Between The Dark And The Daylight
William Dean Howells
Part 2 out of 3
told it, sitting with us before the glowing hearth in the Turkish room,
one night after the other diners at our club had gone away to digest
their dinners at the theatre, or in their bachelor apartments up-town,
or on the late trains which they were taking north, south, and west; or
had hurried back to their offices to spend the time stolen from rest in
overwork for which their famished nerves would duly revenge themselves.
It was undoubtedly overwork which preceded Alford's experiences if it
did not cause them, for he was pretty well broken from it when he took
himself off in the early summer, to put the pieces together as best he
could by the seaside. But this was a fact which Wanhope was not obliged
to note to us, and there were certain other commonplaces of our
knowledge of Alford which he could omit without omitting anything
essential to our understanding of the facts which he dealt with so
delicately, so electly, almost affectionately, coaxing each point into
the fittest light, and then lifting his phrase from it, and letting it
stand alone in our consciousness. I remember particularly how he touched
upon the love-affair which was supposed to have so much to do with
Alford's break-up, and how he dismissed it to its proper place in the
story. As he talked on, with scarcely an interruption either from the
eager credulity of Rulledge or the doubt of Minver, I heard with a
sensuous comfort--I can use no other word--the far-off click of the
dishes in the club kitchen, putting away till next day, with the musical
murmur of a smitten glass or the jingle of a dropped spoon. But if I
should try to render his words, I should spoil their impression in the
vain attempt, and I feel that it is best to give the story as best I can
in words of my own, so far from responsive to the requisitions of the
The first intimation Alford had of the strange effect, which from first
to last was rather an obsession than a possession of his, was after a
morning of idle satisfaction spent in watching the target practice from
the fort in the neighborhood of the little fishing-village where he was
spending the summer. The target was two or three miles out in the open
water beyond the harbor, and he found his pleasure in watching the smoke
of the gun for that discrete interval before the report reached him, and
then for that somewhat longer interval before he saw the magnificent
splash of the shot which, as it plunged into the sea, sent a fan-shaped
fountain thirty or forty feet into the air. He did not know and he did
not care whether the target was ever hit or not. That fact was no part
of his concern. His affair was to watch the burst of smoke from the fort
and then to watch the upward gush of water, almost as light and vaporous
to the eye, where the ball struck. He did not miss one of the shots
fired during the forenoon, and when he met the other people who sat down
with him at the midday dinner in the hotel, his talk with them was
naturally of the morning's practice. They one and all declared it a
great nuisance, and said that it had shattered their nerves terribly,
which was not perhaps so strange, since they were all women. But when
they asked him in his quality of nervous wreck whether he had not
suffered from the prolonged and repeated explosions, too, he found
himself able to say no, that he had enjoyed every moment of the firing.
He added that he did not believe he had even noticed the noise after the
first shot, he was so wholly taken with the beauty of the fountain-burst
from the sea which followed; and as he spoke the fan-like spray rose and
expanded itself before his eyes, quite blotting out the visage of a
young widow across the table. In his swift recognition of the fact and
his reflection upon it, he realized that the effect was quite as if he
had been looking at some intense light, almost as if he had been looking
at the sun, and that the illusion which had blotted out the agreeable
reality opposite was of the quality of those flying shapes which repeat
themselves here, there, and everywhere that one looks, after lifting the
gaze from a dazzling object. When his consciousness had duly registered
this perception, there instantly followed a recognition of the fact that
the eidolon now filling his vision was not the effect of the dazzled
eyes, but of a mental process, of thinking how the thing which it
reported had looked.
By the time Alford had co-ordinated this reflection with the other, the
eidolon had faded from the lady's face, which again presented itself in
uninterrupted loveliness with the added attraction of a distinct pout.
"Well, Mr. Alford!" she bantered him.
"Oh, I beg your pardon! I was thinking--"
"Not of what I was saying," she broke in, laughingly, forgivingly.
"No, I certainly wasn't," he assented, with such a sense of approaching
creepiness in his experience that when she challenged him to say what
he _was_ thinking of, he could not, or would not; she professed to
believe that he would not.
In the joking that followed he soon lost the sense of approaching
creepiness, and began to be proud of what had happened to him as out of
the ordinary, as a species of psychological ecstasy almost of spiritual
value. From time to time he tried, by thinking of the splash and upward
gush from the cannon-shot's plunge in the sea, to recall the vision, but
it would not come again, and at the end of an afternoon somewhat
distraughtly spent he decided to put the matter away, as one of the odd
things of no significance which happen in life and must be dealt with as
mysteries none the less trifling because they are inexplicable.
"Well, you've got over it?" the widow joked him as he drew up towards
her, smiling from her rocker on the veranda after supper. At first, all
the women in the hotel had petted him; but with their own cares and
ailments to reclaim them they let the invalid fall to the peculiar
charge of the childless widow who had nothing else to do, and was so
well and strong that she could look after the invalid Professor of
Archaeology (at the Champlain University) without the fatigues they must
"Yes, I've got over it," he said.
"And what was it?" she boldly pursued.
He was about to say, and then he could not.
"You won't tell?"
"Not yet," he answered. He added, after a moment, "I don't believe I
"Because it's confidential?"
"No; not exactly that. Because it's impossible."
"Oh, that's simple enough. I understand exactly what you mean. Well, if
ever it becomes less difficult, remember that I should always like to
know. It seemed a little--personal."
"How in the world?"
"Well, when one is stared at in that way--"
"Did I stare?"
"Don't you _always_ stare? But in this case you stared as if there was
something wrong with my hair."
"There wasn't," Alford protested, simple-heartedly. Then he recollected
his sophistication to say: "Unless its being of that particular shade
between brown and red was wrong."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Alford! After that I _must_ believe you."
They talked on the veranda till the night fell, and then they came in
among the lamps, in the parlor, and she sat down with a certain
provisionality, putting herself sideways on a light chair by a window,
and as she chatted and laughed with one cheek towards him she now and
then beat the back of her chair with her open hand. The other people
were reading or severely playing cards, and they, too, kept their tones
down to a respectful level, while she lingered, and when she rose and
said good-night he went out and took some turns on the veranda before
going up to bed. She was certainly, he realized, a very pretty woman,
and very graceful and very amusing, and though she probably knew all
about it, she was the franker and honester for her knowledge.
He had arrived at this conclusion just as he turned the switch of the
electric light inside his door, and in the first flash of the carbon
film he saw her sitting beside the window in such a chair as she had
taken and in the very pose which she had kept in the parlor. Her
half-averted face was lit as from laughing, and she had her hand lifted
as if to beat the back of her chair.
"Good Heavens, Mrs. Yarrow!" he said, in a sort of whispered shout,
while he mechanically closed the door behind him as if to keep the fact
to himself. "What in the world are you doing here?"
Then she was not there. Nothing was there; not even a chair beside the
Alford dropped weakly into the only chair in the room, which stood next
the door by the head of his bed, and abandoned himself a helpless prey
to the logic of the events.
It was at this point, which I have been able to give in Wanhope's exact
words, that, in the ensuing pause, Rulledge asked, as if he thought some
detail might be denied him: "And what was the logic of the events?"
Minver gave a fleering laugh. "Don't be premature, Rulledge. If you have
the logic now, you will spoil everything. You can't have the moral until
you've had the whole story. Go on, Wanhope. You're so much more
interesting than usual that I won't ask how you got hold of all these
"Of course," Wanhope returned, "they're not for the general ear. I go
rather further, for the sake of the curious fact, than I should be
warranted in doing if I did not know my audience so well."
We joined in a murmur of gratification, and he went on to say that
Alford's first coherent thought was that he was dreaming one of those
unwarranted dreams in which we make our acquaintance privy to all sorts
of strange incidents. Then he knew that he was not dreaming, and that
his eye had merely externated a mental vision, as in the case of the
cannon-shot splash of which he had seen the phantom as soon as it was
mentioned. He remembered afterwards asking himself in a sort of terror
how far it was going to go with him; how far his thought was going to
report itself objectively hereafter, and what were the reasonable
implications of his abnormal experiences. He did not know just how long
he sat by his bedside trying to think, only to have his conclusions whir
away like a flock of startled birds when he approached them. He went to
bed because he was exhausted rather than because he was sleepy, but he
could not recall a moment of wakefulness after his head touched the
He woke surprisingly refreshed, but at the belated breakfast where he
found Mrs. Yarrow still lingering he thought her looking not well. She
confessed, listlessly, that she had not rested well. She was not sure,
she said, whether the sea air agreed with her; she might try the
mountains a little later. She was not inclined to talk, and that day he
scarcely spoke with her except in commonplaces at the table. They had no
return to the little mystery they had mocked together the day before.
More days passed, and Alford had no recurrence of his visions. His
acquaintance with Mrs. Yarrow made no further advance; there was no one
else in the hotel who interested him, and he bored himself. At the same
time his recovery seemed retarded; he lost tone, and after a fortnight
he ran up to talk himself over with his doctor in Boston. He rather
thought he would mention his eidolons, and ask if they were at all
related to the condition of his nerves. It was a keen disappointment,
but it ought not to have been a surprise, for him to find that his
doctor was off on his summer vacation. The caretaker who opened the door
to Alford named a young physician in the same block of Marlborough
Street who had his doctor's practice for the summer, but Alford had not
the heart to go to this alternate.
