The Wrong Door
The stairs were long and dark; they seemed to stretch an
interminable length, and she was too tired to notice the soft carpet
and wonder why Mrs. Wilson had departed from her iron-clad rules and
for once considered the comfort of her lodgers. The rail of the
banisters lay cold but supporting under the pressure of her weary hand,
and, at her own door at last, she fitted the key in the lock. Something
was wrong; it would not turn; she drew it out and tried the handle. The
door opened, and entering, she stood rooted to the spot.
Had her poor little room doubled its size and trebled its furniture?
Her imagination, always active, for one wild moment suggested that old
Grandaunt Crosbie from over the seas had remembered her poor relatives
and worked the miracle; she always had Grandaunt Crosbie as a possible
trump in the hand of fate. And then the dull reality shattered her
foolish castle—she was in the wrong room. All this comfort had a
legitimate possessor, whose Aunt Crosbie did her proper part in life.
She walked mechanically to a window and looked down; yes, there was
the bleak yard she usually found below her, four houses off; she had
come into the wrong door, and now to retrace her useless steps.
She paused a moment, and slowly revolving, made bitter inventory of
the charming interior. Soft, bright stuffs at the windows, on the
chairs; pictures; books; flowers even; a big bunch of holly on the
mantelpiece. A sitting-room—no obnoxious bed behind an inadequate
screen, no horrid white china pitcher in full view! What woman owned
all this? She stared about for characteristic traces. No sewing! Pipes!
It belonged to a man.
She must go. She moved toward the door, and dropped her eyes on the
little hard-coal fire in the grate; it tempted her, and, with a sort of
defiance, she moved over to it and warmed her chilled fingers. A piano,
too, and not to teach children on! To play upon, to enjoy! When was her
time to come? Every dog has his day! Where was hers? Here some man was
surrounded with comforts and pleasures, and she slaved all day at her
teaching, and came home at night tired, cold, to a miserable little
Resting her arms on the mantelpiece, she dropped her face a moment
on them and rebelled, kicking hard against the pricks; and sunk in that
profitless occupation, heard vaguely the sound of rapid steps and
suddenly realized what they might mean.
She straightened her young form and stared, fascinated, at the door.
Good heavens! What should she do? What should she say? If she appeared
confused, she would be thought a thief; she must have some excuse: she
had come—to—find a lady—was waiting! She sank into a little chair
and tried not to tremble visibly to the most unobservant eye, and the
door opened, shut, and the owner of the room stood before her.
“How do you do?” said Amory, and coming forward, he shook hands
warmly. “Please forgive me for being late, but I could not get away a
moment before. Where” he looked about the room—“where is Mrs. White?”
The girl had risen nervously, and stood with her fingers clasped,
looking at him; she answered, stammering, “She—I—she—couldn't come.”
“Couldn't come?” repeated the young man. “I'm awfully sorry. Do sit
She still stood, holding to the back of her chair. “She said she
would come if she could, and I was to—but I had better go.”
Amory laughed. “Not a bit of it. Now I've got you, I sha'n't let you
go. It was very brave of you to come alone. You know brothers-in-law
are presumptuous sometimes.” He smiled down into the soft, shy, dark
eyes raised to his, and looked at his watch. “You must have waited a
half-hour; I said four o'clock. I'm so sorry.”
Her eyes dropped. “I was late, too,” she answered, and felt a
horrible weight lifted from her. (They surely could not be coming; she
could go in a moment; he would never know until she was beyond his
reach. But she reckoned without her host.)
“Draw up to the fire,” he began, and wheeled up a big armchair, and
gently made her sit in it. “Put your feet on the fender and let's have
a long talk. You know I sha'n't see you before the wedding, and I'd
like to know something of my brother's wife. Tom said I must see you
once before you and he got off to Paris, and I may not be able to get
West for the wedding; so this is the one chance I shall have.” He drew
his chair near, and looked down at her with friendly, pleasant eyes.
She must say something. She rested her head on the high back of her
chair, and felt a sensation of bewildered happiness. It was dangerous;
she must get away in a moment; but for a moment she might surely enjoy
this extraordinary situation that fortune had thrust upon her—the
charm of the room, the warmth, and something more wonderful
still—companionship. She looked at him; she must say something.
“You think you can't come to the wedding?” she said, and blushed.
