She rummaged
feverishly in a tidy scentless drawer, and snatching out a bit of black
velvet, bound it about her neck. Yes -- that was better. It gave her the
relief she needed. Relief -- contrast -- that was it! She had never had any,
either in her appearance or in her setting. She was as flat as the pattern
of the wall-paper -- and so was her life. And all the people about her had
the same look. Wentworth was the kind of place where husbands and wives
gradually grew to resemble each other -- one or two of her friends, she
remembered, had told her lately that she and Ransom were beginning to look
alike. . . .
But why had she always, so tamely, allowed her aspect to conform to her
situation? Perhaps a gayer exterior would have provoked a brighter fate.
Even now -- she turned back to the glass, loosened the tight strands of hair
above her brow, ran the fine end of the comb under them with a rapid
frizzing motion, and then disposed them, more lightly and amply, above her
eager face. Yes -- it was really better; it made a difference. She smiled at
herself with a timid coquetry, and her lips seemed rosier as she smiled.
Then she laid down the comb and the smile faded. It made a difference,
certainly -- but was it right to try to make one's hair look thicker and
wavier than it really was? Between that and rouging the ethical line seemed
almost impalpable, and the spectre of her rigid New England ancestry rose
reprovingly before her. She was sure that none of her grandmothers had ever
simulated a curl or encouraged a blush. A blush, indeed! What had any of
them ever had to blush for in all their frozen lives? And what, in Heaven's
name, had she? She sat down in the stiff mahogany rocking-chair beside her
work-table and tried to collect herself. >From childhood she had been taught
to "collect herself" -- but never before had her small sensations and
aspirations been so widely scattered, diffused over so vague and uncharted
an expanse. Hitherto they had lain in neatly sorted and easily accessible
bundles on the high shelves of a perfectly ordered moral consciousness. And
now -- now that for the first time they needed collecting -- now that the
little winged and scattered bits of self were dancing madly down the vagrant
winds of fancy, she knew no spell to call them to the fold again. The best
way, no doubt -- if only her bewilderment permitted -- was to go back to the
beginning -- the beginning, at least, of to-day's visit -- to recapitulate,
word for word and look for look. . . .
She clasped her hands on the arms of the chair, checked its swaying with a
firm thrust of her foot, and fixed her eyes upon the inward vision. . . .
To begin with, what had made to-day's visit so different from the others? It
became suddenly vivid to her that there had been many, almost daily, others,
since Guy Dawnish's coming to Wentworth. Even the previous winter -- the
winter of his arrival from England -- his visits had been numerous enough to
make Wentworth aware that -- very naturally -- Mrs. Ransom was "looking
after" the stray young Englishman committed to her husband's care by an
eminent Q. C. whom the Ransoms had known on one of their brief London
visits, and with whom Ransom had since maintained professional relations.
All this was in the natural order of things, as sanctioned by the social
code of Wentworth. Every one was kind to Guy Dawnish -- some rather
importunately so, as Margaret Ransom had smiled to observe -- but it was
recognized as fitting that she should be kindest, since he was in a sense
her property, since his people in England, by profusely acknowledging her
kindness, had given it the domestic sanction without which, to Wentworth,
any social relation between the sexes remained unhallowed and to be viewed
askance. Yes! And even this second winter, when the visits had become so
much more frequent, so admitted a part of the day's routine, there had not
been, from any one, a hint of surprise or of conjecture. . . .
Mrs. Ransom smiled with a faint bitterness. She was protected by her age, no
doubt -- her age and her past, and the image her mirror gave back to her. .
Her door-handle turned suddenly, and the bolt's resistance was met by an
She started up, her brightness fading, and unbolted the door to admit her
"Why are you locked in? Why, you're not dressed yet!" he exclaimed.
It was possible for Ransom to reach his dressing-room by a slight circuit
through the passage; but it was characteristic of the relentless domesticity
of their relation that he chose, as a matter of course, the directer way
through his wife's bedroom. She had never before been disturbed by this
practice, which she accepted as inevitable, but had merely adapted her own
habits to it, delaying her hasty toilet till he was safely in his room, or
completing it before she heard his step on the stair; since a scrupulous
traditional prudery had miraculously survived this massacre of all the
"Oh, I shan't dress this evening -- I shall just have some tea in the
library after you've gone," she answered absently. "Your things are laid
out," she added, rousing herself.
He looked surprised. "The dinner's at seven. I suppose the speeches will
begin at nine. I thought you were coming to hear them."
She wavered. "I don't know. I think not. Mrs. Sperry's ill, and I've no one
else to go with."
He glanced at his watch. "Why not get hold of Dawnish? Wasn't he here just
now? Why didn't you ask him?"
She turned toward her dressing-table, and straightened the comb and brush
with a nervous hand. Her husband had given her, that morning, two tickets
for the ladies' gallery in Hamblin Hall, where the great public dinner of
the evening was to take place -- a banquet offered by the faculty of
Wentworth to visitors of aca- demic eminence -- and she had meant to ask
Dawnish to go with her: it had seemed the most natural thing to do, till the
end of his visit came, and then, after all, she had not spoken. . . .
"It's too late now," she murmured, bending over her pin cushion.
"Too late? Not if you telephone him."
Her husband came toward her, and she turned quickly to face him, lest he
should suspect her of trying to avoid his eye. To what duplicity was she
Ransom laid a friendly hand on her arm: "Come along, Margaret. You know I
speak for the bar." She was aware, in his voice, of a little note of
surprise at his having to remind her of this.
"Oh, yes. I meant to go, of course -- "
"Well, then -- " He opened his dressing-room door, and caught a glimpse of
the retreating house-maid's skirt. "Here's Maria now. Maria! Call up Mr.
Dawnish -- at Mrs. Creswell's, you know. Tell him Mrs. Ransom wants him to
go with her to hear the speeches this evening -- the speeches, you
understand? -- and he's to call for her at a quarter before nine."
Margaret heard the Irish "Yessir" on the stairs, and stood motionless, while
her husband added loudly: "And bring me some towels when you come up." Then
he turned back into his wife's room.
"Why, it would be a thousand pities for Guy to miss this. He's so interested
in the way we do things over here -- and I don't know that he's ever heard
me speak in public." Again the slight note of fatuity! Was it possible that
Ransom was a fatuous man?