He started down to his hotel on a late afternoon train that would bring
him to the station after dusk, and before he reached it the lamps had
been lighted in his car. Alford sat in a sparsely peopled smoker, where
he had found a place away from the crowd in the other coaches, and
looked out of the window into the reflected interior of his car, which
now and then thinned away and let him see the weeds and gravel of the
railroad banks, with the bushes that topped them and the woods that
backed them. The train at one point stopped rather suddenly and then
went on, for no reason that he ever cared to inquire; but as it slowly
moved forward again he was reminded of something he had seen one night
in going to New York just before the train drew into Springfield. It had
then made such another apparently reasonless stop; but before it resumed
its course Alford saw from his window a group of trainmen, and his own
Pullman conductor with his lantern on his arm, bending over the figure
of a man defined in his dark clothing against the snow of the bank where
he lay propped. His face was waxen white, and Alford noted how
particularly black the mustache looked traversing the pallid visage. He
never knew whether the man was killed or merely stunned; you learn
nothing with certainty of such things on trains; but now, as he thought
of the incident, its eidolon showed itself outside of his mind, and
followed him in every detail, even to a snowy stretch of the embankment,
until the increasing speed of the train seemed to sweep it back out of
Alford turned his eyes to the interior of the smoker, which, except for
two or three dozing commuters and a noisy euchre-party, had been empty
of everything but the fumes and stale odors of tobacco, and found it
swarming with visions, the eidolons of everything he remembered from his
past life. Whatever had once strongly impressed itself upon his nerves
was reported there again as instantly as he thought of it. It was
largely a whirling chaos, a kaleidoscopic jumble of facts; but from time
to time some more memorable and important experience visualized itself
alone. Such was the death-bed of the little sister whom he had been
wakened, a child, to see going to heaven, as they told him. Such was the
pathetic, foolish face of the girl whom long ago he had made believe he
cared for, and then had abruptly broken with: he saw again, with
heartache, her silly, tender amaze when he said he was going away. Such
was the look of mute astonishment, of gentle reproach, in the eyes of
the friend, now long dead, whom in a moment of insensate fury he had
struck on the mouth, and who put his hand to his bleeding lips as he
bent that gaze of wonder and bewilderment upon him. But it was not alone
the dreadful impressions that reported themselves. There were others, as
vivid, which came back in the original joyousness: the face of his
mother looking up at him from the crowd on a day of college triumph when
he was delivering the valedictory of his class; the collective gayety of
the whole table on a particularly delightful evening at his dining-club;
his own image in the glass as he caught sight of it on coming home
accepted by the woman who afterwards jilted him; the transport which
lighted up his father's visage when he stepped ashore from the vessel
which had been rumored lost, and he could be verified by the senses as
still alive; the comical, bashful ecstasy of the good fellow, his
ancient chum, in telling him he had had a son born the night before, and
the mother was doing well, and how he laughed and danced, and skipped
into the air.
The smoker was full of these eidolons and of others which came and went
with constant vicissitude. But what was of a greater weirdness than
seeing them within it was seeing them without in that reflection of the
interior which travelled with it through the summer night, and repeated
it, now dimly, now brilliantly, in every detail. Alford sat in a daze,
with a smile which he was aware of, fixed and stiff as if in plaster, on
his face, and with his gaze bent on this or that eidolon, and then on
all of them together. He was not so much afraid of them as of being
noticed by the other passengers in the smoker, to whom he knew he might
look very queer. He said to himself that he was making the whole thing,
but the very subjectivity was what filled him with a deep and hopeless
dread. At last the train ceased its long leaping through the dark, and
with its coming to a stand the whole illusion vanished. He heard a gay
voice which he knew bidding some one good-bye who was getting into the
car just back of the smoker, and as he descended to the platform he
almost walked into the arms of Mrs. Yarrow.
"Why, Mr. Alford! We had given you up. We thought you wouldn't come back
till to-morrow--or perhaps ever. What in the world will you do for
supper? The kitchen fires were out ages ago!"
In the light of the station electrics she beamed upon him, and he felt
glad at heart, as if he had been saved from something, a mortal danger
or a threatened shame. But he could not speak at once; his teeth closed
with tetanic force upon each other. Later, as they walked to the hotel,
through the warm, soft night in which the south wind was roaming the
starless heavens for rain, he found his voice, and although he felt that
he was speaking unnaturally, he made out to answer the lively questions
with which she pelted him too thickly to expect them to be answered
severally. She told him all the news of the day, and when she began on
yesterday's news she checked herself with a laugh and said she had
forgotten that he had only been gone since morning. "But now," she said,
"you see how you've been missed--how _any_ man must be missed in a hotel
full of women."
She took charge of him when they got to the house, and said if he would
go boldly into the dining-room, where they detected, as they approached,
one lamp scantly shining from the else darkened windows, she would beard
the lioness in her den, by which she meant the cook in the kitchen, and
see what she could get him for supper. Apparently she could get nothing
warm, for when a reluctant waitress appeared it was with such a chilly
refection on her tray that Alford, though he was not very hungry,
returned from interrogating the obscurity for eidolons, and shivered at
it. At the same time the swing-door of the long, dim room opened to
admit a gush of the outer radiance on which Mrs. Yarrow drifted in with
a chafing-dish in one hand and a tea-basket in the other. She floated
tiltingly towards him like, he thought, a pretty little ship, and sent a
cheery hail before.
"I've been trying to get somebody to join you at a premature
Welsh-rarebit and a belated cup of tea, but I can't tear one of the
tabbies from their cards or the kittens from their gambols in the
amusement-hall in the basement. Do you mind so very much having it
alone? Because you'll have to, whether you do or not. Unless you call me
company, when I'm merely cook."
She put her utensils on the table beside the forbidding tray the
waitress had left, and helped lift herself by pressing one hand on the
top of a chair towards the electric, which she flashed up to keep the
dismal lamp in countenance. Alford let her do it. He durst not, he
felt, stir from his place, lest any movement should summon back the
eidolons; and now in the sudden glare of light he shyly, slyly searched
the room for them. Not one, fair or foul, showed itself, and slowly he
felt a great weight lifting from his heart. In its place there sprang up
a joyous gratitude towards Mrs. Yarrow, who had saved him from them,
from himself. An inexpressible tenderness filled his breast; the tears
rose to his eyes; a soft glow enveloped his whole being, a warmth of
hope, a freshness of life renewed, encompassed him. He wished to take
her in his arms, to tell her how he loved her; and as she bustled about,
lighting the lamp of her chafing-dish, and kindling the little
spirit-stove she had brought with her to make tea, he let his gaze dwell
upon every pose, every motion of her with a glad hunger in which no
smallest detail was lost. He now believed that without her he must die,
without her he could not wish to live.
"Jove," Rulledge broke in at this point of Wanhope's story, which I am
telling again so badly, "I think Alford was in luck."
Minver gave a harsh cackle. "The only thing Rulledge finds fault with in
this club is 'the lack of woman's nursing and the lack of woman's
tears.' Nothing is wanting to his enjoyment of his victuals but the fact
that they are not served by a neat-handed Phyllis, like Alford's."
Rulledge glanced towards Wanhope, and innocently inquired, "Was that her
Minver burst into a scream, and Rulledge looked red and silly for having
given himself away; but he made an excursion to the buffet outside, and
returned with a sandwich with which he supported himself stolidly under
Minver's derision, until Wanhope came to his relief by resuming his
story, or rather his study, of Alford's strange experience.
Mrs. Yarrow first gave Alford his tea, as being of a prompter brew than
the rarebit, but she was very quick and apt with that, too; and pretty
soon she leaned forward, and in the glow from the lamp under the
chafing-dish, which spiritualized her charming face with its thin
radiance, puffed the flame out with her pouted lips, and drew back with
a long-sighed "There! That will make you see your grandmother, if
"My grandmother?" Alford repeated.
"Yes. Wouldn't you like to?" Mrs.. Yarrow asked, pouring the thick
composition over the toast (rescued stone-cold from the frigid tray) on
Alford's plate. "I'm sure I should like to see mine--dear old gran! Not
that I ever saw her--either of her--or should know how she looked. Did
you ever see yours--either of her?" she pursued, impulsively.
"Oh yes," Alford answered, looking intently at her, but with so little
speculation in the eyes he glared so with that he knew her to be uneasy
She laughed a little, and stayed her hand on the bail of the teapot.
"Which of her?"
"And--and--did she look so much like _me_?" she said, with an added
laugh, that he perceived had an hysterical note in it. "You're letting
your rarebit get cold!"
He laughed himself, now, a great laugh of relaxation, of relief. "Not
the least in the world! She was not exactly a phantom of delight."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Alford. Now, it's your tea's getting cold."
They laughed together, and he gave himself to his victual with a relish
that she visibly enjoyed. When that question of his grandmother had been
pushed he thought of an awful experience of his childhood, which left on
his infant mind an indelible impression, a scar, to remain from the
original wound forever. He had been caught in a lie, the first he could
remember, but by no means the last, by many immemorable thousands. His
poor little wickedness had impugned the veracity of both these terrible
old ladies, who, habitually at odds with each other, now united, for
once, against him. He could always see himself, a mean little
blubbering-faced rascal, stealing guilty looks of imploring at their
faces, set unmercifully against him, one in sorrow and one in anger,
requiring his mother to whip him, and insisting till he was led, loudly
roaring, into the parlor, and there made a liar of for all time, so far
as fear could do it.
When Mrs. Yarrow asked if he had ever seen his grandmother he expected
instantly to see her, in duplicate, and as a sole refuge, but with
little hope that it would save him, he kept his eyes fast on hers, and
to his unspeakable joy it did avail. No other face, of sorrow or of
anger, rose between them. For the time his thought was quit of its
consequence; no eidolon outwardly repeated his inward vision. A warm
gush of gratitude seemed to burst from his heart, and to bathe his whole
being, and then to flow in a tide of ineffable tenderness towards Mrs.
Yarrow, and involve her and bear them together heavenward. It was not
passion, it was not love, he perceived well enough; it was the utterance
of a vital conviction that she had saved him from an overwhelming
subjective horror, and that in her sweet objectivity there was a
security and peace to be found nowhere else.
He greedily ate every atom of his rarebit, he absorbed every drop of
the moisture in the teapot, so that when she shook it and shook it, and
then tried to pour something from it, there was no slightest dribble at
the spout. But they lingered, talking and laughing, and perhaps they
might never have left the place if the hard handmaiden who had brought
the tea-tray had not first tried putting her head in at the swing-door
from the kitchen, and then, later, come boldly in and taken the tray
Mrs. Yarrow waited self-respectfully for her disappearance, and then she
said, "I'm afraid that was a hint, Mr. Alford."
"It seemed like one," he owned.
They went out together, gayly chatting, but she would not encourage the
movement he made towards the veranda. She remained firmly attached to
the newel-post of the stairs, and at the first chance he gave her she
said good-night and bounded lightly upward. At the turn of the stairs
she stopped and looked laughing down at him over the rail. "I hope you
won't see your grandmother."
"Oh, not a bit of it," he called back. He felt that he failed to give
his reply the quality of epigram, but he was not unhappy in his failure.
Many light-hearted days followed this joyous evening. No eidolons
haunted Alford's horizon, perhaps because Mrs. Yarrow filled his whole
heaven. She was very constantly with him, guiding his wavering steps up
the hill of recovery, which he climbed with more and more activity, and
keeping him company in those valleys of relapse into which he now and
then fell back from the difficult steeps. It came to be tacitly, or at
least passively, conceded by the other ladies that she had somehow
earned the exclusive right to what had once been the common charge; or
that if one of their number had a claim to keep Mr. Alford from killing
himself by all sorts of imprudences, which in his case amounted to
impieties, it was certainly Mrs. Yarrow. They did not put this in terms,
but they felt it and acted it.
She was all the safer guardian for a delicate invalid because she
loathed manly sports so entirely that she did not even pretend to like
them, as most women, poor things, think themselves obliged to do. In her
hands there was no danger that he would be tempted to excesses in golf.
