Fennel and Rue
William Dean Howells
Part 3 out of 3
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
Back to Full Books