Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 59 out of 78
and he decided upon a cigar as a proximate or immediate solution. He sat
smoking before the fire till the tobacco's substance had half turned into
a wraith of ash, and not really thinking of anything very definitely,
except the question whether he should be able to sleep after he went to
bed, when he heard a creeping step on the floor. He turned quickly, with
a certain expectance in his nerves, and saw nothing more ghostly than
Bushwick standing at the corner of the table and apparently hesitating
how to speak to him.
He said, "Hello!" and at this Bushwick said:
"Well?" Verrian asked, looking at him.
"How does it happen you're up so late, after everybody else is wrapped in
"I might ask the same of you."
"Well, I found I wasn't making it a case of sleep, exactly, and so I got
"Well, I hadn't gone to bed for much the same reason. Why couldn't you
sleep? A real-estate broker ought to have a clean conscience."
"So ought a publisher, for that matter. What do you think of this ghost-
"It might be amusing--if it fails." Verrian was tempted to add the
condition by the opportunity for a cynicism which he did not feel. It is
one of the privileges of youth to be cynical, whether or no.
Bushwick sat down before the fire and rubbed his shins with his two hands
unrestfully, drawing in a long breath between his teeth. "These things
get on to my nerves sometimes. I shouldn't want the ghost-dance to
"On Mrs. Westangle's account?"
"I guess Mrs. Westangle could stand it. Look here!" It was rather a
customary phrase of his, Verrian noted. As he now used it he looked
alertly round at Verrian, with his hands still on his shins. "What's the
use of our beating round the bush?"
Verrian delayed his answer long enough to decide against the aimless pun
of asking, "What Bushwick?" and merely asked, "What bush?"
"The bush where the milk in the cocoanut grows. You don't pretend that
you believe Mrs. Westangle has been getting up all these fairy stunts?"
Verrian returned to his cigar, from which the ashen wraith dropped into
his lap. "I guess you'll have to be a little clearer." But as Bushwick
continued silently looking at him, the thing could not be left at this
point, and he was obliged to ask of his own initiative, "How much do you
Bushwick leaned back in his chair, with his eyes still on Verrian's
profile. "As much as Miss Macroyd could tell me."
"Ah, I'm still in the dark," Verrian politely regretted, but not with a
tacit wish to wring Miss Macroyd's neck, which he would not have known
how to account for.
"Well, she says that Mrs. Westangle has a professional assistant who's
doing the whole job for her, and that she came down on the same train
with herself and you."
"Did she say that she grabbed the whole victoria for herself and maid at
the station?" Verrian demanded, in a burst of rage, "and left us to get
here the best way we could?"
Bushwick grinned. "She supposed there were other carriages, and when she
found there weren't she hurried the victoria back for you."
"You think she believes all that? I'm glad she has the decency to be
ashamed of her behavior."
"I'm not defending her. Miss Macroyd knows how to take care of herself."
The matter rather dropped for the moment, in which Bushwick filled a pipe
he took from his pocket and lighted it. After the first few whiffs he
took it from his mouth, and, with a droll look across at Verrian, said,
"Who was your fair friend?"
If Verrian was going to talk of this thing, he was not going to do it
with the burden of any sort of reserve or contrivance on his soul. "This
afternoon?" Bushwick nodded; and Verrian added, "That was she." Then he
went on, wrathfully: "She's a girl who has to make her living, and she's
doing it in a new way that she's invented for herself. She has supposed
that the stupid rich, or the lazy rich, who want to entertain people may
be willing to pay for ideas, and she proposes to supply the ideas for a
money consideration. She's not a guest in the house, and she won't take
herself on a society basis at all. I don't know what her history is, and
I don't care. She's a lady by training, and, if she had the accent, I
should say she was from the South, for she has the enterprise of the
South that comes North and tries to make its living. It's all
inexpressibly none of my business, but I happen to be knowing to so much
of the case, and if you're knowing to anything else, Mr. Bushwick, I want
you to get it straight. That's why I'm talking of it, and not because I
think you've any right to know anything about it."
"Thank you," Bushwick returned, unruffled. "It's about what Miss Macroyd
told me. That's the reason I don't want the ghost-dance to fail."
Verrian did not notice him. He found it more important to say: "She's
so loyal to Mrs. Westangle that she wouldn't have wished, in Mrs.
Westangle's interest, to have her presence, or her agency in what is
going on, known; but, of course, if Mrs. Westangle chooses to, tell it,
that's her affair."
"She would have had to tell it, sooner or later, Mrs. Westangle would;
and she only told it to Miss Macroyd this afternoon on compulsion, after
Miss Macroyd and I had seen you in the wood-road, and Mrs. Westangle had
to account for the young lady's presence there in your company. Then
Miss Macroyd had to tell me; but I assure you, my dear fellow, the matter
hasn't gone any further."
"Oh, it's quite indifferent to me," Verrian retorted. "I'm nothing but
a dispassionate witness of the situation."
"Of course," Bushwick assented, and then he added, with a bonhomie really
so amiable that a man with even an unreasonable grudge could hardly
resist it, "If you call it dispassionate."
Verrian could not help laughing. "Well, passionate, then. I don't know
why it should be so confoundedly vexatious. But somehow I would have
chosen Miss Macroyd--Is she specially dear to you?"
"Not the least!"
"I would have chosen her as the last person to have the business, which
is so inexpressibly none of my business--"
"Or mine, as I think you remarked," Bushwick interposed.
"Come out through," Verrian concluded, accepting his interposition with a
"I see what you mean," Bushwick said, after a moment's thought. "But,
really, I don't think it's likely to go further. If you want to know,
I believe Miss Macroyd feels the distinction of being in the secret so
much that she'll prefer to hint round till Mrs. Westangle gives the thing
away. She had to tell me, because I was there with her when she saw you
with the young lady, to keep me from going with my curiosity to you.
Come, I do think she's honest about it."
"Don't you think they're rather more dangerous when they're honest?"
"Well, only when they're obliged to be. Cheer up! I don't believe Miss
Macroyd is one to spoil sport."
"Oh, I think I shall live through it," Verrian said, rather stiffening
again. But he relaxed, in rising from his chair, and said, "Well, good-
night, old fellow. I believe I shall go to bed now."
"You won't wait for me till my pipe's out?"
"No, I think not. I seem to be just making it, and if I waited I might
lose my grip." He offered Bushwick a friendly hand.
"Do you suppose it's been my soothing conversation? I'm like the actor
that the doctor advised to go and see himself act. I can't talk myself
"You might try it," Verrian said, going out.
The men who had talked of going away on Thursday seemed to have found it
practicable to stay. At any rate, they were all there on the Saturday
night for the ghost-seeing, and, of course, none of the women had gone.
What was more remarkable, in a house rather full of girls, nobody was
sick; or, at least, everybody was well enough to be at dinner, and, after
dinner, at the dance, which impatiently, if a little ironically, preceded
the supernatural part of the evening's amusement. It was the decorum of
a woman who might have been expected not to have it that Mrs. Westangle
had arranged that the evening's amusement should not pass the bound
between Saturday night and Sunday morning. The supper was to be later,
but that was like other eating and drinking on the Sabbath; and it was to
be a cold supper.
At half-past ten the dancing stopped in the foyer and the drawing-room,
and by eleven the guests were all seated fronting the closed doors of the
library. There were not so many of them but that in the handsome space
there was interval enough to lend a desired distance to the apparitions;
and when the doors were slid aside it was applausively found that there
was a veil of gauze falling from the roof to the floor, which promised
its aid in heightening the coming mystery. This was again heightened by
the universal ignorance as to how the apparitions were to make their
advents and on what terms.
It was with an access of a certain nervous anxiety that Verrian found
himself next Miss Macroyd, whose frank good-fellowship first expressed
itself in a pleasure at the chance which he did not share, and then
extended to a confidential sympathy for the success of the enterprise
which he did not believe she felt. She laughed, but 'sotto voce', in
bending her head close to his and whispering, "I hope she'll be equal to
her 'mise en scene'. It's really very nice. So simple." Besides the
gauze veil, there was no preparation except in the stretch of black
drapery which hid the book-shelves at the farther wall of the library.
"Mrs. Westangle's note is always simplicity," Verrian returned.
"Oh yes, indeed! And you wish to keep up the Westangle convention?"
"I don't see any reason for dropping it."
"Oh, none in the world," she mocked.
He determined to push her, since she had tried to push him, and he asked,
"What reason could there be?"
"Now, Mr. Verrian, asking a woman for a reason! I shall begin to think
some one else wrote your book, too! Perhaps she'll take up supplying
ideas to authors as well as hostesses. Of course, I mean Mrs.
Verrian wished he had not tried to push Miss Macroyd, and he was still
grinding his teeth in a vain endeavor to get out some fit retort between
them, when he saw Bushwick shuffling to his feet, in the front row of the
spectators, and heard him beginning a sort of speech.
"Ladies and gentlemen: Mrs. Westangle has chosen me, because a real-
estate broker is sometimes an auctioneer, and may be supposed to have the
gift of oratory, to make known the conditions on which you may interview
the ghosts which you are going to see. Anybody may do it who will comply
with the conditions. In the first place, you have got to be serious, and
to think up something that you would really like to know about your past,
present, or future. Remember, this is no joking matter, and the only
difference between the ghost that you will see here and a real
materialization under professional auspices is that the ghost won't
charge you anything. Of course, if any lady or gentleman--especially
lady--wishes to contribute to any charitable object, after a satisfactory
interview with the ghost, a hat will be found at the hall-door for the
purpose, and Mrs. Westangle will choose the object: I have put in a
special plea for my own firm, at a season when the real-estate business
is not at its best." By this time Bushwick had his audience laughing,
perhaps the more easily because they were all more or less in a
hysterical mood, which, whether we own it or not, is always induced by an
approximation to the supernatural. He frowned and said, "NO laughing!"
and then they laughed the more. When he had waited for them to be quiet
he went on gravely, "The conditions are simply these: Each person who
chooses may interview the ghost, keeping a respectful distance, but not
so far off but that the ghost can distinctly hear a stage whisper. The
question put must be seriously meant, and it must be the question which
the questioner would prefer to have answered above everything else at the
time being. Certain questions will be absolutely ruled out, such as,
'Does Maria love me?' or, 'Has Reuben ever been engaged before?' The
laughter interrupted the speaker again, and Verrian hung his head in rage
and shame; this stupid ass was spoiling the hope of anything beautiful in
the spectacle and turning it into a gross burlesque. Somehow he felt
that the girl who had invented it had meant, in the last analysis,
something serious, and it was in her behalf that he would have liked to
choke Bushwick. All the time he believed that Miss Macroyd, whose laugh
sounded above the others, was somehow enjoying his indignation and
divining its reason.