Amory shook his head. “I'm afraid not, though of course I shall try.
Now”—he stared gravely at her—“now tell me how you came to know Tom
and why you like him. I wonder if it is for my reasons or ones of your
He was surprised by the deep blush which answered his words. What a
wonderful wild-rose color on her rather pale cheek!
“Don't you think it very warm in here?” said the girl.
Amory got up, and going to the window, opened it a little; then,
stopping at his desk, picked up a note and brought it to the fire.
“Why, here is a note from Mrs. White,” he said. “Why didn't you tell
She had risen, and laid her hand an instant on his arm. “Don't open
it—yet,” she said. Her desperation lent her invention; just in this
one way he must not find her out. She gave him a look, half arch, half
pleading. “I'll explain later,” she said.
Amory felt a stir of most unnecessary emotion; he understood Tom.
“Of course,” he said, dropping it on the mantelpiece,—“just as you
like. Now let's go back to Tom. You see,”—he sat down, and tipping his
chair a little, gave her a rather curious smile,—“Tom and I have been
enigmas to each other always, deeply attached and hopelessly
incomprehensible, and I had my own ideas of what Tom would
marry—and—you are not it;—not in the least!” He leant forward and
brought his puzzled gaze to bear upon her.
She settled deeply into her chair, half to get farther away from
those searching gray eyes, half because she was taking terrible risks,
and she might as well enjoy it; the chair was so comfortable, and the
fire so cheerful, and Amory—it occurred to her with a sort of
exhilaration what it would be to please him. She had pleased other
people, why not him? Her lids drooped; she looked down at her shabby
“What did you expect?” she said.
He leant back and laughed. “What did I expect? Well, frankly, a
silly little blond thing, all curls and furbelows!”
She raised those heavy lids of hers and gazed straight at him. “Was
that Tom's description?” she asked, and raised her eyebrows. They were
delicately pencilled, and Amory watched her and noted them.
“No,” he answered; “he didn't describe you, but I thought that was
his taste. Now, you are neither silly nor little; no blonde; you have
no curls and no furbelows. In fact”—he smiled with something
delightfully intimate in his eyes—“in fact, you are much more the kind
of girl I should like to marry.”
It gave her an absurd little thrill. She sat up, rebellious. “If
I would have liked you,” she returned.
Amory laughed and put his hands in his pockets. “Of course,” he
said; “but you would, you know!”
“Why?” she demanded, opening her eyes very wide; and again he
inwardly complimented her on her eyebrows, and above them her hair grew
in a charming line on her forehead. The little points are all pretty,
he thought, and it is the details that count in the long run. How much
one could grow to dislike blurry eyebrows and ugly ears, even if a
woman had rosy cheeks and golden hair!
“Why? Because I should bully you into it. I'm an obstinate kind of
creature, and get things by hanging on. Women give in if you worry them
long enough. But tell me more about Tom,” he went on. “Did he dance and
shoot his way into your heart? I wish I'd been there to see! You take a
very bad tintype, by the way. Tom sent me that.” He got up, and taking
a picture from the mantelpiece, tossed it into her lap, and leaning
over the back of her chair, looked down on it. “Have you a sentiment
about it?” he added, smiling. “It does look like Tom.”
She held it and gravely studied it. She colored, and, still looking
at the picture, felt her way suddenly open. “Yes, it does look like
him,” she said, and putting it down, leant forward and looked into the
fire. “Do you want to know why I accepted Tom?” she added, slowly. She
was fully launched on a career of deception now, and felt a desperate
Amory stared at her and nodded.
She kept her eyes on the fire. “I wanted—a home.”
Amory sat motionless, then spoke. “Why—why, weren't you happy with
your aunt and uncle?”
She shook her head. “No; and Tom was good and kind and very—”
Amory got up and shook himself. “Oh, but that's an awful mistake,”
“I know,” said the girl, and turning, looked at him a moment. “Well,
I've come to tell you that I have—” She hesitated.
Amory slid down into the chair beside her. “Changed your mind?”
“That note of your aunt's?”
He sat back and folded his arms. “I see,” he said, and there
followed a long silence.
The girl began buttoning and unbuttoning her glove. She must go; she
was frightened, elated, amused. She did not want to go, but go she
must. Would he ever forgive her?
