The Long Run
by Edith Wharton
The shade of those our days that had no tongue.
IT was last winter, after a twelve years' absence from New York,
that I saw again, at one of the Jim Cumnors' dinners, my old friend
The Cumnors' house is one of the few where, even after such a lapse
of time, one can be sure of finding familiar faces and picking up old
threads; where for a moment one can abandon one's self to the illusion
that New York humanity is less unstable than its bricks and mortar. And
that evening in particular I remember feeling that there could be no
pleasanter way of re-entering the confused and careless world to which
I was returning than through the quiet, softly-lit dining-room in which
Mrs. Cumnor, with a characteristic sense of my needing to be broken in
gradually, had contrived to assemble so many friendly faces.
I was glad to see them all, including the three or four I did not
know, or failed to recognize, but had no difficulty in classing as in
the tradition and of the group; but I was most of all glad — as I
rather wonderingly found — to set eyes again on Halston Merrick.
He and I had been at Harvard together, for one thing, and had
shared there curiosities and ardours a little outside the current
tendencies: had, on the whole, been freer and less amenable to the
accepted. Then, for the next few years, Merrick had been a vivid and
promising figure in young American life. Handsome, free and fine, he
had wandered and tasted and compared. After, leaving Harvard he had
spent two years at Oxford. He then accepted a private secretaryship to
our Ambassador in England, and came back from this adventure with a
fresh curiosity about public affairs at home, and the conviction that
men of his kind didn't play a large enough part in them. This led,
first, to his running for a State Senatorship which he failed to get,
and ultimately to a few months of intelligent activity in a municipal
office. Soon after a change of party had deprived him of this post he
published a small volume of rather hauntingly delicate sonnets, and, a
year later, an odd uneven brilliant book on Municipal Government. After
that one hardly knew where to look for his next appearance; but chance
rather disappointingly solved the problem by killing off his father and
placing Halston at the head of the Merrick Iron Foundry at Yonkers.
His friends had gathered that, whenever this regrettable
contingency should occur, he meant to dispose of the business and
continue his life of free experiment. As often happens in such cases,
however, it was not the moment for a sale, and Merrick had to take over
the management of the foundry. Some two years later he had a chance to
free himself, but when it came he did not choose to take it. This tame
sequel to an inspiriting start was slightly disappointing to some of
us, and I was among those disposed to regret Merrick's drop to the
level of the merely prosperous. Then I went away to my big engineering
job in China, and from there to Africa, and spent the next twelve years
out of sight and sound of New York doings.
During that long interval I learned of no new phase in Merrick's
evolution, but this did not surprise me, as I had never expected from
him actions resonant enough to be heard across the globe. All I knew —
and this surprised me — was that he had never married, and that he was
still in the iron business. All through those years, however, I never
ceased to wish, in certain situations and at certain turns of thought,
that Merrick were in reach, that I could tell this or that to Merrick.
I had never, in the interval, found any one with just his quickness of
perception and just his sureness of touch.
After dinner, therefore, we irresistibly drew together. In Mrs.
Cumnor's big easy drawing-room cigars were allowed, and there was no
break in the communion of the sexes; and, this being the case, I should
have sought a seat beside one of the ladies who so indulgently suffered
our presence. But, as generally happened when Merrick was in sight, I
found myself steering straight for him past all the minor ports of
There had been no time, before our passage to the dining-room, for
more than the barest expression of delight at meeting, and our seats
had been at opposite ends of the longish table, so that we got our
first real look at each other in the screened secluded sofa-corner to
which Mrs. Cumnor's vigilance now tactfully directed us.
Merrick was still handsome in his long swarthy way: handsomer
perhaps, with thinnish hair and graver lines, than in the young excess
of his good looks. He was very glad to see me and expressed his
gladness in terms of the same charming smile; but as soon as we began
to talk I felt a change. It was not merely the change that years and
experience and altered values bring. There was something more
fundamental the matter with Merrick: something dreadful, unforeseen,
unaccountable. Merrick had grown conventional and dull.
In the face of his frank pleasure in seeing me I was ashamed, at
first, to analyze the nature of the change; but presently our talk
began to flag — fancy a talk with Merrick flagging! — and
self-deception became impossible as I watched myself handing out
platitudes with the unconvinced gesture of a salesman offering
something 'equally good.' The worst of it was that Merrick — Merrick,
who had once felt everything! — didn't seem to feel any lack of
spontaneity in my remarks, but clung to me in speech and look with a
harrowing faith in the resuscitating power of our past. It was as if he
treasured the empty vessel of our friendship without perceiving that
the last drop of its essence had gone dry.
I am putting all this in exaggerated terms. Through my surprise and
disappointment there glowed a certain sense of well-being in the mere
physical presence of my old friend. I liked looking at the way his thin
dark hair broke away from the forehead, at the tautness of his smooth
brown cheek, the contemplative backward tilt of his head, the way his
brown eyes mused upon the scene through indolently lowered lids. All
the past was in his way of looking and sitting, and I wanted to stay
near him, and knew that he wanted me to stay, but the devil of it was
that neither of us knew what to talk about.
It was this difficulty which caused me, after a while, since I
could not follow Merrick's talk, to follow his eyes in their slow
circuit of the room.
At the moment when our glances joined, his happened to have paused
on a lady seated at some distance from our corner. Immersed, at first,
in the satisfaction of finding myself again with Merrick, I had been
only negatively aware of this lady, as of one of the few persons
present whom I did not know, or failed to remember. There was nothing
in her appearance or attitude to challenge my indifference or to excite
my curiosity: I don't suppose I should have looked at her at all if I
had not noticed that my friend was doing so.
She was a woman of about forty-seven, with fair faded hair and a
young figure. Her smoke-gray dress was handsome but ineffective, and
her pale and rather serious face wore a small unvarying smile which
might have been pinned on with her ornaments. She was one of the women
in whom the years show rather what they have taken than what they have
bestowed, and only on looking closely did one see that what they had
taken must have been exceptionally good of its kind.
Phil Cumnor and another man were talking to her, and the very
intensity of the attention she bestowed on them betrayed the straining
of rebellious thoughts. She never let her eyes stray or her smile drop;
and at the proper moments I saw she was ready with the proper
The party, like most of those that Mrs. Cumnor gathered about her,
was not composed of exceptional beings. The people of the old New York
set were not exceptional: they were in fact mostly cut on the same
neat, convenient and unobtrusive pattern; but they were often
exceedingly 'nice.' And this obsolete quality marked every look and
gesture of the lady I was scrutinizing.