"Other questions, touching intemperance or divorce, the questioner will
feel must not be asked; though it isn't necessary to more than suggest
this, I hope; it will be left entirely to the good taste and good feeling
of the--party. We all know what the temptations of South Dakota and the
rum fiend are, and that to err is human, and forgive divine." He paused,
having failed to get a laugh, but got it by asking, confidentially,
"Where was I? Oh!"--he caught himself up--" I remember. Those of you
who are in the habit of seeing ghosts need not be told that a ghost never
speaks first; and those who have never met an apparition before, but are
in the habit of going to the theatre, will recall the fact that in W.
Shakespeare's beautiful play of 'Hamlet' the play could not have gone on
after the first scene if Horatio had not spoken to the ghost of Hamlet's
father and taken the chances of being snubbed. Here there are no chances
of that kind; the chances are that you'll wish the ghost had not been
entreated: I think that is the phrase."
In the laugh that followed a girl on Miss Macroyd's other hand audibly
asked her, "Oh, isn't he too funny?"
"Delicious!" Miss Macroyd agreed. Verrian felt she said it to vex him.
"Now, there's just one other point," Bushwick resumed, "and then I have
done. Only one question can be allowed to each person, but if the
questioner is a lady she can ask a question and a half, provided she is
not satisfied with the answer. In this case, however, she will only get
half an answer. Now I have done, and if my arguments have convinced any
one within the sound of my voice that our ghost really means business,
I shall feel fully repaid for the pains and expense of getting up these
few impromptu remarks, to which I have endeavored to give a humorous
character, in order that you may all laugh your laugh out, and no
unseemly mirth may interrupt the subsequent proceedings. We will now
have a little music, and those who can recall my words will be allowed to
In the giggling and chatter which ensued the chords softly played passed
into ears that might as well have been deaf; but at last there was a
general quiescence of expectation, in which every one's eyes were
strained to pierce through the gauze curtain to the sombre drapery
beyond. The wait was so long that the tension relaxed and a whispering
began, and Verrian felt a sickness of pity for the girl who was probably
going to make a failure of it. He asked himself what could have happened
to her. Had she lost courage? Or had her physical strength, not yet
fully renewed, given way under the stress? Or had she, in sheer disgust
for the turn the affair had been given by that brute Bushwick, thrown up
the whole business? He looked round for Mrs. Westangle; she was not
there; he conjectured--he could only conjecture--that she was absent
conferring with Miss Shirley and trying to save the day.
A long, deeply sighed "Oh-h-h-h!" shuddering from many lips made him turn
abruptly, and he saw, glimmering against the pall at the bottom of the
darkened library, a figure vaguely white, in which he recognized a pose,
a gesture familiar to him. For the others the figure was It, but for him
it was preciously She. It was she, and she was going to carry it
through; she was going to triumph, and not fail. A lump came into his 96
throat, and a mist blurred his eyes, which, when it cleared again, left
him staring at nothing.
A girl's young voice uttered the common feeling, "Why, is that all?"
"It is, till some one asks the ghost a question; then it will reappear,"
Bushwick rose to say. "Will Miss Andrews kindly step forward and ask the
question nearest her heart?"
"Oh no!" the girl answered, with a sincerity that left no one quite free
"Some other lady, then?" Bushwick suggested. No one moved, and he added,
"This is a difficulty which had been foreseen. Some gentleman will step
forward and put the question next his heart." Again no one offered to go
forward, and there was some muted laughter, which Bushwick checked.
"This difficulty had been foreseen, too. I see that I shall have to make
the first move, and all that I shall require of the audience is that I
shall not be supposed to be in collusion with the illusion. I hope that
after my experience, whatever it is, some young woman of courage will
He passed into the foyer, and from that came into the library, where he
showed against the dark background in an attitude of entreaty slightly
burlesqued. The ghost reappeared.
"Shall I marry the woman I am thinking of?" he asked.
The phantom seemed to hesitate; it wavered like a pale reflection cast
against the pall. Then, in the tones which Verrian knew, the answer
"Ask her. She will tell you."
The phantom had scored a hit, and the applause was silenced with
difficulty; but Verrian felt that Miss Shirley had lost ground. It could
not have been for the easy cleverness of such a retort that she had
planned the affair. Yet, why not? He was taking it too seriously. It
was merely business with her.
"And I haven't even the right to half a question more!" Bushwick
lamented, in a dramatized dejection, and crossed slowly back from the
library to his place.
"Why, haven't you got enough?" one of the men asked, amidst the gay
clamor of the women.
The ghost was gone again, and its evanescence was discussed with ready
wonder. Another of the men went round to tempt his fate, and the phantom
suddenly reappeared so near him that he got a laugh by his start of
dismay. "I forgot what I was going to ask, he faltered.
"I know what it was," the apparition answered. "You had better sell."
"But they say it will go to a hundred!" the man protested.
"No back--talk, Rogers!" Bushwick interposed. "That was the
"But we didn't understand," one of the girls said, coming to the rescue,
"that the ghost was going to answer questions that were not asked. That
would give us all away."
"Then the only thing is for you to go and ask before it gets a chance to
answer," Bushwick said.
"Well, I will," the girl returned. And she swept round into the library,
where she encountered the phantom with a little whoop as it started into
sight before her. "I'm not going to be scared out of it!" she said,
defiantly. "It's simply this: Did the person I suspect really take the
The answer came, "Look on the floor under your dressing-table!"
"Well, if I find it there," the girl addressed the company, "I'm a
spiritualist from this time forth." And she came back to her place,
where she remained for some time explaining to those near how she had
lately lost her ring and suspected her maid, whom she had dismissed.
Upon the whole, the effect was serious. The women, having once started,
needed no more urging. One after another they confronted and questioned
the oracle with increasing sincerity.
Miss Macroyd asked Verrian, "Hadn't you better take your chance and stop
this flow of fatuity, Mr. Verrian?"
"I'm afraid I should be fatuous, too," he said. "But you?"
"Oh, thank you, I don't believe in ghosts, though this seems to be a very
pretty one--very graceful, I mean. I suppose a graceful woman would be
graceful even when a disembodied spirit. I should think she would be
getting a little tried with all this questioning; but perhaps we're only
reading the fatigue into her. The ghost may be merely overdone."
"It might easily be that," Verrian assented.
"Oh, may I ask it something now?" a girl's voice appealed to Bushwick.
It was the voice of that Miss Andrews who had spoken first, and first
refused to question the ghost. She was the youngest of Mrs. Westangle's
guests, and Verrian had liked her, with a sense of something precious in
the prolongation of a child's unconsciousness into the consciousness of
girlhood which he found in her. She was always likelier than not to say
the thing she thought and felt, whether it was silly and absurd, or
whether, as also happened, there was a touch of inspired significance in
it, as there is apt to be in the talk of children. She was laughed at,
but she was liked, and the freshness of her soul was pleasant to the
girls who were putting on the world as hard as they could. She could be
trusted to do and say the unexpected. But she was considered a little
morbid, and certainly she had an exaltation of the nerves that was at
times almost beyond her control.
"Oh, dear!" Miss Macroyd whispered. "What is that strange simpleton
going to do, I wonder?"
Verrian did not feel obliged to answer a question not addressed to him,
but he, too, wondered and doubted.
The girl, having got her courage together, fluttered with it from her
place round to the ghost's in a haste that expressed a fear that it might
escape her if she delayed to put it to the test. The phantom was already
there, as if it had waited her in the curiosity that followed her. They
were taking each other seriously, the girl and the ghost, and if the
ghost had been a veridical phantom, in which she could have believed with
her whole soul, the girl could not have entreated it more earnestly, more
She bent forward, in her slim, tall figure, with her hands outstretched,
and with her tender voice breaking at times in her entreaty. "Oh, I
don't know how to begin," she said, quite as if she and the phantom were
alone together, and she had forgotten its supernatural awfulness in a
sense of its human quality. "But you will understand, won't you! You'll
think it very strange, and it is very unlike the others; but if I'm going
to be serious--"
The white figure stood motionless; but Verrian interpreted its quiet as a
kindly intelligence, and the girl made a fresh start in a note a little
more piteous than before. "It's about the--the truth. Do you think if
sometimes we don't tell it exactly, but we wish we had very, very much,
it will come round somehow the same as if we had told it?"
"I don't understand," the phantom answered. "Say it again--or
"Can our repentance undo it, or make the falsehood over into the truth?"
"Never!" the ghost answered, with a passion that thrilled to Verrian's
"Oh, dear!" the girl said; and then, as if she had been going to
continue, she stopped.
"You've still got your half-question, Miss Andrews," Bushwick interposed.
"Even if we didn't mean it to deceive harmfully?" the girl pursued.
"If it was just on impulse, something we couldn't seem to help, and we
didn't see it in its true light at the time--"
The ghost made no answer. It stood motionless.
"It is offended," Bushwick said, without knowing the Shakespearian words.
"You've asked it three times half a question, Miss Andrews. Now, Mr.
Verrian, it's your turn. You can ask it just one-quarter of a question.
Miss Andrews has used up the rest of your share."
Verrian rose awkwardly and stood a long moment before his chair. Then he
dropped back again, saying, dryly, "I don't think I want to ask it
The phantom sank straight down as if sinking through the floor, but lay
there like a white shawl trailed along the bottom of the dark curtain.