She was really afraid of all boats, but she was willing to go out with
him in the sail-boat of a superannuated skipper, because to sit talking
in the stern and stoop for the vagaries of the boom in tacking was such
good exercise. She would join him in fishing from the rotting pier, but
with no certainty which was a cunner and which was a sculpin, when she
caught it, and with an equal horror of both the nasty, wriggling things.
When they went a walk together, her notion of a healthful tramp was to
find a nice place among the sweet-fern or the pine-needles, and sit down
in it and talk, or make a lap, to which he could bring the berries he
gathered for her to arrange in the shallow leaf-trays she pinned
together with twigs. She really preferred a rocking-chair on the veranda
to anything else; but if he wished to go to those other excesses, she
would go with him, to keep him out of mischief.
There could be only one credible reading of the situation, but Alford
let the summer pass in this pleasant dreaming without waking up till too
late to the pleasanter reality. It will seem strange enough, but it is
true, that it was no part of his dream to fancy that Mrs. Yarrow was in
love with him. He knew very well, long before the end, that he was in
love with her; but, remaining in the dark otherwise, he considered only
himself in forbearing verbally to make love to her.
"Well!" Rulledge snarled at this point, "he _was_ a chump."
Wanhope at the moment opposed nothing directly to the censure, but said
that something pathetically reproachful in Mrs. Yarrow's smiling looks
penetrated to Alford as she nodded gayly from the car window to him in
the little group which had assembled to see her off at the station when
she left, by no means the first of their happy hotel circle to go.
"Somebody," Rulledge burst out again, "ought to have kicked him."
"What's become," Minver asked, "of all the dear maids and widows that
you've failed to marry at the end of each summer, Rulledge?"
The satire involved flattery so sweet that Rulledge could not perhaps
wish to make any retort. He frowned sternly, and said, with a face
averted from Minver: "Go on, Wanhope!"
Wanhope here permitted himself a philosophical excursion in which I will
not accompany him. It was apparently to prepare us for the dramatic fact
which followed, and which I suppose he was trying rather to work away
from than work up to. It included some facts which he had failed to
touch on before, and which led to a discussion very interesting in
itself, but of a range too great for the limits I am trying to keep
here. It seems that Alford had been stayed from declaring his love not
only because he doubted of its nature, but also because he questioned
whether a man in his broken health had any right to offer himself to a
woman, and because from a yet finer scruple he hesitated in his poverty
to ask the hand of a rich woman. On the first point, we were pretty well
agreed, but on the second we divided again, especially Rulledge and
Minver, who held, the one, that his hesitation did Alford honor, and
quite relieved him from the imputation of being a chump; and the other
that he was an ass to keep quiet for any such silly reason. Minver
contended that every woman had a right, whether rich or poor, to the man
who loved her; and, moreover, there were now so many rich women that, if
they were not allowed to marry poor men, their chances of marriage were
indefinitely reduced. What better could a widow do with the money she
had inherited from a husband she probably did not love than give it to a
man like Alford--or to an ass like Alford, Minver corrected himself.
His _reductio ad absurdum_ allowed Wanhope to resume with a laugh, and
say that Alford waited at the station in the singleness to which the
tactful dispersion of the others had left him, and watched the train
rapidly dwindle in the perspective, till an abrupt turn of the road
carried it out of sight. Then he lifted his eyes with a long sigh, and
looked round. Everywhere he saw Mrs. Yarrow's smiling face with that
inner pathos. It swarmed upon him from all points; and wherever he
turned it repeated itself in the distances like that succession of faces
you see when you stand between two mirrors.
It was not merely a lapse from his lately hopeful state with Alford, it
was a collapse. The man withered and dwindled away, till he felt that he
must audibly rattle in his clothes as he walked by people. He did not
walk much. Mostly he remained shrunken in the arm-chair where he used to
sit beside Mrs. Yarrow's rocker, and the ladies, the older and the
older-fashioned, who were "sticking it out" at the hotel till it should
close on the 15th of September, observed him, some compassionately,
some censoriously, but all in the same conviction.
"It's plain to be seen what ails Mr. Alford, _now_."
"Well, I guess it _is_."
"_I_ guess so."
"I _guess_ it is."
"Seems kind of heartless, her going and leaving him so."
"Like a sick kitten!"
"Well, I should say as _much_."
"Your eyes bother you, Mr. Alford?" one of them chanted, breaking from
their discussion of him to appeal directly to him. He was rubbing his
eyes, to relieve himself for the moment from the intolerable affliction
of those swarming eidolons, which, whenever he thought of this thing or
that, thickened about him. They now no longer displaced one another, but
those which came first remained fadedly beside or behind the fresher
appearances, like the earlier rainbow which loses depth and color when a
later arch defines itself.
"Yes," he said, glad of the subterfuge. "They annoy me a good deal of
"You want to get fitted for a good pair of glasses. I kept letting it
go, when I first began to get old-sighted."
Another lady came to Alford's rescue. "I guess Mr. Alford has no need to
get fitted for old sight yet a while. You got little spidery
things--specks and dots--in your eyes?"
"Yes--multitudes," he said, hopelessly.
"Well, I'll tell you what: you want to build up. That was the way with
me, and the oculist said it was from getting all run down. I built up,
and the first thing I knew my sight was as clear as a bell. You want to
"You want to go to the mountains," a third interposed. "That's where
Mrs. Yarrow's gone, and I guess it'll do her more good than sticking it
out here would ever have done."
Alford would have been glad enough to go to the mountains, but with
those illusions hovering closer and closer about him, he had no longer
the courage, the strength. He had barely enough of either to get away to
Boston. He found his doctor this time, after winning and losing the
wager he made himself that he would not have returned to town yet, and
the good-fortune was almost too much for his shaken nerves. The cordial
of his friend's greeting--they had been chums at Harvard--completed his
overthrow. As he sank upon the professional sofa, where so many other
cases had been diagnosticated, he broke into tears. "Hello, old fellow!"
the doctor said, encouragingly, and more tenderly than he would have
dealt with some women. "What's up?"
"Jim," Alford found voice to say, "I'm afraid I'm losing my mind."
The doctor smiled provisionally. "Well, that's _one_ of the signs you're
not. Can you say how?"
"Oh yes. In a minute," Alford sobbed, and when he had got the better of
himself he told his friend the whole story. In the direct examination he
suppressed Mrs. Yarrow's part, but when the doctor, who had listened
with smiling seriousness, began to cross-examine him with the question,
"And you don't remember that any outside influence affected the
recurrence of the illusions, or did anything to prevent it?" Alford
answered promptly: "Oh yes. There was a woman who did."
"A woman? What sort of a woman?"
"That is very curious," the doctor said. "I know a man who used to have
a distressing dream. He broke it up by telling his wife about it every
morning after he had dreamt it."
"Unluckily, she isn't my wife," Alford said, gloomily.
"But when she was with you, you got rid of the illusions?"
"At first, I used to see hers; then I stopped seeing any."
"Did you ever tell her of them?"
"No; I didn't."
"Never tell anybody?"
"No one but you."
"And do you see them now?"
"Do you think, because you've told me of them?"
"It seems so."
The doctor was silent for a marked space. Then he asked, smiling: "Well,
"Why not what?"
"Tell your wife."
"How, my wife?"
Alford looked dazed. "Do you mean Mrs. Yarrow?"
"If that's her name, and she's a widow."
"And do you think it would be the fair thing for a man on the verge of
insanity--a physical and mental wreck--to ask a woman to marry him?"
"In your case, yes. In the first place, you're not so bad as all that.
You need nothing but rest for your body and change for your mind. I
believe you'll get rid of your illusions as soon as you form the habit
of speaking of them promptly when they begin to trouble you. You ought
to speak of them to some one. You can't always have me around, and Mrs.
Yarrow would be the next best thing."
"She's rich, and you know what I am. I'll have to borrow the money to
rest on, I'm so poor."
"Not if you marry it."
Alford rose, somewhat more vigorously than he had sat down. But that day
he did not go beyond ascertaining that Mrs. Yarrow was in town. He found
out the fact from the maid at her door, who said that she was nearly
always at home after dinner, and, without waiting for the evening of
another day, Alford went to call upon her.
She said, coming down to him in a rather old-fashioned, impersonal
drawing-room which looked distinctly as if it had been left to her: "I
was so glad to get your card. When did you leave Woodbeach?"
"Mrs. Yarrow," he returned, as if that were the answer, "I think I owe
you an explanation."
"Pay it!" she bantered, putting out her hand.
"I'm so poverty-stricken that I don't know whether I can. Did you ever
notice anything odd about me?"
His directness seemed to have a right to directness from her. "I noticed
that you stared a good deal--or used to. But people _do_ stare."
"I stared because I saw things."
"I saw whatever I thought of. Whatever came into my mind was externated
in a vision."
She smiled, he could not make out whether uneasily or not. "It sounds
rather creepy, doesn't it? But it's very interesting."
"That's what the doctor said; I've been to see him this morning. May I
tell you about my visions? They're not so creepy as they sound, I
believe, and I don't think they'll keep you awake."
"Yes, do," she said. "I should like of all things to hear about them.
Perhaps I've been one of them."
"Oh! Isn't that rather personal?"
"I hope not offensively."
He went on to tell her, with even greater fulness than he had told the
doctor. She listened with the interest women take in anything weird, and
with a compassion for him which she did not conceal so perfectly but
that he saw it. At the end he said: "You may wonder that I come to you
with all this, which must sound like the ravings of a madman."
"No--no," she hesitated.
"I came because I wished you to know everything about me
before--before--I wouldn't have come, you'll believe me, if I hadn't had
the doctor's assurance that my trouble was merely a part of my being
physically out of kilter, and had nothing to do with my sanity--Good
Heavens! What am I saying? But the thought has tormented me so! And in
the midst of it I've allowed myself to--Mrs. Yarrow, I love you. Don't
you know that?"
Alford may have had a divided mind in this declaration, but after that
one word Mrs. Yarrow had no mind for anything else. He went on.
"I'm not only sick--so sick that I sha'n't be able to do any work for a
year at least--but I'm poor, so poor that I can't afford to be sick."
She lifted her eyes and looked at him, where she sat oddly aloof from
those possessions of hers, to which she seemed so little related, and
said, with a smile quivering at the corners of her pretty mouth, "I
don't see what that has to do with it."
"What do you mean?" He stared at her hard.
"Am I in duplicate or triplicate, this time?"
"No, you're only one, and there's none like you! I could never see any
one else while I looked at you!" he cried, only half aware of his
poetry, and meaning what he said very literally.