While these reflections were passing through my mind I was aware
that Merrick's eyes were still turned in the same direction. I took a
cross-section of his look and found in it neither surprise nor
absorption, but only a certain sober pleasure just about at the
emotional level of the rest of the room. If he were looking at the lady
in question it was only, his expression seemed to say, because, all
things considered, there were fewer reasons for looking at anybody
This made me wonder what were the reasons for looking at her: and
as a first step toward enlightenment I said: — 'I'm sure I've seen the
lady over there in gray — '
Merrick, with a slight effort, detached his eyes and turned them on
me in a wondering look.
'Seen her? You know her.' He paused for my response. ' Don't you
know her? It's Mrs. Reardon.'
I wondered that he should wonder, for I could not remember, in the
Cumnor group or elsewhere, having known any one of the name he
'But perhaps,' he continued, 'you hadn't heard of her marriage? You
knew her as Mrs. Trant.'
I gave him back his stare. 'Not Mrs. Philip Trant?'
'Yes; Mrs. Philip Trant.'
'Not Paulina?' I insisted.
'Yes — Paulina,' he said, with a just perceptible delay before the
In my stupefaction I continued to stare at him, instead of turning
my gaze toward the lady whose identity was in dispute.
He averted his eyes from mine after a moment, and I saw that they
had strayed back to her. 'You find her so changed?' he asked.
An odd note in his voice acted as a warning signal, and I tried to
reduce my astonishment to less unbecoming proportions. 'I don't find
that she looks much older.'
'No. Only different?' he suggested, as if there were nothing new to
him in my perplexity.
'Yes — awfully different,' I confessed.
'I suppose we're all awfully different. To you, I mean — coming
from so far?'
'I recognized all the rest of you,' I said, hesitating. 'And she
used to be the one who stood out most.'
There was a flash, a wave, a stir of something deep down in his
eyes. 'Yes,' he said. ' That's the difference.'
'I see it is. She — she looks worn down. Soft but blurred, like
the figures in the tapestry behind her.
He glanced at her again, as if to test the exactness of my analogy.
'Life wears everybody down, I suppose,' he said.
'Yes — except those it makes more distinct. They're the rare ones,
of course; but she was rare.'
He stood up suddenly, looking old and tired. 'I believe I'll be
off. I wish you'd come down to my place for Sunday. . . . No, don't
shake hands — I want to slide away while they're not looking.
We were standing near the door of the inner drawing-room, and I
placed myself before him to say a last word and screen his retreat.
'You will come down, won't you?' he repeated. 'I want to see you.
There'll be no one else.' He had backed away to the threshold and was
turning the noiseless door-knob. Even Mrs. Cumnor's door-knobs had tact
and didn't tell!
'Of course I'll come,' I promised warmly. In the last ten minutes
he had begun to interest me again.
'All right. Good-bye.' Half through the door he paused to stammer:
— ' She remembers you. You ought to speak to her.'
'I'm going to. But tell me a little more.' I thought I saw a shade
of constraint on his face, and did not add, as I had meant to: 'Tell me
— because she interests me — what wore her down?' Instead, I asked:
'How soon after Trant's death did she remarry?'
He seemed to require an effort of memory to recall the date. 'It
was seven years ago, I think.'
'And is Reardon here to-night?'
'Yes; over there, talking to Mrs. Cumnor.'
I looked across the broken lamp-lit groupings and saw a large
glossy man with straw-colored hair and a red face, whose shirt and
shoes and complexion seemed all to have received a coat of the same
As I looked there was a drop in the talk about us, and I heard Mr.
Reardon pronounce in a big booming voice: 'What I say is: what's the
good of disturbing things? Thank the Lord, I'm content with what I've
'Is that her husband? What's he like?'
'Oh, the best fellow in the world,' said Merrick, going.
Merrick had a little place at Riverdale, where he went occasionally
to be near the Iron Works, and where he hid his week-ends when the
world was too much with him.
Here he awaited me on the following Saturday afternoon, and at
tea-time I found myself with him in a pleasant careless setting of
books and prints and faded parental furniture.
We dined late, and smoked and talked afterward in his low-ceilinged
book-walled study till the terrier on the hearth-rug stood up and
yawned for bed. When we took the hint and picked up our candles in the
hall I felt not that I had found the old Merrick again, but that I was
on his track, had come across traces of his passage here and there in
the thick jungle that had grown up between us. But I had an odd
poignant feeling that when I finally came on the man himself he might
be dead. . . .
As we started up the shallow country stairs he turned with one of
his abrupt shy movements, and walked back into the study.
'Wait a bit!' he called to me.
I waited, and he came out in a moment carrying a limp folio.'
'It's typewritten. Will you take a look at it? I've been trying to
get to work again,' he lamely explained, thrusting the manuscript into
'What? Poetry, I hope?' I exclaimed.
He shook his head with a gleam of derision. 'No — just general
considerations. The fruit of fifty years of inexperience.'
He showed me to my room and said good-night.
The following afternoon — it was a mild winter day with soft wet
gusts, I remember — we took a long walk inland, across the hills, and
I said to Merrick what I could of his book. Unluckily there wasn't much
to say. The essays were judicious, polished and cultivated, but they
lacked the freshness and audacity of his youthful work. I tried to
conceal my opinion behind the usual ambiguities, but he broke through
these feints with a quick thrust to the heart of my meaning.
'It's worn down — blurred? Like the figures in the Cumnors'
I hesitated. 'It's a little too damned resigned,' I said.
'Ah,' he exclaimed, 'so am I. Resigned.' He switched the bare
brambles by the roadside. 'A man can't serve two masters.'
'You mean business and literature?'
'No; I mean theory and instinct. The gray tree and the green.
You've got to choose which fruit you'll try; and you don't know till
afterward which of the two has the dead core.'
'How can anybody be sure that only one of them has?'
'I'm sure,' said Merrick sharply.
We turned back to the subject of his essays, and I was astonished
at the detachment with which he criticized and demolished them. Little
by little, as we talked, his old perspective, his old standards came
back to him, but with the difference that they no longer seemed like
functions of his mind but merely like attitudes assumed or dropped at
will. He could still, with an effort, put himself at the angle from
which he had formerly seen things; but it was with the effort of a man
climbing mountains after a sedentary life in the plain.
I tried to cut the talk short, but he kept coming back to it with
nervous insistence, forcing me into the last retrenchments of
hypocrisy, and anticipating the verdict I held back. I perceived that a
great deal — immensely more than I could see a reason for — had hung
for him on my opinion of his book.
Then, as suddenly, his insistence broke and, as if ashamed of
having forced himself so long on my attention, he began to talk rapidly
and uninterestingly of other things.