"And is that all?" Miss Macroyd asked Verrian. "I was just getting up my
courage to go forward. But now, I suppose--"
"Oh, dear!" Miss Andrews called out. "Perhaps it's fainted. Hadn't we
There were formless cries from the women, and the men made a crooked rush
forward, in which Verrian did not join. He remained where he had risen,
with Miss Macroyd beside him.
"Perhaps it's only a coup de theatre!" she said, with her laugh. "Better
Bushwick was gathering the prostrate figure up. "She has fainted!" he
called. "Get some water, somebody!"
The early Monday morning train which brought Verrian up to town was so
very early that he could sit down to breakfast with his mother only a
little later than their usual hour.
She had called joyfully to him from her room, when she heard the rattling
of his key as he let himself into the apartment, and, after an exchange
of greetings, shouted back and forth before they saw each other, they
could come at once to the history of his absence over their coffee.
"You must have had a very good time, to stay so long. After you wrote
that you would not be back Thursday, I expected it would be Saturday till
I got your telegram. But I'm glad you stayed. You certainly needed the
"Yes, if those things are ever a rest." He looked down at his cup while
he stirred the coffee in it, and she studied his attitude, since she
could not see his face fully, for the secret of any vital change that
might have come upon him. It could be that in the interval since she had
seen him he had seen the woman who was to take him from her. She was
always preparing herself for that, knowing that it must come almost as
certainly as death, and knowing that with all her preparation she should
not be ready for it. "I've got rather a long story to tell you and
rather a strange story," he said, lifting his head and looking round, but
not so impersonally that his mother did not know well enough to say to
the Swedish serving-woman:
"You needn't stay, Margit. I'll give Mr. Philip his breakfast. Well!"
she added, when they were alone.
"Well," he returned, with a smile that she knew he was forcing, "I have
seen the girl that wrote that letter."
"Not Jerusha Brown?"
"Not Jerusha Brown, but the girl all the same."
"Now go on, Philip, and don't miss a single word!" she commanded him,
with an imperious breathlessness. "You know I won't hurry you or
interrupt you, but you must--you really must-tell me everything. Don't
leave out the slightest detail."
"I won't," he said. But she was aware, from time to time, that she was
keeping her word better than he was keeping his, in his account of
meeting Miss Shirley and all the following events.
"You can imagine," he said, "what a sensation the swooning made, and the
commotion that followed it."
"Yes, I can imagine that," she answered. But she was yet so faithful
that she would not ask him to go on.
He continued, unasked, "I don't know just how, now, to account for its
coming into my head that it was Miss Andrews who was my unknown
correspondent. I suppose I've always unconsciously expected to meet that
girl, and Miss Andrews's hypothetical case was psychologically so
"And I've sometimes been afraid that I judged it too harshly--that it was
a mere girlish freak without any sort of serious import."
"I was sometimes afraid so, Philip. But--"
"And I don't believe now that the hypothetical case brought any
intolerable stress of conscience upon Miss Shirley, or that she fainted
from any cause but exhaustion from the general ordeal. She was still
weak from the sickness she had been through--too weak to bear the strain
of the work she had taken up. Of course, the catastrophe gave the whole
surface situation away, and I must say that those rather banal young
people behaved very humanely about it. There was nothing but interest of
the nicest kind, and, if she is going on with her career, it will be easy
enough for her to find engagements after this."
"Why shouldn't she go on?" his mother asked, with a suspicion which she
kept well out of sight.
"Well, as well as she could explain afterwards, the catastrophe took her
work out of the category of business and made her acceptance in it a
matter of sentiment."
"She explained it to you herself?"
"Yes, the general sympathy had penetrated to Mrs. Westangle, though I
don't say that she had been more than negatively indifferent to Miss
Shirley's claim on her before. As it was, she sent for me to her room
the next morning, and I found Miss Shirley alone there. She said Mrs.
Westangle would be down in a moment."
Now, indeed, Mrs. Verrian could not govern herself from saying, "I don't
like it, Philip."
"I knew you wouldn't. It was what I said to myself at the time. You
were so present with me that I seemed to have you there chaperoning the
interview." His mother shrugged, and he went on: "She said she wished to
tell me something first, and then she said, 'I want to do it while I have
the courage, if it's courage; perhaps it's just desperation. I am
His mother began, "But you said--" and then stopped herself.
"I know that I said she wasn't, but she explained, while I sat there
rather mum, that there was really another girl, and that the other girl's
name was really Jerusha Brown. She was the daughter of the postmaster in
the village where Miss Shirley was passing the summer. In fact, Miss
Shirley was boarding in the postmaster's family, and the girls had become
very friendly. They were reading my story together, and talking about
it, and trying to guess how it would come out, just as the letter said,
and they simultaneously hit upon the notion of writing to me. It seemed
to them that it would be a good joke--I'm not defending it, mother, and I
must say Miss Shirley didn't defend it, either--to work upon my feelings
in the way they tried, and they didn't realize what they had done till
Armiger's letter came. It almost drove them wild, she said; but they had
a lucid interval, and they took the letter to the girl's father and told
him what they had done. He was awfully severe with them for their
foolishness, and said they must write to Armiger at once and confess the
fact. Then they said they had written already, and showed him the second
letter, and explained they had decided to let Miss Brawn write it in her
person alone for the reason she gave in it. But Miss Shirley told him
she was ready to take her full share of the blame, and, if anything came
of it, she authorized him to put the whole blame on her."
Verrian made a pause which his mother took for invitation or permission
to ask, "And was he satisfied with that?"
"I don't know. I wasn't, and it's only just to Miss Shirley to say that
she wasn't, either. She didn't try to justify it to me; she merely said
she was so frightened that she couldn't have done anything. She may have
realized more than the Brown girl what they had done."
"The postmaster, did he regard it as anything worse than foolishness?"
"I don't believe he did. At any rate, he was satisfied with what his
daughter had done in owning up."
"Well, I always liked that girl's letter. And did they show him your
"It seems that they did."
"And what did he say about that?"
"I suppose, what I deserved. Miss Shirley wouldn't say, explicitly. He
wanted to answer it, but they wouldn't let him. I don't know but I
should feel better if he had. I haven't been proud of that letter of
mine as time has gone on, mother; I think I behaved very narrow-mindedly,
very personally in it."
"You behaved justly."
"Justly? I thought you had your doubts of that. At any rate, I had when
it came to hearing the girl accusing herself as if she had been guilty of
some monstrous wickedness, and I realized that I had made her feel so."
"She threw herself on your pity!"
"No, she didn't, mother. Don't make it impossible for me to tell you
just how it was."
"I won't. Go on."
"I don't say she was manly about it; that couldn't be, but she was
certainly not throwing herself on my pity, unless--unless--"
"Unless you call it so for her to say that she wanted to own up to me,
because she could have no rest till she had done so; she couldn't put it
behind her till she had acknowledged it; she couldn't work; she couldn't
He saw his mother trying to consider it fairly, and in response he
renewed his own resolution not to make himself the girl's advocate with
her, but to continue the dispassionate historian of the case. At the
same time his memory was filled with the vision of how she had done and
said the things he was telling, with what pathos, with what grace, with
what beauty in her appeal. He saw the tears that came into her eyes at
times and that she indignantly repressed as she hurried on in the
confession which she was voluntarily making, for there was no outward
stress upon her to say anything. He felt again the charm of the
situation, the sort of warmth and intimacy, but he resolved not to let
that feeling offset the impartiality of his story.
"No, I don't say she threw herself on your mercy," his mother said,
finally. "She needn't have told you anything."
"Except for the reason she gave--that she couldn't make a start for
herself till she had done so. And she has got her own way to make; she
is poor. Of course, you may say her motive was an obsession, and not a
"There's reality in it, whatever it is; it's a genuine motive," Mrs.
"I think so," Verrian said, in a voice which he tried to keep from
sounding too grateful.
Apparently his mother did not find it so. She asked, "What had been the
matter with her, did she say?"
"In her long sickness? Oh! A nervous fever of some sort."
"From worrying about that experience?"
Verrian reluctantly admitted, "She said it made her want to die. I don't
suppose we can quite realize--"
"We needn't believe everything she said to realize that she suffered.
But girls exaggerate their sufferings. I suppose you told her not to
think of it any more?"
Verrian gave an odd laugh. "Well, not unconditionally. I tried to give
her my point of view. And I stipulated that she should tell Jerusha
Brown all about it, and keep her from having a nervous fever, too."
"That was right. You must see that even cowardice couldn't excuse her
selfishness in letting that girl take all the chances."
"And I'm afraid I was not very unselfish myself in my stipulations,"
Verrian said, with another laugh. "I think that I wanted to stand well
with the postmaster."
There was a note of cynical ease in this which Mrs. Verrian found morally
some octaves lower than the pitch of her son's habitual seriousness in
what concerned himself, but she could not make it a censure to him. "And
you were able to reassure her, so that she needn't think of it any more?"
"What would you have wished me to do?" he returned, dryly. "Don't you
think she had suffered enough?"
"Oh, in this sort of thing it doesn't seem the question of suffering.
If there's wrong done the penalty doesn't right it."
The notion struck Verrian's artistic sense. "That's true. That would
make the 'donnee' of a strong story. Or a play. It's a drama of fate.
It's Greek. But I thought we lived under another dispensation."
"Will she try to get more of the kind of thing she was doing for Mrs.
Westangle at once? Or has she some people?"
"No; only friends, as I understand."
"Where is she from? Up country?"
"No, she's from the South."
"I don't like Southerners!"
"I know you don't, mother. But you must honor the way they work and get
on when they come North and begin doing for themselves. Besides, Miss
Shirley's family went South after the war--"
"Oh, not even a REAL Southerner!"
"I know! I'm not fair. I ought to beg her pardon. And I ought to be
glad it's all over. Shall you see her again?"
"It might happen. But I don't know how or when. We parted friends, but
we parted strangers, so far as any prevision of the future is concerned,"
His mother drew a long breath, which she tried to render inaudible.
