Friday, November 9, 2007


The Reef, by Edith Wharton

The Reef, by Edith Wharton
"Unexpected obstacle. Please don't come till thirtieth.
All the way from Charing Cross to Dover the train had
hammered the words of the telegram into George Darrow's
ears, ringing every change of irony on its commonplace
syllables: rattling them out like a discharge of musketry,
letting them, one by one, drip slowly and coldly into his
brain, or shaking, tossing, transposing them like the dice
in some game of the gods of malice; and now, as he emerged
from his compartment at the pier, and stood facing the windswept
platform and the angry sea beyond, they leapt out at
him as if from the crest of the waves, stung and blinded him
with a fresh fury of derision.
"Unexpected obstacle. Please don't come till thirtieth.
She had put him off at the very last moment, and for the
second time: put him off with all her sweet reasonableness,
and for one of her usual "good" reasons--he was certain that
this reason, like the other, (the visit of her husband's
uncle's widow) would be "good"! But it was that very
certainty which chilled him. The fact of her dealing so
reasonably with their case shed an ironic light on the idea
that there had been any exceptional warmth in the greeting
she had given him after their twelve years apart.
They had found each other again, in London, some three
months previously, at a dinner at the American Embassy, and
when she had caught sight of him her smile had been like a
red rose pinned on her widow's mourning. He still felt the
throb of surprise with which, among the stereotyped faces of
the season's diners, he had come upon her unexpected face,
with the dark hair banded above grave eyes; eyes in which he
had recognized every little curve and shadow as he would
have recognized, after half a life-time, the details of a
room he had played in as a child. And as, in the plumed
starred crowd, she had stood out for him, slender, secluded
and different, so he had felt, the instant their glances
met, that he as sharply detached himself for her. All that
and more her smile had said; had said not merely "I
remember," but "I remember just what you remember"; almost,
indeed, as though her memory had aided his, her glance flung
back on their recaptured moment its morning brightness.
Certainly, when their distracted Ambassadress--with the cry:
"Oh, you know Mrs. Leath? That's perfect, for General
Farnham has failed me"--had waved them together for the
march to the diningroom, Darrow had felt a slight pressure
of the arm on his, a pressure faintly but unmistakably
emphasizing the exclamation: "Isn't it wonderful?--In
London--in the season--in a mob?"
Little enough, on the part of most women; but it was a sign
of Mrs. Leath's quality that every movement, every syllable,
told with her. Even in the old days, as an intent graveeyed
girl, she had seldom misplaced her light strokes; and
Darrow, on meeting her again, had immediately felt how much
finer and surer an instrument of expression she had become.
Their evening together had been a long confirmation of this
feeling. She had talked to him, shyly yet frankly, of what
had happened to her during the years when they had so
strangely failed to meet. She had told him of her marriage
to Fraser Leath, and of her subsequent life in France, where
her husband's mother, left a widow in his youth, had been
re-married to the Marquis de Chantelle, and where, partly in
consequence of this second union, the son had permanently
settled himself. She had spoken also, with an intense
eagerness of affection, of her little girl Effie, who was
now nine years old, and, in a strain hardly less tender, of
Owen Leath, the charming clever young stepson whom her
husband's death had left to her care...
A porter, stumbling against Darrow's bags, roused him to the
fact that he still obstructed the platform, inert and
encumbering as his luggage.
"Crossing, sir?"
Was he crossing? He really didn't know; but for lack of any
more compelling impulse he followed the porter to the
luggage van, singled out his property, and turned to march
behind it down the gang-way. As the fierce wind shouldered
him, building up a crystal wall against his efforts, he felt
anew the derision of his case.
"Nasty weather to cross, sir," the porter threw back at him
as they beat their way down the narrow walk to the pier.
Nasty weather, indeed; but luckily, as it had turned out,
there was no earthly reason why Darrow should cross.
While he pushed on in the wake of his luggage his thoughts
slipped back into the old groove. He had once or twice run
across the man whom Anna Summers had preferred to him, and
since he had met her again he had been exercising his
imagination on the picture of what her married life must
have been. Her husband had struck him as a characteristic
specimen of the kind of American as to whom one is not quite
clear whether he lives in Europe in order to cultivate an
art, or cultivates an art as a pretext for living in Europe.
Mr. Leath's art was water-colour painting, but he practised
it furtively, almost clandestinely, with the disdain of a
man of the world for anything bordering on the professional,
while he devoted himself more openly, and with religious
seriousness, to the collection of enamelled snuff-boxes. He
was blond and well-dressed, with the physical distinction
that comes from having a straight figure, a thin nose, and
the habit of looking slightly disgusted--as who should not,
in a world where authentic snuff-boxes were growing daily
harder to find, and the market was flooded with flagrant
Darrow had often wondered what possibilities of communion
there could have been between Mr. Leath and his wife. Now
he concluded that there had probably been none. Mrs.
Leath's words gave no hint of her husband's having failed to
justify her choice; but her very reticence betrayed her.
She spoke of him with a kind of impersonal seriousness, as
if he had been a character in a novel or a figure in
history; and what she said sounded as though it had been
learned by heart and slightly dulled by repetition. This
fact immensely increased Darrow's impression that his
meeting with her had annihilated the intervening years.
She, who was always so elusive and inaccessible, had grown
suddenly communicative and kind: had opened the doors of her
past, and tacitly left him to draw his own conclusions. As
a result, he had taken leave of her with the sense that he
was a being singled out and privileged, to whom she had
entrusted something precious to keep. It was her happiness
in their meeting that she had given him, had frankly left
him to do with as he willed; and the frankness of the
gesture doubled the beauty of the gift.
Their next meeting had prolonged and deepened the
impression. They had found each other again, a few days
later, in an old country house full of books and pictures,
in the soft landscape of southern England. The presence of a
large party, with all its aimless and agitated
displacements, had served only to isolate the pair and give
them (at least to the young man's fancy) a deeper feeling of
communion, and their days there had been like some musical
prelude, where the instruments, breathing low, seem to hold
back the waves of sound that press against them.
Mrs. Leath, on this occasion, was no less kind than before;
but she contrived to make him understand that what was so
inevitably coming was not to come too soon. It was not that
she showed any hesitation as to the issue, but rather that
she seemed to wish not to miss any stage in the gradual
reflowering of their intimacy.
Darrow, for his part, was content to wait if she wished it.
He remembered that once, in America, when she was a girl,
and he had gone to stay with her family in the country, she
had been out when he arrived, and her mother had told him to
look for her in the garden. She was not in the garden, but
beyond it he had seen her approaching down a long shady
path. Without hastening her step she had smiled and signed
to him to wait; and charmed by the lights and shadows that
played upon her as she moved, and by the pleasure of
watching her slow advance toward him, he had obeyed her and
stood still. And so she seemed now to be walking to him down
the years, the light and shade of old memories and new hopes
playing variously on her, and each step giving him the
vision of a different grace. She did not waver or turn
aside; he knew she would come straight to where he stood;
but something in her eyes said "Wait", and again he obeyed
and waited.
On the fourth day an unexpected event threw out his
calculations. Summoned to town by the arrival in England of
her husband's mother, she left without giving Darrow the
chance he had counted on, and he cursed himself for a
dilatory blunderer. Still, his disappointment was tempered
by the certainty of being with her again before she left for
France; and they did in fact see each other in London.
There, however, the atmosphere had changed with the
conditions. He could not say that she avoided him, or even
that she was a shade less glad to see him; but she was beset
by family duties and, as he thought, a little too readily
resigned to them.
The Marquise de Chantelle, as Darrow soon perceived, had the
same mild formidableness as the late Mr. Leath: a sort of
insistent self-effacement before which every one about her
gave way. It was perhaps the shadow of this lady's
presence--pervasive even during her actual brief eclipses--
that subdued and silenced Mrs. Leath. The latter was,
moreover, preoccupied about her stepson, who, soon after
receiving his degree at Harvard, had been rescued from a
stormy love-affair, and finally, after some months of
troubled drifting, had yielded to his step-mother's counsel
and gone up to Oxford for a year of supplementary study.
Thither Mrs. Leath went once or twice to visit him, and her
remaining days were packed with family obligations: getting,
as she phrased it, "frocks and governesses" for her little
girl, who had been left in France, and having to devote the
remaining hours to long shopping expeditions with her
mother-in-law. Nevertheless, during her brief escapes from
duty, Darrow had had time to feel her safe in the custody of
his devotion, set apart for some inevitable hour; and the
last evening, at the theatre, between the overshadowing
Marquise and the unsuspicious Owen, they had had an almost
decisive exchange of words.
Now, in the rattle of the wind about his ears, Darrow
continued to hear the mocking echo of her message:
"Unexpected obstacle." In such an existence as Mrs. Leath's,
at once so ordered and so exposed, he knew how small a
complication might assume the magnitude of an "obstacle;"
yet, even allowing as impartially as his state of mind
permitted for the fact that, with her mother-in-law always,
and her stepson intermittently, under her roof, her lot
involved a hundred small accommodations generally foreign to
the freedom of widowhood--even so, he could not but think
that the very ingenuity bred of such conditions might have
helped her to find a way out of them. No, her "reason",
whatever it was, could, in this case, be nothing but a
pretext; unless he leaned to the less flattering alternative
that any reason seemed good enough for postponing him!
Certainly, if her welcome had meant what he imagined, she
could not, for the second time within a few weeks, have
submitted so tamely to the disarrangement of their plans; a
disarrangement which--his official duties considered--might,
for all she knew, result in his not being able to go to her
for months.
"Please don't come till thirtieth." The thirtieth--and it
was now the fifteenth! She flung back the fortnight on his
hands as if he had been an idler indifferent to dates,
instead of an active young diplomatist who, to respond to
her call, had had to hew his way through a very jungle of
engagements! "Please don't come till thirtieth." That was
all. Not the shadow of an excuse or a regret; not even the
perfunctory "have written" with which it is usual to soften
such blows. She didn't want him, and had taken the shortest
way to tell him so. Even in his first moment of
exasperation it struck him as characteristic that she should
not have padded her postponement with a fib. Certainly her
moral angles were not draped!
"If I asked her to marry me, she'd have refused in the same
language. But thank heaven I haven't!" he reflected.
These considerations, which had been with him every yard of
the way from London, reached a climax of irony as he was
drawn into the crowd on the pier. It did not soften his
feelings to remember that, but for her lack of forethought,
he might, at this harsh end of the stormy May day, have been
sitting before his club fire in London instead of shivering
in the damp human herd on the pier. Admitting the sex's
traditional right to change, she might at least have advised
him of hers by telegraphing directly to his rooms. But in
spite of their exchange of letters she had apparently failed
to note his address, and a breathless emissary had rushed
from the Embassy to pitch her telegram into his compartment
as the train was moving from the station.
Yes, he had given her chance enough to learn where he lived;
and this minor proof of her indifference became, as he
jammed his way through the crowd, the main point of his
grievance against her and of his derision of himself. Half
way down the pier the prod of an umbrella increased his
exasperation by rousing him to the fact that it was raining.
Instantly the narrow ledge became a battle-ground of
thrusting, slanting, parrying domes. The wind rose with the
rain, and the harried wretches exposed to this double
assault wreaked on their neighbours the vengeance they could
not take on the elements.
Darrow, whose healthy enjoyment of life made him in general
a good traveller, tolerant of agglutinated humanity, felt
himself obscurely outraged by these promiscuous contacts.
It was as though all the people about him had taken his
measure and known his plight; as though they were
contemptuously bumping and shoving him like the
inconsiderable thing he had become. "She doesn't want you,
doesn't want you, doesn't want you," their umbrellas and
their elbows seemed to say.
He had rashly vowed, when the telegram was flung into his
window: "At any rate I won't turn back"--as though it might
cause the sender a malicious joy to have him retrace his
steps rather than keep on to Paris! Now he perceived the
absurdity of the vow, and thanked his stars that he need not
plunge, to no purpose, into the fury of waves outside the
With this thought in his mind he turned back to look for his
porter; but the contiguity of dripping umbrellas made
signalling impossible and, perceiving that he had lost sight
of the man, he scrambled up again to the platform. As he
reached it, a descending umbrella caught him in the collarbone;
and the next moment, bent sideways by the wind, it
turned inside out and soared up, kite-wise, at the end of a
helpless female arm.
Darrow caught the umbrella, lowered its inverted ribs, and
looked up at the face it exposed to him.
"Wait a minute," he said; "you can't stay here."
As he spoke, a surge of the crowd drove the owner of the
umbrella abruptly down on him. Darrow steadied her with
extended arms, and regaining her footing she cried out: "Oh,
dear, oh, dear! It's in ribbons!"
Her lifted face, fresh and flushed in the driving rain, woke
in him a memory of having seen it at a distant time and in a
vaguely unsympathetic setting; but it was no moment to
follow up such clues, and the face was obviously one to make
its way on its own merits.
Its possessor had dropped her bag and bundles to clutch at
the tattered umbrella. "I bought it only yesterday at the
Stores; and--yes--it's utterly done for!" she lamented.
Darrow smiled at the intensity of her distress. It was food
for the moralist that, side by side with such catastrophes
as his, human nature was still agitating itself over its
microscopic woes!
"Here's mine if you want it!" he shouted back at her through
the shouting of the gale.
The offer caused the young lady to look at him more
intently. "Why, it's Mr. Darrow!" she exclaimed; and then,
all radiant recognition: "Oh, thank you! We'll share it, if
you will."
She knew him, then; and he knew her; but how and where had
they met? He put aside the problem for subsequent solution,
and drawing her into a more sheltered corner, bade her wait
till he could find his porter.
When, a few minutes later, he came back with his recovered
property, and the news that the boat would not leave till
the tide had turned, she showed no concern.
"Not for two hours? How lucky--then I can find my trunk!"
Ordinarily Darrow would have felt little disposed to involve
himself in the adventure of a young female who had lost her
trunk; but at the moment he was glad of any pretext for
activity. Even should he decide to take the next up train
from Dover he still had a yawning hour to fill; and the
obvious remedy was to devote it to the loveliness in
distress under his umbrella.
"You've lost a trunk? Let me see if I can find it."
It pleased him that she did not return the conventional "Oh,
WOULD you?" Instead, she corrected him with a laugh--Not
a trunk, but my trunk; I've no other--" and then added
briskly: "You'd better first see to getting your own things
on the boat."
This made him answer, as if to give substance to his plans
by discussing them: "I don't actually know that I'm going
"Not going over?"
"Well...perhaps not by this boat." Again he felt a stealing
indecision. "I may probably have to go back to London.
I'm--I'm waiting...expecting a letter...(She'll think me a
defaulter," he reflected.) "But meanwhile there's plenty of
time to find your trunk."
He picked up his companion's bundles, and offered her an arm
which enabled her to press her slight person more closely
under his umbrella; and as, thus linked, they beat their way
back to the platform, pulled together and apart like
marionettes on the wires of the wind, he continued to wonder
where he could have seen her. He had immediately classed
her as a compatriot; her small nose, her clear tints, a kind
of sketchy delicacy in her face, as though she had been
brightly but lightly washed in with water-colour, all
confirmed the evidence of her high sweet voice and of her
quick incessant gestures.She was clearly an American, but
with the loose native quality strained through a closer woof
of manners: the composite product of an enquiring and
adaptable race. All this, however, did not help him to fit
a name to her, for just such instances were perpetually
pouring through the London Embassy, and the etched and
angular American was becoming rarer than the fluid type.
More puzzling than the fact of his being unable to identify
her was the persistent sense connecting her with something
uncomfortable and distasteful. So pleasant a vision as that
gleaming up at him between wet brown hair and wet brown boa
should have evoked only associations as pleasing; but each
effort to fit her image into his past resulted in the same
memories of boredom and a vague discomfort...
Don't you remember me now--at Mrs. Murrett's?"
She threw the question at Darrow across a table of the quiet
coffee-room to which, after a vainly prolonged quest for her
trunk, he had suggested taking her for a cup of tea.
In this musty retreat she had removed her dripping hat, hung
it on the fender to dry, and stretched herself on tiptoe in
front of the round eagle-crowned mirror, above the mantel
vases of dyed immortelles, while she ran her fingers combwise
through her hair. The gesture had acted on Darrow's
numb feelings as the glow of the fire acted on his
circulation; and when he had asked: "Aren't your feet wet,
too?" and, after frank inspection of a stout-shod sole, she
had answered cheerfully: "No--luckily I had on my new
boots," he began to feel that human intercourse would still
be tolerable if it were always as free from formality.
The removal of his companion's hat, besides provoking this
reflection, gave him his first full sight of her face; and
this was so favourable that the name she now pronounced fell
on him with a quite disproportionate shock of dismay.
"Oh, Mrs. Murrett's--was it THERE?"
He remembered her now, of course: remembered her as one of
the shadowy sidling presences in the background of that
awful house in Chelsea, one of the dumb appendages of the
shrieking unescapable Mrs. Murrett, into whose talons he had
fallen in the course of his head-long pursuit of Lady Ulrica
Crispin. Oh, the taste of stale follies! How insipid it
was, yet how it clung!
"I used to pass you on the stairs," she reminded him.
Yes: he had seen her slip by--he recalled it now--as he
dashed up to the drawing-room in quest of Lady Ulrica. The
thought made him steal a longer look. How could such a face
have been merged in the Murrett mob? Its fugitive slanting
lines, that lent themselves to all manner of tender tilts
and foreshortenings, had the freakish grace of some young
head of the Italian comedy. The hair stood up from her
forehead in a boyish elf-lock, and its colour matched her
auburn eyes flecked with black, and the little brown spot on
her cheek, between the ear that was meant to have a rose
behind it and the chin that should have rested on a ruff.
When she smiled, the left corner of her mouth went up a
little higher than the right; and her smile began in her
eyes and ran down to her lips in two lines of light. He had
dashed past that to reach Lady Ulrica Crispin!
"But of course you wouldn't remember me," she was saying.
"My name is Viner--Sophy Viner."
Not remember her? But of course he DID! He was genuinely
sure of it now. "You're Mrs. Murrett's niece," he declared.
She shook her head. "No; not even that. Only her reader."
"Her reader? Do you mean to say she ever reads?"
Miss Viner enjoyed his wonder. "Dear, no! But I wrote
notes, and made up the visiting-book, and walked the dogs,
and saw bores for her."
Darrow groaned. "That must have been rather bad!"
"Yes; but nothing like as bad as being her niece."
"That I can well believe. I'm glad to hear," he added,
"that you put it all in the past tense."
She seemed to droop a little at the allusion; then she
lifted her chin with a jerk of defiance. "Yes. All is at
an end between us. We've just parted in tears--but not in
"Just parted? Do you mean to say you've been there all this
"Ever since you used to come there to see Lady Ulrica? Does
it seem to you so awfully long ago?"
The unexpectedness of the thrust--as well as its doubtful
taste--chilled his growing enjoyment of her chatter. He had
really been getting to like her--had recovered, under the
candid approval of her eye, his usual sense of being a
personable young man, with all the privileges pertaining to
the state, instead of the anonymous rag of humanity he had
felt himself in the crowd on the pier. It annoyed him, at
that particular moment, to be reminded that naturalness is
not always consonant with taste.
She seemed to guess his thought. "You don't like my saying
that you came for Lady Ulrica?" she asked, leaning over the
table to pour herself a second cup of tea.
He liked her quickness, at any rate. "It's better," he
laughed, "than your thinking I came for Mrs. Murrett!"
"Oh, we never thought anybody came for Mrs. Murrett! It was
always for something else: the music, or the cook--when
there was a good one--or the other people; generally ONE
of the other people."
"I see."
She was amusing, and that, in his present mood, was more to
his purpose than the exact shade of her taste. It was odd,
too, to discover suddenly that the blurred tapestry of Mrs.
Murrett's background had all the while been alive and full
of eyes. Now, with a pair of them looking into his, he was
conscious of a queer reversal of perspective.
"Who were the 'we'? Were you a cloud of witnesses?"
"There were a good many of us." She smiled. "Let me see--
who was there in your time? Mrs. Bolt--and Mademoiselle--and
Professor Didymus and the Polish Countess. Don't you
remember the Polish Countess? She crystal-gazed, and played
accompaniments, and Mrs. Murrett chucked her because Mrs.
Didymus accused her of hypnotizing the Professor. But of
course you don't remember. We were all invisible to you;
but we could see. And we all used to wonder about you----"
Again Darrow felt a redness in the temples. "What about
"Well--whether it was you or she who..."
He winced, but hid his disapproval. It made the time pass
to listen to her.
"And what, if one may ask, was your conclusion?"
"Well, Mrs. Bolt and Mademoiselle and the Countess naturally
thought it was SHE; but Professor Didymus and Jimmy
Brance--especially Jimmy----"
"Just a moment: who on earth is Jimmy Brance?"
She exclaimed in wonder: "You WERE absorbed--not to
remember Jimmy Brance! He must have been right about you,
after all." She let her amused scrutiny dwell on him. "But
how could you? She was false from head to foot!"
"False----?" In spite of time and satiety, the male instinct
of ownership rose up and repudiated the charge.
Miss Viner caught his look and laughed. "Oh, I only meant
externally! You see, she often used to come to my room after
tennis, or to touch up in the evenings, when they were going
on; and I assure you she took apart like a puzzle. In fact
I used to say to Jimmy--just to make him wild--:'I'll bet
you anything you like there's nothing wrong, because I know
she'd never dare un--'" She broke the word in two, and her
quick blush made her face like a shallow-petalled rose
shading to the deeper pink of the centre.
The situation was saved, for Darrow, by an abrupt rush of
memories, and he gave way to a mirth which she as frankly
echoed. "Of course," she gasped through her laughter, "I
only said it to tease Jimmy----"
Her amusement obscurely annoyed him. "Oh, you're all
alike!" he exclaimed, moved by an unaccountable sense of
She caught him up in a flash--she didn't miss things! "You
say that because you think I'm spiteful and envious? Yes--I
was envious of Lady Ulrica...Oh, not on account of you or
Jimmy Brance! Simply because she had almost all the things
I've always wanted: clothes and fun and motors, and
admiration and yachting and Paris--why, Paris alone would
be enough!--And how do you suppose a girl can see that sort
of thing about her day after day, and never wonder why some
women, who don't seem to have any more right to it, have it
all tumbled into their laps, while others are writing dinner
invitations, and straightening out accounts, and copying
visiting lists, and finishing golf-stockings, and matching
ribbons, and seeing that the dogs get their sulphur? One
looks in one's glass, after all!"
She launched the closing words at him on a cry that lifted
them above the petulance of vanity; but his sense of her
words was lost in the surprise of her face. Under the
flying clouds of her excitement it was no longer a shallow
flower-cup but a darkening gleaming mirror that might give
back strange depths of feeling. The girl had stuff in her--
he saw it; and she seemed to catch the perception in his
"That's the kind of education I got at Mrs. Murrett's--and
I never had any other," she said with a shrug.
"Good Lord--were you there so long?"
"Five years. I stuck it out longer than any of the others."
She spoke as though it were something to be proud of.
"Well, thank God you're out of it now!"
Again a just perceptible shadow crossed her face. "Yes--I'm
out of it now fast enough."
"And what--if I may ask--are you doing next?"
She brooded a moment behind drooped lids; then, with a touch
of hauteur: "I'm going to Paris: to study for the stage."
"The stage?" Darrow stared at her, dismayed. All his
confused contradictory impressions assumed a new aspect at
this announcement; and to hide his surprise he added
lightly: "Ah--then you will have Paris, after all!"
"Hardly Lady Ulrica's Paris. It s not likely to be roses,
roses all the way."
"It's not, indeed." Real compassion prompted him to
continue: "Have you any--any influence you can count on?"
She gave a somewhat flippant little laugh. "None but my
own. I've never had any other to count on."
He passed over the obvious reply. "But have you any idea
how the profession is over-crowded? I know I'm trite----"
"I've a very clear idea. But I couldn't go on as I was."
"Of course not. But since, as you say, you'd stuck it out
longer than any of the others, couldn't you at least have
held on till you were sure of some kind of an opening?"
She made no reply for a moment; then she turned a listless
glance to the rain-beaten window. "Oughtn't we be
starting?" she asked, with a lofty assumption of
indifference that might have been Lady Ulrica's.
Darrow, surprised by the change, but accepting her rebuff as
a phase of what he guessed to be a confused and tormented
mood, rose from his seat and lifted her jacket from the
chair-back on which she had hung it to dry. As he held it
toward her she looked up at him quickly.
"The truth is, we quarrelled," she broke out, "and I left
last night without my dinner--and without my salary."
"Ah--" he groaned, with a sharp perception of all the sordid
dangers that might attend such a break with Mrs. Murrett.
"And without a character!" she added, as she slipped her
arms into the jacket. "And without a trunk, as it appears--
but didn't you say that, before going, there'd be time for
another look at the station?"
There was time for another look at the station; but the look
again resulted in disappointment, since her trunk was
nowhere to be found in the huge heap disgorged by the newlyarrived
London express. The fact caused Miss Viner a
moment's perturbation; but she promptly adjusted herself to
the necessity of proceeding on her journey, and her decision
confirmed Darrow's vague resolve to go to Paris instead of
retracing his way to London.
Miss Viner seemed cheered at the prospect of his company,
and sustained by his offer to telegraph to Charing Cross for
the missing trunk; and he left her to wait in the fly while
he hastened back to the telegraph office. The enquiry
despatched, he was turning away from the desk when another
thought struck him and he went back and indited a message to
his servant in London: "If any letters with French post-mark
received since departure forward immediately to Terminus
Hotel Gare du Nord Paris."
Then he rejoined Miss Viner, and they drove off through the
rain to the pier.
Almost as soon as the train left Calais her head had dropped
back into the corner, and she had fallen asleep.
Sitting opposite, in the compartment from which he had
contrived to have other travellers excluded, Darrow looked
at her curiously. He had never seen a face that changed so
quickly. A moment since it had danced like a field of
daisies in a summer breeze; now, under the pallid
oscillating light of the lamp overhead, it wore the hard
stamp of experience, as of a soft thing chilled into shape
before its curves had rounded: and it moved him to see that
care already stole upon her when she slept.
The story she had imparted to him in the wheezing shaking
cabin, and at the Calais buffet--where he had insisted on
offering her the dinner she had missed at Mrs. Murrett's--
had given a distincter outline to her figure. From the
moment of entering the New York boarding-school to which a
preoccupied guardian had hastily consigned her after the
death of her parents, she had found herself alone in a busy
and indifferent world. Her youthful history might, in fact,
have been summed up in the statement that everybody had been
too busy to look after her. Her guardian, a drudge in a big
banking house, was absorbed by "the office"; the guardian's
wife, by her health and her religion; and an elder sister,
Laura, married, unmarried, remarried, and pursuing, through
all these alternating phases, some vaguely "artistic" ideal
on which the guardian and his wife looked askance, had (as
Darrow conjectured) taken their disapproval as a pretext for
not troubling herself about poor Sophy, to whom--perhaps for
this reason--she had remained the incarnation of remote
romantic possibilities.
In the course of time a sudden "stroke" of the guardian's
had thrown his personal affairs into a state of confusion
from which--after his widely lamented death--it became
evident that it would not be possible to extricate his
ward's inheritance. No one deplored this more sincerely
than his widow, who saw in it one more proof of her
husband's life having been sacrificed to the innumerable
duties imposed on him, and who could hardly--but for the
counsels of religion--have brought herself to pardon the
young girl for her indirect share in hastening his end.
Sophy did not resent this point of view. She was really
much sorrier for her guardian's death than for the loss of
her insignificant fortune. The latter had represented only
the means of holding her in bondage, and its disappearance
was the occasion of her immediate plunge into the wide
bright sea of life surrounding the island-of her captivity.
She had first landed--thanks to the intervention of the
ladies who had directed her education--in a Fifth Avenue
school-room where, for a few months, she acted as a buffer
between three autocratic infants and their bodyguard of
nurses and teachers. The too-pressing attentions of their
father's valet had caused her to fly this sheltered spot,
against the express advice of her educational superiors, who
implied that, in their own case, refinement and self-respect
had always sufficed to keep the most ungovernable passions
at bay. The experience of the guardian's widow having been
precisely similar, and the deplorable precedent of Laura's
career being present to all their minds, none of these
ladies felt any obligation to intervene farther in Sophy's
affairs; and she was accordingly left to her own resources.
A schoolmate from the Rocky Mountains, who was taking her
father and mother to Europe, had suggested Sophy's
accompanying them, and "going round" with her while her
progenitors, in the care of the courier, nursed their
ailments at a fashionable bath. Darrow gathered that the
"going round" with Mamie Hoke was a varied and diverting
process; but this relatively brilliant phase of Sophy's
career was cut short by the elopement of the inconsiderate
Mamie with a "matinee idol" who had followed her from New
York, and by the precipitate return of her parents to
negotiate for the repurchase of their child.
It was then--after an interval of repose with compassionate
but impecunious American friends in Paris--that Miss Viner
had been drawn into the turbid current of Mrs. Murrett's
career. The impecunious compatriots had found Mrs. Murrett
for her, and it was partly on their account (because they
were such dears, and so unconscious, poor confiding things,
of what they were letting her in for) that Sophy had stuck
it out so long in the dreadful house in Chelsea. The
Farlows, she explained to Darrow, were the best friends she
had ever had (and the only ones who had ever "been decent"
about Laura, whom they had seen once, and intensely
admired); but even after twenty years of Paris they were the
most incorrigibly inexperienced angels, and quite persuaded
that Mrs. Murrett was a woman of great intellectual
eminence, and the house at Chelsea "the last of the salons"
--Darrow knew what she meant? And she hadn't liked to
undeceive them, knowing that to do so would be virtually to
throw herself back on their hands, and feeling, moreover,
after her previous experiences, the urgent need of gaining,
at any cost, a name for stability; besides which--she threw
it off with a slight laugh--no other chance, in all these
years, had happened to come to her.
She had brushed in this outline of her career with light
rapid strokes, and in a tone of fatalism oddly untinged by
bitterness. Darrow perceived that she classified people
according to their greater or less "luck" in life, but she
appeared to harbour no resentment against the undefined
power which dispensed the gift in such unequal measure.
Things came one's way or they didn't; and meanwhile one
could only look on, and make the most of small
compensations, such as watching "the show" at Mrs.
Murrett's, and talking over the Lady Ulricas and other
footlight figures. And at any moment, of course, a turn of
the kaleidoscope might suddenly toss a bright spangle into
the grey pattern of one's days.
This light-hearted philosophy was not without charm to a
young man accustomed to more traditional views. George
Darrow had had a fairly varied experience of feminine types,
but the women he had frequented had either been pronouncedly
"ladies" or they had not. Grateful to both for ministering
to the more complex masculine nature, and disposed to assume
that they had been evolved, if not designed, to that end, he
had instinctively kept the two groups apart in his mind,
avoiding that intermediate society which attempts to
conciliate both theories of life. "Bohemianism" seemed to
him a cheaper convention than the other two, and he liked,
above all, people who went as far as they could in their own
line--liked his "ladies" and their rivals to be equally
unashamed of showing for exactly what they were. He had not
indeed--the fact of Lady Ulrica was there to remind him--
been without his experience of a third type; but that
experience had left him with a contemptuous distaste for the
woman who uses the privileges of one class to shelter the
customs of another.
As to young girls, he had never thought much about them
since his early love for the girl who had become Mrs. Leath.
That episode seemed, as he looked back on it, to bear no
more relation to reality than a pale decorative design to
the confused richness of a summer landscape. He no longer
understood the violent impulses and dreamy pauses of his own
young heart, or the inscrutable abandonments and reluctances
of hers. He had known a moment of anguish at losing her--the
mad plunge of youthful instincts against the barrier of
fate; but the first wave of stronger sensation had swept
away all but the outline of their story, and the memory of
Anna Summers had made the image of the young girl sacred,
but the class uninteresting.
Such generalisations belonged, however, to an earlier stage
of his experience. The more he saw of life the more
incalculable he found it; and he had learned to yield to his
impressions without feeling the youthful need of relating
them to others. It was the girl in the opposite seat who
had roused in him the dormant habit of comparison. She was
distinguished from the daughters of wealth by her avowed
acquaintance with the real business of living, a familiarity
as different as possible from their theoretical proficiency;
yet it seemed to Darrow that her experience had made her
free without hardness and self-assured without
The rush into Amiens, and the flash of the station lights
into their compartment, broke Miss Viner's sleep, and
without changing her position she lifted her lids and looked
at Darrow. There was neither surprise nor bewilderment in
the look. She seemed instantly conscious, not so much of
where she was, as of the fact that she was with him; and
that fact seemed enough to reassure her. She did not even
turn her head to look out; her eyes continued to rest on him
with a vague smile which appeared to light her face from
within, while her lips kept their sleepy droop.
Shouts and the hurried tread of travellers came to them
through the confusing cross-lights of the platform. A head
appeared at the window, and Darrow threw himself forward to
defend their solitude; but the intruder was only a train
hand going his round of inspection. He passed on, and the
lights and cries of the station dropped away, merged in a
wider haze and a hollower resonance, as the train gathered
itself up with a long shake and rolled out again into the
Miss Viner's head sank back against the cushion, pushing out
a dusky wave of hair above her forehead. The swaying of the
train loosened a lock over her ear, and she shook it back
with a movement like a boy's, while her gaze still rested on
her companion.
"You're not too tired?"
She shook her head with a smile.
"We shall be in before midnight. We're very nearly on
time." He verified the statement by holding up his watch to
the lamp.
She nodded dreamily. "It's all right. I telegraphed Mrs.
Farlow that they mustn't think of coming to the station; but
they'll have told the concierge to look out for me."
"You'll let me drive you there?"
She nodded again, and her eyes closed. It was very pleasant
to Darrow that she made no effort to talk or to dissemble
her sleepiness. He sat watching her till the upper lashes
met and mingled with the lower, and their blent shadow lay
on her cheek; then he stood up and drew the curtain over the
lamp, drowning the compartment in a bluish twilight.
As he sank back into his seat he thought how differently
Anna Summers--or even Anna Leath--would have behaved. She
would not have talked too much; she would not have been
either restless or embarrassed; but her adaptability, her
appropriateness, would not have been nature but "tact." The
oddness of the situation would have made sleep impossible,
or, if weariness had overcome her for a moment, she would
have waked with a start, wondering where she was, and how
she had come there, and if her hair were tidy; and nothing
short of hairpins and a glass would have restored her selfpossession...
The reflection set him wondering whether the "sheltered"
girl's bringing-up might not unfit her for all subsequent
contact with life. How much nearer to it had Mrs. Leath
been brought by marriage and motherhood, and the passage of
fourteen years? What were all her reticences and evasions
but the result of the deadening process of forming a "lady"?
The freshness he had marvelled at was like the unnatural
whiteness of flowers forced in the dark.
As he looked back at their few days together he saw that
their intercourse had been marked, on her part, by the same
hesitations and reserves which had chilled their earlier
intimacy. Once more they had had their hour together and
she had wasted it. As in her girlhood, her eyes had made
promises which her lips were afraid to keep. She was still
afraid of life, of its ruthlessness, its danger and mystery.
She was still the petted little girl who cannot be left
alone in the dark...His memory flew back to their youthful
story, and long-forgotten details took shape before him.
How frail and faint the picture was! They seemed, he and
she, like the ghostly lovers of the Grecian Urn, forever
pursuing without ever clasping each other. To this day he
did not quite know what had parted them: the break had been
as fortuitous as the fluttering apart of two seed-vessels on
a wave of summer air...
The very slightness, vagueness, of the memory gave it an
added poignancy. He felt the mystic pang of the parent for
a child which has just breathed and died. Why had it
happened thus, when the least shifting of influences might
have made it all so different? If she had been given to him
then he would have put warmth in her veins and light in her
eyes: would have made her a woman through and through.
Musing thus, he had the sense of waste that is the bitterest
harvest of experience. A love like his might have given her
the divine gift of self-renewal; and now he saw her fated to
wane into old age repeating the same gestures, echoing the
words she had always heard, and perhaps never guessing that,
just outside her glazed and curtained consciousness, life
rolled away, a vast blackness starred with lights, like the
night landscape beyond the windows of the train.
The engine lowered its speed for the passage through a
sleeping station. In the light of the platform lamp Darrow
looked across at his companion. Her head had dropped toward
one shoulder, and her lips were just far enough apart for
the reflection of the upper one to deepen the colour of the
other. The jolting of the train had again shaken loose the
lock above her ear. It danced on her cheek like the flit of
a brown wing over flowers, and Darrow felt an intense desire
to lean forward and put it back behind her ear.
As their motor-cab, on the way from the Gare du Nord, turned
into the central glitter of the Boulevard, Darrow had bent
over to point out an incandescent threshold.
Above the doorway, an arch of flame flashed out the name of
a great actress, whose closing performances in a play of
unusual originality had been the theme of long articles in
the Paris papers which Darrow had tossed into their
compartment at Calais.
"That's what you must see before you're twenty-four hours
The girl followed his gesture eagerly. She was all awake
and alive now, as if the heady rumours of the streets, with
their long effervescences of light, had passed into her
veins like wine.
"Cerdine? Is that where she acts?" She put her head out of
the window, straining back for a glimpse of the sacred
threshold. As they flew past it she sank into her seat with
a satisfied sigh.
"It's delicious enough just to KNOW she's there! I've
never seen her, you know. When I was here with Mamie Hoke
we never went anywhere but to the music halls, because she
couldn't understand any French; and when I came back
afterward to the Farlows' I was dead broke, and couldn't
afford the play, and neither could they; so the only chance
we had was when friends of theirs invited us--and once it
was to see a tragedy by a Roumanian lady, and the other time
it was for 'L'Ami Fritz' at the Francais."
Darrow laughed. "You must do better than that now. 'Le
Vertige' is a fine thing, and Cerdine gets some wonderful
effects out of it. You must come with me tomorrow evening
to see it--with your friends, of course.--That is," he
added, "if there's any sort of chance of getting seats."
The flash of a street lamp lit up her radiant face. "Oh,
will you really take us? What fun to think that it's
tomorrow already!"
It was wonderfully pleasant to be able to give such
pleasure. Darrow was not rich, but it was almost impossible
for him to picture the state of persons with tastes and
perceptions like his own, to whom an evening at the theatre
was an unattainable indulgence. There floated through his
mind an answer of Mrs. Leath's to his enquiry whether she
had seen the play in question. "No. I meant to, of course,
but one is so overwhelmed with things in Paris. And then
I'm rather sick of Cerdine--one is always being dragged to
see her."
That, among the people he frequented, was the usual attitude
toward such opportunities. There were too many, they were a
nuisance, one had to defend one's self! He even remembered
wondering, at the moment, whether to a really fine taste the
exceptional thing could ever become indifferent through
habit; whether the appetite for beauty was so soon dulled
that it could be kept alive only by privation. Here, at any
rate, was a fine chance to experiment with such a hunger: he
almost wished he might stay on in Paris long enough to take
the measure of Miss Viner's receptivity.
She was still dwelling on his promise, "It's too beautiful
of you! Oh, don't you THINK you'll be able to get
seats?" And then, after a pause of brimming appreciation: "I
wonder if you'll think me horrid?--but it may be my only
chance; and if you can't get places for us all, wouldn't you
perhaps just take ME? After all, the Farlows may have
seen it!"
He had not, of course, thought her horrid, but only the more
engaging, for being so natural, and so unashamed of showing
the frank greed of her famished youth. "Oh, you shall go
somehow!" he had gaily promised her; and she had dropped
back with a sigh of pleasure as their cab passed into the
dimly-lit streets of the Farlows' quarter beyond the
This little passage came back to him the next morning, as he
opened his hotel window on the early roar of the Northern
The girl was there, in the room next to him. That had been
the first point in his waking consciousness. The second was
a sense of relief at the obligation imposed on him by this
unexpected turn of everts. To wake to the necessity of
action, to postpone perforce the fruitless contemplation of
his private grievance, was cause enough for gratitude, even
if the small adventure in which he found himself involved
had not, on its own merits, roused an instinctive curiosity
to see it through.
When he and his companion, the night before, had reached the
Farlows' door in the rue de la Chaise, it was only to find,
after repeated assaults on its panels, that the Farlows were
no longer there. They had moved away the week before, not
only from their apartment but from Paris; and Miss Viner's
breach with Mrs. Murrett had been too sudden to permit her
letter and telegram to overtake them. Both communications,
no doubt, still reposed in a pigeon-hole of the loge;
but its custodian, when drawn from his lair, sulkily
declined to let Miss Viner verify the fact, and only flung
out, in return for Darrow's bribe, the statement that the
Americans had gone to Joigny.
To pursue them there at that hour was manifestly impossible,
and Miss Viner, disturbed but not disconcerted by this new
obstacle, had quite simply acceded to Darrow's suggestion
that she should return for what remained of the night to the
hotel where he had sent his luggage.
The drive back through the dark hush before dawn, with the
nocturnal blaze of the Boulevard fading around them like the
false lights of a magician's palace, had so played on her
impressionability that she seemed to give no farther thought
to her own predicament. Darrow noticed that she did not
feel the beauty and mystery of the spectacle as much as its
pressure of human significance, all its hidden implications
of emotion and adventure. As they passed the shadowy
colonnade of the Francais, remote and temple-like in the
paling lights, he felt a clutch on his arm, and heard the
cry: "There are things THERE that I want so desperately
to see!" and all the way back to the hotel she continued to
question him, with shrewd precision and an artless thirst
for detail, about the theatrical life of Paris. He was
struck afresh, as he listened, by the way in which her
naturalness eased the situation of constraint, leaving to it
only a pleasant savour of good fellowship. It was the kind
of episode that one might, in advance, have characterized as
"awkward", yet that was proving, in the event, as much
outside such definitions as a sunrise stroll with a dryad in
a dew-drenched forest; and Darrow reflected that mankind
would never have needed to invent tact if it had not first
invented social complications.
It had been understood, with his good-night to Miss Viner,
that the next morning he was to look up the Joigny trains,
and see her safely to the station; but, while he breakfasted
and waited for a time-table, he recalled again her cry of
joy at the prospect of seeing Cerdine. It was certainly a
pity, since that most elusive and incalculable of artists
was leaving the next week for South America, to miss what
might be a last sight of her in her greatest part; and
Darrow, having dressed and made the requisite excerpts from
the time-table, decided to carry the result of his
deliberations to his neighbour's door.
It instantly opened at his knock, and she came forth looking
as if she had been plunged into some sparkling element which
had curled up all her drooping tendrils and wrapped her in a
shimmer of fresh leaves.
"Well, what do you think of me?" she cried; and with a hand
at her waist she spun about as if to show off some miracle
of Parisian dress-making.
"I think the missing trunk has come--and that it was worth
waiting for!"
"You DO like my dress?"
"I adore it! I always adore new dresses--why, you don't mean
to say it's NOT a new one?"
She laughed out her triumph.
"No, no, no! My trunk hasn't come, and this is only my old
rag of yesterday--but I never knew the trick to fail!" And,
as he stared: "You see," she joyously explained, "I've
always had to dress in all kinds of dreary left-overs, and
sometimes, when everybody else was smart and new, it used to
make me awfully miserable. So one day, when Mrs. Murrett
dragged me down unexpectedly to fill a place at dinner, I
suddenly thought I'd try spinning around like that, and say
to every one: 'WELL, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ME?' And, do
you know, they were all taken in, including Mrs. Murrett,
who didn't recognize my old turned and dyed rags, and told
me afterward it was awfully bad form to dress as if I were
somebody that people would expect to know! And ever since,
whenever I've particularly wanted to look nice, I've just
asked people what they thought of my new frock; and they're
always, always taken in!"
She dramatized her explanation so vividly that Darrow felt
as if his point were gained.
"Ah, but this confirms your vocation--of course," he cried,
"you must see Cerdine!" and, seeing her face fall at this
reminder of the change in her prospects, he hastened to set
forth his plan. As he did so, he saw how easy it was to
explain things to her. She would either accept his
suggestion, or she would not: but at least she would waste
no time in protestations and objections, or any vain
sacrifice to the idols of conformity. The conviction that
one could, on any given point, almost predicate this of her,
gave him the sense of having advanced far enough in her
intimacy to urge his arguments against a hasty pursuit of
her friends.
Yes, it would certainly be foolish--she at once agreed--in
the case of such dear indefinite angels as the Farlows, to
dash off after them without more positive proof that they
were established at Joigny, and so established that they
could take her in. She owned it was but too probable that
they had gone there to "cut down", and might be doing so in
quarters too contracted to receive her; and it would be
unfair, on that chance, to impose herself on them
unannounced. The simplest way of getting farther light on
the question would be to go back to the rue de la Chaise,
where, at that more conversable hour, the concierge
might be less chary of detail; and she could decide on her
next step in the light of such facts as he imparted.
Point by point, she fell in with the suggestion,
recognizing, in the light of their unexplained flight, that
the Farlows might indeed be in a situation on which one
could not too rashly intrude. Her concern for her friends
seemed to have effaced all thought of herself, and this
little indication of character gave Darrow a quite
disproportionate pleasure. She agreed that it would be well
to go at once to the rue de la Chaise, but met his proposal
that they should drive by the declaration that it was a
"waste" not to walk in Paris; so they set off on foot
through the cheerful tumult of the streets.
The walk was long enough for him to learn many things about
her. The storm of the previous night had cleared the air,
and Paris shone in morning beauty under a sky that was all
broad wet washes of white and blue; but Darrow again noticed
that her visual sensitiveness was less keen than her feeling
for what he was sure the good Farlows--whom he already
seemed to know--would have called "the human interest." She
seemed hardly conscious of sensations of form and colour, or
of any imaginative suggestion, and the spectacle before
them--always, in its scenic splendour, so moving to her
companion--broke up, under her scrutiny, into a thousand
minor points: the things in the shops, the types of
character and manner of occupation shown in the passing
faces, the street signs, the names of the hotels they
passed, the motley brightness of the flower-carts, the
identity of the churches and public buildings that caught
her eye. But what she liked best, he divined, was the mere
fact of being free to walk abroad in the bright air, her
tongue rattling on as it pleased, while her feet kept time
to the mighty orchestration of the city's sounds. Her
delight in the fresh air, in the freedom, light and sparkle
of the morning, gave him a sudden insight into her stifled
past; nor was it indifferent to him to perceive how much his
presence evidently added to her enjoyment. If only as a
sympathetic ear, he guessed what he must be worth to her.
The girl had been dying for some one to talk to, some one
before whom she could unfold and shake out to the light her
poor little shut-away emotions. Years of repression were
revealed in her sudden burst of confidence; and the pity she
inspired made Darrow long to fill her few free hours to the
She had the gift of rapid definition, and his questions as
to the life she had led with the Farlows, during the
interregnum between the Hoke and Murrett eras, called up
before him a queer little corner of Parisian existence. The
Farlows themselves--he a painter, she a "magazine writer"--
rose before him in all their incorruptible simplicity: an
elderly New England couple, with vague yearnings for
enfranchisement, who lived in Paris as if it were a
Massachusetts suburb, and dwelt hopefully on the "higher
side" of the Gallic nature. With equal vividness she set
before him the component figures of the circle from which
Mrs. Farlow drew the "Inner Glimpses of French Life"
appearing over her name in a leading New England journal:
the Roumanian lady who had sent them tickets for her
tragedy, an elderly French gentleman who, on the strength of
a week's stay at Folkestone, translated English fiction for
the provincial press, a lady from Wichita, Kansas, who
advocated free love and the abolition of the corset, a
clergyman's widow from Torquay who had written an "English
Ladies' Guide to Foreign Galleries" and a Russian sculptor
who lived on nuts and was "almost certainly" an anarchist.
It was this nucleus, and its outer ring of musical,
architectural and other American students, which posed
successively to Mrs. Farlow's versatile fancy as a centre of
"University Life", a "Salon of the Faubourg St. Germain", a
group of Parisian "Intellectuals" or a "Cross-section of
Montmartre"; but even her faculty for extracting from it the
most varied literary effects had not sufficed to create a
permanent demand for the "Inner Glimpses", and there were
days when--Mr. Farlow's landscapes being equally
unmarketable--a temporary withdrawal to the country
(subsequently utilized as "Peeps into Chateau Life") became
necessary to the courageous couple.
Five years of Mrs. Murrett's world, while increasing Sophy's
tenderness for the Farlows, had left her with few illusions
as to their power of advancing her fortunes; and she did not
conceal from Darrow that her theatrical projects were of the
vaguest. They hung mainly on the problematical good-will of
an ancient comedienne, with whom Mrs. Farlow had a slight
acquaintance (extensively utilized in "Stars of the French
Footlights" and "Behind the Scenes at the Francais"), and
who had once, with signs of approval, heard Miss Viner
recite the Nuit de Mai.
"But of course I know how much that's worth," the girl broke
off, with one of her flashes of shrewdness. "And besides,
it isn't likely that a poor old fossil like Mme. Dolle could
get anybody to listen to her now, even if she really thought
I had talent. But she might introduce me to people; or at
least give me a few tips. If I could manage to earn enough
to pay for lessons I'd go straight to some of the big people
and work with them. I'm rather hoping the Farlows may find
me a chance of that kind--an engagement with some American
family in Paris who would want to be 'gone round' with like
the Hokes, and who'd leave me time enough to study."
In the rue de la Chaise they learned little except the exact
address of the Farlows, and the fact that they had sub-let
their flat before leaving. This information obtained,
Darrow proposed to Miss Viner that they should stroll along
the quays to a little restaurant looking out on the Seine,
and there, over the plat du jour, consider the next step
to be taken. The long walk had given her cheeks a glow
indicative of wholesome hunger, and she made no difficulty
about satisfying it in Darrow's company. Regaining the
river they walked on in the direction of Notre Dame, delayed
now and again by the young man's irresistible tendency to
linger over the bookstalls, and by his ever-fresh response
to the shifting beauties of the scene. For two years his
eyes had been subdued to the atmospheric effects of London,
to the mysterious fusion of darkly-piled city and low-lying
bituminous sky; and the transparency of the French air,
which left the green gardens and silvery stones so
classically clear yet so softly harmonized, struck him as
having a kind of conscious intelligence. Every line of the
architecture, every arch of the bridges, the very sweep of
the strong bright river between them, while contributing to
this effect, sent forth each a separate appeal to some
sensitive memory; so that, for Darrow, a walk through the
Paris streets was always like the unrolling of a vast
tapestry from which countless stored fragrances were shaken
It was a proof of the richness and multiplicity of the
spectacle that it served, without incongruity, for so
different a purpose as the background of Miss Viner's
enjoyment. As a mere drop-scene for her personal adventure
it was just as much in its place as in the evocation of
great perspectives of feeling. For her, as he again
perceived when they were seated at their table in a low
window above the Seine, Paris was "Paris" by virtue of all
its entertaining details, its endless ingenuities of
pleasantness. Where else, for instance, could one find the
dear little dishes of hors d'oeuvre, the symmetricallylaid
anchovies and radishes, the thin golden shells of
butter, or the wood strawberries and brown jars of cream
that gave to their repast the last refinement of rusticity?
Hadn't he noticed, she asked, that cooking always expressed
the national character, and that French food was clever and
amusing just because the people were? And in private houses,
everywhere, how the dishes always resembled the talk--how
the very same platitudes seemed to go into people's mouths
and come out of them? Couldn't he see just what kind of menu
it would make, if a fairy waved a wand and suddenly turned
the conversation at a London dinner into joints and
puddings? She always thought it a good sign when people
liked Irish stew; it meant that they enjoyed changes and
surprises, and taking life as it came; and such a beautiful
Parisian version of the dish as the navarin that was
just being set before them was like the very best kind of
talk--the kind when one could never tell before-hand just
what was going to be said!
Darrow, as he watched her enjoyment of their innocent feast,
wondered if her vividness and vivacity were signs of her
calling. She was the kind of girl in whom certain people
would instantly have recognized the histrionic gift. But
experience had led him to think that, except at the creative
moment, the divine flame burns low in its possessors. The
one or two really intelligent actresses he had known had
struck him, in conversation, as either bovine or primitively
"jolly". He had a notion that, save in the mind of genius,
the creative process absorbs too much of the whole stuff of
being to leave much surplus for personal expression; and the
girl before him, with her changing face and flexible
fancies, seemed destined to work in life itself rather than
in any of its counterfeits.
The coffee and liqueurs were already on the table when her
mind suddenly sprang back to the Farlows. She jumped up
with one of her subversive movements and declared that she
must telegraph at once. Darrow called for writing materials
and room was made at her elbow for the parched ink-bottle
and saturated blotter of the Parisian restaurant; but the
mere sight of these jaded implements seemed to paralyze Miss
Viner's faculties. She hung over the telegraph-form with
anxiously-drawn brow, the tip of the pen-handle pressed
against her lip; and at length she raised her troubled eyes
to Darrow's.
"I simply can't think how to say it."
"What--that you're staying over to see Cerdine?"
"But AM I--am I, really?" The joy of it flamed over her
Darrow looked at his watch. "You could hardly get an answer
to your telegram in time to take a train to Joigny this
afternoon, even if you found your friends could have you."
She mused for a moment, tapping her lip with the pen. "But I
must let them know I'm here. I must find out as soon as
possible if they CAN, have me." She laid the pen down
despairingly. "I never COULD write a telegram!" she
"Try a letter, then and tell them you'll arrive tomorrow."
This suggestion produced immediate relief, and she gave an
energetic dab at the ink-bottle; but after another interval
of uncertain scratching she paused again."Oh, it's fearful!
I don't know what on earth to say. I wouldn't for the world
have them know how beastly Mrs. Murrett's been."
Darrow did not think it necessary to answer. It was no
business of his, after all. He lit a cigar and leaned back
in his seat, letting his eyes take their fill of indolent
pleasure. In the throes of invention she had pushed back
her hat, loosening the stray lock which had invited his
touch the night before. After looking at it for a while he
stood up and wandered to the window.
Behind him he heard her pen scrape on.
"I don't want to worry them--I'm so certain they've got
bothers of their own." The faltering scratches ceased again.
"I wish I weren't such an idiot about writing: all the words
get frightened and scurry away when I try to catch them."
He glanced back at her with a smile as she bent above her
task like a school-girl struggling with a "composition." Her
flushed cheek and frowning brow showed that her difficulty
was genuine and not an artless device to draw him to her
side. She was really powerless to put her thoughts in
writing, and the inability seemed characteristic of her
quick impressionable mind, and of the incessant come-and-go
of her sensations. He thought of Anna Leath's letters, or
rather of the few he had received, years ago, from the girl
who had been Anna Summers. He saw the slender firm strokes
of the pen, recalled the clear structure of the phrases,
and, by an abrupt association of ideas, remembered that, at
that very hour, just such a document might be awaiting him
at the hotel.