He paused in front of her, his short-sighted unobservant glance
concentrating itself unexpectedly on her face.
"You're not going like that, are you?" he asked, with glaring eye-glasses.
"Like what?" she faltered, lifting a conscious hand to the velvet at her
"With your hair in such a fearful mess. Have you been shampooing it? You
look like the Brant girl at the end of a tennis-match."
The Brant girl was their horror -- the horror of all right- thinking
Wentworth; a laced, whale-boned, frizzle-headed, high- heeled daughter of
iniquity, who came -- from New York, of course -- on long, disturbing,
tumultuous visits to a Wentworth aunt, working havoc among the freshmen, and
leaving, when she departed, an angry wake of criticism that ruffled the
social waters for weeks. She, too, had tried her hand at Guy -- with
ludicrous unsuccess. And now, to be compared to her -- to be accused of
looking "New Yorky!" Ah, there are times when husbands are obtuse; and
Ransom, as he stood there, thick and yet juiceless, in his dry legal middle
age, with his wiry dust-coloured beard, and his perpetual pince- nez, seemed
to his wife a sudden embodiment of this traditional attribute. Not that she
had ever fancied herself, poor soul, a " femme incomprise." She had, on the
contrary, prided herself on being understood by her husband, almost as much
as on her own complete comprehension of him. Wentworth laid a good deal of
stress on "motives"; and Margaret Ransom and her husband had dwelt in a
complete community of motive. It had been the proudest day of her life when,
without consulting her, he had refused an offer of partnership in an eminent
New York firm because he preferred the distinction of practising in
Wentworth, of being known as the legal representative of the University.
Wentworth, in fact, had always been the bond between the two; they were
united in their veneration for that estimable seat of learning, and in their
modest yet vivid consciousness of possessing its tone. The Wentworth "tone"
is unmistakable: it permeates every part of the social economy, from the
coiffure of the ladies to the preparation of the food. It has its sumptuary
laws as well as its curriculum of learning. It sits in judgment not only on
its own townsmen but on the rest of the world -- enlightening, criticising,
ostracizing a heedless universe -- and non-conformity to Wentworth standards
involves obliteration from Wentworth's consciousness.
In a world without traditions, without reverence, without stability, such
little expiring centres of prejudice and precedent make an irresistible
appeal to those instincts for which a democracy has neglected to provide.
Wentworth, with its "tone," its backward references, its inflexible
aversions and condemnations, its hard moral outline preserved intact against
a whirling background of experiment, had been all the poetry and history of
Margaret Ransom's life. Yes, what she had really esteemed in her husband was
the fact of his being so intense an embodiment of Wentworth; so long and
closely identified, for instance, with its legal affairs, that he was almost
a part of its university existence, that of course, at a college banquet, he
would inevitably speak for the bar!
It was wonderful of how much consequence all this had seemed till now. . . .
WHEN, punctually at ten minutes to seven, her husband had emerged from the
house, Margaret Ransom remained seated in her bedroom, addressing herself
anew to the difficult process of self- collection. As an aid to this
endeavour, she bent forward and looked out of the window, following Ransom's
figure as it receded down the elm-shaded street. He moved almost alone
between the prim flowerless grass-plots, the white porches, the protrusion
of irrelevant shingled gables, which stamped the empty street as part of an
American college town. She had always been proud of living in Hill Street,
where the university people congregated, proud to associate her husband's
retreating back, as he walked daily to his office, with backs literary and
pedagogic, backs of which it was whispered, for the edification of
duly-impressed visitors: "Wait till that old boy turns -- that's so-and-so."
This had been her world, a world destitute of personal experience, but
filled with a rich sense of privilege and distinction, of being not as those
millions were who, denied the inestimable advantage of living at Wentworth,
pursued elsewhere careers foredoomed to futility by that very fact.
And now -- !
She rose and turned to her work-table where she had dropped, on entering,
the handful of photographs that Guy Dawnish had left with her. While he sat
so close, pointing out and explaining, she had hardly taken in the details;
but now, on the full tones of his low young voice, they came back with
redoubled distinctness. This was Guise Abbey, his uncle's place in
Wiltshire, where, under his grandfather's rule, Guy's own boyhood had been
spent: a long gabled Jacobean facade, many-chimneyed, ivy-draped, overhung
(she felt sure) by the boughs of a venerable rookery. And in this other
picture -- the walled garden at Guise -- that was his uncle, Lord Askern, a
hale gouty-looking figure, planted robustly on the terrace, a gun on his
shoulder and a couple of setters at his feet. And here was the river below
the park, with Guy "punting" a girl in a flapping hat -- how Margaret hated
the flap that hid the girl's face! And here was the tennis-court, with Guy
among a jolly cross- legged group of youths in flannels, and pretty girls
about the tea- table under the big lime: in the centre the curate handing
bread and butter, and in the middle distance a footman approaching with more
Margaret raised this picture closer to her eyes, puzzling, in the diminished
light, over the face of the girl nearest to Guy Dawnish -- bent above him in
profile, while he laughingly lifted his head. No hat hid this profile, which
stood out clearly against the foliage behind it.
"And who is that handsome girl?" Margaret had said, detaining the photograph
as he pushed it aside, and struck by the fact that, of the whole group, he
had left only this member unnamed.
"Oh, only Gwendolen Matcher -- I've always known her -- . Look at this: the
almshouses at Guise. Aren't they jolly?"
And then -- without her having had the courage to ask if the girl in the
punt were also Gwendolen Matcher -- they passed on to photographs of his
rooms at Oxford, of a cousin's studio in London -- one of Lord Askern's
grandsons was "artistic" -- of the rose- hung cottage in Wales to which, on
the old Earl's death, his daughter-in-law, Guy's mother, had retired.