"And the girl that asked her the strange questions, did you see her
"Oh yes. She had a curious fascination. I should like to tell you about
her. Do you think there's such a thing as a girl's being too innocent?"
"It isn't so common as not being innocent enough."
"But it's more difficult?"
"I hope you'll never find it so, my son," Mrs. Verrian said. And for the
first time she was intentionally personal. "Go on."
"About Miss Andrews?"
"Whichever you please."
"She waylaid me in the afternoon, as I was coming home from a walk, and
wanted to talk with me about Miss Shirley."
"I suppose Miss Shirley was the day's heroine after what had happened?"
"The half-day's, or quarter-day's heroine, perhaps. She left on the
church train for town yesterday morning soon after I saw her. Miss
Andrews seemed to think I was an authority on the subject, and she
approached me with a large-eyed awe that was very amusing, though it was
affecting, too. I suppose that girls must have many worships for other
girls before they have any worship for a man. This girl couldn't
separate Miss Shirley, on the lookout for another engagement, from the
psychical part she had played. She raved about her; she thought she was
beautiful, and she wanted to know all about her and how she could help
her. Miss Andrews's parents are rich but respectable, I understand, and
she's an only child. I came in for a share of her awe; she had found out
that I was not only not Verrian the actor, but an author of the same
name, and she had read my story with passionate interest, but apparently
in that unliterary way of many people without noticing who wrote it; she
seemed to have thought it was Harding Davis or Henry James; she wasn't
clear which. But it was a good deal to have had her read it at all in
that house; I don't believe anybody else had, except Miss Shirley and
Mrs. Verrian deferred a matter that would ordinarily have interested her
supremely to an immediate curiosity. "And how came she to think you
would know so much about Miss Shirley?"
Verrian frowned. "I think from Miss Macroyd. Miss Macroyd seems to have
taken a grandmotherly concern in my affairs through the whole week.
Perhaps she resented having behaved so piggishly at the station the day
we came, and meant to take it out of Miss Shirley and myself. She had
seen us together in the woods, one day, and she must have told it about.
Mrs. Westangle wouldn't have spoken of us together, because she never
speaks of anything unless it is going to count; and there was no one else
who knew of our acquaintance."
"Why, my son, if you went walking in the woods with the girl, any one
might have seen you."
"I didn't. It was quite by accident that we met there. Miss Shirley was
anxious to keep her presence in the house a secret from everybody."
Mrs. Verrian would not take any but the open way, with this. She would
not deal indirectly, with it, or in any wise covertly or surreptitiously.
"It seems to me that Miss Shirley has rather a fondness for secrecy," she
"I think she has," Verrian admitted. "Though, in this case, it was
essential to the success of her final scheme. But she is a curious
study. I suppose that timidity is at the bottom of all fondness for
secrecy, isn't it?"
"I don't know. She doesn't seem to be timid in everything."
"Say it out, mother!" Verrian challenged her with a smile. "You're not
"She had the courage to join in that letter, but not the courage to own
her part in it. She was brave enough to confess that she had been sick
of a nervous fever from the answer you wrote to the Brown girl, but she
wouldn't have been brave enough to confess anything at all if she had
believed she would be physically or morally strong enough to keep it."
"Perhaps nobody--nobody but you, mother--is brave in the right time and
She knew that this was not meant in irony. "I am glad you say that,
"It's only your due. But aren't you a little too hard upon cowards, at
times? For the sort of person she is, if you infer the sort from the
worst appearance she has made in the whole business, I think she has done
"Why had she left the Brown girl to take all your resentment alone for
the last six or eight months?"
"She may have thought that she was getting her share of the punishment in
the fever my resentment brought on?"
"Philip, do you really believe that her fever, if she had one, came from
"I think she believes it, and there's no doubt but she was badly scared."
"Oh, there's no doubt of that!"
"But come, mother, why should we take her at the worst? Of course, she
has a complex nature. I see that as clearly as you do. I don't believe
we look at her diversely, in the smallest particular. But why shouldn't
a complex nature be credited with the same impulses towards the truth as
a single nature? Why shouldn't we allow that Miss Shirley had the same
wish to set herself right with me as Miss Andrews would have had in her
"I dare say she wished to set herself right with you, but not from the
same wish that Miss Andrews would have had. Miss Andrews would not have
wished you to know the truth for her own sake. Her motive would have
"Yes; and we will describe her as a straight line, and Miss Shirley as a
waving line. Why shouldn't the waving line, at its highest points, touch
the same altitude as the straight line?"
"It wouldn't touch it all the time, and in character, or nature, as you
call it, that is the great thing. It's at the lowest points that the
waving line is dangerous."
"Well, I don't deny that. But I'm anxious to be just to a person who
hasn't experienced a great deal of mercy for what, after all, wasn't such
a very heinous thing as I used to think it. You must allow that she
wasn't obliged to tell me anything about herself."
"Yes, she was, Philip. As I said before, she hadn't the physical or
moral strength to keep it from you when she was brought face to face with
you. Besides--" Mrs. Verrian hesitated.
"Out with it, mother! We, at least, won't have any concealments."
"She may have thought, she could clinch it in that way."
"You know. Is she pretty?"
"That can always be managed. Is she tall?"
"NO, I think she's rather out of style there; she's rather petite."
"And what's her face like?"
"Well, she has no particular complexion, but it's not thick. Her eyes
are the best of her, though there isn't much of them. They're the
'waters on a starry night' sort, very sweet and glimmering. She has a
kind of ground-colored hair and a nice little chin. Her mouth helps her
eyes out; it looks best when she speaks; it's pathetic in the play of the
"I see," Mrs. Verrian said.
The following week Verrian and his mother were at a show of paintings, in
the gallery at the rear of a dealer's shop, and while they were bending
together to look at a picture he heard himself called to in a girlish
voice, "Oh, Mr. Verrian!" as if his being there was the greatest wonder
in the world.
His mother and he lifted themselves to encounter a tall, slim girl, who
was stretching her hand towards him, and who now cried out, joyously,
"Oh, Mr. Verrian, I thought it must be you, but I was afraid it wasn't as
soon as I spoke. Oh, I'm so glad to see you; I want so much to have you
know my mother--Mr. Verrian," she said, presenting him.
"And I you mine," Verrian responded, in a violent ellipse, and introduced
his own mother, who took in the fact of Miss Andrews's tall thinness,
topped with a wide, white hat and waving white plumes, and her little
face, irregular and somewhat gaunt, but with a charm in the lips and eyes
which took the elder woman's heart with pathos. She made talk with Mrs.
Andrews, who affected one as having the materials of social severity in
her costume and manner.
"Oh, I didn't believe I should ever see you again," the girl broke out
impulsively upon Verrian. "Oh, I wanted to ask you so about Miss
Shirley. Have you seen her since you got back?"
"No," Verrian said, "I haven't seen her."
"Oh, I thought perhaps you had. I've been to the address that Mrs.
Westangle gave me, but she isn't there any more; she's gone up into
Harlem somewhere, and I haven't been able to call again. Oh, I do feel
so anxious about her. Oh, I do hope she isn't ill. Do you think she
"I don't believe so," Verrian began. But she swept over his prostrate
"Oh, Mr. Verrian, don't you think she's wonderful? I've been telling
mother about it, and I don't feel at all the way she does. Do you?"
"How does she feel? I must know that before I say."
"Why, of course! I hadn't told you! She thinks it was a make-up between
Miss Shirley and that Mr. Bushwick. But I say it couldn't have been. Do
you think it could?"
Verrian found the suggestion so distasteful, for a reason which he did
not quite seize himself, that he answered, resentfully, "It could have
been, but I don't think it was."
"I will tell her what you say. Oh, may I tell her what you say?"
"I don't see why you shouldn't. It isn't very important, either way, is
"Oh, don't you think so? Not if it involved pretending what wasn't
She bent towards him in such anxious demand that he could not help
"The whole thing was a pretence, wasn't it?" he suggested.
"Yes, but that would have been a pretence that we didn't know of."
"It would be incriminating to that extent, certainly," Verrian owned,
ironically. He found the question of Miss Shirley's blame for the
collusion as distasteful as the supposition of the collusion, but there
was a fascination in the innocence before him, and he could not help
playing with it.
Sometimes Miss Andrews apparently knew that he was playing with her
innocence, and sometimes she did not. But in either case she seemed to
like being his jest, from which she snatched a fearful joy. She was
willing to prolong the experience, and she drifted with him from picture
to picture, and kept the talk recurrently to Miss Shirley and the
phenomena of Seeing Ghosts.
Her mother and Mrs. Verrian evidently got on together better than either
of them at first expected. When it came to their parting, through Mrs.
Andrews's saying that she must be going, she shook hands with Mrs.
Verrian and said to Philip, "I am so glad to have met you, Mr. Verrian.
Will you come and see us?"
"Yes, thank you," he answered, taking the hand she now offered him, and
then taking Miss Andrews's hand, while the girl's eyes glowed with
pleasure. "I shall be very glad."
"Oh, shall you?" she said, with her transparent sincerity. "And you
won't forget Thursdays! But any day at five we have tea."
"Thank you," Verrian said. "I might forget the Thursdays, but I couldn't
forget all the days of the week."
Miss Andrews laughed and blushed at once. "Then we shall expect you
"Well, every day but Thursday," he promised.
When the mother and daughter had gone Mrs. Verrian said, "She is a great
admirer of yours, Philip. She's read your story, and I suspect she wants
an opportunity to talk with you about it."
"You mean Mrs. Andrews?"
"Yes. I suppose the daughter hasn't waited for an opportunity. The
mother had read that publisher's paragraph about your invalid, and wanted
to know if you had ever heard from her again. Women are personal in
their literary interests."
Philip asked, in dismay, "You didn't give it away did you, mother?"
"Certainly not, my dear. You have brought me up too carefully."
"Of course. I didn't imagine you had."
Then, as they could not pretend to look at the pictures any longer, they
went away, too. Their issue into the open air seemed fraught with novel
emotion for Mrs. Verrian. "Well, now," she said, "I have seen the woman
I would be willing my son should marry."