What if it were there, indeed, and had brought him a
complete explanation of her telegram? The revulsion of
feeling produced by this thought made him look at the girl
with sudden impatience. She struck him as positively
stupid, and he wondered how he could have wasted half his
day with her, when all the while Mrs. Leath's letter might
be lying on his table. At that moment, if he could have
chosen, he would have left his companion on the spot; but he
had her on his hands, and must accept the consequences.
Some odd intuition seemed to make her conscious of his
change of mood, for she sprang from her seat, crumpling the
letter in her hand.
"I'm too stupid; but I won't keep you any longer. I'll go
back to the hotel and write there."
Her colour deepened, and for the first time, as their eyes
met, he noticed a faint embarrassment in hers. Could it be
that his nearness was, after all, the cause of her
confusion? The thought turned his vague impatience with her
into a definite resentment toward himself. There was really
no excuse for his having blundered into such an adventure.
Why had he not shipped the girl off to Joigny by the evening
train, instead of urging her to delay, and using Cerdine as
a pretext? Paris was full of people he knew, and his
annoyance was increased by the thought that some friend of
Mrs. Leath's might see him at the play, and report his
presence there with a suspiciously good-looking companion.
The idea was distinctly disagreeable: he did not want the
woman he adored to think he could forget her for a moment.
And by this time he had fully persuaded himself that a
letter from her was awaiting him, and had even gone so far
as to imagine that its contents might annul the writer's
telegraphed injunction, and call him to her side at once...
At the porter's desk a brief "Pas de lettres" fell
destructively on the fabric of these hopes.
Mrs. Leath had not written--she had not taken the trouble to
explain her telegram. Darrow turned away with a sharp pang
of humiliation. Her frugal silence mocked his prodigality
of hopes and fears. He had put his question to the porter
once before, on returning to the hotel after luncheon; and
now, coming back again in the late afternoon, he was met by
the same denial. The second post was in, and had brought
him nothing.
A glance at his watch showed that he had barely time to
dress before taking Miss Viner out to dine; but as he turned
to the lift a new thought struck him, and hurrying back into
the hall he dashed off another telegram to his servant:
"Have you forwarded any letter with French postmark today?
Telegraph answer Terminus."
Some kind of reply would be certain to reach him on his
return from the theatre, and he would then know definitely
whether Mrs. Leath meant to write or not. He hastened up to
his room and dressed with a lighter heart.
Miss Viner's vagrant trunk had finally found its way to its
owner; and, clad in such modest splendour as it furnished,
she shone at Darrow across their restaurant table. In the
reaction of his wounded vanity he found her prettier and
more interesting than before. Her dress, sloping away from
the throat, showed the graceful set of her head on its
slender neck, and the wide brim of her hat arched above her
hair like a dusky halo. Pleasure danced in her eyes and on
her lips, and as she shone on him between the candle-shades
Darrow felt that he should not be at all sorry to be seen
with her in public. He even sent a careless glance about
him in the vague hope that it might fall on an acquaintance.
At the theatre her vivacity sank into a breathless hush, and
she sat intent in her corner of their baignoire, with
the gaze of a neophyte about to be initiated into the sacred
mysteries. Darrow placed himself behind her, that he might
catch her profile between himself and the stage. He was
touched by the youthful seriousness of her expression. In
spite of the experiences she must have had, and of the
twenty-four years to which she owned, she struck him as
intrinsically young; and he wondered how so evanescent a
quality could have been preserved in the desiccating Murrett
air. As the play progressed he noticed that her immobility
was traversed by swift flashes of perception. She was not
missing anything, and her intensity of attention when
Cerdine was on the stage drew an anxious line between her
After the first act she remained for a few minutes rapt and
motionless; then she turned to her companion with a quick
patter of questions. He gathered from them that she had
been less interested in following the general drift of the
play than in observing the details of its interpretation.
Every gesture and inflection of the great actress's had been
marked and analyzed; and Darrow felt a secret gratification
in being appealed to as an authority on the histrionic art.
His interest in it had hitherto been merely that of the
cultivated young man curious of all forms of artistic
expression; but in reply to her questions he found things to
say about it which evidently struck his listener as
impressive and original, and with which he himself was not,
on the whole, dissatisfied. Miss Viner was much more
concerned to hear his views than to express her own, and the
deference with which she received his comments called from
him more ideas about the theatre than he had ever supposed
himself to possess.
With the second act she began to give more attention to the
development of the play, though her interest was excited
rather by what she called "the story" than by the conflict
of character producing it. Oddly combined with her sharp
apprehension of things theatrical, her knowledge of
technical "dodges" and green-room precedents, her glibness
about "lines" and "curtains", was the primitive simplicity
of her attitude toward the tale itself, as toward something
that was "really happening" and at which one assisted as at
a street-accident or a quarrel overheard in the next room.
She wanted to know if Darrow thought the lovers "really
would" be involved in the catastrophe that threatened them,
and when he reminded her that his predictions were
disqualified by his having already seen the play, she
exclaimed: "Oh, then, please don't tell me what's going to
happen!" and the next moment was questioning him about
Cerdine's theatrical situation and her private history. On
the latter point some of her enquiries were of a kind that
it is not in the habit of young girls to make, or even to
know how to make; but her apparent unconsciousness of the
fact seemed rather to reflect on her past associates than on
When the second act was over, Darrow suggested their taking
a turn in the foyer; and seated on one of its cramped
red velvet sofas they watched the crowd surge up and down in
a glare of lights and gilding. Then, as she complained of
the heat, he led her through the press to the congested
cafe at the foot of the stairs, where orangeades were
thrust at them between the shoulders of packed
consommateurs and Darrow, lighting a cigarette while she
sucked her straw, knew the primitive complacency of the man
at whose companion other men stare.
On a corner of their table lay a smeared copy of a
theatrical journal. It caught Sophy's eye and after poring
over the page she looked up with an excited exclamation.
'They're giving Oedipe tomorrow afternoon at the
Francais! I suppose you've seen it heaps and heaps of
He smiled back at her. "You must see it too. We'll go
She sighed at his suggestion, but without discarding it.
"How can I? The last train for Joigny leaves at four."
"But you don't know yet that your friends will want you."
"I shall know tomorrow early. I asked Mrs. Farlow to
telegraph as soon as she got my letter."
A twinge of compunction shot through Darrow. Her words
recalled to him that on their return to the hotel after
luncheon she had given him her letter to post, and that he
had never thought of it again. No doubt it was still in the
pocket of the coat he had taken off when he dressed for
dinner. In his perturbation he pushed back his chair, and
the movement made her look up at him.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing. Only--you know I don't fancy that letter can have
caught this afternoon's post."
"Not caught it? Why not?"
"Why, I'm afraid it will have been too late." He bent his
head to light another cigarette.
She struck her hands together with a gesture which, to his
amusement, he noticed she had caught from Cerdine.
"Oh, dear, I hadn't thought of that! But surely it will
reach them in the morning?"
"Some time in the morning, I suppose. You know the French
provincial post is never in a hurry. I don't believe your
letter would have been delivered this evening in any case."
As this idea occurred to him he felt himself almost
"Perhaps, then, I ought to have telegraphed?"
"I'll telegraph for you in the morning if you say so."
The bell announcing the close of the entr'-acte shrilled
through the cafe, and she sprang to her feet.
"Oh, come, come! We mustn't miss it!"
Instantly forgetful of the Farlows, she slipped her arm
through his and turned to push her way back to the theatre.
As soon as the curtain went up she as promptly forgot her
companion. Watching her from the corner to which he had
returned, Darrow saw that great waves of sensation were
beating deliciously against her brain. It was as though
every starved sensibility were throwing out feelers to the
mounting tide; as though everything she was seeing, hearing,
imagining, rushed in to fill the void of all she had always
been denied.
Darrow, as he observed her, again felt a detached enjoyment
in her pleasure. She was an extraordinary conductor of
sensation: she seemed to transmit it physically, in
emanations that set the blood dancing in his veins. He had
not often had the opportunity of studying the effects of a
perfectly fresh impression on so responsive a temperament,
and he felt a fleeting desire to make its chords vibrate for
his own amusement.
At the end of the next act she discovered with dismay that
in their transit to the cafe she had lost the beautiful
pictured programme he had bought for her. She wanted to go
back and hunt for it, but Darrow assured her that he would
have no trouble in getting her another. When he went out in
quest of it she followed him protestingly to the door of the
box, and he saw that she was distressed at the thought of
his having to spend an additional franc for her. This
frugality smote Darrow by its contrast to her natural bright
profusion; and again he felt the desire to right so clumsy
an injustice.
When he returned to the box she was still standing in the
doorway, and he noticed that his were not the only eyes
attracted to her. Then another impression sharply diverted
his attention. Above the fagged faces of the Parisian crowd
he had caught the fresh fair countenance of Owen Leath
signalling a joyful recognition. The young man, slim and
eager, had detached himself from two companions of his own
type, and was seeking to push through the press to his stepmother's
friend. The encounter, to Darrow, could hardly
have been more inopportune; it woke in him a confusion of
feelings of which only the uppermost was allayed by seeing
Sophy Viner, as if instinctively warned, melt back into the
shadow of their box.
A minute later Owen Leath was at his side. "I was sure it
was you! Such luck to run across you! Won't you come off
with us to supper after it's over? Montmartre, or wherever
else you please. Those two chaps over there are friends of
mine, at the Beaux Arts; both of them rather good fellows--
and we'd be so glad----"
For half a second Darrow read in his hospitable eye the
termination "if you'd bring the lady too"; then it deflected
into: "We'd all be so glad if you'd come."
Darrow, excusing himself with thanks, lingered on for a few
minutes' chat, in which every word, and every tone of his
companion's voice, was like a sharp light flashed into
aching eyes. He was glad when the bell called the audience
to their seats, and young Leath left him with the friendly
question: "We'll see you at Givre later on?"
When he rejoined Miss Viner, Darrow's first care was to find
out, by a rapid inspection of the house, whether Owen
Leath's seat had given him a view of their box. But the
young man was not visible from it, and Darrow concluded that
he had been recognized in the corridor and not at his
companion's side. He scarcely knew why it seemed to him so
important that this point should be settled; certainly his
sense of reassurance was less due to regard for Miss Viner
than to the persistent vision of grave offended eyes...
During the drive back to the hotel this vision was
persistently kept before him by the thought that the evening
post might have brought a letter from Mrs. Leath. Even if
no letter had yet come, his servant might have telegraphed
to say that one was on its way; and at the thought his
interest in the girl at his side again cooled to the
fraternal, the almost fatherly. She was no more to him,
after all, than an appealing young creature to whom it was
mildly agreeable to have offered an evening's diversion; and
when, as they rolled into the illuminated court of the
hotel, she turned with a quick movement which brought her
happy face close to his, he leaned away, affecting to be
absorbed in opening the door of the cab.
At the desk the night porter, after a vain search through
the pigeon-holes, was disposed to think that a letter or
telegram had in fact been sent up for the gentleman; and
Darrow, at the announcement, could hardly wait to ascend to
his room. Upstairs, he and his companion had the long
dimly-lit corridor to themselves, and Sophy paused on her
threshold, gathering up in one hand the pale folds of her
cloak, while she held the other out to Darrow.
"If the telegram comes early I shall be off by the first
train; so I suppose this is good-bye," she said, her eyes
dimmed by a little shadow of regret.
Darrow, with a renewed start of contrition, perceived that
he had again forgotten her letter; and as their hands met he
vowed to himself that the moment she had left him he would
dash down stairs to post it.
"Oh, I'll see you in the morning, of course!"
A tremor of pleasure crossed her face as he stood before
her, smiling a little uncertainly.
"At any rate," she said, "I want to thank you now for my
good day."
He felt in her hand the same tremor he had seen in her face.
"But it's YOU, on the contrary--" he began, lifting the
hand to his lips.
As he dropped it, and their eyes met, something passed
through hers that was like a light carried rapidly behind a
curtained window.
"Good night; you must be awfully tired," he said with a
friendly abruptness, turning away without even waiting to
see her pass into her room. He unlocked his door, and
stumbling over the threshold groped in the darkness for the
electric button. The light showed him a telegram on the
table, and he forgot everything else as he caught it up.
"No letter from France," the message read.
It fell from Darrow's hand to the floor, and he dropped into
a chair by the table and sat gazing at the dingy drab and
olive pattern of the carpet. She had not written, then; she
had not written, and it was manifest now that she did not
mean to write. If she had had any intention of explaining
her telegram she would certainly, within twenty-four hours,
have followed it up by a letter. But she evidently did not
intend to explain it, and her silence could mean only that
she had no explanation to give, or else that she was too
indifferent to be aware that one was needed.
Darrow, face to face with these alternatives, felt a
recrudescence of boyish misery. It was no longer his hurt
vanity that cried out. He told himself that he could have
borne an equal amount of pain, if only it had left Mrs.
Leath's image untouched; but he could not bear to think of
her as trivial or insincere. The thought was so intolerable
that he felt a blind desire to punish some one else for the
pain it caused him.
As he sat moodily staring at the carpet its silly
intricacies melted into a blur from which the eyes of Mrs.
Leath again looked out at him. He saw the fine sweep of her
brows, and the deep look beneath them as she had turned from
him on their last evening in London. "This will be goodbye,
then," she had said; and it occurred to him that her
parting phrase had been the same as Sophy Viner's.
At the thought he jumped to his feet and took down from its
hook the coat in which he had left Miss Viner's letter. The
clock marked the third quarter after midnight, and he knew
it would make no difference if he went down to the post-box
now or early the next morning; but he wanted to clear his
conscience, and having found the letter he went to the door.
A sound in the next room made him pause. He had become
conscious again that, a few feet off, on the other side of a
thin partition, a small keen flame of life was quivering and
agitating the air. Sophy's face came hack to him
insistently. It was as vivid now as Mrs. Leath's had been a
moment earlier. He recalled with a faint smile of
retrospective pleasure the girl's enjoyment of her evening,
and the innumerable fine feelers of sensation she had thrown
out to its impressions.
It gave him a curiously close sense of her presence to think
that at that moment she was living over her enjoyment as
intensely as he was living over his unhappiness. His own
case was irremediable, but it was easy enough to give her a
few more hours of pleasure. And did she not perhaps
secretly expect it of him? After all, if she had been very
anxious to join her friends she would have telegraphed them
on reaching Paris, instead of writing. He wondered now that
he had not been struck at the moment by so artless a device
to gain more time. The fact of her having practised it did
not make him think less well of her; it merely strengthened
the impulse to use his opportunity. She was starving, poor
child, for a little amusement, a little personal life--why
not give her the chance of another day in Paris? If he did
so, should he not be merely falling in with her own hopes?
At the thought his sympathy for her revived. She became of
absorbing interest to him as an escape from himself and an
object about which his thwarted activities could cluster.
He felt less drearily alone because of her being there, on
the other side of the door, and in his gratitude to her for
giving him this relief he began, with indolent amusement, to
plan new ways of detaining her. He dropped back into his
chair, lit a cigar, and smiled a little at the image of her
smiling face. He tried to imagine what incident of the day
she was likely to be recalling at that particular moment,
and what part he probably played in it. That it was not a
small part he was certain, and the knowledge was undeniably
Now and then a sound from her room brought before him more
vividly the reality of the situation and the strangeness of
the vast swarming solitude in which he and she were
momentarily isolated, amid long lines of rooms each holding
its separate secret. The nearness of all these other
mysteries enclosing theirs gave Darrow a more intimate sense
of the girl's presence, and through the fumes of his cigar
his imagination continued to follow her to and fro, traced
the curve of her slim young arms as she raised them to undo
her hair, pictured the sliding down of her dress to the
waist and then to the knees, and the whiteness of her feet
as she slipped across the floor to bed...
He stood up and shook himself with a yawn, throwing away the
end of his cigar. His glance, in following it, lit on the
telegram which had dropped to the floor. The sounds in the
next room had ceased, and once more he felt alone and
Opening the window, he folded his arms on the sill and
looked out on the vast light-spangled mass of the city, and
then up at the dark sky, in which the morning planet stood.
At the Theatre Francais, the next afternoon, Darrow yawned
and fidgeted in his seat.
The day was warm, the theatre crowded and airless, and the
performance, it seemed to him, intolerably bad. He stole a
glance at his companion, wondering if she shared his
feelings. Her rapt profile betrayed no unrest, but
politeness might have caused her to feign an interest that
she did not feel. He leaned back impatiently, stifling
another yawn, and trying to fix his attention on the stage.
Great things were going forward there, and he was not
insensible to the stern beauties of the ancient drama. But
the interpretation of the play seemed to him as airless and
lifeless as the atmosphere of the theatre. The players were
the same whom he had often applauded in those very parts,
and perhaps that fact added to the impression of staleness
and conventionality produced by their performance. Surely
it was time to infuse new blood into the veins of the
moribund art. He had the impression that the ghosts of
actors were giving a spectral performance on the shores of
Certainly it was not the most profitable way for a young man
with a pretty companion to pass the golden hours of a spring
afternoon. The freshness of the face at his side,
reflecting the freshness of the season, suggested dapplings
of sunlight through new leaves, the sound of a brook in the
grass, the ripple of tree-shadows over breezy meadows...
When at length the fateful march of the cothurns was stayed
by the single pause in the play, and Darrow had led Miss
Viner out on the balcony overhanging the square before the
theatre, he turned to see if she shared his feelings. But
the rapturous look she gave him checked the depreciation on
his lips.
"Oh, why did you bring me out here? One ought to creep away
and sit in the dark till it begins again!"
"Is THAT the way they made you feel?"
"Didn't they YOU?...As if the gods were there all the
while, just behind them, pulling the strings?" Her hands
were pressed against the railing, her face shining and
darkening under the wing-beats of successive impressions.
Darrow smiled in enjoyment of her pleasure. After all, he
had felt all that, long ago; perhaps it was his own fault,
rather than that of the actors, that the poetry of the play
seemed to have evaporated...But no, he had been right in
judging the performance to be dull and stale: it was simply
his companion's inexperience, her lack of occasions to
compare and estimate, that made her think it brilliant.
"I was afraid you were bored and wanted to come away."
"BORED?" She made a little aggrieved grimace. "You mean
you thought me too ignorant and stupid to appreciate it?"
"No; not that." The hand nearest him still lay on the
railing of the balcony, and he covered it for a moment with
his. As he did so he saw the colour rise and tremble in her
"Tell me just what you think," he said, bending his head a
little, and only half-aware of his words.
She did not turn her face to his, but began to talk rapidly,
trying to convey something of what she felt. But she was
evidently unused to analyzing her aesthetic emotions, and
the tumultuous rush of the drama seemed to have left her in
a state of panting wonder, as though it had been a storm or
some other natural cataclysm. She had no literary or
historic associations to which to attach her impressions:
her education had evidently not comprised a course in Greek
literature. But she felt what would probably have been
unperceived by many a young lady who had taken a first in
classics: the ineluctable fatality of the tale, the dread
sway in it of the same mysterious "luck" which pulled the
threads of her own small destiny. It was not literature to
her, it was fact: as actual, as near by, as what was
happening to her at the moment and what the next hour held
in store. Seen in this light, the play regained for Darrow
its supreme and poignant reality. He pierced to the heart
of its significance through all the artificial accretions
with which his theories of art and the conventions of the
stage had clothed it, and saw it as he had never seen it: as
After this there could be no question of flight, and he took
her back to the theatre, content to receive his own
sensations through the medium of hers. But with the
continuation of the play, and the oppression of the heavy
air, his attention again began to wander, straying back over
the incidents of the morning.
He had been with Sophy Viner all day, and he was surprised
to find how quickly the time had gone. She had hardly
attempted, as the hours passed, to conceal her satisfaction
on finding that no telegram came from the Farlows. "They'll
have written," she had simply said; and her mind had at once
flown on to the golden prospect of an afternoon at the
theatre. The intervening hours had been disposed of in a
stroll through the lively streets, and a repast, luxuriously
lingered over, under the chestnut-boughs of a restaurant in
the Champs Elysees. Everything entertained and interested
her, and Darrow remarked, with an amused detachment, that
she was not insensible to the impression her charms
produced. Yet there was no hard edge of vanity in her sense
of her prettiness: she seemed simply to be aware of it as a
note in the general harmony, and to enjoy sounding the note
as a singer enjoys singing.
After luncheon, as they sat over their coffee, she had again
asked an immense number of questions and delivered herself
of a remarkable variety of opinions. Her questions testified
to a wholesome and comprehensive human curiosity, and her
comments showed, like her face and her whole attitude, an
odd mingling of precocious wisdom and disarming ignorance.
When she talked to him about "life"--the word was often on
her lips--she seemed to him like a child playing with a
tiger's cub; and he said to himself that some day the child
would grow up--and so would the tiger. Meanwhile, such
expertness qualified by such candour made it impossible to
guess the extent of her personal experience, or to estimate
its effect on her character. She might be any one of a
dozen definable types, or she might--more disconcertingly to
her companion and more perilously to herself--be a shifting
and uncrystallized mixture of them all.
Her talk, as usual, had promptly reverted to the stage. She
was eager to learn about every form of dramatic expression
which the metropolis of things theatrical had to offer, and
her curiosity ranged from the official temples of the art to
its less hallowed haunts. Her searching enquiries about a
play whose production, on one of the latter scenes, had
provoked a considerable amount of scandal, led Darrow to
throw out laughingly: "To see THAT you'll have to wait
till you're married!" and his answer had sent her off at a
"Oh, I never mean to marry," she had rejoined in a tone of
youthful finality.
"I seem to have heard that before!"
"Yes; from girls who've only got to choose!" Her eyes had
grown suddenly almost old. "I'd like you to see the only
men who've ever wanted to marry me! One was the doctor on
the steamer, when I came abroad with the Hokes: he'd been
cashiered from the navy for drunkenness. The other was a
deaf widower with three grown-up daughters, who kept a
clock-shop in Bayswater!--Besides," she rambled on, "I'm not
so sure that I believe in marriage. You see I'm all for
self-development and the chance to live one's life. I'm
awfully modern, you know."
It was just when she proclaimed herself most awfully modern
that she struck him as most helplessly backward; yet the
moment after, without any bravado, or apparent desire to
assume an attitude, she would propound some social axiom
which could have been gathered only in the bitter soil of
All these things came back to him as he sat beside her in
the theatre and watched her ingenuous absorption. It was on
"the story" that her mind was fixed, and in life also, he
suspected, it would always be "the story", rather than its
remoter imaginative issues, that would hold her. He did not
believe there were ever any echoes in her soul...
There was no question, however, that what she felt was felt
with intensity: to the actual, the immediate, she spread
vibrating strings. When the play was over, and they came
out once more into the sunlight, Darrow looked down at her
with a smile.
"Well?" he asked.
She made no answer. Her dark gaze seemed to rest on him
without seeing him. Her cheeks and lips were pale, and the
loose hair under her hat-brim clung to her forehead in damp
rings. She looked like a young priestess still dazed by the
fumes of the cavern.
"You poor child--it's been almost too much for you!"
She shook her head with a vague smile.
"Come," he went on, putting his hand on her arm, "let's jump
into a taxi and get some air and sunshine. Look, there are
hours of daylight left; and see what a night it's going to
He pointed over their heads, to where a white moon hung in
the misty blue above the roofs of the rue de Rivoli.
She made no answer, and he signed to a motor-cab, calling
out to the driver: "To the Bois!"
As the carriage turned toward the Tuileries she roused
herself. "I must go first to the hotel. There may be a
message--at any rate I must decide on something."
Darrow saw that the reality of the situation had suddenly
forced itself upon her. "I MUST decide on something,"
she repeated.
He would have liked to postpone the return, to persuade her
to drive directly to the Bois for dinner. It would have
been easy enough to remind her that she could not start for
Joigny that evening, and that therefore it was of no moment
whether she received the Farlows' answer then or a few hours
later; but for some reason he hesitated to use this
argument, which had come so naturally to him the day before.
After all, he knew she would find nothing at the hotel--so
what did it matter if they went there?
The porter, interrogated, was not sure. He himself had
received nothing for the lady, but in his absence his
subordinate might have sent a letter upstairs.
Darrow and Sophy mounted together in the lift, and the young
man, while she went into her room, unlocked his own door and
glanced at the empty table. For him at least no message had
come; and on her threshold, a moment later, she met him with
the expected: "No--there's nothing!"
He feigned an unregretful surprise. "So much the better!
And now, shall we drive out somewhere? Or would you rather
take a boat to Bellevue? Have you ever dined there, on the
terrace, by moonlight? It's not at all bad. And there's no
earthly use in sitting here waiting."
She stood before him in perplexity.
"But when I wrote yesterday I asked them to telegraph. I
suppose they're horribly hard up, the poor dears, and they
thought a letter would do as well as a telegram." The colour
had risen to her face. "That's why I wrote instead of
telegraphing; I haven't a penny to spare myself!"
Nothing she could have said could have filled her listener
with a deeper contrition. He felt the red in his own face
as he recalled the motive with which he had credited her in
his midnight musings. But that motive, after all, had
simply been trumped up to justify his own disloyalty: he had
never really believed in it. The reflection deepened his
confusion, and he would have liked to take her hand in his
and confess the injustice he had done her.
She may have interpreted his change of colour as an
involuntary protest at being initiated into such shabby
details, for she went on with a laugh: "I suppose you can
hardly understand what it means to have to stop and think
whether one can afford a telegram? But I've always had to
consider such things. And I mustn't stay here any longer
now--I must try to get a night train for Joigny. Even if
the Farlows can't take me in, I can go to the hotel: it will
cost less than staying here." She paused again and then
exclaimed: "I ought to have thought of that sooner; I ought
to have telegraphed yesterday! But I was sure I should hear
from them today; and I wanted--oh, I DID so awfully want
to stay!" She threw a troubled look at Darrow. "Do you
happen to remember," she asked, "what time it was when you
posted my letter?"
Darrow was still standing on her threshold. As she put the
question he entered the room and closed the door behind him.
His heart was beating a little faster than usual and he had
no clear idea of what he was about to do or say, beyond the
definite conviction that, whatever passing impulse of
expiation moved him, he would not be fool enough to tell her
that he had not sent her letter. He knew that most
wrongdoing works, on the whole, less mischief than its
useless confession; and this was clearly a case where a
passing folly might be turned, by avowal, into a serious
"I'm so sorry--so sorry; but you must let me help you...You
will let me help you?" he said.
He took her hands and pressed them together between his,
counting on a friendly touch to help out the insufficiency
of words. He felt her yield slightly to his clasp, and
hurried on without giving her time to answer.
"Isn't it a pity to spoil our good time together by
regretting anything you might have done to prevent our
having it?"
She drew back, freeing her hands. Her face, losing its look
of appealing confidence, was suddenly sharpened by distrust.
"You didn't forget to post my letter?"
Darrow stood before her, constrained and ashamed, and ever
more keenly aware that the betrayal of his distress must be
a greater offense than its concealment.
"What an insinuation!" he cried, throwing out his hands with
a laugh.
Her face instantly melted to laughter. "Well, then--I
WON'T be sorry; I won't regret anything except that our
good time is over!"
The words were so unexpected that they routed all his
resolves. If she had gone on doubting him he could probably
have gone on deceiving her; but her unhesitating acceptance
of his word made him hate the part he was playing. At the
same moment a doubt shot up its serpenthead in his own
bosom. Was it not he rather than she who was childishly
trustful? Was she not almost too ready to take his word, and
dismiss once for all the tiresome question of the letter?
Considering what her experiences must have been, such
trustfulness seemed open to suspicion. But the moment his
eyes fell on her he was ashamed of the thought, and knew it
for what it really was: another pretext to lessen his own
"Why should our good time be over?" he asked. "Why
shouldn't it last a little longer?"
She looked up, her lips parted in surprise; but before she
could speak he went on: "I want you to stay with me--I want
you, just for a few days, to have all the things you've
never had. It's not always May and Paris--why not make the
most of them now? You know me--we're not strangers--why
shouldn't you treat me like a friend?"
While he spoke she had drawn away a little, but her hand
still lay in his. She was pale, and her eyes were fixed on
him in a gaze in which there was neither distrust or
resentment, but only an ingenuous wonder. He was
extraordinarily touched by her expression.
"Oh, do! You must. Listen: to prove that I'm sincere I'll
tell you...I'll tell you I didn't post your letter...I
didn't post it because I wanted so much to give you a few
good hours...and because I couldn't bear to have you go."
He had the feeling that the words were being uttered in
spite of him by some malicious witness of the scene, and yet
that he was not sorry to have them spoken.
The girl had listened to him in silence. She remained
motionless for a moment after he had ceased to speak; then
she snatched away her hand.
"You didn't post my letter? You kept it back on purpose? And
you tell me so NOW, to prove to me that I'd better put
myself under your protection?" She burst into a laugh that
had in it all the piercing echoes of her Murrett past, and
her face, at the same moment, underwent the same change,
shrinking into a small malevolent white mask in which the
eyes burned black. "Thank you--thank you most awfully for
telling me! And for all your other kind intentions! The
plan's delightful--really quite delightful, and I'm
extremely flattered and obliged."
She dropped into a seat beside her dressing-table, resting
her chin on her lifted hands, and laughing out at him under
the elf-lock which had shaken itself down over her eyes.
Her outburst did not offend the young man; its immediate
effect was that of allaying his agitation. The theatrical
touch in her manner made his offense seem more venial than
he had thought it a moment before.
He drew up a chair and sat down beside her. "After all," he
said, in a tone of good-humoured protest, "I needn't have
told you I'd kept back your letter; and my telling you seems
rather strong proof that I hadn't any very nefarious designs
on you."
She met this with a shrug, but he did not give her time to
answer. "My designs," he continued with a smile, "were not
nefarious. I saw you'd been through a bad time with Mrs.
Murrett, and that there didn't seem to be much fun ahead for
you; and I didn't see--and I don't yet see--the harm of
trying to give you a few hours of amusement between a
depressing past and a not particularly cheerful future." He
paused again, and then went on, in the same tone of friendly
reasonableness: "The mistake I made was not to tell you this
at once--not to ask you straight out to give me a day or
two, and let me try to make you forget all the things that
are troubling you. I was a fool not to see that if I'd put
it to you in that way you'd have accepted or refused, as you
chose; but that at least you wouldn't have mistaken my
intentions.--Intentions!" He stood up, walked the length of
the room, and turned back to where she still sat motionless,
her elbows propped on the dressing-table, her chin on her
hands. "What rubbish we talk about intentions! The truth is
I hadn't any: I just liked being with you. Perhaps you
don't know how extraordinarily one can like being with
you...I was depressed and adrift myself; and you made me
forget my bothers; and when I found you were going--and
going back to dreariness, as I was--I didn't see why we
shouldn't have a few hours together first; so I left your
letter in my pocket."
He saw her face melt as she listened, and suddenly she
unclasped her hands and leaned to him.
"But are YOU unhappy too? Oh, I never understood--I
never dreamed it! I thought you'd always had everything in
the world you wanted!"
Darrow broke into a laugh at this ingenuous picture of his
state. He was ashamed of trying to better his case by an
appeal to her pity, and annoyed with himself for alluding to
a subject he would rather have kept out of his thoughts.
But her look of sympathy had disarmed him; his heart was
bitter and distracted; she was near him, her eyes were
shining with compassion--he bent over her and kissed her
"Forgive me--do forgive me," he said.
She stood up with a smiling head-shake. "Oh, it's not so
often that people try to give me any pleasure--much less two
whole days of it! I sha'n't forget how kind you've been. I
shall have plenty of time to remember. But this IS goodbye,
you know. I must telegraph at once to say I'm coming."
"To say you're coming? Then I'm not forgiven?"
"Oh, you're forgiven--if that's any comfort."
"It's not, the very least, if your way of proving it is to
go away!"
She hung her head in meditation. "But I can't stay.--How
CAN I stay?" she broke out, as if arguing with some
unseen monitor.
"Why can't you? No one knows you're here...No one need ever
She looked up, and their eyes exchanged meanings for a rapid
minute. Her gaze was as clear as a boy's. "Oh, it's not
THAT," she exclaimed, almost impatiently; "it's not people
I'm afraid of! They've never put themselves out for me--why
on earth should I care about them?"
He liked her directness as he had never liked it before.
"Well, then, what is it? Not ME, I hope?"
"No, not you: I like you. It's the money! With me that's
always the root of the matter. I could never yet afford a
treat in my life!"
Is THAT all?" He laughed, relieved by her naturalness.
"Look here; since we re talking as man to man--can't you
trust me about that too?"
"Trust you? How do you mean? You'd better not trust
ME!" she laughed back sharply. "I might never be able to
pay up!"
His gesture brushed aside the allusion. "Money may be the
root of the matter; it can't be the whole of it, between
friends. Don't you think one friend may accept a small
service from another without looking too far ahead or
weighing too many chances? The question turns entirely on
what you think of me. If you like me well enough to be
willing to take a few days' holiday with me, just for the
pleasure of the thing, and the pleasure you'll be giving me,
let's shake hands on it. If you don't like me well enough
we'll shake hands too; only I shall be sorry," he ended.
"Oh, but I shall be sorry too!" Her face, as she lifted it
to his, looked so small and young that Darrow felt a
fugitive twinge of compunction, instantly effaced by the
excitement of pursuit.
"Well, then?" He stood looking down on her, his eyes
persuading her. He was now intensely aware that his
nearness was having an effect which made it less and less
necessary for him to choose his words, and he went on, more
mindful of the inflections of his voice than of what he was
actually saying: "Why on earth should we say good-bye if
we're both sorry to? Won't you tell me your reason? It's not
a bit like you to let anything stand in the way of your
saying just what you feel. You mustn't mind offending me,
you know!"
She hung before him like a leaf on the meeting of crosscurrents,
that the next ripple may sweep forward or whirl
back. Then she flung up her head with the odd boyish
movement habitual to her in moments of excitement. "What I
feel? Do you want to know what I feel? That you're giving me
the only chance I've ever had!"
She turned about on her heel and, dropping into the nearest
chair, sank forward, her face hidden against the dressingtable.
Under the folds of her thin summer dress the modelling of
her back and of her lifted arms, and the slight hollow
between her shoulder-blades, recalled the faint curves of a
terra-cotta statuette, some young image of grace hardly more
than sketched in the clay. Darrow, as he stood looking at
her, reflected that her character, for all its seeming
firmness, its flashing edges of "opinion", was probably no
less immature. He had not expected her to yield so suddenly
to his suggestion, or to confess her yielding in that way.
At first he was slightly disconcerted; then he saw how her
attitude simplified his own. Her behaviour had all the
indecision and awkwardness of inexperience. It showed that
she was a child after all; and all he could do--all he had
ever meant to do--was to give her a child's holiday to look
back to.
For a moment he fancied she was crying; but the next she was
on her feet and had swept round on him a face she must have
turned away only to hide the first rush of her pleasure.
For a while they shone on each other without speaking; then
she sprang to him and held out both hands.
"Is it true? Is it really true? Is it really going to happen
to ME?"
He felt like answering: "You're the very creature to whom it
was bound to happen"; but the words had a double sense that
made him wince, and instead he caught her proffered hands
and stood looking at her across the length of her arms,
without attempting to bend them or to draw her closer. He
wanted her to know how her words had moved him; but his
thoughts were blurred by the rush of the same emotion that
possessed her, and his own words came with an effort.
He ended by giving her back a laugh as frank as her own, and
declaring, as he dropped her hands: "All that and more too--
you'll see!"
All day, since the late reluctant dawn, the rain had come
down in torrents. It streamed against Darrow's high-perched
windows, reduced their vast prospect of roofs and chimneys
to a black oily huddle, and filled the room with the drab
twilight of an underground aquarium.
The streams descended with the regularity of a third day's
rain, when trimming and shuffling are over, and the weather
has settled down to do its worst. There were no variations
of rhythm, no lyrical ups and downs: the grey lines
streaking the panes were as dense and uniform as a page of
unparagraphed narrative.
George Darrow had drawn his armchair to the fire. The timetable
he had been studying lay on the floor, and he sat
staring with dull acquiescence into the boundless blur of
rain, which affected him like a vast projection of his own
state of mind. Then his eyes travelled slowly about the
It was exactly ten days since his hurried unpacking had
strewn it with the contents of his portmanteaux. His
brushes and razors were spread out on the blotched marble of
the chest of drawers. A stack of newspapers had accumulated
on the centre table under the "electrolier", and half a
dozen paper novels lay on the mantelpiece among cigar-cases
and toilet bottles; but these traces of his passage had made
no mark on the featureless dulness of the room, its look of
being the makeshift setting of innumerable transient
collocations. There was something sardonic, almost
sinister, in its appearance of having deliberately "made up"
for its anonymous part, all in noncommittal drabs and
browns, with a carpet and paper that nobody would remember,
and chairs and tables as impersonal as railway porters.
Darrow picked up the time-table and tossed it on to the
table. Then he rose to his feet, lit a cigar and went to
the window. Through the rain he could just discover the
face of a clock in a tall building beyond the railway roofs.
He pulled out his watch, compared the two time-pieces, and
started the hands of his with such a rush that they flew
past the hour and he had to make them repeat the circuit
more deliberately. He felt a quite disproportionate
irritation at the trifling blunder. When he had corrected
it he went back to his chair and threw himself down, leaning
back his head against his hands. Presently his cigar went
out, and he got up, hunted for the matches, lit it again and
returned to his seat.
The room was getting on his nerves. During the first few
days, while the skies were clear, he had not noticed it, or
had felt for it only the contemptuous indifference of the
traveller toward a provisional shelter. But now that he was
leaving it, was looking at it for the last time, it seemed
to have taken complete possession of his mind, to be soaking
itself into him like an ugly indelible blot. Every detail
pressed itself on his notice with the familiarity of an
accidental confidant: whichever way he turned, he felt the
nudge of a transient intimacy...
The one fixed point in his immediate future was that his
leave was over and that he must be back at his post in
London the next morning. Within twenty-four hours he would
again be in a daylight world of recognized activities,
himself a busy, responsible, relatively necessary factor in
the big whirring social and official machine. That fixed
obligation was the fact he could think of with the least
discomfort, yet for some unaccountable reason it was the one
on which he found it most difficult to fix his thoughts.
Whenever he did so, the room jerked him back into the circle
of its insistent associations. It was extraordinary with
what a microscopic minuteness of loathing he hated it all:
the grimy carpet and wallpaper, the black marble mantelpiece,
the clock with a gilt allegory under a dusty bell,
the high-bolstered brown-counterpaned bed, the framed card
of printed rules under the electric light switch, and the
door of communication with the next room. He hated the door
most of all...
At the outset, he had felt no special sense of
responsibility. He was satisfied that he had struck the
right note, and convinced of his power of sustaining it.
The whole incident had somehow seemed, in spite of its
vulgar setting and its inevitable prosaic propinquities, to
be enacting itself in some unmapped region outside the pale
of the usual. It was not like anything that had ever
happened to him before, or in which he had ever pictured
himself as likely to be involved; but that, at first, had
seemed no argument against his fitness to deal with it.
Perhaps but for the three days' rain he might have got away
without a doubt as to his adequacy. The rain had made all
the difference. It had thrown the whole picture out of
perspective, blotted out the mystery of the remoter planes
and the enchantment of the middle distance, and thrust into
prominence every commonplace fact of the foreground. It was
the kind of situation that was not helped by being thought
over; and by the perversity of circumstance he had been
forced into the unwilling contemplation of its every
His cigar had gone out again, and he threw it into the fire
and vaguely meditated getting up to find another. But the
mere act of leaving his chair seemed to call for a greater
exertion of the will than he was capable of, and he leaned
his head back with closed eyes and listened to the drumming
of the rain.
A different noise aroused him. It was the opening and
closing of the door leading from the corridor into the
adjoining room. He sat motionless, without opening his
eyes; but now another sight forced itself under his lowered
lids. It was the precise photographic picture of that other
room. Everything in it rose before him and pressed itself
upon his vision with the same acuity of distinctness as the
objects surrounding him. A step sounded on the floor, and
he knew which way the step was directed, what pieces of
furniture it had to skirt, where it would probably pause,
and what was likely to arrest it. He heard another sound,
and recognized it as that of a wet umbrella placed in the
black marble jamb of the chimney-piece, against the hearth.
He caught the creak of a hinge, and instantly differentiated
it as that of the wardrobe against the opposite wall. Then
he heard the mouse-like squeal of a reluctant drawer, and
knew it was the upper one in the chest of drawers beside the
bed: the clatter which followed was caused by the mahogany
toilet-glass jumping on its loosened pivots...
The step crossed the floor again. It was strange how much
better he knew it than the person to whom it belonged! Now
it was drawing near the door of communication between the
two rooms. He opened his eyes and looked. The step had
ceased and for a moment there was silence. Then he heard a
low knock. He made no response, and after an interval he
saw that the door handle was being tentatively turned. He
closed his eyes once more...
The door opened, and the step was in the room, coming
cautiously toward him. He kept his eyes shut, relaxing his
body to feign sleep. There was another pause, then a
wavering soft advance, the rustle of a dress behind his
chair, the warmth of two hands pressed for a moment on his
lids. The palms of the hands had the lingering scent of some
stuff that he had bought on the Boulevard...He looked up and
saw a letter falling over his shoulder to his knee...
"Did I disturb you? I'm so sorry! They gave me this just now
when I came in."
The letter, before he could catch it, had slipped between
his knees to the floor. It lay there, address upward, at
his feet, and while he sat staring down at the strong
slender characters on the blue-gray envelope an arm reached
out from behind to pick it up.
"Oh, don't--DON'T" broke from him, and he bent over and
caught the arm. The face above it was close to his.
"Don't what?"
----"take the trouble," he stammered.
He dropped the arm and stooped down. His grasp closed over
the letter, he fingered its thickness and weight and
calculated the number of sheets it must contain.
Suddenly he felt the pressure of the hand on his shoulder,
and became aware that the face was still leaning over him,
and that in a moment he would have to look up and kiss it...
He bent forward first and threw the unopened letter into the
middle of the fire.
The light of the October afternoon lay on an old high-roofed
house which enclosed in its long expanse of brick and
yellowish stone the breadth of a grassy court filled with
the shadow and sound of limes.
From the escutcheoned piers at the entrance of the court a
level drive, also shaded by limes, extended to a whitebarred
gate beyond which an equally level avenue of grass,
cut through a wood, dwindled to a blue-green blur against a
sky banked with still white slopes of cloud.
In the court, half-way between house and drive, a lady
stood. She held a parasol above her head, and looked now at
the house-front, with its double flight of steps meeting
before a glazed door under sculptured trophies, now down the
drive toward the grassy cutting through the wood. Her air
was less of expectancy than of contemplation: she seemed not
so much to be watching for any one, or listening for an
approaching sound, as letting the whole aspect of the place
sink into her while she held herself open to its influence.
Yet it was no less apparent that the scene was not new to
her. There was no eagerness of investigation in her survey:
she seemed rather to be looking about her with eyes to
which, for some intimate inward reason, details long since
familiar had suddenly acquired an unwonted freshness.
This was in fact the exact sensation of which Mrs. Leath was
conscious as she came forth from the house and descended
into the sunlit court. She had come to meet her step-son,
who was likely to be returning at that hour from an
afternoon's shooting in one of the more distant plantations,
and she carried in her hand the letter which had sent her in
search of him; but with her first step out of the house all
thought of him had been effaced by another series of
The scene about her was known to satiety. She had seen
Givre at all seasons of the year, and for the greater part
of every year, since the far-off day of her marriage; the
day when, ostensibly driving through its gates at her
husband's side, she had actually been carried there on a
cloud of iris-winged visions.
The possibilities which the place had then represented were
still vividly present to her. The mere phrase "a French
chateau" had called up to her youthful fancy a throng of
romantic associations, poetic, pictorial and emotional; and
the serene face of the old house seated in its park among
the poplar-bordered meadows of middle France, had seemed, on
her first sight of it, to hold out to her a fate as noble
and dignified as its own mien.
Though she could still call up that phase of feeling it had
long since passed, and the house had for a time become to
her the very symbol of narrowness and monotony. Then, with
the passing of years, it had gradually acquired a less
inimical character, had become, not again a castle of
dreams, evoker of fair images and romantic legend, but the
shell of a life slowly adjusted to its dwelling: the place
one came back to, the place where one had one's duties,
one's habits and one's books, the place one would naturally
live in till one died: a dull house, an inconvenient house,
of which one knew all the defects, the shabbinesses, the
discomforts, but to which one was so used that one could
hardly, after so long a time, think one's self away from it
without suffering a certain loss of identity.
Now, as it lay before her in the autumn mildness, its
mistress was surprised at her own insensibility. She had
been trying to see the house through the eyes of an old
friend who, the next morning, would be driving up to it for
the first time; and in so doing she seemed to be opening her
own eyes upon it after a long interval of blindness.
The court was very still, yet full of a latent life: the
wheeling and rustling of pigeons about the rectangular yews
and across the sunny gravel; the sweep of rooks above the
lustrous greyish-purple slates of the roof, and the stir of
the tree-tops as they met the breeze which every day, at
that hour, came punctually up from the river.
Just such a latent animation glowed in Anna Leath. In every
nerve and vein she was conscious of that equipoise of bliss
which the fearful human heart scarce dares acknowledge. She
was not used to strong or full emotions; but she had always
known that she should not be afraid of them. She was not
afraid now; but she felt a deep inward stillness.
The immediate effect of the feeling had been to send her
forth in quest of her step-son. She wanted to stroll back
with him and have a quiet talk before they re-entered the
house. It was always easy to talk to him, and at this
moment he was the one person to whom she could have spoken
without fear of disturbing her inner stillness. She was
glad, for all sorts of reasons, that Madame de Chantelle and
Effie were still at Ouchy with the governess, and that she
and Owen had the house to themselves. And she was glad that
even he was not yet in sight. She wanted to be alone a
little longer; not to think, but to let the long slow waves
of joy break over her one by one.
She walked out of the court and sat down on one of the
benches that bordered the drive. From her seat she had a
diagonal view of the long house-front and of the domed
chapel terminating one of the wings. Beyond a gate in the
court-yard wall the flower-garden drew its dark-green
squares and raised its statues against the yellowing
background of the park. In the borders only a few late
pinks and crimsons smouldered, but a peacock strutting in
the sun seemed to have gathered into his out-spread fan all
the summer glories of the place.
In Mrs. Leath's hand was the letter which had opened her
eyes to these things, and a smile rose to her lips at the
mere feeling of the paper between her fingers. The thrill it
sent through her gave a keener edge to every sense. She
felt, saw, breathed the shining world as though a thin
impenetrable veil had suddenly been removed from it.
Just such a veil, she now perceived, had always hung between
herself and life. It had been like the stage gauze which
gives an illusive air of reality to the painted scene behind
it, yet proves it, after all, to be no more than a painted
She had been hardly aware, in her girlhood, of differing
from others in this respect. In the well-regulated well-fed
Summers world the unusual was regarded as either immoral or
ill-bred, and people with emotions were not visited.
Sometimes, with a sense of groping in a topsy-turvy
universe, Anna had wondered why everybody about her seemed
to ignore all the passions and sensations which formed the
stuff of great poetry and memorable action. In a community
composed entirely of people like her parents and her
parents' friends she did not see how the magnificent things
one read about could ever have happened. She was sure that
if anything of the kind had occurred in her immediate circle
her mother would have consulted the family clergyman, and
her father perhaps even have rung up the police; and her
sense of humour compelled her to own that, in the given
conditions, these precautions might not have been
Little by little the conditions conquered her, and she
learned to regard the substance of life as a mere canvas for
the embroideries of poet and painter, and its little swept
and fenced and tended surface as its actual substance. It
was in the visioned region of action and emotion that her
fullest hours were spent; but it hardly occurred to her that
they might be translated into experience, or connected with
anything likely to happen to a young lady living in West
Fifty- fifth Street.
She perceived, indeed, that other girls, leading outwardly
the same life as herself, and seemingly unaware of her world
of hidden beauty, were yet possessed of some vital secret
which escaped her. There seemed to be a kind of freemasonry
between them; they were wider awake than she, more alert,
and surer of their wants if not of their opinions. She
supposed they were "cleverer", and accepted her inferiority
good-humouredly, half aware, within herself, of a reserve of
unused power which the others gave no sign of possessing.
This partly consoled her for missing so much of what made
their "good time"; but the resulting sense of exclusion, of
being somehow laughingly but firmly debarred from a share of
their privileges, threw her back on herself and deepened the
reserve which made envious mothers cite her as a model of
ladylike repression.
Love, she told herself, would one day release her from this
spell of unreality. She was persuaded that the sublime
passion was the key to the enigma; but it was difficult to
relate her conception of love to the forms it wore in her
experience. Two or three of the girls she had envied for
their superior acquaintance with the arts of life had
contracted, in the course of time, what were variously
described as "romantic" or "foolish" marriages; one even
made a runaway match, and languished for a while under a
cloud of social reprobation. Here, then, was passion in
action, romance converted to reality; yet the heroines of
these exploits returned from them untransfigured, and their
husbands were as dull as ever when one had to sit next to
them at dinner.
Her own case, of course, would be different. Some day she
would find the magic bridge between West Fifty-fifth Street
and life; once or twice she had even fancied that the clue
was in her hand. The first time was when she had met young
Darrow. She recalled even now the stir of the encounter.
But his passion swept over her like a wind that shakes the
roof of the forest without reaching its still glades or
rippling its hidden pools. He was extraordinarily
intelligent and agreeable, and her heart beat faster when he
was with her. He had a tall fair easy presence and a mind
in which the lights of irony played pleasantly through the
shades of feeling. She liked to hear his voice almost as
much as to listen to what he was saying, and to listen to
what he was saying almost as much as to feel that he was
looking at her; but he wanted to kiss her, and she wanted to
talk to him about books and pictures, and have him insinuate
the eternal theme of their love into every subject they
Whenever they were apart a reaction set in. She wondered
how she could have been so cold, called herself a prude and
an idiot, questioned if any man could really care for her,
and got up in the dead of night to try new ways of doing her
hair. But as soon as he reappeared her head straightened
itself on her slim neck and she sped her little shafts of
irony, or flew her little kites of erudition, while hot and
cold waves swept over her, and the things she really wanted
to say choked in her throat and burned the palms of her
Often she told herself that any silly girl who had waltzed
through a season would know better than she how to attract a
man and hold him; but when she said "a man" she did not
really mean George Darrow.
Then one day, at a dinner, she saw him sitting next to one
of the silly girls in question: the heroine of the elopement
which had shaken West Fifty-fifth Street to its base. The
young lady had come back from her adventure no less silly
than when she went; and across the table the partner of her
flight, a fat young man with eye-glasses, sat stolidly
eating terrapin and talking about polo and investments.
The young woman was undoubtedly as silly as ever; yet after
watching her for a few minutes Miss Summers perceived that
she had somehow grown luminous, perilous, obscurely menacing
to nice girls and the young men they intended eventually to
accept. Suddenly, at the sight, a rage of possessorship
awoke in her. She must save Darrow, assert her right to him
at any price. Pride and reticence went down in a hurricane
of jealousy. She heard him laugh, and there was something
new in his laugh...She watched him talking, talking...He sat
slightly sideways, a faint smile beneath his lids, lowering
his voice as he lowered it when he talked to her. She
caught the same inflections, but his eyes were different.
It would have offended her once if he had looked at her like
that. Now her one thought was that none but she had a right
to be so looked at. And that girl of all others! What
illusions could he have about a girl who, hardly a year ago,
had made a fool of herself over the fat young man stolidly
eating terrapin across the table? If that was where romance
and passion ended, it was better to take to district
visiting or algebra!
All night she lay awake and wondered: "What was she saying
to him? How shall I learn to say such things?" and she
decided that her heart would tell her--that the next time
they were alone together the irresistible word would spring
to her lips. He came the next day, and they were alone, and
all she found was: "I didn't know that you and Kitty Mayne
were such friends."
He answered with indifference that he didn't know it either,
and in the reaction of relief she declared: "She's certainly
ever so much prettier than she was..."
"She's rather good fun," he admitted, as though he had not
noticed her other advantages; and suddenly Anna saw in his
eyes the look she had seen there the previous evening.
She felt as if he were leagues and leagues away from her.
All her hopes dissolved, and she was conscious of sitting
rigidly, with high head and straight lips, while the
irresistible word fled with a last wing-beat into the golden
mist of her illusions...
She was still quivering with the pain and bewilderment of
this adventure when Fraser Leath appeared. She met him
first in Italy, where she was travelling with her parents;
and the following winter he came to New York. In Italy he
had seemed interesting: in New York he became remarkable.
He seldom spoke of his life in Europe, and let drop but the
most incidental allusions to the friends, the tastes, the
pursuits which filled his cosmopolitan days; but in the
atmosphere of West Fifty-fifth Street he seemed the
embodiment of a storied past. He presented Miss Summers
with a prettily-bound anthology of the old French poets and,
when she showed a discriminating pleasure in the gift,
observed with his grave smile: "I didn't suppose I should
find any one here who would feel about these things as I
do." On another occasion he asked her acceptance of a halfeffaced
eighteenth century pastel which he had surprisingly
picked up in a New York auction-room. "I know no one but you
who would really appreciate it," he explained.
He permitted himself no other comments, but these conveyed
with sufficient directness that he thought her worthy of a
different setting. That she should be so regarded by a man
living in an atmosphere of art and beauty, and esteeming
them the vital elements of life, made her feel for the first
time that she was understood. Here was some one whose scale
of values was the same as hers, and who thought her opinion
worth hearing on the very matters which they both considered
of supreme importance. The discovery restored her selfconfidence,
and she revealed herself to Mr. Leath as she had
never known how to reveal herself to Darrow.
As the courtship progressed, and they grew more
confidential, her suitor surprised and delighted her by
little explosions of revolutionary sentiment. He said:
"Shall you mind, I wonder, if I tell you that you live in a
dread-fully conventional atmosphere?" and, seeing that she
manifestly did not mind: "Of course I shall say things now
and then that will horrify your dear delightful parents--I
shall shock them awfully, I warn you."
In confirmation of this warning he permitted himself an
occasional playful fling at the regular church-going of Mr.
and Mrs. Summers, at the innocuous character of the
literature in their library, and at their guileless
appreciations in art. He even ventured to banter Mrs.