Every one of the photographs opened a window on the life Margaret had been
trying to picture since she had known him -- a life so rich, so romantic, so
packed -- in the mere casual vocabulary of daily life -- with historic
reference and poetic allusion, that she felt almost oppressed by this
distant whiff of its air. The very words he used fascinated and bewildered
her. He seemed to have been born into all sorts of connections, political,
historical, official, that made the Ransom situation at Wentworth as
featureless as the top shelf of a dark closet. Some one in the family had
"asked for the Chiltern Hundreds" -- one uncle was an Elder Brother of the
Trinity House -- some one else was the Master of a College -- some one was
in command at Devonport -- the Army, the Navy, the House of Commons, the
House of Lords, the most venerable seats of learning, were all woven into
the dense background of this young man's light unconscious talk. For the
unconsciousness was unmistakable. Margaret was not without experience of the
transatlantic visitor who sounds loud names and evokes reverberating
connections. The poetry of Guy Dawnish's situation lay in the fact that it
was so completely a part of early associations and accepted facts. Life was
like that in England -- in Wentworth of course (where he had been sent,
through his uncle's influence, for two years' training in the neighbouring
electrical works at Smedden) -- in Wentworth, though "immensely jolly," it
was different. The fact that he was qualifying to be an electrical engineer
-- with the hope of a secretaryship at the London end of the great Smedden
Company -- that, at best, he was returning home to a life of industrial
"grind," this fact, though avowedly a bore, did not disconnect him from that
brilliant pinnacled past, that many- faceted life in which the brightest
episodes of the whole body of English fiction seemed collectively reflected.
Of course he would have to work -- younger sons' sons almost always had to
-- but his uncle Askern (like Wentworth) was "immensely jolly," and Guise
always open to him, and his other uncle, the Master, a capital old boy too
-- and in town he could always put up with his clever aunt, Lady Caroline
Duckett, who had made a "beastly marriage" and was horribly poor, but who
knew everybody jolly and amusing, and had always been particularly kind to
It was not -- and Margaret had not, even in her own thoughts, to defend
herself from the imputation -- it was not what Wentworth would have called
the "material side" of her friend's situation that captivated her. She was
austerely proof against such appeals: her enthusiasms were all of the
imaginative order. What subjugated her was the unexampled prodigality with
which he poured for her the same draught of tradition of which Wentworth
held out its little teacupful. He besieged her with a million Wentworths in
one -- saying, as it were: "All these are mine for the asking -- and I
choose you instead!"
For this, she told herself somewhat dizzily, was what it came to -- the
summing-up toward which her conscientious efforts at self- collection had
been gradually pushing her: with all this in reach, Guy Dawnish was leaving
"I was a bit lonely here at first -- but now!" And again: "It will be jolly,
of course, to see them all again -- but there are some things one doesn't
easily give up. . . ."
If he had known only Wentworth, it would have been wonderful enough that he
should have chosen her out of all Wentworth -- but to have known that other
life, and to set her in the balance against it -- poor Margaret Ransom, in
whom, at the moment, nothing seemed of weight but her years! Ah, it might
well produce, in nerves and brain, and poor unpractised pulses, a flushed
tumult of sensation, the rush of a great wave of life, under which memory
struggled in vain to reassert itself, to particularize again just what his
last words -- the very last -- had been. . . .
When consciousness emerged, quivering, from this retrospective assault, it
pushed Margaret Ransom -- feeling herself a mere leaf in the blast -- toward
the writing-table from which her innocent and voluminous correspondence
habitually flowed. She had a letter to write now -- much shorter but more
difficult than any she had ever been called on to indite.
"Dear Mr. Dawnish," she began, "since telephoning you just now I have
decided not -- "
Maria's voice, at the door, announced that tea was in the library: "And I
s'pose it's the brown silk you'll wear to the speaking?"
In the usual order of the Ransom existence, its mistress's toilet was
performed unassisted; and the mere enquiry -- at once friendly and
deferential -- projected, for Margaret, a strong light on the importance of
the occasion. That she should answer: "But I am not going," when the going
was so manifestly part of a household solemnity about which the thoughts
below stairs fluttered in proud participation; that in face of such
participation she should utter a word implying indifference or hesitation --
nay, revealing herself the transposed, uprooted thing she had been on the
verge of becoming; to do this was -- well! infinitely harder than to perform
the alternative act of tearing up the sheet of note-paper under her
Yes, she said, she would wear the brown silk. . . .
ALL the heat and glare from the long illuminated table, about which the
fumes of many courses still hung in a savoury fog, seemed to surge up to the
ladies' gallery, and concentrate themselves in the burning cheeks of a
slender figure withdrawn behind the projection of a pillar.
It never occurred to Margaret Ransom that she was sitting in the shade. She
supposed that the full light of the chandeliers was beating on her face --
and there were moments when it seemed as though all the heads about the
great horse-shoe below, bald, shaggy, sleek, close-thatched, or thinly
latticed, were equipped with an additional pair of eyes, set at an angle
which enabled them to rake her face as relentlessly as the electric burners.
In the lull after a speech, the gallery was fluttering with the rustle of
programmes consulted, and Mrs. Sheff (the Brant girl's aunt) leaned forward
to say enthusiastically: "And now we're to hear Mr. Ransom!"
A louder buzz rose from the table, and the heads (without relaxing their
upward vigilance) seemed to merge, and flow together, like an attentive
flood, toward the upper end of the horse-shoe, where all the threads of
Margaret Ransom's consciousness were suddenly drawn into what seemed a small
speck, no more -- a black speck that rose, hung in air, dissolved into
gyrating gestures, became distended, enormous, preponderant -- became her
"It's the heat -- " Margaret gasped, pressing her handkerchief to her
whitening lips, and finding just strength enough left to push back farther
into the shadow.
She felt a touch on her arm. "It is horrible -- shall we go?" a voice
suggested; and, "Yes, yes, let us go," she whispered, feeling, with a great
throb of relief, that to be the only possible, the only conceivable,
solution. To sit and listen to her husband now -- how could she ever have
thought she could survive it? Luckily, under the lingering hubbub from
below, his opening words were inaudible, and she had only to run the
gauntlet of sympathetic feminine glances, shot after her between waving fans
and programmes, as, guided by Guy Dawnish, she managed to reach the door. It
was really so hot that even Mrs. Sheff was not much surprised -- till long
afterward. . . .
The winding staircase was empty, half dark and blessedly silent. In a
committee room below Dawnish found the inevitable water jug, and filled a
glass for her, while she leaned back, confronted only by a frowning college
President in an emblazoned frame. The academic frown descended on her like
an anathema when she rose and followed her companion out of the building.