"Child, you mean," Philip said, not pretending that he did not know she
meant Miss Andrews.
"That girl," his mother returned, "is innocence itself. Oh, Philip,
dear, do marry her!"
"Well, I don't know. If her mother is behaving as sagely with her as you
are with me the chances are that she won't let me. Besides, I don't know
that I want to marry quite so much innocence."
"She is conscience incarnate," his mother uttered, perfervidly.
"You could put your very soul in her keeping."
"Then you would be out of a job, mother."
"Oh, I am not worthy of the job, my dear. I have always felt that. I am
too complex, and sometimes I can't see the right alone, as she could."
Philip was silent a moment while he lost the personal point of view.
"I suspect we don't see the right when we see it alone. We ought to see
the wrong, too."
"Ah, Philip, don't let your fancy go after that girl!"
"Miss Andrews? I thought--"
"Don't you be complex, my dear. You know I mean Miss Shirley. What has
become of her, I wonder. I heard Miss Andrews asking you."
"I wasn't able to tell her. Do you want me to try telling you?"
"I would rather you never could."
Philip laughed sardonically. "Now, I shall forget Thursdays and all the
other days, too. You are a very unwise parent, mother."
They laughed with each other at each other, and treated her enthusiasm
for Miss Andrews as the joke it partly was. Mrs. Verrian did not follow
him up about her idol, and a week or so later she was able to affect a
decent surprise when he came in at the end of an afternoon and declined
the cup of tea she proposed on the ground that he had been taking a cup
of tea with the Andrewses. "You have really been there?"
"Didn't you expect me to keep my promise?"
"But I was afraid I had put a stumbling-block in the way."
"Oh, I found I could turn the consciousness you created in me into
literary material, and so I was rather eager to go. I have got a point
for my new story out of it. I shall have my fellow suffer all I didn't
suffer in meeting the girl he knows his mother wants him to marry. I got
on very well with those ladies. Mrs. Andrews is the mother of innocence,
but she isn't innocence. She managed to talk of my story without asking
about the person who wanted to anticipate the conclusion. That was what
you call complex. She was insincere; it was the only thing she wanted to
"I don't believe it, Philip. But what did Miss Andrews talk about?"
"Well, she is rather an optimistic conscience. She talked about books
and plays that some people do not think are quite proper. I have a
notion that, where the point involved isn't a fact of her own experience,
she is not very severe about it. You think that would be quite safe for
"Philip, I don't like your making fun of her!"
"Oh, she wasn't insipid; she was only limpid. I really like her, and,
as for reverencing her, of course I feel that in a way she is sacred."
He added, after a breath, "Too sacred. We none of us can expect to
marry Eve before the Fall now; perhaps we have got over wanting to."
"You are very perverse, my dear. But you will get over that."
"Don't take away my last defence, mother."
Verrian began to go rather regularly to the Andrews house, or, at least,
he was accused of doing it by Miss Macroyd when, very irregularly, he
went one day to see her. "How did you know it?" he asked.
"I didn't say I knew it. I only wished to know it. Now I am satisfied.
I met another friend of yours on Sunday." She paused for him to ask who;
but he did not ask. "I see you are dying to know what friend: Mr.
"Oh, he's a good-fellow. I wonder I don't run across him."
"Perhaps that's because you never call on Miss Shirley." Miss Macroyd
waited for this to take effect, but he kept a glacial surface towards
her, and she went on:
"They were walking together in the park at noon. I suppose they had been
to church together."
Verrian manifested no more than a polite interest in the fact. He
managed so well that he confirmed Miss Macroyd in a tacit conjecture.
She went on: "Miss Shirley was looking quite blooming for her. But so
was he, for that matter. Why don't you ask if they inquired for you?"
"I thought you would tell me without."
"I will tell you if he did. He was very cordial in his inquiries; and I
had to pretend, to gratify him, that you were very well. I implied that
you came here every Tuesday, but your Thursdays were dedicated to Miss
"You are a clever woman, Miss Macroyd. I should never have thought of so
much to say on such an uninteresting subject. And Miss Shirley showed no
"Ah, she is a clever woman, too. She showed the prettiest kind of
curiosity--so perfectly managed. She has a studio--I don't know just how
she puts it to use--with a painter girl in one of those studio apartment
houses on the West Side: The Veronese, I believe. You must go and see
her; I'll let you have next Tuesday off; Tuesday's her day, too."
"You are generosity itself, Miss Macroyd."
"Yes, there's nothing mean about me," she returned, in slang rather older
than she ordinarily used. "If you're not here next Tuesday I shall know
where you are."
"Then I must take a good many Tuesdays off, unless I want to give myself
"Oh, don't do that, Mr. Verrian! Please! Or else I can't let you have
any Tuesday off."
Upon the whole, Verrian thought he would go to see Miss Shirley the next
Tuesday, but he did not say so to Miss Macroyd. Now that he knew where
the girl was, all the peculiar interest she had inspired in him renewed
itself. It was so vivid that he could not pay his usual Thursday call at
Miss Andrews's, and it filled his mind to the exclusion of the new story
he had begun to write. He loafed his mornings away at his club, and he
lunched there, leaving his mother to lunch alone, and was dreamily
preoccupied in the evenings which he spent at home, sitting at his desk,
with the paper before him, unable to coax the thoughts from his brain to
its alluring blank, but restive under any attempts of hers to talk with
In his desperation he would have gone to the theatre, but the fact that
the ass who rightfully called himself Verrian was playing at one of them
blocked his way, through his indignation, to all of them. By Saturday
afternoon the tedious time had to be done something with, and he decided
to go and see what the ass was like.
He went early, and found himself in the end seat of a long row of many
rows of women, who were prolonging the time of keeping their hats on till
custom obliged them to take them off. He gave so much notice to the
woman next him as to see that she was deeply veiled as well as widely
hatted, and then he lapsed into a dreary muse, which was broken by the
first strains of the overture. Then he diverted himself by looking round
at all those ranks of women lifting their arms to take out them hat-pins
and dropping them to pin their hats to the seat-backs in front of them,
or to secure them somehow in their laps. Upon the whole, he thought the
manoeuvre graceful and pleasing; he imagined a consolation in it for the
women, who, if they were forced by public opinion to put off their
charming hats, would know how charmingly they did it. Each turned a
little, either her body or her head, and looked in any case out of the
corner of her eyes; and he was phrasing it all for a scene in his story,
when he looked round at his neighbor to see how she had managed, or was
managing, with her veil. At the same moment she looked at him, and their
The stress of their voices fell upon different parts of the sentences
they uttered, but did not commit either of them to a special role.
"How very strange we should meet here!" she said, with pleasure in her
voice. "Do you know, I have been wanting to come all winter to see this
man, on account of his name? And to think that I should meet the other
Mr. Verrian as soon as I yielded to the temptation."
"I have just yielded myself," Verrian said. "I hope you don't feel
punished for yielding."
"Oh, dear, no! It seems a reward."
She did not say why it seemed so, and he suggested, "The privilege of
comparing the histrionic and the literary Verrian?"
"Could there be any comparison?" she came back, gayly.
"I don't know. I haven't seen the histrionic Verrian yet."
They were laughing when the curtain rose, and the histrionic Verrian had
his innings for a long, long first act. When the curtain fell she turned
to the literary Verrian and said, "Well?"
"He lasted a good while," Verrian returned.
"Yes. Didn't he?" She looked at the little watch in her wristlet.
"A whole hour! Do you know, Mr. Verrian, I am going to seem very rude.
I am going to leave you to settle this question of superiority; I know
you'll be impartial. I have an appointment--with the dressmaker, to be
specific--at half-past four, and it's half-past three now, and I couldn't
well leave in the middle of the next act. So I will say good-bye now--"
"Don't!" he entreated. "I couldn't bear to be left alone with this
dreadful double of mine. Let me go out with you."
"Can I accept such self-sacrifice? Well!"
She had put on her hat and risen, and he now stepped out of his place to
let her pass and then followed her. At the street entrance he suggested,
"A hansom, or a simple trolley?"
"I don't know," she murmured, meditatively, looking up the street as if
that would settle it. "If it's only half-past three now, I should have
time to get home more naturally."
"Oh! And will you let me walk with you?"
"Why, if you're going that way."
"I will say when I know which way it is."
They started on their walk so blithely that they did not sadden in the
retrospect of their joint experiences at Mrs. Westangle's. By the time
they reached the park gate at Columbus Circle they had come so distinctly
to the end of their retrospect that she made an offer of letting him
leave her, a very tacit offer, but unmistakable, if he chose to take it.
He interpreted her hesitation as he chose. "No," he said, "it won't be
any longer if we go up through the park."
She drew in her breath softly, smoothing down her muff with her right
hand while she kept her left in it. "And it will certainly be
pleasanter." When they were well up the path, in that part of it where
it deflects from the drive without approaching the street too closely,
and achieves something of seclusion, she said:
"Your speaking of him just now makes me want to tell you something, Mr.
Verrian. You would hear of it very soon, anyway, and I feel that it is
always best to be very frank with you; but you'll regard it as a secret
till it comes out."
The currents that had been playing so warmly in and out of Verrian's
heart turned suddenly cold. He said, with joyless mocking, "You know,
I'm used to keeping your secrets. I--shall feel honored, I'm sure, if
you trust me with another."
"Yes," she returned, pathetically, "you have always been faithful--even
in your wounds." It was their joint tribute to the painful past, and
they had paid no other. She was looking away from him, but he knew she
was aware of his hanging his head. "That's all over now," she uttered,
passionately. "What I wanted to say--to tell you--is that I am engaged
to Mr. Bushwick."
He could have answered that she had no need to tell him. The cold
currents in and out of his heart stiffened frozenly and ceased to flow;
his heart itself stood still for an eternal instant. It was in this
instant that he said, "He is a fine fellow." Afterwards, amid the wild
bounding of his recovered pulse, he could add, "I congratulate him; I
congratulate you both."