We were alone again that evening, and after dinner, wishing to
efface the impression of the afternoon, and above all to show that I
wanted him to talk about himself, I reverted to the subject of his
work. 'You must need an outlet of that sort. When a man's once had it
in him, as you have — and when other things begin to dwindle — '
He laughed. 'Your theory is that a man ought to be able to return
to the Muse as he comes back to his wife after he's ceased to interest
'No; as he comes back to his wife after the day's work is done.' A
new thought came to me as I looked at him. 'You ought to have had one,'
He laughed again. 'A wife, you mean? So that there'd have been some
one waiting for me even if the Muse decamped?' He went on after a
pause: 'I've a notion that the kind of woman worth coming back to
wouldn't be much more patient than the Muse. But as it happens I never
tried — because, for fear they'd chuck me, I put them both out of
He turned his head abruptly and looked past me with a queer
expression at the low gray-panelled door at my back. 'Out of that very
door they went — the two of 'em, on a rainy night like this: and one
stopped and looked back, to see if I wasn't going to call her' — and I
didn't — and so they both went. . . .'
'The Muse?' (said Merrick, refilling my glass and stooping to pat
the terrier as he went back to his chair) — 'well, you've met the Muse
in the little volume of sonnets you used to like; and you've met the
woman too, and you used to like her; though you didn't know her when
you saw her the other evening. . . .
'No, I won't ask you how she struck you: I know. She struck you
like that stuff I gave you to read last night. She's conformed — I've
conformed — the mills have caught us and ground us: ground us, oh,
'But you remember what she was: I saw at once that you remembered.
And that's the reason why I'm telling you this now. . . .
'You may recall that after my father's death I tried unsuccessfully
to sell the Works. I was impatient to free myself from anything that
would keep me tied to New York. I don't dislike my trade, and I've
made, in the end, a fairly good thing of it; but industrialism was not,
at that time, in the line of my tastes, and I know now that it wasn't
what I was meant for. Above all, I wanted to get away, to see new
places and rub up against different ideas. I had reached a time of life
— the top of the first hill, so to speak — where the distance draws
one, and everything in the foreground seems tame and stale. I was sick
to death of the particular set of conformities I had grown up among;
sick of being a pleasant popular young man with a long line of dinners
on my engagement list, and the dead certainty of meeting the same
people, or their prototypes, at all of them.
'Well — I failed to sell the Works, and that increased my
discontent. I went through moods of cold unsociability, alternating
with sudden flushes of curiosity, when I gloated over stray scraps of
talk overheard in railway stations and omnibuses, when strange faces
that I passed in the street tantalized me with fugitive promises. I
wanted to get away, among things that were unexpected and unknown; and
it seemed to me that nobody about me understood in the least what I
felt, but that somewhere just out of reach there was some one who did,
and whom I must find or despair. . . .
'It was just then that, one evening I saw Mrs. Trant for the first
'Yes: I know — you wonder what I mean. I'd known her, of course,
as a girl; I'd met her several times after her marriage to Trant; and
I'd lately been thrown with her, quite intimately and continuously,
during a succession of country-house visits. But I had never, as it
happened, really seen her till then. . . .
'It was at a dinner at the Cumnors', I remember; and there she was,
in front of the very tapestry we saw her against the other evening,
with people about her, and her face turned from me, and nothing
noticeable or different in her dress or manner; and suddenly she stood
out for me against the pinkish-smoky background, and for the first time
I saw a meaning in the stale phrase of a picture's walking out of its
frame. For you've noticed, haven't you, that most people are just that
to us: pictures, furniture, the inanimate accessories of our little
island-area of sensation? And then sometimes one of these graven images
moves and throws out live filaments toward us, and the line they make
draws us across the world as the moon-track seems to draw a boat across
black water. . . .
'Well, there she stood; and as this queer sensation came over me I
felt that she was looking steadily at me, that her eyes were
voluntarily, consciously resting on me with the weight of a deep
'I went over and joined her, and she turned silently and walked
with me into the music-room. Earlier in the evening some one had been
singing, and there were low lights there, and a few couples still
sitting in those confidential corners of which Mrs. Cumnor has the art;
but we were under no illusion as to the nature of these presences. We
knew that they were just painted in, and that the whole of sentient
life was in us two, and flowing back and forward between us in swift
innumerable streams. We talked, of course; we had the attitudes, even
the words, of the others: I remember her telling me her plans for the
spring and asking me politely about mine! As if there were the least
sense in plans, now that this thing had happened to us!
'When we went back into the drawing-room I had said nothing to her
that I might not have said to any other woman of the party; but when we
said good-bye I knew we should see each other the next day — and the
next. . . .
'That's the way, I take it, that Nature has arranged the beginning
of the great enduring loves; and likewise of the little epidermal
flurries. And how's a man to know where he is going?
'From the first, I own, my feeling for Paulina Trant seemed to me a
grave business; but then I knew that the Enemy is given to producing
that illusion. Many a man — I'm talking of the kind with imagination
— has thought he was seeking a soul when all he wanted was a closer
view of its tenement. And I tried — honestly tried — to make myself
think I was in this case. Because, in the first place, I didn't just
then, want a big disturbing influence in my life; and because I didn't
want to be a dupe; and because Paulina Trant was not, according to
hearsay, the kind of woman for whom it was worth while to bring up the
big batteries. . . .
'But my resistance was only half-hearted. What I really felt — all
I really felt — was the flood of joy that comes of heightened emotion.
She had given me that, and I wanted her to give it to me again. That's
as near as I've ever come to analyzing my state in the beginning.
'I knew her story, as no doubt you know it: the current version, I
mean. She had been poor and fond of enjoyment, and she had married that
pompous monolith Philip Trant because she needed a home, and perhaps
also because she wanted a little luxury. Queer how we sneer at women
for wanting the thing that gives them half their grace!
'People shook their heads over the marriage, and divided,
prematurely, into Philip's partisans and hers: for no one thought it
would work. And they were almost disappointed when, after all, it did.
She and her wooden consort seemed to get on well enough. There was a
ripple at one time, over her close friendship with young Jim Dalham,
who was always with her during a summer at Newport and an autumn in
Italy; then the talk died out, and she and Trant were seen together, as
before, on terms of apparent good-fellowship.
'This was the more surprising because, from the first, Paulina had
never made the least attempt to change her tone or subdue her colors.
In the gray Trant atmosphere she flashed with prismatic fires. She
smoked, she talked subversively, she did as she liked and went where
she pleased, and danced over the Trant prejudices and the Trant
principles as if they'd been a ball-room floor; and all without
apparent offence to her solemn husband and his cloud of cousins. I
believe her frankness and directness struck them dumb. She moved like a
kind of primitive Una through the virtuous rout, and never got a
finger-mark on her freshness.