Hamblin Hall stands at the end of the long green "Campus" with its sextuple
line of elms -- the boast and the singularity of Wentworth. A pale spring
moon, rising above the dome of the University library at the opposite end of
the elm-walk, diffused a pearly mildness in the sky, melted to thin haze the
shadows of the trees, and turned to golden yellow the lights of the college
windows. Against this soft suffusion of light the Library cupola assumed a
Bramantesque grace, the white steeple of the congregational church became a
campanile topped by a winged spirit, and the scant porticoes of the older
halls the colonnades of classic temples.
"This is better -- " Dawnish said, as they passed down the steps and under
the shadow of the elms.
They moved on a little way in silence before he began again: "You're too
tired to walk. Let us sit down a few minutes."
Her feet, in truth, were leaden, and not far off a group of park benches,
encircling the pedestal of a patriot in bronze, invited them to rest. But
Dawnish was guiding her toward a lateral path which bent, through
shrubberies, toward a strip of turf between two of the buildings.
"It will be cooler by the river," he said, moving on without waiting for a
possible protest. None came: it seemed easier, for the moment, to let
herself be led without any conventional feint of resistance. And besides,
there was nothing wrong about this -- the wrong would have been in sitting
up there in the glare, pretending to listen to her husband, a dutiful wife
among her kind. . . .
The path descended, as both knew, to the chosen, the inimitable spot of
Wentworth: that fugitive curve of the river, where, before hurrying on to
glut the brutal industries of South Wentworth and Smedden, it simulated for
a few hundred yards the leisurely pace of an ancient university stream, with
willows on its banks and a stretch of turf extending from the grounds of
Hamblin Hall to the boat houses at the farther bend. Here too were benches,
beneath the willows, and so close to the river that the voice of its gliding
softened and filled out the reverberating silence between Margaret and her
companion, and made her feel that she knew why he had brought her there.
"Do you feel better?" he asked gently as he sat down beside her.
"Oh, yes. I only needed a little air."
"I'm so glad you did. Of course the speeches were tremendously interesting
-- but I prefer this. What a good night!"
There was a pause, which now, after all, the soothing accompaniment of the
river seemed hardly sufficient to fill.
"I wonder what time it is. I ought to be going home," Margaret began at
"Oh, it's not late. They'll be at it for hours in there -- yet."
She made a faint inarticulate sound. She wanted to say: "No -- Robert's
speech was to be the last -- " but she could not bring herself to pronounce
Ransom's name, and at the moment no other way of refuting her companion's
statement occurred to her.
The young man leaned back luxuriously, reassured by her silence.
"You see it's my last chance -- and I want to make the most of it."
"Your last chance?" How stupid of her to repeat his words on that cooing
note of interrogation! It was just such a lead as the Brant girl might have
"To be with you -- like this. I haven't had so many. And there's less than a
She attempted to laugh. "Perhaps it will sound longer if you call it five
The flatness of that, again! And she knew there were people who called her
intelligent. Fortunately he did not seem to notice it; but her laugh
continued to sound in her own ears -- the coquettish chirp of middle age!
She decided that if he spoke again -- if he said anything -- she would make
no farther effort at evasion: she would take it directly, seriously, frankly
-- she would not be doubly disloyal.
"Besides," he continued, throwing his arm along the back of the bench, and
turning toward her so that his face was like a dusky bas-relief with a
silver rim -- "besides, there's something I've been wanting to tell you."
The sound of the river seemed to cease altogether: the whole world became
Margaret had trusted her inspiration farther than it appeared likely to
carry her. Again she could think of nothing happier than to repeat, on the
same witless note of interrogation: "To tell me?"
The constraint, the difficulty, seemed to be on his side now: she divined it
by the renewed shifting of his attitude -- he was capable, usually, of such
fine intervals of immobility -- and by a confusion in his utterance that set
her own voice throbbing in her throat.
"You've been so perfect to me," he began again. "It's not my fault if you've
made me feel that you would understand everything -- make allowances for
everything -- see just how a man may have held out, and fought against a
thing -- as long as he had the strength. . . . This may be my only chance;
and I can't go away without telling you."
He had turned from her now, and was staring at the river, so that his
profile was projected against the moonlight in all its beautiful young
There was a slight pause, as though he waited for her to speak; then she
leaned forward and laid her hand on his.
"If I have really been -- if I have done for you even the least part of what
you say . . . what you imagine . . . will you do for me, now, just one thing
He sat motionless, as if fearing to frighten away the shy touch on his hand,
and she left it there, conscious of her gesture only as part of the high
ritual of their farewell.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked in a low tone.
" Not to tell me!" she breathed on a deep note of entreaty.
" Not to tell you -- ?"
"Anything -- anything -- just to leave our . . . our friendship . . . as it
has been -- as -- as a painter, if a friend asked him, might leave a picture
-- not quite finished, perhaps . . . but all the more exquisite. . . ."
She felt the hand under hers slip away, recover itself, and seek her own,
which had flashed out of reach in the same instant -- felt the start that
swept him round on her as if he had been caught and turned about by the
"You -- you -- ?" he stammered, in a strange voice full of fear and
tenderness; but she held fast, so centred in her inexorable resolve that she
was hardly conscious of the effect her words might be producing.
"Don't you see," she hurried on, "don't you feel how much safer it is --
yes, I'm willing to put it so! -- how much safer to leave everything
undisturbed . . . just as . . . as it has grown of itself . . . without
trying to say: 'It's this or that' . . . ? It's what we each choose to call
it to ourselves, after all, isn't it? Don't let us try to find a name that .
. . that we should both agree upon . . . we probably shouldn't succeed." She
laughed abruptly. "And ghosts vanish when one names them!" she ended with a
break in her voice.
When she ceased her heart was beating so violently that there was a rush in
her ears like the noise of the river after rain, and she did not immediately
make out what he was answering. But as she recovered her lucidity she said
to herself that, whatever he was saying, she must not hear it; and she began
to speak again, half playfully, half appealingly, with an eloquence of
entreaty, an ingenuity in argument, of which she had never dreamed herself
capable. And then, suddenly, strangling hands seemed to reach up from her
heart to her throat, and she had to stop.