“Don't—don't hate me!” she said.
Amory awoke from his stunned meditation. “My dear young lady, of
course not,” he began; “only, Tom will be terribly broken up. It's the
only thing to do now, I suppose, but why did you do the other?”
She looked at him. As well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, she
thought. “I was unhappy and foolish.” She hesitated. “But you needn't
be troubled about Tom. He—” Again she hesitated.
“Not troubled about old Tom!” expostulated Amory.
“Wait.” She put up her hand. “He made a mistake, too; he doesn't
care so very much, and he has already flirted—”
Amory laid his hand on her chair. “Tom!”
“Yes,” she repeated; “he really is rather a flirt, and—”
She nodded. “Yes; really, it did hurt me a little, only—”
She faced him. “Yes, Tom. What do you think Tom is—blind and deaf
and dumb? Any man worth his salt can flirt.”
Amory stared at her. “Oh, he can, can he?”
She nodded. “He was very good and kind, but I saw that he was
changing; and then he met a little fair-haired, blue-eyed—”
Amory interposed. “I told you.”
She gave him a curious smile. “Yes, a silly little blond thing, just
But his satisfaction in his perspicacity was short-lived; he walked
up and down the room in his perplexity. “I can't get over it,” he
murmured. “I thought it a mad love-match, all done in a few weeks; and
to have it turn out like this! You—”
“Mercenary,” she interjected, with a sad little smile.
He looked at her. “Yes; and Tom—”
“Fickle,” she ended again.
“Yes, and Tom fickle. Why, it shakes the foundations!”
The girl felt a sudden wave of shame and weariness. She must go. She
hadn't been fair, but it had been so sudden, so difficult. She looked
at him, and getting up, wondered if she would ever see him again.
“I must go,” she said. “I came—” She hesitated, and a sudden desire
to have him know her as herself swept over her. It needed only another
lie or two in the beginning, and then some truth would come through to
sustain her. She went on: “I came because I wanted to know what you
were like; Tom had talked so much of you, and I wanted some one to
understand and perhaps explain; and now I must go and leave your warm,
delightful room for the comfortless place I live in. Don't think too
hardly of me.”
Amory shook his head. “You don't leave me until you have had your
tea.” He rang the bell. “But what do you mean by a comfortless home?
Does Mrs. White neglect you?”
She looked at the fire. “I don't live with her—now; I live alone; I
work for my living.”
Amory got up as the maid brought in the tea-tray, and setting it
beside them, he poured out her tea; as he handed her the cup, he
brought his brows together sternly, as though making out her very
“You work for your living?” he repeated. “I thought you lived with
Mrs. White, and that they were well off.”
“I did, but now I've come back to my real life, which I would have
left had I married Tom.”
He nodded. “I see. I had heard awfully little about it all; I was
away, and then it was so quickly done.”
“I know,” she went on, hurriedly; “but let me tell you, and you will
understand me better later—that is, if you want to understand me.”
“Most certainly I do.” Amory sustained the strange sad gaze of her
charming, heavy-lidded eyes in a sort of maze. Her mat skin looked
white, now that her blushes were gone, and her delicate, irregular
features a little pinched. He drank his tea and watched her while she
“I teach music,” she began; “to do it I left my relations in the
country and came to this horrible great city. I have one dreary, cold
room, as unlike this as two rooms can be. I have tried to make it seem
like a home, but when I saw this I knew how I had failed.”
“Poor little girl!” said Amory.
“I have the ordinary feelings of a girl,” she went on, “and yet I
see before me the long stretch of a dreary life. I love music; I hear
none but the strumming of children. I like pictures, books, people; I
see none. I like to laugh, to talk; there is no one to laugh with, to
talk to. I am very—unhappy.” The last words were spoken very low, but
the misery in them touched Amory deeply.
“Poor little girl!” he said again, and gently laid his hand on the
arm of her chair. “But how can Tom know this and let you go? You are
mistaken in Tom, I am sure, and—”
The girl straightened her slender figure and rose. “Oh no! it is all
right. He doesn't love me, your Tom; and so the world goes—I must go,
“Don't go,” said Amory. “Let me—” She shook her head. “You have no
more to do; you have comforted and warmed and fed a hungry wanderer,
and she must make haste home. Thank you for everything; thank you.”