'One of the finest things about her was the fact that she never,
for an instant, used her plight as a means of enhancing her attraction.
With a husband like Trant it would have been so easy! He was a man who
always saw the small sides of big things. He thought most of life
compressible into a set of by-laws and the rest unmentionable; and with
his stiff frock-coated and tall-hatted mind, instinctively distrustful
of intelligences in another dress, with his arbitrary classification of
whatever he didn't understand into "the kind of thing I don't approve
of," "the kind of thing that isn't done," and — deepest depth of all
— "the kind of thing I'd rather not discuss," he lived in the service
of a shadowy moral etiquette, of which the complex rites and awful
penalties had cast an abiding gloom upon his manner.
'A woman like his wife couldn't have asked a better foil; yet I'm
sure she never consciously used his dullness to relieve her brilliancy.
She may have felt that the case spoke for itself. But I believe her
reserve was rather due to a lively sense of justice, and to the rare
habit (you said she was rare) of looking at facts as they are, without
any throwing of sentimental lime-lights. She knew Trant could no more
help being Trant than she could help being herself — and there was an
end of it. I've never known a woman who "made up" so little mentally. .
'Perhaps her very reserve, the fierceness of her implicit rejection
of sympathy, exposed her the more to — well, to what happened when we
met. She said afterward that it was like having been shut up for months
in the hold of a ship, and coming suddenly on deck on a day that was
all flying blue and silver. . . .
'I won't try to tell you what she was. It's easier to tell you what
her friendship made of me; and I can do that best by adopting her
metaphor of the ship. Haven't you, sometimes, at the moment of starting
on a journey, some glorious plunge into the unknown, been tripped up by
the thought: "If only one hadn't to come back"? Well, with her one had
the sense that one would never have to come back; that the magic ship
would always carry one farther. And what an air one breathed, on it!
And, oh, the wind, and the islands, and the sunsets!
'I said just now "her friendship"; and I used the word advisedly.
Love is deeper than friendship, but friendship is a good deal wider.
The beauty of our relation was that it included both dimensions. Our
thoughts met as naturally as our eyes: it was almost as if we loved
each other because we liked each other. I'm inclined to think that the
quality of a love may be tested by the amount of friendship it
contains, and in our case there was no dividing line between loving and
liking, no disproportion between them, no barrier against which desire
beat in vain or from which thought fell back unsatisfied. Ours was a
robust passion that could give an open-eyed account of itself, and not
a beautiful madness shrinking away from the proof. . . .
'For the first months friendship sufficed us, or rather gave us so
much by the way that we were in no haste to reach what we knew it led
to. But we were moving there nevertheless, and one day we found
ourselves on the borders. It came about through a sudden decision of
Trant's to start on a long tour with his wife. We had never foreseen
such a possibility: he seemed rooted in his New York habits and
convinced that the city's whole social and financial machinery would
cease to function if he did not keep an eye on it through the columns
of his morning paper and pronounce judgment on it in the afternoon at
his club. But something new had happened to him. He caught a cold,
which was followed by a touch of pleurisy, and instantly he perceived
the intense interest and importance which ill-health may add to life.
He took the fullest advantage of it. A complaisant doctor recommended
travel, insisted on a winter in a warm climate; and suddenly, the
morning paper, the afternoon club, Fifth Avenue, Wall Street, all the
complex phenomena of the metropolis, faded into insignificance, and the
rest of the terrestrial globe, from being a mere geographical
hypothesis, useful in enabling one to determine the latitude of New
York, acquired reality and magnitude as a factor in the convalescence
of Mr. Philip Trant.
'His wife was absorbed in preparations for the journey. It took an
army to mobilize him, and weeks before the date set for their departure
it was almost as if she were already gone.
'This foretaste of separation showed us what we were to each other.
Yet I was letting her go — and there was no help for it, no way of
preventing it. Resistance was as useless as the vain struggles in a
nightmare. She was Trant's and not mine: a part of his luggage when he
travelled as she was part of his household furniture when he stayed at
home. . . .
'The day she told me that their passages were taken — it was on a
November afternoon, in her drawing-room in town — I turned away from
the tea-table and, going to the window, stood looking out at the
torrent of traffic interminably pouring down Fifth Avenue. I watched
the senseless machinery of life revolving in the rain and mud, and
tried to picture myself performing my small function in it after she
had gone from me.
'"It can't be — it can't be!" I exclaimed.
'"What can't be?"
'I came back into the room and sat down by her. "This — this — "
I hadn't any words. "Two weeks!" I said. "What's two weeks?"
'She answered vaguely, something about their thinking of Spain for
the spring —
'"Two weeks — two weeks!" I repeated. "And the months we've lost
— the days that belonged to us!"
'"Yes," she said, "I'm thankful it's settled."
'Our words seemed irrelevant, haphazard. It was as if each were
answering a secret voice and not what the other was saying.
'"Don't you feel anything at all?" I remember bursting out at her.
As I asked it the tears were streaming down her face. I felt angry with
her, and was almost glad to note that her lids were red and that she
didn't cry becomingly. I can't express my sensation to you except by
saying that she seemed part of life's huge league against me. And
suddenly I thought of an afternoon we had spent together in the
country, on a ferny hill-side, when we had sat under a beech-tree, and
her hand had lain palm upward in the moss, close to mine, and I had
watched a little black-and-red beetle creeping over it. . . .
'The bell rang, and we heard the voice of a visitor and the click
of an umbrella in the umbrella-stand.
'She rose to go into the inner drawing-room, and I caught her
suddenly by the wrist. "You understand," I said, "that we can't go on
'"I understand," she answered, and moved away to meet her visitor.
As I went out I heard her saying in the other room, "Yes, we're really
off on the twelfth."
'I wrote her a long letter that night, and waited two days for a
'On the third day I had a brief line saying that she was going to
spend Sunday with some friends who had a place near Riverdale, and that
she would arrange to see me while she was there. That was all.
'It was on a Saturday that I received the note and I came out here
the same night. The next morning was rainy, and I was in despair, for I
had counted on her asking me to take her for a drive or a long walk. It
was hopeless to try to say what I had to say to her in the drawing-room
of a crowded country-house. And only eleven days were left!
'I stayed indoors all the morning, fearing to go out lest she
should telephone me. But no sign came, and I grew more and more
restless and anxious. She was too free and frank for coquetry, but her
silence and evasiveness made me feel that, for some reason, she did not
wish to hear what she knew I meant to say. Could it be that she was,
after all, more conventional, less genuine, than I had thought? I went
again and again over the whole maddening round of conjecture; but the
only conclusion I could rest in was that, if she loved me as I loved
her, she would be as determined as I was to let no obstacle come
between us during the days that were left.