Summers on her refusal to receive the irrepressible Kitty
Mayne who, after a rapid passage with George Darrow, was now
involved in another and more flagrant adventure.
"In Europe, you know, the husband is regarded as the only
judge in such matters. As long as he accepts the situation
--" Mr. Leath explained to Anna, who took his view the more
emphatically in order to convince herself that, personally,
she had none but the most tolerant sentiments toward the
The subversiveness of Mr. Leath's opinions was enhanced by
the distinction of his appearance and the reserve of his
manners. He was like the anarchist with a gardenia in his
buttonhole who figures in the higher melodrama. Every word,
every allusion, every note of his agreeably-modulated voice,
gave Anna a glimpse of a society at once freer and finer,
which observed the traditional forms but had discarded the
underlying prejudices; whereas the world she knew had
discarded many of the forms and kept almost all the
In such an atmosphere as his an eager young woman, curious
as to all the manifestations of life, yet instinctively
desiring that they should come to her in terms of beauty and
fine feeling, must surely find the largest scope for selfexpression.
Study, travel, the contact of the world, the
comradeship of a polished and enlightened mind, would
combine to enrich her days and form her character; and it
was only in the rare moments when Mr. Leath's symmetrical
blond mask bent over hers, and his kiss dropped on her like
a cold smooth pebble, that she questioned the completeness
of the joys he offered.
There had been a time when the walls on which her gaze now
rested had shed a glare of irony on these early dreams. In
the first years of her marriage the sober symmetry of Givre
had suggested only her husband's neatly-balanced mind. It
was a mind, she soon learned, contentedly absorbed in
formulating the conventions of the unconventional. West
Fifty-fifth Street was no more conscientiously concerned
than Givre with the momentous question of "what people did";
it was only the type of deed investigated that was
different. Mr. Leath collected his social instances with
the same seriousness and patience as his snuff-boxes. He
exacted a rigid conformity to his rules of non-conformity
and his scepticism had the absolute accent of a dogma. He
even cherished certain exceptions to his rules as the bookcollector
prizes a "defective" first edition. The
Protestant church-going of Anna's parents had provoked his
gentle sarcasm; but he prided himself on his mother's
devoutness, because Madame de Chantelle, in embracing her
second husband's creed, had become part of a society which
still observes the outward rites of piety.
Anna, in fact, had discovered in her amiable and elegant
mother-in-law an unexpected embodiment of the West Fiftyfifth
Street ideal. Mrs. Summers and Madame de Chantelle,
however strongly they would have disagreed as to the
authorized source of Christian dogma, would have found
themselves completely in accord on all the momentous
minutiae of drawing-room conduct; yet Mr. Leath treated his
mother's foibles with a respect which Anna's experience of
him forbade her to attribute wholly to filial affection.
In the early days, when she was still questioning the Sphinx
instead of trying to find an answer to it, she ventured to
tax her husband with his inconsistency.
"You say your mother won't like it if I call on that amusing
little woman who came here the other day, and was let in by
mistake; but Madame de Chantelle tells me she lives with her
husband, and when mother refused to visit Kitty Mayne you
Mr. Leath's smile arrested her. "My dear child, I don't
pretend to apply the principles of logic to my poor mother's
"But if you admit that they ARE prejudices----?"
"There are prejudices and prejudices. My mother, of course,
got hers from Monsieur de Chantelle, and they seem to me as
much in their place in this house as the pot-pourri in your
hawthorn jar. They preserve a social tradition of which I
should be sorry to lose the least perfume. Of course I
don't expect you, just at first, to feel the difference, to
see the nuance. In the case of little Madame de
Vireville, for instance: you point out that she's still
under her husband's roof. Very true; and if she were merely
a Paris acquaintance--especially if you had met her, as one
still might, in the RIGHT KIND of house in Paris--I
should be the last to object to your visiting her. But in
the country it's different. Even the best provincial
society is what you would call narrow: I don't deny it; and
if some of our friends met Madame de Vireville at Givre--
well, it would produce a bad impression. You're inclined to
ridicule such considerations, but gradually you'll come to
see their importance; and meanwhile, do trust me when I ask
you to be guided by my mother. It is always well for a
stranger in an old society to err a little on the side of
what you call its prejudices but I should rather describe as
its traditions."
After that she no longer tried to laugh or argue her husband
out of his convictions. They WERE convictions, and
therefore unassailable. Nor was any insincerity implied in
the fact that they sometimes seemed to coincide with hers.
There were occasions when he really did look at things as
she did; but for reasons so different as to make the
distance between them all the greater. Life, to Mr. Leath,
was like a walk through a carefully classified museum,
where, in moments of doubt, one had only to look at the
number and refer to one's catalogue; to his wife it was like
groping about in a huge dark lumber-room where the exploring
ray of curiosity lit up now some shape of breathing beauty
and now a mummy's grin.
In the first bewilderment of her new state these discoveries
had had the effect of dropping another layer of gauze
between herself and reality. She seemed farther than ever
removed from the strong joys and pangs for which she felt
herself made. She did not adopt her husband's views, but
insensibly she began to live his life. She tried to throw a
compensating ardour into the secret excursions of her
spirit, and thus the old vicious distinction between romance
and reality was re-established for her, and she resigned
herself again to the belief that "real life" was neither
real nor alive.
The birth of her little girl swept away this delusion. At
last she felt herself in contact with the actual business of
living: but even this impression was not enduring.
Everything but the irreducible crude fact of child-bearing
assumed, in the Leath household, the same ghostly tinge of
unreality. Her husband, at the time, was all that his own
ideal of a husband required. He was attentive, and even
suitably moved: but as he sat by her bedside, and
thoughtfully proffered to her the list of people who had
"called to enquire", she looked first at him, and then at
the child between them, and wondered at the blundering
alchemy of Nature...
With the exception of the little girl herself, everything
connected with that time had grown curiously remote and
unimportant. The days that had moved so slowly as they
passed seemed now to have plunged down head-long steeps of
time; and as she sat in the autumn sun, with Darrow's letter
in her hand, the history of Anna Leath appeared to its
heroine like some grey shadowy tale that she might have read
in an old book, one night as she was falling asleep...
Two brown blurs emerging from the farther end of the woodvista
gradually defined themselves as her step-son and an
attendant game-keeper. They grew slowly upon the bluish
background, with occasional delays and re-effacements, and
she sat still, waiting till they should reach the gate at
the end of the drive, where the keeper would turn off to his
cottage and Owen continue on to the house.
She watched his approach with a smile. From the first days
of her marriage she had been drawn to the boy, but it was
not until after Effie's birth that she had really begun to
know him. The eager observation of her own child had shown
her how much she had still to learn about the slight fair
boy whom the holidays periodically restored to Givre. Owen,
even then, both physically and morally, furnished her with
the oddest of commentaries on his father's mien and mind.
He would never, the family sighingly recognized, be nearly
as handsome as Mr. Leath; but his rather charmingly
unbalanced face, with its brooding forehead and petulant
boyish smile, suggested to Anna what his father's
countenance might have been could one have pictured its neat
features disordered by a rattling breeze. She even pushed
the analogy farther, and descried in her step-son's mind a
quaintly-twisted reflection of her husband's. With his
bursts of door-slamming activity, his fits of bookish
indolence, his crude revolutionary dogmatizing and his
flashes of precocious irony, the boy was not unlike a
boisterous embodiment of his father's theories. It was as
though Fraser Leath's ideas, accustomed to hang like
marionettes on their pegs, should suddenly come down and
walk. There were moments, indeed, when Owen's humours must
have suggested to his progenitor the gambols of an infant
Frankenstein; but to Anna they were the voice of her secret
rebellions, and her tenderness to her step-son was partly
based on her severity toward herself. As he had the courage
she had lacked, so she meant him to have the chances she had
missed; and every effort she made for him helped to keep her
own hopes alive.
Her interest in Owen led her to think more often of his
mother, and sometimes she would slip away and stand alone
before her predecessor's portrait. Since her arrival at
Givre the picture--a "full-length" by a once fashionable
artist--had undergone the successive displacements of an
exiled consort removed farther and farther from the throne;
and Anna could not help noting that these stages coincided
with the gradual decline of the artist's fame. She had a
fancy that if his credit had been in the ascendant the first
Mrs. Leath might have continued to throne over the drawingroom
mantel- piece, even to the exclusion of her successor's
effigy. Instead of this, her peregrinations had finally
landed her in the shrouded solitude of the billiard-room, an
apartment which no one ever entered, but where it was
understood that "the light was better," or might have been
if the shutters had not been always closed.
Here the poor lady, elegantly dressed, and seated in the
middle of a large lonely canvas, in the blank contemplation
of a gilt console, had always seemed to Anna to be waiting
for visitors who never came.
"Of course they never came, you poor thing! I wonder how
long it took you to find out that they never would?" Anna
had more than once apostrophized her, with a derision
addressed rather to herself than to the dead; but it was
only after Effie's birth that it occurred to her to study
more closely the face in the picture, and speculate on the
kind of visitors that Owen's mother might have hoped for.
"She certainly doesn't look as if they would have been the
same kind as mine: but there's no telling, from a portrait
that was so obviously done 'to please the family', and that
leaves Owen so unaccounted for. Well, they never came, the
visitors; they never came; and she died of it. She died of
it long before they buried her: I'm certain of that. Those
are stone-dead eyes in the picture...The loneliness must
have been awful, if even Owen couldn't keep her from dying
of it. And to feel it so she must have HAD feelings--
real live ones, the kind that twitch and tug. And all she
had to look at all her life was a gilt console--yes, that's
it, a gilt console screwed to the wall! That's exactly and
absolutely what he is!"
She did not mean, if she could help it, that either Effie or
Owen should know that loneliness, or let her know it again.
They were three, now, to keep each other warm, and she
embraced both children in the same passion of motherhood, as
though one were not enough to shield her from her
predecessor's fate.
Sometimes she fancied that Owen Leath's response was warmer
than that of her own child. But then Effie was still hardly
more than a baby, and Owen, from the first, had been almost
"old enough to understand": certainly DID understand
now, in a tacit way that yet perpetually spoke to her. This
sense of his understanding was the deepest element in their
feeling for each other. There were so many things between
them that were never spoken of, or even indirectly alluded
to, yet that, even in their occasional discussions and
differences, formed the unadduced arguments making for final
Musing on this, she continued to watch his approach; and her
heart began to beat a little faster at the thought of what
she had to say to him. But when he reached the gate she saw
him pause, and after a moment he turned aside as if to gain
a cross-road through the park.
She started up and waved her sunshade, but he did not see
her. No doubt he meant to go back with the gamekeeper,
perhaps to the kennels, to see a retriever who had hurt his
leg. Suddenly she was seized by the whim to overtake him.
She threw down the parasol, thrust her letter into her
bodice, and catching up her skirts began to run.
She was slight and light, with a natural ease and quickness
of gait, but she could not recall having run a yard since
she had romped with Owen in his school-days; nor did she
know what impulse moved her now. She only knew that run she
must, that no other motion, short of flight, would have been
buoyant enough for her humour. She seemed to be keeping
pace with some inward rhythm, seeking to give bodily
expression to the lyric rush of her thoughts. The earth
always felt elastic under her, and she had a conscious joy
in treading it; but never had it been as soft and springy as
today. It seemed actually to rise and meet her as she went,
so that she had the feeling, which sometimes came to her in
dreams, of skimming miraculously over short bright waves.
The air, too, seemed to break in waves against her, sweeping
by on its current all the slanted lights and moist sharp
perfumes of the failing day. She panted to herself: "This
is nonsense!" her blood hummed back: "But it's glorious!"
and she sped on till she saw that Owen had caught sight of
her and was striding back in her direction.
Then she stopped and waited, flushed and laughing, her hands
clasped against the letter in her breast.
"No, I'm not mad," she called out; "but there's something in
the air today--don't you feel it?--And I wanted to have a
little talk with you," she added as he came up to her,
smiling at him and linking her arm in his.
He smiled back, but above the smile she saw the shade of
anxiety which, for the last two months, had kept its fixed
line between his handsome eyes.
"Owen, don't look like that! I don't want you to!" she said
He laughed. "You said that exactly like Effie. What do you
want me to do? To race with you as I do Effie? But I
shouldn't have a show!" he protested, still with the little
frown between his eyes.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"To the kennels. But there's not the least need. The vet
has seen Garry and he's all right. If there's anything you
wanted to tell me----"
"Did I say there was? I just came out to meet you--I wanted
to know if you'd had good sport."
The shadow dropped on him again. "None at all. The fact is
I didn't try. Jean and I have just been knocking about in
the woods. I wasn't in a sanguinary mood."
They walked on with the same light gait, so nearly of a
height that keeping step came as naturally to them as
breathing. Anna stole another look at the young face on a
level with her own.
"You DID say there was something you wanted to tell me,"
her step-son began after a pause.
"Well, there is." She slackened her pace involuntarily, and
they came to a pause and stood facing each other under the
"Is Darrow coming?" he asked.
She seldom blushed, but at the question a sudden heat
suffused her. She held her head high.
"Yes: he's coming. I've just heard. He arrives to-morrow.
But that's not----" She saw her blunder and tried to rectify
it. "Or rather, yes, in a way it is my reason for wanting
to speak to you----"
"Because he's coming?"
"Because he's not yet here."
"It's about him, then?"
He looked at her kindly, half-humourously, an almost
fraternal wisdom in his smile.
"About----? No, no: I meant that I wanted to speak today
because it's our last day alone together."
"Oh, I see." He had slipped his hands into the pockets of
his tweed shooting jacket and lounged along at her side, his
eyes bent on the moist ruts of the drive, as though the
matter had lost all interest for him.
He stopped again and faced her. "Look here, my dear, it's
no sort of use."
"What's no use?"
"Anything on earth you can any of you say."
She challenged him: "Am I one of 'any of you'?"
He did not yield. "Well, then--anything on earth that even
YOU can say."
"You don't in the least know what I can say--or what I mean
"Don't I, generally?"
She gave him this point, but only to make another. "Yes; but
this is particularly. I want to say...Owen, you've been
admirable all through."
He broke into a laugh in which the odd elder-brotherly note
was once more perceptible.
"Admirable," she emphasized. "And so has SHE."
"Oh, and so have you to HER!" His voice broke down to
boyishness. "I've never lost sight of that for a minute.
It's been altogether easier for her, though," he threw off
"On the whole, I suppose it has. Well----" she summed up
with a laugh, "aren't you all the better pleased to be told
you've behaved as well as she?"
"Oh, you know, I've not done it for you," he tossed back at
her, without the least note of hostility in the affected
lightness of his tone.
"Haven't you, though, perhaps--the least bit? Because, after
all, you knew I understood?"
"You've been awfully kind about pretending to."
She laughed. "You don't believe me? You must remember I had
your grandmother to consider."
"Yes: and my father--and Effie, I suppose--and the outraged
shades of Givre!" He paused, as if to lay more stress on the
boyish sneer: "Do you likewise include the late Monsieur de
His step-mother did not appear to resent the thrust. She
went on, in the same tone of affectionate persuasion: "Yes:
I must have seemed to you too subject to Givre. Perhaps I
have been. But you know that was not my real object in
asking you to wait, to say nothing to your grandmother
before her return."
He considered. "Your real object, of course, was to gain
"Yes--but for whom? Why not for YOU?"
"For me?" He flushed up quickly. "You don't mean----?"
She laid her hand on his arm and looked gravely into his
handsome eyes.
"I mean that when your grandmother gets back from Ouchy I
shall speak to her----"
"You'll speak to her...?"
"Yes; if only you'll promise to give me time----"
"Time for her to send for Adelaide Painter?"
"Oh, she'll undoubtedly send for Adelaide Painter!"
The allusion touched a spring of mirth in both their minds,
and they exchanged a laughing look.
"Only you must promise not to rush things. You must give me
time to prepare Adelaide too," Mrs. Leath went on.
"Prepare her too?" He drew away for a better look at her.
"Prepare her for what?"
"Why, to prepare your grandmother! For your marriage. Yes,
that's what I mean. I'm going to see you through, you know
His feint of indifference broke down and he caught her hand.
"Oh, you dear divine thing! I didn't dream----"
"I know you didn't." She dropped her gaze and began to walk
on slowly. "I can't say you've convinced me of the wisdom
of the step. Only I seem to see that other things matter
more--and that not missing things matters most. Perhaps
I've changed--or YOUR not changing has convinced me.
I'm certain now that you won't budge. And that was really
all I ever cared about."
"Oh, as to not budging--I told you so months ago: you might
have been sure of that! And how can you be any surer today
than yesterday?"
"I don't know. I suppose one learns something every day----
"Not at Givre!" he laughed, and shot a half-ironic look at
her. "But you haven't really BEEN at Givre lately--not
for months! Don't you suppose I've noticed that, my dear?"
She echoed his laugh to merge it in an undenying sigh. "Poor
"Poor empty Givre! With so many rooms full and yet not a
soul in it--except of course my grandmother, who is its
They had reached the gateway of the court and stood looking
with a common accord at the long soft-hued facade on which
the autumn light was dying. "It looks so made to be happy
in----" she murmured.
"Yes--today, today!" He pressed her arm a little. "Oh, you
darling--to have given it that look for me!" He paused, and
then went on in a lower voice: "Don't you feel we owe it to
the poor old place to do what we can to give it that look?
You, too, I mean? Come, let's make it grin from wing to
wing! I've such a mad desire to say outrageous things to it
--haven't you? After all, in old times there must have been
living people here!"
Loosening her arm from his she continued to gaze up at the
house-front, which seemed, in the plaintive decline of
light, to send her back the mute appeal of something doomed.
"It IS beautiful," she said.
"A beautiful memory! Quite perfect to take out and turn over
when I'm grinding at the law in New York, and you're----" He
broke off and looked at her with a questioning smile.
"Come! Tell me. You and I don't have to say things to talk
to each other. When you turn suddenly absentminded and
mysterious I always feel like saying: 'Come back. All is
She returned his smile. "You know as much as I know. I
promise you that."
He wavered, as if for the first time uncertain how far he
might go. "I don't know Darrow as much as you know him," he
presently risked.
She frowned a little. "You said just now we didn't need to
say things"
"Was I speaking? I thought it was your eyes----" He
caught her by both elbows and spun her halfway round, so
that the late sun shed a betraying gleam on her face.
"They're such awfully conversational eyes! Don't you suppose
they told me long ago why it's just today you've made up
your mind that people have got to live their own lives--even
at Givre?"
"This is the south terrace," Anna said. "Should you like to
walk down to the river?"
She seemed to listen to herself speaking from a far-off airy
height, and yet to be wholly gathered into the circle of
consciousness which drew its glowing ring about herself and
Darrow. To the aerial listener her words sounded flat and
colourless, but to the self within the ring each one beat
with a separate heart.
It was the day after Darrow's arrival, and he had come down
early, drawn by the sweetness of the light on the lawns and
gardens below his window. Anna had heard the echo of his
step on the stairs, his pause in the stone- flagged hall,
his voice as he asked a servant where to find her. She was
at the end of the house, in the brown-panelled sitting-room
which she frequented at that season because it caught the
sunlight first and kept it longest. She stood near the
window, in the pale band of brightness, arranging some
salmon-pink geraniums in a shallow porcelain bowl. Every
sensation of touch and sight was thrice-alive in her. The
grey- green fur of the geranium leaves caressed her fingers
and the sunlight wavering across the irregular surface of
the old parquet floor made it seem as bright and shifting as
the brown bed of a stream.
Darrow stood framed in the door-way of the farthest drawingroom,
a light-grey figure against the black and white
flagging of the hall; then he began to move toward her down
the empty pale-panelled vista, crossing one after another
the long reflections which a projecting cabinet or screen
cast here and there upon the shining floors.
As he drew nearer, his figure was suddenly displaced by that
of her husband, whom, from the same point, she had so often
seen advancing down the same perspective. Straight, spare,
erect, looking to right and left with quick precise turns of
the head, and stopping now and then to straighten a chair or
alter the position of a vase, Fraser Leath used to march
toward her through the double file of furniture like a
general reviewing a regiment drawn up for his inspection.
At a certain point, midway across the second room, he always
stopped before the mantel-piece of pinkish-yellow marble and
looked at himself in the tall garlanded glass that
surmounted it. She could not remember that he had ever
found anything to straighten or alter in his own studied
attire, but she had never known him to omit the inspection
when he passed that particular mirror.
When it was over he continued more briskly on his way, and
the resulting expression of satisfaction was still on his
face when he entered the oak sitting-room to greet his
The spectral projection of this little daily scene hung but
for a moment before Anna, but in that moment she had time to
fling a wondering glance across the distance between her
past and present. Then the footsteps of the present came
close, and she had to drop the geraniums to give her hand to
"Yes, let us walk down to the river."
They had neither of them, as yet, found much to say to each
other. Darrow had arrived late on the previous afternoon,
and during the evening they had had between them Owen Leath
and their own thoughts. Now they were alone for the first
time and the fact was enough in itself. Yet Anna was
intensely aware that as soon as they began to talk more
intimately they would feel that they knew each other less
They passed out onto the terrace and down the steps to the
gravel walk below. The delicate frosting of dew gave the
grass a bluish shimmer, and the sunlight, sliding in emerald
streaks along the tree-boles, gathered itself into great
luminous blurs at the end of the wood-walks, and hung above
the fields a watery glory like the ring about an autumn
"It's good to be here," Darrow said.
They took a turn to the left and stopped for a moment to
look back at the long pink house-front, plainer, friendlier,
less adorned than on the side toward the court. So
prolonged yet delicate had been the friction of time upon
its bricks that certain expanses had the bloom and texture
of old red velvet, and the patches of gold lichen spreading
over them looked like the last traces of a dim embroidery.
The dome of the chapel, with its gilded cross, rose above
one wing, and the other ended in a conical pigeon-house,
above which the birds were flying, lustrous and slatey,
their breasts merged in the blue of the roof when they
dropped down on it.
"And this is where you've been all these years."
They turned away and began to walk down a long tunnel of
yellowing trees. Benches with mossy feet stood against the
mossy edges of the path, and at its farther end it widened
into a circle about a basin rimmed with stone, in which the
opaque water strewn with leaves looked like a slab of goldflecked
agate. The path, growing narrower, wound on
circuitously through the woods, between slender serried
trunks twined with ivy. Patches of blue appeared above them
through the dwindling leaves, and presently the trees drew
back and showed the open fields along the river.
They walked on across the fields to the tow-path. In a
curve of the wall some steps led up to a crumbling pavilion
with openings choked with ivy. Anna and Darrow seated
themselves on the bench projecting from the inner wall of
the pavilion and looked across the river at the slopes
divided into blocks of green and fawn-colour, and at the
chalk-tinted village lifting its squat church-tower and grey
roofs against the precisely drawn lines of the landscape.
Anna sat silent, so intensely aware of Darrow's nearness
that there was no surprise in the touch he laid on her hand.
They looked at each other, and he smiled and said: "There
are to be no more obstacles now."
"Obstacles?" The word startled her. "What obstacles?"
"Don't you remember the wording of the telegram that turned
me back last May? 'Unforeseen obstacle': that was it. What
was the earth-shaking problem, by the way? Finding a
governess for Effie, wasn't it?"
"But I gave you my reason: the reason why it was an
obstacle. I wrote you fully about it."
"Yes, I know you did." He lifted her hand and kissed it.
"How far off it all seems, and how little it all matters
She looked at him quickly. "Do you feel that? I suppose I'm
different. I want to draw all those wasted months into
today--to make them a part of it."
"But they are, to me. You reach back and take everything--
back to the first days of all."
She frowned a little, as if struggling with an inarticulate
perplexity. "It's curious how, in those first days, too,
something that I didn't understand came between us."
"Oh, in those days we neither of us understood, did we? It's
part of what's called the bliss of being young."
"Yes, I thought that, too: thought it, I mean, in looking
back. But it couldn't, even then, have been as true of you
as of me; and now----"
"Now," he said, "the only thing that matters is that we're
sitting here together."
He dismissed the rest with a lightness that might have
seemed conclusive evidence of her power over him. But she
took no pride in such triumphs. It seemed to her that she
wanted his allegiance and his adoration not so much for
herself as for their mutual love, and that in treating
lightly any past phase of their relation he took something
from its present beauty. The colour rose to her face.
"Between you and me everything matters."
"Of course!" She felt the unperceiving sweetness of his
smile. "That's why," he went on, "'everything,' for me, is
here and now: on this bench, between you and me."
She caught at the phrase. "That's what I meant: it's here
and now; we can't get away from it."
"Get away from it? Do you want to? AGAIN?"
Her heart was beating unsteadily. Something in her,
fitfully and with reluctance, struggled to free itself, but
the warmth of his nearness penetrated every sense as the
sunlight steeped the landscape. Then, suddenly, she felt
that she wanted no less than the whole of her happiness.
"'Again'? But wasn't it YOU, the last time----?"
She paused, the tremor in her of Psyche holding up the lamp.
But in the interrogative light of her pause her companion's
features underwent no change.
"The last time? Last spring? But it was you who--for the
best of reasons, as you've told me--turned me back from your
very door last spring!"
She saw that he was good-humouredly ready to "thresh out,"
for her sentimental satisfaction, a question which, for his
own, Time had so conclusively dealt with; and the sense of
his readiness reassured her.
"I wrote as soon as I could," she rejoined. "I explained
the delay and asked you to come. And you never even
answered my letter."
"It was impossible to come then. I had to go back to my
"And impossible to write and tell me so?"
"Your letter was a long time coming. I had waited a week--
ten days. I had some excuse for thinking, when it came,
that you were in no great hurry for an answer."
"You thought that--really--after reading it?"
"I thought it."
Her heart leaped up to her throat. "Then why are you here
He turned on her with a quick look of wonder. "God knows--
if you can ask me that!"
"You see I was right to say I didn't understand."
He stood up abruptly and stood facing her, blocking the view
over the river and the checkered slopes. "Perhaps I might
say so too."
"No, no: we must neither of us have any reason for saying it
again." She looked at him gravely. "Surely you and I
needn't arrange the lights before we show ourselves to each
other. I want you to see me just as I am, with all my
irrational doubts and scruples; the old ones and the new
ones too."
He came back to his seat beside her. "Never mind the old
ones. They were justified--I'm willing to admit it. With
the governess having suddenly to be packed off, and Effie on
your hands, and your mother-in-law ill, I see the
impossibility of your letting me come. I even see that, at
the moment, it was difficult to write and explain. But what
does all that matter now? The new scruples are the ones I
want to tackle."
Again her heart trembled. She felt her happiness so near,
so sure, that to strain it closer might be like a child's
crushing a pet bird in its caress. But her very security
urged her on. For so long her doubts had been knife-edged:
now they had turned into bright harmless toys that she could
toss and catch without peril!
"You didn't come, and you didn't answer my letter; and after
waiting four months I wrote another."
"And I answered that one; and I'm here."
"Yes." She held his eyes. "But in my last letter I repeated
exactly what I'd said in the first--the one I wrote you last
June. I told you then that I was ready to give you the
answer to what you'd asked me in London; and in telling you
that, I told you what the answer was."
"My dearest! My dearest!" Darrow murmured.
"You ignored that letter. All summer you made no sign. And
all I ask now is, that you should frankly tell me why."
"I can only repeat what I've just said. I was hurt and
unhappy and I doubted you. I suppose if I'd cared less I
should have been more confident. I cared so much that I
couldn't risk another failure. For you'd made me feel that
I'd miserably failed. So I shut my eyes and set my teeth
and turned my back. There's the whole pusillanimous truth
of it!"
"Oh, if it's the WHOLE truth!----" She let him clasp
her. "There's my torment, you see. I thought that was what
your silence meant till I made you break it. Now I want to
be sure that I was right."
"What can I tell you to make you sure?"
"You can let me tell YOU everything first." She drew
away, but without taking her hands from him. "Owen saw you
in Paris," she began.
She looked at him and he faced her steadily. The light was
full on his pleasantly-browned face, his grey eyes, his
frank white forehead. She noticed for the first time a
seal-ring in a setting of twisted silver on the hand he had
kept on hers.
"In Paris? Oh, yes...So he did."
"He came back and told me. I think you talked to him a
moment in a theatre. I asked if you'd spoken of my having
put you off--or if you'd sent me any message. He didn't
remember that you had."
"In a crush--in a Paris foyer? My dear!"
"It was absurd of me! But Owen and I have always been on odd
kind of brother-and-sister terms. I think he guessed about
us when he saw you with me in London. So he teased me a
little and tried to make me curious about you; and when he
saw he'd succeeded he told me he hadn't had time to say much
to you because you were in such a hurry to get back to the
lady you were with."
He still held her hands, but she felt no tremor in his, and
the blood did not stir in his brown cheek. He seemed to be
honestly turning over his memories.
"Yes: and what else did he tell you?"
"Oh, not much, except that she was awfully pretty. When I
asked him to describe her he said you had her tucked away in
a baignoire and he hadn't actually seen her; but he saw the
tail of her cloak, and somehow knew from that that she was
pretty. One DOES, you know...I think he said the cloak
was pink."
Darrow broke into a laugh. "Of course it was--they always
are! So that was at the bottom of your doubts?"
"Not at first. I only laughed. But afterward, when I wrote
you and you didn't answer----Oh, you DO see?" she
appealed to him.
He was looking at her gently. "Yes: I see."
"It's not as if this were a light thing between us. I want
you to know me as I am. If I thought that at that
moment...when you were on your way here, almost----"
He dropped her hand and stood up. "Yes, yes--I understand."
"But do you?" Her look followed him. "I'm not a goose of a
girl. I know...of course I KNOW...but there are things
a woman feels...when what she knows doesn't make any
difference. It's not that I want you to explain--I mean
about that particular evening. It's only that I want you to
have the whole of my feeling. I didn't know what it was
till I saw you again. I never dreamed I should say such
things to you!"
"I never dreamed I should be here to hear you say them!" He
turned back and lifting a floating end of her scarf put his
lips to it. "But now that you have, I know--I know," he
smiled down at her.
"You know?"
"That this is no light thing between us. Now you may ask me
anything you please! That was all I wanted to ask YOU."
For a long moment they looked at each other without
speaking. She saw the dancing spirit in his eyes turn grave
and darken to a passionate sternness. He stooped and kissed
her, and she sat as if folded in wings.
It was in the natural order of things that, on the way back
to the house, their talk should have turned to the future.
Anna was not eager to define it. She had an extraordinary
sensitiveness to the impalpable elements of happiness, and
as she walked at Darrow's side her imagination flew back and
forth, spinning luminous webs of feeling between herself and
the scene about her. Every heightening of emotion produced
for her a new effusion of beauty in visible things, and with
it the sense that such moments should be lingered over and
absorbed like some unrenewable miracle. She understood
Darrow's impatience to see their plans take shape. She knew
it must be so, she would not have had it otherwise; but to
reach a point where she could fix her mind on his appeal for
dates and decisions was like trying to break her way through
the silver tangle of an April wood.
Darrow wished to use his diplomatic opportunities as a means
of studying certain economic and social problems with which
he presently hoped to deal in print; and with this in view
he had asked for, and obtained, a South American
appointment. Anna was ready to follow where he led, and not
reluctant to put new sights as well as new thoughts between
herself and her past. She had, in a direct way, only Effie
and Effie's education to consider; and there seemed, after
due reflection, no reason why the most anxious regard for
these should not be conciliated with the demands of Darrow's
career. Effie, it was evident, could be left to Madame de
Chantelle's care till the couple should have organized their
life; and she might even, as long as her future stepfather's
work retained him in distant posts, continue to
divide her year between Givre and the antipodes.
As for Owen, who had reached his legal majority two years
before, and was soon to attain the age fixed for the taking
over of his paternal inheritance, the arrival of this date
would reduce his step-mother's responsibility to a friendly
concern for his welfare. This made for the prompt
realization of Darrow's wishes, and there seemed no reason
why the marriage should not take place within the six weeks
that remained of his leave.
They passed out of the wood-walk into the open brightness of
the garden. The noon sunlight sheeted with gold the bronze
flanks of the polygonal yews. Chrysanthemums, russet,
saffron and orange, glowed like the efflorescence of an
enchanted forest; belts of red begonia purpling to winecolour
ran like smouldering flame among the borders; and
above this outspread tapestry the house extended its
harmonious length, the soberness of its lines softened to
grace in the luminous misty air.
Darrow stood still, and Anna felt that his glance was
travelling from her to the scene about them and then back to
her face.
"You're sure you're prepared to give up Givre? You look so
made for each other!"
"Oh, Givre----" She broke off suddenly, feeling as if her
too careless tone had delivered all her past into his hands;
and with one of her instinctive movements of recoil she
added: "When Owen marries I shall have to give it up."
"When Owen marries? That's looking some distance ahead! I
want to be told that meanwhile you'll have no regrets."
She hesitated. Why did he press her to uncover to him her
poor starved past? A vague feeling of loyalty, a desire to
spare what could no longer harm her, made her answer
evasively: "There will probably be no 'meanwhile.' Owen may
marry before long."
She had not meant to touch on the subject, for her step-son
had sworn her to provisional secrecy; but since the
shortness of Darrow's leave necessitated a prompt adjustment
of their own plans, it was, after all, inevitable that she
should give him at least a hint of Owen's.
"Owen marry? Why, he always seems like a faun in flannels! I
hope he's found a dryad. There might easily be one left in
these blue-and-gold woods."
"I can't tell you yet where he found his dryad, but she
IS one, I believe: at any rate she'll become the Givre
woods better than I do. Only there may be difficulties----"
"Well! At that age they're not always to be wished away."
She hesitated. "Owen, at any rate, has made up his mind to
overcome them; and I've promised to see him through."
She went on, after a moment's consideration, to explain that
her step-son's choice was, for various reasons, not likely
to commend itself to his grandmother. "She must be prepared
for it, and I've promised to do the preparing. You know I
always HAVE seen him through things, and he rather
counts on me now."
She fancied that Darrow's exclamation had in it a faint note
of annoyance, and wondered if he again suspected her of
seeking a pretext for postponement.
"But once Owen's future is settled, you won't, surely, for
the sake of what you call seeing him through, ask that I
should go away again without you?" He drew her closer as
they walked. "Owen will understand, if you don't. Since
he's in the same case himself I'll throw myself on his
mercy. He'll see that I have the first claim on you; he
won't even want you not to see it."
"Owen sees everything: I'm not afraid of that. But his
future isn't settled. He's very young to marry--too young,
his grandmother is sure to think--and the marriage he wants
to make is not likely to convince her to the contrary."
"You don't mean that it's like his first choice?"
"Oh, no! But it's not what Madame de Chantelle would call a
good match; it's not even what I call a wise one."
"Yet you're backing him up?"
"Yet I'm backing him up." She paused. "I wonder if you'll
understand? What I've most wanted for him, and shall want
for Effie, is that they shall always feel free to make their
own mistakes, and never, if possible, be persuaded to make
other people's. Even if Owen's marriage is a mistake, and
has to be paid for, I believe he'll learn and grow in the
paying. Of course I can't make Madame de Chantelle see
this; but I can remind her that, with his character--his big
rushes of impulse, his odd intervals of ebb and apathy--she
may drive him into some worse blunder if she thwarts him
"And you mean to break the news to her as soon as she comes
back from Ouchy?"
"As soon as I see my way to it. She knows the girl and
likes her: that's our hope. And yet it may, in the end,
prove our danger, make it harder for us all, when she learns
the truth, than if Owen had chosen a stranger. I can't tell
you more till I've told her: I've promised Owen not to tell
any one. All I ask you is to give me time, to give me a few
days at any rate She's been wonderfully 'nice,' as she would
call it, about you, and about the fact of my having soon to
leave Givre; but that, again, may make it harder for Owen.
At any rate, you can see, can't you, how it makes me want to
stand by him? You see, I couldn't bear it if the least
fraction of my happiness seemed to be stolen from his--as if
it were a little scrap of happiness that had to be pieced
out with other people's!" She clasped her hands on Darrow's
arm. "I want our life to be like a house with all the
windows lit: I'd like to string lanterns from the roof and
She ended with an inward tremor. All through her exposition
and her appeal she had told herself that the moment could
hardly have been less well chosen. In Darrow's place she
would have felt, as he doubtless did, that her carefully
developed argument was only the disguise of an habitual
indecision. It was the hour of all others when she would
have liked to affirm herself by brushing aside every
obstacle to his wishes; yet it was only by opposing them
that she could show the strength of character she wanted him
to feel in her.
But as she talked she began to see that Darrow's face gave
back no reflection of her words, that he continued to wear
the abstracted look of a man who is not listening to what is
said to him. It caused her a slight pang to discover that
his thoughts could wander at such a moment; then, with a
flush of joy she perceived the reason.
In some undefinable way she had become aware, without
turning her head, that he was steeped in the sense of her
nearness, absorbed in contemplating the details of her face
and dress; and the discovery made the words throng to her
lips. She felt herself speak with ease, authority,
conviction. She said to herself: "He doesn't care what I
say--it's enough that I say it--even if it's stupid he'll
like me better for it..." She knew that every inflexion of
her voice, every gesture, every characteristic of her
person--its very defects, the fact that her forehead was too
high, that her eyes were not large enough, that her hands,
though slender, were not small, and that the fingers did not
taper--she knew that these deficiencies were so many
channels through which her influence streamed to him; that
she pleased him in spite of them, perhaps because of them;
that he wanted her as she was, and not as she would have
liked to be; and for the first time she felt in her veins
the security and lightness of happy love.
They reached the court and walked under the limes toward the
house. The hall door stood wide, and through the windows
opening on the terrace the sun slanted across the black and
white floor, the faded tapestry chairs, and Darrow's
travelling coat and cap, which lay among the cloaks and rugs
piled on a bench against the wall.
The sight of these garments, lying among her own wraps, gave
her a sense of homely intimacy. It was as if her happiness
came down from the skies and took on the plain dress of
daily things. At last she seemed to hold it in her hand.
As they entered the hall her eye lit on an unstamped note
conspicuously placed on the table.
"From Owen! He must have rushed off somewhere in the motor."
She felt a secret stir of pleasure at the immediate
inference that she and Darrow would probably lunch alone.
Then she opened the note and stared at it in wonder.
"Dear," Owen wrote, "after what you said yesterday I can't
wait another hour, and I'm off to Francheuil, to catch the
Dijon express and travel back with them. Don't be
frightened; I won't speak unless it's safe to. Trust me for
that--but I had to go."
She looked up slowly.
"He's gone to Dijon to meet his grandmother. Oh, I hope I
haven't made a mistake!"
"You? Why, what have you to do with his going to Dijon?"
She hesitated. "The day before yesterday I told him, for
the first time, that I meant to see him through, no matter
what happened. And I'm afraid he's lost his head, and will
be imprudent and spoil things. You see, I hadn't meant to
say a word to him till I'd had time to prepare Madame de
She felt that Darrow was looking at her and reading her
thoughts, and the colour flew to her face. "Yes: it was
when I heard you were coming that I told him. I wanted him
to feel as I seemed too unkind to make him wait!"
Her hand was in his, and his arm rested for a moment on her
"It WOULD have been too unkind to make him wait."
They moved side by side toward the stairs. Through the haze
of bliss enveloping her, Owen's affairs seemed curiously
unimportant and remote. Nothing really mattered but this
torrent of light in her veins. She put her foot on the
lowest step, saying: "It's nearly luncheon time--I must take
off my hat..." and as she started up the stairs Darrow stood
below in the hall and watched her. But the distance between
them did not make him seem less near: it was as if his
thoughts moved with her and touched her like endearing
In her bedroom she shut the door and stood still, looking
about her in a fit of dreamy wonder. Her feelings were
unlike any she had ever known: richer, deeper, more
complete. For the first time everything in her, from head
to foot, seemed to be feeding the same full current of
She took off her hat and went to the dressing-table to
smooth her hair. The pressure of the hat had flattened the
dark strands on her forehead; her face was paler than usual,
with shadows about the eyes. She felt a pang of regret for
the wasted years. "If I look like this today," she said to
herself, "what will he think of me when I'm ill or worried?"
She began to run her fingers through her hair, rejoicing in
its thickness; then she desisted and sat still, resting her
chin on her hands.
"I want him to see me as I am," she thought.
Deeper than the deepest fibre of her vanity was the
triumphant sense that AS SHE WAS, with her flattened
hair, her tired pallor, her thin sleeves a little tumbled by
the weight of her jacket, he would like her even better,
feel her nearer, dearer, more desirable, than in all the
splendours she might put on for him. In the light of this
discovery she studied her face with a new intentness, seeing
its defects as she had never seen them, yet seeing them
through a kind of radiance, as though love were a luminous
medium into which she had been bodily plunged.
She was glad now that she had confessed her doubts and her
jealousy. She divined that a man in love may be flattered
by such involuntary betrayals, that there are moments when
respect for his liberty appeals to him less than the
inability to respect it: moments so propitious that a
woman's very mistakes and indiscretions may help to
establish her dominion. The sense of power she had been
aware of in talking to Darrow came back with ten-fold force.
She felt like testing him by the most fantastic exactions,
and at the same moment she longed to humble herself before
him, to make herself the shadow and echo of his mood. She
wanted to linger with him in a world of fancy and yet to
walk at his side in the world of fact. She wanted him to
feel her power and yet to love her for her ignorance and
humility. She felt like a slave, and a goddess, and a girl
in her teens...
Darrow, late that evening, threw himself into an armchair
before his fire and mused.
The room was propitious to meditation. The red-veiled lamp,
the corners of shadow, the splashes of firelight on the
curves of old full-bodied wardrobes and cabinets, gave it an
air of intimacy increased by its faded hangings, its
slightly frayed and threadbare rugs. Everything in it was
harmoniously shabby, with a subtle sought-for shabbiness in
which Darrow fancied he discerned the touch of Fraser Leath.
But Fraser Leath had grown so unimportant a factor in the
scheme of things that these marks of his presence caused the
young man no emotion beyond that of a faint retrospective
The afternoon and evening had been perfect.
After a moment of concern over her step-son's departure,
Anna had surrendered herself to her happiness with an
impetuosity that Darrow had never suspected in her. Early
in the afternoon they had gone out in the motor, traversing
miles of sober-tinted landscape in which, here and there, a
scarlet vineyard flamed, clattering through the streets of
stony villages, coming out on low slopes above the river, or
winding through the pale gold of narrow wood-roads with the
blue of clear-cut hills at their end. Over everything lay a
faint sunshine that seemed dissolved in the still air, and
the smell of wet roots and decaying leaves was merged in the
pungent scent of burning underbrush. Once, at the turn of a
wall, they stopped the motor before a ruined gateway and,
stumbling along a road full of ruts, stood before a little
old deserted house, fantastically carved and chimneyed,
which lay in a moat under the shade of ancient trees. They
paced the paths between the trees, found a mouldy Temple of
Love on an islet among reeds and plantains, and, sitting on
a bench in the stable-yard, watched the pigeons circling
against the sunset over their cot of patterned brick. Then
the motor flew on into the dusk...
When they came in they sat beside the fire in the oak
drawing-room, and Darrow noticed how delicately her head
stood out against the sombre panelling, and mused on the
enjoyment there would always be in the mere fact of watching
her hands as they moved about among the tea-things...
They dined late, and facing her across the table, with its
low lights and flowers, he felt an extraordinary pleasure in
seeing her again in evening dress, and in letting his eyes
dwell on the proud shy set of her head, the way her dark
hair clasped it, and the girlish thinness of her neck above
the slight swell of the breast. His imagination was struck
by the quality of reticence in her beauty. She suggested a
fine portrait kept down to a few tones, or a Greek vase on
which the play of light is the only pattern.
After dinner they went out on the terrace for a look at the
moon-misted park. Through the crepuscular whiteness the
trees hung in blotted masses. Below the terrace, the garden
drew its dark diagrams between statues that stood like
muffled conspirators on the edge of the shadow. Farther
off, the meadows unrolled a silver-shot tissue to the
mantling of mist above the river; and the autumn stars
trembled overhead like their own reflections seen in dim
He lit his cigar, and they walked slowly up and down the
flags in the languid air, till he put an arm about her,
saying: "You mustn't stay till you're chilled"; then they
went back into the room and drew up their chairs to the
It seemed only a moment later that she said: "It must be
after eleven," and stood up and looked down on him, smiling
faintly. He sat still, absorbing the look, and thinking:
"There'll be evenings and evenings"--till she came nearer,
bent over him, and with a hand on his shoulder said: "Good
He got to his feet and put his arms about her.
"Good night," he answered, and held her fast; and they gave
each other a long kiss of promise and communion.
The memory of it glowed in him still as he sat over his
crumbling fire; but beneath his physical exultation he felt
a certain gravity of mood. His happiness was in some sort
the rallying-point of many scattered purposes. He summed it
up vaguely by saying to himself that to be loved by a woman
like that made "all the difference"...He was a little tired
of experimenting on life; he wanted to "take a line", to
follow things up, to centralize and concentrate, and produce
results. Two or three more years of diplomacy--with her
beside him!--and then their real life would begin: study,
travel and book-making for him, and for her--well, the joy,
at any rate, of getting out of an atmosphere of bric-a-brac
and card-leaving into the open air of competing activities.
The desire for change had for some time been latent in him,
and his meeting with Mrs. Leath the previous spring had
given it a definite direction. With such a comrade to focus
and stimulate his energies he felt modestly but agreeably
sure of "doing something". And under this assurance was the
lurking sense that he was somehow worthy of his opportunity.
His life, on the whole, had been a creditable affair. Out
of modest chances and middling talents he had built himself
a fairly marked personality, known some exceptional people,
done a number of interesting and a few rather difficult
things, and found himself, at thirty-seven, possessed of an
intellectual ambition sufficient to occupy the passage to a
robust and energetic old age. As for the private and
personal side of his life, it had come up to the current
standards, and if it had dropped, now and then, below a more
ideal measure, even these declines had been brief,
parenthetic, incidental. In the recognized essentials he
had always remained strictly within the limit of his
From this reassuring survey of his case he came back to the
contemplation of its crowning felicity. His mind turned
again to his first meeting with Anna Summers and took up one
by one the threads of their faintly sketched romance. He
dwelt with pardonable pride on the fact that fate had so
early marked him for the high privilege of possessing her:
it seemed to mean that they had really, in the truest sense
of the ill-used phrase, been made for each other.
Deeper still than all these satisfactions was the mere
elemental sense of well-being in her presence. That, after
all, was what proved her to be the woman for him: the
pleasure he took in the set of her head, the way her hair
grew on her forehead and at the nape, her steady gaze when
he spoke, the grave freedom of her gait and gestures. He
recalled every detail of her face, the fine veinings of the
temples, the bluish-brown shadows in her upper lids, and the
way the reflections of two stars seemed to form and break up
in her eyes when he held her close to him...
If he had had any doubt as to the nature of her feeling for
him those dissolving stars would have allayed it. She was
reserved, she was shy even, was what the shallow and
effusive would call "cold". She was like a picture so hung
that it can be seen only at a certain angle: an angle known
to no one but its possessor. The thought flattered his
sense of possessorship...He felt that the smile on his lips
would have been fatuous had it had a witness. He was
thinking of her look when she had questioned him about his
meeting with Owen at the theatre: less of her words than of
her look, and of the effort the question cost her: the
reddening of her cheek, the deepening of the strained line
between her brows, the way her eyes sought shelter and then
turned and drew on him. Pride and passion were in the
conflict--magnificent qualities in a wife! The sight almost
made up for his momentary embarrassment at the rousing of a
memory which had no place in his present picture of himself.
Yes! It was worth a good deal to watch that fight between
her instinct and her intelligence, and know one's self the
object of the struggle...
Mingled with these sensations were considerations of another
order. He reflected with satisfaction that she was the kind
of woman with whom one would like to be seen in public. It
would be distinctly agreeable to follow her into drawingrooms,
to walk after her down the aisle of a theatre, to get
in and out of trains with her, to say "my wife" of her to
all sorts of people. He draped these details in the
handsome phrase "She's a woman to be proud of", and felt
that this fact somehow justified and ennobled his
instinctive boyish satisfaction in loving her.
He stood up, rambled across the room and leaned out for a
while into the starry night. Then he dropped again into his
armchair with a sigh of deep content.
"Oh, hang it," he suddenly exclaimed, "it's the best thing
that's ever happened to me, anyhow!"
The next day was even better. He felt, and knew she felt,
that they had reached a clearer understanding of each other.
It was as if, after a swim through bright opposing waves,
with a dazzle of sun in their eyes, they had gained an inlet
in the shades of a cliff, where they could float on the
still surface and gaze far down into the depths.
Now and then, as they walked and talked, he felt a thrill of
youthful wonder at the coincidence of their views and their
experiences, at the way their minds leapt to the same point
in the same instant.
"The old delusion, I suppose," he smiled to himself. "Will
Nature never tire of the trick?"
But he knew it was more than that. There were moments in
their talk when he felt, distinctly and unmistakably, the
solid ground of friendship underneath the whirling dance of
his sensations. "How I should like her if I didn't love
her!" he summed it up, wondering at the miracle of such a
In the course of the morning a telegram had come from Owen
Leath, announcing that he, his grandmother and Effie would
arrive from Dijon that afternoon at four. The station of the
main line was eight or ten miles from Givre, and Anna, soon
after three, left in the motor to meet the travellers.
When she had gone Darrow started for a walk, planning to get
back late, in order that the reunited family might have the
end of the afternoon to themselves. He roamed the countryside
till long after dark, and the stable-clock of Givre was
striking seven as he walked up the avenue to the court.
In the hall, coming down the stairs, he encountered Anna.
Her face was serene, and his first glance showed him that
Owen had kept his word and that none of her forebodings had
been fulfilled.
She had just come down from the school-room, where Effie and
the governess were having supper; the little girl, she told
him, looked immensely better for her Swiss holiday, but was
dropping with sleep after the journey, and too tired to make
her habitual appearance in the drawing-room before being put
to bed. Madame de Chantelle was resting, but would be down
for dinner; and as for Owen, Anna supposed he was off
somewhere in the park--he had a passion for prowling about
the park at nightfall...
Darrow followed her into the brown room, where the tea-table
had been left for him. He declined her offer of tea, but
she lingered a moment to tell him that Owen had in fact kept
his word, and that Madame de Chantelle had come back in the
best of humours, and unsuspicious of the blow about to fall.
"She has enjoyed her month at Ouchy, and it has given her a
lot to talk about--her symptoms, and the rival doctors, and
the people at the hotel. It seems she met your Ambassadress
there, and Lady Wantley, and some other London friends of
yours, and she's heard what she calls 'delightful things'
about you: she told me to tell you so. She attaches great
importance to the fact that your grandmother was an Everard
of Albany. She's prepared to open her arms to you. I don't
know whether it won't make it harder for poor Owen...the
contrast, I mean...There are no Ambassadresses or Everards
to vouch for HIS choice! But you'll help me, won't you?
You'll help me to help him? To-morrow I'll tell you the
rest. Now I must rush up and tuck in Effie..."
"Oh, you'll see, we'll pull it off for him!" he assured her;
"together, we can't fail to pull it off."
He stood and watched her with a smile as she fled down the
half-lit vista to the hall.
If Darrow, on entering the drawing-room before dinner,
examined its new occupant with unusual interest, it was more
on Owen Leath's account than his own.
Anna's hints had roused his interest in the lad's love
affair, and he wondered what manner of girl the heroine of
the coming conflict might be. He had guessed that Owen's
rebellion symbolized for his step-mother her own long
struggle against the Leath conventions, and he understood
that if Anna so passionately abetted him it was partly
because, as she owned, she wanted his liberation to coincide
with hers.
The lady who was to represent, in the impending struggle,
the forces of order and tradition was seated by the fire
when Darrow entered. Among the flowers and old furniture of
the large pale-panelled room, Madame de Chantelle had the
inanimate elegance of a figure introduced into a "stilllife"
to give the scale. And this, Darrow reflected, was
exactly what she doubtless regarded as her chief obligation:
he was sure she thought a great deal of "measure", and
approved of most things only up to a certain point.
She was a woman of sixty, with a figure at once young and
old-fashioned. Her fair faded tints, her quaint corseting,
the passementerie on her tight-waisted dress, the velvet
band on her tapering arm, made her resemble a "carte de
visite" photograph of the middle sixties. One saw her,
younger but no less invincibly lady-like, leaning on a chair
with a fringed back, a curl in her neck, a locket on her
tuckered bosom, toward the end of an embossed morocco album
beginning with The Beauties of the Second Empire.
She received her daughter-in-law's suitor with an affability
which implied her knowledge and approval of his suit.
Darrow had already guessed her to be a person who would
instinctively oppose any suggested changes, and then, after
one had exhausted one's main arguments, unexpectedly yield
to some small incidental reason, and adhere doggedly to her
new position. She boasted of her old-fashioned prejudices,
talked a good deal of being a grandmother, and made a show
of reaching up to tap Owen's shoulder, though his height was
little more than hers.
She was full of a small pale prattle about the people she
had seen at Ouchy, as to whom she had the minute statistical
information of a gazetteer, without any apparent sense of
personal differences. She said to Darrow: "They tell me
things are very much changed in America...Of course in my
youth there WAS a Society"...She had no desire to return
there she was sure the standards must be so different.
"There are charming people everywhere...and one must always
look on the best side...but when one has lived among
Traditions it's difficult to adapt one's self to the new
ideas...These dreadful views of's so hard to
explain them to my French relations...I'm thankful to say I
don't pretend to understand them myself! But YOU'RE an
Everard--I told Anna last spring in London that one sees
that instantly"...
She wandered off to the cooking and the service of the hotel
at Ouchy. She attached great importance to gastronomic
details and to the manners of hotel servants. There, too,
there was a falling off, she said. "I don t know, of
course; but people say it's owing to the Americans.
Certainly my waiter had a way of slapping down the
dishes...they tell me that many of them are
Anarchists...belong to Unions, you know." She appealed to
Darrow's reported knowledge of economic conditions to
confirm this ominous rumour.
After dinner Owen Leath wandered into the next room, where
the piano stood, and began to play among the shadows. His
step-mother presently joined him, and Darrow sat alone with
Madame de Chantelle.
She took up the thread of her mild chat and carried it on at
the same pace as her knitting. Her conversation resembled
the large loose-stranded web between her fingers: now and
then she dropped a stitch, and went on regardless of the gap
in the pattern.