Amory felt a pang as she stood up. Not to see her again—why, that
was absurd! Why should he not see her? She had quarrelled with Tom,
yes, and perhaps the family might be hard on her; but he—he
understood, and why should he shake off her acquaintance? She was not
for Tom. Well, it was just as well. How could any one think this girl
would suit Tom—big-bearded, clumsy, excellent fellow that he was?
He put out his hand. “Mary,” he said. The girl stared at him with
eyes suddenly wide open; he smiled into them.
“I have a right to call you that,” he proceeded, “haven't I? I might
have been your brother.” He took her hand, and then laughed a little.
“I am almost glad I am not. You wouldn't have suited Tom, and as a
sister, somehow, you wouldn't have suited me!” He laughed again.
“But”—he hesitated; she still stared straight up at him with her soft,
dark eyes, and he thought them very beautiful—“but why shouldn't I see
you—not as a brother, but an acquaintance—friend? You say you need
them. Tell me where you have this room of yours?”
The vivid beauty of her blush startled him, and she drew her hand
quickly from his.
“Oh no!” she said, hurriedly. “Let things drop between us;
Amory stood before her with an expression which reminded her of his
description of himself—obstinate; yes, he looked it.
“Why?” he urged. “Just because you are not to marry Tom, is there
any reason why we should not like each other—is there? That is—if we
do! I do,” he laughed. “Do you?”
Her lids had dropped; she looked very slim, and young, and shy.
“Yes,” she said.
It gave Amory a good deal of pleasure for a monosyllable.
“Well, then, your number?” he said.
She shook her head.
“I'll ask Tom,” he retorted. “He will tell me.”
He was baffled and curiously charmed by the smile that touched her
sharply curved young mouth.
“Tom may,” she said.
“I was ready to accept you as a sister,” he persisted, “and you
won't even admit me as a casual visitor!”
She took a step toward the door. “Wait till you hear Tom's story,”
Amory stared curiously at her. “Do you think he will be vindictive,
after all?” he said. “Why should he be, if what you say is just?”
She paused. “Wait till you see Tom and Mrs. White; then if you want
to know me, why—” She was blushing again.
“Well,” Amory demanded, “what shall I do?”
She looked up with a sort of childish charm, curling her lip,
lighting her eyes with something of laughter and mischief. “Why, look
for me and you'll find me.”
“Find you?” repeated Amory, bewildered.
She nodded. “Yes, if you look. To-morrow will be Sunday; every one
will be going to church, and I with them. Stand on the steps of this
house at 10.30 precisely, and look as far as you can, and you will
“Good night.” Amory took her hand. “Let me see you home; it's dark.”
She laughed. “You don't lack persistency, do you?” she said, with a
sweetness which gave the words a pleasant twist. “But don't come,
please. I'm used to taking care of myself; but—before I go let me
write my note also.” She went to the desk and scratched a line, and
folding it, handed it to him. “There,” she said; “read Mrs. White's
note and then that, but wait till you hear the house door bang. Promise
“Please—” began Amory.
“Promise,” she repeated.
“I promise,” he said, and again they shook hands for good-by.
“That's three times,” thought the girl as she went to the door, and
turning an instant, she smiled at him. “Good-by.” The door closed
softly behind her, and Amory waited a moment, then went to it, and
opening it, listened; the house door shut lightly, and seizing his
notes, he stood by the window in the twilight and read them. The first
was as follows:
“DEAR MR. AMORY,—Mary and I had to return unexpectedly to
Cleveland. Forgive our missing this chance of meeting you, but Mr.
White's note is urgent, as his sister is very ill. Mary regrets greatly
not seeing you before the wedding.
Amory threw the paper down. “Do I see visions?” he cried, and
hastily unfolded the second; it ran as follows:
“Forgive me; I got into the wrong house, the wrong room. I was very
tired, and my latch-key fitted, and I didn't know until I saw your
fire, and then you came. Don't think me a very bold and horrid girl,
and forgive me. Your fire was so warm and bright, and—you were kind.
Amory stared at the paper a moment; then, catching his hat and
flying down the stairs, opened the outer door.
The night was bitter cold, with a white frost everywhere; but in the
twilight no solitary figure was in view; the long street was empty. He
ran the length of it, then back to his room, and throwing down his hat,
he lit his pipe. It needed thought.