Her companion remained motionless. He had not tried to regain her hand, and
his eyes were away from her, on the river. But his nearness had become
something formidable and exquisite -- something she had never before
imagined. A flush of guilt swept over her -- vague reminiscences of French
novels and of opera plots. This was what such women felt, then . . . this
was "shame." . . . Phrases of the newspaper and the pulpit danced before
her. . . . She dared not speak, and his silence began to frighten her. Had
ever a heart beat so wildly before in Wentworth?
He turned at last, and taking her two hands, quite simply, kissed them one
after the other.
"I shall never forget -- " he said in a confused voice, unlike his own.
A return of strength enabled her to rise, and even to let her eyes meet his
for a moment.
"Thank you," she said, simply also.
She turned away from the bench, regaining the path that led back to the
college buildings, and he walked beside her in silence. When they reached
the elm walk it was dotted with dispersing groups. The "speaking" was over,
and Hamblin Hall had poured its audience out into the moonlight. Margaret
felt a rush of relief, followed by a receding wave of regret. She had the
distinct sensation that her hour -- her one hour -- was over.
One of the groups just ahead broke up as they approached, and projected
Ransom's solid bulk against the moonlight.
"My husband," she said, hastening forward; and she never afterward forgot
the look of his back -- heavy, round-shouldered, yet a little pompous -- in
a badly fitting overcoat that stood out at the neck and hid his collar. She
had never before noticed how he dressed.
THEY met again, inevitably, before Dawnish left; but the thing she feared
did not happen -- he did not try to see her alone.
It even became clear to her, in looking back, that he had deliberately
avoided doing so; and this seemed merely an added proof of his
"understanding," of that deep undefinable communion that set them alone in
an empty world, as if on a peak above the clouds.
The five days passed in a flash; and when the last one came, it brought to
Margaret Ransom an hour of weakness, of profound disorganization, when old
barriers fell, old convictions faded -- when to be alone with him for a
moment became, after all, the one craving of her heart. She knew he was
coming that afternoon to say "good-by" -- and she knew also that Ransom was
to be away at South Wentworth. She waited alone in her pale little drawing-
room, with its scant kakemonos, its one or two chilly reproductions from the
antique, its slippery Chippendale chairs. At length the bell rang, and her
world became a rosy blur -- through which she presently discerned the
austere form of Mrs. Sperry, wife of the Professor of palaeontology, who had
come to talk over with her the next winter's programme for the Higher
Thought Club. They debated the question for an hour, and when Mrs. Sperry
departed Margaret had a confused impression that the course was to deal with
the influence of the First Crusade on the development of European
architecture -- but the sentient part of her knew only that Dawnish had not
He "bobbed in," as he would have put it, after dinner -- having, it
appeared, run across Ransom early in the day, and learned that the latter
would be absent till evening. Margaret was in the study with her husband
when the door opened and Dawnish stood there. Ransom -- who had not had time
to dress -- was seated at his desk, a pile of shabby law books at his elbow,
the light from a hanging lamp falling on his grayish stubble of hair, his
sallow forehead and spectacled eyes. Dawnish, towering higher than usual
against the shadows of the room, and refined by his unusual pallor, hung a
moment on the threshold, then came in, explaining himself profusely --
laughing, accepting a cigar, letting Ransom push an arm- chair forward -- a
Dawnish she had never seen, ill at ease, ejaculatory, yet somehow more
mature, more obscurely in command of himself.
Margaret drew back, seating herself in the shade, in such a way that she saw
her husband's head first, and beyond it their visitor's, relieved against
the dusk of the book shelves. Her heart was still -- she felt no throbbing
in her throat or temples: all her life seemed concentrated in the hand that
lay on her knee, the hand he would touch when they said good-by.
Afterward her heart rang all the changes, and there was a mood in which she
reproached herself for cowardice -- for having deliberately missed her one
moment with him, the moment in which she might have sounded the depths of
life, for joy or anguish. But that mood was fleeting and infrequent. In
quieter hours she blushed for it -- she even trembled to think that he might
have guessed such a regret in her. It seemed to convict her of a lack of
fineness that he should have had, in his youth and his power, a tenderer,
surer sense of the peril of a rash touch -- should have handled the case so
much more delicately.
At first her days were fire and the nights long solemn vigils. Her thoughts
were no longer vulgarized and defaced by any notion of "guilt," of mental
disloyalty. She was ashamed now of her shame. What had happened was as much
outside the sphere of her marriage as some transaction in a star. It had
simply given her a secret life of incommunicable joys, as if all the wasted
springs of her youth had been stored in some hidden pool, and she could
return there now to bathe in them.
After that there came a phase of loneliness, through which the life about
her loomed phantasmal and remote. She thought the dead must feel thus,
repeating the vain gestures of the living beside some Stygian shore. She
wondered if any other woman had lived to whom nothing had ever happened? And
then his first letter came. . . .
It was a charming letter -- a perfect letter. The little touch of
awkwardness and constraint under its boyish spontaneity told her more than
whole pages of eloquence. He spoke of their friendship -- of their good days
together. . . . Ransom, chancing to come in while she read, noticed the
foreign stamps; and she was able to hand him the letter, saying gaily:
"There's a message for you," and knowing all the while that her message was
safe in her heart.
On the days when the letters came the outlines of things grew indistinct,
and she could never afterward remember what she had done or how the business
of life had been carried on. It was always a surprise when she found dinner
on the table as usual, and Ransom seated opposite to her, running over the
But though Dawnish continued to write, with all the English loyalty to the
outward observances of friendship, his communications came only at intervals
of several weeks, and between them she had time to repossess herself, to
regain some sort of normal contact with life. And the customary, the
recurring, gradually reclaimed her, the net of habit tightened again -- her
daily life became real, and her one momentary escape from it an exquisite
illusion. Not that she ceased to believe in the miracle that had befallen
her: she still treasured the reality of her one moment beside the river.