'The luncheon-hour came and passed, and there was no word from her.
I had ordered my trap to be ready, so that I might drive over as soon
as she summoned me; but the hours dragged on, the early twilight came,
and I sat here in this very chair, or measured up and down, up and
down, the length of this very rug — and still there was no message and
'It had grown quite dark, and I had ordered away, impatiently, the
servant who came in with the lamps: I couldn't bear any definite sign
that the day was over! And I was standing there on the rug, staring at
the door, and noticing a bad crack in its panel, when I heard the sound
of wheels on the gravel. A word at last, no doubt — a line to explain.
. . . I didn't seem to care much for her reasons, and I stood where I
was and continued to stare at the door. And suddenly it opened and she
'The servant followed her with a lamp, and then went out and closed
the door. Her face looked pale in the lamp-light, but her voice was as
clear as a bell.
'"Well," she said, "you see I've come."
'I started toward her with hands outstretched. "You've come —
you've come!" I stammered.
'Yes; it was like her to come in that way — without shame, without
dissimulation, without explanations or excuses. It was like her, if she
gave at all, to give not furtively or in haste, but openly,
deliberately, without stinting the measure or counting the cost. But
her quietness and serenity disconcerted me. She did not look like a
woman who has yielded impetuously to an uncontrollable impulse. There
was something almost solemn in her face.
'The awe of it stole over me as I looked at her, suddenly subduing
the huge flush of gratified longing.
'"You're here, here, here!" I kept repeating, like a child singing
over a happy word.
'"You said," she continued, in her grave clear voice, "that we
couldn't go on as we were — "
'"Ah, it's divine of you!" I broke in, and held out my arms to her.
'She didn't draw back from them, but her faint smile said, "Wait,"
and lifting her hands she took the pins from her hat, and laid the hat
on the table.
'As I saw her dear head bare in the lamp-light, with the thick hair
waving away from the parting, I forgot everything but the bliss and
wonder of her being here — here, in my house, on my hearth — I can
show you, yet, the exact spot where she was standing.
'I drew her over to the fire, and made her sit down in the chair
where you're sitting, and knelt down by her, and hid my face on her
knees. She put her hand on my head, and I was happy to the depths of my
'"Oh, I forgot — " she exclaimed suddenly. I lifted my head and
our eyes met. Hers were smiling.
'She reached out her hand, opened the little bag she had tossed
down with her hat, and drew a small object from it. "I left my trunk at
the station," she said. "Here's the check. Can you send for it?"
'Her trunk — she wanted me to send for her trunk! Oh, yes — I see
your smile, your "lucky man!" Only, you see, I didn't love her in that
way. I knew she couldn't come to my house without running a big risk of
discovery, and my tenderness for her, my impulse to shield her, was
stronger, even then, than masculine vanity or masculine desire. Judged
from the point of view of those emotions I fell terribly short of my
part. I hadn't any of the proper feelings. Such an act of romantic
folly was so unlike her that it almost irritated me, and I found myself
desperately wondering how I could get her to reconsider her plan
without — well, without seeming to want her to.
'It's not the way a novel hero feels; it's probably not the way a
man in real life ought to have felt. But it's the way I felt — and she
'She put her hands on my shoulders and looked at me with deep, deep
eyes. "Then you didn't expect me to stay?" she asked, half-smiling.
'I caught her hands and pressed them close to me, stammering out
that I hadn't dared to dream. . . .
'"You thought I'd come — just for an hour?"
'"How could I dare think more? I adore you, you know, for what
you've done! But it would be known if you — if you stayed on. My
servants — everybody about here knows you. I've no right to expose you
to the risk." She made no answer, and I went on tenderly: "Give me, if
you will, the next few hours: there's a train that will get you to town
by midnight. And then we'll arrange something — in town — where it's
safer for you — easily managed. . . . It's beautiful, it's glorious of
you to have come; but I love you too much — I must take care of you
and think for you — "
'I don't suppose it ever took me so long to say so few words, and
though they were profoundly sincere they sounded unutterably shallow,
irrelevant and grotesque. She made no effort to help me out, but sat
silent, listening with her meditative smile. "It's my duty, dearest, as
a man," I rambled on. "The more I love you the more I'm bound — "
'"Yes; but you don't understand," she interrupted.
'She rose as she spoke, and I got up also, and we stood and looked
at each other.
'"I haven't come for a night; if you want me I've come for always,"
'Here again, if I give you an honest account of my feelings I shall
write myself down as the poor-spirited creature I suppose I am. There
wasn't, I swear, at the moment, a gram of selfishness, of personal
reluctance, in my feeling. I worshipped every hair of her head — when
we were together I was happy, when I was away from her something was
gone from every good thing; but I had always looked on our love for
each other, our possible relation to each other, as such situations are
looked on in what is called society. I had supposed her, for all her
freedom and originality, to be just as tacitly subservient to that view
as I was: ready to take what she wanted on the terms on which society
concedes such taking, and to pay for it by the usual restrictions,
concealments and hypocrisies. In short, I supposed that she would "play
the game" — look out for her own safety and expect me to look out for
it. It sounds cheap enough, put that way — but it's the rule we live
under, all of us. And the amazement of finding her suddenly outside of
it, oblivious of it, unconscious of it, left me, for an awful minute,
stammering at her like a graceless dolt. . . . Perhaps it wasn't even a
minute; but in it she had gone the whole round of my thoughts.
'"It's raining," she said, very low. "I suppose you can telephone
for a trap?"
'There was no irony or resentment in her voice. She walked slowly
across the room and paused before the Brangwyn etching over there.
"That's a good impression. Will you telephone, please?" she repeated.
'I found my voice again, and with it the power of movement. I
followed her, and dropped at her feet. "You can't go like this!" I
'She looked down on me from heights and heights. "I can't stay like
this," she answered.
'I stood up and we faced each other like antagonists. "You don't
know," I accused her passionately, "in the least what you're asking me
to ask of you!"
'"Yes, I do: everything," she breathed.
'"And it's got to be that or nothing?"
'"Oh, on both sides," she reminded me.
'" Not on both sides. It isn't fair. That's why — "
'"Why you won't?"
'"Why I cannot — may not!"
'"Why you'll take a night and not a life?"
'The taunt, for a woman usually so sure of her aim, fell so short
of the mark that its only effect was to increase my conviction of her
helplessness. The very intensity of my longing for her made me tremble
where she was fearless. I had to protect her first, and think of my own
'She was too discerning not to see this too. Her face softened,
grew inexpressibly appealing, and she dropped again into that chair
you're in, leaned forward, and looked up with her grave smile.