Darrow listened with a lazy sense of well-being. In the
mental lull of the after-dinner hour, with harmonious
memories murmuring through his mind, and the soft tints and
shadowy spaces of the fine old room charming his eyes to
indolence, Madame de Chantelle's discourse seemed not out of
place. He could understand that, in the long run, the
atmosphere of Givre might be suffocating; but in his present
mood its very limitations had a grace.
Presently he found the chance to say a word in his own
behalf; and thereupon measured the advantage, never before
particularly apparent to him, of being related to the
Everards of Albany. Madame de Chantelle's conception of her
native country--to which she had not returned since her
twentieth year--reminded him of an ancient geographer's map
of the Hyperborean regions. It was all a foggy blank, from
which only one or two fixed outlines emerged; and one of
these belonged to the Everards of Albany.
The fact that they offered such firm footing--formed, so to
speak, a friendly territory on which the opposing powers
could meet and treat--helped him through the task of
explaining and justifying himself as the successor of Fraser
Leath. Madame de Chantelle could not resist such
incontestable claims. She seemed to feel her son's hovering
and discriminating presence, and she gave Darrow the sense
that he was being tested and approved as a last addition to
the Leath Collection.
She also made him aware of the immense advantage he
possessed in belonging to the diplomatic profession. She
spoke of this humdrum calling as a Career, and gave Darrow
to understand that she supposed him to have been seducing
Duchesses when he was not negotiating Treaties. He heard
again quaint phrases which romantic old ladies had used in
his youth: "Brilliant diplomatic
advantages...the entree everywhere...nothing else
FORMS a young man in the same way..." and she sighingly
added that she could have wished her grandson had chosen the
same path to glory.
Darrow prudently suppressed his own view of the profession,
as well as the fact that he had adopted it provisionally,
and for reasons less social than sociological; and the talk
presently passed on to the subject of his future plans.
Here again, Madame de Chantelle's awe of the Career made her
admit the necessity of Anna's consenting to an early
marriage. The fact that Darrow was "ordered" to South
America seemed to put him in the romantic light of a young
soldier charged to lead a forlorn hope: she sighed and said:
"At such moments a wife's duty is at her husband's side."
The problem of Effie's future might have disturbed her, she
added; but since Anna, for a time, consented to leave the
little girl with her, that problem was at any rate deferred.
She spoke plaintively of the responsibility of looking after
her granddaughter, but Darrow divined that she enjoyed the
flavour of the word more than she felt the weight of the
"Effie's a perfect child. She's more like my son, perhaps,
than dear Owen. She'll never intentionally give me the
least trouble. But of course the responsibility will be
great...I'm not sure I should dare to undertake it if it
were not for her having such a treasure of a governess. Has
Anna told you about our little governess? After all the
worry we had last year, with one impossible creature after
another, it seems providential, just now, to have found her.
At first we were afraid she was too young; but now we've the
greatest confidence in her. So clever and amusing--and
SUCH a lady! I don't say her education's all it might drawing or singing...but one can't have everything;
and she speaks Italian..."
Madame de Chantelle's fond insistence on the likeness
between Effie Leath and her father, if not particularly
gratifying to Darrow, had at least increased his desire to
see the little girl. It gave him an odd feeling of
discomfort to think that she should have any of the
characteristics of the late Fraser Leath: he had, somehow,
fantastically pictured her as the mystical offspring of the
early tenderness between himself and Anna Summers.
His encounter with Effie took place the next morning, on the
lawn below the terrace, where he found her, in the early
sunshine, knocking about golf balls with her brother.
Almost at once, and with infinite relief, he saw that the
resemblance of which Madame de Chantelle boasted was mainly
external. Even that discovery was slightly distasteful,
though Darrow was forced to own that Fraser Leath's
straight-featured fairness had lent itself to the production
of a peculiarly finished image of childish purity. But it
was evident that other elements had also gone to the making
of Effie, and that another spirit sat in her eyes. Her
serious handshake, her "pretty" greeting, were worthy of the
Leath tradition, and he guessed her to be more malleable
than Owen, more subject to the influences of Givre; but the
shout with which she returned to her romp had in it the note
of her mother's emancipation.
He had begged a holiday for her, and when Mrs. Leath
appeared he and she and the little girl went off for a
ramble. Anna wished her daughter to have time to make
friends with Darrow before learning in what relation he was
to stand to her; and the three roamed the woods and fields
till the distant chime of the stable-clock made them turn
back for luncheon.
Effie, who was attended by a shaggy terrier, had picked up
two or three subordinate dogs at the stable; and as she
trotted on ahead with her yapping escort, Anna hung back to
throw a look at Darrow.
"Yes," he answered it, "she's exquisite...Oh, I see what I'm
asking of you! But she'll be quite happy here, won't she?
And you must remember it won't be for long..."
Anna sighed her acquiescence. "Oh, she'll be happy here.
It's her nature to be happy. She'll apply herself to it,
conscientiously, as she does to her lessons, and to what she
calls 'being good'...In a way, you see, that's just what
worries me. Her idea of 'being good' is to please the
person she's with--she puts her whole dear little mind on
it! And so, if ever she's with the wrong person----"
"But surely there's no danger of that just now? Madame de
Chantelle tells me that you've at last put your hand on a
perfect governess----"
Anna, without answering, glanced away from him toward her
"It's lucky, at any rate," Darrow continued, "that Madame de
Chantelle thinks her so."
"Oh, I think very highly of her too."
"Highly enough to feel quite satisfied to leave her with
"Yes. She's just the person for Effie. Only, of course,
one never knows...She's young, and she might take it into
her head to leave us..." After a pause she added: "I'm
naturally anxious to know what you think of her."
When they entered the house the hands of the hall clock
stood within a few minutes of the luncheon hour. Anna led
Effie off to have her hair smoothed and Darrow wandered into
the oak sitting-room, which he found untenanted. The sun
lay pleasantly on its brown walls, on the scattered books
and the flowers in old porcelain vases. In his eyes
lingered the vision of the dark-haired mother mounting the
stairs with her little fair daughter. The contrast between
them seemed a last touch of grace in the complex harmony of
things. He stood in the window, looking out at the park,
and brooding inwardly upon his happiness...
He was roused by Effie's voice and the scamper of her feet
down the long floors behind him.
"Here he is! Here he is!" she cried, flying over the
He turned and stooped to her with a smile, and as she caught
his hand he perceived that she was trying to draw him toward
some one who had paused behind her in the doorway, and whom
he supposed to be her mother.
"HERE he is!" Effie repeated, with her sweet impatience.
The figure in the doorway came forward and Darrow, looking
up, found himself face to face with Sophy Viner. They stood
still, a yard or two apart, and looked at each other without
As they paused there, a shadow fell across one of the
terrace windows, and Owen Leath stepped whistling into the
room. In his rough shooting clothes, with the glow of
exercise under his fair skin, he looked extraordinarily
light-hearted and happy. Darrow, with a quick side-glance,
noticed this, and perceived also that the glow on the
youth's cheek had deepened suddenly to red. He too stopped
short, and the three stood there motionless for a barely
perceptible beat of time. During its lapse, Darrow's eyes
had turned back from Owen's face to that of the girl between
them. He had the sense that, whatever was done, it was he
who must do it, and that it must be done immediately. He
went forward and held out his hand.
"How do you do, Miss Viner?"
She answered: "How do you do?" in a voice that sounded clear
and natural; and the next moment he again became aware of
steps behind him, and knew that Mrs. Leath was in the room.
To his strained senses there seemed to be another just
measurable pause before Anna said, looking gaily about the
little group: "Has Owen introduced you? This is Effie's
friend, Miss Viner."
Effie, still hanging on her governess's arm, pressed herself
closer with a little gesture of appropriation; and Miss
Viner laid her hand on her pupil's hair.
Darrow felt that Anna's eyes had turned to him.
"I think Miss Viner and I have met already--several years
ago in London."
"I remember," said Sophy Viner, in the same clear voice.
"How charming! Then we're all friends. But luncheon must be
ready," said Mrs. Leath.
She turned back to the door, and the little procession moved
down the two long drawing-rooms, with Effie waltzing on
Madame de Chantelle and Anna had planned, for the afternoon,
a visit to a remotely situated acquaintance whom the
introduction of the motor had transformed into a neighbour.
Effie was to pay for her morning's holiday by an hour or two
in the school-room, and Owen suggested that he and Darrow
should betake themselves to a distant covert in the
desultory quest for pheasants.
Darrow was not an ardent sportsman, but any pretext for
physical activity would have been acceptable at the moment;
and he was glad both to get away from the house and not to
be left to himself.
When he came downstairs the motor was at the door, and Anna
stood before the hall mirror, swathing her hat in veils.
She turned at the sound of his step and smiled at him for a
long full moment.
"I'd no idea you knew Miss Viner," she said, as he helped
her into her long coat.
"It came back to me, luckily, that I'd seen her two or three
times in London, several years ago. She was secretary, or
something of the sort, in the background of a house where I
used to dine."
He loathed the slighting indifference of the phrase, but he
had uttered it deliberately, had been secretly practising it
all through the interminable hour at the luncheon-table.
Now that it was spoken, he shivered at its note of
condescension. In such cases one was almost sure to
overdo...But Anna seemed to notice nothing unusual.
"Was she really? You must tell me all about it--tell me
exactly how she struck you. I'm so glad it turns out that
you know her."
"'Know' is rather exaggerated: we used to pass each other on
the stairs."
Madame de Chantelle and Owen appeared together as he spoke,
and Anna, gathering up her wraps, said: "You'll tell me
about that, then. Try and remember everything you can."
As he tramped through the woods at his young host's side,
Darrow felt the partial relief from thought produced by
exercise and the obligation to talk. Little as he cared for
shooting, he had the habit of concentration which makes it
natural for a man to throw himself wholly into whatever
business he has in hand, and there were moments of the
afternoon when a sudden whirr in the undergrowth, a vivider
gleam against the hazy browns and greys of the woods, was
enough to fill the foreground of his attention. But all the
while, behind these voluntarily emphasized sensations, his
secret consciousness continued to revolve on a loud wheel of
thought. For a time it seemed to be sweeping him through
deep gulfs of darkness. His sensations were too swift and
swarming to be disentangled. He had an almost physical
sense of struggling for air, of battling helplessly with
material obstructions, as though the russet covert through
which he trudged were the heart of a maleficent jungle...
Snatches of his companion's talk drifted to him
intermittently through the confusion of his thoughts. He
caught eager self-revealing phrases, and understood that
Owen was saying things about himself, perhaps hinting
indirectly at the hopes for which Darrow had been prepared
by Anna's confidences. He had already become aware that the
lad liked him, and had meant to take the first opportunity
of showing that he reciprocated the feeling. But the effort
of fixing his attention on Owen's words was so great that it
left no power for more than the briefest and most
inexpressive replies.
Young Leath, it appeared, felt that he had reached a
turning-point in his career, a height from which he could
impartially survey his past progress and projected
endeavour. At one time he had had musical and literary
yearnings, visions of desultory artistic indulgence; but
these had of late been superseded by the resolute
determination to plunge into practical life.
"I don't want, you see," Darrow heard him explaining, "to
drift into what my grandmother, poor dear, is trying to make
of me: an adjunct of Givre. I don't want--hang it all!--to
slip into collecting sensations as my father collected
snuff-boxes. I want Effie to have Givre--it's my
grandmother's, you know, to do as she likes with; and I've
understood lately that if it belonged to me it would
gradually gobble me up. I want to get out of it, into a
life that's big and ugly and struggling. If I can extract
beauty out of THAT, so much the better: that'll prove my
vocation. But I want to MAKE beauty, not be drowned in
the ready-made, like a bee in a pot of honey."
Darrow knew that he was being appealed to for corroboration
of these views and for encouragement in the course to which
they pointed. To his own ears his answers sounded now curt,
now irrelevant: at one moment he seemed chillingly
indifferent, at another he heard himself launching out on a
flood of hazy discursiveness. He dared not look at Owen,
for fear of detecting the lad's surprise at these senseless
transitions. And through the confusion of his inward
struggles and outward loquacity he heard the ceaseless triphammer
beat of the question: "What in God's name shall I
To get back to the house before Anna's return seemed his
most pressing necessity. He did not clearly know why: he
simply felt that he ought to be there. At one moment it
occurred to him that Miss Viner might want to speak to him
alone--and again, in the same flash, that it would probably
be the last thing she would want...At any rate, he felt he
ought to try to speak to HER; or at least be prepared to
do so, if the chance should occur...
Finally, toward four, he told his companion that he had some
letters on his mind and must get back to the house and
despatch them before the ladies returned. He left Owen with
the beater and walked on to the edge of the covert. At the
park gates he struck obliquely through the trees, following
a grass avenue at the end of which he had caught a glimpse
of the roof of the chapel. A grey haze had blotted out the
sun and the still air clung about him tepidly. At length
the house-front raised before him its expanse of dampsilvered
brick, and he was struck afresh by the high decorum
of its calm lines and soberly massed surfaces. It made him
feel, in the turbid coil of his fears and passions, like a
muddy tramp forcing his way into some pure sequestered
By and bye, he knew, he should have to think the complex
horror out, slowly, systematically, bit by bit; but for the
moment it was whirling him about so fast that he could just
clutch at its sharp spikes and be tossed off again. Only
one definite immediate fact stuck in his quivering grasp.
He must give the girl every chance--must hold himself
passive till she had taken them...
In the court Effie ran up to him with her leaping terrier.
"I was coming out to meet you--you and Owen. Miss Viner was
coming, too, and then she couldn't because she's got such a
headache. I'm afraid I gave it to her because I did my
division so disgracefully. It's too bad, isn't it? But
won't you walk back with me? Nurse won't mind the least bit;
she'd so much rather go in to tea."
Darrow excused himself laughingly, on the plea that he had
letters to write, which was much worse than having a
headache, and not infrequently resulted in one.
"Oh, then you can go and write them in Owen's study. That's
where gentlemen always write their letters."
She flew on with her dog and Darrow pursued his way to the
house. Effie's suggestion struck him as useful. He had
pictured himself as vaguely drifting about the drawingrooms,
and had perceived the difficulty of Miss Viner's
having to seek him there; but the study, a small room on the
right of the hall, was in easy sight from the staircase, and
so situated that there would be nothing marked in his being
found there in talk with her.
He went in, leaving the door open, and sat down at the
writing-table. The room was a friendly heterogeneous place,
the one repository, in the well-ordered and amply-servanted
house, of all its unclassified odds and ends: Effie's
croquet-box and fishing rods, Owen's guns and golf-sticks
and racquets, his step-mother's flower-baskets and gardening
implements, even Madame de Chantelle's embroidery frame, and
the back numbers of the Catholic Weekly. The early twilight
had begun to fall, and presently a slanting ray across the
desk showed Darrow that a servant was coming across the hall
with a lamp. He pulled out a sheet of note-paper and began
to write at random, while the man, entering, put the lamp at
his elbow and vaguely "straightened" the heap of newspapers
tossed on the divan. Then his steps died away and Darrow
sat leaning his head on his locked hands.
Presently another step sounded on the stairs, wavered a
moment and then moved past the threshold of the study.
Darrow got up and walked into the hall, which was still
unlighted. In the dimness he saw Sophy Viner standing by
the hall door in her hat and jacket. She stopped at sight
of him, her hand on the door-bolt, and they stood for a
second without speaking.
"Have you seen Effie?" she suddenly asked. "She went out to
meet you."
"She DID meet me, just now, in the court. She's gone on
to join her brother."
Darrow spoke as naturally as he could, but his voice sounded
to his own ears like an amateur actor's in a "light" part.
Miss Viner, without answering, drew back the bolt. He
watched her in silence as the door swung open; then he said:
"She has her
nurse with her. She won't be long."
She stood irresolute, and he added: "I was writing in there
--won't you come and have a little talk? Every one's out."
The last words struck him as not well-chosen, but there was
no time to choose. She paused a second longer and then
crossed the threshold of the study. At luncheon she had sat
with her back to the window, and beyond noting that she had
grown a little thinner, and had less colour and vivacity, he
had seen no change in her; but now, as the lamplight fell on
her face, its whiteness startled him.
"Poor thing...poor thing...what in heaven's name can she
suppose?" he wondered.
"Do sit down--I want to talk to you," he said and pushed a
chair toward her.
She did not seem to see it, or, if she did, she deliberately
chose another seat. He came back to his own chair and
leaned his elbows on the blotter. She faced him from the
farther side of the table.
"You promised to let me hear from you now and then," he
began awkwardly, and with a sharp sense of his awkwardness.
A faint smile made her face more tragic. "Did I? There was
nothing to tell. I've had no history--like the happy
He waited a moment before asking: "You ARE happy here?"
"I WAS," she said with a faint emphasis.
"Why do you say 'was'? You're surely not thinking of going?
There can't be kinder people anywhere." Darrow hardly knew
what he was saying; but her answer came to him with deadly
"I suppose it depends on you whether I go or stay."
"On me?" He stared at her across Owen's scattered papers.
"Good God! What can you think of me, to say that?"
The mockery of the question flashed back at him from her
wretched face. She stood up, wandered away, and leaned an
instant in the darkening window-frame. From there she
turned to fling back at him: "Don't imagine I'm the least
bit sorry for anything!"
He steadied his elbows on the table and hid his face in his
hands. It was harder, oh, damnably harder, than he had
expected! Arguments, expedients, palliations, evasions, all
seemed to be slipping away from him: he was left face to
face with the mere graceless fact of his inferiority. He
lifted his head to ask at random: "You've been here, then,
ever since?"
"Since June; yes. It turned out that the Farlows were
hunting for me--all the while--for this."
She stood facing him, her back to the window, evidently
impatient to be gone, yet with something still to say, or
that she expected to hear him say. The sense of her
expectancy benumbed him. What in heaven's name could he say
to her that was not an offense or a mockery?
"Your idea of the theatre--you gave that up at once, then?"
"Oh, the theatre!" She gave a little laugh. "I couldn't
wait for the theatre. I had to take the first thing that
offered; I took this."
He pushed on haltingly: "I'm glad--extremely glad--you're
happy here...I'd counted on your letting me know if there
was anything I could do...The theatre, now--if you still
regret it--if you're not contented here...I know people in
that line in London--I'm certain I can manage it for you
when I get back----"
She moved up to the table and leaned over it to ask, in a
voice that was hardly above a whisper: "Then you DO want
me to leave? Is that it?"
He dropped his arms with a groan. "Good heavens! How can
you think such things? At the time, you know, I begged you
to let me do what I could, but you wouldn't hear of it...and
ever since I've been wanting to be of use--to do something,
anything, to help you..."
She heard him through, motionless, without a quiver of the
clasped hands she rested on the edge of the table.
"If you want to help me, then--you can help me to stay
here," she brought out with low-toned intensity.
Through the stillness of the pause which followed, the bray
of a motor-horn sounded far down the drive. Instantly she
turned, with a last white look at him, and fled from the
room and up the stairs. He stood motionless, benumbed by
the shock of her last words. She was afraid, then--afraid
of him--sick with fear of him! The discovery beat him down
to a lower depth...
The motor-horn sounded again, close at hand, and he turned
and went up to his room. His letter-writing was a
sufficient pretext for not immediately joining the party
about the tea-table, and he wanted to be alone and try to
put a little order into his tumultuous thinking.
Upstairs, the room held out the intimate welcome of its lamp
and fire. Everything in it exhaled the same sense of peace
and stability which, two evenings before, had lulled him to
complacent meditation. His armchair again invited him from
the hearth, but he was too agitated to sit still, and with
sunk head and hands clasped behind his back he began to
wander up and down the room.
His five minutes with Sophy Viner had flashed strange lights
into the shadowy corners of his consciousness. The girl's
absolute candour, her hard ardent honesty, was for the
moment the vividest point in his thoughts. He wondered anew,
as he had wondered before, at the way in which the harsh
discipline of life had stripped her of false sentiment
without laying the least touch on her pride. When they had
parted, five months before, she had quietly but decidedly
rejected all his offers of help, even to the suggestion of
his trying to further her theatrical aims: she had made it
clear that she wished their brief alliance to leave no trace
on their lives save that of its own smiling memory. But now
that they were unexpectedly confronted in a situation which
seemed, to her terrified fancy, to put her at his mercy, her
first impulse was to defend her right to the place she had
won, and to learn as quickly as possible if he meant to
dispute it. While he had pictured her as shrinking away
from him in a tremor of self-effacement she had watched his
movements, made sure of her opportunity, and come straight
down to "have it out" with him. He was so struck by the
frankness and energy of the proceeding that for a moment he
lost sight of the view of his own character implied in it.
"Poor thing...poor thing!" he could only go on saying; and
with the repetition of the words the picture of himself as
she must see him pitiably took shape again.
He understood then, for the first time, how vague, in
comparison with hers, had been his own vision of the part he
had played in the brief episode of their relation. The
incident had left in him a sense of exasperation and selfcontempt,
but that, as he now perceived, was chiefly, if not
altogether, as it bore on his preconceived ideal of his
attitude toward another woman. He had fallen below his own
standard of sentimental loyalty, and if he thought of Sophy
Viner it was mainly as the chance instrument of his lapse.
These considerations were not agreeable to his pride, but
they were forced on him by the example of her valiant
common-sense. If he had cut a sorry figure in the business,
he owed it to her not to close his eyes to the fact any
But when he opened them, what did he see? The situation,
detestable at best, would yet have been relatively simple if
protecting Sophy Viner had been the only duty involved in
it. The fact that that duty was paramount did not do away
with the contingent obligations. It was Darrow's instinct,
in difficult moments, to go straight to the bottom of the
difficulty; but he had never before had to take so dark a
dive as this, and for the minute he shivered on the
brink...Well, his first duty, at any rate, was to the girl:
he must let her see that he meant to fulfill it to the last
jot, and then try to find out how to square the fulfillment
with the other problems already in his path...
In the oak room he found Mrs. Leath, her mother-in-law and
Effie. The group, as he came toward it down the long
drawing-rooms, composed itself prettily about the tea-table.
The lamps and the fire crossed their gleams on silver and
porcelain, on the bright haze of Effie's hair and on the
whiteness of Anna's forehead, as she leaned back in her
chair behind the tea-urn.
She did not move at Darrow's approach, but lifted to him a
deep gaze of peace and confidence. The look seemed to throw
about him the spell of a divine security: he felt the joy of
a convalescent suddenly waking to find the sunlight on his
Madame de Chantelle, across her knitting, discoursed of
their afternoon's excursion, with occasional pauses induced
by the hypnotic effect of the fresh air; and Effie,
kneeling, on the hearth, softly but insistently sought to
implant in her terrier's mind some notion of the relation
between a vertical attitude and sugar.
Darrow took a chair behind the little girl, so that he might
look across at her mother. It was almost a necessity for
him, at the moment, to let his eyes rest on Anna's face, and
to meet, now and then, the proud shyness of her gaze.
Madame de Chantelle presently enquired what had become of
Owen, and a moment later the window behind her opened, and
her grandson, gun in hand, came in from the terrace. As he
stood there in the lamp-light, with dead leaves and bits of
bramble clinging to his mud-spattered clothes, the scent of
the night about him and its chill on his pale bright face,
he really had the look of a young faun strayed in from the
Effie abandoned the terrier to fly to him. "Oh, Owen, where
in the world have you been? I walked miles and miles with
Nurse and couldn't find you, and we met Jean and he said he
didn't know where you'd gone."
"Nobody knows where I go, or what I see when I get there--
that's the beauty of it!" he laughed back at her. "But if
you're good," he added, "I'll tell you about it one of these
"Oh, now, Owen, now! I don't really believe I'll ever be
much better than I am now."
"Let Owen have his tea first," her mother suggested; but the
young man, declining the offer, propped his gun against the
wall, and, lighting a cigarette, began to pace up and down
the room in a way that reminded Darrow of his own caged
wanderings. Effie pursued him with her blandishments, and
for a while he poured out to her a low-voiced stream of
nonsense; then he sat down beside his step-mother and leaned
over to help himself to tea.
"Where's Miss Viner?" he asked, as Effie climbed up on him.
"Why isn't she here to chain up this ungovernable infant?"
"Poor Miss Viner has a headache. Effie says she went to her
room as soon as lessons were over, and sent word that she
wouldn't be down for tea."
"Ah," said Owen, abruptly setting down his cup. He stood
up, lit another cigarette, and wandered away to the piano in
the room beyond.
From the twilight where he sat a lonely music, borne on
fantastic chords, floated to the group about the tea-table.
Under its influence Madame de Chantelle's meditative pauses
increased in length and frequency, and Effie stretched
herself on the hearth, her drowsy head against the dog.
Presently her nurse appeared, and Anna rose at the same
time. "Stop a minute in my sitting-room on your way up,"
she paused to say to Darrow as she went.
A few hours earlier, her request would have brought him
instantly to his feet. She had given him, on the day of his
arrival, an inviting glimpse of the spacious book-lined room
above stairs in which she had gathered together all the
tokens of her personal tastes: the retreat in which, as one
might fancy, Anna Leath had hidden the restless ghost of
Anna Summers; and the thought of a talk with her there had
been in his mind ever since. But now he sat motionless, as
if spell-bound by the play of Madame de Chantelle's needles
and the pulsations of Owen's fitful music.
"She will want to ask me about the girl," he repeated to
himself, with a fresh sense of the insidious taint that
embittered all his thoughts; the hand of the slendercolumned
clock on the mantel-piece had spanned a half-hour
before shame at his own indecision finally drew him to his
From her writing-table, where she sat over a pile of
letters, Anna lifted her happy smile. The impulse to press
his lips to it made him come close and draw her upward. She
threw her head back, as if surprised at the abruptness of
the gesture; then her face leaned to his with the slow droop
of a flower. He felt again the sweep of the secret tides,
and all his fears went down in them.
She sat down in the sofa-corner by the fire and he drew an
armchair close to her. His gaze roamed peacefully about the
quiet room.
"It's just like you--it is you," he said, as his eyes came
back to her.
"It's a good place to be alone in--I don't think I've ever
before cared to talk with any one here."
"Let's be quiet, then: it's the best way of talking."
"Yes; but we must save it up till later. There are things I
want to say to you now."
He leaned back in his chair. "Say them, then, and I'll
"Oh, no. I want you to tell me about Miss Viner."
"About Miss Viner?" He summoned up a look of faint
He thought she seemed surprised at his surprise. "It's
important, naturally," she explained, "that I should find
out all I can about her before I leave."
"Important on Effie's account?"
"On Effie's account--of course."
"Of course...But you've every reason to be satisfied,
haven't you?"
"Every apparent reason. We all like her. Effie's very fond
of her, and she seems to have a delightful influence on the
child. But we know so little, after all--about her
antecedents, I mean, and her past history. That's why I
want you to try and recall everything you heard about her
when you used to see her in London."
"Oh, on that score I'm afraid I sha'n't be of much use. As I
told you, she was a mere shadow in the background of the
house I saw her in--and that was four or five years ago..."
"When she was with a Mrs. Murrett?"
"Yes; an appalling woman who runs a roaring dinner-factory
that used now and then to catch me in its wheels. I escaped
from them long ago; but in my time there used to be half a
dozen fagged 'hands' to tend the machine, and Miss Viner was
one of them. I'm glad she's out of it, poor girl!"
"Then you never really saw anything of her there?"
"I never had the chance. Mrs. Murrett discouraged any
competition on the part of her subordinates."
"Especially such pretty ones, I suppose?" Darrow made no
comment, and she continued: "And Mrs. Murrett's own opinion
--if she'd offered you one--probably wouldn't have been of
much value?"
"Only in so far as her disapproval would, on general
principles, have been a good mark for Miss Viner. But
surely," he went on after a pause, "you could have found out
about her from the people through whom you first heard of
Anna smiled. "Oh, we heard of her through Adelaide Painter
--;" and in reply to his glance of interrogation she
explained that the lady in question was a spinster of South
Braintree, Massachusetts, who, having come to Paris some
thirty years earlier, to nurse a brother through an illness,
had ever since protestingly and provisionally camped there
in a state of contemptuous protestation oddly manifested by
her never taking the slip-covers off her drawing-room
chairs. Her long residence on Gallic soil had not mitigated
her hostility toward the creed and customs of the race, but
though she always referred to the Catholic Church as the
Scarlet Woman and took the darkest views of French private
life, Madame de Chantelle placed great reliance on her
judgment and experience, and in every domestic crisis the
irreducible Adelaide was immediately summoned to Givre.
"It's all the odder because my mother-in-law, since her
second marriage, has lived so much in the country that she's
practically lost sight of all her other American friends.
Besides which, you can see how completely she has identified
herself with Monsieur de Chantelle's nationality and adopted
French habits and prejudices. Yet when anything goes wrong
she always sends for Adelaide Painter, who's more American
than the Stars and Stripes, and might have left South
Braintree yesterday, if she hadn't, rather, brought it over
with her in her trunk."
Darrow laughed. "Well, then, if South Braintree vouches for
Miss Viner----"
"Oh, but only indirectly. When we had that odious adventure
with Mademoiselle Grumeau, who'd been so highly recommended
by Monsieur de Chantelle's aunt, the Chanoinesse, Adelaide
was of course sent for, and she said at once: 'I'm not the
least bit surprised. I've always told you that what you
wanted for Effie was a sweet American girl, and not one of
these nasty foreigners.' Unluckily she couldn't, at the
moment, put her hand on a sweet American; but she presently
heard of Miss Viner through the Farlows, an excellent couple
who live in the Quartier Latin and write about French life
for the American papers. I was only too thankful to find
anyone who was vouched for by decent people; and so far I've
had no cause to regret my choice. But I know, after all,
very little about Miss Viner; and there are all kinds of
reasons why I want, as soon as possible, to find out more--
to find out all I can."
"Since you've got to leave Effie I understand your feeling
in that way. But is there, in such a case, any
recommendation worth half as much as your own direct
"No; and it's been so favourable that I was ready to accept
it as conclusive. Only, naturally, when I found you'd known
her in London I was in hopes you'd give me some more
specific reasons for liking her as much as I do."
"I'm afraid I can give you nothing more specific than my
general vague impression that she seems very plucky and
extremely nice."
"You don't, at any rate, know anything specific to the
"To the contrary? How should I? I'm not conscious of ever
having heard any one say two words about her. I only infer
that she must have pluck and character to have stuck it out
so long at Mrs. Murrett's."
"Yes, poor thing! She has pluck, certainly; and pride, too;
which must have made it all the harder." Anna rose to her
feet. "You don't know how glad I am that your impression's
on the whole so good. I particularly wanted you to like
He drew her to him with a smile. "On that condition I'm
prepared to love even Adelaide Painter."
"I almost hope you wont have the chance to--poor Adelaide!
Her appearance here always coincides with a catastrophe."
"Oh, then I must manage to meet her elsewhere." He held Anna
closer, saying to himself, as he smoothed back the hair from
her forehead: "What does anything matter but just THIS?
--Must I go now?" he added aloud.
She answered absently: "It must be time to dress"; then she
drew back a little and laid her hands on his shoulders. "My
love--oh, my dear love!" she said.
It came to him that they were the first words of endearment
he had heard her speak, and their rareness gave them a magic
quality of reassurance, as though no danger could strike
through such a shield.
A knock on the door made them draw apart. Anna lifted her
hand to her hair and Darrow stooped to examine a photograph
of Effie on the writing-table.
"Come in!" Anna said.
The door opened and Sophy Viner entered. Seeing Darrow, she
drew back.
"Do come in, Miss Viner," Anna repeated, looking at her
The girl, a quick red in her cheeks, still hesitated on the
"I'm so sorry; but Effie has mislaid her Latin grammar, and
I thought she might have left it here. I need it to prepare
for tomorrow's lesson."
"Is this it?" Darrow asked, picking up a book from the
"Oh, thank you!"
He held it out to her and she took it and moved to the door.
"Wait a minute, please, Miss Viner," Anna said; and as the
girl turned back, she went on with her quiet smile: "Effie
told us you'd gone to your room with a headache. You mustn't
sit up over tomorrow's lessons if you don't feel well."
Sophy's blush deepened. "But you see I have to. Latin's one
of my weak points, and there's generally only one page of
this book between me and Effie." She threw the words off
with a half-ironic smile. "Do excuse my disturbing you,"
she added.
"You didn't disturb me," Anna answered. Darrow perceived
that she was looking intently at the girl, as though struck
by something tense and tremulous in her face, her voice, her
whole mien and attitude. "You DO look tired. You'd
much better go straight to bed. Effie won't be sorry to skip
her Latin."
"Thank you--but I'm really all right," murmured Sophy Viner.
Her glance, making a swift circuit of the room, dwelt for an
appreciable instant on the intimate propinquity of arm-chair
and sofa-corner; then she turned back to the door.
At dinner that evening Madame de Chantelle's slender
monologue was thrown out over gulfs of silence. Owen was
still in the same state of moody abstraction as when Darrow
had left him at the piano; and even Anna's face, to her
friend's vigilant eye, revealed not, perhaps, a personal
preoccupation, but a vague sense of impending disturbance.
She smiled, she bore a part in the talk, her eyes dwelt on
Darrow's with their usual deep reliance; but beneath the
surface of her serenity his tense perceptions detected a
hidden stir.
He was sufficiently self-possessed to tell himself that it
was doubtless due to causes with which he was not directly
concerned. He knew the question of Owen's marriage was soon
to be raised, and the abrupt alteration in the young man's
mood made it seem probable that he was himself the centre of
the atmospheric disturbance, For a moment it occurred to
Darrow that Anna might have employed her afternoon in
preparing Madame de Chantelle for her grandson's impending
announcement; but a glance at the elder lady's unclouded
brow showed that he must seek elsewhere the clue to Owen's
taciturnity and his step-mother's concern. Possibly Anna
had found reason to change her own attitude in the matter,
and had made the change known to Owen. But this, again, was
negatived by the fact that, during the afternoon's shooting,
young Leath had been in a mood of almost extravagant
expansiveness, and that, from the moment of his late return
to the house till just before dinner, there had been, to
Darrow's certain knowledge, no possibility of a private talk
between himself and his step-mother.
This obscured, if it narrowed, the field of conjecture; and
Darrow's gropings threw him back on the conclusion that he
was probably reading too much significance into the moods of
a lad he hardly knew, and who had been described to him as
subject to sudden changes of humour. As to Anna's fancied
perturbation, it might simply be due to the fact that she
had decided to plead Owen's cause the next day, and had
perhaps already had a glimpse of the difficulties awaiting
her. But Darrow knew that he was too deep in his own
perplexities to judge the mental state of those about him.
It might be, after all, that the variations he felt in the
currents of communication were caused by his own inward
Such, at any rate, was the conclusion he had reached when,
shortly after the two ladies left the drawing-room, he bade
Owen good-night and went up to his room. Ever since the
rapid self-colloquy which had followed on his first sight of
Sophy Viner, he had known there were other questions to be
faced behind the one immediately confronting him. On the
score of that one, at least, his mind, if not easy, was
relieved. He had done what was possible to reassure the
girl, and she had apparently recognized the sincerity of his
intention. He had patched up as decent a conclusion as he
could to an incident that should obviously have had no
sequel; but he had known all along that with the securing of
Miss Viner's peace of mind only a part of his obligation was
discharged, and that with that part his remaining duty was
in conflict. It had been his first business to convince the
girl that their secret was safe with him; but it was far
from easy to square this with the equally urgent obligation
of safe-guarding Anna's responsibility toward her child.
Darrow was not much afraid of accidental disclosures. Both
he and Sophy Viner had too much at stake not to be on their
guard. The fear that beset him was of another kind, and had
a profounder source. He wanted to do all he could for the
girl, but the fact of having had to urge Anna to confide
Effie to her was peculiarly repugnant to him. His own ideas
about Sophy Viner were too mixed and indeterminate for him
not to feel the risk of such an experiment; yet he found
himself in the intolerable position of appearing to press it
on the woman he desired above all others to protect...
Till late in the night his thoughts revolved in a turmoil of
indecision. His pride was humbled by the discrepancy
between what Sophy Viner had been to him and what he had
thought of her. This discrepancy, which at the time had
seemed to simplify the incident, now turned out to be its
most galling complication. The bare truth, indeed, was that
he had hardly thought of her at all, either at the time or
since, and that he was ashamed to base his judgement of her
on his meagre memory of their adventure.
The essential cheapness of the whole affair--as far as his
share in it was concerned--came home to him with humiliating
distinctness. He would have liked to be able to feel that,
at the time at least, he had staked something more on it,
and had somehow, in the sequel, had a more palpable loss to
show. But the plain fact was that he hadn't spent a penny
on it; which was no doubt the reason of the prodigious score
it had since been rolling up. At any rate, beat about the
case as he would, it was clear that he owed it to Anna--and
incidentally to his own peace of mind--to find some way of
securing Sophy Viner's future without leaving her installed
at Givre when he and his wife should depart for their new
The night brought no aid to the solving of this problem; but
it gave him, at any rate, the clear conviction that no time
was to be lost. His first step must be to obtain from Miss
Viner the chance of another and calmer talk; and he resolved
to seek it at the earliest hour.
He had gathered that Effie's lessons were preceded by an
early scamper in the park, and conjecturing that her
governess might be with her he betook himself the next
morning to the terrace, whence he wandered on to the gardens
and the walks beyond.
The atmosphere was still and pale. The muffled sunlight
gleamed like gold tissue through grey gauze, and the beech
alleys tapered away to a blue haze blent of sky and forest.
It was one of those elusive days when the familiar forms of
things seem about to dissolve in a prismatic shimmer.
The stillness was presently broken by joyful barks, and
Darrow, tracking the sound, overtook Effie flying down one
of the long alleys at the head of her pack. Beyond her he
saw Miss Viner seated near the stone-rimmed basin beside
which he and Anna had paused on their first walk to the
The girl, coming forward at his approach, returned his
greeting almost gaily. His first glance showed him that she
had regained her composure, and the change in her appearance
gave him the measure of her fears. For the first time he
saw in her again the sidelong grace that had charmed his
eyes in Paris; but he saw it now as in a painted picture.
"Shall we sit down a minute?" he asked, as Effie trotted
The girl looked away from him. "I'm afraid there's not much
time; we must be back at lessons at half-past nine."
"But it's barely ten minutes past. Let's at least walk a
little way toward the river."
She glanced down the long walk ahead of them and then back
in the direction of the house. "If you like," she said in a
low voice, with one of her quick fluctuations of colour; but
instead of taking the way he proposed she turned toward a
narrow path which branched off obliquely through the trees.
Darrow was struck, and vaguely troubled, by the change in
her look and tone. There was in them an undefinable appeal,
whether for help or forbearance he could not tell. Then it
occurred to him that there might have been something
misleading in his so pointedly seeking her, and he felt a
momentary constraint. To ease it he made an abrupt dash at
the truth.
"I came out to look for you because our talk of yesterday
was so unsatisfactory. I want to hear more about you--about
your plans and prospects. I've been wondering ever since
why you've so completely given up the theatre."
Her face instantly sharpened to distrust. "I had to live,"
she said in an off-hand tone.
"I understand perfectly that you should like it here--for a
time." His glance strayed down the gold-roofed windings
ahead of them. "It's delightful: you couldn't be better
placed. Only I wonder a little at your having so completely
given up any idea of a different future."
She waited for a moment before answering: "I suppose I'm
less restless than I used to be."
"It's certainly natural that you should be less restless
here than at Mrs. Murrett's; yet somehow I don't seem to see
you permanently given up to forming the young."
"What--exactly--DO you seem to see me permanently given
up to? You know you warned me rather emphatically against
the theatre." She threw off the statement without
impatience, as though they were discussing together the fate
of a third person in whom both were benevolently interested.
Darrow considered his reply. "If I did, it was because you
so emphatically refused to let me help you to a start."
She stopped short and faced him "And you think I may let you
Darrow felt the blood in his cheek. He could not understand
her attitude--if indeed she had consciously taken one, and
her changes of tone did not merely reflect the involuntary
alternations of her mood. It humbled him to perceive once
more how little he had to guide him in his judgment of her.
He said to himself: "If I'd ever cared a straw for her I
should know how to avoid hurting her now"--and his
insensibility struck him as no better than a vulgar
obtuseness. But he had a fixed purpose ahead and could only
push on to it.
"I hope, at any rate, you'll listen to my reasons. There's
been time, on both sides, to think them over since----" He
caught himself back and hung helpless on the "since":
whatever words he chose, he seemed to stumble among
reminders of their past.
She walked on beside him, her eyes on the ground. "Then I'm
to understand--definitely--that you DO renew your
offer?" she asked
"With all my heart! If you'll only let me----"
She raised a hand, as though to check him. "It's extremely
friendly of you--I DO believe you mean it as a friend--
but I don't quite understand why, finding me, as you say, so
well placed here, you should show more anxiety about my
future than at a time when I was actually, and rather
desperately, adrift."
"Oh, no, not more!"
"If you show any at all, it must, at any rate, be for
different reasons.--In fact, it can only be," she went on,
with one of her disconcerting flashes of astuteness, "for
one of two reasons; either because you feel you ought to
help me, or because, for some reason, you think you owe it
to Mrs. Leath to let her know what you know of me."
Darrow stood still in the path. Behind him he heard Effie's
call, and at the child's voice he saw Sophy turn her head
with the alertness of one who is obscurely on the watch.
The look was so fugitive that he could not have said wherein
it differed from her normal professional air of having her
pupil on her mind.
Effie sprang past them, and Darrow took up the girl's
"What you suggest about Mrs. Leath is hardly worth
answering. As to my reasons for wanting to help you, a good
deal depends on the words one uses to define rather
indefinite things. It's true enough that I want to help
you; but the wish isn't due any past kindness on
your part, but simply to my own interest in you. Why not
put it that our friendship gives me the right to intervene
for what I believe to be your benefit?"
She took a few hesitating steps and then paused again.
Darrow noticed that she had grown pale and that there were
rings of shade about her eyes.
"You've known Mrs. Leath a long time?" she asked him
He paused with a sense of approaching peril. "A long time--
"She told me you were friends--great friends"
"Yes," he admitted, "we're great friends."
"Then you might naturally feel yourself justified in telling
her that you don't think I'm the right person for Effie."
He uttered a sound of protest, but she disregarded it. "I
don't say you'd LIKE to do it. You wouldn't: you'd hate
it. And the natural alternative would be to try to persuade
me that I'd be better off somewhere else than here. But
supposing that failed, and you saw I was determined to stay?
THEN you might think it your duty to tell Mrs. Leath."
She laid the case before him with a cold lucidity. "I
should, in your place, I believe," she ended with a little
"I shouldn't feel justified in telling her, behind your
back, if I thought you unsuited for the place; but I should
certainly feel justified," he rejoined after a pause, "in
telling YOU if I thought the place unsuited to you."
"And that's what you're trying to tell me now?"
"Yes; but not for the reasons you imagine."
"What, then, are your reasons, if you please?"
"I've already implied them in advising you not to give up
all idea of the theatre. You're too various, too gifted,
too personal, to tie yourself down, at your age, to the
dismal drudgery of teaching."
"And is THAT what you've told Mrs. Leath?"
She rushed the question out at him as if she expected to
trip him up over it. He was moved by the simplicity of the
"I've told her exactly nothing," he replied.
"And what--exactly--do you mean by 'nothing'? You and she
were talking about me when I came into her sitting-room
Darrow felt his blood rise at the thrust.
"I've told her, simply, that I'd seen you once or twice at
Mrs. Murrett's."
"And not that you've ever seen me since?"
"And not that I've ever seen you since..."
"And she believes you--she completely believes you?"
He uttered a protesting exclamation, and his flush reflected
itself in the girl's cheek.
"Oh, I beg your pardon! I didn't mean to ask you that." She
halted, and again cast a rapid glance behind and ahead of
her. Then she held out her hand. "Well, then, thank you--
and let me relieve your fears. I sha'n't be Effie's
governess much longer."
At the announcement, Darrow tried to merge his look of
relief into the expression of friendly interest with which
he grasped her hand. "You really do agree with me, then?
And you'll give me a chance to talk things over with you?"
She shook her head with a faint smile. "I'm not thinking of
the stage. I've had another offer: that's all."
The relief was hardly less great. After all, his personal
responsibility ceased with her departure from Givre.
"You'll tell me about that, then--won't you?"
Her smile flickered up. "Oh, you'll hear about it soon...I
must catch Effie now and drag her back to the blackboard."
She walked on for a few yards, and then paused again and
confronted him. "I've been odious to you--and not quite
honest," she broke out suddenly.
"Not quite honest?" he repeated, caught in a fresh wave of
"I mean, in seeming not to trust you. It's come over me
again as we talked that, at heart, I've always KNOWN I
Her colour rose in a bright wave, and her eyes clung to his
for a swift instant of reminder and appeal. For the same
space of time the past surged up in him confusedly; then a
veil dropped between them.
"Here's Effie now!" she exclaimed.
He turned and saw the little girl trotting back to them, her
hand in Owen Leath's.
Even through the stir of his subsiding excitement Darrow was
at once aware of the change effected by the young man's
approach. For a moment Sophy Viner's cheeks burned redder;
then they faded to the paleness of white petals. She lost,
however, nothing of the bright bravery which it was her way
to turn on the unexpected. Perhaps no one less familiar
with her face than Darrow would have discerned the tension
of the smile she transferred from himself to Owen Leath, or
have remarked that her eyes had hardened from misty grey to
a shining darkness. But her observer was less struck by
this than by the corresponding change in Owen Leath. The
latter, when he came in sight, had been laughing and talking
unconcernedly with Effie; but as his eye fell on Miss Viner
his expression altered as suddenly as hers.
The change, for Darrow, was less definable; but, perhaps for
that reason, it struck him as more sharply significant.
Only--just what did it signify? Owen, like Sophy Viner, had
the kind of face which seems less the stage on which
emotions move than the very stuff they work in. In moments
of excitement his odd irregular features seemed to grow
fluid, to unmake and remake themselves like the shadows of
clouds on a stream. Darrow, through the rapid flight of the
shadows, could not seize on any specific indication of
feeling: he merely perceived that the young man was
unaccountably surprised at finding him with Miss Viner, and
that the extent of his surprise might cover all manner of
Darrow's first idea was that Owen, if he suspected that the
conversation was not the result of an accidental encounter,
might wonder at his step-mother's suitor being engaged, at
such an hour, in private talk with her little girl's
governess. The thought was so disturbing that, as the three
turned back to the house, he was on the point of saying to
Owen: "I came out to look for your mother." But, in the
contingency he feared, even so simple a phrase might seem
like an awkward attempt at explanation; and he walked on in
silence at Miss Viner's side. Presently he was struck by
the fact that Owen Leath and the girl were silent also; and
this gave a new turn to his thoughts. Silence may be as
variously shaded as speech; and that which enfolded Darrow
and his two companions seemed to his watchful perceptions to
be quivering with cross-threads of communication. At first
he was aware only of those that centred in his own troubled
consciousness; then it occurred to him that an equal
activity of intercourse was going on outside of it.
Something was in fact passing mutely and rapidly between
young Leath and Sophy Viner; but what it was, and whither it
tended, Darrow, when they reached the house, was but just
beginning to divine...
Anna Leath, from the terrace, watched the return of the
little group.
She looked down on them, as they advanced across the garden,
from the serene height of her unassailable happiness. There
they were, coming toward her in the mild morning light, her
child, her step-son, her promised husband: the three beings
who filled her life. She smiled a little at the happy
picture they presented, Effie's gambols encircling it in a
moving frame within which the two men came slowly forward in
the silence of friendly understanding. It seemed part of
the deep intimacy of the scene that they should not be
talking to each other, and it did not till afterward strike
her as odd that neither of them apparently felt it necessary
to address a word to Sophy Viner.
Anna herself, at the moment, was floating in the mid-current
of felicity, on a tide so bright and buoyant that she seemed
to be one with its warm waves. The first rush of bliss had
stunned and dazzled her; but now that, each morning, she
woke to the calm certainty of its recurrence, she was
growing used to the sense of security it gave.
"I feel as if I could trust my happiness to carry me; as if
it had grown out of me like wings." So she phrased it to
Darrow, as, later in the morning, they paced the gardenpaths
together. His answering look gave her the same
assurance of safety. The evening before he had seemed
preoccupied, and the shadow of his mood had faintly
encroached on the great golden orb of their blessedness; but
now it was uneclipsed again, and hung above them high and
bright as the sun at noon.
Upstairs in her sitting-room, that afternoon, she was
thinking of these things. The morning mists had turned to
rain, compelling the postponement of an excursion in which
the whole party were to have joined. Effie, with her
governess, had been despatched in the motor to do some
shopping at Francheuil; and Anna had promised Darrow to join
him, later in the afternoon, for a quick walk in the rain.
He had gone to his room after luncheon to get some belated
letters off his conscience; and when he had left her she had
continued to sit in the same place, her hands crossed on her
knees, her head slightly bent, in an attitude of brooding
retrospection. As she looked back at her past life, it
seemed to her to have consisted of one ceaseless effort to
pack into each hour enough to fill out its slack folds; but
now each moment was like a miser's bag stretched to bursting
with pure gold.
She was roused by the sound of Owen's step in the gallery
outside her room. It paused at her door and in answer to
his knock she called out "Come in!"
As the door closed behind him she was struck by his look of
pale excitement, and an impulse of compunction made her say:
"You've come to ask me why I haven't spoken to your
He sent about him a glance vaguely reminding her of the
strange look with which Sophy Viner had swept the room the
night before; then his brilliant eyes came back to her.
"I've spoken to her myself," he said.
Anna started up, incredulous.
"You've spoken to her? When?"
"Just now. I left her to come here."
Anna's first feeling was one of annoyance. There was really
something comically incongruous in this boyish surrender to
impulse on the part of a young man so eager to assume the
responsibilities of life. She looked at him with a faintly
veiled amusement.
"You asked me to help you and I promised you I would. It was
hardly worth while to work out such an elaborate plan of
action if you intended to take the matter out of my hands
without telling me."
"Oh, don't take that tone with me!" he broke out, almost
"That tone? What tone?" She stared at his quivering face.
"I might," she pursued, still half-laughing, "more properly
make that request of YOU!"
Owen reddened and his vehemence suddenly subsided.
"I meant that I HAD to speak--that's all. You don't
give me a chance to explain..."
She looked at him gently, wondering a little at her own
"Owen! Don't I always want to give you every chance? It's
because I DO that I wanted to talk to your grandmother
first--that I was waiting and watching for the right
"The right moment? So was I. That's why I've spoken." His
voice rose again and took the sharp edge it had in moments
of high pressure.
His step-mother turned away and seated herself in her sofacorner.
"Oh, my dear, it's not a privilege to quarrel over!
You've taken a load off my shoulders. Sit down and tell me
all about it."
He stood before her, irresolute. "I can't sit down," he
"Walk about, then. Only tell me: I'm impatient."
His immediate response was to throw himself into the
armchair at her side, where he lounged for a moment without
speaking, his legs stretched out, his arms locked behind his
thrown-back head. Anna, her eyes on his face, waited
quietly for him to speak.
"Well--of course it was just what one expected."
"She takes it so badly, you mean?"
"All the heavy batteries were brought up: my father, Givre,
Monsieur de Chantelle, the throne and the altar. Even my
poor mother was dragged out of oblivion and armed with
imaginary protests."
Anna sighed out her sympathy. "Well--you were prepared for
all that?"
"I thought I was, till I began to hear her say it. Then it
sounded so incredibly silly that I told her so."
"Oh, Owen--Owen!"
"Yes: I know. I was a fool; but I couldn't help it."
"And you've mortally offended her, I suppose? That's exactly
what I wanted to prevent." She laid a hand on his shoulder.
"You tiresome boy, not to wait and let me speak for you!"
He moved slightly away, so that her hand slipped from its
place. "You don't understand," he said, frowning.
"I don't see how I can, till you explain. If you thought
the time had come to tell your grandmother, why not have
asked me to do it? I had my reasons for waiting; but if
you'd told me to speak I should have done so, naturally."
He evaded her appeal by a sudden turn. "What WERE your
reasons for waiting?"
Anna did not immediately answer. Her step-son's eyes were
on her face, and under his gaze she felt a faint
"I was feeling my way...I wanted to be absolutely sure..."
"Absolutely sure of what?"
She delayed again for a just perceptible instant. "Why,
simply of OUR side of the case."
"But you told me you were, the other day, when we talked it
over before they came back from Ouchy."
"Oh, my dear--if you think that, in such a complicated
matter, every day, every hour, doesn't more or less modify
one's surest sureness!"
"That's just what I'm driving at. I want to know what has
modified yours."
She made a slight gesture of impatience. "What does it
matter, now the thing's done? I don't know that I could give
any clear reason..."
He got to his feet and stood looking down on her with a
tormented brow. "But it's absolutely necessary that you
At his tone her impatience flared up. "It's not necessary
that I should give you any explanation whatever, since
you've taken the matter out of my hands. All I can say is
that I was trying to help you: that no other thought ever
entered my mind." She paused a moment and then added: "If
you doubted it, you were right to do what you've done."
"Oh, I never doubted YOU!" he retorted, with a fugitive
stress on the pronoun. His face had cleared to its old look
of trust. "Don't be offended if I've seemed to," he went
on. "I can't quite explain myself,'s all a kind
of tangle, isn't it? That's why I thought I'd better speak
at once; or rather why I didn't think at all, but just
suddenly blurted the thing out----"
Anna gave him back his look of conciliation. "Well, the how
and why don't much matter now. The point is how to deal
with your grandmother. You've not told me what she means to
"Oh, she means to send for Adelaide Painter."
The name drew a faint note of mirth from him and relaxed
both their faces to a smile.
"Perhaps," Anna added, "it's really the best thing for us
Owen shrugged his shoulders. "It's too preposterous and
humiliating. Dragging that woman into our secrets----!"
"This could hardly be a secret much longer."
He had moved to the hearth, where he stood pushing about the
small ornaments on the mantel-shelf; but at her answer he
turned back to her.
"You haven't, of course, spoken of it to any one?"
"No; but I intend to now."
She paused for his reply, and as it did not come she
continued: "If Adelaide Painter's to be told there's no
possible reason why I shouldn't tell Mr. Darrow."
Owen abruptly set down the little statuette between his
fingers. "None whatever: I want every one to know."
She smiled a little at his over-emphasis, and was about to
meet it with a word of banter when he continued, facing her:
"You haven't, as yet, said a word to him?"
"I've told him nothing, except what the discussion of our
own plans--his and mine--obliged me to: that you were
thinking of marrying, and that I wasn't willing to leave
France till I'd done what I could to see you through."