What reason was there for doubting it? She could hear the ring of truth in
young Dawnish's voice: "It's not my fault if you've made me feel that you
would understand everything. . . ." No! she believed in her miracle, and the
belief sweetened and illumined her life; but she came to see that what was
for her the transformation of her whole being might well have been, for her
companion, a mere passing explosion of gratitude, of boyish good-fellowship
touched with the pang of leave-taking. She even reached the point of telling
herself that it was "better so": this view of the episode so defended it
from the alternating extremes of self-reproach and derision, so enshrined it
in a pale immortality to which she could make her secret pilgrimages without
For a long time she had not been able to pass by the bench under the willows
-- she even avoided the elm walk till autumn had stripped its branches. But
every day, now, she noted a step toward recovery; and at last a day came
when, walking along the river, she said to herself, as she approached the
bench: "I used not to be able to pass here without thinking of him; and now
I am not thinking of him at all!"
This seemed such convincing proof of her recovery that she began, as spring
returned, to permit herself, now and then, a quiet session on the bench -- a
dedicated hour from which she went back fortified to her task.
She had not heard from her friend for six weeks or more -- the intervals
between his letters were growing longer. But that was "best" too, and she
was not anxious, for she knew he had obtained the post he had been preparing
for, and that his active life in London had begun. The thought reminded her,
one mild March day, that in leaving the house she had thrust in her reticule
a letter from a Wentworth friend who was abroad on a holiday. The envelope
bore the London post mark, a fact showing that the lady's face was turned
toward home. Margaret seated herself on her bench, and drawing out the
letter began to read it.
The London described was that of shops and museums -- as remote as possible
from the setting of Guy Dawnish's existence. But suddenly Margaret's eye
fell on his name, and the page began to tremble in her hands.
"I heard such a funny thing yesterday about your friend Mr. Dawnish. We went
to a tea at Professor Bunce's (I do wish you knew the Bunces -- their
atmosphere is so uplifting), and there I met that Miss Bruce-Pringle who
came out last year to take a course in histology at the Annex. Of course she
asked about you and Mr. Ransom, and then she told me she had just seen Mr.
Dawnish's aunt -- the clever one he was always talking about, Lady Caroline
something -- and that they were all in a dreadful state about him. I wonder
if you knew he was engaged when he went to America? He never mentioned it to
us. She said it was not a positive engagement, but an understanding with a
girl he has always been devoted to, who lives near their place in Wiltshire;
and both families expected the marriage to take place as soon as he got
back. It seems the girl is an heiress (you know how low the English ideals
are compared with ours), and Miss Bruce-Pringle said his relations were
perfectly delighted at his 'being provided for,' as she called it. Well,
when he got back he asked the girl to release him; and she and her family
were furious, and so were his people; but he holds out, and won't marry her,
and won't give a reason, except that he has 'formed an unfortunate
attachment.' Did you ever hear anything so peculiar? His aunt, who is quite
wild about it, says it must have happened at Wentworth, because he didn't go
anywhere else in America. Do you suppose it could have been the Brant girl?
But why 'unfortunate' when everybody knows she would have jumped at him?"
Margaret folded the letter and looked out across the river. It was not the
same river, but a mystic current shot with moonlight. The bare willows wove
a leafy veil above her head, and beside her she felt the nearness of youth
and tempestuous tenderness. It had all happened just here, on this very seat
by the river -- it had come to her, and passed her by, and she had not held
out a hand to detain it. . . .
Well! Was it not, by that very abstention, made more deeply and ineffaceably
hers? She could argue thus while she had thought the episode, on his side, a
mere transient effect of propinquity; but now that she knew it had altered
the whole course of his life, now that it took on substance and reality,
asserted a separate existence outside of her own troubled consciousness --
now it seemed almost cowardly to have missed her share in it.
She walked home in a dream. Now and then, when she passed an acquaintance,
she wondered if the pain and glory were written on her face. But Mrs.
Sperry, who stopped her at the corner of Maverick Street to say a word about
the next meeting of the Higher Thought Club, seemed to remark no change in
When she reached home Ransom had not yet returned from the office, and she
went straight to the library to tidy his writing- table. It was part of her
daily duty to bring order out of the chaos of his papers, and of late she
had fastened on such small recurring tasks as some one falling over a
precipice might snatch at the weak bushes in its clefts.
When she had sorted the letters she took up some pamphlets and newspapers,
glancing over them to see if they were to be kept. Among the papers was a
page torn from a London Times of the previous month. Her eye ran down its
columns and suddenly a paragraph flamed out.
"We are requested to state that the marriage arranged between Mr. Guy
Dawnish, son of the late Colonel the Hon. Roderick Dawnish, of Malby, Wilts,
and Gwendolen, daughter of Samuel Matcher, Esq. of Armingham Towers, Wilts,
will not take place."
Margaret dropped the paper and sat down, hiding her face against the stained
baize of the desk. She remembered the photograph of the tennis-court at
Guise -- she remembered the handsome girl at whom Guy Dawnish looked up,
laughing. A gust of tears shook her, loosening the dry surface of
conventional feeling, welling up from unsuspected depths. She was sorry --
very sorry, yet so glad -- so ineffably, impenitently glad.
THERE came a reaction in which she decided to write to him. She even
sketched out a letter of sisterly, almost motherly, remonstrance, in which
she reminded him that he "still had all his life before him." But she
reflected that so, after all, had she; and that seemed to weaken the
In the end she decided not to send the letter. He had never spoken to her of
his engagement to Gwendolen Matcher, and his letters had contained no
allusion to any sentimental disturbance in his life. She had only his few
broken words, that night by the river, on which to build her theory of the
case. But illuminated by the phrase "an unfortunate attachment" the theory
towered up, distinct and immovable, like some high landmark by which
travellers shape their course. She had been loved -- extraordinarily loved.
But he had chosen that she should know of it by his silence rather than by
his speech. He had understood that only on those terms could their
transcendant communion continue -- that he must lose her to keep her. To
break that silence would be like spilling a cup of water in a waste of sand.
There would be nothing left for her thirst.
Her life, thenceforward, was bathed in a tranquil beauty. The days flowed by
like a river beneath the moon -- each ripple caught the brightness and
passed it on. She began to take a renewed interest in her familiar round of
duties. The tasks which had once seemed colourless and irksome had now a
kind of sacrificial sweetness, a symbolic meaning into which she alone was
initiated. She had been restless -- had longed to travel; now she felt that
she should never again care to leave Wentworth. But if her desire to wander
had ceased, she travelled in spirit, performing invisible pilgrimages in the
footsteps of her friend. She regretted that her one short visit to England
had taken her so little out of London -- that her acquaintance with the
landscape had been formed chiefly through the windows of a railway carriage.