But she took only the poetry. "I shouldn't wish you to," she said, and
He could not believe yet in his good-fortune. His countenance fell. "I'm
afraid I don't understand, or that you don't. It doesn't seem as if I
could get to the end of my unworthiness, which isn't voluntary. It seems
altogether too base. I can't let you say what you do, if you mean it,
till you know that I come to you in despair as well as in love. You
saved me from the fear I was in, again and again, and I believe that
without you I shall--Ah, it seems very base! But the doctor--If I could
always tell some one--if I could tell _you_ when these things were
obsessing me--haunting me--they would cease--"
Mrs. Yarrow rose, with rather a piteous smile. "Then, I am a
prescription!" She hoped, woman-like, that she was solely a passion; but
is any woman worth having, ever solely a passion?
"Don't!" Alford implored, rising too. "Don't, in mercy, take it that
way! It's only that I wish you to know everything that's in me; to know
how utterly helpless and worthless I am. You needn't have a pang in
throwing such a thing away."
She put out her hand to him, but at arm's-length. "I sha'n't throw you
away--at least, not to-night. I want to think." It was a way of saying
she wished him to go, and he had no desire to stay. He asked if he might
come again, and she said, "Oh yes."
"Not to-morrow, perhaps. When I send. Was it _young_ Doctor Enderby?"
They had rather a sad, dry parting; and when her door closed upon him he
felt that it had shut him out forever. His shame and his defeat were so
great that he did not think of his eidolons, and they did not come to
trouble him. He woke in the morning, asking himself, bitterly, if he
were cured already. His humiliation was such that he closed his eyes to
the light, and wished he might never again open them to it.
The question that Mrs. Yarrow had to ask Dr. Enderby was not the
question he had instantly forecast for her when she put aside her veil
in his office and told him who she was. She did not seem anxious to be
assured of Alford's mental condition, or as to any risks in marrying
him. Her inquiry was much more psychological; it was almost impersonal,
and yet Dr. Enderby thought she looked as if she had been crying.
She had a difficulty in formulating her question, and when it came it
was almost a speculation.
"Women," she said, a little hoarsely, "have no right, I suppose, to
expect the ideal in life. The best they can do seems to be to make the
real look like it."
Dr. Enderby reflected. "Well, yes. But I don't know that I ever put it
to myself in just those terms."
Then she remarked, as if that were the next thing: "You've known Mr.
Alford a long time."
"We were at school together, and we shared the same rooms in Harvard."
"He is very sincere," she added, as if this were relevant.
"He's a man who likes to have a little worse than the worst known about
him. One might say he was excessively sincere." Enderby divined that
Alford had been bungling the matter, and he was willing to help him out
if he could.
Mrs. Yarrow fixed dimly beautiful eyes upon him. "I don't know," she
said, "why it wouldn't be ideal--as much ideal as anything--to give
one's self absolutely to--to--a duty--or not duty, exactly; I don't mean
that. Especially," she added, showing a light through the mist, "if one
wanted to do it."
Then he knew she had made up her mind, and though on some accounts he
would have liked to laugh with her, on other accounts he felt that he
owed it to her to be serious.
"If women could not fulfil the ideal in that way--if they did not
constantly do it--there would be no marriages for love."
"Do you think so?" she asked, with a shaking voice. "But men--men are
"Not as women are--except now and then some fool like Alford." Now,
indeed, he laughed, and he began to praise Alford from his heart, so
delicately, so tenderly, so reverently, that Mrs. Yarrow laughed too
before he was done, and cried a little, and when she rose to leave she
could not speak; but clung to his hand, on turning away, and so flung it
from behind her with a gesture that Enderby thought pretty.
At this point, Wanhope stopped as if that were the end.
"And did she let Alford come to see her again?" Rulledge, at once
romantic and literal, demanded.
"Oh yes. At any rate, they were married that fall. They are--I believe
he's pursuing his archaeological studies there--living in Athens."
"Together?" Minver smoothly inquired.
At this expression of cynicism Rulledge gave him a look that would have
incinerated another. Wanhope went out with Minver, and then, after a
moment's daze, Rulledge exclaimed: "Jove! I forgot to ask him whether
it's stopped Alford's illusions!"
A MEMORY THAT WORKED OVERTIME
Minver's brother took down from the top of the low bookshelf a small
painting on panel, which he first studied in the obverse, and then
turned and contemplated on the back with the same dreamy smile. "I don't
see how that got _here_," he said, absently.
"Well," Minver returned, "you don't expect _me_ to tell you, except on
the principle that any one would naturally know more about anything of
yours than you would." He took it from his brother and looked at the
front of it. "It isn't bad. It's pretty good!" He turned it round. "Why,
it's one of old Blakey's! How did _you_ come by it?"
"Stole it, probably," Minver's brother said, still thoughtfully. Then
with an effect of recollecting: "No, come to think of it," he added,
"Blakey gave it to me." The Minvers played these little comedies
together, quite as much to satisfy their tenderness for each other as to
give their friends pleasure. "Think you're the only painter that gets me
to take his truck as a gift? He gave it to me, let's see, about ten
years ago, when he was trying to make a die of it, and failed; I thought
he would succeed. But it's been in my wife's room nearly ever since, and
what I can't understand is what she's doing with it down here."
"Probably to make trouble for you, somehow," Minver suggested.
"No, I don't think it's _that_, quite," his brother returned, with a
false air of scrupulosity, which was part of their game with each other.
He looked some more at the picture, and then he glanced from it at me.
"There's a very curious story connected with that sketch."
"Oh, well, tell it," Minver said. "Tell it! I suppose I can stand it
again. Acton's never heard it, I believe. But you needn't make a show of
sparing him. I _couldn't_ stand that."
"I certainly haven't heard the story," I said, "and if I had I would be
too polite to own it."
Minver's brother looked towards the open door over his shoulder, and
Minver interpreted for him: "She's not coming. I'll give you due
"It was before we were married, but not much before, and the picture was
a sort of wedding present for my wife, though Blakey made a show of
giving it to me. Said he had painted it for me, because he had a
prophetic soul, and felt in his bones that I was going to want a picture
of the place where I first met her. You see, it's the little villa her
mother had taken that winter on the Viale Petrarca, just outside of
Florence. It _was_ the first place I met her, but not the last."
"Don't be obvious," Minver ordered.
His brother did not mind him. "I thought it was mighty nice of Blakey.
He was barking away, all the time he was talking, and when he wasn't
coughing he was so hoarse he could hardly speak above a whisper; but he
kept talking on, and wishing me happy, and fending off my gratitude,
while he was finding a piece of manila paper to wrap the sketch in, and
then hunting for a piece of string to tie it. When he handed it to me at
last, he gasped out: 'I don't mind her knowing that I partly meant it as
the place where _she_ first met _you_, too. I'm not ashamed of it as a
bit of color. Anyway, I sha'n't live to do anything better.'
"'Oh, yes, you will,' I came back in that lying way we think is kind
with dying people. I suppose it is; anyway, it turned out all right with
Blakey, as he'll testify if you look him up when you go to Florence. By
the way, he lives in that villa _now_."
"No?" I said. "How charming!"
Minver's brother went on: "I made up my mind to be awfully careful of
that picture, and not let it out of my hand till I left it with 'her'
mother, to be put among the other wedding presents that were
accumulating at their house in Exeter Street. So I held it on my lap
going in by train from Lexington, where Blakey lived, and when I got out
at the old Lowell Depot--North Station, now--and got into the little
tinkle-tankle horse-car that took me up to where I was to get the Back
Bay car--Those were the prehistoric times before trolleys, and there
were odds in horse-cars. We considered the blue-painted Back Bay cars
very swell. _You_ remember them?" he asked Minver.
"Not when I can help it," Minver answered. "When I broke with Boston,
and went to New York, I burnt my horse-cars behind me, and never wanted
to know what they looked like, one from another."
"Well, as I was saying," Minver's brother went on, without regarding his
impatriotism, "when I got into the horse-car at the depot, I rushed for
a corner seat, and I put the picture, with its face next the car-end,
between me and the wall, and kept my hand on it; and when I changed to
the Back Bay car, I did the same thing. There was a florist's just
there, and I couldn't resist some Mayflowers in the window; I was in
that condition, you know, when flowers seemed to be made for her, and I
had to take her own to her wherever I found them. I put the bunch
between my knees, and kept one hand on it, while I kept my other hand on
the picture at my side. I was feeling first-rate, and when General
Filbert got in after we started, and stood before me hanging by a strap
and talking down to me, I had the decency to propose giving him my seat,
as he was about ten years older."
"Sure?" Minver asked.
"Well, say fifteen. I don't pretend to be a chicken, and never did. But
he wouldn't hear of it. Said I had a bundle, and winked at the bunch of
Mayflowers. We had such a jolly talk that I let the car carry me a block
by and had to get out at Gloucester and run back to Exeter. I rang, and,
when the maid came to the door, there I stood with nothing but the
Mayflowers in my hand."
"Good _coup de theatre_," Minver jeered. "Curtain?"
His brother disdained reply, or was too much absorbed in his tale to
think of any. "When the girl opened the door and I discovered my fix I
burst out, 'Good Lord!' and I stuck the bunch of flowers at her, and
turned and ran. I suppose I must have had some notion of overtaking the
car with my picture in it. But the best I could do was to let the next
one overtake me several blocks down Marlborough Street, and carry me to
the little jumping-off station on Westchester Park, as we used to call
it in those days, at the end of the Back Bay line.
"As I pushed into the railroad office, I bet myself that the picture
would not be there, and, sure enough, I won."
"You were always a lucky dog," Minver said.
"But the man in charge was very encouraging, and said it was sure to be
turned in; and he asked me what time the car had passed the corner of
Gloucester Street. I happened to know, and then he said, Oh yes, that
conductor was a substitute, and he wouldn't be on again till morning;
then he would be certain to bring the picture with him. I was not to
worry, for it would be all right. Nothing left in the Back Bay cars was
ever lost; the character of the abutters was guarantee for that, and
they were practically the only passengers. The conductors and the
drivers were as honest as the passengers, and I could consider myself in
the hands of friends.
"He was so reassuring that I went away smiling at my fears, and
promising to be round bright and early, as soon, the official
suggested--the morrow being Sunday--as soon as the men and horses had
had their baked beans.
"Still, after dinner, I had a lurking anxiety, which I turned into a
friendly impulse to go and call on Mrs. Filbert, whom I really owed a
bread-and-butter visit, and who, I knew, would not mind my coming in the
evening. The general, she said, had been telling her of our pleasant
chat in the car, and would be glad to smoke his after-dinner cigar with
me, and why wouldn't I come into the library?