At her first words the colour had rushed to his forehead;
but as she continued she saw his face compose itself and his
blood subside.
"You're a brick, my dear!" he exclaimed.
"You had my word, you know."
"Yes; yes--I know." His face had clouded again. "And that's
all--positively all--you've ever said to him?"
"Positively all. But why do you ask?"
He had a moment's embarrassed hesitation. "It was
understood, wasn't it, that my grandmother was to be the
first to know?"
"Well--and so she has been, hasn't she, since you've told
He turned back to his restless shifting of the knick-knacks.
"And you're sure that nothing you've said to Darrow could
possibly have given him a hint----?"
"Nothing I've said to him--certainly."
He swung about on her. "Why do you put it in that way?"
"In what way?"
"Why--as if you thought some one else might have spoken..."
"Some one else? Who else?" She rose to her feet. "What on
earth, my dear boy, can you be driving at?"
"I'm trying to find out whether you think he knows anything
"Why should I think so? Do YOU?"
"I don't know. I want to find out."
She laughed at his obstinate insistence. "To test my
veracity, I suppose?" At the sound of a step in the gallery
she added: "Here he is--you can ask him yourself."
She met Darrow's knock with an invitation to enter, and he
came into the room and paused between herself and Owen. She
was struck, as he stood there, by the contrast between his
happy careless good-looks and her step-son's frowning
Darrow met her eyes with a smile. "Am I too soon? Or is our
walk given up?"
"No; I was just going to get ready." She continued to linger
between the two, looking slowly from one to the other. "But
there's something we want to tell you first: Owen is engaged
to Miss Viner."
The sense of an indefinable interrogation in Owen's mind
made her, as she spoke, fix her eyes steadily on Darrow.
He had paused just opposite the window, so that, even in the
rainy afternoon light, his face was clearly open to her
scrutiny. For a second, immense surprise was alone visible
on it: so visible that she half turned to her step-son, with
a faint smile for his refuted suspicions. Why, she
wondered, should Owen have thought that Darrow had already
guessed his secret, and what, after all, could be so
disturbing to him in this not improbable contingency? At any
rate, his doubt must have been dispelled: there was nothing
feigned about Darrow's astonishment. When her eyes turned
back to him he was already crossing to Owen with
outstretched hand, and she had, through an unaccountable
faint flutter of misgiving, a mere confused sense of their
exchanging the customary phrases. Her next perception was
of Owen's tranquillized look, and of his smiling return of
Darrow's congratulatory grasp. She had the eerie feeling of
having been overswept by a shadow which there had been no
cloud to cast...
A moment later Owen had left the room and she and Darrow
were alone. He had turned away to the window and stood
staring out into the down-pour.
"You're surprised at Owen's news?" she asked.
"Yes: I am surprised," he answered.
"You hadn't thought of its being Miss Viner?"
"Why should I have thought of Miss Viner?"
"You see now why I wanted so much to find out what you knew
about her." He made no comment, and she pursued: "Now that
you DO know it's she, if there's anything----"
He moved back into the room and went up to her. His face
was serious, with a slight shade of annoyance. "What on
earth should there be? As I told you, I've never in my life
heard any one say two words about Miss Viner."
Anna made no answer and they continued to face each other
without moving. For the moment she had ceased to think
about Sophy Viner and Owen: the only thought in her mind was
that Darrow was alone with her, close to her, and that, for
the first time, their hands and lips had not met.
He glanced back doubtfully at the window. "It's pouring.
Perhaps you'd rather not go out?"
She hesitated, as if waiting for him to urge her. "I
suppose I'd better not. I ought to go at once to my motherin-
law--Owen's just been telling her," she said.
"Ah." Darrow hazarded a smile. "That accounts for my
having, on my way up, heard some one telephoning for Miss
At the allusion they laughed together, vaguely, and Anna
moved toward the door. He held it open for her and followed
her out.
He left her at the door of Madame de Chantelle's sittingroom,
and plunged out alone into the rain.
The wind flung about the stripped tree-tops of the avenue
and dashed the stinging streams into his face. He walked to
the gate and then turned into the high-road and strode along
in the open, buffeted by slanting gusts. The evenly ridged
fields were a blurred waste of mud, and the russet coverts
which he and Owen had shot through the day before shivered
desolately against a driving sky.
Darrow walked on and on, indifferent to the direction he was
taking. His thoughts were tossing like the tree-tops.
Anna's announcement had not come to him as a complete
surprise: that morning, as he strolled back to the house
with Owen Leath and Miss Viner, he had had a momentary
intuition of the truth. But it had been no more than an
intuition, the merest faint cloud-puff of surmise; and now
it was an attested fact, darkening over the whole sky.
In respect of his own attitude, he saw at once that the
discovery made no appreciable change. If he had been bound
to silence before, he was no less bound to it now; the only
difference lay in the fact that what he had just learned had
rendered his bondage more intolerable. Hitherto he had felt
for Sophy Viner's defenseless state a sympathy profoundly
tinged with compunction. But now he was half-conscious of
an obscure indignation against her. Superior as he had
fancied himself to ready-made judgments, he was aware of
cherishing the common doubt as to the disinterestedness of
the woman who tries to rise above her past. No wonder she
had been sick with fear on meeting him! It was in his power
to do her more harm than he had dreamed...
Assuredly he did not want to harm her; but he did
desperately want to prevent her marrying Owen Leath. He
tried to get away from the feeling, to isolate and
exteriorize it sufficiently to see what motives it was made
of; but it remained a mere blind motion of his blood, the
instinctive recoil from the thing that no amount of arguing
can make "straight." His tramp, prolonged as it was, carried
him no nearer to enlightenment; and after trudging through
two or three sallow mud-stained villages he turned about and
wearily made his way back to Givre. As he walked up the
black avenue, making for the lights that twinkled through
its pitching branches, he had a sudden realisation of his
utter helplessness. He might think and combine as he would;
but there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that he could
He dropped his wet coat in the vestibule and began to mount
the stairs to his room. But on the landing he was overtaken
by a sober-faced maid who, in tones discreetly lowered,
begged him to be so kind as to step, for a moment, into the
Marquise's sitting-room. Somewhat disconcerted by the
summons, he followed its bearer to the door at which, a
couple of hours earlier, he had taken leave of Mrs. Leath.
It opened to admit him to a large lamp-lit room which he
immediately perceived to be empty; and the fact gave him
time to note, even through his disturbance of mind, the
interesting degree to which Madame de Chantelle's apartment
"dated" and completed her. Its looped and corded curtains,
its purple satin upholstery, the Sevres jardinieres, the
rosewood fire-screen, the little velvet tables edged with
lace and crowded with silver knick-knacks and simpering
miniatures, reconstituted an almost perfect setting for the
blonde beauty of the 'sixties. Darrow wondered that Fraser
Leath's filial respect should have prevailed over his
aesthetic scruples to the extent of permitting such an
anachronism among the eighteenth century graces of Givre;
but a moment's reflection made it clear that, to its late
owner, the attitude would have seemed exactly in the
traditions of the place.
Madame de Chantelle's emergence from an inner room snatched
Darrow from these irrelevant musings. She was already
beaded and bugled for the evening, and, save for a slight
pinkness of the eye-lids, her elaborate appearance revealed
no mark of agitation; but Darrow noticed that, in
recognition of the solemnity of the occasion, she pinched a
lace handkerchief between her thumb and forefinger.
She plunged at once into the centre of the difficulty,
appealing to him, in the name of all the Everards, to
descend there with her to the rescue of her darling. She
wasn't, she was sure, addressing herself in vain to one
whose person, whose "tone," whose traditions so brilliantly
declared his indebtedness to the principles she besought him
to defend. Her own reception of Darrow, the confidence she
had at once accorded him, must have shown him that she had
instinctively felt their unanimity of sentiment on these
fundamental questions. She had in fact recognized in him
the one person whom, without pain to her maternal piety, she
could welcome as her son's successor; and it was almost as
to Owen's father that she now appealed to Darrow to aid in
rescuing the wretched boy.
"Don't think, please, that I'm casting the least reflection
on Anna, or showing any want of sympathy for her, when I say
that I consider her partly responsible for what's happened.
Anna is 'modern'--I believe that's what it's called when you
read unsettling books and admire hideous pictures. Indeed,"
Madame de Chantelle continued, leaning confidentially
forward, "I myself have always more or less lived in that
atmosphere: my son, you know, was very revolutionary. Only
he didn't, of course, apply his ideas: they were purely
intellectual. That's what dear Anna has always failed to
understand. And I'm afraid she's created the same kind of
confusion in Owen's mind--led him to mix up things you read
about with things you do...You know, of course, that she
sides with him in this wretched business?"
Developing at length upon this theme, she finally narrowed
down to the point of Darrow's intervention. "My grandson,
Mr. Darrow, calls me illogical and uncharitable because my
feelings toward Miss Viner have changed since I've heard
this news. Well! You've known her, it appears, for some
years: Anna tells me you used to see her when she was a
companion, or secretary or something, to a dreadfully vulgar
Mrs. Murrett. And I ask you as a friend, I ask you as one
of US, to tell me if you think a girl who has had to
knock about the world in that kind of position, and at the
orders of all kinds of people, is fitted to be Owen's wife
I'm not implying anything against her! I LIKED the girl,
Mr. Darrow...But what's that got to do with it? I don't want
her to marry my grandson. If I'd been looking for a wife
for Owen, I shouldn't have applied to the Farlows to find me
one. That's what Anna won't understand; and what you must
help me to make her see."
Darrow, to this appeal, could oppose only the repeated
assurance of his inability to interfere. He tried to make
Madame de Chantelle see that the very position he hoped to
take in the household made his intervention the more
hazardous. He brought up the usual arguments, and sounded
the expected note of sympathy; but Madame de Chantelle's
alarm had dispelled her habitual imprecision, and, though
she had not many reasons to advance, her argument clung to
its point like a frightened sharp-clawed animal.
"Well, then," she summed up, in response to his repeated
assertions that he saw no way of helping her, "you can, at
least, even if you won't say a word to the others, tell me
frankly and fairly--and quite between ourselves--your
personal opinion of Miss Viner, since you've known her so
much longer than we have."
He protested that, if he had known her longer, he had known
her much less well, and that he had already, on this point,
convinced Anna of his inability to pronounce an opinion.
Madame de Chantelle drew a deep sigh of intelligence. "Your
opinion of Mrs. Murrett is enough! I don't suppose you
pretend to conceal THAT? And heaven knows what other
unspeakable people she's been mixed up with. The only
friends she can produce are called Hoke...Don't try to
reason with me, Mr. Darrow. There are feelings that go
deeper than facts...And I KNOW she thought of studying
for the stage..." Madame de Chantelle raised the corner of
her lace handkerchief to her eyes. "I'm old-fashioned--like
my furniture," she murmured. "And I thought I could count
on you, Mr. Darrow..."
When Darrow, that night, regained his room, he reflected
with a flash of irony that each time he entered it he
brought a fresh troop of perplexities to trouble its serene
seclusion. Since the day after his arrival, only fortyeight
hours before, when he had set his window open to the
night, and his hopes had seemed as many as its stars, each
evening had brought its new problem and its renewed
distress. But nothing, as yet, had approached the blank
misery of mind with which he now set himself to face the
fresh questions confronting him.
Sophy Viner had not shown herself at dinner, so that he had
had no glimpse of her in her new character, and no means of
divining the real nature of the tie between herself and Owen
Leath. One thing, however, was clear: whatever her real
feelings were, and however much or little she had at stake,
if she had made up her mind to marry Owen she had more than
enough skill and tenacity to defeat any arts that poor
Madame de Chantelle could oppose to her.
Darrow himself was in fact the only person who might
possibly turn her from her purpose: Madame de Chantelle, at
haphazard, had hit on the surest means of saving Owen--if to
prevent his marriage were to save him! Darrow, on this
point, did not pretend to any fixed opinion; one feeling
alone was clear and insistent in him: he did not mean, if he
could help it, to let the marriage take place.
How he was to prevent it he did not know: to his tormented
imagination every issue seemed closed. For a fantastic
instant he was moved to follow Madame de Chantelle's
suggestion and urge Anna to withdraw her approval. If his
reticence, his efforts to avoid the subject, had not escaped
her, she had doubtless set them down to the fact of his
knowing more, and thinking less, of Sophy Viner than he had
been willing to admit; and he might take advantage of this
to turn her mind gradually from the project. Yet how do so
without betraying his insincerity? If he had had nothing to
hide he could easily have said: "It's one thing to know
nothing against the girl, it's another to pretend that I
think her a good match for Owen." But could he say even so
much without betraying more? It was not Anna's questions, or
his answers to them, that he feared, but what might cry
aloud in the intervals between them. He understood now that
ever since Sophy Viner's arrival at Givre he had felt in
Anna the lurking sense of something unexpressed, and perhaps
inexpressible, between the girl and himself...When at last
he fell asleep he had fatalistically committed his next step
to the chances of the morrow.
The first that offered itself was an encounter with Mrs.
Leath as he descended the stairs the next morning. She had
come down already hatted and shod for a dash to the park
lodge, where one of the gatekeeper's children had had an
accident. In her compact dark dress she looked more than
usually straight and slim, and her face wore the pale glow
it took on at any call on her energy: a kind of warrior
brightness that made her small head, with its strong chin
and close-bound hair, like that of an amazon in a frieze.
It was their first moment alone since she had left him, the
afternoon before, at her mother-in-law's door; and after a
few words about the injured child their talk inevitably
reverted to Owen.
Anna spoke with a smile of her "scene" with Madame de
Chantelle, who belonged, poor dear, to a generation when
"scenes" (in the ladylike and lachrymal sense of the term)
were the tribute which sensibility was expected to pay to
the unusual. Their conversation had been, in every detail,
so exactly what Anna had foreseen that it had clearly not
made much impression on her; but she was eager to know the
result of Darrow's encounter with her mother-in-law.
"She told me she'd sent for you: she always 'sends for'
people in emergencies. That again, I suppose, is de
l'epoque. And failing Adelaide Painter, who can't get here
till this afternoon, there was no one but poor you to turn
She put it all lightly, with a lightness that seemed to his
tight-strung nerves slightly, undefinably over-done. But he
was so aware of his own tension that he wondered, the next
moment, whether anything would ever again seem to him quite
usual and insignificant and in the common order of things.
As they hastened on through the drizzle in which the storm
of the night was weeping itself out, Anna drew close under
his umbrella, and at the pressure of her arm against his he
recalled his walk up the Dover pier with Sophy Viner. The
memory gave him a startled vision of the inevitable
occasions of contact, confidence, familiarity, which his
future relationship to the girl would entail, and the
countless chances of betrayal that every one of them
"Do tell me just what you said," he heard Anna pleading; and
with sudden resolution he affirmed: "I quite understand your
mother-in-law's feeling as she does."
The words, when uttered, seemed a good deal less significant
than they had sounded to his inner ear; and Anna replied
without surprise: "Of course. It's inevitable that she
should. But we shall bring her round in time." Under the
dripping dome she raised her face to his. "Don't you
remember what you said the day before yesterday? 'Together
we can't fail to pull it off for him!' I've told Owen that,
so you're pledged and there's no going back."
The day before yesterday! Was it possible that, no longer
ago, life had seemed a sufficiently simple business for a
sane man to hazard such assurances?
"Anna," he questioned her abruptly, "why are you so anxious
for this marriage?"
She stopped short to face him. "Why? But surely I've
explained to you--or rather I've hardly had to, you seemed
so in sympathy with my reasons!"
"I didn't know, then, who it was that Owen wanted to marry."
The words were out with a spring and he felt a clearer air
in his brain. But her logic hemmed him in.
"You knew yesterday; and you assured me then that you hadn't
a word to say----"
"Against Miss Viner?" The name, once uttered, sounded on and
on in his ears. "Of course not. But that doesn't
necessarily imply that I think her a good match for Owen."
Anna made no immediate answer. When she spoke it was to
question: "Why don't you think her a good match for Owen?"
"Well--Madame de Chantelle's reasons seem to me not quite as
negligible as you think."
"You mean the fact that she's been Mrs. Murrett's secretary,
and that the people who employed her before were called
Hoke? For, as far as Owen and I can make out, these are the
gravest charges against her."
"Still, one can understand that the match is not what Madame
de Chantelle had dreamed of."
"Oh, perfectly--if that's all you mean."
The lodge was in sight, and she hastened her step. He
strode on beside her in silence, but at the gate she checked
him with the question: "Is it really all you mean?"
"Of course," he heard himself declare.
"Oh, then I think I shall convince you--even if I can't,
like Madame de Chantelle, summon all the Everards to my
aid!" She lifted to him the look of happy laughter that
sometimes brushed her with a gleam of spring.
Darrow watched her hasten along the path between the
dripping chrysanthemums and enter the lodge. After she had
gone in he paced up and down outside in the drizzle, waiting
to learn if she had any message to send back to the house;
and after the lapse of a few minutes she came out again.
The child, she said, was badly, though not dangerously,
hurt, and the village doctor, who was already on hand, had
asked that the surgeon, already summoned from Francheuil,
should be told to bring with him certain needful appliances.
Owen had started by motor to fetch the surgeon, but there
was still time to communicate with the latter by telephone.
The doctor furthermore begged for an immediate provision of
such bandages and disinfectants as Givre itself could
furnish, and Anna bade Darrow address himself to Miss Viner,
who would know where to find the necessary things, and would
direct one of the servants to bicycle with them to the
Darrow, as he hurried off on this errand, had at once
perceived the opportunity it offered of a word with Sophy
Viner. What that word was to be he did not know; but now,
if ever, was the moment to make it urgent and conclusive.
It was unlikely that he would again have such a chance of
unobserved talk with her.
He had supposed he should find her with her pupil in the
school-room; but he learned from a servant that Effie had
gone to Francheuil with her step-brother, and that Miss
Viner was still in her room. Darrow sent her word that he
was the bearer of a message from the lodge, and a moment
later he heard her coming down the stairs.
For a second, as she approached him, the quick tremor of her
glance showed her all intent on the same thought as himself.
He transmitted his instructions with mechanical precision,
and she answered in the same tone, repeating his words with
the intensity of attention of a child not quite sure of
understanding. Then she disappeared up the stairs.
Darrow lingered on in the hall, not knowing if she meant to
return, yet inwardly sure she would. At length he saw her
coming down in her hat and jacket. The rain still streaked
the window panes, and, in order to say something, he said:
"You're not going to the lodge yourself?"
"I've sent one of the men ahead with the things; but I
thought Mrs. Leath might need me."
"She didn't ask for you," he returned, wondering how he
could detain her; but she answered decidedly: "I'd better
He held open the door, picked up his umbrella and followed
her out. As they went down the steps she glanced back at
him. "You've forgotten your mackintosh."
"I sha'n't need it."
She had no umbrella, and he opened his and held it out to
her. She rejected it with a murmur of thanks and walked on
through the thin drizzle, and he kept the umbrella over his
own head, without offering to shelter her.
Rapidly and in silence they crossed the court and began to
walk down the avenue. They had traversed a third of its
length before Darrow said abruptly: "Wouldn't it have been
fairer, when we talked together yesterday, to tell me what
I've just heard from Mrs. Leath?"
"Fairer----?" She stopped short with a startled look.
"If I'd known that your future was already settled I should
have spared you my gratuitous suggestions."
She walked on, more slowly, for a yard or two. "I couldn't
speak yesterday. I meant to have told you today."
"Oh, I'm not reproaching you for your lack of confidence.
Only, if you HAD told me, I should have been more sure
of your really meaning what you said to me yesterday."
She did not ask him to what he referred, and he saw that her
parting words to him lived as vividly in her memory as in
"Is it so important that you should be sure?" she finally
"Not to you, naturally," he returned with involuntary
asperity. It was incredible, yet it was a fact, that for
the moment his immediate purpose in seeking to speak to her
was lost under a rush of resentment at counting for so
little in her fate. Of what stuff, then, was his feeling
for her made? A few hours earlier she had touched his
thoughts as little as his senses; but now he felt old
sleeping instincts stir in him...
A rush of rain dashed against his face, and, catching
Sophy's hat, strained it back from her loosened hair. She
put her hands to her head with a familiar gesture...He came
closer and held his umbrella over her...
At the lodge he waited while she went in. The rain
continued to stream down on him and he shivered in the
dampness and stamped his feet on the flags. It seemed to
him that a long time elapsed before the door opened and she
reappeared. He glanced into the house for a glimpse of
Anna, but obtained none; yet the mere sense of her nearness
had completely altered his mood.
The child, Sophy told him, was doing well; but Mrs. Leath
had decided to wait till the surgeon came. Darrow, as they
turned away, looked through the gates, and saw the doctor's
old-fashioned carriage by the roadside.
"Let me tell the doctor's boy to drive you back," he
suggested; but Sophy answered: "No; I'll walk," and he moved
on toward the house at her side. She expressed no surprise
at his not remaining at the lodge, and again they walked on
in silence through the rain. She had accepted the shelter
of his umbrella, but she kept herself at such a carefully
measured distance that even the slight swaying movements
produced by their quick pace did not once bring her arm in
touch with his; and, noticing this, he perceived that every
drop of her blood must be alive to his nearness.
"What I meant just now," he began, "was that you ought to
have been sure of my good wishes."
She seemed to weigh the words. "Sure enough for what?"
"To trust me a little farther than you did."
"I've told you that yesterday I wasn't free to speak."
"Well, since you are now, may I say a word to you?"
She paused perceptibly, and when she spoke it was in so low
a tone that he had to bend his head to catch her answer. "I
can't think what you can have to say."
"It's not easy to say here, at any rate. And indoors I
sha'n't know where to say it." He glanced about him in the
rain. "Let's walk over to the spring-house for a minute."
To the right of the drive, under a clump of trees, a little
stucco pavilion crowned by a balustrade rose on arches of
mouldering brick over a flight of steps that led down to a
spring. Other steps curved up to a door above. Darrow
mounted these, and opening the door entered a small circular
room hung with loosened strips of painted paper whereon
spectrally faded Mandarins executed elongated gestures.
Some black and gold chairs with straw seats and an unsteady
table of cracked lacquer stood on the floor of red-glazed
Sophy had followed him without comment. He closed the door
after her, and she stood motionless, as though waiting for
him to speak.
"Now we can talk quietly," he said, looking at her with a
smile into which he tried to put an intention of the
frankest friendliness.
She merely repeated: "I can't think what you can have to
Her voice had lost the note of half-wistful confidence on
which their talk of the previous day had closed, and she
looked at him with a kind of pale hostility. Her tone made
it evident that his task would be difficult, but it did not
shake his resolve to go on. He sat down, and mechanically
she followed his example. The table was between them and
she rested her arms on its cracked edge and her chin on her
interlocked hands. He looked at her and she gave him back
his look.
"Have you nothing to say to ME?" he asked at length.
A faint smile lifted, in the remembered way, the left corner
of her narrowed lips.
"About my marriage?"
"About your marriage."
She continued to consider him between half-drawn lids. "What
can I say that Mrs. Leath has not already told you?"
"Mrs. Leath has told me nothing whatever but the fact--and
her pleasure in it."
"Well; aren't those the two essential points?"
"The essential points to YOU? I should have thought----"
"Oh, to YOU, I meant," she put in keenly.
He flushed at the retort, but steadied himself and rejoined:
"The essential point to me is, of course, that you should be
doing what's really best for you."
She sat silent, with lowered lashes. At length she
stretched out her arm and took up from the table a little
threadbare Chinese hand-screen. She turned its ebony stem
once or twice between her fingers, and as she did so Darrow
was whimsically struck by the way in which their evanescent
slight romance was symbolized by the fading lines on the
frail silk.
"Do you think my engagement to Mr. Leath not really best for
me?" she asked at length.
Darrow, before answering, waited long enough to get his
words into the tersest shape--not without a sense, as he did
so, of his likeness to the surgeon deliberately poising his
lancet for a clean incision. "I'm not sure," he replied,
"of its being the best thing for either of you."
She took the stroke steadily, but a faint red swept her face
like the reflection of a blush. She continued to keep her
lowered eyes on the screen.
"From whose point of view do you speak?"
"Naturally, that of the persons most concerned."
"From Owen's, then, of course? You don't think me a good
match for him?"
"From yours, first of all. I don't think him a good match
for you."
He brought the answer out abruptly, his eyes on her face.
It had grown extremely pale, but as the meaning of his words
shaped itself in her mind he saw a curious inner light dawn
through her set look. She lifted her lids just far enough
for a veiled glance at him, and a smile slipped through them
to her trembling lips. For a moment the change merely
bewildered him; then it pulled him up with a sharp jerk of
"I don't think him a good match for you," he stammered,
groping for the lost thread of his words.
She threw a vague look about the chilly rain-dimmed room.
"And you've brought me here to tell me why?"
The question roused him to the sense that their minutes were
numbered, and that if he did not immediately get to his
point there might be no other chance of making it.
"My chief reason is that I believe he's too young and
inexperienced to give you the kind of support you need."
At his words her face changed again, freezing to a tragic
coldness. She stared straight ahead of her, perceptibly
struggling with the tremor of her muscles; and when she had
controlled it she flung out a pale-lipped pleasantry. "But
you see I've always had to support myself!"
"He's a boy," Darrow pushed on, "a charming, wonderful boy;
but with no more notion than a boy how to deal with the
inevitable daily problems...the trivial stupid unimportant
things that life is chiefly made up of."
"I'll deal with them for him," she rejoined.
"They'll be more than ordinarily difficult."
She shot a challenging glance at him. "You must have some
special reason for saying so."
"Only my clear perception of the facts."
"What facts do you mean?"
Darrow hesitated. "You must know better than I," he
returned at length, "that the way won't be made easy to
"Mrs. Leath, at any rate, has made it so."
"Madame de Chantelle will not."
"How do YOU know that?" she flung back.
He paused again, not sure how far it was prudent to reveal
himself in the confidence of the household. Then, to avoid
involving Anna, he answered: "Madame de Chantelle sent for
me yesterday."
"Sent for you--to talk to you about me?" The colour rose to
her forehead and her eyes burned black under lowered brows.
"By what right, I should like to know? What have you to do
with me, or with anything in the world that concerns me?"
Darrow instantly perceived what dread suspicion again
possessed her, and the sense that it was not wholly
unjustified caused him a passing pang of shame. But it did
not turn him from his purpose.
"I'm an old friend of Mrs. Leath's. It's not unnatural that
Madame de Chantelle should talk to me."
She dropped the screen on the table and stood up, turning on
him the same small mask of wrath and scorn which had glared
at him, in Paris, when he had confessed to his suppression
of her letter. She walked away a step or two and then came
"May I ask what Madame de Chantelle said to you?"
"She made it clear that she should not encourage the
"And what was her object in making that clear to YOU?"
Darrow hesitated. "I suppose she thought----"
"That she could persuade you to turn Mrs. Leath against me?"
He was silent, and she pressed him: "Was that it?"
"That was it."
"But if you don't--if you keep your promise----"
"My promise?"
"To say nothing...nothing whatever..." Her strained look
threw a haggard light along the pause.
As she spoke, the whole odiousness of the scene rushed over
him. "Of course I shall say know that..." He
leaned to her and laid his hand on hers. "You know I
wouldn't for the world..."
She drew back and hid her face with a sob. Then she sank
again into her seat, stretched her arms across the table and
laid her face upon them. He sat still, overwhelmed with
compunction. After a long interval, in which he had
painfully measured the seconds by her hard-drawn breathing,
she looked up at him with a face washed clear of bitterness.
"Don't suppose I don't know what you must have thought of
The cry struck him down to a lower depth of self-abasement.
"My poor child," he felt like answering, "the shame of it is
that I've never thought of you at all!" But he could only
uselessly repeat: "I'll do anything I can to help you."
She sat silent, drumming the table with her hand. He saw
that her doubt of him was allayed, and the perception made
him more ashamed, as if her trust had first revealed to him
how near he had come to not deserving it. Suddenly she
began to speak.
"You think, then, I've no right to marry him?"
"No right? God forbid! I only meant----"
"That you'd rather I didn't marry any friend of yours." She
brought it out deliberately, not as a question, but as a
mere dispassionate statement of fact.
Darrow in turn stood up and wandered away helplessly to the
window. He stood staring out through its small discoloured
panes at the dim brown distances; then he moved back to the
"I'll tell you exactly what I meant. You'll be wretched if
you marry a man you're not in love with."
He knew the risk of misapprehension that he ran, but he
estimated his chances of success as precisely in proportion
to his peril. If certain signs meant what he thought they
did, he might yet--at what cost he would not stop to think--
make his past pay for his future.
The girl, at his words, had lifted her head with a movement
of surprise. Her eyes slowly reached his face and rested
there in a gaze of deep interrogation. He held the look for
a moment; then his own eyes dropped and he waited.
At length she began to speak. "You're mistaken--you're
quite mistaken."
He waited a moment longer. "Mistaken----?"
"In thinking what you think. I'm as happy as if I deserved
it!" she suddenly proclaimed with a laugh.
She stood up and moved toward the door. "NOW are you
satisfied?" she asked, turning her vividest face to him from
the threshold.
Down the avenue there came to them, with the opening of the
door, the voice of Owen's motor. It was the signal which
had interrupted their first talk, and again, instinctively,
they drew apart at the sound. Without a word Darrow turned
back into the room, while Sophy Viner went down the steps
and walked back alone toward the court.
At luncheon the presence of the surgeon, and the nonappearance
of Madame de Chantelle--who had excused herself
on the plea of a headache--combined to shift the
conversational centre of gravity; and Darrow, under shelter
of the necessarily impersonal talk, had time to adjust his
disguise and to perceive that the others were engaged in the
same re-arrangement. It was the first time that he had seen
young Leath and Sophy Viner together since he had learned of
their engagement; but neither revealed more emotion than
befitted the occasion. It was evident that Owen was deeply
under the girl's charm, and that at the least sign from her
his bliss would have broken bounds; but her reticence was
justified by the tacitly recognized fact of Madame de
Chantelle's disapproval. This also visibly weighed on
Anna's mind, making her manner to Sophy, if no less kind,
yet a trifle more constrained than if the moment of final
understanding had been reached. So Darrow interpreted the
tension perceptible under the fluent exchange of
commonplaces in which he was diligently sharing. But he was
more and more aware of his inability to test the moral
atmosphere about him: he was like a man in fever testing
another's temperature by the touch.
After luncheon Anna, who was to motor the surgeon home,
suggested to Darrow that he should accompany them. Effie was
also of the party; and Darrow inferred that Anna wished to
give her step-son a chance to be alone with his betrothed.
On the way back, after the surgeon had been left at his
door, the little girl sat between her mother and Darrow, and
her presence kept their talk from taking a personal turn.
Darrow knew that Mrs. Leath had not yet told Effie of the
relation in which he was to stand to her. The premature
divulging of Owen's plans had thrown their own into the
background, and by common consent they continued, in the
little girl's presence, on terms of an informal
The sky had cleared after luncheon, and to prolong their
excursion they returned by way of the ivy-mantled ruin which
was to have been the scene of the projected picnic. This
circuit brought them back to the park gates not long before
sunset, and as Anna wished to stop at the lodge for news of
the injured child Darrow left her there with Effie and
walked on alone to the house. He had the impression that
she was slightly surprised at his not waiting for her; but
his inner restlessness vented itself in an intense desire
for bodily movement. He would have liked to walk himself
into a state of torpor; to tramp on for hours through the
moist winds and the healing darkness and come back
staggering with fatigue and sleep. But he had no pretext
for such a flight, and he feared that, at such a moment, his
prolonged absence might seem singular to Anna.
As he approached the house, the thought of her nearness
produced a swift reaction of mood. It was as if an intenser
vision of her had scattered his perplexities like morning
mists. At this moment, wherever she was, he knew he was
safely shut away in her thoughts, and the knowledge made
every other fact dwindle away to a shadow. He and she loved
each other, and their love arched over them open and ample
as the day: in all its sunlit spaces there was no cranny for
a fear to lurk. In a few minutes he would be in her presence
and would read his reassurance in her eyes. And presently,
before dinner, she would contrive that they should have an
hour by themselves in her sitting-room, and he would sit by
the hearth and watch her quiet movements, and the way the
bluish lustre on her hair purpled a little as she bent above
the fire.
A carriage drove out of the court as he entered it, and in
the hall his vision was dispelled by the exceedingly
substantial presence of a lady in a waterproof and a tweed
hat, who stood firmly planted in the centre of a pile of
luggage, as to which she was giving involved but lucid
directions to the footman who had just admitted her. She
went on with these directions regardless of Darrow's
entrance, merely fixing her small pale eyes on him while she
proceeded, in a deep contralto voice, and a fluent French
pronounced with the purest Boston accent, to specify the
destination of her bags; and this enabled Darrow to give her
back a gaze protracted enough to take in all the details of
her plain thick-set person, from the square sallow face
beneath bands of grey hair to the blunt boot-toes protruding
under her wide walking skirt.
She submitted to this scrutiny with no more evidence of
surprise than a monument examined by a tourist; but when the
fate of her luggage had been settled she turned suddenly to
Darrow and, dropping her eyes from his face to his feet,
asked in trenchant accents: "What sort of boots have you got
Before he could summon his wits to the consideration of this
question she continued in a tone of suppressed indignation:
"Until Americans get used to the fact that France is under
water for half the year they're perpetually risking their
lives by not being properly protected. I suppose you've
been tramping through all this nasty clammy mud as if you'd
been taking a stroll on Boston Common."
Darrow, with a laugh, affirmed his previous experience of
French dampness, and the degree to which he was on his guard
against it; but the lady, with a contemptuous snort,
rejoined: "You young men are all alike----"; to which she
appended, after another hard look at him: "I suppose you're
George Darrow? I used to know one of your mother's cousins,
who married a Tunstall of Mount Vernon Street. My name is
Adelaide Painter. Have you been in Boston lately? No? I'm
sorry for that. I hear there have been several new houses
built at the lower end of Commonwealth Avenue and I hoped
you could tell me about them. I haven't been there for
thirty years myself."
Miss Painter's arrival at Givre produced the same effect as
the wind's hauling around to the north after days of languid
weather. When Darrow joined the group about the tea-table
she had already given a tingle to the air. Madame de
Chantelle still remained invisible above stairs; but Darrow
had the impression that even through her drawn curtains and
bolted doors a stimulating whiff must have entered.
Anna was in her usual seat behind the tea-tray, and Sophy
Viner presently led in her pupil. Owen was also there,
seated, as usual, a little apart from the others, and
following Miss Painter's massive movements and equally
substantial utterances with a smile of secret intelligence
which gave Darrow the idea of his having been in clandestine
parley with the enemy. Darrow further took note that the
girl and her suitor perceptibly avoided each other; but this
might be a natural result of the tension Miss Painter had
been summoned to relieve.
Sophy Viner would evidently permit no recognition of the
situation save that which it lay with Madame de Chantelle to
accord; but meanwhile Miss Painter had proclaimed her tacit
sense of it by summoning the girl to a seat at her side.
Darrow, as he continued to observe the newcomer, who was
perched on her arm-chair like a granite image on the edge of
a cliff, was aware that, in a more detached frame of mind,
he would have found an extreme interest in studying and
classifying Miss Painter. It was not that she said anything
remarkable, or betrayed any of those unspoken perceptions
which give significance to the most commonplace utterances.
She talked of the lateness of her train, of an impending
crisis in international politics, of the difficulty of
buying English tea in Paris and of the enormities of which
French servants were capable; and her views on these
subjects were enunciated with a uniformity of emphasis
implying complete unconsciousness of any difference in their
interest and importance. She always applied to the French
race the distant epithet of "those people", but she betrayed
an intimate acquaintance with many of its members, and an
encyclopaedic knowledge of the domestic habits, financial
difficulties and private complications of various persons of
social importance. Yet, as she evidently felt no
incongruity in her attitude, so she revealed no desire to
parade her familiarity with the fashionable, or indeed any
sense of it as a fact to be paraded. It was evident that
the titled ladies whom she spoke of as Mimi or Simone or
Odette were as much "those people" to her as the bonne
who tampered with her tea and steamed the stamps off her
letters ("when, by a miracle, I don't put them in the box
myself.") Her whole attitude was of a vast grim tolerance
of things-as-they-came, as though she had been some
wonderful automatic machine which recorded facts but had not
yet been perfected to the point of sorting or labelling
All this, as Darrow was aware, still fell short of
accounting for the influence she obviously exerted on the
persons in contact with her. It brought a slight relief to
his state of tension to go on wondering, while he watched
and listened, just where the mystery lurked. Perhaps, after
all, it was in the fact of her blank insensibility, an
insensibility so devoid of egotism that it had no hardness
and no grimaces, but rather the freshness of a simpler
mental state. After living, as he had, as they all had, for
the last few days, in an atmosphere perpetually tremulous
with echoes and implications, it was restful and fortifying
merely to walk into the big blank area of Miss Painter's
mind, so vacuous for all its accumulated items, so echoless
for all its vacuity.
His hope of a word with Anna before dinner was dispelled by
her rising to take Miss Painter up to Madame de Chantelle;
and he wandered away to his own room, leaving Owen and Miss
Viner engaged in working out a picture-puzzle for Effie.
Madame de Chantelle--possibly as the result of her friend's
ministrations--was able to appear at the dinner-table,
rather pale and pink-nosed, and casting tenderly reproachful
glances at her grandson, who faced them with impervious
serenity; and the situation was relieved by the fact that
Miss Viner, as usual, had remained in the school-room with
her pupil.
Darrow conjectured that the real clash of arms would not
take place till the morrow; and wishing to leave the field
open to the contestants he set out early on a solitary walk.
It was nearly luncheon-time when he returned from it and
came upon Anna just emerging from the house. She had on her
hat and jacket and was apparently coming forth to seek him,
for she said at once: "Madame de Chantelle wants you to go
up to her."
"To go up to her? Now?"
"That's the message she sent. She appears to rely on you to
do something." She added with a smile: "Whatever it is,
let's have it over!"
Darrow, through his rising sense of apprehension, wondered
why, instead of merely going for a walk, he had not jumped
into the first train and got out of the way till Owen's
affairs were finally settled.
"But what in the name of goodness can I do?" he protested,
following Anna back into the hall.
"I don't know. But Owen seems so to rely on you, too----"
"Owen! Is HE to be there?"
"No. But you know I told him he could count on you."
"But I've said to your mother-in-law all I could."
"Well, then you can only repeat it."
This did not seem to Darrow to simplify his case as much as
she appeared to think; and once more he had a movement of
recoil. "There's no possible reason for my being mixed up
in this affair!"
Anna gave him a reproachful glance. "Not the fact that
I am?" she reminded him; but even this only stiffened his
"Why should you be, either--to this extent?"
The question made her pause. She glanced about the hall, as
if to be sure they had it to themselves; and then, in a
lowered voice: "I don't know," she suddenly confessed; "but,
somehow, if THEY'RE not happy I feel as if we shouldn't
"Oh, well--" Darrow acquiesced, in the tone of the man who
perforce yields to so lovely an unreasonableness. Escape
was, after all, impossible, and he could only resign himself
to being led to Madame de Chantelle's door.
Within, among the bric-a-brac and furbelows, he found Miss
Painter seated in a redundant purple armchair with the
incongruous air of a horseman bestriding a heavy mount.
Madame de Chantelle sat opposite, still a little wan and
disordered under her elaborate hair, and clasping the
handkerchief whose visibility symbolized her distress. On
the young man's entrance she sighed out a plaintive welcome,
to which she immediately appended: "Mr. Darrow, I can't help
feeling that at heart you're with me!"
The directness of the challenge made it easier for Darrow to
protest, and he reiterated his inability to give an opinion
on either side.
"But Anna declares you have--on hers!"
He could not restrain a smile at this faint flaw in an
impartiality so scrupulous. Every evidence of feminine
inconsequence in Anna seemed to attest her deeper subjection
to the most inconsequent of passions. He had certainly
promised her his help--but before he knew what he was
He met Madame de Chantelle's appeal by replying: "If there
were anything I could possibly say I should want it to be in
Miss Viner's favour."
"You'd want it to be--yes! But could you make it so?"
"As far as facts go, I don't see how I can make it either
for or against her. I've already said that I know nothing
of her except that she's charming."
"As if that weren't enough--weren't all there OUGHT to
be!" Miss Painter put in impatiently. She seemed to address
herself to Darrow, though her small eyes were fixed on her
"Madame de Chantelle seems to imagine," she pursued, "that a
young American girl ought to have a dossier--a policerecord,
or whatever you call it: what those awful women in
the streets have here. In our country it's enough to know
that a young girl's pure and lovely: people don't
immediately ask her to show her bank-account and her
Madame de Chantelle looked plaintively at her sturdy
monitress. "You don't expect me not to ask if she's got a
"No; nor to think the worse of her if she hasn't. The fact
that she's an orphan ought, with your ideas, to be a merit.
You won't have to invite her father and mother to Givre!"
"Adelaide--Adelaide!" the mistress of Givre lamented.
"Lucretia Mary," the other returned--and Darrow spared an
instant's amusement to the quaint incongruity of the name--
"you know you sent for Mr. Darrow to refute me; and how can
he, till he knows what I think?"
"You think it's perfectly simple to let Owen marry a girl we
know nothing about?"
"No; but I don't think it's perfectly simple to prevent
The shrewdness of the answer increased Darrow's interest in
Miss Painter. She had not hitherto struck him as being a
person of much penetration, but he now felt sure that her
gimlet gaze might bore to the heart of any practical
Madame de Chantelle sighed out her recognition of the
"I haven't a word to say against Miss Viner; but she's
knocked about so, as it's called, that she must have been
mixed up with some rather dreadful people. If only Owen
could be made to see that--if one could get at a few facts,
I mean. She says, for instance, that she has a sister; but
it seems she doesn't even know her address!"
"If she does, she may not want to give it to you. I daresay
the sister's one of the dreadful people. I've no doubt that
with a little time you could rake up dozens of them: have
her 'traced', as they call it in detective stories. I don't
think you'd frighten Owen, but you might: it's natural
enough he should have been corrupted by those foreign ideas.
You might even manage to part him from the girl; but you
couldn't keep him from being in love with her. I saw that
when I looked them over last evening. I said to myself:
'It's a real old-fashioned American case, as sweet and sound
as home-made bread.' Well, if you take his loaf away from
him, what are you going to feed him with instead? Which of
your nasty Paris poisons do you think he'll turn to?
Supposing you succeed in keeping him out of a really bad
mess--and, knowing the young man as I do, I rather think
that, at this crisis, the only way to do it would be to
marry him slap off to somebody else--well, then, who, may I
ask, would you pick out? One of your sweet French
ingenues, I suppose? With as much mind as a minnow and as
much snap as a soft-boiled egg. You might hustle him into
that kind of marriage; I daresay you could--but if I know
Owen, the natural thing would happen before the first baby
was weaned."
"I don't know why you insinuate such odious things against
"Do you think it would be odious of him to return to his
real love when he'd been forcibly parted from her? At any
rate, it's what your French friends do, every one of them!
Only they don't generally have the grace to go back to an
old love; and I believe, upon my word, Owen would!"
Madame de Chantelle looked at her with a mixture of awe and
exultation. "Of course you realize, Adelaide, that in
suggesting this you're insinuating the most shocking things
against Miss Viner?"
"When I say that if you part two young things who are dying
to be happy in the lawful way it's ten to one they'll come
together in an unlawful one? I'm insinuating shocking things
against YOU, Lucretia Mary, in suggesting for a moment
that you'll care to assume such a responsibility before your
Maker. And you wouldn't, if you talked things straight out
with him, instead of merely sending him messages through a
miserable sinner like yourself!"
Darrow expected this assault on her adopted creed to provoke
in Madame de Chantelle an explosion of pious indignation;
but to his surprise she merely murmured: "I don't know what
Mr. Darrow'll think of you!"
"Mr. Darrow probably knows his Bible as well as I do," Miss
Painter calmly rejoined; adding a moment later, without the
least perceptible change of voice or expression: "I suppose
you've heard that Gisele de Folembray's husband accuses her
of being mixed up with the Duc d'Arcachon in that business
of trying to sell a lot of imitation pearls to Mrs. Homer
Pond, the Chicago woman the Duke's engaged to? It seems the
jeweller says Gisele brought Mrs. Pond there, and got
twenty-five per cent--which of course she passed on to
d'Arcachon. The poor old Duchess is in a fearful state--so
afraid her son'll lose Mrs. Pond! When I think that Gisele
is old Bradford Wagstaff's grand-daughter, I'm thankful he's
safe in Mount Auburn!"
It was not until late that afternoon that Darrow could claim
his postponed hour with Anna. When at last he found her
alone in her sitting-room it was with a sense of liberation
so great that he sought no logical justification of it. He
simply felt that all their destinies were in Miss Painter's
grasp, and that, resistance being useless, he could only
enjoy the sweets of surrender.
Anna herself seemed as happy, and for more explicable
reasons. She had assisted, after luncheon, at another
debate between Madame de Chantelle and her confidant, and
had surmised, when she withdrew from it, that victory was
permanently perched on Miss Painter's banners.
"I don't know how she does it, unless it's by the dead
weight of her convictions. She detests the French so that
she'd back up Owen even if she knew nothing--or knew too
much--of Miss Viner. She somehow regards the match as a
protest against the corruption of European morals. I told
Owen that was his great chance, and he's made the most of
"What a tactician you are! You make me feel that I hardly
know the rudiments of diplomacy," Darrow smiled at her,
abandoning himself to a perilous sense of well-being.
She gave him back his smile. "I'm afraid I think nothing
short of my own happiness is worth wasting any diplomacy
"That's why I mean to resign from the service of my
country," he rejoined with a laugh of deep content.
The feeling that both resistance and apprehension were vain
was working like wine in his veins. He had done what he
could to deflect the course of events: now he could only
stand aside and take his chance of safety. Underneath this
fatalistic feeling was the deep sense of relief that he had,
after all, said and done nothing that could in the least
degree affect the welfare of Sophy Viner. That fact took a
millstone off his neck.
Meanwhile he gave himself up once more to the joy of Anna's
presence. They had not been alone together for two long
days, and he had the lover's sense that he had forgotten, or
at least underestimated, the strength of the spell she cast.
Once more her eyes and her smile seemed to bound his world.
He felt that their light would always move with him as the
sunset moves before a ship at sea.
The next day his sense of security was increased by a
decisive incident. It became known to the expectant
household that Madame de Chantelle had yielded to the
tremendous impact of Miss Painter's determination and that
Sophy Viner had been "sent for" to the purple satin sittingroom.
At luncheon, Owen's radiant countenance proclaimed the happy
sequel, and Darrow, when the party had moved back to the
oak-room for coffee, deemed it discreet to wander out alone
to the terrace with his cigar. The conclusion of Owen's
romance brought his own plans once more to the front. Anna
had promised that she would consider dates and settle
details as soon as Madame de Chantelle and her grandson had
been reconciled, and Darrow was eager to go into the
question at once, since it was necessary that the
preparations for his marriage should go forward as rapidly
as possible. Anna, he knew, would not seek any farther
pretext for delay; and he strolled up and down contentedly
in the sunshine, certain that she would come out and
reassure him as soon as the reunited family had claimed its
due share of her attention.
But when she finally joined him her first word was for the
younger lovers.
"I want to thank you for what you've done for Owen," she
began, with her happiest smile.
"Who--I?" he laughed. "Are you confusing me with Miss
"Perhaps I ought to say for ME," she corrected herself.
"You've been even more of a help to us than Adelaide."
"My dear child! What on earth have I done?"
"You've managed to hide from Madame de Chantelle that you
don't really like poor Sophy."
Darrow felt the pallour in his cheek. "Not like her? What
put such an idea into your head?"
"Oh, it's more than an idea--it's a feeling. But what
difference does it make, after all? You saw her in such a
different setting that it's natural you should be a little
doubtful. But when you know her better I'm sure you'll feel
about her as I do."
"It's going to be hard for me not to feel about everything
as you do."
"Well, then--please begin with my daughter-in-law!"
He gave her back in the same tone of banter: "Agreed: if you
ll agree to feel as I do about the pressing necessity of our
getting married."
"I want to talk to you about that too. You don't know what
a weight is off my mind! With Sophy here for good, I shall
feel so differently about leaving Effie. I've seen much
more accomplished governesses--to my cost!--but I've never
seen a young thing more gay and kind and human. You must
have noticed, though you've seen them so little together,
how Effie expands when she's with her. And that, you know,
is what I want. Madame de Chantelle will provide the
necessary restraint." She clasped her hands on his arm.
"Yes, I'm ready to go with you now. But first of all--this
very moment!--you must come with me to Effie. She knows, of
course, nothing of what's been happening; and I want her to
be told first about YOU."
Effie, sought throughout the house, was presently traced to
the school-room, and thither Darrow mounted with Anna. He
had never seen her so alight with happiness, and he had
caught her buoyancy of mood. He kept repeating to himself:
"It's over--it's over," as if some monstrous midnight
hallucination had been routed by the return of day.
As they approached the school-room door the terrier's barks
came to them through laughing remonstrances.
"She's giving him his dinner," Anna whispered, her hand in
"Don't forget the gold-fish!" they heard another voice call
Darrow halted on the threshold. "Oh--not now!"
"Not now?"
"I mean--she'd rather have you tell her first. I'll wait
for you both downstairs."
He was aware that she glanced at him intently. "As you
please. I'll bring her down at once."
She opened the door, and as she went in he heard her say:
"No, Sophy, don't go! I want you both."
The rest of Darrow's day was a succession of empty and
agitating scenes. On his way down to Givre, before he had
seen Effie Leath, he had pictured somewhat sentimentally the
joy of the moment when he should take her in his arms and
receive her first filial kiss. Everything in him that
egotistically craved for rest, stability, a comfortably
organized middle-age, all the home-building instincts of the
man who has sufficiently wooed and wandered, combined to
throw a charm about the figure of the child who might--who
should--have been his. Effie came to him trailing the cloud
of glory of his first romance, giving him back the magic
hour he had missed and mourned. And how different the
realization of his dream had been! The child's radiant
welcome, her unquestioning acceptance of, this new figure in
the family group, had been all that he had hoped and
fancied. If Mother was so awfully happy about it, and Owen
and Granny, too, how nice and cosy and comfortable it was
going to be for all of them, her beaming look seemed to say;
and then, suddenly, the small pink fingers he had been
kissing were laid on the one flaw in the circle, on the one
point which must be settled before Effie could, with
complete unqualified assurance, admit the new-comer to full
equality with the other gods of her Olympus.
"And is Sophy awfully happy about it too?" she had asked,
loosening her hold on Darrow's neck to tilt back her head
and include her mother in her questioning look.
"Why, dearest, didn't you see she was?" Anna had exclaimed,
leaning to the group with radiant eyes.
"I think I should like to ask her," the child rejoined,
after a minute's shy consideration; and as Darrow set her
down her mother laughed: "Do, darling, do! Run off at once,
and tell her we expect her to be awfully happy too."
The scene had been succeeded by others less poignant but
almost as trying. Darrow cursed his luck in having, at such
a moment, to run the gauntlet of a houseful of interested
observers. The state of being "engaged", in itself an
absurd enough predicament, even to a man only intermittently
exposed, became intolerable under the continuous scrutiny of
a small circle quivering with participation. Darrow was
furthermore aware that, though the case of the other couple
ought to have made his own less conspicuous, it was rather
they who found a refuge in the shadow of his prominence.
Madame de Chantelle, though she had consented to Owen's
engagement and formally welcomed his betrothed, was
nevertheless not sorry to show, by her reception of Darrow,
of what finely-shaded degrees of cordiality she was capable.
Miss Painter, having won the day for Owen, was also free to
turn her attention to the newer candidate for her sympathy;
and Darrow and Anna found themselves immersed in a warm bath
of sentimental curiosity.
It was a relief to Darrow that he was under a positive
obligation to end his visit within the next forty-eight
hours. When he left London, his Ambassador had accorded him
a ten days' leave. His fate being definitely settled and
openly published he had no reason for asking to have the
time prolonged, and when it was over he was to return to his
post till the time fixed for taking up his new duties. Anna
and he had therefore decided to be married, in Paris, a day
or two before the departure of the steamer which was to take
them to South America; and Anna, shortly after his return to
England, was to go up to Paris and begin her own
In honour of the double betrothal Effie and Miss Viner were
to appear that evening at dinner; and Darrow, on leaving his
room, met the little girl springing down the stairs, her
white ruffles and coral-coloured bows making her look like a
daisy with her yellow hair for its centre. Sophy Viner was
behind her pupil, and as she came into the light Darrow
noticed a change in her appearance and wondered vaguely why
she looked suddenly younger, more vivid, more like the
little luminous ghost of his Paris memories. Then it
occurred to him that it was the first time she had appeared
at dinner since his arrival at Givre, and the first time,
consequently, that he had seen her in evening dress. She
was still at the age when the least adornment embellishes;
and no doubt the mere uncovering of her young throat and
neck had given her back her former brightness. But a second
glance showed a more precise reason for his impression.
Vaguely though he retained such details, he felt sure she
was wearing the dress he had seen her in every evening in
Paris. It was a simple enough dress, black, and transparent
on the arms and shoulders, and he would probably not have
recognized it if she had not called his attention to it in
Paris by confessing that she hadn't any other. "The same
dress? That proves that she's forgotten!" was his first
half-ironic thought; but the next moment, with a pang of
compunction, he said to himself that she had probably put it
on for the same reason as before: simply because she hadn't
any other.
He looked at her in silence, and for an instant, above
Effie's bobbing head, she gave him back his look in a full
bright gaze.
"Oh, there's Owen!" Effie cried, and whirled away down the
gallery to the door from which her step-brother was
emerging. As Owen bent to catch her, Sophy Viner turned
abruptly back to Darrow.
"You, too?" she said with a quick laugh. "I didn't know----
" And as Owen came up to them she added, in a tone that
might have been meant to reach his ear: "I wish you all the
luck that we can spare!"
About the dinner-table, which Effie, with Miss Viner's aid,
had lavishly garlanded, the little party had an air of
somewhat self-conscious festivity. In spite of flowers,
champagne and a unanimous attempt at ease, there were
frequent lapses in the talk, and moments of nervous groping
for new subjects. Miss Painter alone seemed not only
unaffected by the general perturbation but as tightly sealed
up in her unconsciousness of it as a diver in his bell. To
Darrow's strained attention even Owen's gusts of gaiety
seemed to betray an inward sense of insecurity. After
dinner, however, at the piano, he broke into a mood of
extravagant hilarity and flooded the room with the splash
and ripple of his music.