She threw herself into the architectural studies of the Higher Thought Club,
and distinguished herself, at the spring meetings, by her fluency, her
competence, her inexhaustible curiosity on the subject of the growth of
English Gothic. She ransacked the shelves of the college library, she
borrowed photographs of the cathedrals, she pored over the folio pages of
"The Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen." She was like some banished princess
who learns that she has inherited a domain in her own country, who knows
that she will never see it, yet feels, wherever she walks, its soil beneath
May was half over, and the Higher Thought Club was to hold its last meeting,
previous to the college festivities which, in early June, agreeably
disorganized the social routine of Wentworth. The meeting was to take place
in Margaret Ransom's drawing-room, and on the day before she sat upstairs
preparing for her dual duties as hostess and orator -- for she had been
invited to read the final paper of the course. In order to sum up with
precision her conclusions on the subject of English Gothic she had been
rereading an analysis of the structural features of the principal English
cathedrals; and she was murmuring over to herself the phrase: "The
longitudinal arches of Lincoln have an approximately elliptical form," when
there came a knock on the door, and Maria's voice announced: "There's a lady
down in the parlour."
Margaret's soul dropped from the heights of the shadowy vaulting to the dead
level of an afternoon call at Wentworth.
"A lady? Did she give no name?"
Maria became confused. "She only said she was a lady -- " and in reply to
her mistress's look of mild surprise: "Well, ma'am, she told me so three or
four times over."
Margaret laid her book down, leaving it open at the description of Lincoln,
and slowly descended the stairs. As she did so, she repeated to herself:
"The longitudinal arches are elliptical."
On the threshold below, she had the odd impression that her bare and
inanimate drawing-room was brimming with life and noise -- an impression
produced, as she presently perceived, by the resolute forward dash -- it was
almost a pounce -- of the one small figure restlessly measuring its length.
The dash checked itself within a yard of Margaret, and the lady -- a
stranger -- held back long enough to stamp on her hostess a sharp impression
of sallowness, leanness, keenness, before she said, in a voice that might
have been addressing an unruly committee meeting: "I am Lady Caroline
Duckett -- a fact I found it impossible to make clear to the young woman who
let me in."
A warm wave rushed up from Margaret's heart to her throat and forehead. She
held out both hands impulsively. "Oh, I'm so glad -- I'd no idea -- "
Her voice sank under her visitor's impartial scrutiny.
"I don't wonder," said the latter drily. "I suppose she didn't mention,
either, that my object in calling here was to see Mrs. Ransom?"
"Oh, yes -- won't you sit down?" Margaret pushed a chair forward. She seated
herself at a little distance, brain and heart humming with a confused
interchange of signals. This dark sharp woman was his aunt -- the "clever
aunt" who had had such a hard life, but had always managed to keep her head
above water. Margaret remembered that Guy had spoken of her kindness --
perhaps she would seem kinder when they had talked together a little.
Meanwhile the first impression she produced was of an amplitude out of all
proportion to her somewhat scant exterior. With her small flat figure, her
shabby heterogeneous dress, she was as dowdy as any Professor's wife at
Wentworth; but her dowdiness (Margaret borrowed a literary analogy to define
it), her dowdiness was somehow "of the centre." Like the insignificant
emissary of a great power, she was to be judged rather by her passports than
While Margaret was receiving these impressions, Lady Caroline, with quick
bird-like twists of her head, was gathering others from the pale void spaces
of the drawing-room. Her eyes, divided by a sharp nose like a bill, seemed
to be set far enough apart to see at separate angles; but suddenly she bent
both of them on Margaret.
"This is Mrs. Ransom's house?" she asked, with an emphasis on the verb that
gave a distinct hint of unfulfilled expectations.
"Because your American houses, especially in the provincial towns, all look
so remarkably alike, that I thought I might have been mistaken; and as my
time is extremely limited -- in fact I'm sailing on Wednesday -- "
She paused long enough to let Margaret say: "I had no idea you were in this
Lady Caroline made no attempt to take this up. "And so much of it," she
carried on her sentence, "has been wasted in talking to people I really
hadn't the slightest desire to see, that you must excuse me if I go straight
to the point."
Margaret felt a sudden tension of the heart. "Of course," she said while a
voice within her cried: "He is dead -- he has left me a message."
There was another pause; then Lady Caroline went on, with increasing
asperity: "So that -- in short -- if I could see Mrs. Ransom at once -- "
Margaret looked up in surprise. "I am Mrs. Ransom," she said.
The other stared a moment, with much the same look of cautious incredulity
that had marked her inspection of the drawing-room. Then light came to her.
"Oh, I beg your pardon. I should have said that I wished to see Mrs. Robert
Ransom, not Mrs. Ransom. But I understood that in the States you don't make
those distinctions." She paused a moment, and then went on, before Margaret
could answer: "Perhaps, after all, it's as well that I should see you
instead, since you're evidently one of the household -- your son and his
wife live with you, I suppose? Yes, on the whole, then, it's better -- I
shall be able to talk so much more frankly." She spoke as if, as a rule,
circumstances prevented her giving rein to this propensity. "And frankness,
of course, is the only way out of this -- this extremely tiresome
complication. You know, I suppose, that my nephew thinks he's in love with
Margaret made a slight movement, but her visitor pressed on without heeding
it. "Oh, don't fancy, please, that I'm pretending to take a high moral
ground -- though his mother does, poor dear! I can perfectly imagine that in
a place like this -- I've just been driving about it for two hours -- a
young man of Guy's age would have to provide himself with some sort of
distraction, and he's not the kind to go in for anything objectionable. Oh,
we quite allow for that -- we should allow for the whole affair, if it
hadn't so preposterously ended in his throwing over the girl he was engaged
to, and upsetting an arrangement that affected a number of people besides
himself. I understand that in the States it's different -- the young people
have only themselves to consider. In England -- in our class, I mean -- a
great deal may depend on a young man's making a good match; and in Guy's
case I may say that his mother and sisters (I won't include myself, though I
might) have been simply stranded -- thrown overboard -- by his freak. You
can understand how serious it is when I tell you that it's that and nothing
else that has brought me all the way to America. And my first idea was to go
straight to your daughter-in-law, since her influence is the only thing we
can count on now, and put it to her fairly, as I'm putting it to you. But,
on the whole, I dare say it's better to see you first -- you might give me
an idea of the line to take with her. I'm prepared to throw myself on her
Margaret rose from her chair, outwardly rigid in proportion to her inward
"You don't understand -- " she began.