"Thank you," she said. "No one knows as I do how good he is--has been,
all through." Probably she had not meant to convey any reproach to
Verrian by Bushwick's praise, but he felt reproach in it. "It only
happened last week. You do wish me happy, don't you? No one knows what
a winter I have had till now. Everything seeming to fail--"
She choked, and did not say more. He said, aimlessly, "I am sorry--"
"Let me sit down a moment," she begged. And she dropped upon the bench
at which she faltered, and rested there, as if from the exhaustion of
running. When she could get her breath she began again: "There is
something else I want to tell you."
She stopped. And he asked, to prompt her, "Yes?"
"Thank you," she answered, piteously. And she added, with superficial
inconsequence, "I shall always think you were very cruel."
He did not pretend not to know what she meant, and he said, "I shall
always think so, too. I tried to revenge myself for the hurt your
harmless hoax did my vanity. Of course, I made believe at the time that
I was doing an act of justice, but I never was able to brave it out
"But you were--you were doing an act of justice. I deserved what you
said, but I didn't deserve what has followed. I meant no harm--it was a
silly prank, and I have suffered for it as if it were a crime, and the
consequences are not ended yet. I should think that, if there is a moral
government of the universe, the Judge of all the earth would know when to
hold his hand. And now the worst of it is to come yet." She caught
Verrian's arm, as if for help.
"Don't--don't!" he besought her. "What will people think?"
"Yes, Yes!" she owned, releasing him and withdrawing to the other end of
"But it almost drives me wild. What shall I do? You ought to know. It
is your fault. You have frightened me out of daring to tell the truth."
Had he, indeed, done that? Verrian asked himself, and it seemed to him
that he had done something like it. If it was so, he must help her over
her fear now. He answered, bluntly, harshly: "You must tell him all
"But if he won't believe me? Do you think he will believe me? Would you
"You have nothing to do with that. There is nothing for you but to tell
him the whole story. You mustn't share such a secret with any one but
your husband. When you tell him it will cease to be my secret."
"Well, then, you must tell him, unless--"
"Yes," she prompted.
Then they were both silent, looking intensely into each other's eyes. In
that moment all else of life seemed to melt and swim away from Verrian
and leave him stranded upon an awful eminence confronting her.
"Hello, hello!" a gay voice called, as if calling to them both. "What
are you two conspiring?" Bushwick, as suddenly as if he had fallen from
the sky or started up from the earth, stood before them, and gave a hand
to each--his right to Verrian, his left to Miss Shirley. "How are you,
Verrian? How are you, Miss Shirley?" He mocked her in the formality of
his address. "I've been shadowing you ever since you came into the park,
but I thought I wouldn't interrupt till you seemed to have got through
your conversation. May I ask what it was all about? It seemed very
absorbing, from a respectful distance."
"Very absorbing, indeed," Miss Shirley said, making room for him between
them. "Sit down and let me tell you. You're to be a partner in the
"Silent partner," Bushwick suggested.
"I hope you'll always be silent," the girl shared in his drolling.
She began and told the whole story to the last detail, sparing neither
herself nor Verrian, who listened as if he were some one else not
concerned, and kept saying to himself, "what courage!" Bushwick listened
as mutely, with a face that, to Verrian's eye, seemed to harden from its
light jocosity into a severity he had not seen in it before. "It was
something," she ended towards Bushwick, with a catch in her breath,
"that you had to know."
"Yes," he answered, tonelessly.
"And now"--she attempted a little forlorn playfulness--"don't you think he
gave me what I deserved?"
Bushwick rose up and took her hand under his arm, keeping his left hand
"I don't know any Mr. Verrian. Come, you'll take cold here."
He turned his back on Verrian, who fancied a tremor in her hat, as if she
would look round at him; but then, as if she divined Bushwick's
intention, she did not look round, and together they left him.
It was days before Verrian could confess himself of the fact to his
mother, who listened with the justice instinctive in her. She still had
not spoken when he ended, and he said, "I have thought it all over, and I
feel that he did right. He did the only thing that a man in love with
her could do. And I don't wonder he's in love with her. Yes"--he stayed
his mother, imperatively--"and such a man as he, though he ground me in
the dirt and stamped on me, I will say, it, is worthy of any woman. He
can believe in a woman, and that's the first thing that's needed to make
a woman like her, true. I don't envy his job." He was speaking self-
contradictorily, irrelevantly, illogically, as a man thinks. He went on
in that way, getting himself all out. "She isn't single-hearted, but
she's faithful. She'll never betray him now. She's never given him any
reason to distrust her. She's the kind that can keep on straight with
any one she's begun. straight with. She told him all that before me be
cause she wanted me to know--to realize--that she had told him. It took
Mrs. Verrian had thought of generalizing, but she seized a single point.
"Perhaps not so much courage as you think. You mustn't let such bravado
impose upon you, Philip. I've no doubt she knew her ground."
"She took the chance of his casting her off."
"She knew he wouldn't. She knew him, and she knew you. She knew that if
he cast her off--"
"Mother! Don't say it! I can't bear it!"
His mother did not say it, or anything more, then. Late at night she
came to him. "Are you asleep, Philip?"
"I didn't suppose you were. But I have had a note to-day which I must
answer. Mrs. Andrews has asked us to dinner on Saturday. Philip, if you
could see that sweet girl as I do, in all her goodness and sincerity--"
"I think I do, mother. And I wouldn't be guilty of her unhappiness for
the world. You must decline."
"Well, perhaps you are right." Mrs. Verrian went away, softly, sighing.
As she sealed her reply to Mrs. Andrews, she sighed again, and made the
reflection which a mother seldom makes with regard to her son, before his
marriage, that men do not love women for their goodness.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Almost incomparably ignorant woman
Almost to die of hunger for something to happen
Belief of immortality--without one jot of evidence
Brave in the right time and place
Continuity becomes the instinctive expectation
Found her too frankly disputatious
Girls who were putting on the world as hard as they could
If there's wrong done the penalty doesn't right it
Never wanted a holiday so much as the day after you had one
Personal view of all things and all persons which women take
Proof against the stupidest praise
Read too many stories to care for the plot
She laughed too much and too loud
Sick people are terribly, egotistical
The fad that fails is extinguished forever
Timidity is at the bottom of all fondness for secrecy
By William Dean Howells
The Kentons were not rich, but they were certainly richer than the
average in the pleasant county town of the Middle West, where they had
spent nearly their whole married life. As their circumstances had grown
easier, they had mellowed more and more in the keeping of their
comfortable home, until they hated to leave it even for the short
outings, which their children made them take, to Niagara or the Upper
Lakes in the hot weather. They believed that they could not be so well
anywhere as in the great square brick house which still kept its four
acres about it, in the heart of the growing town, where the trees they
had planted with their own hands topped it on three aides, and a spacious
garden opened southward behind it to the summer wind. Kenton had his
library, where he transacted by day such law business as he had retained
in his own hands; but at night he liked to go to his wife's room and sit
with her there. They left the parlors and piazzas to their girls, where
they could hear them laughing with the young fellows who came to make the
morning calls, long since disused in the centres of fashion, or the
evening calls, scarcely more authorized by the great world. She sewed,
and he read his paper in her satisfactory silence, or they played
checkers together. She did not like him to win, and when she found
herself unable to bear the prospect of defeat, she refused to let him
make the move that threatened the safety of her men. Sometimes he
laughed at her, and sometimes he scolded, but they were very good
comrades, as elderly married people are apt to be. They had long ago
quarrelled out their serious differences, which mostly arose from such
differences of temperament as had first drawn them together; they
criticised each other to their children from time to time, but they
atoned for this defection by complaining of the children to each other,
and they united in giving way to them on all points concerning their
happiness, not to say their pleasure.
They had both been teachers in their youth before he went into the war,
and they had not married until he had settled himself in the practice of
the law after he left the army. He was then a man of thirty, and five
years older than she; five children were born to them, but the second son
died when he was yet a babe in his mother's arms, and there was an
interval of six years between the first boy and the first girl. Their
eldest son was already married, and settled next them in a house which
was brick, like their own, but not square, and had grounds so much less
ample that he got most of his vegetables from their garden. He had grown
naturally into a share of his father's law practice, and he had taken it
all over when Renton was elected to the bench. He made a show of giving
it back after the judge retired, but by that time Kenton was well on in
the fifties. The practice itself had changed, and had become mainly the
legal business of a large corporation. In this form it was distasteful
to him; he kept the affairs of some of his old clients in his hands, but
he gave much of his time, which he saved his self-respect by calling his
leisure, to a history of his regiment in-the war.
In his later life he had reverted to many of the preoccupations of his
youth, and he believed that Tuskingum enjoyed the best climate, on the
whole, in the union; that its people of mingled Virginian, Pennsylvanian,
and Connecticut origin, with little recent admixture of foreign strains,
were of the purest American stock, and spoke the best English in the
world; they enjoyed obviously the greatest sum of happiness, and had
incontestibly the lowest death rate and divorce rate in the State. The
growth of the place was normal and healthy; it had increased only to five
thousand during the time he had known it, which was almost an ideal
figure for a county-town. There was a higher average of intelligence
than in any other place of its size, and a wider and evener diffusion of
prosperity. Its record in the civil war was less brilliant, perhaps,
than that of some other localities, but it was fully up to the general
Ohio level, which was the high-water mark of the national achievement in
the greatest war of the greatest people under the sun. It, was Kenton's
pride and glory that he had been a part of the finest army known in
history. He believed that the men who made history ought to write it,
and in his first Commemoration-Day oration he urged his companions in
arms to set down everything they could remember of their soldiering, and
to save the letters they had written home, so that they might each
contribute to a collective autobiography of the regiment. It was only in
this way, he held, that the intensely personal character of the struggle
could be recorded. He had felt his way to the fact that every battle is
essentially episodical, very campaign a sum of fortuities; and it was not
strange that he should suppose, with his want of perspective, that this
universal fact was purely national and American. His zeal made him the
repository of a vast mass of material which he could not have refused to
keep for the soldiers who brought it to him, more or less in a humorous
indulgence of his whim. But he even offered to receive it, and in a
community where everything took the complexion of a joke, he came to be
affectionately regarded as a crank on that point; the shabbily aging
veterans, whom he pursued to their workbenches and cornfields, for, the
documents of the regimental history, liked to ask the colonel if he had
brought his gun. They, always give him the title with which he had been
breveted at the close of the war; but he was known to the, younger,
generation of his fellow-citizens as the judge. His wife called him Mr.