Darrow, sunk in a sofa corner in the lee of Miss Painter's
granite bulk, smoked and listened in silence, his eyes
moving from one figure to another. Madame de Chantelle, in
her armchair near the fire, clasped her little granddaughter
to her with the gesture of a drawing-room Niobe, and Anna,
seated near them, had fallen into one of the attitudes of
vivid calm which seemed to Darrow to express her inmost
quality. Sophy Viner, after moving uncertainly about the
room, had placed herself beyond Mrs. Leath, in a chair near
the piano, where she sat with head thrown back and eyes
attached to the musician, in the same rapt fixity of
attention with which she had followed the players at the
Francais. The accident of her having fallen into the same
attitude, and of her wearing the same dress, gave Darrow, as
he watched her, a strange sense of double consciousness. To
escape from it, his glance turned back to Anna; but from the
point at which he was placed his eyes could not take in the
one face without the other, and that renewed the disturbing
duality of the impression. Suddenly Owen broke off with a
crash of chords and jumped to his feet.
"What's the use of this, with such a moon to say it for us?"
Behind the uncurtained window a low golden orb hung like a
ripe fruit against the glass.
"Yes--let's go out and listen," Anna answered. Owen threw
open the window, and with his gesture a fold of the heavy
star-sprinkled sky seemed to droop into the room like a
drawn-in curtain. The air that entered with it had a frosty
edge, and Anna bade Effie run to the hall for wraps.
Darrow said: "You must have one too," and started toward the
door; but Sophy, following her pupil, cried back: "We'll
bring things for everybody."
Owen had followed her, and in a moment the three reappeared,
and the party went out on the terrace. The deep blue purity
of the night was unveiled by mist, and the moonlight rimmed
the edges of the trees with a silver blur and blanched to
unnatural whiteness the statues against their walls of
Darrow and Anna, with Effie between them, strolled to the
farther corner of the terrace. Below them, between the
fringes of the park, the lawn sloped dimly to the fields
above the river. For a few minutes they stood silently side
by side, touched to peace beneath the trembling beauty of
the sky. When they turned back, Darrow saw that Owen and
Sophy Viner, who had gone down the steps to the garden, were
also walking in the direction of the house. As they
advanced, Sophy paused in a patch of moonlight, between the
sharp shadows of the yews, and Darrow noticed that she had
thrown over her shoulders a long cloak of some light colour,
which suddenly evoked her image as she had entered the
restaurant at his side on the night of their first dinner in
Paris. A moment later they were all together again on the
terrace, and when they re-entered the drawing-room the older
ladies were on their way to bed.
Effie, emboldened by the privileges of the evening, was for
coaxing Owen to round it off with a game of forfeits or some
such reckless climax; but Sophy, resuming her professional
role, sounded the summons to bed. In her pupil's wake she
made her round of good-nights; but when she proffered her
hand to Anna, the latter ignoring the gesture held out both
"Good-night, dear child," she said impulsively, and drew the
girl to her kiss.
The next day was Darrow's last at Givre and, foreseeing that
the afternoon and evening would have to be given to the
family, he had asked Anna to devote an early hour to the
final consideration of their plans. He was to meet her in
the brown sitting-room at ten, and they were to walk down to
the river and talk over their future in the little pavilion
abutting on the wall of the park.
It was just a week since his arrival at Givre, and Anna
wished, before he left, to return to the place where they
had sat on their first afternoon together. Her
sensitiveness to the appeal of inanimate things, to the
colour and texture of whatever wove itself into the
substance of her emotion, made her want to hear Darrow's
voice, and to feel his eyes on her, in the spot where bliss
had first flowed into her heart.
That bliss, in the interval, had wound itself into every
fold of her being. Passing, in the first days, from a high
shy tenderness to the rush of a secret surrender, it had
gradually widened and deepened, to flow on in redoubled
beauty. She thought she now knew exactly how and why she
loved Darrow, and she could see her whole sky reflected in
the deep and tranquil current of her love.
Early the next day, in her sitting-room, she was glancing
through the letters which it was Effie's morning privilege
to carry up to her. Effie meanwhile circled inquisitively
about the room, where there was always something new to
engage her infant fancy; and Anna, looking up, saw her
suddenly arrested before a photograph of Darrow which, the
day before, had taken its place on the writing-table.
Anna held out her arms with a faint blush. "You do like
him, don't you, dear?"
"Oh, most awfully, dearest," Effie, against her breast,
leaned back to assure her with a limpid look. "And so do
Granny and Owen--and I DO think Sophy does too," she
added, after a moment's earnest pondering.
"I hope so," Anna laughed. She checked the impulse to
continue: "Has she talked to you about him, that you're so
sure?" She did not know what had made the question spring to
her lips, but she was glad she had closed them before
pronouncing it. Nothing could have been more distasteful to
her than to clear up such obscurities by turning on them the
tiny flame of her daughter's observation. And what, after
all, now that Owen's happiness was secured, did it matter if
there were certain reserves in Darrow's approval of his
A knock on the door made Anna glance at the clock. "There's
Nurse to carry you off."
"It's Sophy's knock," the little girl answered, jumping down
to open the door; and Miss Viner in fact stood on the
"Come in," Anna said with a smile, instantly remarking how
pale she looked.
"May Effie go out for a turn with Nurse?" the girl asked.
"I should like to speak to you a moment."
"Of course. This ought to be YOUR holiday, as yesterday
was Effie's. Run off, dear," she added, stooping to kiss
the little girl.
When the door had closed she turned back to Sophy Viner with
a look that sought her confidence. "I'm so glad you came,
my dear. We've got so many things to talk about, just you
and I together."
The confused intercourse of the last days had, in fact, left
little time for any speech with Sophy but such as related to
her marriage and the means of overcoming Madame de
Chantelle's opposition to it. Anna had exacted of Owen that
no one, not even Sophy Viner, should be given a hint of her
own projects till all contingent questions had been disposed
of. She had felt, from the outset, a secret reluctance to
intrude her securer happiness on the doubts and fears of the
young pair.
From the sofa-corner to which she had dropped back she
pointed to Darrow's chair. "Come and sit by me, dear. I
wanted to see you alone. There's so much to say that I
hardly know where to begin."
She leaned forward, her hands clasped on the arms of the
sofa, her eyes bent smilingly on Sophy's. As she did so,
she noticed that the girl's unusual pallour was partly due
to the slight veil of powder on her face. The discovery was
distinctly disagreeable. Anna had never before noticed, on
Sophy's part, any recourse to cosmetics, and, much as she
wished to think herself exempt from old-fashioned
prejudices, she suddenly became aware that she did not like
her daughter's governess to have a powdered face. Then she
reflected that the girl who sat opposite her was no longer
Effie's governess, but her own future daughter-in-law; and
she wondered whether Miss Viner had chosen this odd way of
celebrating her independence, and whether, as Mrs. Owen
Leath, she would present to the world a bedizened
countenance. This idea was scarcely less distasteful than
the other, and for a moment Anna continued to consider her
without speaking. Then, in a flash, the truth came to her:
Miss Viner had powdered her face because Miss Viner had been
Anna leaned forward impulsively. "My dear child, what's the
matter?" She saw the girl's blood rush up under the white
mask, and hastened on: "Please don't be afraid to tell me.
I do so want you to feel that you can trust me as Owen does.
And you know you mustn't mind if, just at first, Madame de
Chantelle occasionally relapses."
She spoke eagerly, persuasively, almost on a note of
pleading. She had, in truth, so many reasons for wanting
Sophy to like her: her love for Owen, her solicitude for
Effie, and her own sense of the girl's fine mettle. She had
always felt a romantic and almost humble admiration for
those members of her sex who, from force of will, or the
constraint of circumstances, had plunged into the conflict
from which fate had so persistently excluded her. There
were even moments when she fancied herself vaguely to blame
for her immunity, and felt that she ought somehow to have
affronted the perils and hardships which refused to come to
her. And now, as she sat looking at Sophy Viner, so small,
so slight, so visibly defenceless and undone, she still
felt, through all the superiority of her worldly advantages
and her seeming maturity, the same odd sense of ignorance
and inexperience. She could not have said what there was in
the girl's manner and expression to give her this feeling,
but she was reminded, as she looked at Sophy Viner, of the
other girls she had known in her youth, the girls who seemed
possessed of a secret she had missed. Yes, Sophy Viner had
their look--almost the obscurely menacing look of Kitty
Mayne...Anna, with an inward smile, brushed aside the image
of this forgotten rival. But she had felt, deep down, a
twinge of the old pain, and she was sorry that, even for the
flash of a thought, Owen's betrothed should have reminded
her of so different a woman...
She laid her hand on the girl's. "When his grandmother sees
how happy Owen is she'll be quite happy herself. If it's
only that, don't be distressed. Just trust to Owen--and the
Sophy Viner, with an almost imperceptible recoil of her
whole slight person, had drawn her hand from under the palm
enclosing it.
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about--the future."
"Of course! We've all so many plans to make--and to fit into
each other's. Please let's begin with yours."
The girl paused a moment, her hands clasped on the arms of
her chair, her lids dropped under Anna's gaze; then she
said: "I should like to make no plans at all...just yet..."
"No plans?"
"No--I should like to go friends the Farlows would
let me go to them..." Her voice grew firmer and she lifted
her eyes to add: "I should like to leave today, if you don't
Anna listened with a rising wonder.
"You want to leave Givre at once?" She gave the idea a
moment's swift consideration. "You prefer to be with your
friends till your marriage? I understand that--but surely
you needn't rush off today? There are so many details to
discuss; and before long, you know, I shall be going away
"Yes, I know." The girl was evidently trying to steady her
voice. "But I should like to wait a few days--to have a
little more time to myself."
Anna continued to consider her kindly. It was evident that
she did not care to say why she wished to leave Givre so
suddenly, but her disturbed face and shaken voice betrayed a
more pressing motive than the natural desire to spend the
weeks before her marriage under her old friends' roof.
Since she had made no response to the allusion to Madame de
Chantelle, Anna could but conjecture that she had had a
passing disagreement with Owen; and if this were so, random
interference might do more harm than good.
"My dear child, if you really want to go at once I sha'n't,
of course, urge you to stay. I suppose you have spoken to
"No. Not yet..."
Anna threw an astonished glance at her. "You mean to say
you haven't told him?"
"I wanted to tell you first. I thought I ought to, on
account of Effie." Her look cleared as she put forth this
"Oh, Effie!--" Anna's smile brushed away the scruple. "Owen
has a right to ask that you should consider him before you
think of his sister...Of course you shall do just as you
wish," she went on, after another thoughtful interval.
"Oh, thank you," Sophy Viner murmured and rose to her feet.
Anna rose also, vaguely seeking for some word that should
break down the girl's resistance. "You'll tell Owen at
once?" she finally asked.
Miss Viner, instead of replying, stood before her in
manifest uncertainty, and as she did so there was a light
tap on the door, and Owen Leath walked into the room.
Anna's first glance told her that his face was unclouded.
He met her greeting with his happiest smile and turned to
lift Sophy's hand to his lips. The perception that he was
utterly unconscious of any cause for Miss Viner's agitation
came to his step-mother with a sharp thrill of surprise.
"Darrow's looking for you," he said to her. "He asked me to
remind you that you'd promised to go for a walk with him."
Anna glanced at the clock. "I'll go down presently." She
waited and looked again at Sophy Viner, whose troubled eyes
seemed to commit their message to her. "You'd better tell
Owen, my dear."
Owen's look also turned on the girl. "Tell me what? Why,
what's happened?"
Anna summoned a laugh to ease the vague tension of the
moment. "Don't look so startled! Nothing, except that Sophy
proposes to desert us for a while for the Farlows."
Owen's brow cleared. "I was afraid she'd run off before
long." He glanced at Anna. "Do please keep her here as long
as you can!"
Sophy intervened: "Mrs. Leath's already given me leave to
"Already? To go when?"
"Today," said Sophy in a low tone, her eyes on Anna's.
"Today? Why on earth should you go today?" Owen dropped back
a step or two, flushing and paling under his bewildered
frown. His eyes seemed to search the girl more closely.
"Something's happened." He too looked at his step-mother.
"I suppose she must have told you what it is?"
Anna was struck by the suddenness and vehemence of his
appeal. It was as though some smouldering apprehension had
lain close under the surface of his security.
"She's told me nothing except that she wishes to be with her
friends. It's quite natural that she should want to go to
Owen visibly controlled himself. "Of course--quite
natural." He spoke to Sophy. "But why didn't you tell me
so? Why did you come first to my step-mother?"
Anna intervened with her calm smile. "That seems to me
quite natural, too. Sophy was considerate enough to tell me
first because of Effie."
He weighed it. "Very well, then: that's quite natural, as
you say. And of course she must do exactly as she pleases."
He still kept his eyes on the girl. "Tomorrow," he abruptly
announced, "I shall go up to Paris to see you."
"Oh, no--no!" she protested.
Owen turned back to Anna. "NOW do you say that
nothing's happened?"
Under the influence of his agitation Anna felt a vague
tightening of the heart. She seemed to herself like some
one in a dark room about whom unseen presences are groping.
"If it's anything that Sophy wishes to tell you, no doubt
she'll do so. I'm going down now, and I'll leave you here
to talk it over by yourselves."
As she moved to the door the girl caught up with her. "But
there's nothing to tell: why should there be? I've explained
that I simply want to be quiet." Her look seemed to detain
Mrs. Leath.
Owen broke in: "Is that why I mayn't go up tomorrow?"
"Not tomorrow!"
"Then when may I?"
" a little while...a few days..."
"In how many days?"
"Owen!" his step-mother interposed; but he seemed no longer
aware of her. "If you go away today, the day that our
engagement's made known, it's only fair," he persisted,
"that you should tell me when I am to see you."
Sophy's eyes wavered between the two and dropped down
wearily. "It's you who are not fair--when I've said I
wanted to be quiet."
"But why should my coming disturb you? I'm not asking now to
come tomorrow. I only ask you not to leave without telling
me when I'm to see you."
"Owen, I don't understand you!" his step-mother exclaimed.
"You don't understand my asking for some explanation, some
assurance, when I'm left in this way, without a word,
without a sign? All I ask her to tell me is when she'll see
Anna turned back to Sophy Viner, who stood straight and
tremulous between the two.
"After all, my dear, he's not unreasonable!"
"I'll write--I'll write," the girl repeated.
"WHAT will you write?" he pressed her vehemently.
"Owen," Anna exclaimed, "you are unreasonable!"
He turned from Sophy to his step-mother. "I only want her
to say what she means: that she's going to write to break
off our engagement. Isn't that what you're going away for?"
Anna felt the contagion of his excitement. She looked at
Sophy, who stood motionless, her lips set, her whole face
drawn to a silent fixity of resistance.
"You ought to speak, my dear--you ought to answer him."
"I only ask him to wait----"
"Yes," Owen, broke in, "and you won't say how long!"
Both instinctively addressed themselves to Anna, who stood,
nearly as shaken as themselves, between the double shock of
their struggle. She looked again from Sophy's inscrutable
eyes to Owen's stormy features; then she said: "What can I
do, when there's clearly something between you that I don't
know about?"
"Oh, if it WERE between us! Can't you see it's outside
of us--outside of her, dragging at her, dragging her away
from me?" Owen wheeled round again upon his step-mother.
Anna turned from him to the girl. "Is it true that you want
to break your engagement? If you do, you ought to tell him
Owen burst into a laugh. "She doesn't dare to--she's afraid
I'll guess the reason!"
A faint sound escaped from Sophy's lips, but she kept them
close on whatever answer she had ready.
"If she doesn't wish to marry you, why should she be afraid
to have you know the reason?"
"She's afraid to have YOU know it--not me!"
"To have ME know it?"
He laughed again, and Anna, at his laugh, felt a sudden rush
of indignation.
"Owen, you must explain what you mean!"
He looked at her hard before answering; then: "Ask Darrow!"
he said.
"Owen--Owen!" Sophy Viner murmured.
Anna stood looking from one to the other. It had become
apparent to her in a flash that Owen's retort, though it
startled Sophy, did not take her by surprise; and the
discovery shot its light along dark distances of fear.
The immediate inference was that Owen had guessed the reason
of Darrow's disapproval of his marriage, or that, at least,
he suspected Sophy Viner of knowing and dreading it. This
confirmation of her own obscure doubt sent a tremor of alarm
through Anna. For a moment she felt like exclaiming: "All
this is really no business of mine, and I refuse to have you
mix me up in it--" but her secret fear held her fast.
Sophy Viner was the first to speak.
"I should like to go now," she said in a low voice, taking a
few steps toward the door.
Her tone woke Anna to the sense of her own share in the
situation. "I quite agree with you, my dear, that it's
useless to carry on this discussion. But since Mr. Darrow's
name has been brought into it, for reasons which I fail to
guess, I want to tell you that you're both mistaken if you
think he's not in sympathy with your marriage. If that's
what Owen means to imply, the idea's a complete delusion."
She spoke the words deliberately and incisively, as if
hoping that the sound of their utterance would stifle the
whisper in her bosom.
Sophy's only answer was a vague murmur, and a movement that
brought her nearer to the door; but before she could reach
it Owen had placed himself in her way.
"I don't mean to imply what you think," he said, addressing
his step-mother but keeping his eyes on the girl. "I don't
say Darrow doesn't like our marriage; I say it's Sophy who's
hated it since Darrow's been here!"
He brought out the charge in a tone of forced composure, but
his lips were white and he grasped the doorknob to hide the
tremor of his hand.
Anna's anger surged up with her fears. "You're absurd,
Owen! I don't know why I listen to you. Why should Sophy
dislike Mr. Darrow, and if she does, why should that have
anything to do with her wishing to break her engagement?"
"I don't say she dislikes him! I don't say she likes him; I
don't know what it is they say to each other when they're
shut up together alone."
"Shut up together alone?" Anna stared. Owen seemed like a
man in delirium; such an exhibition was degrading to them
all. But he pushed on without seeing her look.
"Yes--the first evening she came, in the study; the next
morning, early, in the park; yesterday, again, in the
spring-house, when you were at the lodge with the doctor...I
don't know what they say to each other, but they've taken
every chance they could to say it...and to say it when they
thought that no one saw them."
Anna longed to silence him, but no words came to her. It was
as though all her confused apprehensions had suddenly taken
definite shape. There was "something"--yes, there was
"something"...Darrow's reticences and evasions had been more
than a figment of her doubts.
The next instant brought a recoil of pride. She turned
indignantly on her step-son.
"I don't half understand what you've been saying; but what
you seem to hint is so preposterous, and so insulting both
to Sophy and to me, that I see no reason why we should
listen to you any longer."
Though her tone steadied Owen, she perceived at once that it
would not deflect him from his purpose. He spoke less
vehemently, but with all the more precision.
"How can it be preposterous, since it's true? Or insulting,
since I don't know, any more than YOU, the meaning of
what I've been seeing? If you'll be patient with me I'll try
to put it quietly. What I mean is that Sophy has completely
changed since she met Darrow here, and that, having noticed
the change, I'm hardly to blame for having tried to find out
its cause."
Anna made an effort to answer him with the same composure.
"You're to blame, at any rate, for so recklessly assuming
that you HAVE found it out. You seem to forget that,
till they met here, Sophy and Mr. Darrow hardly knew each
"If so, it's all the stranger that they've been so often
closeted together!"
"Owen, Owen--" the girl sighed out.
He turned his haggard face to her. "Can I help it, if I've
seen and known what I wasn't meant to? For God's sake give
me a reason--any reason I can decently make out with! Is it
my fault if, the day after you arrived, when I came back
late through the garden, the curtains of the study hadn't
been drawn, and I saw you there alone with Darrow?"
Anna laughed impatiently. "Really, Owen, if you make it a
grievance that two people who are staying in the same house
should be seen talking together----!"
"They were not talking. That's the point----"
"Not talking? How do you know? You could hardly hear them
from the garden!"
"No; but I could see. HE was sitting at my desk, with
his face in his hands. SHE was standing in the window,
looking away from him..."
He waited, as if for Sophy Viner's answer; but still she
neither stirred nor spoke.
"That was the first time," he went on; "and the second was
the next morning in the park. It was natural enough, their
meeting there. Sophy had gone out with Effie, and Effie ran
back to look for me. She told me she'd left Sophy and
Darrow in the path that leads to the river, and presently we
saw them ahead of us. They didn't see us at first, because
they were standing looking at each other; and this time they
were not speaking either. We came up close before they
heard us, and all that time they never spoke, or stopped
looking at each other. After that I began to wonder; and so
I watched them."
"Oh, Owen!"
"Oh, I only had to wait. Yesterday, when I motored you and
the doctor back from the lodge, I saw Sophy coming out of
the spring-house. I supposed she'd taken shelter from the
rain, and when you got out of the motor I strolled back down
the avenue to meet her. But she'd disappeared--she must
have taken a short cut and come into the house by the side
door. I don't know why I went on to the spring-house; I
suppose it was what you'd call spying. I went up the steps
and found the room empty; but two chairs had been moved out
from the wall and were standing near the table; and one of
the Chinese screens that lie on it had dropped to the
Anna sounded a faint note of irony. "Really? Sophy'd gone
there for shelter, and she dropped a screen and moved a
"I said two chairs----"
"Two? What damning evidence--of I don't know what!"
"Simply of the fact that Darrow'd been there with her. As I
looked out of the window I saw him close by, walking away.
He must have turned the corner of the spring-house just as I
got to the door."
There was another silence, during which Anna paused, not
only to collect her own words but to wait for Sophy Viner's;
then, as the girl made no sign, she turned to her.
"I've absolutely nothing to say to all this; but perhaps
you'd like me to wait and hear your answer?"
Sophy raised her head with a quick flash of colour. "I've no
answer either--except that Owen must be mad."
In the interval since she had last spoken she seemed to have
regained her self-control, and her voice rang clear, with a
cold edge of anger.
Anna looked at her step-son. He had grown extremely pale,
and his hand fell from the door with a discouraged gesture.
"That's all then? You won't give me any reason?"
"I didn't suppose it was necessary to give you or any one
else a reason for talking with a friend of Mrs. Leath's
under Mrs. Leath's own roof."
Owen hardly seemed to feel the retort: he kept his dogged
stare on her face.
"I won't ask for one, then. I'll only ask you to give me
your assurance that your talks with Darrow have had nothing
to do with your suddenly deciding to leave Givre."
She hesitated, not so much with the air of weighing her
answer as of questioning his right to exact any. "I give
you my assurance; and now I should like to go," she said.
As she turned away, Anna intervened. "My dear, I think you
ought to speak."
The girl drew herself up with a faint laugh. "To him--or to
"To him."
She stiffened. "I've said all there is to say."
Anna drew back, her eyes on her step-son. He had left the
threshold and was advancing toward Sophy Viner with a motion
of desperate appeal; but as he did so there was a knock on
the door. A moment's silence fell on the three; then Anna
said: "Come in!"
Darrow came into the room. Seeing the three together, he
looked rapidly from one to the other; then he turned to Anna
with a smile.
"I came up to see if you were ready; but please send me off
if I'm not wanted."
His look, his voice, the simple sense of his presence,
restored Anna's shaken balance. By Owen's side he looked so
strong, so urbane, so experienced, that the lad's passionate
charges dwindled to mere boyish vapourings. A moment ago
she had dreaded Darrow's coming; now she was glad that he
was there.
She turned to him with sudden decision. "Come in, please; I
want you to hear what Owen has been saying."
She caught a murmur from Sophy Viner, but disregarded it.
An illuminating impulse urged her on. She, habitually so
aware of her own lack of penetration, her small skill in
reading hidden motives and detecting secret signals, now
felt herself mysteriously inspired. She addressed herself to
Sophy Viner. "It's much better for you both that this
absurd question should be cleared up now " Then, turning to
Darrow, she continued: "For some reason that I don't pretend
to guess, Owen has taken it into his head that you've
influenced Miss Viner to break her engagement."
She spoke slowly and deliberately, because she wished to
give time and to gain it; time for Darrow and Sophy to
receive the full impact of what she was saying, and time to
observe its full effect on them. She had said to herself:
"If there's nothing between them, they'll look at each
other; if there IS something, they won't;" and as she
ceased to speak she felt as if all her life were in her
Sophy, after a start of protest, remained motionless, her
gaze on the ground. Darrow, his face grown grave, glanced
slowly from Owen Leath to Anna. With his eyes on the latter
he asked: "Has Miss Viner broken her engagement?"
A moment's silence followed his question; then the girl
looked up and said: "Yes!"
Owen, as she spoke, uttered a smothered exclamation and
walked out of the room. She continued to stand in the same
place, without appearing to notice his departure, and
without vouchsafing an additional word of explanation; then,
before Anna could find a cry to detain her, she too turned
and went out.
"For God's sake, what's happened?" Darrow asked; but Anna,
with a drop of the heart, was saying to herself that he and
Sophy Viner had not looked at each other.
Anna stood in the middle of the room, her eyes on the door.
Darrow's questioning gaze was still on her, and she said to
herself with a quick-drawn breath: "If only he doesn't come
near me!"
It seemed to her that she had been suddenly endowed with the
fatal gift of reading the secret sense of every seemingly
spontaneous look and movement, and that in his least gesture
of affection she would detect a cold design.
For a moment longer he continued to look at her enquiringly;
then he turned away and took up his habitual stand by the
mantel-piece. She drew a deep breath of relief .
"Won't you please explain?" he said.
"I can't explain: I don't know. I didn't even know--till
she told you--that she really meant to break her engagement.
All I know is that she came to me just now and said she
wished to leave Givre today; and that Owen, when he heard of
it--for she hadn't told him--at once accused her of going
away with the secret intention of throwing him over."
"And you think it's a definite break?" She perceived, as she
spoke, that his brow had cleared.
"How should I know? Perhaps you can tell me."
"I?" She fancied his face clouded again, but he did not move
from his tranquil attitude.
"As I told you," she went on, "Owen has worked himself up to
imagining that for some mysterious reason you've influenced
Sophy against him."
Darrow still visibly wondered. "It must indeed be a
mysterious reason! He knows how slightly I know Miss Viner.
Why should he imagine anything so wildly improbable?"
"I don't know that either."
"But he must have hinted at some reason."
"No: he admits he doesn't know your reason. He simply says
that Sophy's manner to him has changed since she came back
to Givre and that he's seen you together several times--in
the park, the spring-house, I don't know where--talking
alone in a way that seemed confidential--almost secret; and
he draws the preposterous conclusion that you've used your
influence to turn her against him."
"My influence? What kind of influence?"
"He doesn't say."
Darrow again seemed to turn over the facts she gave him.
His face remained grave, but without the least trace of
discomposure. "And what does Miss Viner say?"
"She says it's perfectly natural that she should
occasionally talk to my friends when she's under my roof--
and refuses to give him any other explanation."
"That at least is perfectly natural!"
Anna felt her cheeks flush as she answered: "Yes--but there
is something----"
"Some reason for her sudden decision to break her
engagement. I can understand Owen's feeling, sorry as I am
for his way of showing it. The girl owes him some sort of
explanation, and as long as she refuses to give it his
imagination is sure to run wild."
"She would have given it, no doubt, if he d asked it in a
different tone."
"I don't defend Owen's tone--but she knew what it was before
she accepted him. She knows he's excitable and
"Well, she's been disciplining him a little--probably the
best thing that could happen. Why not let the matter rest
"Leave Owen with the idea that you HAVE been the cause
of the break?"
He met the question with his easy smile. "Oh, as to that--
leave him with any idea of me he chooses! But leave him, at
any rate, free."
"Free?" she echoed in surprise.
"Simply let things be. You've surely done all you could for
him and Miss Viner. If they don't hit it off it's their own
affair. What possible motive can you have for trying to
interfere now?"
Her gaze widened to a deeper wonder. "Why--naturally, what
he says of you!"
"I don't care a straw what he says of me! In such a
situation a boy in love will snatch at the most far-fetched
reason rather than face the mortifying fact that the lady
may simply be tired of him."
"You don t quite understand Owen. Things go deep with him,
and last long. It took him a long time to recover from his
other unlucky love affair. He's romantic and extravagant:
he can't live on the interest of his feelings. He worships
Sophy and she seemed to be fond of him. If she's changed
it's been very sudden. And if they part like this, angrily
and inarticulately, it will hurt him horribly--hurt his very
soul. But that, as you say, is between the two. What
concerns me is his associating you with their quarrel.
Owen's like my own son--if you'd seen him when I first came
here you'd know why. We were like two prisoners who talk to
each other by tapping on the wall. He's never forgotten it,
nor I. Whether he breaks with Sophy, or whether they make
it up, I can't let him think you had anything to do with
She raised her eyes entreatingly to Darrow's, and read in
them the forbearance of the man resigned to the discussion
of non-existent problems.
"I'll do whatever you want me to," he said; "but I don't yet
know what it is."
His smile seemed to charge her with inconsequence, and the
prick to her pride made her continue: "After all, it's not
so unnatural that Owen, knowing you and Sophy to be almost
strangers, should wonder what you were saying to each other
when he saw you talking together."
She felt a warning tremor as she spoke, as though some
instinct deeper than reason surged up in defense of its
treasure. But Darrow's face was unstirred save by the flit
of his half-amused smile.
"Well, my dear--and couldn't you have told him?"
"I?" she faltered out through her blush.
"You seem to forget, one and all of you, the position you
put me in when I came down here: your appeal to me to see
Owen through, your assurance to him that I would, Madame de
Chantelle's attempt to win me over; and most of all, my own
sense of the fact you've just recalled to me: the
importance, for both of us, that Owen should like me. It
seemed to me that the first thing to do was to get as much
light as I could on the whole situation; and the obvious way
of doing it was to try to know Miss Viner better. Of course
I've talked with her alone--I've talked with her as often as
I could. I've tried my best to find out if you were right
in encouraging Owen to marry her."
She listened with a growing sense of reassurance, struggling
to separate the abstract sense of his words from the
persuasion in which his eyes and voice enveloped them.
"I see--I do see," she murmured.
"You must see, also, that I could hardly say this to Owen
without offending him still more, and perhaps increasing the
breach between Miss Viner and himself. What sort of figure
should I cut if I told him I'd been trying to find out if
he'd made a proper choice? In any case, it's none of my
business to offer an explanation of what she justly says
doesn't need one. If she declines to speak, it's obviously
on the ground that Owen's insinuations are absurd; and that
surely pledges me to silence."
"Yes, yes! I see," Anna repeated. "But I don't want you to
explain anything to Owen."
"You haven't yet told me what you do want."
She hesitated, conscious of the difficulty of justifying her
request; then: "I want you to speak to Sophy," she said.
Darrow broke into an incredulous laugh. "Considering what
my previous attempts have resulted in----!"
She raised her eyes quickly. "They haven't, at least,
resulted in your liking her less, in your thinking less well
of her than you've told me?"
She fancied he frowned a little. "I wonder why you go back
to that?"
"I want to be sure--I owe it to Owen. Won't you tell me the
exact impression she's produced on you?"
"I have told you--I like Miss Viner."
"Do you still believe she's in love with Owen?"
"There was nothing in our short talks to throw any
particular light on that."
"You still believe, though, that there's no reason why he
shouldn't marry her?"
Again he betrayed a restrained impatience. "How can I
answer that without knowing her reasons for breaking with
"That's just what I want you to find out from her."
"And why in the world should she tell me?"
"Because, whatever grievance she has against Owen, she can
certainly have none against me. She can't want to have Owen
connect me in his mind with this wretched quarrel; and she
must see that he will until he's convinced you've had no
share in it."
Darrow's elbow dropped from the mantel-piece and he took a
restless step or two across the room. Then he halted before
"Why can't you tell her this yourself?"
"Don't you see?"
He eyed her intently, and she pressed on: "You must have
guessed that Owen's jealous of you."
"Jealous of me?" The blood flew up under his brown skin.
"Blind with it--what else would drive him to this folly? And
I can't have her think me jealous too! I've said all I
could, short of making her think so; and she's refused a
word more to either of us. Our only chance now is that she
should listen to you--that you should make her see the harm
her silence may do."
Darrow uttered a protesting exclamation. "It's all too
preposterous--what you suggest! I can't, at any rate, appeal
to her on such a ground as that!"
Anna laid her hand on his arm. "Appeal to her on the ground
that I'm almost Owen's mother, and that any estrangement
between you and him would kill me. She knows what he is--
she'll understand. Tell her to say anything, do anything,
she wishes; but not to go away without speaking, not to
leave THAT between us when she goes!"
She drew back a step and lifted her face to his, trying to
look into his eyes more deeply than she had ever looked; but
before she could discern what they expressed he had taken
hold of her hands and bent his head to kiss them.
"You'll see her? You'll see her?" she entreated; and he
answered: "I'll do anything in the world you want me to."
Darrow waited alone in the sitting-room.
No place could have been more distasteful as the scene of
the talk that lay before him; but he had acceded to Anna's
suggestion that it would seem more natural for her to summon
Sophy Viner than for him to go in search of her. As his
troubled pacings carried him back and forth a relentless
hand seemed to be tearing away all the tender fibres of
association that bound him to the peaceful room. Here, in
this very place, he had drunk his deepest draughts of
happiness, had had his lips at the fountain-head of its
overflowing rivers; but now that source was poisoned and he
would taste no more of an untainted cup.
For a moment he felt an actual physical anguish; then his
nerves hardened for the coming struggle. He had no notion
of what awaited him; but after the first instinctive recoil
he had seen in a flash the urgent need of another word with
Sophy Viner. He had been insincere in letting Anna think
that he had consented to speak because she asked it. In
reality he had been feverishly casting about for the pretext
she had given him; and for some reason this trivial
hypocrisy weighed on him more than all his heavy burden of
At length he heard a step behind him and Sophy Viner
entered. When she saw him she paused on the threshold and
half drew back.
"I was told that Mrs. Leath had sent for me."
"Mrs. Leath DID send for you. She'll be here presently;
but I asked her to let me see you first."
He spoke very gently, and there was no insincerity in his
gentleness. He was profoundly moved by the change in the
girl's appearance. At sight of him she had forced a smile;
but it lit up her wretchedness like a candle-flame held to a
dead face.
She made no reply, and Darrow went on: "You must understand
my wanting to speak to you, after what I was told just now."
She interposed, with a gesture of protest: "I'm not
responsible for Owen's ravings!"
"Of course----". He broke off and they stood facing each
other. She lifted a hand and pushed back her loose lock
with the gesture that was burnt into his memory; then she
looked about her and dropped into the nearest chair.
"Well, you've got what you wanted," she said.
"What do you mean by what I wanted?"
"My engagement's broken--you heard me say so."
"Why do you say that's what I wanted? All I wished, from the
beginning, was to advise you, to help you as best I could--
"That's what you've done," she rejoined. "You've convinced
me that it's best I shouldn't marry him."
Darrow broke into a despairing laugh. "At the very moment
when you'd convinced me to the contrary!"
"Had I?" Her smile flickered up. "Well, I really believed
it till you showed me...warned me..."
"Warned you?"
"That I'd be miserable if I married a man I didn't love."
"Don't you love him?"
She made no answer, and Darrow started up and walked away to
the other end of the room. He stopped before the writingtable,
where his photograph, well-dressed, handsome, selfsufficient--
the portrait of a man of the world, confident of
his ability to deal adequately with the most delicate
situations--offered its huge fatuity to his gaze. He turned
back to her. "It's rather hard on Owen, isn't it, that you
should have waited until now to tell him?"
She reflected a moment before answering. "I told him as
soon as I knew."
"Knew that you couldn't marry him?"
"Knew that I could never live here with him." She looked
about the room, as though the very walls must speak for her.
For a moment Darrow continued to search her face
perplexedly; then their eyes met in a long disastrous gaze.
"Yes----" she said, and stood up.
Below the window they heard Effie whistling for her dogs,
and then, from the terrace, her mother calling her.
"There--THAT for instance," Sophy Viner said.
Darrow broke out: "It's I who ought to go!"
She kept her small pale smile. "What good would that do any
of us--now?"
He covered his face with his hands. "Good God!" he groaned.
"How could I tell?"
"You couldn't tell. We neither of us could." She seemed to
turn the problem over critically. "After all, it might have
been YOU instead of me!"
He took another distracted turn about the room and coming
back to her sat down in a chair at her side. A mocking hand
seemed to dash the words from his lips. There was nothing on
earth that he could say to her that wasn't foolish or cruel
or contemptible...
"My dear," he began at last, "oughtn't you, at any rate, to
Her gaze grew grave. "Try to forget you?"
He flushed to the forehead. "I meant, try to give Owen more
time; to give him a chance. He's madly in love with you;
all the good that's in him is in your hands. His step-mother
felt that from the first. And she thought--she believed----
"She thought I could make him happy. Would she think so
"Now...? I don't say now. But later? Time modifies...rubs
out...more quickly than you think...Go away, but let him
hope...I'm going too--WE'RE going--" he stumbled on the
plural--"in a very few weeks: going for a long time,
probably. What you're thinking of now may never happen. We
may not all be here together again for years."
She heard him out in silence, her hands clasped on her knee,
her eyes bent on them. "For me," she said, "you'll always
be here."
"Don't say that--oh, don't! Things change...people
change...You'll see!"
"You don't understand. I don't want anything to change. I
don't want to forget--to rub out. At first I imagined I
did; but that was a foolish mistake. As soon as I saw you
again I knew it...It's not being here with you that I'm
afraid of--in the sense you think. It's being here, or
anywhere, with Owen." She stood up and bent her tragic smile
on him. "I want to keep you all to myself."
The only words that came to him were futile denunciations of
his folly; but the sense of their futility checked them on
his lips. "Poor child--you poor child!" he heard himself
vainly repeating.
Suddenly he felt the strong reaction of reality and its
impetus brought him to his feet. "Whatever happens, I
intend to go--to go for good," he exclaimed. "I want you to
understand that. Oh, don't be afraid--I'll find a reason.
But it's perfectly clear that I must go."
She uttered a protesting cry. "Go away? You? Don't you see
that that would tell everything--drag everybody into the
He found no answer, and her voice dropped back to its calmer
note. "What good would your going do? Do you suppose it
would change anything for me?" She looked at him with a
musing wistfulness. "I wonder what your feeling for me was?
It seems queer that I've never really known--I suppose we
DON'T know much about that kind of feeling. Is it like
taking a drink when you're thirsty?...I used to feel as if
all of me was in the palm of your hand..."
He bowed his humbled head, but she went on almost
exultantly: "Don't for a minute think I'm sorry! It was
worth every penny it cost. My mistake was in being ashamed,
just at first, of its having cost such a lot. I tried to
carry it off as a joke--to talk of it to myself as an
'adventure'. I'd always wanted adventures, and you'd given
me one, and I tried to take your attitude about it, to 'play
the game' and convince myself that I hadn't risked any more
on it than you. Then, when I met you again, I suddenly saw
that I HAD risked more, but that I'd won more, too--such
worlds! I'd been trying all the while to put everything I
could between us; now I want to sweep everything away. I'd
been trying to forget how you looked; now I want to remember
you always. I'd been trying not to hear your voice; now I
never want to hear any other. I've made my choice--that's
all: I've had you and I mean to keep you." Her face was
shining like her eyes. "To keep you hidden away here," she
ended, and put her hand upon her breast.
After she had left him, Darrow continued to sit motionless,
staring back into their past. Hitherto it had lingered on
the edge of his mind in a vague pink blur, like one of the
little rose-leaf clouds that a setting sun drops from its
disk. Now it was a huge looming darkness, through which his
eyes vainly strained. The whole episode was still obscure
to him, save where here and there, as they talked, some
phrase or gesture or intonation of the girl's had lit up a
little spot in the night.
She had said: "I wonder what your feeling for me was?" and
he found himself wondering too...He remembered distinctly
enough that he had not meant the perilous passion--even in
its most transient form--to play a part in their relation.
In that respect his attitude had been above reproach. She
was an unusually original and attractive creature, to whom
he had wanted to give a few days of harmless pleasuring, and
who was alert and expert enough to understand his intention
and spare him the boredom of hesitations and
misinterpretations. That had been his first impression, and
her subsequent demeanour had justified it. She had been,
from the outset, just the frank and easy comrade he had
expected to find her. Was it he, then, who, in the sequel,
had grown impatient of the bounds he had set himself? Was it
his wounded vanity that, seeking balm for its hurt, yearned
to dip deeper into the healing pool of her compassion? In
his confused memory of the situation he seemed not to have
been guiltless of such yearnings...Yet for the first few
days the experiment had been perfectly successful. Her
enjoyment had been unclouded and his pleasure in it
undisturbed. It was very gradually--he seemed to see--that
a shade of lassitude had crept over their intercourse.
Perhaps it was because, when her light chatter about people
failed, he found she had no other fund to draw on, or
perhaps simply because of the sweetness of her laugh, or of
the charm of the gesture with which, one day in the woods of
Marly, she had tossed off her hat and tilted back her head
at the call of a cuckoo; or because, whenever he looked at
her unexpectedly, he found that she was looking at him and
did not want him to know it; or perhaps, in varying degrees,
because of all these things, that there had come a moment
when no word seemed to fly high enough or dive deep enough
to utter the sense of well-being each gave to the other, and
the natural substitute for speech had been a kiss.
The kiss, at all events, had come at the precise moment to
save their venture from disaster. They had reached the
point when her amazing reminiscences had begun to flag, when
her future had been exhaustively discussed, her theatrical
prospects minutely studied, her quarrel with Mrs. Murrett
retold with the last amplification of detail, and when,
perhaps conscious of her exhausted resources and his
dwindling interest, she had committed the fatal error of
saying that she could see he was unhappy, and entreating him
to tell her why...
From the brink of estranging confidences, and from the risk
of unfavourable comparisons, his gesture had snatched her
back to safety; and as soon as he had kissed her he felt
that she would never bore him again. She was one of the
elemental creatures whose emotion is all in their pulses,
and who become inexpressive or sentimental when they try to
turn sensation into speech. His caress had restored her to
her natural place in the scheme of things, and Darrow felt
as if he had clasped a tree and a nymph had bloomed from
The mere fact of not having to listen to her any longer
added immensely to her charm. She continued, of course, to
talk to him, but it didn't matter, because he no longer made
any effort to follow her words, but let her voice run on as
a musical undercurrent to his thoughts.
She hadn't a drop of poetry in her, but she had some of the
qualities that create it in others; and in moments of heat
the imagination does not always feel the difference...
Lying beside her in the shade, Darrow felt her presence as a
part of the charmed stillness of the summer woods, as the
element of vague well-being that suffused his senses and
lulled to sleep the ache of wounded pride. All he asked of
her, as yet, was a touch on the hand or on the lips--and
that she should let him go on lying there through the long
warm hours, while a black-bird's song throbbed like a
fountain, and the summer wind stirred in the trees, and
close by, between the nearest branches and the brim of his
tilted hat, a slight white figure gathered up all the
floating threads of joy...
He recalled, too, having noticed, as he lay staring at a
break in the tree-tops, a stream of mares'-tails coming up
the sky. He had said to himself: "It will rain to-morrow,"
and the thought had made the air seem warmer and the sun
more vivid on her hair...Perhaps if the mares'-tails had not
come up the sky their adventure might have had no sequel.
But the cloud brought rain, and next morning he looked out
of his window into a cold grey blur. They had planned an
all-day excursion down the Seine, to the two Andelys and
Rouen, and now, with the long hours on their hands, they
were both a little at a loss...There was the Louvre, of
course, and the Luxembourg; but he had tried looking at
pictures with her, she had first so persistently admired the
worst things, and then so frankly lapsed into indifference,
that he had no wish to repeat the experiment. So they went
out, aimlessly, and took a cold wet walk, turning at length
into the deserted arcades of the Palais Royal, and finally
drifting into one of its equally deserted restaurants, where
they lunched alone and somewhat dolefully, served by a wan
old waiter with the look of a castaway who has given up
watching for a sail...It was odd how the waiter's face came
back to him...
Perhaps but for the rain it might never have happened; but
what was the use of thinking of that now? He tried to turn
his thoughts to more urgent issues; but, by a strange
perversity of association, every detail of the day was
forcing itself on his mind with an insistence from which
there was no escape. Reluctantly he relived the long wet
walk back to the hotel, after a tedious hour at a
cinematograph show on the Boulevard. It was still raining
when they withdrew from this stale spectacle, but she had
obstinately refused to take a cab, had even, on the way,
insisted on loitering under the dripping awnings of shopwindows
and poking into draughty passages, and finally, when
they had nearly reached their destination, had gone so far
as to suggest that they should turn back to hunt up some
show she had heard of in a theatre at the Batignolles. But
at that he had somewhat irritably protested: he remembered
that, for the first time, they were both rather irritable,
and vaguely disposed to resist one another's suggestions.
His feet were wet, and he was tired of walking, and sick of
the smell of stuffy unaired theatres, and he had said he
must really get back to write some letters--and so they had
kept on to the hotel...
Darrow had no idea how long he had sat there when he heard
Anna's hand on the door. The effort of rising, and of
composing his face to meet her, gave him a factitious sense
of self-control. He said to himself: "I must decide on
something----" and that lifted him a hair's breadth above
the whirling waters.
She came in with a lighter step, and he instantly perceived
that something unforeseen and reassuring had happened.
"She's been with me. She came and found me on the terrace.
We've had a long talk and she's explained everything. I
feel as if I'd never known her before!"
Her voice was so moved and tender that it checked his start
of apprehension.
"She's explained----?"
"It's natural, isn't it, that she should have felt a little
sore at the kind of inspection she's been subjected to? Oh,
not from you--I don't mean that! But Madame de Chantelle's
opposition--and her sending for Adelaide Painter! She told
me frankly she didn't care to owe her husband to Adelaide
Painter...She thinks now that her annoyance at feeling
herself so talked over and scrutinized may have shown itself
in her manner to Owen, and set him imagining the insane
things he did...I understand all she must have felt, and I
agree with her that it's best she should go away for a
while. She's made me," Anna summed up, "feel as if I'd been
dreadfully thick-skinned and obtuse!"
"Yes. As if I'd treated her like the bric-a-brac that used
to be sent down here 'on approval,' to see if it would look
well with the other pieces." She added, with a sudden flush
of enthusiasm: "I'm glad she's got it in her to make one
feel like that!"
She seemed to wait for Darrow to agree with her, or to put
some other question, and he finally found voice to ask:
"Then you think it's not a final break?"
"I hope not--I've never hoped it more! I had a word with
Owen, too, after I left her, and I think he understands that
he must let her go without insisting on any positive
promise. She's excited...he must let her calm down..."
Again she waited, and Darrow said: "Surely you can make him
see that."
"She'll help me to--she's to see him, of course, before she
goes. She starts immediately, by the way, with Adelaide
Painter, who is motoring over to Francheuil to catch the one
o'clock express--and who, of course, knows nothing of all
this, and is simply to be told that Sophy has been sent for
by the Farlows."
Darrow mutely signed his comprehension, and she went on:
"Owen is particularly anxious that neither Adelaide nor his
grandmother should have the least inkling of what's
happened. The need of shielding Sophy will help him to
control himself. He's coming to his senses, poor boy; he's
ashamed of his wild talk already. He asked me to tell you
so; no doubt he'll tell you so himself."
Darrow made a movement of protest. "Oh, as to that--the
thing's not worth another word."
"Or another thought, either?" She brightened. "Promise me
you won't even think of it--promise me you won't be hard on
He was finding it easier to smile back at her. "Why should
you think it necessary to ask my indulgence for Owen?"
She hesitated a moment, her eyes wandering from him. Then
they came back with a smile. "Perhaps because I need it for
"For yourself?"
"I mean, because I understand better how one can torture
one's self over unrealities."
As Darrow listened, the tension of his nerves began to
relax. Her gaze, so grave and yet so sweet, was like a deep
pool into which he could plunge and hide himself from the
hard glare of his misery. As this ecstatic sense enveloped
him he found it more and more difficult to follow her words
and to frame an answer; but what did anything matter, except
that her voice should go on, and the syllables fall like
soft touches on his tortured brain?
"Don't you know," she continued, "the bliss of waking from a
bad dream in one's own quiet room, and going slowly over all
the horror without being afraid of it any more? That's what
I'm doing now. And that's why I understand Owen..." She
broke off, and he felt her touch on his arm. "BECAUSE
He understood her then, and stammered: "You?"
"Forgive me! And let me tell you!...It will help you to
understand Owen...There WERE little things...little
signs...once I had begun to watch for them: your reluctance
to speak about her...her reserve with you...a sort of
constraint we'd never seen in her before..."
She laughed up at him, and with her hands in his he
contrived to say: "NOW you understand why?"
"Oh, I understand; of course I understand; and I want you to
laugh at me--with me! Because there were other things
too...crazier things still...There was even--last night on
the terrace--her pink cloak..."
"Her pink cloak?" Now he honestly wondered, and as she saw
it she blushed.
"You've forgotten about the cloak? The pink cloak that Owen
saw you with at the play in Paris? Yes...yes...I was mad
enough for that!...It does me good to laugh about it now!
But you ought to know that I'm going to be a jealous
woman...a ridiculously jealous ought to be
warned of it in time..."
He had dropped her hands, and she leaned close and lifted
her arms to his neck with one of her rare gestures of
"I don't know why it is; but it makes me happier now to have
been so foolish!"
Her lips were parted in a noiseless laugh and the tremor of
her lashes made their shadow move on her cheek. He looked
at her through a mist of pain and saw all her offered beauty
held up like a cup to his lips; but as he stooped to it a
darkness seemed to fall between them, her arms slipped from
his shoulders and she drew away from him abruptly.
"But she WAS with you, then?" she exclaimed; and then,
as he stared at her: "Oh, don't say no! Only go and look at
your eyes!"
He stood speechless, and she pressed on: "Don't deny it--oh,
don't deny it! What will be left for me to imagine if you
do? Don't you see how every single thing cries it out? Owen
sees it--he saw it again just now! When I told him she'd
relented, and would see him, he said: 'Is that Darrow's
doing too?'"
Darrow took the onslaught in silence. He might have spoken,
have summoned up the usual phrases of banter and denial; he
was not even certain that they might not, for the moment,
have served their purpose if he could have uttered them
without being seen. But he was as conscious of what had
happened to his face as if he had obeyed Anna's bidding and
looked at himself in the glass. He knew he could no more
hide from her what was written there than he could efface
from his soul the fiery record of what he had just lived
through. There before him, staring him in the eyes, and
reflecting itself in all his lineaments, was the
overwhelming fact of Sophy Viner's passion and of the act by
which she had attested it.
Anna was talking again, hurriedly, feverishly, and his soul
was wrung by the anguish in her voice. "Do speak at last--
you must speak! I don't want to ask you to harm the girl;
but you must see that your silence is doing her more harm
than your answering my questions could. You're leaving me
only the worst things to think of her...she'd see that
herself if she were here. What worse injury can you do her
than to make me hate her--to make me feel she's plotted with
you to deceive us?"
"Oh, not that!" Darrow heard his own voice before he was
aware that he meant to speak. "Yes; I did see her in
Paris," he went on after a pause; "but I was bound to
respect her reason for not wanting it known."
Anna paled. "It was she at the theatre that night?"
"I was with her at the theatre one night."
"Why should she have asked you not to say so?"
"She didn't wish it known that I'd met her."
"Why shouldn't she have wished it known?"
"She had quarrelled with Mrs. Murrett and come over suddenly
to Paris, and she didn't want the Farlows to hear of it. I
came across her by accident, and she asked me not to speak
of having seen her."
"Because of her quarrel? Because she was ashamed of her part
in it?"
"Oh, no. There was nothing for her to be ashamed of. But
the Farlows had found the place for her, and she didn't want
them to know how suddenly she'd had to leave, and how badly
Mrs. Murrett had behaved. She was in a terrible plight--the
woman had even kept back her month's salary. She knew the
Farlows would be awfully upset, and she wanted more time to
prepare them."
Darrow heard himself speak as though the words had proceeded
from other lips. His explanation sounded plausible enough,
and he half-fancied Anna's look grew lighter. She waited a
moment, as though to be sure he had no more to add; then she
said: "But the Farlows DID know; they told me all about
it when they sent her to me."
He flushed as if she had laid a deliberate trap for him.
"They may know NOW; they didn't then----"
"That's no reason for her continuing now to make a mystery
of having met you."
"It's the only reason I can give you."
"Then I'll go and ask her for one myself." She turned and
took a few steps toward the door.
"Anna!" He started to follow her, and then checked himself.
"Don't do that!"
"Why not?"
"It's not like you...not generous..."
She stood before him straight and pale, but under her rigid
face he saw the tumult of her doubt and misery.
"I don't want to be ungenerous; I don't want to pry into her
secrets. But things can't be left like this. Wouldn't it be
better for me to go to her? Surely she'll understand--she'll
explain...It may be some mere trifle she's concealing:
something that would horrify the Farlows, but that I
shouldn't see any harm in..." She paused, her eyes
searching his face. "A love affair, I suppose...that's it?
You met her with some man at the theatre--and she was
frightened and begged you to fib about it? Those poor young
things that have to go about among us like machines--oh, if
you knew how I pity them!"
"If you pity her, why not let her go?"
She stared. "Let her go--go for good, you mean? Is that the
best you can say for her?"
"Let things take their course. After all, it's between
herself and Owen."
"And you and me--and Effie, if Owen marries her, and I leave
my child with them! Don't you see the impossibility of what
you're asking? We're all bound together in this coil."
Darrow turned away with a groan. "Oh, let her go--let her
"Then there IS something--something really bad? She
WAS with some one when you met her? Some one with whom she
was----" She broke off, and he saw her struggling with new
thoughts. "If it's THAT, of course...Oh, don't you
see," she desperately appealed to him, "that I must find
out, and that it's too late now for you not to speak? Don't
be afraid that I'll betray you...I'll never, never let a
soul suspect. But I must know the truth, and surely it's
best for her that I should find it out from you."
Darrow waited a moment; then he said slowly: "What you
imagine's mere madness. She was at the theatre with me."
"With you?" He saw a tremor pass through her, but she
controlled it instantly and faced him straight and
motionless as a wounded creature in the moment before it
feels its wound. "Why should you both have made a mystery
of that?"