Lady Caroline brushed the interruption aside. "Oh, but I do -- completely! I
cast no reflection on your daughter-in-law. Guy has made it quite clear to
us that his attachment is -- has, in short, not been rewarded. But don't you
see that that's the worst part of it? There'd be much more hope of his
recovering if Mrs. Robert Ransom had -- had -- "
Margaret's voice broke from her in a cry. "I am Mrs. Robert Ransom," she
If Lady Caroline Duckett had hitherto given her hostess the impression of a
person not easily silenced, this fact added sensibly to the effect produced
by the intense stillness which now fell on her.
She sat quite motionless, her large bangled hands clasped about the meagre
fur boa she had unwound from her neck on entering, her rusty black veil
pushed up to the edge of a "fringe" of doubtful authenticity, her thin lips
parted on a gasp that seemed to sharpen itself on the edges of her teeth. So
overwhelming and helpless was her silence that Margaret began to feel a
motion of pity beneath her indignation -- a desire at least to facilitate
the excuses which must terminate their disastrous colloquy. But when Lady
Caroline found voice she did not use it to excuse herself.
"You can't be," she said, quite simply.
"Can't be?" Margaret stammered, with a flushing cheek.
"I mean, it's some mistake. Are there two Mrs. Robert Ransoms in the same
town? Your family arrangements are so extremely puzzling." She had a farther
rush of enlightenment. "Oh, I see! I ought of course to have asked for Mrs.
Robert Ransom 'Junior'!"
The idea sent her to her feet with a haste which showed her impatience to
make up for lost time.
"There is no other Mrs. Robert Ransom at Wentworth," said Margaret.
"No other -- no 'Junior'? Are you sure?" Lady Caroline fell back into her
seat again. "Then I simply don't see," she murmured helplessly.
Margaret's blush had fixed itself on her throbbing forehead. She remained
standing, while her strange visitor continued to gaze at her with a
perturbation in which the consciousness of indiscretion had evidently as yet
"I simply don't see," she repeated.
Suddenly she sprang up, and advancing to Margaret laid an inspired hand on
her arm. "But, my dear woman, you can help us out all the same; you can help
us to find out who it is -- and you will, won't you? Because, as it's not
you, you can't in the least mind what I've been saying -- "
Margaret, freeing her arm from her visitor's hold, drew back a step; but
Lady Caroline instantly rejoined her.
"Of course, I can see that if it had been, you might have been annoyed: I
dare say I put the case stupidly -- but I'm so bewildered by this new
development -- by his using you all this time as a pretext -- that I really
don't know where to turn for light on the mystery -- "
She had Margaret in her imperious grasp again, but the latter broke from her
with a more resolute gesture.
"I'm afraid I have no light to give you," she began; but once more Lady
Caroline caught her up.
"Oh, but do please understand me! I condemn Guy most strongly for using your
name -- when we all know you'd been so amazingly kind to him! I haven't a
word to say in his defence -- but of course the important thing now is: who
is the woman, since you're not?"
The question rang out loudly, as if all the pale puritan corners of the room
flung it back with a shudder at the speaker. In the silence that ensued
Margaret felt the blood ebbing back to her heart; then she said, in a
distinct and level voice: "I know nothing of the history of Mr. Dawnish."
Lady Caroline gave a stare and a gasp. Her distracted hand groped for her
boa and she began to wind it mechanically about her long neck.
"It would really be an enormous help to us -- and to poor Gwendolen
Matcher," she persisted pleadingly. "And you'd be doing Guy himself a good
Margaret remained silent and motionless while her visitor drew on one of the
worn gloves she had pulled off to adjust her veil. Lady Caroline gave the
veil a final twitch.
"I've come a tremendously long way," she said, "and, since it isn't you, I
can't think why you won't help me. . . ."
When the door had closed on her visitor Margaret Ransom went slowly up the
stairs to her room. As she dragged her feet from one step to another, she
remembered how she had sprung up the same steep flight after that visit of
Guy Dawnish's when she had looked in the glass and seen on her face the
blush of youth.
When she reached her room she bolted the door as she had done that day, and
again looked at herself in the narrow mirror above her dressing-table. It
was just a year since then -- the elms were budding again, the willows
hanging their green veil above the bench by the river. But there was no
trace of youth left in her face -- she saw it now as others had doubtless
always seen it. If it seemed as it did to Lady Caroline Duckett, what look
must it have worn to the fresh gaze of young Guy Dawnish?
A pretext -- she had been a pretext. He had used her name to screen some one
else -- or perhaps merely to escape from a situation of which he was weary.
She did not care to conjecture what his motive had been -- everything
connected with him had grown so remote and alien. She felt no anger -- only
an unspeakable sadness, a sadness which she knew would never be appeased.
She looked at herself long and steadily; she wished to clear her eyes of all
illusions. Then she turned away and took her usual seat beside her
work-table. From where she sat she could look down the empty elm-shaded
street, up which, at this hour every day, she was sure to see her husband's
figure advancing. She would see it presently -- she would see it for many
years to come. She had a sudden aching sense of the length of the years that
stretched before her. Strange that one who was not young should still, in
all likelihood, have so long to live!
Nothing was changed in the setting of her life, perhaps nothing would ever
change in it. She would certainly live and die in Wentworth. And meanwhile
the days would go on as usual, bringing the usual obligations. As the word
flitted through her brain she remembered that she had still to put the
finishing touches to the paper she was to read the next afternoon at the
meeting of the Higher Thought Club. The book she had been reading lay face
downward beside her, where she had left it an hour ago. She took it up, and
slowly and painfully, like a child laboriously spelling out the syllables,
she went on with the rest of the sentence:
-- "and they spring from a level not much above that of the springing of the
transverse and diagonal ribs, which are so arranged as to give a convex
curve to the surface of the vaulting conoid."