'"You think I'm beside myself — raving? (You're not thinking of
yourself, I know.) I'm not: I never was saner. Since I've known you
I've often thought that this might happen. This thing between us isn't
an ordinary thing. If it had been we shouldn't, all these months, have
drifted. We should have wanted to skip to the last page — and then
throw down the book. We shouldn't have felt we could trust the future
as we did. We were in no hurry because we knew we shouldn't get tired;
and when two people feel that about each other they must live together
— or part. I don't see what else they can do. A little trip along the
coast won't answer. It's the high seas — or else being tied up to
Lethe wharf. And I'm for the high seas, my dear!"
'Think of sitting here — here, in this room, in this chair — and
listening to that, and seeing the light on her hair, and hearing the
sound of her voice! I don't suppose there ever was a scene just like
it. . . .
'She was astounding — inexhaustible; through all my anguish of
resistance I found a kind of fierce joy in following her. It was
lucidity at white heat: the last sublimation of passion. She might have
been an angel arguing a point in the empyrean if she hadn't been, so
completely, a woman pleading for her life. . . .
'Her life: that was the thing at stake! She couldn't do with less
of it than she was capable of; and a woman's life is inextricably part
of the man's she cares for.
'That was why, she argued, she couldn't accept the usual solution:
couldn't enter into the only relation that society tolerates between
people situated like ourselves. Yes: she knew all the arguments on that
side: didn't I suppose she'd been over them and over them? She knew
(for hadn't she often said it of others?) what is said of the woman
who, by throwing in her lot with her lover's, binds him to a life-long
duty which has the irksomeness without the dignity of marriage. Oh, she
could talk on that side with the best of them: only she asked me to
consider the other — the side of the man and woman who love each other
deeply and completely enough to want their lives enlarged, and not
diminished, by their love. What, in such a case — she reasoned — must
be the inevitable effect of concealing, denying, disowning, the central
fact, the motive power of one's existence? She asked me to picture the
course of such a love: first working as a fever in the blood,
distorting and deflecting everything, making all other interests
insipid, all other duties irksome, and then, as the acknowledged claims
of life regained their hold, gradually dying — the poor starved
passion! — for want of the wholesome necessary food of common living
and doing, yet leaving life impoverished by the loss of all it might
'"I'm not talking, dear — " I see her now, leaning toward me with
shining eyes: "I'm not talking of the people who haven't enough to fill
their days, and to whom a little mystery, a little manoeuvring, gives
an illusion of importance that they can't afford to miss; I'm talking
of you and me, with all our tastes and curiosities and activities; and
I ask you what our love would become if we had to keep it apart from
our lives, like a pretty useless animal that we went to peep at and
feed with sweet-meats through its cage?"
'I won't, my dear fellow, go into the other side of our strange
duel: the arguments I used were those that most men in my situation
would have felt bound to use, and that most women in Paulina's accept
instinctively, without even formulating them. The exceptionalness, the
significance, of the case lay wholly in the fact that she had
formulated them all and then rejected them. . . .
'There was one point I didn't, of course, touch on, and that was
the popular conviction (which I confess I shared) that when a man and a
woman agree to defy the world together the man really sacrifices much
more than the woman. I was not even conscious of thinking of this at
the time, though it may have lurked somewhere in the shadow of my
scruples for her; but she dragged it out into the daylight and held me
face to face with it.
'"Remember, I'm not attempting to lay down any general rule," she
insisted; "I'm not theorizing about Man and Woman, I'm talking about
you and me. How do I know what's best for the woman in the next house?
Very likely she'll bolt when it would have been better for her to stay
at home. And it's the same with the man: he'll probably do the wrong
thing. It's generally the weak heads that commit follies, when it's the
strong ones that ought to; and my point is that you and I are both
strong enough to behave like fools if we want to. . . .
'"Take your own case first — because, in spite of the
sentimentalists, it's the man who stands to lose most. You'll have to
give up the Iron Works: which you don't much care about — because it
won't be particularly agreeable for us to live in New York: which you
don't care much about either. But you won't be sacrificing what is
called a 'career.' You made up your mind long ago that your best chance
of self-development, and consequently of general usefulness, lay in
thinking rather than doing, and, when we first met, you were already
planning to sell out your business, and travel and write. Well! Those
ambitions are of a kind that won't be harmed by your dropping out of
your social setting. On the contrary, such work as you want to do ought
to gain by it, because you'll be brought nearer to life-as-it-is, in
contrast to life-as-a-visiting-list. . . ."
'She threw back her head with a sudden laugh. "And the joy of not
having any more visits to make! I wonder if you've ever thought of
that? Just at first, I mean; for society's getting so deplorably lax
that, little by little, it will edge up to us — you'll see! I don't
want to idealize the situation, dearest, and I won't conceal from you
that in time we shall be called on. But, oh, the fun we shall have had
in the interval! And then, for the first time we shall be able to
dictate our own terms, one of which will be that no bores need apply.
Think of being cured of all one's chronic bores! We shall feel as jolly
as people after a successful operation."
'I don't know why this nonsense sticks in my mind when some of the
graver things we said are less distinct. Perhaps it's because of a
certain iridescent quality of feeling that made her gaiety seem like
sunshine through a shower. . . .
'"You ask me to think of myself?" she went on. "But the beauty of
our being together will be that, for the first time, I shall dare to!
Now I have to think of all the tedious trifles I can pack the days
with, because I'm afraid — I'm afraid — to hear the voice of the real
me, down below, in the windowless underground hole where I keep her. .
'"Remember, again, please, it's not Woman, it's Paulina Trant, I'm
talking of. The woman in the next house may have all sorts of reasons
— honest reasons — for staying there. There may be some one there who
needs her badly: for whom the light would go out if she went. Whereas
to Philip I've been simply — well, what New York was before he decided
to travel: the most important thing in life till he made up his mind to
leave it; and now merely the starting-place of several lines of
steamers. Oh, I didn't have to love you to know that! I only had to
live with him. . . . If he lost his eye-glasses he'd think it was the
fault of the eye-glasses; he'd really feel that the eye-glasses had
been careless. And he'd be convinced that no others would suit him
quite as well. But at the optician's he'd probably be told that he
needed something a little different, and after that he'd feel that the
old eye-glasses had never suited him at all, and that that was their
fault too. . . .
'At one moment — but I don't recall when — I remember she stood
up with one of her quick movements, and came toward me, holding out her
arms. "Oh, my dear, I'm pleading for my life; do you suppose I'll ever
want for arguments?" she cried. . . .