"We were so very jolly together, all three, that I made light of my
misadventure about the picture. The general inquired about the flowers
first. He remembered the flowers perfectly, and hoped they were
acceptable; he thought he remembered the picture, too, now I mentioned
it; but he would not have noticed it so much, there by my side, with my
hand on it. I would be sure to get it. He gave several instances,
personal to him and his friends, of recoveries of lost articles; it was
really astonishing how careful the horse-car people were, especially on
the Back Bay line. I would find my picture all right at the Westchester
Park station in the morning; never fear.
"I feared so little that I slept well, and even overslept; and I went to
get my picture quite confidently, and I could hardly believe it had not
been turned in yet, though the station-master told me so. The substitute
conductor had not seen it, but more than likely it was at the stables,
where the cleaners would have found it in the car and turned it in. He
was as robustly cheerful about it as ever, and offered to send an
inquiry by the next car; but I said, Why shouldn't I go myself; and he
said that was a good idea. So I went, and it was well I did, for my
picture was not there, and I had saved time by going. It was not there,
but the head man said I need not worry a mite about it; I was certain to
get it sooner or later; it would be turned in, to a dead certainty. We
became rather confidential, and I went so far as to explain about
wanting to make my inquiries very quietly on Blakey's account: he would
be annoyed if he heard of its loss, and it might react unfavorably on
"The head man said that was so; and he would tell me what I wanted to
do: I wanted to go to the Company's General Offices in Milk Street, and
tell them about it. That was where everything went as a last resort, and
he would bet any money that I would see my picture there the first thing
I got inside the door. I thanked him with the fervor I thought he
merited, and said I would go at once.
"'Well,' he said, 'you don't want to go to-day, you know. The offices
are not open Sunday. And to-morrow's a holiday. But you're all right.
You'll find your picture there, don't you have any doubts about it.'
"That was my next to last Sunday supper with my wife, before she became
my wife, at her mother's house, and I went to the feast with as little
gayety as I suppose any young man ever carried to a supper of the kind.
I was told, afterwards, that my behavior up to a certain point was so
suggestive either of secret crime or of secret regret, that the only
question was whether they should have in the police or I should be given
back my engagement ring and advised to go. Luckily I ceased to bear my
anguish just in time.
"The fact is, I could not stand it any longer, and as soon as I was
alone with her I made a clean breast of it; partially clean, that is: I
suppose a fellow never tells _all_ to a girl, if he truly loves her."
Minver's brother glanced round at us and gathered the harvest of our
approving smiles. "I said to her, 'I've been having a wedding present.'
'Well,' she said, 'you've come as near having no use for a wedding
present as anybody _I_ know. Was having a wedding present what made you
so gloomy at supper? Who gave it to you, anyway?' 'Old Blakey.' 'A
painting?' 'Yes--a sketch.' 'What of?' This was where I qualified. I
said: 'Oh, just one of those Sorrento things of his.' You see, if I told
her that it was the villa where we first met, and then said I had left
it in the horse-car, she would take it as proof positive that I did not
really care anything about her or I never could have forgotten it."
"You were wise as far as you went," Minver said. "Go on."
"Well, I told her the whole story circumstantially: how I had kept the
sketch religiously in my lap in the train, and then held it down with my
hand all the while beside me in the first horse-car, and did the same
thing in the Back Bay car I changed to; and felt of it the whole time I
was talking with General Filbert, and then left it there when I got out
to leave the flowers at her door, when the awful fact came over me like
a flash. 'Yes,' she said, 'Norah said you poked the flowers at her
without a word, and she had to guess they were for me.'
"I had got my story pretty glib by this time; I had reeled it off with
increasing particulars to the Westchester Park station-master, and the
head man at the stables, and General Filbert, and I was so
letter-perfect that I had a vision of the whole thing, especially of my
talking with the general while I kept my hand on the picture--and then
all was dark.
"At the end she said we must advertise for the picture. I said it would
kill Blakey if he saw it; and she said: No matter, _let_ it kill him; it
would show him that we valued his gift, and were moving heaven and earth
to find it; and, at any rate, it would kill _me_ if I kept myself in
suspense. I said I should not care for that; but with her sympathy I
guessed I could live through the night, and I was sure I should find the
thing at the Milk Street office in the morning.
"'Why,' said she, 'to-morrow it'll be shut!' and then I didn't really
know what to say, and I agreed to drawing up an advertisement then and
there, so as not to lose an instant's time after I had been at the Milk
Street office on Tuesday and found the picture had not been turned in.
She said I could dictate the advertisement and she would write it down,
and she asked: 'Which one of his Sorrento things was it? You must
describe it exactly, you know.' That made me feel awfully, and I said I
was not going to have my next-to-last Sunday evening with her spoiled by
writing advertisements; and I got away, somehow, with all sorts of
comforting reassurances from her. I could see that she was feigning them
to encourage me.
"The next morning, I simply could not keep away from the Milk Street
office, and my unreasonable impatience was rewarded by finding it at
least ajar, if not open. There was the nicest kind of a young fellow
there, and he said he was not officially present; but what could he do
for me? Then I told him the whole story, with details I had not thought
of before; and he was just as enthusiastic about my getting my picture
as the Westchester Park station-master or the head man of the stables.
It was morally certain to be turned in, the first thing in the morning;
but he would take a description of it, and send out inquiries to all the
conductors and drivers and car-cleaners, and make a special thing of it.
He entered into the spirit of the affair, and I felt that I had such a
friend in him that I confided a little more and hinted at the double
interest I had in the picture. I didn't pretend that it was one of
Blakey's Sorrento things, but I gave him a full and true description of
it, with its length, breadth, and thickness, in exact measure."
Here Minver's brother stopped and lost himself in contemplation of the
sketch, as he held it at arm's-length.
"Well, did you get your picture?" I prompted, after a moment.
"Oh yes," he said, with a quick turn towards me. "This is it. A District
Messenger brought it round the first thing Tuesday morning. He brought
it," Minver's brother added, with a certain effectiveness, "from the
florist's, where I had stopped to get those Mayflowers. I had left it
"You've told it very well, this time, Joe," Minver said. "But Acton here
is waiting for the psychology. Poor old Wanhope ought to be here," he
added to me. He looked about for a match to light his pipe, and his
brother jerked his head in the direction of the chimney.
"Box on the mantel. Yes," he sighed, "that was really something very
curious. You see, I had invented the whole history of the case from the
time I got into the Back Bay car with my flowers. Absolutely nothing had
happened of all I had remembered till I got out of the car. I did not
put the picture beside me at the end of the car; I did not keep my hand
on it while I talked with General Filbert; I did not leave it behind me
when I left the car. Nothing of the kind happened. I had already left it
at the florist's, and that whole passage of experience which was so
vividly and circumstantially stamped in my memory that I related it four
or five times over, and would have made oath to every detail of it, was
pure invention, or, rather, it was something less positive: the reflex
of the first half of my horse-car experience, when I really did put the
picture in the corner next me, and did keep my hand on it."
"Very strange," I was beginning, but just then the door opened and Mrs.
Minver came in, and I was presented.
She gave me a distracted hand, as she said to her husband: "Have you
been telling the story about that picture again?" He was still holding
She was a mighty pretty woman, but full of vim and fun and sense.
"It's one of the most curious freaks of memory I ever heard of, Mrs.
Minver," I said.
Then she showed that she was proud of it, though she had called him
silly. "Have you told," she demanded of her husband, "how oddly your
memory behaved about the subject of the picture, too?"
"I have again eaten that particular piece of humble-pie," Minver's
"Well," she said to me, "_I_ think he was simply so possessed with the
awfulness of having lost the picture that all the rest took place
prophetically, but unconsciously."
"By a species of inverted presentiment?" I suggested.
"Yes," she assented, slowly, as if the formulation were new to her, but
not unacceptable. "Something of that kind. I never heard of anybody else
Minver had got his pipe alight, and was enjoying it. "_I_ think Joe was
simply off his nut, for the time being."
A CASE OF METAPHANTASMIA
The stranger was a guest of Halson's, and Halson himself was a
comparative stranger, for he was of recent election to our dining-club,
and was better known to Minver than to the rest of our little group,
though one could not be sure that he was very well known to Minver. The
stranger had been dining with Halson, and we had found the two smoking
together, with their cups of black coffee at their elbows, before the
smouldering fire in the Turkish room when we came in from dinner--my
friend Wanhope the psychologist, Rulledge the sentimentalist, Minver the
painter, and myself. It struck me for the first time that a fire on the
hearth was out of keeping with a Turkish room, but I felt that the cups
of black coffee restored the lost balance in some measure.
Before we had settled into our wonted places--in fact, almost as we
entered--Halson looked over his shoulder and said: "Mr. Wanhope, I want
you to hear this story of my friend's. Go on, Newton--or, rather, go
back and begin again--and I'll introduce you afterwards."
The stranger made a becoming show of deprecation. He said he did not
think the story would bear immediate repetition, or was even worth
telling once, but, if we had nothing better to do, perhaps we might do
worse than hear it; the most he could say for it was that the thing
really happened. He wore a large, drooping, gray mustache, which, with
the imperial below it, quite hid his mouth, and gave him, somehow, a
martial effect, besides accurately dating him of the period between the
latest sixties and earliest seventies, when his beard would have been
black; I liked his mustache not being stubbed in the modern manner, but
allowed to fall heavily over his lips, and then branch away from the
corners of his mouth as far as it would. He lighted the cigar which
Halson gave him, and, blowing the bitten-off tip towards the fire,
"It was about that time when we first had a ten-o'clock night train from
Boston to New York. Train used to start at nine, and lag along round by
Springfield, and get into the old Twenty-sixth Street Station here at
six in the morning, where they let you sleep as long as you liked. They
call you up now at half-past five, and, if you don't turn out, they haul
you back to Mott Haven, or New Haven, I'm not sure which. I used to go
into Boston and turn in at the old Worcester Depot, as we called it
then, just about the time the train began to move, and I usually got a
fine night's rest in the course of the nine or ten hours we were on the
way to New York; it didn't seem quite the same after we began saying
Albany Depot: shortened up the run, somehow.
[Illustration: "NO BURGLAR COULD HAVE MISSED ME IF HE HAD WANTED AN EASY
"But that night I wasn't very sleepy, and the porter had got the place
so piping hot with the big stoves, one at each end of the car, to keep
the good, old-fashioned Christmas cold out, that I thought I should be
more comfortable with a smoke before I went to bed; and, anyhow, I could
get away from the heat better in the smoking-room. I hated to be leaving
home on Christmas Eve, for I never had done that before, and I hated to
be leaving my wife alone with the children and the two girls in our
little house in Cambridge. Before I started in on the old horse-car for
Boston, I had helped her to tuck the young ones in and to fill the
stockings hung along the wall over the register--the nearest we could
come to a fireplace--and I thought those stockings looked very weird,
five of them, dangling lumpily down, and I kept seeing them, and her
sitting up sewing in front of them, and afraid to go to bed on account
of burglars. I suppose she was shyer of burglars than any woman ever was
that had never seen a sign of them. She was always calling me up, to go
down-stairs and put them out, and I used to wander all over the house,
from attic to cellar, in my nighty, with a lamp in one hand and a poker
in the other, so that no burglar could have missed me if he had wanted
an easy mark. I always kept a lamp and a poker handy."