"I've told you the idea was not mine." He cast about. "She
may have been afraid that Owen----"
"But that was not a reason for her asking you to tell me
that you hardly knew her--that you hadn't even seen her for
years." She broke off and the blood rose to her face and
forehead. "Even if SHE had other reasons, there could
be only one reason for your obeying her----"
Silence fell between them, a silence in which the room
seemed to become suddenly resonant with voices. Darrow's
gaze wandered to the window and he noticed that the gale of
two days before had nearly stripped the tops of the limetrees
in the court. Anna had moved away and was resting her
elbows against the mantel-piece, her head in her hands. As
she stood there he took in with a new intensity of vision
little details of her appearance that his eyes had often
cherished: the branching blue veins in the backs of her
hands, the warm shadow that her hair cast on her ear, and
the colour of the hair itself, dull black with a tawny
under-surface, like the wings of certain birds. He felt it
to be useless to speak.
After a while she lifted her head and said: "I shall not see
her again before she goes."
He made no answer, and turning to him she added: "That is
why she's going, I suppose? Because she loves you and won't
give you up?"
Darrow waited. The paltriness of conventional denial was so
apparent to him that even if it could have delayed discovery
he could no longer have resorted to it. Under all his other
fears was the dread of dishonouring the hour.
"She HAS given me up," he said at last.
When he had gone out of the room Anna stood where he had
left her. "I must believe him! I must believe him!" she
A moment before, at the moment when she had lifted her arms
to his neck, she had been wrapped in a sense of complete
security. All the spirits of doubt had been exorcised, and
her love was once more the clear habitation in which every
thought and feeling could move in blissful freedom. And
then, as she raised her face to Darrow's and met his eyes,
she had seemed to look into the very ruins of his soul.
That was the only way she could express it. It was as
though he and she had been looking at two sides of the same
thing, and the side she had seen had been all light and
life, and his a place of graves...
She didn't now recall who had spoken first, or even, very
clearly, what had been said. It seemed to her only a moment
later that she had found herself standing at the other end
of the room--the room which had suddenly grown so small
that, even with its length between them, she felt as if he
touched her--crying out to him "It IS because of you
she's going!" and reading the avowal in his face.
That was his secret, then, THEIR secret: he had met the
girl in Paris and helped her in her straits--lent her money,
Anna vaguely conjectured--and she had fallen in love with
him, and on meeting him again had been suddenly overmastered
by her passion. Anna, dropping back into her sofa-corner,
sat staring these facts in the face.
The girl had been in a desperate plight--frightened,
penniless, outraged by what had happened, and not knowing
(with a woman like Mrs. Murrett) what fresh injury might
impend; and Darrow, meeting her in this distracted hour, had
pitied, counselled, been kind to her, with the fatal, the
inevitable result. There were the facts as Anna made them
out: that, at least, was their external aspect, was as much
of them as she had been suffered to see; and into the secret
intricacies they might cover she dared not yet project her
"I must believe him...I must believe him..." She kept on
repeating the words like a talisman. It was natural, after
all, that he should have behaved as he had: defended the
girl's piteous secret to the last. She too began to feel the
contagion of his pity--the stir, in her breast, of feelings
deeper and more native to her than the pains of jealousy.
From the security of her blessedness she longed to lean over
with compassionate hands...But Owen? What was Owen's part to
be? She owed herself first to him--she was bound to protect
him not only from all knowledge of the secret she had
surprised, but also--and chiefly!--from its consequences.
Yes: the girl must go--there could be no doubt of it--Darrow
himself had seen it from the first; and at the thought she
had a wild revulsion of relief, as though she had been
trying to create in her heart the delusion of a generosity
she could not feel...
The one fact on which she could stay her mind was that Sophy
was leaving immediately; would be out of the house within an
hour. Once she was gone, it would be easier to bring Owen
to the point of understanding that the break was final; if
necessary, to work upon the girl to make him see it. But
that, Anna was sure, would not be necessary. It was clear
that Sophy Viner was leaving Givre with no thought of ever
seeing it again...
Suddenly, as she tried to put some order in her thoughts,
she heard Owen's call at the door: "Mother!----" a name he
seldom gave her. There was a new note in his voice: the
note of a joyous impatience. It made her turn hastily to
the glass to see what face she was about to show him; but
before she had had time to compose it he was in the room and
she was caught in a school-boy hug.
"It's all right! It's all right! And it's all your doing! I
want to do the worst kind of penance--bell and candle and
the rest. I've been through it with HER, and now she
hands me on to you, and you're to call me any names you
please." He freed her with his happy laugh. "I'm to be
stood in the corner till next week, and then I'm to go up to
see her. And she says I owe it all to you!"
"To me?" It was the first phrase she found to clutch at as
she tried to steady herself in the eddies of his joy.
"Yes: you were so patient, and so dear to her; and you saw
at once what a damned ass I'd been!" She tried a smile, and
it seemed to pass muster with him, for he sent it back in a
broad beam. "That's not so difficult to see? No, I admit it
doesn't take a microscope. But you were so wise and
wonderful--you always are. I've been mad these last days,
simply mad--you and she might well have washed your hands of
me! And instead, it's all right--all right!"
She drew back a little, trying to keep the smile on her lips
and not let him get the least glimpse of what it hid. Now
if ever, indeed, it behoved her to be wise and wonderful!
"I'm so glad, dear; so glad. If only you'll always feel
like that about me..." She stopped, hardly knowing what she
said, and aghast at the idea that her own hands should have
retied the knot she imagined to be broken. But she saw he
had something more to say; something hard to get out, but
absolutely necessary to express. He caught her hands,
pulled her close, and, with his forehead drawn into its
whimsical smiling wrinkles, "Look here," he cried, "if
Darrow wants to call me a damned ass too you're not to stop
It brought her back to a sharper sense of her central peril:
of the secret to be kept from him at whatever cost to her
racked nerves.
"Oh, you know, he doesn't always wait for orders!" On the
whole it sounded better than she'd feared.
"You mean he's called me one already?" He accepted the fact
with his gayest laugh. "Well, that saves a lot of trouble;
now we can pass to the order of the day----" he broke off
and glanced at the clock--"which is, you know, dear, that
she's starting in about an hour; she and Adelaide must
already be snatching a hasty sandwich. You'll come down to
bid them good-bye?"
"Yes--of course."
There had, in fact, grown upon her while he spoke the
urgency of seeing Sophy Viner again before she left. The
thought was deeply distasteful: Anna shrank from
encountering the girl till she had cleared a way through her
own perplexities. But it was obvious that since they had
separated, barely an hour earlier, the situation had taken a
new shape. Sophy Viner had apparently reconsidered her
decision to break amicably but definitely with Owen, and
stood again in their path, a menace and a mystery; and
confused impulses of resistance stirred in Anna's mind.
She felt Owen's touch on her arm. "Are you coming?"
"What's the matter? You look so strange."
"What do you mean by strange?"
"I don't know: startled--surprised " She read what her look
must be by its sudden reflection in his face.
"Do I? No wonder! You've given us all an exciting morning."
He held to his point. "You're more excited now that there's
no cause for it. What on earth has happened since I saw
He looked about the room, as if seeking the clue to her
agitation, and in her dread of what he might guess she
answered: "What has happened is simply that I'm rather
tired. Will you ask Sophy to come up and see me here?"
While she waited she tried to think what she should say when
the girl appeared; but she had never been more conscious of
her inability to deal with the oblique and the tortuous.
She had lacked the hard teachings of experience, and an
instinctive disdain for whatever was less clear and open
than her own conscience had kept her from learning anything
of the intricacies and contradictions of other hearts. She
said to herself: "I must find out----" yet everything in her
recoiled from the means by which she felt it must be done...
Sophy Viner appeared almost immediately, dressed for
departure, her little bag on her arm. She was still pale to
the point of haggardness, but with a light upon her that
struck Anna with surprise. Or was it, perhaps, that she was
looking at the girl with new eyes: seeing her, for the first
time, not as Effie's governess, not as Owen's bride, but as
the embodiment of that unknown peril lurking in the
background of every woman's thoughts about her lover? Anna,
at any rate, with a sudden sense of estrangement, noted in
her graces and snares never before perceived. It was only
the flash of a primitive instinct, but it lasted long enough
to make her ashamed of the darknesses it lit up in her
She signed to Sophy to sit down on the sofa beside her. "I
asked you to come up to me because I wanted to say good-bye
quietly," she explained, feeling her lips tremble, but
trying to speak in a tone of friendly naturalness.
The girl's only answer was a faint smile of acquiescence,
and Anna, disconcerted by her silence, went on: "You've
decided, then, not to break your engagement?"
Sophy Viner raised her head with a look of surprise.
Evidently the question, thus abruptly put, must have sounded
strangely on the lips of so ardent a partisan as Mrs. Leath!
"I thought that was what you wished," she said.
"What I wished?" Anna's heart shook against her side. "I
wish, of course, whatever seems best for Owen...It's
natural, you must understand, that that consideration should
come first with me..."
Sophy was looking at her steadily. "I supposed it was the
only one that counted with you."
The curtness of retort roused Anna's latent antagonism. "It
is," she said, in a hard voice that startled her as she
heard it. Had she ever spoken so to any one before? She
felt frightened, as though her very nature had changed
without her knowing it...Feeling the girl's astonished gaze
still on her, she continued: "The suddenness of the change
has naturally surprised me. When I left you it was
understood that you were to reserve your decision----"
"And now----?" Anna waited for a reply that did not come.
She did not understand the girl's attitude, the edge of
irony in her short syllables, the plainly premeditated
determination to lay the burden of proof on her
interlocutor. Anna felt the sudden need to lift their
intercourse above this mean level of defiance and distrust.
She looked appealingly at Sophy.
"Isn't it best that we should speak quite frankly? It's this
change on your part that perplexes me. You can hardly be
surprised at that. It's true, I asked you not to break with
Owen too abruptly--and I asked it, believe me, as much for
your sake as for his: I wanted you to take time to think
over the difficulty that seems to have arisen between you.
The fact that you felt it required thinking over seemed to
show you wouldn't take the final step lightly--wouldn't, I
mean, accept of Owen more than you could give him. But your
change of mind obliges me to ask the question I thought you
would have asked yourself. Is there any reason why you
shouldn't marry Owen?"
She stopped a little breathlessly, her eyes on Sophy Viner's
burning face. "Any reason----? What do you mean by a
Anna continued to look at her gravely. "Do you love some
one else?" she asked.
Sophy's first look was one of wonder and a faint relief;
then she gave back the other's scrutiny in a glance of
indescribable reproach. "Ah, you might have waited!" she
"Till I'd gone: till I was out of the house. You might have might have guessed..." She turned her eyes
again on Anna. "I only meant to let him hope a little
longer, so that he shouldn't suspect anything; of course I
can't marry him," she said.
Anna stood motionless, silenced by the shock of the avowal.
She too was trembling, less with anger than with a confused
compassion. But the feeling was so blent with others, less
generous and more obscure, that she found no words to
express it, and the two women faced each other without
"I'd better go," Sophy murmured at length with lowered head.
The words roused in Anna a latent impulse of compunction.
The girl looked so young, so exposed and desolate! And what
thoughts must she be hiding in her heart! It was impossible
that they should part in such a spirit.
"I want you to know that no one said anything...It was I
Sophy looked at her. "You mean that Mr. Darrow didn't tell
you? Of course not: do you suppose I thought he did? You
found it out, that's all--I knew you would. In your place I
should have guessed it sooner."
The words were spoken simply, without irony or emphasis; but
they went through Anna like a sword. Yes, the girl would
have had divinations, promptings that she had not had! She
felt half envious of such a sad precocity of wisdom.
"I'm so sorry..." she murmured.
"Things happen that way. Now I'd better go. I'd like to
say good-bye to Effie."
"Oh----" it broke in a cry from Effie's mother. "Not like
this--you mustn't! I feel--you make me feel too horribly: as
if I were driving you away..." The words had rushed up from
the depths of her bewildered pity.
"No one is driving me away: I had to go," she heard the girl
There was another silence, during which passionate impulses
of magnanimity warred in Anna with her doubts and dreads.
At length, her eyes on Sophy's face: "Yes, you must go now,"
she began; "but later on...after a while, when all this is
over...if there's no reason why you shouldn't marry Owen----
" she paused a moment on the words--" I shouldn't want you
to think I stood between you..."
"You?" Sophy flushed again, and then grew pale. She seemed
to try to speak, but no words came.
"Yes! It was not true when I said just now that I was
thinking only of Owen. I'm sorry--oh, so sorry!--for you
too. Your life--I know how hard it's been; and
mine...mine's so full...Happy women understand best!" Anna
drew near and touched the girl's hand; then she began again,
pouring all her soul into the broken phrases: "It's terrible see no future; but if, by and know
best...but you're so young...and at your age things DO
pass. If there's no reason, no real reason, why you
shouldn't marry Owen, I WANT him to hope, I'll help him
to hope...if you say so..."
With the urgency of her pleading her clasp tightened on
Sophy's hand, but it warmed to no responsive tremor: the
girl seemed numb, and Anna was frightened by the stony
silence of her look. "I suppose I'm not more than half a
woman," she mused, "for I don't want my happiness to hurt
her;" and aloud she repeated: "If only you'll tell me
there's no reason----"
The girl did not speak; but suddenly, like a snapped branch,
she bent, stooped down to the hand that clasped her, and
laid her lips upon it in a stream of weeping. She cried
silently, continuously, abundantly, as though Anna's touch
had released the waters of some deep spring of pain; then,
as Anna, moved and half afraid, leaned over her with a sound
of pity, she stood up and turned away.
"You're going, then--for good--like this?" Anna moved
toward her and stopped. Sophy stopped too, with eyes that
shrank from her.
"Oh----" Anna cried, and hid her face.
The girl walked across the room and paused again in the
doorway. From there she flung back: "I wanted it--I chose
it. He was good to me--no one ever was so good!"
The door-handle turned, and Anna heard her go.
Her first thought was: "He's going too in a few hours--I
needn't see him again before he leaves..." At that moment
the possibility of having to look in Darrow's face and hear
him speak seemed to her more unendurable than anything else
she could imagine. Then, on the next wave of feeling, came
the desire to confront him at once and wring from him she
knew not what: avowal, denial, justification, anything that
should open some channel of escape to the flood of her pentup
She had told Owen she was tired, and this seemed a
sufficient reason for remaining upstairs when the motor came
to the door and Miss Painter and Sophy Viner were borne off
in it; sufficient also for sending word to Madame de
Chantelle that she would not come down till after luncheon.
Having despatched her maid with this message, she lay down
on her sofa and stared before her into darkness...
She had been unhappy before, and the vision of old miseries
flocked like hungry ghosts about her fresh pain: she
recalled her youthful disappointment, the failure of her
marriage, the wasted years that followed; but those were
negative sorrows, denials and postponements of life. She
seemed in no way related to their shadowy victim, she who
was stretched on this fiery rack of the irreparable. She
had suffered before--yes, but lucidly, reflectively,
elegiacally: now she was suffering as a hurt animal must,
blindly, furiously, with the single fierce animal longing
that the awful pain should stop...
She heard her maid knock, and she hid her face and made no
answer. The knocking continued, and the discipline of habit
at length made her lift her head, compose her face and hold
out her hand to the note the woman brought her. It was a
word from Darrow--"May I see you?"--and she said at once, in
a voice that sounded thin and empty: "Ask Mr. Darrow to come
The maid enquired if she wished to have her hair smoothed
first, and she answered that it didn't matter; but when the
door had closed, the instinct of pride drew her to her feet
and she looked at herself in the glass above the mantelpiece
and passed her hands over her hair. Her eyes were burning
and her face looked tired and thinner; otherwise she could
see no change in her appearance, and she wondered that at
such a moment her body should seem as unrelated to the self
that writhed within her as if it had been a statue or a
The maid reopened the door to show in Darrow, and he paused
a moment on the threshold, as if waiting for Anna to speak.
He was extremely pale, but he looked neither ashamed nor
uncertain, and she said to herself, with a perverse thrill
of appreciation: "He's as proud as I am."
Aloud she asked: "You wanted to see me?"
"Naturally," he replied in a grave voice.
"Don't! It's useless. I know everything. Nothing you can
say will help."
At the direct affirmation he turned even paler, and his
eyes, which he kept resolutely fixed on her, confessed his
"You allow me no voice in deciding that?"
"Deciding what?"
"That there's nothing more to be said?" He waited for her to
answer, and then went on: "I don't even know what you mean
by 'everything'."
"Oh, I don't know what more there is! I know enough. I
implored her to deny it, and she couldn't...What can you and
I have to say to each other?" Her voice broke into a sob.
The animal anguish was upon her again--just a blind cry
against her pain!
Darrow kept his head high and his eyes steady. "It must be
as you wish; and yet it's not like you to be afraid."
"To talk things out--to face them."
"It's for YOU to face this--not me!"
"All I ask is to face it--but with you." Once more he
paused. "Won't you tell me what Miss Viner told you?"
"Oh, she's generous--to the utmost!" The pain caught her
like a physical throe. It suddenly came to her how the girl
must have loved him to be so generous--what memories there
must be between them!
"Oh, go, please go. It's too horrible. Why should I have
to see you?" she stammered, lifting her hands to her eyes.
With her face hidden she waited to hear him move away, to
hear the door open and close again, as, a few hours earlier,
it had opened and closed on Sophy Viner. But Darrow made no
sound or movement: he too was waiting. Anna felt a thrill
of resentment: his presence was an outrage on her sorrow, a
humiliation to her pride. It was strange that he should
wait for her to tell him so!
"You want me to leave Givre?" he asked at length. She made
no answer, and he went on: "Of course I'll do as you wish;
but if I go now am I not to see you again?"
His voice was firm: his pride was answering her pride!
She faltered: "You must see it's useless----"
"I might remind you that you're dismissing me without a
"Without a hearing? I've heard you both!"
----"but I won't," he continued, "remind you of that, or of
anything or any one but Owen."
"Yes; if we could somehow spare him----"
She had dropped her hands and turned her startled eyes on
him. It seemed to her an age since she had thought of Owen!
"You see, don't you," Darrow continued, "that if you send me
away now----"
She interrupted: "Yes, I see----" and there was a long
silence between them. At length she said, very low: "I
don't want any one else to suffer as I'm suffering..."
"Owen knows I meant to leave tomorrow," Darrow went on. "Any
sudden change of plan may make him think..."
Oh, she saw his inevitable logic: the horror of it was on
every side of her! It had seemed possible to control her
grief and face Darrow calmly while she was upheld by the
belief that this was their last hour together, that after he
had passed out of the room there would be no fear of seeing
him again, no fear that his nearness, his look, his voice,
and all the unseen influences that flowed from him, would
dissolve her soul to weakness. But her courage failed at the
idea of having to conspire with him to shield Owen, of
keeping up with him, for Owen's sake, a feint of union and
felicity. To live at Darrow's side in seeming intimacy and
harmony for another twenty-four hours seemed harder than to
live without him for all the rest of her days. Her strength
failed her, and she threw herself down and buried her sobs
in the cushions where she had so often hidden a face aglow
with happiness.
"Anna----" His voice was close to her. "Let me talk to you
quietly. It's not worthy of either of us to be afraid."
Words of endearment would have offended her; but her heart
rose at the call to her courage.
"I've no defense to make," he went on. "The facts are
miserable enough; but at least I want you to see them as
they are. Above all, I want you to know the truth about
Miss Viner----"
The name sent the blood to Anna's forehead. She raised her
head and faced him. "Why should I know more of her than
what she's told me? I never wish to hear her name again!"
"It's because you feel about her in that way that I ask you
--in the name of common charity--to let me give you the facts
as they are, and not as you've probably imagined them."
"I've told you I don't think uncharitably of her. I don't
want to think of her at all!"
"That's why I tell you you're afraid."
"Yes. You've always said you wanted, above all, to look at
life, at the human problem, as it is, without fear and
without hypocrisy; and it's not always a pleasant thing to
look at." He broke off, and then began again: "Don't think
this a plea for myself! I don't want to say a word to lessen
my offense. I don't want to talk of myself at all. Even if
I did, I probably couldn't make you understand--I don't,
myself, as I look back. Be just to me--it's your right; all
I ask you is to be generous to Miss Viner..."
She stood up trembling. "You're free to be as generous to
her as you please!"
"Yes: you've made it clear to me that I'm free. But there's
nothing I can do for her that will help her half as much as
your understanding her would."
"Nothing you can do for her? You can marry her!"
His face hardened. "You certainly couldn't wish her a worse
"It must have been what she expected...relied on..."He was
silent, and she broke out: "Or what is she? What are you?
It's too horrible! On your way ME..." She felt
the tears in her throat and stopped.
"That was it," he said bluntly. She stared at him.
"I was on my way to you--after repeated delays and
postponements of your own making. At the very last you
turned me back with a mere word--and without explanation. I
waited for a letter; and none came. I'm not saying this to
justify myself. I'm simply trying to make you understand.
I felt hurt and bitter and bewildered. I thought you meant
to give me up. And suddenly, in my way, I found some one to
be sorry for, to be of use to. That, I swear to you, was
the way it began. The rest was a moment's folly...a flash
of such things are. We've never seen each
other since..."
Anna was looking at him coldly. "You sufficiently describe
her in saying that!"
"Yes, if you measure her by conventional standards--which is
what you always declare you never do."
"Conventional standards? A girl who----" She was checked by
a sudden rush of almost physical repugnance. Suddenly she
broke out: "I always thought her an adventuress!"
"I don't mean always...but after you came..."
"She's not an adventuress."
"You mean that she professes to act on the new theories? The
stuff that awful women rave about on platforms?"
"Oh, I don't think she pretended to have a theory----"
"She hadn't even that excuse?"
"She had the excuse of her loneliness, her unhappiness--of
miseries and humiliations that a woman like you can't even
guess. She had nothing to look back to but indifference or
unkindness--nothing to look forward to but anxiety. She saw
I was sorry for her and it touched her. She made too much
of it--she exaggerated it. I ought to have seen the danger,
but I didn't. There's no possible excuse for what I did."
Anna listened to him in speechless misery. Every word he
spoke threw back a disintegrating light on their own past.
He had come to her with an open face and a clear conscience
--come to her from this! If his security was the security of
falsehood it was horrible; if it meant that he had
forgotten, it was worse. She would have liked to stop her
ears, to close her eyes, to shut out every sight and sound
and suggestion of a world in which such things could be; and
at the same time she was tormented by the desire to know
more, to understand better, to feel herself less ignorant
and inexpert in matters which made so much of the stuff of
human experience. What did he mean by "a moment's folly, a
flash of madness"? How did people enter on such adventures,
how pass out of them without more visible traces of their
havoc? Her imagination recoiled from the vision of a sudden
debasing familiarity: it seemed to her that her thoughts
would never again be pure...
"I swear to you," she heard Darrow saying, "it was simply
that, and nothing more."
She wondered at his composure, his competence, at his
knowing so exactly what to say. No doubt men often had to
make such explanations: they had the formulas by heart...A
leaden lassitude descended on her. She passed from flame
and torment into a colourless cold world where everything
surrounding her seemed equally indifferent and remote. For
a moment she simply ceased to feel.
She became aware that Darrow was waiting for her to speak,
and she made an effort to represent to herself the meaning
of what he had just said; but her mind was as blank as a
blurred mirror. Finally she brought out: "I don't think I
understand what you've told me."
"No; you don't understand," he returned with sudden
bitterness; and on his lips the charge of incomprehension
seemed an offense to her.
"I don't want to--about such things!"
He answered almost harshly: "Don't be never
will..." and for an instant they faced each other like
enemies. Then the tears swelled in her throat at his
"You mean I don't feel things--I'm too hard?"
"No: you're too high...too fine...such things are too far
from you."
He paused, as if conscious of the futility of going on with
whatever he had meant to say, and again, for a short space,
they confronted each other, no longer as enemies--so it
seemed to her--but as beings of different language who had
forgotten the few words they had learned of each other's
Darrow broke the silence. "It's best, on all accounts, that
I should stay till tomorrow; but I needn't intrude on you;
we needn't meet again alone. I only want to be sure I know
your wishes." He spoke the short sentences in a level voice,
as though he were summing up the results of a business
Anna looked at him vaguely. "My wishes?"
"As to Owen----
At that she started. "They must never meet again!"
"It's not likely they will. What I meant was, that it
depends on you to spare him..."
She answered steadily: "He shall never know," and after
another interval Darrow said: "This is good-bye, then."
At the word she seemed to understand for the first time
whither the flying moments had been leading them. Resentment
and indignation died down, and all her consciousness
resolved itself into the mere visual sense that he was there
before her, near enough for her to lift her hand and touch
him, and that in another instant the place where he stood
would be empty.
She felt a mortal weakness, a craven impulse to cry out to
him to stay, a longing to throw herself into his arms, and
take refuge there from the unendurable anguish he had caused
her. Then the vision called up another thought: "I shall
never know what that girl has known..." and the recoil of
pride flung her back on the sharp edges of her anguish.
"Good-bye," she said, in dread lest he should read her face;
and she stood motionless, her head high, while he walked to
the door and went out.
Anna Leath, three days later, sat in Miss Painter's drawingroom
in the rue de Matignon.
Coming up precipitately that morning from the country, she
had reached Paris at one o'clock and Miss Painter's landing
some ten minutes later. Miss Painter's mouldy little manservant,
dissembling a napkin under his arm, had mildly
attempted to oppose her entrance; but Anna, insisting, had
gone straight to the dining-room and surprised her friend--
who ate as furtively as certain animals--over a strange meal
of cold mutton and lemonade. Ignoring the embarrassment she
caused, she had set forth the object of her journey, and
Miss Painter, always hatted and booted for action, had
immediately hastened out, leaving her to the solitude of the
bare fireless drawing-room with its eternal slip-covers and
"bowed" shutters.
In this inhospitable obscurity Anna had sat alone for close
upon two hours. Both obscurity and solitude were acceptable
to her, and impatient as she was to hear the result of the
errand on which she had despatched her hostess, she desired
still more to be alone. During her long meditation in a
white-swathed chair before the muffled hearth she had been
able for the first time to clear a way through the darkness
and confusion of her thoughts. The way did not go far, and
her attempt to trace it was as weak and spasmodic as a
convalescent's first efforts to pick up the thread of
living. She seemed to herself like some one struggling to
rise from a long sickness of which it would have been so
much easier to die. At Givre she had fallen into a kind of
torpor, a deadness of soul traversed by wild flashes of
pain; but whether she suffered or whether she was numb, she
seemed equally remote from her real living and doing self.
It was only the discovery--that very morning--of Owen's
unannounced departure for Paris that had caught her out of
her dream and forced her back to action. The dread of what
this flight might imply, and of the consequences that might
result from it, had roused her to the sense of her
responsibility, and from the moment when she had resolved to
follow her step-son, and had made her rapid preparations for
pursuit, her mind had begun to work again, feverishly,
fitfully, but still with something of its normal order. In
the train she had been too agitated, too preoccupied with
what might next await her, to give her thoughts to anything
but the turning over of dread alternatives; but Miss
Painter's imperviousness had steadied her, and while she
waited for the sound of the latch-key she resolutely
returned upon herself.
With respect to her outward course she could at least tell
herself that she had held to her purpose. She had, as
people said, "kept up" during the twenty-four hours
preceding George Darrow's departure; had gone with a calm
face about her usual business, and even contrived not too
obviously to avoid him. Then, the next day before dawn,
from behind the closed shutters where she had kept for half
the night her dry-eyed vigil, she had heard him drive off to
the train which brought its passengers to Paris in time for
the Calais express.
The fact of his taking that train, of his travelling so
straight and far away from her, gave to what had happened
the implacable outline of reality. He was gone; he would
not come back; and her life had ended just as she had
dreamed it was beginning. She had no doubt, at first, as to
the absolute inevitability of this conclusion. The man who
had driven away from her house in the autumn dawn was not
the man she had loved; he was a stranger with whom she had
not a single thought in common. It was terrible, indeed,
that he wore the face and spoke in the voice of her friend,
and that, as long as he was under one roof with her, the
mere way in which he moved and looked could bridge at a
stroke the gulf between them. That, no doubt, was the fault
of her exaggerated sensibility to outward things: she was
frightened to see how it enslaved her. A day or two before
she had supposed the sense of honour was her deepest
sentiment: if she had smiled at the conventions of others it
was because they were too trivial, not because they were too
grave. There were certain dishonours with which she had
never dreamed that any pact could be made: she had had an
incorruptible passion for good faith and fairness.
She had supposed that, once Darrow was gone, once she was
safe from the danger of seeing and hearing him, this high
devotion would sustain her. She had believed it would be
possible to separate the image of the man she had thought
him from that of the man he was. She had even foreseen the
hour when she might raise a mournful shrine to the memory of
the Darrow she had loved, without fear that his double's
shadow would desecrate it. But now she had begun to
understand that the two men were really one. The Darrow she
worshipped was inseparable from the Darrow she abhorred; and
the inevitable conclusion was that both must go, and she be
left in the desert of a sorrow without memories...
But if the future was thus void, the present was all too
full. Never had blow more complex repercussions; and to
remember Owen was to cease to think of herself. What
impulse, what apprehension, had sent him suddenly to Paris?
And why had he thought it needful to conceal his going from
her? When Sophy Viner had left, it had been with the
understanding that he was to await her summons; and it
seemed improbable that he would break his pledge, and seek
her without leave, unless his lover's intuition had warned
him of some fresh danger. Anna recalled how quickly he had
read the alarm in her face when he had rushed back to her
sitting-room with the news that Miss Viner had promised to
see him again in Paris. To be so promptly roused, his
suspicions must have been but half-asleep; and since then,
no doubt, if she and Darrow had dissembled, so had he. To
her proud directness it was degrading to think that they had
been living together like enemies who spy upon each other's
movements: she felt a desperate longing for the days which
had seemed so dull and narrow, but in which she had walked
with her head high and her eyes unguarded.
She had come up to Paris hardly knowing what peril she
feared, and still less how she could avert it. If Owen
meant to see Miss Viner--and what other object could he
have?--they must already be together, and it was too late to
interfere. It had indeed occurred to Anna that Paris might
not be his objective point: that his real purpose in leaving
Givre without her knowledge had been to follow Darrow to
London and exact the truth of him. But even to her alarmed
imagination this seemed improbable. She and Darrow, to the
last, had kept up so complete a feint of harmony that,
whatever Owen had surmised, he could scarcely have risked
acting on his suspicions. If he still felt the need of an
explanation, it was almost certainly of Sophy Viner that he
would ask it; and it was in quest of Sophy Viner that Anna
had despatched Miss Painter.
She had found a blessed refuge from her perplexities in the
stolid Adelaide's unawareness. One could so absolutely
count on Miss Painter's guessing no more than one chose, and
yet acting astutely on such hints as one vouchsafed her! She
was like a well-trained retriever whose interest in his prey
ceases when he lays it at his master's feet. Anna, on
arriving, had explained that Owen's unannounced flight had
made her fear some fresh misunderstanding between himself
and Miss Viner. In the interests of peace she had thought it
best to follow him; but she hastily added that she did not
wish to see Sophy, but only, if possible, to learn from her
where Owen was. With these brief instructions Miss Painter
had started out; but she was a woman of many occupations,
and had given her visitor to understand that before
returning she should have to call on a friend who had just
arrived from Boston, and afterward despatch to another
exiled compatriot a supply of cranberries and brandied
peaches from the American grocery in the Champs Elysees.
Gradually, as the moments passed, Anna began to feel the
reaction which, in moments of extreme nervous tension,
follows on any effort of the will. She seemed to have gone
as far as her courage would carry her, and she shrank more
and more from the thought of Miss Painter's return, since
whatever information the latter brought would necessitate
some fresh decision. What should she say to Owen if she
found him? What could she say that should not betray the one
thing she would give her life to hide from him? "Give her
life"--how the phrase derided her! It was a gift she would
not have bestowed on her worst enemy. She would not have
had Sophy Viner live the hours she was living now...
She tried again to look steadily and calmly at the picture
that the image of the girl evoked. She had an idea that she
ought to accustom herself to its contemplation. If life was
like that, why the sooner one got used to it the
better...But no! Life was not like that. Her adventure was
a hideous accident. She dreaded above all the temptation to
generalise from her own case, to doubt the high things she
had lived by and seek a cheap solace in belittling what fate
had refused her. There was such love as she had dreamed,
and she meant to go on believing in it, and cherishing the
thought that she was worthy of it. What had happened to her
was grotesque and mean and miserable; but she herself was
none of these things, and never, never would she make of
herself the mock that fate had made of her...
She could not, as yet, bear to think deliberately of Darrow;
but she kept on repeating to herself "By and bye that will
come too." Even now she was determined not to let his image
be distorted by her suffering. As soon as she could, she
would try to single out for remembrance the individual
things she had liked in him before she had loved him
altogether. No "spiritual exercise" devised by the
discipline of piety could have been more torturing; but its
very cruelty attracted her. She wanted to wear herself out
with new pains...
The sound of Miss Painter's latch-key made her start. She
was still a bundle of quivering fears to whom each coming
moment seemed a menace.
There was a slight interval, and a sound of voices in the
hall; then Miss Painter's vigorous hand was on the door.
Anna stood up as she came in. "You've found him?"
"I've found Sophy."
"And Owen?--has she seen him? Is he here?"
"SHE'S here: in the hall. She wants to speak to you."
"Here--NOW?" Anna found no voice for more.
"She drove back with me," Miss Painter continued in the tone
of impartial narrative. "The cabman was impertinent. I've
got his number." She fumbled in a stout black reticule.
"Oh, I can't--" broke from Anna; but she collected herself,
remembering that to betray her unwillingness to see the girl
was to risk revealing much more.
"She thought you might be too tired to see her: she wouldn't
come in till I'd found out."
Anna drew a quick breath. An instant's thought had told her
that Sophy Viner would hardly have taken such a step unless
something more important had happened. "Ask her to come,
please," she said.
Miss Painter, from the threshold, turned back to announce
her intention of going immediately to the police station to
report the cabman's delinquency; then she passed out, and
Sophy Viner entered.
The look in the girl's face showed that she had indeed come
unwillingly; yet she seemed animated by an eager
resoluteness that made Anna ashamed of her tremors. For a
moment they looked at each other in silence, as if the
thoughts between them were packed too thick for speech; then
Anna said, in a voice from which she strove to take the edge
of hardness: "You know where Owen is, Miss Painter tells
"Yes; that was my reason for asking you to see me." Sophy
spoke simply, without constraint or hesitation.
"I thought he'd promised you--" Anna interposed.
"He did; but he broke his promise. That's what I thought I
ought to tell you."
"Thank you." Anna went on tentatively: "He left Givre this
morning without a word. I followed him because I was
She broke off again and the girl took up her phrase. "You
were afraid he'd guessed? He HAS..."
"What do you mean--guessed what?"
"That you know something he doesn't...something that made
you glad to have me go."
"Oh--" Anna moaned. If she had wanted more pain she had it
now. "He's told you this?" she faltered.
"He hasn't told me, because I haven't seen him. I kept him
off--I made Mrs. Farlow get rid of him. But he's written me
what he came to say; and that was it."
"Oh, poor Owen!" broke from Anna. Through all the
intricacies of her suffering she felt the separate pang of
"And I want to ask you," the girl continued, "to let me see
him; for of course," she added in the same strange voice of
energy, "I wouldn't unless you consented."
"To see him?" Anna tried to gather together her startled
thoughts. "What use would it be? What could you tell him?"
"I want to tell him the truth," said Sophy Viner.
The two women looked at each other, and a burning blush rose
to Anna's forehead. "I don't understand," she faltered.
Sophy waited a moment; then she lowered her voice to say: "I
don't want him to think worse of me than he need..."
"Yes--to think such things as you're thinking now...I want
him to know exactly what happened...then I want to bid him
Anna tried to clear a way through her own wonder and
confusion. She felt herself obscurely moved.
"Wouldn't it be worse for him?"
"To hear the truth? It would be better, at any rate, for you
and Mr. Darrow."
At the sound of the name Anna lifted her head quickly. "I've
only my step-son to consider!"
The girl threw a startled look at her. "You don't mean--
you're not going to give him up?"
Anna felt her lips harden. "I don't think it's of any use
to talk of that."
"Oh, I know! It's my fault for not knowing how to say what I
want you to hear. Your words are different; you know how to
choose them. Mine offend you...and the dread of it makes me
blunder. That's why, the other day, I couldn't say
anything...couldn't make things clear to you. But now
MUST, even if you hate it!" She drew a step nearer, her
slender figure swayed forward in a passion of entreaty. "Do
listen to me! What you've said is dreadful. How can you
speak of him in that voice? Don't you see that I went away
so that he shouldn't have to lose you?"
Anna looked at her coldly. "Are you speaking of Mr. Darrow?
I don't know why you think your going or staying can in any
way affect our relations."
"You mean that you HAVE given him up--because of me? Oh,
how could you? You can't really love him!--And yet," the
girl suddenly added, "you must, or you'd be more sorry for
"I'm very sorry for you," Anna said, feeling as if the iron
band about her heart pressed on it a little less inexorably.
"Then why won't you hear me? Why won't you try to
understand? It's all so different from what you imagine!"
"I've never judged you."
"I'm not thinking of myself. He loves you!"
"I thought you'd come to speak of Owen."
Sophy Viner seemed not to hear her. "He's never loved any
one else. Even those few days...I knew it all the
while...he never cared for me."
"Please don't say any more!" Anna said.
"I know it must seem strange to you that I should say so
much. I shock you, I offend you: you think me a creature
without shame. So I am--but not in the sense you think! I'm
not ashamed of having loved him; no; and I'm not ashamed of
telling you so. It's that that justifies me--and him
too...Oh, let me tell you how it happened! He was sorry for
me: he saw I cared. I KNEW that was all he ever felt. I
could see he was thinking of some one else. I knew it was
only for a week...He never said a word to mislead me...I
wanted to be happy just once--and I didn't dream of the harm
I might be doing him!"
Anna could not speak. She hardly knew, as yet, what the
girl's words conveyed to her, save the sense of their tragic
fervour; but she was conscious of being in the presence of
an intenser passion than she had ever felt.
"I am sorry for you." She paused. "But why do you say this
to me?" After another interval she exclaimed: "You'd no
right to let Owen love you."
"No; that was wrong. At least what's happened since has
made it so. If things had been different I think I could
have made Owen happy. You were all so good to me--I wanted
so to stay with you! I suppose you'll say that makes it
worse: my daring to dream I had the right...But all that
doesn't matter now. I won't see Owen unless you're willing.
I should have liked to tell him what I've tried to tell you;
but you must know better; you feel things in a finer way.
Only you'll have to help him if I can't. He cares a great's going to hurt him..."
Anna trembled. "Oh, I know! What can I do?"
"You can go straight back to Givre--now, at once! So that
Owen shall never know you've followed him." Sophy's clasped
hands reached out urgently. "And you can send for Mr.
Darrow--bring him back. Owen must be convinced that he's
mistaken, and nothing else will convince him. Afterward
I'll find a pretext--oh, I promise you! But first he must
see for himself that nothing's changed for you."
Anna stood motionless, subdued and dominated. The girl's
ardour swept her like a wind.
"Oh, can't I move you? Some day you'll know!" Sophy pleaded,
her eyes full of tears.
Anna saw them, and felt a fullness in her throat. Again the
band about her heart seemed loosened. She wanted to find a
word, but could not: all within her was too dark and
violent. She gave the girl a speechless look.
"I do believe you," she said suddenly; then she turned and
walked out of the room.
She drove from Miss Painter's to her own apartment. The
maid-servant who had it in charge had been apprised of her
coming, and had opened one or two of the rooms, and prepared
a fire in her bedroom. Anna shut herself in, refusing the
woman's ministrations. She felt cold and faint, and after
she had taken off her hat and cloak she knelt down by the
fire and stretched her hands to it.
In one respect, at least, it was clear to her that she would
do well to follow Sophy Viner's counsel. It had been an act
of folly to follow Owen, and her first business was to get
back to Givre before him. But the only train leaving that
evening was a slow one, which did not reach Francheuil till
midnight, and she knew that her taking it would excite
Madame de Chantelle's wonder and lead to interminable talk.
She had come up to Paris on the pretext of finding a new
governess for Effie, and the natural thing was to defer her
return till the next morning. She knew Owen well enough to
be sure that he would make another attempt to see Miss
Viner, and failing that, would write again and await her
answer: so that there was no likelihood of his reaching
Givre till the following evening.
Her sense of relief at not having to start out at once
showed her for the first time how tired she was. The
bonne had suggested a cup of tea, but the dread of having
any one about her had made Anna refuse, and she had eaten
nothing since morning but a sandwich bought at a buffet.
She was too tired to get up, but stretching out her arm she
drew toward her the arm-chair which stood beside the hearth
and rested her head against its cushions. Gradually the
warmth of the fire stole into her veins and her heaviness of
soul was replaced by a dreamy buoyancy. She seemed to be
seated on the hearth in her sitting-room at Givre, and
Darrow was beside her, in the chair against which she
leaned. He put his arms about her shoulders and drawing her
head back looked into her eyes. "Of all the ways you do
your hair, that's the way I like best," he said...
A log dropped, and she sat up with a start. There was a
warmth in her heart, and she was smiling. Then she looked
about her, and saw where she was, and the glory fell. She
hid her face and sobbed.
Presently she perceived that it was growing dark, and
getting up stiffly she began to undo the things in her bag
and spread them on the dressing-table. She shrank from
lighting the lights, and groped her way about, trying to
find what she needed. She seemed immeasurably far off from
every one, and most of all from herself. It was as if her
consciousness had been transmitted to some stranger whose
thoughts and gestures were indifferent to her...
Suddenly she heard a shrill tinkle, and with a beating heart
she stood still in the middle of the room. It was the
telephone in her dressing-room--a call, no doubt, from
Adelaide Painter. Or could Owen have learned she was in
town? The thought alarmed her and she opened the door and
stumbled across the unlit room to the instrument. She held
it to her ear, and heard Darrow's voice pronounce her name.
"Will you let me see you? I've come back--I had to come.
Miss Painter told me you were here."
She began to tremble, and feared that he would guess it from
her voice. She did not know what she answered: she heard
him say: "I can't hear." She called "Yes!" and laid the
telephone down, and caught it up again--but he was gone.
She wondered if her "Yes" had reached him.
She sat in her chair and listened. Why had she said that
she would see him? What did she mean to say to him when he
came? Now and then, as she sat there, the sense of his
presence enveloped her as in her dream, and she shut her
eyes and felt his arms about her. Then she woke to reality
and shivered. A long time elapsed, and at length she said
to herself: "He isn't coming."
The door-bell rang as she said it, and she stood up, cold
and trembling. She thought: "Can he imagine there's any use
in coming?" and moved forward to bid the servant say she
could not see him.
The door opened and she saw him standing in the drawingroom.
The room was cold and fireless, and a hard glare fell
from the wall-lights on the shrouded furniture and the white
slips covering the curtains. He looked pale and stern, with
a frown of fatigue between his eyes; and she remembered that
in three days he had travelled from Givre to London and
back. It seemed incredible that all that had befallen her
should have been compressed within the space of three days!
"Thank you," he said as she came in.
She answered: "It's better, I suppose----"
He came toward her and took her in his arms. She struggled
a little, afraid of yielding, but he pressed her to him, not
bending to her but holding her fast, as though he had found
her after a long search: she heard his hurried breathing.
It seemed to come from her own breast, so close he held her;
and it was she who, at last, lifted up her face and drew
down his.
She freed herself and went and sat on a sofa at the other
end of the room. A mirror between the shrouded windowcurtains
showed her crumpled travelling dress and the white
face under her disordered hair
She found her voice, and asked him how he had been able to
leave London. He answered that he had managed--he'd
arranged it; and she saw he hardly heard what she was
"I had to see you," he went on, and moved nearer, sitting
down at her side.
"Yes; we must think of Owen----"
"Oh, Owen--!"
Her mind had flown back to Sophy Viner's plea that she
should let Darrow return to Givre in order that Owen might
be persuaded of the folly of his suspicions. The suggestion
was absurd, of course. She could not ask Darrow to lend
himself to such a fraud, even had she had the inhuman
courage to play her part in it. She was suddenly
overwhelmed by the futility of every attempt to reconstruct
her ruined world. No, it was useless; and since it was
useless, every moment with Darrow was pure pain...
"I've come to talk of myself, not of Owen," she heard him
saying. "When you sent me away the other day I understood
that it couldn't be otherwise--then. But it's not possible
that you and I should part like that. If I'm to lose you, it
must be for a better reason."
"A better reason?"
"Yes: a deeper one. One that means a fundamental disaccord
between us. This one doesn't--in spite of everything it
doesn't. That's what I want you to see, and have the
courage to acknowledge."
"If I saw it I should have the courage!"
"Yes: courage was the wrong word. You have that. That's why
I'm here."
"But I don't see it," she continued sadly. "So it's
useless, isn't it?--and so cruel..." He was about to speak,
but she went on: "I shall never understand it--never!"
He looked at her. "You will some day: you were made to feel
"I should have thought this was a case of not feeling----"
"On my part, you mean?" He faced her resolutely. "Yes, it
was: to my shame...What I meant was that when you've lived a
little longer you'll see what complex blunderers we all are:
how we're struck blind sometimes, and mad sometimes--and
then, when our sight and our senses come back, how we have
to set to work, and build up, little by little, bit by bit,
the precious things we'd smashed to atoms without knowing
it. Life's just a perpetual piecing together of broken
She looked up quickly. "That's what I feel: that you ought
He stood up, interrupting her with a gesture. "Oh, don't--
don't say what you're going to! Men don't give their lives
away like that. If you won't have mine, it's at least my
own, to do the best I can with."
"The best you can--that's what I mean! How can there be a
'best' for you that's made of some one else's worst?"
He sat down again with a groan. "I don't know! It seemed
such a slight thing--all on the surface--and I've gone
aground on it because it was on the surface. I see the
horror of it just as you do. But I see, a little more
clearly, the extent, and the limits, of my wrong. It's not
as black as you imagine."
She lowered her voice to say: "I suppose I shall never
understand; but she seems to love you..."
"There's my shame! That I didn't guess it, didn't fly from
it. You say you'll never understand: but why shouldn't you?
Is it anything to be proud of, to know so little of the
strings that pull us? If you knew a little more, I could
tell you how such things happen without offending you; and
perhaps you'd listen without condemning me."
"I don't condemn you." She was dizzy with struggling
impulses. She longed to cry out: "I DO understand! I've
understood ever since you've been here!" For she was aware,
in her own bosom, of sensations so separate from her
romantic thoughts of him that she saw her body and soul
divided against themselves. She recalled having read
somewhere that in ancient Rome the slaves were not allowed
to wear a distinctive dress lest they should recognize each
other and learn their numbers and their power. So, in
herself, she discerned for the first time instincts and
desires, which, mute and unmarked, had gone to and fro in
the dim passages of her mind, and now hailed each other with
a cry of mutiny.
"Oh, I don't know what to think!" she broke out. "You say
you didn't know she loved you. But you know it now.
Doesn't that show you how you can put the broken bits
"Can you seriously think it would be doing so to marry one
woman while I care for another?"
"Oh, I don't know...I don't know..." The sense of her
weakness made her try to harden herself against his
"You do know! We've often talked of such things: of the
monstrousness of useless sacrifices. If I'm to expiate,
it's not in that way." He added abruptly: "It's in having to
say this to you now..."
She found no answer.
Through the silent apartment they heard the sudden peal of
the door-bell, and she rose to her feet. "Owen!" she
instantly exclaimed.
"Is Owen in Paris?"
She explained in a rapid undertone what she had learned from
Sophy Viner.
"Shall I leave you?" Darrow asked.
"" She moved to the dining-room door, with the
half-formed purpose of making him pass out, and then turned
back. "It may be Adelaide."
They heard the outer door open, and a moment later Owen
walked into the room. He was pale, with excited eyes: as
they fell on Darrow, Anna saw his start of wonder. He made a
slight sign of recognition, and then went up to his stepmother
with an air of exaggerated gaiety.
"You furtive person! I ran across the omniscient Adelaide
and heard from her that you'd rushed up suddenly and
secretly " He stood between Anna and Darrow, strained,
questioning, dangerously on edge.
"I came up to meet Mr. Darrow," Anna answered. "His leave's
been prolonged--he's going back with me."
The words seemed to have uttered themselves without her
will, yet she felt a great sense of freedom as she spoke
The hard tension of Owen's face changed to incredulous
surprise. He looked at Darrow.
"The merest luck...a colleague whose wife was ill...I came
straight back," she heard the latter tranquilly explaining.
His self-command helped to steady her, and she smiled at
"We'll all go back together tomorrow morning," she said as
she slipped her arm through his.
Owen Leath did not go back with his step-mother to Givre.
In reply to her suggestion he announced his intention of
staying on a day or two longer in Paris.
Anna left alone by the first train the next morning. Darrow
was to follow in the afternoon. When Owen had left them the
evening before, Darrow waited a moment for her to speak;
then, as she said nothing, he asked her if she really wished
him to return to Givre. She made a mute sign of assent, and
he added: "For you know that, much as I'm ready to do for
Owen, I can't do that for him--I can't go back to be sent
away again."
He came nearer, and looked at her, and she went to him. All
her fears seemed to fall from her as he held her. It was a
different feeling from any she had known before: confused
and turbid, as if secret shames and rancours stirred in it,
yet richer, deeper, more enslaving. She leaned her head
back and shut her eyes beneath his kisses. She knew now
that she could never give him up.
Nevertheless she asked him, the next morning, to let her go
back alone to Givre. She wanted time to think. She was
convinced that what had happened was inevitable, that she
and Darrow belonged to each other, and that he was right in
saying no past folly could ever put them asunder. If there
was a shade of difference in her feeling for him it was that
of an added intensity. She felt restless, insecure out of
his sight: she had a sense of incompleteness, of passionate
dependence, that was somehow at variance with her own
conception of her character.
It was partly the consciousness of this change in herself
that made her want to be alone. The solitude of her inner
life had given her the habit of these hours of selfexamination,
and she needed them as she needed her morning
plunge into cold water.
During the journey she tried to review what had happened in
the light of her new decision and of her sudden relief from
pain. She seemed to herself to have passed through some
fiery initiation from which she had emerged seared and
quivering, but clutching to her breast a magic talisman.
Sophy Viner had cried out to her: "Some day you'll know!"
and Darrow had used the same words. They meant, she
supposed, that when she had explored the intricacies and
darknesses of her own heart her judgment of others would be
less absolute. Well, she knew now--knew weaknesses and
strengths she had not dreamed of, and the deep discord and
still deeper complicities between what thought in her and
what blindly wanted...
Her mind turned anxiously to Owen. At least the blow that
was to fall on him would not seem to have been inflicted by
her hand. He would be left with the impression that his
breach with Sophy Viner was due to one of the ordinary
causes of such disruptions: though he must lose her, his
memory of her would not be poisoned. Anna never for a
moment permitted herself the delusion that she had renewed
her promise to Darrow in order to spare her step-son this
last refinement of misery. She knew she had been prompted
by the irresistible impulse to hold fast to what was most
precious to her, and that Owen's arrival on the scene had
been the pretext for her decision, and not its cause; yet
she felt herself fortified by the thought of what she had
spared him. It was as though a star she had been used to
follow had shed its familiar ray on ways unknown to her.
All through these meditations ran the undercurrent of an
absolute trust in Sophy Viner. She thought of the girl with
a mingling of antipathy and confidence. It was humiliating
to her pride to recognize kindred impulses in a character
which she would have liked to feel completely alien to her.
But what indeed was the girl really like? She seemed to have
no scruples and a thousand delicacies. She had given
herself to Darrow, and concealed the episode from Owen
Leath, with no more apparent sense of debasement than the
vulgarest of adventuresses; yet she had instantly obeyed the
voice of her heart when it bade her part from the one and
serve the other.
Anna tried to picture what the girl's life must have been:
what experiences, what initiations, had formed her. But her
own training had been too different: there were veils she
could not lift. She looked back at her married life, and
its colourless uniformity took on an air of high restraint
and order. Was it because she had been so incurious that it
had worn that look to her? It struck her with amazement that
she had never given a thought to her husband's past, or
wondered what he did and where he went when he was away from
her. If she had been asked what she supposed he thought
about when they were apart, she would instantly have
answered: his snuff-boxes. It had never occurred to her
that he might have passions, interests, preoccupations of
which she was absolutely ignorant. Yet he went up to Paris
rather regularly: ostensibly to attend sales and
exhibitions, or to confer with dealers and collectors. She
tried to picture him, straight, trim, beautifully brushed
and varnished, walking furtively down a quiet street, and
looking about him before he slipped into a doorway. She
understood now that she had been cold to him: what more
likely than that he had sought compensations? All men were
like that, she supposed--no doubt her simplicity had amused
In the act of transposing Fraser Leath into a Don Juan she
was pulled up by the ironic perception that she was simply
trying to justify Darrow. She wanted to think that all men
were "like that" because Darrow was "like that": she wanted
to justify her acceptance of the fact by persuading herself
that only through such concessions could women like herself
hope to keep what they could not give up. And suddenly she
was filled with anger at her blindness, and then at her
disastrous attempt to see. Why had she forced the truth out
of Darrow? If only she had held her tongue nothing need ever
have been known. Sophy Viner would have broken her
engagement, Owen would have been sent around the world, and
her own dream would have been unshattered. But she had
probed, insisted, cross-examined, not rested till she had
dragged the secret to the light. She was one of the luckless
women who always have the wrong audacities, and who always
know it...
Was it she, Anna Leath, who was picturing herself to herself
in that way? She recoiled from her thoughts as if with a
sense of demoniac possession, and there flashed through her
the longing to return to her old state of fearless
ignorance. If at that moment she could have kept Darrow
from following her to Givre she would have done so...
But he came; and with the sight of him the turmoil fell and
she felt herself reassured, rehabilitated. He arrived
toward dusk, and she motored to Francheuil to meet him. She
wanted to see him as soon as possible, for she had divined,
through the new insight that was in her, that only his
presence could restore her to a normal view of things. In
the motor, as they left the town and turned into the highroad,
he lifted her hand and kissed it, and she leaned
against him, and felt the currents flow between them. She
was grateful to him for not saying anything, and for not
expecting her to speak. She said to herself: "He never
makes a mistake--he always knows what to do"; and then she
thought with a start that it was doubtless because he had so
often been in such situations. The idea that his tact was a
kind of professional expertness filled her with repugnance,
and insensibly she drew away from him. He made no motion to
bring her nearer, and she instantly thought that that was
calculated too. She sat beside him in frozen misery,
wondering whether, henceforth, she would measure in this way
his every look and gesture. Neither of them spoke again
till the motor turned under the dark arch of the avenue, and
they saw the lights of Givre twinkling at its end. Then
Darrow laid his hand on hers and said: "I know, dear--" and
the hardness in her melted. "He's suffering as I am," she
thought; and for a moment the baleful fact between them
seemed to draw them closer instead of walling them up in
their separate wretchedness.