'After that, for a bit, nothing much remains with me except a sense
of darkness and of conflict. The one spot of daylight in my whirling
brain was the conviction that I couldn't — whatever happened — profit
by the sudden impulse she had acted on, and allow her to take, in a
moment of passion, a decision that was to shape her whole life. I
couldn't so much as lift my little finger to keep her with me then,
unless I were prepared to accept for her as well as for myself the full
consequences of the future she had planned for us. . . .
'Well — there's the point: I wasn't. I felt in her — poor fatuous
idiot that I was! — that lack of objective imagination which had
always seemed to me to account, at least in part, for many of the
so-called heroic qualities in women. When their feelings are involved
they simply can't look ahead. Her unfaltering logic notwithstanding, I
felt this about Paulina as I listened. She had a specious air of
knowing where she was going, but she didn't. She seemed the genius of
logic and understanding, but the demon of illusion spoke through her
lips. . . .
'I said just now that I hadn't, at the outset, given my own side of
the case a thought. It would have been truer to say that I hadn't given
it a separate thought. But I couldn't think of her without seeing
myself as a factor — the chief factor — in her problem, and without
recognizing that whatever the experiment made of me, that it must
fatally, in the end, make of her. If I couldn't carry the thing through
she must break down with me: we should have to throw our separate
selves into the melting-pot of this mad adventure and be "one" in a
terrible indissoluble completeness of which marriage is only an
imperfect counterpart. . . .
'There could be no better proof of her extraordinary power over me,
and of the way she had managed to clear the air of sentimental
illusion, than the fact that I presently found myself putting this to
her with a merciless precision of touch.
'"If we love each other enough to do a thing like this, we must
love each other enough to see just what it is we're going to do."
'So I invited her to the dissecting-table, and I see now the
fearless eye with which she approached the cadaver. "For that's what it
is, you know," she flashed out at me, at the end of my long
demonstration. "It's a dead body, like all the instances and examples
and hypothetical cases that ever were! What do you expect to learn from
that? The first great anatomist was the man who stuck his knife in a
heart that was beating; and the only way to find out what doing a thing
will be like is to do it!"
'She looked away from me suddenly, as if she were fixing her eyes
on some vision on the outer rim of consciousness. "No: there's one
other way," she exclaimed; "and that is, not to do it! To abstain and
refrain; and then see what we become, or what we don't become, in the
long run, and draw our inferences. That's the game that almost
everybody about us is playing, I suppose; there's hardly one of the
dull people one meets at dinner who hasn't had, just once, the chance
of a berth on a ship that was off for the Happy Isles, and hasn't
refused it for fear of sticking on a sand-bank!
'"I'm doing my best, you know," she continued, "to see the sequel
as you see it, as you believe it's your duty to me to see it. I know
the instances you're thinking of: the listless couples wearing out
their lives in shabby watering places, and hanging on the favor of
hotel acquaintances; or the proud quarrelling wretches shut up alone in
a fine house because they're too good for the only society they can
get, and trying to cheat their boredom by squabbling with their
tradesmen and spying on their servants. No doubt there are such cases;
but I don't recognize either of us in those dismal figures. Why, to do
it would be to admit that our life, yours and mine, is in the people
about us and not in ourselves; that we're parasites and not
self-sustaining creatures; and that the lives we're leading now are so
brilliant, full and satisfying that what we should have to give up
would surpass even the blessedness of being together!"
'At that stage, I confess, the solid ground of my resistance began
to give way under me. It was not that my convictions were shaken, but
that she had swept me into a world whose laws were different, where one
could reach out in directions that the slave of gravity hasn't
pictured. But at the same time my opposition hardened from reason into
instinct. I knew it was her voice, and not her logic, that was
unsettling me. I knew that if she'd written out her thesis and sent it
me by post I should have made short work of it; and again the part of
me which I called by all the finest names: my chivalry, my
unselfishness, my superior masculine experience, cried out with one
voice: "You can't let a woman use her graces to her own undoing — you
can't, for her own sake, let her eyes convince you when her reasons
'And then, abruptly, and for the first time, a doubt entered me: a
doubt of her perfect moral honesty. I don't know how else to describe
my feeling that she wasn't playing fair, that in coming to my house, in
throwing herself at my head (I called things by their names), she had
perhaps not so much obeyed an irresistible impulse as deeply,
deliberately reckoned on the dissolvent effect of her generosity, her
rashness and her beauty. . . .
'From the moment that this mean doubt raised its head in me I was
once more the creature of all the conventional scruples: I was
repeating, before the looking-glass of my self-consciousness, all the
stereotyped gestures of the "man of honour." . . . Oh, the sorry figure
I must have cut! You'll understand my dropping the curtain on it as
quickly as I can. . . .
'Yet I remember, as I made my point, being struck by its
impressiveness. I was suffering and enjoying my own suffering. I told
her that, whatever step we decided to take, I owed it to her to insist
on its being taken soberly, deliberately —
'("No: it's 'advisedly,' isn't it? Oh, I was thinking of the
Marriage Service," she interposed with a faint laugh.)
' — that if I accepted, there, on the spot, her headlong beautiful
gift of herself, I should feel that I had taken an unmanly advantage of
her, an advantage which she would be justified in reproaching me with
ever afterward; that I was not afraid to tell her this because she was
intelligent enough to know that my scruples were the surest proof of
the quality of my love; that I refused to owe my happiness to an
unconsidered impulse; that we must see each other again, in her own
house, in less agitating circumstances, when she had had time to
reflect on my words, to study her heart and look into the future. . . .
'The factitious exhilaration produced by uttering these beautiful
sentiments did not last very long, as you may imagine. It fell, little
by little, under her quiet gaze, a gaze in which there was neither
contempt nor irony nor wounded pride, but only a tender wistfulness of
interrogation; and I think the acutest point in my suffering was
reached when she said, as I ended: "Oh, yes, of course I understand."
'"If only you hadn't come to me here!" I blurted out in the torture
of my soul.
'She was on the threshold when I said it, and she turned and laid
her hand gently on mine. "There was no other way," she said; and at the
moment it seemed to me like some hackneyed phrase in a novel that she
had used without any sense of its meaning.
'I don't remember what I answered or what more we either of us
said. At the end a desperate longing to take her in my arms and keep
her with me swept aside everything else, and I went up to her,
pleading, stammering, urging I don't know what. . . . But she held me
back with a quiet look, and went. I had ordered the carriage, as she
asked me to; and my last definite recollection is of watching her drive
off alone in the rain. . . .
'I had her promise that she would see me, two days later, at her
house in town, and that we should then have what I called "a decisive
talk"; but I don't think that even at the moment I was the dupe of my
phrase. I knew, and she knew, that the end had come. . . .