Kenton in the presence of strangers, and sometimes to himself, but to his
children she called him Poppa, as they did.
The steady-going eldest son, who had succeeded to his father's affairs
without giving him the sense of dispossession, loyally accepted the
popular belief that he would never be the man his father was. He joined
with his mother in a respect for Kenton's theory of the regimental
history which was none the less sincere because it was unconsciously a
little sceptical of the outcome; and the eldest daughter was of their
party. The youngest said frankly that she had no use for any history,
but she said the same of nearly everything which had not directly or
indirectly to do with dancing. In this regulation she had use for
parties and picnics, for buggy-rides and sleigh-rides, for calls from
young men and visits to and from other girls, for concerts, for plays,
for circuses and church sociables, for everything but lectures; and she
devoted herself to her pleasures without the shadow of chaperonage, which
was, indeed, a thing still unheard of in Tuskingum.
In the expansion which no one else ventured, or, perhaps, wished to set
bounds to, she came under the criticism of her younger brother, who, upon
the rare occasions when he deigned to mingle in the family affairs, drew
their mother's notice to his sister's excesses in carrying-on, and
required some action that should keep her from bringing the name, of
Kenton to disgrace. From being himself a boy of very slovenly and
lawless life he had suddenly, at the age of fourteen, caught himself up
from the street, reformed his dress and conduct, and confined himself in
his large room at the top of the house, where, on the pursuits to which
he gave his spare time, the friends who frequented his society, and the
literature which nourished his darkling spirit, might fitly have been
written Mystery. The sister whom he reprobated was only two years his
elder, but since that difference in a girl accounts for a great deal, it
apparently authorized her to take him more lightly than he was able to
take himself. She said that he was in love, and she achieved an
importance with him through his speechless rage and scorn which none of
the rest of his family enjoyed. With his father and mother he had a
bearing of repressed superiority which a strenuous conscience kept from
unmasking itself in open contempt when they failed to make his sister
promise to behave herself. Sometimes he had lapses from his dignified
gloom with his mother, when, for no reason that could be given, he fell
from his habitual majesty to the tender dependence of a little boy, just
as his voice broke from its nascent base to its earlier treble at moments
when he least expected or wished such a thing to happen. His stately but
vague ideal of himself was supported by a stature beyond his years, but
this rendered it the more difficult for him to bear the humiliation of
his sudden collapses, and made him at other times the easier prey of
Lottie's ridicule. He got on best, or at least most evenly, with his
eldest sister. She took him seriously, perhaps because she took all life
so; and she was able to interpret him to his father when his intolerable
dignity forbade a common understanding between them. When he got so far
beyond his depth that he did not know what he meant himself, as sometimes
happened, she gently found him a safe footing nearer shore.
Kenton's theory was that he did not distinguish among his children.
He said that he did not suppose they were the best children in the world,
but they suited him; and he would not have known how to change them for
the better. He saw no harm in the behavior of Lottie when it most
shocked her brother; he liked her to have a good time; but it flattered
his nerves to have Ellen about him. Lottie was a great deal more
accomplished, he allowed that; she could play and sing, and she had
social gifts far beyond her sister; but he easily proved to his wife that
Nelly knew ten times as much.
Nelly read a great deal; she kept up with all the magazines, and knew all
the books in his library. He believed that she was a fine German
scholar, and in fact she had taken up that language after leaving school,
when, if she had been better advised than she could have been in
Tuskingum, she would have kept on with her French. She started the first
book club in the place; and she helped her father do the intellectual
honors of the house to the Eastern lecturers, who always stayed with the
judge when they came to Tuskingum. She was faithfully present at the
moments, which her sister shunned in derision, when her father explained
to them respectively his theory of regimental history, and would just,
as he said, show them a few of the documents he had collected. He made
Ellen show them; she knew where to put her hand on the most
characteristic and illustrative; and Lottie offered to bet what one dared
that Ellen would marry some of those lecturers yet; she was literary
She boasted that she was not literary herself, and had no use for any one
who was; and it could not have been her culture that drew the most
cultivated young man in Tuskingum to her. Ellen was really more
beautiful; Lottie was merely very pretty; but she had charm for them, and
Ellen, who had their honor and friendship, had no charm for them. No one
seemed drawn to her as they were drawn to her sister till a man came who
was not one of the most cultivated in Tuskingum; and then it was doubtful
whether she was not first drawn to him. She was too transparent to hide
her feeling from her father and mother, who saw with even more grief than
shame that she could not hide it from the man himself, whom they thought
so unworthy of it.
He had suddenly arrived in Tuskingum from one of the villages of the
county, where he had been teaching school, and had found something to do
as reporter on the Tuskingum 'Intelligencer', which he was instinctively
characterizing with the spirit of the new journalism, and was pushing as
hardily forward on the lines of personality as if he had dropped down to
it from the height of a New York or Chicago Sunday edition. The judge
said, with something less than his habitual honesty, that he did not mind
his being a reporter, but he minded his being light and shallow; he
minded his being flippant and mocking; he minded his bringing his
cigarettes and banjo into the house at his second visit. He did not mind
his push; the fellow had his way to make and he had to push; but he did
mind his being all push; and his having come out of the country with as
little simplicity as if he had passed his whole life in the city. He had
no modesty, and he had no reverence; he had no reverence for Ellen
herself, and the poor girl seemed to like him for that.
He was all the more offensive to the judge because he was himself to
blame for their acquaintance, which began when one day the fellow had
called after him in the street, and then followed down the shady sidewalk
beside him to his hour, wanting to know what this was he had heard about
his history, and pleading for more light upon his plan in it. At the
gate he made a flourish of opening and shutting it for the judge, and
walking up the path to his door he kept his hand on the judge's shoulder
most offensively; but in spite of this Kenton had the weakness to ask him
in, and to call Ellen to get him the most illustrative documents of the
The interview that resulted in the 'Intelligencer' was the least evil
that came of this error. Kenton was amazed, and then consoled, and then
afflicted that Ellen was not disgusted with it; and in his conferences
with his wife he fumed and fretted at his own culpable folly, and tried
to get back of the time he had committed it, in that illusion which
people have with trouble that it could somehow be got rid of if it could
fairly be got back of; till the time came when his wife could no longer
share his unrest in this futile endeavor.
She said, one night when they had talked late and long, "That can't be
helped now; and the question is what are we going to do to stop it."
The judge evaded the point in saying, "The devil of it is that all the
nice fellows are afraid of her; they respect her too much, and the very
thing which ought to disgust her with this chap is what gives him his
power over her. I don't know what we are going to do, but we must break
it off, somehow."
"We might take her with us somewhere," Mrs. Kenton suggested.
"Run away from the fellow? I think I see myself! No, we have got to
stay and face the thing right here. But I won't have him about the house
any more, understand that. He's not to be let in, and Ellen mustn't see
him; you tell her I said so. Or no! I will speak to her myself." His
wife said that he was welcome to do that; but he did not quite do it. He
certainly spoke to his daughter about her, lover, and he satisfied
himself that there was yet nothing explicit between them. But she was so
much less frank and open with him than she had always been before that he
was wounded as well as baffled by her reserve. He could not get her to
own that she really cared for the fellow; but man as he was, and old man
as he was, he could not help perceiving that she lived in a fond dream of
He went from her to her mother. "If he was only one-half the man she
thinks he is!"--he ended his report in a hopeless sigh.
"You want to give in to her!" his wife pitilessly interpreted. "Well,
perhaps that would be the best thing, after all."
"No, no, it wouldn't, Sarah; it would be the easiest for both of us, I
admit, but it would be the worst thing for her. We've got to let it run
along for a while yet. If we give him rope enough he may hang himself;
there's that chance. We can't go away, and we can't shut her up, and we
can't turn him out of the house. We must trust her to find him out for
"She'll never do that," said the mother. "Lottie says Ellen thinks he's
just perfect. He cheers her up, and takes her out of herself. We've
always acted with her as if we thought she was different from other
girls, and he behaves to her as if she was just like all of them, just as
silly, and just as weak, and it pleases her, and flatters her; she likes
"Oh, Lord!" groaned the father. "I suppose she does."
This was bad enough; it was a blow to his pride in Ellen; but there was
something that hurt him still worse. When the fellow had made sure of
her, he apparently felt himself so safe in her fondness that he did not
urge his suit with her. His content with her tacit acceptance gave the
bitterness of shame to the promise Kenton and his wife had made each
other never to cross any of their children in love. They were ready now
to keep that promise for Ellen, if he asked it of them, rather than
answer for her lifelong disappointment, if they denied him. But,
whatever he meant finally to do, he did not ask it; he used his footing
in their house chiefly as a basis for flirtations beyond it. He began to
share his devotions to Ellen with her girl friends, and not with her girl
friends alone. It did not come to scandal, but it certainly came to
gossip about him and a silly young wife; and Kenton heard of it with a
torment of doubt whether Ellen knew of it, and what she would do; he
would wait for her to do herself whatever was to be done. He was never
certain how much she had heard of the gossip when she came to her mother,
and said with the gentle eagerness she had, "Didn't poppa talk once of
going South this winter?"