It was wonderful to be once more re-entering the doors of
Givre with him, and as the old house received them into its
mellow silence she had again the sense of passing out of a
dreadful dream into the reassurance of kindly and familiar
things. It did not seem possible that these quiet rooms, so
full of the slowly-distilled accumulations of a fastidious
taste, should have been the scene of tragic dissensions.
The memory of them seemed to be shut out into the night with
the closing and barring of its doors.
At the tea-table in the oak-room they found Madame de
Chantelle and Effie. The little girl, catching sight of
Darrow, raced down the drawing-rooms to meet him, and
returned in triumph on his shoulder. Anna looked at them
with a smile. Effie, for all her graces, was chary of such
favours, and her mother knew that in according them to
Darrow she had admitted him to the circle where Owen had
hitherto ruled.
Over the tea-table Darrow gave Madame de Chantelle the
explanation of his sudden return from England. On reaching
London, he told her, he had found that the secretary he was
to have replaced was detained there by the illness of his
wife. The Ambassador, knowing Darrow's urgent reasons for
wishing to be in France, had immediately proposed his going
back, and awaiting at Givre the summons to relieve his
colleague; and he had jumped into the first train, without
even waiting to telegraph the news of his release. He spoke
naturally, easily, in his usual quiet voice, taking his tea
from Effie, helping himself to the toast she handed, and
stooping now and then to stroke the dozing terrier. And
suddenly, as Anna listened to his explanation, she asked
herself if it were true.
The question, of course, was absurd. There was no possible
reason why he should invent a false account of his return,
and every probability that the version he gave was the real
one. But he had looked and spoken in the same way when he
had answered her probing questions about Sophy Viner, and
she reflected with a chill of fear that she would never
again know if he were speaking the truth or not. She was
sure he loved her, and she did not fear his insincerity as
much as her own distrust of him. For a moment it seemed to
her that this must corrupt the very source of love; then she
said to herself: "By and bye, when I am altogether his, we
shall be so near each other that there will be no room for
any doubts between us." But the doubts were there now, one
moment lulled to quiescence, the next more torturingly
alert. When the nurse appeared to summon Effie, the little
girl, after kissing her grandmother, entrenched herself on
Darrow's knee with the imperious demand to be carried up to
bed; and Anna, while she laughingly protested, said to
herself with a pang: "Can I give her a father about whom I
think such things?"
The thought of Effie, and of what she owed to Effie, had
been the fundamental reason for her delays and hesitations
when she and Darrow had come together again in England. Her
own feeling was so clear that but for that scruple she would
have put her hand in his at once. But till she had seen him
again she had never considered the possibility of remarriage,
and when it suddenly confronted her it seemed, for
the moment, to disorganize the life she had planned for
herself and her child. She had not spoken of this to Darrow
because it appeared to her a subject to be debated within
her own conscience. The question, then, was not as to his
fitness to become the guide and guardian of her child; nor
did she fear that her love for him would deprive Effie of
the least fraction of her tenderness, since she did not
think of love as something measured and exhaustible but as a
treasure perpetually renewed. What she questioned was her
right to introduce into her life any interests and duties
which might rob Effie of a part of her time, or lessen the
closeness of their daily intercourse.
She had decided this question as it was inevitable that she
should; but now another was before her. Assuredly, at her
age, there was no possible reason why she should cloister
herself to bring up her daughter; but there was every reason
for not marrying a man in whom her own faith was not
When she woke the next morning she felt a great lightness of
heart. She recalled her last awakening at Givre, three days
before, when it had seemed as though all her life had gone
down in darkness. Now Darrow was once more under the same
roof with her, and once more his nearness sufficed to make
the looming horror drop away. She could almost have smiled
at her scruples of the night before: as she looked back on
them they seemed to belong to the old ignorant timorous time
when she had feared to look life in the face, and had been
blind to the mysteries and contradictions of the human heart
because her own had not been revealed to her. Darrow had
said: "You were made to feel everything"; and to feel was
surely better than to judge.
When she came downstairs he was already in the oak-room with
Effie and Madame de Chantelle, and the sense of reassurance
which his presence gave her was merged in the relief of not
being able to speak of what was between them. But there it
was, inevitably, and whenever they looked at each other they
saw it. In her dread of giving it a more tangible shape she
tried to devise means of keeping the little girl with her,
and, when the latter had been called away by the nurse,
found an excuse for following Madame de Chantelle upstairs
to the purple sitting-room. But a confidential talk with
Madame de Chantelle implied the detailed discussion of plans
of which Anna could hardly yet bear to consider the vaguest
outline: the date of her marriage, the relative advantages
of sailing from London or Lisbon, the possibility of hiring
a habitable house at their new post; and, when these
problems were exhausted, the application of the same method
to the subject of Owen's future.
His grandmother, having no suspicion of the real reason of
Sophy Viner's departure, had thought it "extremely suitable"
of the young girl to withdraw to the shelter of her old
friends' roof in the hour of bridal preparation. This
maidenly retreat had in fact impressed Madame de Chantelle
so favourably that she was disposed for the first time to
talk over Owen's projects; and as every human event
translated itself for her into terms of social and domestic
detail, Anna had perforce to travel the same round again.
She felt a momentary relief when Darrow presently joined
them; but his coming served only to draw the conversation
back to the question of their own future, and Anna felt a
new pang as she heard him calmly and lucidly discussing it.
Did such self-possession imply indifference or insincerity?
In that problem her mind perpetually revolved; and she
dreaded the one answer as much as the other.
She was resolved to keep on her course as though nothing had
happened: to marry Darrow and never let the consciousness of
the past intrude itself between them; but she was beginning
to feel that the only way of attaining to this state of
detachment from the irreparable was once for all to turn
back with him to its contemplation. As soon as this desire
had germinated it became so strong in her that she regretted
having promised Effie to take her out for the afternoon.
But she could think of no pretext for disappointing the
little girl, and soon after luncheon the three set forth in
the motor to show Darrow a chateau famous in the annals of
the region. During their excursion Anna found it impossible
to guess from his demeanour if Effie's presence between them
was as much of a strain to his composure as to hers. He
remained imperturbably good-humoured and appreciative while
they went the round of the monument, and she remarked only
that when he thought himself unnoticed his face grew grave
and his answers came less promptly.
On the way back, two or three miles from Givre, she suddenly
proposed that they should walk home through the forest which
skirted that side of the park. Darrow acquiesced, and they
got out and sent Effie on in the motor. Their way led
through a bit of sober French woodland, flat as a faded
tapestry, but with gleams of live emerald lingering here and
there among its browns and ochres. The luminous grey air
gave vividness to its dying colours, and veiled the distant
glimpses of the landscape in soft uncertainty. In such a
solitude Anna had fancied it would be easier to speak; but
as she walked beside Darrow over the deep soundless flooring
of brown moss the words on her lips took flight again. It
seemed impossible to break the spell of quiet joy which his
presence laid on her, and when he began to talk of the place
they had just visited she answered his questions and then
waited for what he should say next...No, decidedly she could
not speak; she no longer even knew what she had meant to
The same experience repeated itself several times that day
and the next. When she and Darrow were apart she exhausted
herself in appeal and interrogation, she formulated with a
fervent lucidity every point in her imaginary argument. But
as soon as she was alone with him something deeper than
reason and subtler than shyness laid its benumbing touch
upon her, and the desire to speak became merely a dim
disquietude, through which his looks, his words, his touch,
reached her as through a mist of bodily pain. Yet this
inertia was torn by wild flashes of resistance, and when
they were apart she began to prepare again what she meant to
say to him.
She knew he could not be with her without being aware of
this inner turmoil, and she hoped he would break the spell
by some releasing word. But she presently understood that
he recognized the futility of words, and was resolutely bent
on holding her to her own purpose of behaving as if nothing
had happened. Once more she inwardly accused him of
insensibility, and her imagination was beset by tormenting
visions of his past...Had such things happened to him
before? If the episode had been an isolated accident--"a
moment of folly and madness", as he had called it--she could
understand, or at least begin to understand (for at a
certain point her imagination always turned back); but if it
were a mere link in a chain of similar experiments, the
thought of it dishonoured her whole past...
Effie, in the interregnum between governesses, had been
given leave to dine downstairs; and Anna, on the evening of
Darrow's return, kept the little girl with her till long
after the nurse had signalled from the drawing-room door.
When at length she had been carried off, Anna proposed a
game of cards, and after this diversion had drawn to its
languid close she said good-night to Darrow and followed
Madame de Chantelle upstairs. But Madame de Chantelle never
sat up late, and the second evening, with the amiably
implied intention of leaving Anna and Darrow to themselves,
she took an earlier leave of them than usual.
Anna sat silent, listening to her small stiff steps as they
minced down the hall and died out in the distance. Madame
de Chantelle had broken her wooden embroidery frame, and
Darrow, having offered to repair it, had drawn his chair up
to a table that held a lamp. Anna watched him as he sat with
bent head and knitted brows, trying to fit together the
disjoined pieces. The sight of him, so tranquilly absorbed
in this trifling business, seemed to give to the quiet room
a perfume of intimacy, to fill it with a sense of sweet
familiar habit; and it came over her again that she knew
nothing of the inner thoughts of this man who was sitting by
her as a husband might. The lamplight fell on his white
forehead, on the healthy brown of his cheek, the backs of
his thin sunburnt hands. As she watched the hands her sense
of them became as vivid as a touch, and she said to herself:
"That other woman has sat and watched him as I am doing.
She has known him as I have never known him...Perhaps he is
thinking of that now. Or perhaps he has forgotten it all as
completely as I have forgotten everything that happened to
me before he came..."
He looked young, active, stored with strength and energy;
not the man for vain repinings or long memories. She
wondered what she had to hold or satisfy him. He loved her
now; she had no doubt of that; but how could she hope to
keep him? They were so nearly of an age that already she
felt herself his senior. As yet the difference was not
visible; outwardly at least they were matched; but illhealth
or unhappiness would soon do away with this equality.
She thought with a pang of bitterness: "He won't grow any
older because he doesn't feel things; and because he
doesn't, I SHALL..."
And when she ceased to please him, what then? Had he the
tradition of faith to the spoken vow, or the deeper piety of
the unspoken dedication? What was his theory, what his inner
conviction in such matters? But what did she care for his
convictions or his theories? No doubt he loved her now, and
believed he would always go on loving her, and was persuaded
that, if he ceased to, his loyalty would be proof against
the change. What she wanted to know was not what he thought
about it in advance, but what would impel or restrain him at
the crucial hour. She put no faith in her own arts: she was
too sure of having none! And if some beneficent enchanter
had bestowed them on her, she knew now that she would have
rejected the gift. She could hardly conceive of wanting the
kind of love that was a state one could be cozened into...
Darrow, putting away the frame, walked across the room and
sat down beside her; and she felt he had something special
to say.
"They're sure to send for me in a day or two now," he began.
She made no answer, and he continued: "You'll tell me before
I go what day I'm to come back and get you?"
It was the first time since his return to Givre that he had
made any direct allusion to the date of their marriage; and
instead of answering him she broke out: "There's something
I've been wanting you to know. The other day in Paris I saw
Miss Viner."
She saw him flush with the intensity of his surprise.
"You sent for her?"
"No; she heard from Adelaide that I was in Paris and she
came. She came because she wanted to urge me to marry you.
I thought you ought to know what she had done."
Darrow stood up. "I'm glad you've told me." He spoke with a
visible effort at composure. Her eyes followed him as he
moved away.
"Is that all?" he asked after an interval.
"It seems to me a great deal."
"It's what she'd already asked me." His voice showed her how
deeply he was moved, and a throb of jealousy shot through
"Oh, it was for your sake, I know!" He made no answer, and
she added: "She's been exceedingly generous...Why shouldn't
we speak of it?"
She had lowered her head, but through her dropped lids she
seemed to be watching the crowded scene of his face.
"I've not shrunk from speaking of it."
"Speaking of her, then, I mean. It seems to me that if I
could talk to you about her I should know better----"
She broke off, confused, and he questioned: "What is it you
want to know better?"
The colour rose to her forehead. How could she tell him
what she scarcely dared own to herself? There was nothing
she did not want to know, no fold or cranny of his secret
that her awakened imagination did not strain to penetrate;
but she could not expose Sophy Viner to the base fingerings
of a retrospective jealousy, nor Darrow to the temptation of
belittling her in the effort to better his own case. The
girl had been magnificent, and the only worthy return that
Anna could make was to take Darrow from her without a
question if she took him at all...
She lifted her eyes to his face. "I think I only wanted to
speak her name. It's not right that we should seem so
afraid of it. If I were really afraid of it I should have
to give you up," she said.
He bent over her and caught her to him. "Ah, you can't give
me up now!" he exclaimed.
She suffered him to hold her fast without speaking; but the
old dread was between them again, and it was on her lips to
cry out: "How can I help it, when I AM so afraid?"
The next morning the dread was still there, and she
understood that she must snatch herself out of the torpor of
the will into which she had been gradually sinking, and tell
Darrow that she could not be his wife.
The knowledge came to her in the watches of a sleepless
night, when, through the tears of disenchanted passion, she
stared back upon her past. There it lay before her, her
sole romance, in all its paltry poverty, the cheapest of
cheap adventures, the most pitiful of sentimental blunders.
She looked about her room, the room where, for so many
years, if her heart had been quiescent her thoughts had been
alive, and pictured herself henceforth cowering before a
throng of mean suspicions, of unavowed compromises and
concessions. In that moment of self-searching she saw that
Sophy Viner had chosen the better part, and that certain
renunciations might enrich where possession would have left
a desert.
Passionate reactions of instinct fought against these
efforts of her will. Why should past or future coerce her,
when the present was so securely hers? Why insanely
surrender what the other would after all never have? Her
sense of irony whispered that if she sent away Darrow it
would not be to Sophy Viner, but to the first woman who
crossed his path--as, in a similar hour, Sophy Viner herself
had crossed it...But the mere fact that she could think such
things of him sent her shuddering back to the opposite pole.
She pictured herself gradually subdued to such a conception
of life and love, she pictured Effie growing up under the
influence of the woman she saw herself becoming--and she hid
her eyes from the humiliation of the picture...
They were at luncheon when the summons that Darrow expected
was brought to him. He handed the telegram to Anna, and she
learned that his Ambassador, on the way to a German cure,
was to be in Paris the next evening and wished to confer
with him there before he went back to London. The idea that
the decisive moment was at hand was so agitating to her that
when luncheon was over she slipped away to the terrace and
thence went down alone to the garden. The day was grey but
mild, with the heaviness of decay in the air. She rambled
on aimlessly, following under the denuded boughs the path
she and Darrow had taken on their first walk to the river.
She was sure he would not try to overtake her: sure he would
guess why she wished to be alone. There were moments when
it seemed to double her loneliness to be so certain of his
reading her heart while she was so desperately ignorant of
She wandered on for more than an hour, and when she returned
to the house she saw, as she entered the hall, that Darrow
was seated at the desk in Owen's study. He heard her step,
and looking up turned in his chair without rising. Their
eyes met, and she saw that his were clear and smiling. He
had a heap of papers at his elbow and was evidently engaged
in some official correspondence. She wondered that he could
address himself so composedly to his task, and then
ironically reflected that such detachment was a sign of his
superiority. She crossed the threshold and went toward him;
but as she advanced she had a sudden vision of Owen,
standing outside in the cold autumn dusk and watching Darrow
and Sophy Viner as they faced each other across the lamplit
desk...The evocation was so vivid that it caught her breath
like a blow, and she sank down helplessly on the divan among
the piled-up books. Distinctly, at the moment, she
understood that the end had come. "When he speaks to me I
will tell him!" she thought...
Darrow, laying aside his pen, looked at her for a moment in
silence; then he stood up and shut the door.
"I must go to-morrow early," he said, sitting down beside
her. His voice was grave, with a slight tinge of sadness.
She said to herself: "He knows what I am feeling..." and now
the thought made her feel less alone. The expression of his
face was stern and yet tender: for the first time she
understood what he had suffered.
She had no doubt as to the necessity of giving him up, but
it was impossible to tell him so then. She stood up and
said: "I'll leave you to your letters." He made no protest,
but merely answered: "You'll come down presently for a
walk?" and it occurred to her at once that she would walk
down to the river with him, and give herself for the last
time the tragic luxury of sitting at his side in the little
pavilion. "Perhaps," she thought, "it will be easier to
tell him there."
It did not, on the way home from their walk, become any
easier to tell him; but her secret decision to do so before
he left gave her a kind of factitious calm and laid a
melancholy ecstasy upon the hour. Still skirting the
subject that fanned their very faces with its flame, they
clung persistently to other topics, and it seemed to Anna
that their minds had never been nearer together than in this
hour when their hearts were so separate. In the glow of
interchanged love she had grown less conscious of that other
glow of interchanged thought which had once illumined her
mind. She had forgotten how Darrow had widened her world
and lengthened out all her perspectives, and with a pang of
double destitution she saw herself alone among her shrunken
For the first time, then, she had a clear vision of what her
life would be without him. She imagined herself trying to
take up the daily round, and all that had lightened and
animated it seemed equally lifeless and vain. She tried to
think of herself as wholly absorbed in her daughter's
development, like other mothers she had seen; but she
supposed those mothers must have had stored memories of
happiness to nourish them. She had had nothing, and all her
starved youth still claimed its due.
When she went up to dress for dinner she said to herself:
"I'll have my last evening with him, and then, before we say
good night, I'll tell him."
This postponement did not seem unjustified. Darrow had
shown her how he dreaded vain words, how resolved he was to
avoid all fruitless discussion. He must have been intensely
aware of what had been going on in her mind since his
return, yet when she had attempted to reveal it to him he
had turned from the revelation. She was therefore merely
following the line he had traced in behaving, till the final
moment came, as though there were nothing more to say...
That moment seemed at last to be at hand when, at her usual
hour after dinner, Madame de Chantelle rose to go upstairs.
She lingered a little to bid good-bye to Darrow, whom she
was not likely to see in the morning; and her affable
allusions to his prompt return sounded in Anna's ear like
the note of destiny.
A cold rain had fallen all day, and for greater warmth and
intimacy they had gone after dinner to the oak-room,
shutting out the chilly vista of the farther drawing-rooms.
The autumn wind, coming up from the river, cried about the
house with a voice of loss and separation; and Anna and
Darrow sat silent, as if they feared to break the hush that
shut them in. The solitude, the fire-light, the harmony of
soft hangings and old dim pictures, wove about them a spell
of security through which Anna felt, far down in her heart,
the muffled beat of an inextinguishable bliss. How could she
have thought that this last moment would be the moment to
speak to him, when it seemed to have gathered up into its
flight all the scattered splendours of her dream?
Darrow continued to stand by the door after it had closed.
Anna felt that he was looking at her, and sat still,
disdaining to seek refuge in any evasive word or movement.
For the last time she wanted to let him take from her the
fulness of what the sight of her could give.
He crossed over and sat down on the sofa. For a moment
neither of them spoke; then he said: "To-night, dearest, I
must have my answer."
She straightened herself under the shock of his seeming to
take the very words from her lips.
"To-night?" was all that she could falter.
"I must be off by the early train. There won't be more than
a moment in the morning."
He had taken her hand, and she said to herself that she must
free it before she could go on with what she had to say.
Then she rejected this concession to a weakness she was
resolved to defy. To the end she would leave her hand in
his hand, her eyes in his eyes: she would not, in their
final hour together, be afraid of any part of her love for
"You'll tell me to-night, dear," he insisted gently; and his
insistence gave her the strength to speak.
"There's something I must ask you," she broke out,
perceiving, as she heard her words, that they were not in
the least what she had meant to say.
He sat still, waiting, and she pressed on: "Do such things
happen to men often?"
The quiet room seemed to resound with the long
reverberations of her question. She looked away from him,
and he released her and stood up.
"I don't know what happens to other men. Such a thing never
happened to me..."
She turned her eyes back to his face. She felt like a
traveller on a giddy path between a cliff and a precipice:
there was nothing for it now but to go on.
"Had it...had it begun...before you met her in Paris?"
"No; a thousand times no! I've told you the facts as they
"All the facts?"
He turned abruptly. "What do you mean?"
Her throat was dry and the loud pulses drummed in her
"I mean--about her...Perhaps you knew...knew things about
She stopped. The room had grown profoundly still. A log
dropped to the hearth and broke there in a hissing shower.
Darrow spoke in a clear voice. "I knew nothing, absolutely
nothing," he said.
She had the answer to her inmost doubt--to her last shameful
unavowed hope. She sat powerless under her woe.
He walked to the fireplace and pushed back the broken log
with his foot. A flame shot out of it, and in the upward
glare she saw his pale face, stern with misery.
"Is that all?" he asked.
She made a slight sign with her head and he came slowly back
to her. "Then is this to be good-bye?"
Again she signed a faint assent, and he made no effort to
touch her or draw nearer. "You understand that I sha'n't
come back?"
He was looking at her, and she tried to return his look, but
her eyes were blind with tears, and in dread of his seeing
them she got up and walked away. He did not follow her, and
she stood with her back to him, staring at a bowl of
carnations on a little table strewn with books. Her tears
magnified everything she looked at, and the streaked petals
of the carnations, their fringed edges and frail curled
stamens, pressed upon her, huge and vivid. She noticed
among the books a volume of verse he had sent her from
England, and tried to remember whether it was before or
She felt that he was waiting for her to speak, and at last
she turned to him. "I shall see you to-morrow before you
He made no answer.
She moved toward the door and he held it open for her. She
saw his hand on the door, and his seal ring in its setting
of twisted silver; and the sense of the end of all things
came to her.
They walked down the drawing-rooms, between the shadowy
reflections of screens and cabinets, and mounted the stairs
side by side. At the end of the gallery, a lamp brought out
turbid gleams in the smoky battle-piece above it.
On the landing Darrow stopped; his room was the nearest to
the stairs. "Good night," he said, holding out his hand.
As Anna gave him hers the springs of grief broke loose in
her. She struggled with her sobs, and subdued them; but her
breath came unevenly, and to hide her agitation she leaned
on him and pressed her face against his arm.
"Don't--don't," he whispered, soothing her.
Her troubled breathing sounded loudly in the silence of the
sleeping house. She pressed her lips tight, but could not
stop the nervous pulsations in her throat, and he put an arm
about her and, opening his door, drew her across the
threshold of his room. The door shut behind her and she sat
down on the lounge at the foot of the bed. The pulsations
in her throat had ceased, but she knew they would begin
again if she tried to speak.
Darrow walked away and leaned against the mantelpiece. The
red-veiled lamp shone on his books and papers, on the armchair
by the fire, and the scattered objects on his
dressing-table. A log glimmered on the hearth, and the room
was warm and faintly smoke-scented. It was the first time
she had ever been in a room he lived in, among his personal
possessions and the traces of his daily usage. Every object
about her seemed to contain a particle of himself: the whole
air breathed of him, steeping her in the sense of his
intimate presence.
Suddenly she thought: "This is what Sophy Viner knew"...and
with a torturing precision she pictured them alone in such a
scene...Had he taken the girl to an hotel...where did people
go in such cases? Wherever they were, the silence of night
had been around them, and the things he used had been strewn
about the room...Anna, ashamed of dwelling on the detested
vision, stood up with a confused impulse of flight; then a
wave of contrary feeling arrested her and she paused with
lowered head.
Darrow had come forward as she rose, and she perceived that
he was waiting for her to bid him good night. It was clear
that no other possibility had even brushed his mind; and the
fact, for some dim reason, humiliated her. "Why not...why
not?" something whispered in her, as though his forbearance,
his tacit recognition of her pride, were a slight on other
qualities she wanted him to feel in her.
"In the morning, then?" she heard him say.
"Yes, in the morning," she repeated.
She continued to stand in the same place, looking vaguely
about the room. For once before they parted--since part
they must--she longed to be to him all that Sophy Viner had
been; but she remained rooted to the floor, unable to find a
word or imagine a gesture that should express her meaning.
Exasperated by her helplessness, she thought: "Don't I feel
things as other women do?"
Her eye fell on a note-case she had given him. It was worn
at the corners with the friction of his pocket and distended
with thickly packed papers. She wondered if he carried her
letters in it, and she put her hand out and touched it.
All that he and she had ever felt or seen, their close
encounters of word and look, and the closer contact of their
silences, trembled through her at the touch. She remembered
things he had said that had been like new skies above her
head: ways he had that seemed a part of the air she
breathed. The faint warmth of her girlish love came back to
her, gathering heat as it passed through her thoughts; and
her heart rocked like a boat on the surge of its long long
memories. "It's because I love him in too many ways," she
thought; and slowly she turned to the door.
She was aware that Darrow was still silently watching her,
but he neither stirred nor spoke till she had reached the
threshold. Then he met her there and caught her in his
"Not to-night--don't tell me to-night!" he whispered; and
she leaned away from him, closing her eyes for an instant,
and then slowly opening them to the flood of light in his.
Anna and Darrow, the next day, sat alone in a compartment of
the Paris train.
Anna, when they entered it, had put herself in the farthest
corner and placed her bag on the adjoining seat. She had
decided suddenly to accompany Darrow to Paris, had even
persuaded him to wait for a later train in order that they
might travel together. She had an intense longing to be
with him, an almost morbid terror of losing sight of him for
a moment: when he jumped out of the train and ran back along
the platform to buy a newspaper for her she felt as though
she should never see him again, and shivered with the cold
misery of her last journey to Paris, when she had thought
herself parted from him forever. Yet she wanted to keep him
at a distance, on the other side of the compartment, and as
the train moved out of the station she drew from her bag the
letters she had thrust in it as she left the house, and
began to glance over them so that her lowered lids should
hide her eyes from him.
She was his now, his for life: there could never again be
any question of sacrificing herself to Effie's welfare, or
to any other abstract conception of duty. Effie of course
would not suffer; Anna would pay for her bliss as a wife by
redoubled devotion as a mother. Her scruples were not
overcome; but for the time their voices were drowned in the
tumultuous rumour of her happiness.
As she opened her letters she was conscious that Darrow's
gaze was fixed on her, and gradually it drew her eyes
upward, and she drank deep of the passionate tenderness in
his. Then the blood rose to her face and she felt again the
desire to shield herself. She turned back to her letters
and her glance lit on an envelope inscribed in Owen's hand.
Her heart began to beat oppressively: she was in a mood when
the simplest things seemed ominous. What could Owen have to
say to her? Only the first page was covered, and it
contained simply the announcement that, in the company of a
young compatriot who was studying at the Beaux Arts, he had
planned to leave for Spain the following evening.
"He hasn't seen her, then!" was Anna's instant thought; and
her feeling was a strange compound of humiliation and
relief. The girl had kept her word, lived up to the line of
conduct she had set herself; and Anna had failed in the same
attempt. She did not reproach herself with her failure; but
she would have been happier if there had been less
discrepancy between her words to Sophy Viner and the act
which had followed them. It irritated her obscurely that
the girl should have been so much surer of her power to
carry out her purpose...
Anna looked up and saw that Darrow's eyes were on the
newspaper. He seemed calm and secure, almost indifferent to
her presence. "Will it become a matter of course to him so
soon?" she wondered with a twinge of jealousy. She sat
motionless, her eyes fixed on him, trying to make him feel
the attraction of her gaze as she felt his. It surprised
and shamed her to detect a new element in her love for him:
a sort of suspicious tyrannical tenderness that seemed to
deprive it of all serenity. Finally he looked up, his smile
enveloped her, and she felt herself his in every fibre, his
so completely and inseparably that she saw the vanity of
imagining any other fate for herself.
To give herself a countenance she held out Owen's letter.
He took it and glanced down the page, his face grown grave.
She waited nervously till he looked up.
"That's a good plan; the best thing that could happen," he
said, a just perceptible shade of constraint in his tone.
"Oh, yes," she hastily assented. She was aware of a faint
current of relief silently circulating between them. They
were both glad that Owen was going, that for a while he
would be out of their way; and it seemed to her horrible
that so much of the stuff of their happiness should be made
of such unavowed feelings...
"I shall see him this evening," she said, wishing Darrow to
feel that she was not afraid of meeting her step-son.
"Yes, of course; perhaps he might dine with you."
The words struck her as strangely obtuse. Darrow was to
meet his Ambassador at the station on the latter's arrival,
and would in all probability have to spend the evening with
him, and Anna knew he had been concerned at the thought of
having to leave her alone. But how could he speak in that
careless tone of her dining with Owen? She lowered her voice
to say: "I'm afraid he's desperately unhappy."
He answered, with a tinge of impatience: "It's much the best
thing that he should travel."
"Yes--but don't you feel..." She broke off. She knew how
he disliked these idle returns on the irrevocable, and her
fear of doing or saying what he disliked was tinged by a new
instinct of subserviency against which her pride revolted.
She thought to herself: "He will see the change, and grow
indifferent to me as he did to HER..." and for a moment
it seemed to her that she was reliving the experience of
Sophy Viner.
Darrow made no attempt to learn the end of her unfinished
sentence. He handed back Owen's letter and returned to his
newspaper; and when he looked up from it a few minutes later
it was with a clear brow and a smile that irresistibly drew
her back to happier thoughts.
The train was just entering a station, and a moment later
their compartment was invaded by a commonplace couple
preoccupied with the bestowal of bulging packages. Anna, at
their approach, felt the possessive pride of the woman in
love when strangers are between herself and the man she
loves. She asked Darrow to open the window, to place her
bag in the net, to roll her rug into a cushion for her feet;
and while he was thus busied with her she was conscious of a
new devotion in his tone, in his way of bending over her and
meeting her eyes. He went back to his seat, and they looked
at each other like lovers smiling at a happy secret.
Anna, before going back to Givre, had suggested Owen's
moving into her apartment, but he had preferred to remain at
the hotel to which he had sent his luggage, and on arriving
in Paris she decided to drive there at once. She was
impatient to have the meeting over, and glad that Darrow was
obliged to leave her at the station in order to look up a
colleague at the Embassy. She dreaded his seeing Owen again,
and yet dared not tell him so, and to ensure his remaining
away she mentioned an urgent engagement with her dress-maker
and a long list of commissions to be executed for Madame de
"I shall see you to-morrow morning," she said; but he
replied with a smile that he would certainly find time to
come to her for a moment on his way back from meeting the
Ambassador; and when he had put her in a cab he leaned
through the window to press his lips to hers.
She blushed like a girl, thinking, half vexed, half happy:
"Yesterday he would not have done it..." and a dozen
scarcely definable differences in his look and manner seemed
all at once to be summed up in the boyish act. "After all,
I'm engaged to him," she reflected, and then smiled at the
absurdity of the word. The next instant, with a pang of
self-reproach, she remembered Sophy Viner's cry: "I knew all
the while he didn't care..." "Poor thing, oh poor thing!"
Anna murmured...
At Owen's hotel she waited in a tremor while the porter went
in search of him. Word was presently brought back that he
was in his room and begged her to come up, and as she
crossed the hall she caught sight of his portmanteaux lying
on the floor, already labelled for departure.
Owen sat at a table writing, his back to the door; and when
he stood up the window was behind him, so that, in the rainy
afternoon light, his features were barely discernible.
"Dearest--so you're really off?" she said, hesitating a
moment on the threshold.
He pushed a chair forward, and they sat down, each waiting
for the other to speak. Finally she put some random
question about his travelling-companion, a slow shy
meditative youth whom he had once or twice brought down to
Givre. She reflected that it was natural he should have
given this uncommunicative comrade the preference over his
livelier acquaintances, and aloud she said: "I'm so glad
Fred Rempson can go with you."
Owen answered in the same tone, and for a few minutes their
talk dragged itself on over a dry waste of common-places.
Anna noticed that, though ready enough to impart his own
plans, Owen studiously abstained from putting any questions
about hers. It was evident from his allusions that he meant
to be away for some time, and he presently asked her if she
would give instructions about packing and sending after him
some winter clothes he had left at Givre. This gave her the
opportunity to say that she expected to go back within a day
or two and would attend to the matter as soon as she
returned. She added: "I came up this morning with George,
who is going on to London to-morrow," intending, by the use
of Darrow's Christian name, to give Owen the chance to speak
of her marriage. But he made no comment, and she continued
to hear the name sounding on unfamiliarly between them.
The room was almost dark, and she finally stood up and
glanced about for the light-switch, saying: "I can't see
you, dear."
"Oh, don't--I hate the light!" Owen exclaimed, catching her
by the wrist and pushing her back into her seat. He gave a
nervous laugh and added: "I'm half-blind with neuralgia. I
suppose it's this beastly rain."
"Yes; it will do you good to get down to Spain."
She asked if he had the remedies the doctor had given him
for a previous attack, and on his replying that he didn't
know what he'd done with the stuff, she sprang up, offering
to go to the chemist's. It was a relief to have something
to do for him, and she knew from his "Oh, thanks--would
you?" that it was a relief to him to have a pretext for not
detaining her. His natural impulse would have been to
declare that he didn't want any drugs, and would be all
right in no time; and his acquiescence showed her how
profoundly he felt the uselessness of their trying to
prolong their talk. His face was now no more than a white
blur in the dusk, but she felt its indistinctness as a veil
drawn over aching intensities of expression. "He knows...he
knows..." she said to herself, and wondered whether the
truth had been revealed to him by some corroborative fact or
by the sheer force of divination.
He had risen also, and was clearly waiting for her to go,
and she turned to the door, saying: "I'll be back in a
"Oh, don't come up again, please!" He paused, embarrassed.
"I mean--I may not be here. I've got to go and pick up
Rempson, and see about some final things with him."
She stopped on the threshold with a sinking heart. He meant
this to be their leave-taking, then--and he had not even
asked her when she was to be married, or spoken of seeing
her again before she set out for the other side of the
"Owen!" she cried, and turned back.
He stood mutely before her in the dimness.
"You haven't told me how long you're to be gone."
"How long? Oh, you see...that's rather vague...I hate
definite dates, you know..."
He paused and she saw he did not mean to help her out. She
tried to say: "You'll be here for my wedding?" but could not
bring the words to her lips. Instead she murmured: "In six
weeks I shall be going too..." and he rejoined, as if he had
expected the announcement and prepared his answer: "Oh, by
that time, very likely..."
"At any rate, I won't say good-bye," she stammered, feeling
the tears beneath her veil.
"No, no; rather not!" he declared; but he made no movement,
and she went up and threw her arms about him. "You'll write
me, won't you?"
"Of course, of course----"
Her hands slipped down into his, and for a minute they held
each other dumbly in the darkness; then he gave a vague
laugh and said: "It's really time to light up." He pressed
the electric button with one hand while with the other he
opened the door; and she passed out without daring to turn
back, lest the light on his face should show her what she
feared to see.
Anna drove to the chemist's for Owen's remedy. On the way
she stopped her cab at a book-shop, and emerged from it
laden with literature. She knew what would interest Owen,
and what he was likely to have read, and she had made her
choice among the newest publications with the promptness of
a discriminating reader. But on the way back to the hotel
she was overcome by the irony of adding this mental panacea
to the other. There was something grotesque and almost
mocking in the idea of offering a judicious selection of
literature to a man setting out on such a journey. "He
knows...he knows..." she kept on repeating; and giving the
porter the parcel from the chemist's she drove away without
leaving the books.
She went to her apartment, whither her maid had preceded
her. There was a fire in the drawing-room and the tea-table
stood ready by the hearth. The stormy rain beat against the
uncurtained windows, and she thought of Owen, who would soon
be driving through it to the station, alone with his bitter
thoughts. She had been proud of the fact that he had always
sought her help in difficult hours; and now, in the most
difficult of all, she was the one being to whom he could not
turn. Between them, henceforth, there would always be the
wall of an insurmountable silence...She strained her aching
thoughts to guess how the truth had come to him. Had he seen
the girl, and had she told him? Instinctively, Anna rejected
this conjecture. But what need was there of assuming an
explicit statement, when every breath they had drawn for the
last weeks had been charged with the immanent secret? As she
looked back over the days since Darrow's first arrival at
Givre she perceived that at no time had any one deliberately
spoken, or anything been accidentally disclosed. The truth
had come to light by the force of its irresistible pressure;
and the perception gave her a startled sense of hidden
powers, of a chaos of attractions and repulsions far beneath
the ordered surfaces of intercourse. She looked back with
melancholy derision on her old conception of life, as a kind
of well-lit and well policed suburb to dark places one need
never know about. Here they were, these dark places, in her
own bosom, and henceforth she would always have to traverse
them to reach the beings she loved best!
She was still sitting beside the untouched tea-table when
she heard Darrow's voice in the hall. She started up,
saying to herself: "I must tell him that Owen knows..." but
when the door opened and she saw his face, still lit by the
same smile of boyish triumph, she felt anew the uselessness
of speaking...Had he ever supposed that Owen would not know?
Probably, from the height of his greater experience, he had
seen long since that all that happened was inevitable; and
the thought of it, at any rate, was clearly not weighing on
him now.
He was already dressed for the evening, and as he came
toward her he said: "The Ambassador's booked for an official
dinner and I'm free after all. Where shall we dine?"
Anna had pictured herself sitting alone all the evening with
her wretched thoughts, and the fact of having to put them
out of her mind for the next few hours gave her an immediate
sensation of relief. Already her pulses were dancing to the
tune of Darrow's, and as they smiled at each other she
thought: "Nothing can ever change the fact that I belong to
"Where shall we dine?" he repeated gaily, and she named a
well-known restaurant for which she had once heard him
express a preference. But as she did so she fancied she saw
a shadow on his face, and instantly she said to herself: "It
was THERE he went with her!"
"Oh, no, not there, after all!" she interrupted herself; and
now she was sure his colour deepened.
"Where shall it be, then?"
She noticed that he did not ask the reason of her change,
and this convinced her that she had guessed the truth, and
that he knew she had guessed it. "He will always know what
I am thinking, and he will never dare to ask me," she
thought; and she saw between them the same insurmountable
wall of silence as between herself and Owen, a wall of glass
through which they could watch each other's faintest motions
but which no sound could ever traverse...
They drove to a restaurant on the Boulevard, and there, in
their intimate corner of the serried scene, the sense of
what was unspoken between them gradually ceased to oppress
her. He looked so light-hearted and handsome, so
ingenuously proud of her, so openly happy at being with her,
that no other fact could seem real in his presence. He had
learned that the Ambassador was to spend two days in Paris,
and he had reason to hope that in consequence his own
departure for London would be deferred. He was exhilarated
by the prospect of being with Anna for a few hours longer,
and she did not ask herself if his exhilaration were a sign
of insensibility, for she was too conscious of his power of
swaying her moods not to be secretly proud of affecting his.
They lingered for some time over the fruit and coffee, and
when they rose to go Darrow suggested that, if she felt
disposed for the play, they were not too late for the second
part of the programme at one of the smaller theatres.
His mention of the hour recalled Owen to her thoughts. She
saw his train rushing southward through the storm, and, in a
corner of the swaying compartment, his face, white and
indistinct as it had loomed on her in the rainy twilight.
It was horrible to be thus perpetually paying for her
Darrow had called for a theatrical journal, and he presently
looked up from it to say: "I hear the second play at the
Athenee is amusing."
It was on Anna's lips to acquiesce; but as she was about to
speak she wondered if it were not at the Athenee that Owen
had seen Darrow with Sophy Viner. She was not sure he had
even mentioned the theatre, but the mere possibility was
enough to darken her sky. It was hateful to her to think of
accompanying Darrow to places where the girl had been with
him. She tried to reason away this scruple, she even
reminded herself with a bitter irony that whenever she was
in Darrow's arms she was where the girl had been before her
--but she could not shake off her superstitious dread of
being with him in any of the scenes of the Parisian episode.
She replied that she was too tired for the play, and they
drove back to her apartment. At the foot of the stairs she
half-turned to wish him good night, but he appeared not to
notice her gesture and followed her up to her door.
"This is ever so much better than the theatre," he said as
they entered the drawing-room.
She had crossed the room and was bending over the hearth to
light the fire. She knew he was approaching her, and that
in a moment he would have drawn the cloak from her shoulders
and laid his lips on her neck, just below the gathered-up
hair. These privileges were his and, however deferently and
tenderly he claimed them, the joyous ease of his manner
marked a difference and proclaimed a right.
"After the theatre they came home like this," she thought;
and at the same instant she felt his hands on her shoulders
and shrank back.
"Don't--oh, don't!" she cried, drawing her cloak about her.
She saw from his astonished stare that her face must be
quivering with pain.
"Anna! What on earth is the matter?"
"Owen knows!" she broke out, with a confused desire to
justify herself.
Darrow's countenance changed. "Did he tell you so? What did
he say?"
"Nothing! I knew it from the things he didn't say."
"You had a talk with him this afternoon?"
"Yes: for a few minutes. I could see he didn't want me to
She had dropped into a chair, and sat there huddled, still
holding her cloak about her shoulders.
Darrow did not dispute her assumption, and she noticed that
he expressed no surprise. He sat down at a little distance
from her, turning about in his fingers the cigar-case he had
drawn out as they came in. At length he said: "Had he seen
Miss Viner?"
She shrank from the sound of the name. "No...I don't think
so...I'm sure he hadn't..."
They remained silent, looking away from one another. Finally
Darrow stood up and took a few steps across the room. He
came back and paused before her, his eyes on her face.
"I think you ought to tell me what you mean to do."
She raised her head and gave him back his look. "Nothing I
do can help Owen!"
"No; but things can't go on like this." He paused, as if to
measure his words. "I fill you with aversion," he
She started up, half-sobbing. "No--oh, no!"
"Poor child--you can't see your face!"
She lifted her hands as if to hide it, and turning away from
him bowed her head upon the mantel-shelf. She felt that he
was standing a little way behind her, but he made no attempt
to touch her or come nearer.
"I know you've felt as I've felt," he said in a low voice--"
that we belong to each other and that nothing can alter
that. But other thoughts come, and you can't banish them.
Whenever you see me you associate me with
things you abhor...You've been generous--immeasurably.
You've given me all the chances a woman could; but if it's
only made you suffer, what's the use?"
She turned to him with a tear-stained face. "It hasn't only
done that."
"Oh, no! I know...There've been moments..." He took her hand
and raised it to his lips. "They'll be with me as long as I
live. But I can't see you paying such a price for them.
I'm not worth what I'm costing you."
She continued to gaze at him through tear-dilated eyes; and
suddenly she flung out the question: "Wasn't it the Athenee
you took her to that evening?"
"Yes; I want to know now: to know everything. Perhaps that
will make me forget. I ought to have made you tell me
before. Wherever we go, I imagine you've been there with
her...I see you together. I want to know how it began,
where you went, why you left her...I can't go on in this
darkness any longer!"
She did not know what had prompted her passionate outburst,
but already she felt lighter, freer, as if at last the evil
spell were broken. "I want to know everything," she
repeated. "It's the only way to make me forget."
After she had ceased speaking Darrow remained where he was,
his arms folded, his eyes lowered, immovable. She waited,
her gaze on his face.
"Aren't you going to tell me?"
The blood rushed to her temples. "You won't? Why not?"
"If I did, do you suppose you'd forget THAT?"
"Oh--" she moaned, and turned away from him.
"You see it's impossible," he went on. "I've done a thing I
loathe, and to atone for it you ask me to do another. What
sort of satisfaction would that give you? It would put
something irremediable between us."
She leaned her elbow against the mantel-shelf and hid her
face in her hands. She had the sense that she was vainly
throwing away her last hope of happiness, yet she could do
nothing, think of nothing, to save it. The conjecture
flashed through her: "Should I be at peace if I gave him
up?" and she remembered the desolation of the days after she
had sent him away, and understood that that hope was vain.
The tears welled through her lids and ran slowly down
between her fingers.
"Good-bye," she heard him say, and his footsteps turned to
the door.
She tried to raise her head, but the weight of her despair
bowed it down. She said to herself: "This is the end...he
won't try to appeal to me again..." and she remained in a
sort of tranced rigidity, perceiving without feeling the
fateful lapse of the seconds. Then the cords that bound her
seemed to snap, and she lifted her head and saw him going.
"Why, he's mine--he's mine! He's no one else's!" His face
was turned to her and the look in his eyes swept away all
her terrors. She no longer understood what had prompted her
senseless outcry; and the mortal sweetness of loving him
became again the one real fact in the world.
Anna, the next day, woke to a humiliated memory of the
previous evening.
Darrow had been right in saying that their sacrifice would
benefit no one; yet she seemed dimly to discern that there
were obligations not to be tested by that standard. She
owed it, at any rate, as much to his pride as to hers to
abstain from the repetition of such scenes; and she had
learned that it was beyond her power to do so while they
were together. Yet when he had given her the chance to free
herself, everything had vanished from her mind but the blind
fear of losing him; and she saw that he and she were as
profoundly and inextricably bound together as two trees with
interwoven roots.
For a long time she brooded on her plight, vaguely conscious
that the only escape from it must come from some external
chance. And slowly the occasion shaped itself in her mind.
It was Sophy Viner only who could save her--Sophy Viner only
who could give her back her lost serenity. She would seek
the girl out and tell her that she had given Darrow up; and
that step once taken there would be no retracing it, and she
would perforce have to go forward alone.
Any pretext for action was a kind of anodyne, and she
despatched her maid to the Farlows' with a note asking if
Miss Viner would receive her. There was a long delay before
the maid returned, and when at last she appeared it was with
a slip of paper on which an address was written, and a
verbal message to the effect that Miss Viner had left some
days previously, and was staying with her sister in a hotel
near the Place de l'Etoile. The maid added that Mrs.
Farlow, on the plea that Miss Viner's plans were uncertain,
had at first made some difficulty about giving this
information; and Anna guessed that the girl had left her
friends' roof, and instructed them to withhold her address,
with the object of avoiding Owen. "She's kept faith with
herself and I haven't," Anna mused; and the thought was a
fresh incentive to action.
Darrow had announced his intention of coming soon after
luncheon, and the morning was already so far advanced that
Anna, still mistrustful of her strength, decided to drive
immediately to the address Mrs. Farlow had given. On the
way there she tried to recall what she had heard of Sophy
Viner's sister, but beyond the girl's enthusiastic report of
the absent Laura's loveliness she could remember only
certain vague allusions of Mrs. Farlow's to her artistic
endowments and matrimonial vicissitudes. Darrow had
mentioned her but once, and in the briefest terms, as having
apparently very little concern for Sophy's welfare, and
being, at any rate, too geographically remote to give her
any practical support; and Anna wondered what chance had
brought her to her sister's side at this conjunction. Mrs.
Farlow had spoken of her as a celebrity (in what line Anna
failed to recall); but Mrs. Farlow's celebrities were
legion, and the name on the slip of paper--Mrs. McTarvie-
Birch--did not seem to have any definite association with
While Anna waited in the dingy vestibule of the Hotel
Chicago she had so distinct a vision of what she meant to
say to Sophy Viner that the girl seemed already to be before
her; and her heart dropped from all the height of its
courage when the porter, after a long delay, returned with
the announcement that Miss Viner was no longer in the hotel.
Anna, doubtful if she understood, asked if he merely meant
that the young lady was out at the moment; but he replied
that she had gone away the day before. Beyond this he had
no information to impart, and after a moment's hesitation
Anna sent him back to enquire if Mrs. McTarvie-Birch would
receive her. She reflected that Sophy had probably pledged
her sister to the same secrecy as Mrs. Farlow, and that a
personal appeal to Mrs. Birch might lead to less negative
There was another long interval of suspense before the
porter reappeared with an affirmative answer; and a third
while an exiguous and hesitating lift bore her up past a
succession of shabby landings.
When the last was reached, and her guide had directed her
down a winding passage that smelt of sea-going luggage, she
found herself before a door through which a strong odour of
tobacco reached her simultaneously with the sounds of a
suppressed altercation. Her knock was followed by a
silence, and after a minute or two the door was opened by a
handsome young man whose ruffled hair and general air of
creased disorder led her to conclude that he had just risen
from a long-limbed sprawl on a sofa strewn with tumbled
cushions. This sofa, and a grand piano bearing a basket of
faded roses, a biscuit-tin and a devastated breakfast tray,
almost filled the narrow sitting-room, in the remaining
corner of which another man, short, swarthy and humble, sat
examining the lining of his hat.
Anna paused in doubt; but on her naming Mrs. Birch the young
man politely invited her to enter, at the same time casting
an impatient glance at the mute spectator in the background.
The latter, raising his eyes, which were round and bulging,
fixed them, not on the young man but on Anna, whom, for a
moment, he scrutinized as searchingly as the interior of his
hat. Under his gaze she had the sense of being minutely
catalogued and valued; and the impression, when he finally
rose and moved toward the door, of having been accepted as a
better guarantee than he had had any reason to hope for. On
the threshold his glance crossed that of the young man in an
exchange of intelligence as full as it was rapid; and this
brief scene left Anna so oddly enlightened that she felt no
surprise when her companion, pushing an arm-chair forward,
sociably asked her if she wouldn't have a cigarette. Her
polite refusal provoked the remark that he would, if she'd
no objection; and while he groped for matches in his loose
pockets, and behind the photographs and letters crowding the
narrow mantel-shelf, she ventured another enquiry for Mrs.
"Just a minute," he smiled; "I think the masseur's with
her." He spoke in a smooth denationalized English, which,
like the look in his long-lashed eyes and the promptness of
his charming smile, suggested a long training in all the
arts of expediency. Having finally discovered a match-box
on the floor beside the sofa, he lit his cigarette and
dropped back among the cushions; and on Anna's remarking
that she was sorry to disturb Mrs. Birch he replied that
that was all right, and that she always kept everybody
After this, through the haze of his perpetually renewed
cigarettes, they continued to chat for some time of
indifferent topics; but when at last Anna again suggested
the possibility of her seeing Mrs. Birch he rose from his
corner with a slight shrug, and murmuring: "She's perfectly
hopeless," lounged off through an inner door.
Anna was still wondering when and in what conjunction of
circumstances the much-married Laura had acquired a partner
so conspicuous for his personal charms, when the young man
returned to announce: "She says it's all right, if you don't
mind seeing her in bed."
He drew aside to let Anna pass, and she found herself in a
dim untidy scented room, with a pink curtain pinned across
its single window, and a lady with a great deal of fair hair
and uncovered neck smiling at her from a pink bed on which
an immense powder-puff trailed.
"You don't mind, do you? He costs such a frightful lot that
I can't afford to send him off," Mrs. Birch explained,
extending a thickly-ringed hand to Anna, and leaving her in
doubt as to whether the person alluded to were her
masseur or her husband. Before a reply was possible there
was a convulsive stir beneath the pink expanse, and
something that resembled another powder-puff hurled itself
at Anna with a volley of sounds like the popping of
Lilliputian champagne corks. Mrs. Birch, flinging herself
forward, gasped out: "If you'd just give him a
caramel...there, in that box on the's
the only earthly thing to stop him..." and when Anna had
proffered this sop to her assailant, and he had withdrawn
with it beneath the bedspread, his mistress sank back with a
"Isn't he a beauty? The Prince gave him to me down at Nice
the other day--but he's perfectly awful," she confessed,
beaming intimately on her visitor. In the roseate penumbra
of the bed-curtains she presented to Anna's startled gaze an
odd chromo-like resemblance to Sophy Viner, or a suggestion,
rather, of what Sophy Viner might, with the years and in
spite of the powder-puff, become. Larger, blonder, heavierfeatured,
she yet had glances and movements that
disturbingly suggested what was freshest and most engaging
in the girl; and as she stretched her bare plump arm across
the bed she seemed to be pulling back the veil from dingy
distances of family history.
"Do sit down, if there's a place to sit on," she cordially
advised; adding, as Anna took the edge of a chair hung with
miscellaneous raiment: "My singing takes so much time that I
don't get a chance to walk the fat off--that's the worst of
being an artist."
Anna murmured an assent. "I hope it hasn't inconvenienced
you to see me; I told Mr. Birch--"
"Mr. WHO?" the recumbent beauty asked; and then: "Oh,
JIMMY!" she faintly laughed, as if more for her own
enlightenment than Anna's.
The latter continued eagerly: "I understand from Mrs. Farlow
that your sister was with you, and I ventured to come up
because I wanted to ask you when I should have a chance of
finding her."
Mrs. McTarvie-Birch threw back her head with a long stare.
"Do you mean to say the idiot at the door didn't tell you?
Sophy went away last night."
"Last night?" Anna echoed. A sudden terror had possessed
her. Could it be that the girl had tricked them all and
gone with Owen? The idea was incredible, yet it took such
hold of her that she could hardly steady her lips to say:
"The porter did tell me, but I thought perhaps he was
mistaken. Mrs. Farlow seemed to think that I should find
her here."
"It was all so sudden that I don't suppose she had time to
let the Farlows know. She didn't get Mrs. Murrett's wire
till yesterday, and she just pitched her things into a trunk
and rushed----"
"Mrs. Murrett?"
"Why, yes. Sophy's gone to India with Mrs. Murrett; they're
to meet at Brindisi," Sophy's sister said with a calm smile.
Anna sat motionless, gazing at the disordered room, the pink
bed, the trivial face among the pillows.
Mrs. McTarvie-Birch pursued: "They had a fearful kick-up
last spring--I daresay you knew about it--but I told Sophy
she'd better lump it, as long as the old woman was willing
to...As an artist, of course, it's perfectly impossible for
me to have her with me..."
"Of course," Anna mechanically assented.
Through the confused pain of her thoughts she was hardly
aware that Mrs. Birch's explanations were still continuing.
"Naturally I didn't altogether approve of her going back to
that beast of a woman. I said all I could...I told her she
was a fool to chuck up such a place as yours. But Sophy's
restless--always was--and she's taken it into her head she'd
rather travel..."
Anna rose from her seat, groping for some formula of leavetaking.
The pushing back of her chair roused the white
dog's smouldering animosity, and he drowned his mistress's
further confidences in another outburst of hysterics.
Through the tumult Anna signed an inaudible farewell, and
Mrs. Birch, having momentarily succeeded in suppressing her
pet under a pillow, called out: "Do come again! I'd love to
sing to you."
Anna murmured a word of thanks and turned to the door. As
she opened it she heard her hostess crying after her:
"Jimmy! Do you hear me? Jimmy BRANCE!" and then, there
being no response from the person summoned: "DO tell him
he must go and call the lift for you!"

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