The stranger heaved a sigh as of fond reminiscence, and looked round for
the sympathy which in our company of bachelors he failed of; even the
sympathetic Rulledge failed of the necessary experience to move him in
"Well," the stranger went on, a little damped perhaps by his failure,
but supported apparently by the interest of the fact in hand, "I had the
smoking-room to myself for a while, and then a fellow put his head in
that I thought I knew after I had thought I didn't know him. He dawned
on me more and more, and I had to acknowledge to myself, by and by, that
it was a man named Melford, whom I used to room with in Holworthy at
Harvard; that is, we had an apartment of two bedrooms and a study; and I
suppose there were never two fellows knew less of each other than we did
at the end of our four years together. I can't say what Melford knew of
me, but the most I knew of Melford was his particular brand of
Wanhope gave the first sign of his interest in the matter. He took his
cigar from his lips, and softly emitted an "Ah!"
Rulledge went further and interrogatively repeated the word "Nightmare?"
"Nightmare," the stranger continued, firmly. "The curious thing about it
was that I never exactly knew the subject of his nightmare, and a more
curious thing yet was Melford himself never knew it, when I woke him up.
He said he couldn't make out anything but a kind of scraping in a
door-lock. His theory was that in his childhood it had been a much
completer thing, but that the circumstances had broken down in a sort of
decadence, and now there was nothing left of it but that scraping in the
door-lock, like somebody trying to turn a misfit key. I used to throw
things at his door, and once I tried a cold-water douche from the
pitcher, when he was very hard to waken; but that was rather brutal, and
after a while I used to let him roar himself awake; he would always do
it, if I trusted to nature; and before our junior year was out I got so
that I could sleep through, pretty calmly; I would just say to myself
when he fetched me to the surface with a yell, 'That's Melford
dreaming,' and doze off sweetly."
"Jove!" Rulledge said, "I don't see how you could stand it."
"There's everything in habit, Rulledge," Minver put in. "Perhaps our
friend only dreamt that he heard a dream."
"That's quite possible," the stranger owned, politely. "But the case is
superficially as I state it. However, it was all past, long ago, when I
recognized Melford in the smoking-room that night: it must have been ten
or a dozen years. I was wearing a full beard then, and so was he; we
wore as much beard as we could in those days. I had been through the
war since college, and he had been in California, most of the time, and,
as he told me, he had been up north, in Alaska, just after we bought it,
and hurt his eyes--had snow-blindness--and he wore spectacles. In fact,
I had to do most of the recognizing, but after we found out who we were
we were rather comfortable; and I liked him better than I remembered to
have liked him in our college days. I don't suppose there was ever much
harm in him; it was only my grudge about his nightmare. We talked along
and smoked along for about an hour, and I could hear the porter outside,
making up the berths, and the train rumbled away towards Framingham, and
then towards Worcester, and I began to be sleepy, and to think I would
go to bed myself; and just then the door of the smoking-room opened, and
a young girl put in her face a moment, and said: 'Oh, I beg your pardon.
I thought it was the stateroom,' and then she shut the door, and I
realized that she looked like a girl I used to know."
The stranger stopped, and I fancied from a note in his voice that this
girl was perhaps like an early love. We silently waited for him to
resume how and when he would. He sighed, and after an appreciable
interval he began again. "It is curious how things are related to one
another. My wife had never seen her, and yet, somehow, this girl that
looked like the one I mean brought my mind back to my wife with a quick
turn, after I had forgotten her in my talk with Melford for the time
being. I thought how lonely she was in that little house of ours in
Cambridge, on rather an outlying street, and I knew she was thinking of
me, and hating to have me away on Christmas Eve, which isn't such a
lively time after you're grown up and begin to look back on a good many
other Christmas Eves, when you were a child yourself; in fact, I don't
know a dismaler night in the whole year. I stepped out on the platform
before I began to turn in, for a mouthful of the night air, and I found
it was spitting snow--a regular Christmas Eve of the true pattern; and I
didn't believe, from the business feel of those hard little pellets,
that it was going to stop in a hurry, and I thought if we got into New
York on time we should be lucky. The snow made me think of a night when
my wife was sure there were burglars in the house; and in fact I heard
their tramping on the stairs myself--thump, thump, thump, and then a
stop, and then down again. Of course it was the slide and thud of the
snow from the roof of the main part of the house to the roof of the
kitchen, which was in an L, a story lower, but it was as good an
imitation of burglars as I want to hear at one o'clock in the morning;
and the recollection of it made me more anxious about my wife, not
because I believed she was in danger, but because I knew how frightened
she must be.
"When I went back into the car, that girl passed me on the way to her
stateroom, and I concluded that she was the only woman on board, and her
friends had taken the stateroom for her, so that she needn't feel
strange. I usually go to bed in a sleeper as I do in my own house, but
that night I somehow couldn't. I got to thinking of accidents, and I
thought how disagreeable it would be to turn out into the snow in my
nighty. I ended by turning in with my clothes on, all except my coat;
and, in spite of the red-hot stoves, I wasn't any too warm. I had a
berth in the middle of the car, and just as I was parting my curtains to
lie down, old Melford came to take the lower berth opposite. It made me
laugh a little, and I was glad of the relief. 'Why, hello, Melford,'
said I. 'This is like the old Holworthy times.' 'Yes, isn't it?' said
he, and then I asked something that I had kept myself from asking all
through our talk in the smoking-room, because I knew he was rather
sensitive about it, or used to be. 'Do you ever have that regulation
nightmare of yours nowadays, Melford? He gave a laugh, and said: 'I
haven't had it, I suppose, once in ten years. What made you think of
it?' I said: 'Oh, I don't know. It just came into my mind. Well,
good-night, old fellow. I hope you'll rest well,' and suddenly I began
to feel light-hearted again, and I went to sleep as gayly as ever I did
in my life."
The stranger paused again, and Wanhope said: "Those swift transitions of
mood are very interesting. Of course they occur in that remote region of
the mind where all incidents and sensations are of one quality, and
things of the most opposite character unite in a common origin. No one
that I remember has attempted to trace such effects to their causes, and
then back again from their causes, which would be much more important."
"Yes, I dare say," Minver put in. "But if they all amount to the same
thing in the end, what difference would it make?"
"It would perhaps establish the identity of good and evil," Wanhope
"Oh, the sinners are convinced of that already," Minver said, while
Rulledge glanced quickly from one to the other.
The stranger looked rather dazed, and Rulledge said: "Well, I don't
suppose that was the conclusion of the whole matter?"
"Oh no," the stranger answered, "that was only the beginning of the
conclusion. I didn't go to sleep at once, though I felt so much at
peace. In fact, Melford beat me, and I could hear him far in advance,
steaming and whistling away, in a style that I recalled as
characteristic, over a space of intervening years that I hadn't
definitely summed up yet. It made me think of a night near Narragansett
Bay, where two friends of mine and I had had a mighty good dinner at a
sort of wild club-house, and had hurried into our bunks, each one so as
to get the start of the others, for the fellows that were left behind
knew they had no chance of sleep after the first began to get in his
work. I laughed, and I suppose I must have gone to sleep almost
simultaneously, for I don't recollect anything afterwards till I was
wakened by a kind of muffled bellow, that I remembered only too well. It
was the unfailing sign of Melford's nightmare.
"I was ready to swear, and I was ashamed for the fellow who had no more
self-control than that: when a fellow snores, or has a nightmare, you
always think first off that he needn't have had it if he had tried. As
usual, I knew Melford didn't know what his nightmare was about, and that
made me madder still, to have him bellowing into the air like that, with
no particular aim. All at once there came a piercing scream from the
stateroom, and then I knew that the girl there had heard Melford and
been scared out of a year's growth."
The stranger made a little break, and Wanhope asked, "Could you make out
what she screamed, or was it quite inarticulate?"
"It was plain enough, and it gave me a clew, somehow, to what Melford's
nightmare was about. She was calling out, 'Help! help! help! Burglars!'
till I thought she would raise the roof of the car."
"And did she wake anybody?" Rulledge inquired.
"That was the strange part of it. Not a soul stirred, and after the
first burst the girl seemed to quiet down again and yield the floor to
Melford, who kept bellowing steadily away. I was so furious that I
reached out across the aisle to shake him, but the attempt was too much
for me. I lost my balance and fell out of my berth onto the floor. You
may imagine the state of mind I was in. I gathered myself up and pulled
Melford's curtains open and was just going to fall on him tooth and
nail, when I was nearly taken off my feet again by an apparition: well,
it looked like an apparition, but it was a tall fellow in his
nighty--for it was twenty years before pajamas--and he had a small dark
lantern in his hand, such as we used to carry in those days so as to
read in our berths when we couldn't sleep. He was gritting his teeth,
and growling between them: 'Out o' this! Out o' this! I'm going to shoot
to kill, you blasted thieves!' I could see by the strange look in his
eyes that he was sleep-walking, and I didn't wait to see if he had a
pistol. I popped in behind the curtains, and found myself on top of
another fellow, for I had popped into the wrong berth in my confusion.
The man started up and yelled: 'Oh, don't kill me! There's my watch on
the stand, and all the money in the house is in my pantaloons pocket.
The silver's in the sideboard down-stairs, and it's plated, anyway.'
Then I understood what his complaint was, and I rolled onto the floor
again. By that time every man in the car was out of his berth, too,
except Melford, who was devoting himself strictly to business; and every
man was grabbing some other, and shouting, 'Police!' or 'Burglars!' or
'Help!' or 'Murder!' just as the fancy took him."
"Most extraordinary!" Wanhope commented as the stranger paused for
In the intensity of our interest, we had crowded close upon him, except
Minver, who sat with his head thrown back, and that cynical cast in his
eye which always exasperated Rulledge; and Halson, who stood smiling
proudly, as if the stranger's story did him as his sponsor credit
"Yes," the stranger owned, "but I don't know that there wasn't something
more extraordinary still. From time to time the girl in the stateroom
kept piping up, with a shriek for help. She had got past the burglar
stage, but she wanted to be saved, anyhow, from some danger which she
didn't specify. It went through me that it was very strange nobody
called the porter, and I set up a shout of 'Porter!' on my own account.