"He talked of going to New York," the mother answered, with a throb of
"Well," the girl returned, patiently, and Mrs. Kenton read in her
passivity an eagerness to be gone from sorrow that she would not suffer
to be seen, and interpreted her to her father in such wise that he could
If such a thing could be mercifully ordered, the order of this event had
certainly been merciful; but it was a cruel wrench that tore Kenton from
the home where he had struck such deep root. When he actually came to
leave the place his going had a ghastly unreality, which was heightened
by his sense of the common reluctance. No one wanted to go, so far as he
could make out, not even Ellen herself, when he tried to make her say she
wished it. Lottie was in open revolt, and animated her young men to a
share in the insurrection. Her older brother was kindly and helpfully
acquiescent, but he was so far from advising the move that Kenton had
regularly to convince himself that Richard approved it, by making him say
that it was only for the winter and that it was the best way of helping
Ellen get rid of that fellow. All this did not enable Kenton to meet the
problems of his younger son, who required him to tell what he was to do
with his dog and his pigeons, and to declare at once how he was to
dispose of the cocoons he had amassed so as not to endanger the future of
the moths and butterflies involved in them. The boy was so fertile in
difficulties and so importunate for their solution, that he had to be
crushed into silence by his father, who ached in a helpless sympathy with
Kenton came heavily upon the courage of his wife, who was urging forward
their departure with so much energy that he obscurely accused her of
being the cause of it, and could only be convinced of her innocence when
she offered to give the whole thing up if he said so. When he would not
say so, she carried the affair through to the bitter end, and she did not
spare him some, pangs which she perhaps need not have shared with him.
But people are seldom man and wife for half their lives without wishing
to impart their sufferings as well as their pleasures to each other; and
Mrs. Kenton, if she was no worse, was no better than other wives in
pressing to her husband's lips the cup that was not altogether sweet to
her own. She went about the house the night before closing it, to see
that everything was in a state to be left, and then she came to Kenton in
his library, where he had been burning some papers and getting others
ready to give in charge to his son, and sat down by his cold hearth with
him, and wrung his soul with the tale of the last things she had been
doing. When she had made him bear it all, she began to turn the bright
side of the affair to him. She praised the sense and strength of Ellen,
in the course the girl had taken with herself, and asked him if he,
really thought they could have done less for her than they were doing.
She reminded him that they were not running away from the fellow, as she
had once thought they must, but Ellen was renouncing him, and putting him
out of her sight till she could put him out of her mind. She did not
pretend that the girl had done this yet; but it was everything that she
wished to do it, and saw that it was best. Then she kissed him on his
gray head, and left him alone to the first ecstasy of his homesickness.
It was better when they once got to New York, and were settled in an
apartment of an old-fashioned down-town hotel. They thought themselves
very cramped in it, and they were but little easier when they found that
the apartments over and under them were apparently thought spacious for
families of twice their numbers. It was the very quietest place in the
whole city, but Kenton was used to the stillness of Tuskingum, where,
since people no longer kept hens, the nights were stiller than in the
country itself; and for a week he slept badly. Otherwise, as soon as
they got used to living in six rooms instead of seventeen, they were
really very comfortable.
He could see that his wife was glad of the release from housekeeping, and
she was growing gayer and seemed to be growing younger in the inspiration
of the great, good-natured town. They had first come to New York on
their wedding journey, but since that visit she had always let him go
alone on his business errands to the East; these had grown less and less
frequent, and he had not seen New York for ten or twelve years. He could
have waited as much longer, but he liked her pleasure in the place, and
with the homesickness always lurking at his heart he went about with her
to the amusements which she frequented, as she said, to help Ellen take
her mind off herself. At the play and the opera he sat thinking of the
silent, lonely house at Tuakingum, dark among its leafless maples, and
the life that was no more in it than if they had all died out of it; and
he could not keep down a certain resentment, senseless and cruel, as if
the poor girl were somehow to blame for their exile. When he betrayed
this feeling to his wife, as he sometimes must, she scolded him for it,
and then offered, if he really thought anything like that, to go back to
Tuskingum at once; and it ended in his having to own himself wrong, and
humbly promise that he never would let the child dream how he felt,
unless he really wished to kill her. He was obliged to carry his self-
punishment so far as to take Lottie very sharply to task when she broke
out in hot rebellion, and declared that it was all Ellen's fault; she was
not afraid of killing her sister; and though she did not say it to her,
she said it of her, that anybody else could have got rid of that fellow
without turning the whole family out of house and home.
Lottie, in fact, was not having a bit good time in New York, which she
did not find equal in any way to Tuskingum for fun. She hated the dull
propriety of the hotel, where nobody got acquainted, and every one was as
afraid as death of every one else; and in her desolation she was thrown
back upon the society of her brother Boyne. They became friends in their
common dislike of New York; and pending some chance of bringing each
other under condemnation they lamented their banishment from Tuskingum
together. But even Boyne contrived to make the heavy time pass more
lightly than she in the lessons he had with a tutor, and the studies of
the city which he carried on. When the skating was not good in Central
Park he spent most of his afternoons and evenings at the vaudeville
theatres. None of the dime museums escaped his research, and he
conversed with freaks and monsters of all sorts upon terms of friendly
confidence. He reported their different theories of themselves to his
family with the same simple-hearted interest that he criticised the song
and dance artists of the vaudeville theatres. He became an innocent but
by no means uncritical connoisseur of their attractions, and he surprised
with the constancy and variety of his experience in them a gentleman who
sat next him one night. Boyne thought him a person of cultivation, and
consulted him upon the opinion he had formed that there was not so much
harm in such places as people said. The gentleman distinguished in
saying that he thought you would not find more harm in them, if you did
not bring it with you, than you would in the legitimate theatres; and in
the hope of further wisdom from him, Boyne followed him out of the
theatre and helped him on with his overcoat. The gentleman walked home
to his hotel with him, and professed a pleasure in his acquaintance which
he said he trusted they might sometime renew.
All at once the Kentons began to be acquainted in the hotel, as often
happens with people after they have long ridden up and down in the
elevator together in bonds of apparently perpetual strangeness. From one
friendly family their acquaintance spread to others until they were,
almost without knowing it, suddenly and simultaneously on smiling and
then on speaking terms with the people of every permanent table in the
dining-room. Lottie and Boyne burst the chains of the unnatural kindness
which bound them, and resumed their old relations of reciprocal censure.
He found a fellow of his own age in the apartment below, who had the same
country traditions and was engaged in a like inspection of the city; and
she discovered two girls on another floor, who said they received on
Saturdays and wanted her to receive with them. They made a tea for her,
and asked some real New Yorkers; and such a round of pleasant little
events began for her that Boyne was forced to call his mother's attention
to the way Charlotte was going on with the young men whom she met and
frankly asked to call upon her without knowing anything about them; you
could not do that in New York, he said.
But by this time New York had gone to Mrs. Kenton's head, too, and she
was less fitted to deal with Lottie than at home. Whether she had
succeeded or not in helping Ellen take her mind off herself, she had
certainly freed her own from introspection in a dream of things which had
seemed impossible before. She was in that moment of a woman's life which
has a certain pathos for the intelligent witness, when, having reared her
children and outgrown the more incessant cares of her motherhood, she
sometimes reverts to her girlish impulses and ideals, and confronts the
remaining opportunities of life with a joyful hope unknown to our heavier
and sullener sex in its later years. It is this peculiar power of
rejuvenescence which perhaps makes so many women outlive their husbands,
who at the same age regard this world as an accomplished fact. Mrs.
Kenton had kept up their reading long after Kenton found himself too busy
or too tired for it; and when he came from his office at night and fell
asleep over the book she wished him to hear, she continued it herself,
and told him about it. When Ellen began to show the same taste, they
read together, and the mother was not jealous when the father betrayed
that he was much prouder of his daughter's culture than his wife's. She
had her own misgivings that she was not so modern as Ellen, and she
accepted her judgment in the case of some authors whom she did not like
She now went about not only to all the places where she could make
Ellen's amusement serve as an excuse, but to others when she could not
coax or compel the melancholy girl. She was as constant at matinees of
one kind as Boyne at another sort; she went to the exhibitions of
pictures, and got herself up in schools of painting; she frequented
galleries, public and private, and got asked to studio teas; she went to
meetings and conferences of aesthetic interest, and she paid an easy way
to parlor lectures expressive of the vague but profound ferment in
women's souls; from these her presence in intellectual clubs was a simple
and natural transition. She met and talked with interesting people, and
now and then she got introduced to literary people. Once, in a book-
store, she stood next to a gentleman leaning over the same counter, whom
a salesman addressed by the name of a popular author, and she remained
staring at him breathless till he left the place. When she bragged of
the prodigious experience at home, her husband defied her to say how it
differed from meeting the lecturers who had been their guests in
Tuskingum, and she answered that none of them compared with this author;
and, besides, a lion in his own haunts was very different from a lion
going round the country on exhibition. Kenton thought that was pretty
good, and owned that she had got him there.
He laughed at her, to the children, but all the same she believed that
she was living in an atmosphere of culture, and with every breath she was
sensible of an intellectual expansion. She found herself in the
enjoyment of so wide and varied a sympathy with interests hitherto
strange to her experience that she could not easily make people believe
she had never been to Europe. Nearly every one she met had been several
times, and took it for granted that she knew the Continent as well as
She denied it with increasing shame; she tried to make Kenton understand
how she felt, and she might have gone further if she had not seen how
homesick he was for Tuskingum. She did her best to coax him and scold
him into a share of the pleasure they were all beginning to have in New
York. She made him own that Ellen herself was beginning to be gayer; she
convinced him that his business was not suffering in his absence and that
he was the better from the complete rest he was having. She defied him,
to say, then, what was the matter with him, and she bitterly reproached
herself, in the event, for not having known that it was not homesickness
alone that was the trouble. When he was not going about with her, or
doing something to amuse the children, he went upon long, lonely walks,
and came home silent and fagged. He had given up smoking, and he did not
care to sit about in the office of the hotel where other old fellows
passed the time over their papers and cigars, in the heat of the glowing
grates. They looked too much like himself, with their air of
unrecognized consequence, and of personal loss in an alien environment.
He knew from their dress and bearing that they were country people, and
it wounded him in a tender place to realize that they had each left
behind him in his own town an authority and a respect which they could
not enjoy in New York. Nobody called them judge, or general, or doctor,
or squire; nobody cared who they were, or what they thought; Kenton did
not care himself; but when he missed one of them he envied him, for then
he knew that he had gone back to the soft, warm keeping of his own
Back to Full Books