'It was about that time (Merrick went on after a long pause) that I
definitely decided not to sell the Works, but to stick to my job and
conform my life to it.
'I can't describe to you the rage of conformity that possessed me.
Poetry, ideas — all the picture-making processes stopped. A kind of
dull self-discipline seemed to me the only exercise worthy of a
reflecting mind. I had to justify my great refusal, and I tried to do
it by plunging myself up to the eyes into the very conditions I had
been instinctively struggling to get away from. The only possible
consolation would have been to find in a life of business routine and
social submission such moral compensations as may reward the citizen if
they fail the man; but to attain to these I should have had to accept
the old delusion that the social and the individual man are two. Now,
on the contrary, I found soon enough that I couldn't get one part of my
machinery to work effectively while another wanted feeding; and that in
rejecting what had seemed to me a negation of action I had made all my
'The best solution, of course, would have been to fall in love with
another woman, but it was long before I could bring myself to wish that
this might happen to me. . . . Then, at length, I suddenly and
violently desired it; and as such impulses are seldom without some kind
of imperfect issue I contrived, a year or two later, to work myself up
into the wished-for state. . . . She was a woman in society, and with
all the awe of that institution that Paulina lacked. Our relation was
consequently one of those unavowed affairs in which triviality is the
only alternative to tragedy. Luckily we had, on both sides, risked only
as much as prudent people stake in a drawing-room game; and when the
match was over I take it that we came out fairly even.
'My gain, at all events, was of an unexpected kind. The adventure
had served only to make me understand Paulina's abhorrence of such
experiments, and at every turn of the slight intrigue I had felt how
exasperating and belittling such a relation was bound to be between two
people who, had they been free, would have mated openly. And so from a
brief phase of imperfect forgetting I was driven back to a deeper and
more understanding remembrance. . . .
'This second incarnation of Paulina was one of the strangest
episodes of the whole strange experience. Things she had said during
our extraordinary talk, things I had hardly heard at the time, came
back to me with singular vividness and a fuller meaning. I hadn't any
longer the cold consolation of believing in my own perspicacity: I saw
that her insight had been deeper and keener than mine.
'I remember, in particular, starting up in bed one sleepless night
as there flashed into my head the meaning of her last words: "There was
no other way"; the phrase I had half-smiled at at the time, as a
parrot-like echo of the novel-heroine's stock farewell. I had never, up
to that moment, wholly understood why Paulina had come to my house that
night. I had never been able to make that particular act — which could
hardly, in the light of her subsequent conduct, be dismissed as a blind
surge of passion — square with my conception of her character. She was
at once the most spontaneous and the steadiest-minded woman I had ever
known, and the last to wish to owe any advantage to surprise, to
unpreparedness, to any play on the spring of sex. The better I came,
retrospectively, to know her, the more sure I was of this, and the less
intelligible her act appeared. And then, suddenly, after a night of
hungry restless thinking, the flash of illumination came. She had come
to my house, had brought her trunk with her, had thrown herself at my
head with all possible violence and publicity, in order to give me a
pretext, a loophole, an honorable excuse for doing and saying — why,
precisely what I had said and done!
'As the idea came to me it was as if some ironic hand had touched
an electric button, and all my fatuous phrases had leapt out on me in
'Of course she had known all along just the kind of thing I should
say if I didn't at once open my arms to her; and to save my pride, my
dignity, my conception of the figure I was cutting in her eyes, she had
recklessly and magnificently provided me with the decentest pretext a
man could have for doing a pusillanimous thing. . . .
'With that discovery the whole case took a different aspect. It
hurt less to think of Paulina — and yet it hurt more. The tinge of
bitterness, of doubt, in my thoughts of her had had a tonic quality. It
was harder to go on persuading myself that I had done right as, bit by
bit, my theories crumbled under the test of time. Yet, after all, as
she herself had said, one could judge of results only in the long run.
'The Trants stayed away for two years; and about a year after they
got back, you may remember, Trant was killed in a railway accident. You
know Fate's way of untying a knot after everybody has given up tugging
'Well — there I was, completely justified: all my weaknesses
turned into merits! I had "saved" a weak woman from herself, I had kept
her to the path of duty, I had spared her the humiliation of scandal
and the misery of self-reproach; and now I had only to put out my hand
and take the reward I deserved.
'I had avoided Paulina since her return, and she had made no effort
to see me. But after Trant's death I wrote her a few lines, to which
she sent a friendly answer; and when a decent interval had elapsed, and
I asked if I might call on her, she answered at once that she would see
'I went to her house with the fixed intention of asking her to
marry me — and I left it without having done so. Why? I don't know
that I can tell you. Perhaps you would have had to sit there opposite
her, knowing what I did and feeling as I did, to understand why. She
was kind, she was compassionate — I could see she didn't want to make
it hard for me. Perhaps she even wanted to make it easy. But there,
between us, was the memory of the gesture I hadn't made, forever
parodying the one I was attempting! There wasn't a word I could think
of that hadn't an echo in it of words of hers I had been deaf to; there
wasn't an appeal I could make that didn't mock the appeal I had
rejected. I sat there and talked of her husband's death; of her plans,
of my sympathy; and I knew she understood; and knowing that, in a way,
made it harder. . . . The door-bell rang and the footman came in to ask
if she would receive other visitors. She looked at me a moment and said
"Yes," and I stood up and shook hands with her and went away.
'A few days later she sailed for Europe, and the next time we met
she had married Reardon. . . .'
It was long past midnight, and the terrier's hints became
Merrick rose from his chair, pushed back a fallen log and put up
the fender. He walked across the room and stared a moment at the
Brangwyn etching before which Paulina Trant had paused at a memorable
turn of their talk. Then he came back and laid his hand on my shoulder.
'She summed it all up, you know, when she said that one way of
finding out whether a risk is worth taking is not to take it, and then
to see what one becomes in the long run, and draw one's inferences. The
long run — well, we've run it, she and I. I know what I've become, but
that's nothing to the misery of knowing what she's become. She had to
have some kind of life, and she married Reardon. Reardon's a very good
fellow in his way; but the worst of it is that it's not her way. . . .
'No: the worst of it is that now she and I meet as friends. We dine
at the same houses, we talk about the same people, we play bridge
together, and I lend her books. And sometimes Reardon slaps me on the
back and says: "Come in and dine with us, old man! What you want is to
be cheered up!" And I go and dine with them, and he tells me how jolly
comfortable she makes him, and what an ass I am not to marry; and she
presses on me a second helping of poulet Maryland, and I smoke one of
Reardon's good cigars, and at half-past ten I get into my overcoat and
goloshes, and walk back alone to my rooms. . . .'