I decided that if there were burglars the porter was the man to put them
out, and that if there were no burglars the porter could relieve our
groundless fears. Sure enough, he came rushing in, as soon as I called
for him, from the little corner by the smoking-room where he was
blacking boots between dozes. He was wide enough awake, if having his
eyes open meant that, and he had a shoe on one hand and a shoe-brush in
the other. But he merely joined in the general up-roar and shouted for
"Excuse me," Wanhope interposed. "I wish to be clear as to the facts.
You had reasoned it out that the porter could quiet the tumult?"
"Never reasoned anything out so clearly in my life."
"But what was your theory of the situation? That your friend, Mr.
Melford, had a nightmare in which he was dreaming of burglars?"
"I hadn't a doubt of it."
"And that by a species of dream-transference the nightmare was
communicated to the young lady in the stateroom?"
"And that her call for help and her cry of burglars acted as a sort of
hypnotic suggestion with the other sleepers, and they began to be
afflicted with the same nightmare?"
"I don't know that I ever put it to myself so distinctly, but it appears
to me now that I must have reached some such conclusion."
"That is very interesting, very interesting indeed. I beg your pardon.
Please go on," Wanhope courteously entreated.
"I don't remember just where I was," the stranger faltered.
Rulledge returned with an accuracy which obliged us all: "'The porter
merely joined in the general uproar and shouted for the police.'"
"Oh yes," the stranger assented. "Then I didn't know what to do, for a
minute. The porter was a pretty thick-headed darky, but he was
lion-hearted; and his idea was to lay hold of a burglar wherever he
could find him. There were plenty of burglars in the aisle there, or
people that were afraid of burglars, and they seemed to think the porter
had a good idea. They had hold of one another already, and now began to
pull up and down the aisles in a way that reminded me of the
old-fashioned mesmeric lecturers, when they told their subjects that
they were this or that, and set them to acting the part. I remembered
how once when the mesmerist gave out that they were at a horse--race,
and his subjects all got astride of their chairs, and galloped up and
down the hall like a lot of little boys on laths. I thought of that now,
and although it was rather a serious business, for I didn't know what
minute they would come to blows, I couldn't help laughing. The sight was
weird enough. Every one looked like a somnambulist as he pulled and
hauled. The young lady in the stateroom was doing her full share. She
was screaming, 'Won't somebody let me out?' and hammering on the door. I
guess it was her screaming and hammering that brought the conductor at
last, or maybe he just came round in the course of nature to take up the
tickets. It was before the time when they took the tickets at the gate,
and you used to stick them into a little slot at the side of your berth,
and the conductor came along and took them in the night, somewhere
between Worcester and Springfield, I should say."
"I remember," Rulledge assented, but very carefully, so as not to
interrupt the flow of the narrative. "Used to wake up everybody in the
"Exactly," the stranger said. "But this time they were all wide awake to
receive him, or fast asleep, and dreaming their roles. He came along
with the wire of his lantern over his arm, the way the old-time
conductors did, and calling out, 'Tickets!' just as if it was broad day,
and he believed every man was trying to beat his way to New York. The
oddest thing about it was that the sleep-walkers all stopped their
pulling and hauling a moment, and each man reached down to the little
slot alongside of his berth and handed over his ticket. Then they took
hold and began pulling and hauling again. I suppose the conductor asked
what the matter was; but I couldn't hear him, and I couldn't make out
exactly what he did say. But the passengers understood, and they all
shouted 'Burglars!' and that girl in the stateroom gave a shriek that
you could have heard from one end of the train to the other, and
hammered on the door, and wanted to be let out.
"It seemed to take the conductor by surprise, and he faced towards the
stateroom and let the lantern slip off his arm, and it dropped onto the
floor and went out; I remember thinking what a good thing it didn't set
the car on fire. But there in the dark--for the car lamps went out at
the same time with the lantern--I could hear those fellows pulling and
hauling up and down the aisle and scuffling over the floor, and through
all Melford bellowing away, like an orchestral accompaniment to a combat
in Wagner opera, but getting quieter and quieter till his bellow died
away altogether. At the same time the row in the aisle of the car
stopped, and there was perfect silence, and I could hear the snow
rattling against my window. Then I went off into a sound sleep, and
never woke till we got into New York."
The stranger seemed to have reached the end of his story, or at least to
have exhausted the interest it had for him, and he smoked on, holding
his knee between his hands and looking thoughtfully into the fire.
He had left us rather breathless, or, better said, blank, and each
looked at the other for some initiative; then we united in looking at
Wanhope; that is, Rulledge and I did. Minver rose and stretched himself
with what I must describe as a sardonic yawn; Halson had stolen away
before the end, as one to whom the end was known. Wanhope seemed by no
means averse to the inquiry delegated to him, but only to be formulating
its terms. At last he said:
"I don't remember hearing of any case of this kind before.
Thought-transference is a sufficiently ascertained phenomenon--the
insistence of a conscious mind upon a certain fact until it penetrates
the unconscious mind of another and is adopted as its own. But in the
dream state the mind seems passive, and becomes the prey of this or that
self-suggestion, without the power of imparting it to another dreaming
mind. Yet here we have positive proof of such an effect. It appears that
the victim of a particularly terrific nightmare was able to share its
horrors--or rather unable _not_ to share them--with a whole sleeping-car
full of people whose brains helplessly took up the same theme, and
dreamed it, as we may say, to the same conclusions. I said proof, but of
course we can't accept a single instance as establishing a scientific
certainty. I don't question the veracity of Mr.--"
"Newton," the stranger suggested.
"Newton's experience," Wanhope continued, "but we must wait for a good
many cases of the kind before we can accept what I may call
metaphantasmia as being equally established with thought-transference.
If we could it would throw light upon a whole series of most curious
phenomena, as, for instance, the privity of a person dreamed about to
the incident created by the dreamer."
"That would be rather dreadful, wouldn't it?" I ventured. "We do dream
such scandalous, such compromising things about people."
"All that," Wanhope gently insisted, "could have nothing to do with the
fact. That alone is to be considered in an inquiry of the kind. One is
never obliged to tell one's dreams. I wonder"--he turned to the
stranger, who sat absently staring into the fire--"if you happened to
speak to your friend about his nightmare in the morning, and whether he
was by any chance aware of the participation of the others in it?"
"I certainly spoke to him pretty plainly when we got into New York."
"And what did he say?"
"He said he had never slept better in his life, and he couldn't remember
having a trace of nightmare. He said he heard _me_ groaning at one time,
but I stopped just as he woke, and so he didn't rouse me as he thought
of doing. It was at Hartford, and he went to sleep again, and slept
through without a break."
"And what was your conclusion from that?" Wanhope asked.
"That he was lying, I should say," Rulledge replied for the stranger.
Wanhope still waited, and the stranger said, "I suppose one conclusion
might be that I had dreamed the whole thing myself."
"Then you wish me to infer," the psychologist pursued, "that the entire
incident was a figment of your sleeping brain? That there was no sort of
sleeping thought-transference, no metaphantasmia, no--Excuse me. Do you
remember verifying your impression of being between Worcester and
Springfield when the affair occurred, by looking at your watch, for
The stranger suddenly pulled out his watch at the word. "Good Heavens!"
he called out. "It's twenty minutes of eleven, and I have to take the
eleven-o'clock train to Boston. I must bid you good-evening, gentlemen.
I've just time to get it if I can catch a cab. Good-night, good-night. I
hope if you come to Boston--eh--Good-night! Sometimes," he called over
his shoulder, "I've thought it might have been that girl in the
stateroom that started the dreaming."
He had wrung our hands one after another, and now he ran out of the
Rulledge said, in appeal to Wanhope: "I don't see how his being the
dreamer invalidates the case, if his dreams affected the others."
"Well," Wanhope answered, thoughtfully, "that depends."
"And what do you think of its being the girl in the stateroom?"
"That would be very interesting."
The air was thick with the war feeling, like the electricity of a storm
which has not yet burst. Editha sat looking out into the hot spring
afternoon, with her lips parted, and panting with the intensity of the
question whether she could let him go. She had decided that she could
not let him stay, when she saw him at the end of the still leafless
avenue, making slowly up towards the house, with his head down and his
figure relaxed. She ran impatiently out on the veranda, to the edge of
the steps, and imperatively demanded greater haste of him with her will
before she called aloud to him: "George!"
He had quickened his pace in mystical response to her mystical urgence,
before he could have heard her; now he looked up and answered, "Well?"
"Oh, how united we are!" she exulted, and then she swooped down the
steps to him. "What is it?" she cried.
"It's war," he said, and he pulled her up to him and kissed her.
She kissed him back intensely, but irrelevantly, as to their passion,
and uttered from deep in her throat. "How glorious!"
"It's war," he repeated, without consenting to her sense of it; and she
did not know just what to think at first. She never knew what to think
of him; that made his mystery, his charm. All through their courtship,
which was contemporaneous with the growth of the war feeling, she had
been puzzled by his want of seriousness about it. He seemed to despise
it even more than he abhorred it. She could have understood his
abhorring any sort of bloodshed; that would have been a survival of his
old life when he thought he would be a minister, and before he changed
and took up the law. But making light of a cause so high and noble
seemed to show a want of earnestness at the core of his being. Not but
that she felt herself able to cope with a congenital defect of that
sort, and make his love for her save him from himself. Now perhaps the
miracle was already wrought in him. In the presence of the tremendous
fact that he announced, all triviality seemed to have gone out of him;
she began to feel that. He sank down on the top step, and wiped his
forehead with his handkerchief, while she poured out upon him her
question of the origin and authenticity of his news.
All the while, in her duplex emotioning, she was aware that now at the
very beginning she must put a guard upon herself against urging him, by
any word or act, to take the part that her whole soul willed him to
take, for the completion of her ideal of him. He was very nearly perfect
as he was, and he must be allowed to perfect himself. But he was
peculiar, and he might very well be reasoned out of his peculiarity.
Before her reasoning went her emotioning: her nature pulling upon his
nature, her womanhood upon his manhood, without her knowing the means
she was using to the end she was willing. She had always supposed that
the man who won her would have done something to win her; she did not
know what, but something. George Gearson had simply asked her for her
love, on the way home from a concert, and she gave her love to him,
without, as it were, thinking. But now, it flashed upon her, if he could
do something worthy to _have_ won her--be a hero, _her_ hero--it would
be even better than if he had done it before asking her; it would be
grander. Besides, she had believed in the war from the beginning.
"But don't you see, dearest," she said, "that it wouldn't have come to
this if it hadn't been in the order of Providence? And I call any war
glorious that is for the liberation of people who have been struggling
for years against the cruelest oppression. Don't you think so, too?"
"I suppose so," he returned, languidly. "But war! Is it glorious to
break the peace of the world?"
"That ignoble peace! It was no peace at all, with that crime and shame
at our very gates." She was conscious of parroting the current phrases
of the newspapers, but it was no time to pick and choose her words. She
must sacrifice anything to the high ideal she had for him, and after a
good deal of rapid argument she ended with the climax: "But now it
doesn't matter about the how or why. Since the war has come, all that is
gone. There are no two sides any more. There is nothing now but our
He sat with his eyes closed and his head leant back against the veranda,
and he remarked, with a vague smile, as if musing aloud, "Our
country--right or wrong."
"Yes, right or wrong!" she returned, fervidly. "I'll go and get you some
lemonade." She rose rustling, and whisked away; when she came back with
two tall glasses of clouded liquid on a tray, and the ice clucking in
them, he still sat as she had left him, and she said, as if there had
been no interruption: "But there is no question of wrong in this case.
I call it a sacred war. A war for liberty and humanity, if ever there
was one. And I know you will see it just as I do, yet."
He took half the lemonade at a gulp, and he answered as he set the glass
down: "I know you always have the highest ideal. When I differ from you
I ought to doubt myself."
A generous sob rose in Editha's throat for the humility of a man, so
very nearly perfect, who was willing to put himself below her.
Besides, she felt, more subliminally, that he was never so near slipping
through her fingers as when he took that meek way.
"You shall not say that! Only, for once I happen to be right." She
seized his hand in her two hands, and poured her soul from her eyes into
his. "Don't you think so?" she entreated him.
[Illustration: "'YOU SHALL NOT SAY THAT!'"]
He released his hand and drank the rest of his lemonade, and she added,
"Have mine, too," but he shook his head in answering, "I've no business
to think so, unless I act so, too."
Her heart stopped a beat before it pulsed on with leaps that she felt in
her neck. She had noticed that strange thing in men: they seemed to feel
bound to do what they believed, and not think a thing was finished when
they said it, as girls did. She knew what was in his mind, but she
pretended not, and she said, "Oh, I am not sure," and then faltered.
He went on as if to himself, without apparently heeding her: "There's
only one way of proving one's faith in a thing like this."
She could not say that she understood, but she did understand.
He went on again. "If I believed--if I felt as you do about this
war--Do you wish me to feel as you do?"
Now she was really not sure; so she said: "George, I don't know what you
He seemed to muse away from her as before.
"There is a sort of fascination in it. I suppose that at the bottom of
his heart every man would like at times to have his courage tested, to
see how he would act."
"How can you talk in that ghastly way?"
"It _is_ rather morbid. Still, that's what it comes to, unless you're
swept away by ambition or driven by conviction. I haven't the conviction
or the ambition, and the other thing is what it comes to with me. I
ought to have been a preacher, after all; then I couldn't have asked it
of myself, as I must, now I'm a lawyer. And you believe it's a holy war,
Editha?" he suddenly addressed her. "Oh, I know you do! But you wish me
to believe so, too?"
She hardly knew whether he was mocking or not, in the ironical way he
always had with her plainer mind. But the only thing was to be outspoken
"George, I wish you to believe whatever you think is true, at any and
every cost. If I've tried to talk you into anything, I take it all
"Oh, I know that, Editha. I know how sincere you are, and how--I wish I
had your undoubting spirit! I'll think it over; I'd like to believe as
you do. But I don't, now; I don't, indeed. It isn't this war alone;
though this seems peculiarly wanton and needless; but it's every war--so
stupid; it makes me sick. Why shouldn't this thing have been settled
"Because," she said, very throatily again, "God meant it to be war."
"You think it was God? Yes, I suppose that is what people will say."
"Do you suppose it would have been war if God hadn't meant it?"
"I don't know. Sometimes it seems as if God had put this world into
men's keeping to work it as they pleased."
"Now, George, that is blasphemy."
"Well, I won't blaspheme. I'll try to believe in your pocket
Providence," he said, and then he rose to go.
"Why don't you stay to dinner?" Dinner at Balcom's Works was at one
"I'll come back to supper, if you'll let me. Perhaps I shall bring you a
"Well, you may come back, on that condition."
"All right. If I don't come, you'll understand."
He went away without kissing her, and she felt it a suspension of their
engagement. It all interested her intensely; she was undergoing a
tremendous experience, and she was being equal to it. While she stood
looking after him, her mother came out through one of the long windows
onto the veranda, with a catlike softness and vagueness.
"Why didn't he stay to dinner?"
"Because--because--war has been declared," Editha pronounced, without
Her mother said, "Oh, my!" and then said nothing more until she had sat
down in one of the large Shaker chairs and rocked herself for some time.
Then she closed whatever tacit passage of thought there had been in her
mind with the spoken words: "Well, I hope _he_ won't go."
"And _I_ hope he _will_," the girl said, and confronted her mother with
a stormy exaltation that would have frightened any creature less
unimpressionable than a cat.
Her mother rocked herself again for an interval of cogitation. What she
arrived at in speech was: "Well, I guess you've done a wicked thing,
The girl said, as she passed indoors through the same window her mother
had come out by: "I haven't done anything--yet."
* * * * *
In her room, she put together all her letters and gifts from Gearson,
down to the withered petals of the first flower he had offered, with
that timidity of his veiled in that irony of his. In the heart of the
packet she enshrined her engagement ring which she had restored to the
pretty box he had brought it her in. Then she sat down, if not calmly
yet strongly, and wrote:
"GEORGE:--I understood when you left me. But I think we had better
emphasize your meaning that if we cannot be one in everything we
had better be one in nothing. So I am sending these things for your
keeping till you have made up your mind.
"I shall always love you, and therefore I shall never marry any one
else. But the man I marry must love his country first of all, and
be able to say to me,
"'I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honor more.'
"There is no honor above America with me. In this great hour there
is no other honor.
"Your heart will make my words clear to you. I had never expected
to say so much, but it has come upon me that I must say the utmost.
She thought she had worded her letter well, worded it in a way that
could not be bettered; all had been implied and nothing expressed.
She had it ready to send with the packet she had tied with red, white,
and blue ribbon, when it occurred to her that she was not just to him,
that she was not giving him a fair chance. He had said he would go and
think it over, and she was not waiting. She was pushing, threatening,
compelling. That was not a woman's part. She must leave him free, free,
free. She could not accept for her country or herself a forced
In writing her letter she had satisfied the impulse from which it
sprang; she could well afford to wait till he had thought it over. She
put the packet and the letter by, and rested serene in the consciousness
of having done what was laid upon her by her love itself to do, and yet
used patience, mercy, justice.
She had her reward. Gearson did not come to tea, but she had given him
till morning, when, late at night there came up from the village the
sound of a fife and drum, with a tumult of voices, in shouting, singing,
and laughing. The noise drew nearer and nearer; it reached the street
end of the avenue; there it silenced itself, and one voice, the voice
she knew best, rose over the silence. It fell; the air was filled with
cheers; the fife and drum struck up, with the shouting, singing, and
laughing again, but now retreating; and a single figure came hurrying up
She ran down to meet her lover and clung to him. He was very gay, and he
put his arm round her with a boisterous laugh. "Well, you must call me
Captain now; or Cap, if you prefer; that's what the boys call me. Yes,
we've had a meeting at the town-hall, and everybody has volunteered; and
they selected me for captain, and I'm going to the war, the big war, the
glorious war, the holy war ordained by the pocket Providence that
blesses butchery. Come along; let's tell the whole family about it. Call
them from their downy beds, father, mother, Aunt Hitty, and all the
But when they mounted the veranda steps he did not wait for a larger
audience; he poured the story out upon Editha alone.
"There was a lot of speaking, and then some of the fools set up a shout
for me. It was all going one way, and I thought it would be a good joke
to sprinkle a little cold water on them. But you can't do that with a
crowd that adores you. The first thing I knew I was sprinkling hell-fire
on them. 'Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.' That was the style.
Now that it had come to the fight, there were no two parties; there was
one country, and the thing was to fight to a finish as quick as
possible. I suggested volunteering then and there, and I wrote my name
first of all on the roster. Then they elected me--that's all. I wish I
had some ice-water."
She left him walking up and down the veranda, while she ran for the
ice-pitcher and a goblet, and when she came back he was still walking up
and down, shouting the story he had told her to her father and mother,
who had come out more sketchily dressed than they commonly were by day.
He drank goblet after goblet of the ice-water without noticing who was
giving it, and kept on talking, and laughing through his talk wildly.
"It's astonishing," he said, "how well the worse reason looks when you
try to make it appear the better. Why, I believe I was the first convert
to the war in that crowd to-night! I never thought I should like to kill
a man; but now I shouldn't care; and the smokeless powder lets you see
the man drop that you kill. It's all for the country! What a thing it is
to have a country that _can't_ be wrong, but if it is, is right,
Editha had a great, vital thought, an inspiration. She set down the
ice-pitcher on the veranda floor, and ran up-stairs and got the letter
she had written him. When at last he noisily bade her father and mother,
"Well, goodnight. I forgot I woke you up; I sha'n't want any sleep
myself," she followed him down the avenue to the gate. There, after the
whirling words that seemed to fly away from her thoughts and refuse to
serve them, she made a last effort to solemnize the moment that seemed
so crazy, and pressed the letter she had written upon him.
"What's this?" he said. "Want me to mail it?"
"No, no. It's for you. I wrote it after you went this morning. Keep
it--keep it--and read it sometime--" She thought, and then her
inspiration came: "Read it if ever you doubt what you've done, or fear
that I regret your having done it. Read it after you've started."
They strained each other in embraces that seemed as ineffective as their
words, and he kissed her face with quick, hot breaths that were so
unlike him, that made her feel as if she had lost her old lover and
found a stranger in his place. The stranger said: "What a gorgeous
flower you are, with your red hair, and your blue eyes that look black
now, and your face with the color painted out by the white moonshine!
Let me hold you under the chin, to see whether I love blood, you
tiger-lily!" Then he laughed Gearson's laugh, and released her, scared
and giddy. Within her wilfulness she had been frightened by a sense of
subtler force in him, and mystically mastered as she had never been
She ran all the way back to the house, and mounted the steps panting.
Her mother and father were talking of the great affair. Her mother said:
"Wa'n't Mr. Gearson in rather of an excited state of mind? Didn't you
think he acted curious?"
"Well, not for a man who'd just been elected captain and had set 'em up
for the whole of Company A," her father chuckled back.
"What in the world do you mean, Mr. Balcom? Oh! There's Editha!" She
offered to follow the girl indoors.
"Don't come, mother!" Editha called, vanishing.
Mrs. Balcom remained to reproach her husband. "I don't see much of
anything to laugh at."
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