Literary Love-Letters and Other Stories
Part 2 out of 3
He helped her into the waiting gondola. She settled back upon the
cushions, stretched one languid arm in farewell. He could feel the smile
with which she swept Caspar Severance, the women at work in the rio over
their kettles, the sun-bright stretch of waters--all impartially.
He lay down in the shade of the Redentore wall. Eight weeks ago there had
been a dizzy hour, a fainting scene in a crowded court-room, a
consultation with a doctor, the conventional prescription, a fortnight of
movement--then _this_. He had cursed that combination of nerve and tissue;
equally he cursed this. One word to his gondolier and in two hours he
could be on the train for Milan, Paris, London--then indefinite years of
turning about in the crowd, of jostling and being jostled. But he lay
still while the sun crept over him.
She was so unreal, once apart from her presence, like an evanescent mirage
on the horizon of the mind. He told himself that he had seen her, heard
her voice; that her eyes had been close to his, that she had touched him;
that there had been moments when she stood with the flowers of the garden.
He shook the drowsy sun from his limbs and went away, closing the door
softly on the empty garden. Venice, too, was a shadow made between water
and sun. The boat slipped in across the Zattere, in and out of cool water
alleys, under church windows and palings of furtive gardens, until he came
to the plashings of the waves on the marble steps along the Grand Canal.
Empty! that, too, was empty from side to side between cool palace facades,
the length of its expressive curve. From silence and emptiness into
silence the gondola pushed. Someone to incarnate this empty, vacuous
world! Memory troubled itself with a face, and eyes, and hair, and a voice
that mocked the little goings up and down of men.
In the afternoon Lawrence and Severance were dawdling over coffee in the
Piazza. A strident band sent up voluminous notes that boomed back and
forth between the palace and the stone arches of the procurate.
"And Burano?" Lawrence suggested, idly. The older man nodded.
"We lunched there--convent--Miss Barton bought lace."
He broke the pause by adding, negligently:
"I think I shall marry her."
Lawrence smoked; he could see the blue water about San Giorgio.
"Marry her," he repeated, vaguely. "You are engaged?"
The young man reached out a bony hand. One had but to wait to still the
problems of life. They strolled across the piazza.
"When do you leave?" Severance inquired.
"To-night," almost slipped from the young man's lips. He was murmuring to
himself. "I have played with Venice and lost. I must return to my busy
"I can't tell," he said.
Severance daintily stepped into a gondola. "La Giudecca."
Lawrence turned into the swarming alleys leading to the Rialto.
Streams of Venetians were eddying about the cul-de-sacs and enclosed
squares, hurrying over the bridges of the canals, turning in and out of
the calles, or coming to rest at the church doors. Lawrence drifted
tranquilly on. He had slipped a cable; he was free and ready for the open
sea. Following at random any turning that offered, he came out suddenly
upon Verocchio's black horseman against the black sky. The San Zanipolo
square was deserted; the cavernous San Zanipolo tenanted by tombs. Stone
figures, seated, a-horse, lying carved in death, started out from the
"Condottieri," the man muttered, "great robbers who saw and took!
Briseghella, Mocenigo, Leonardo Loredan, Vittore Capello." He rolled the
powerful names under his breath. "They are right--Take, enjoy; then die."
And he saw a hill sleeping sweetly in the mountains, where the sun rested
on its going down, and a villino with two old trees where the court seemed
ever silent. In the stealthy, passing hours she came and sat in the sun,
and _was_. And the two remembered, looking on the valley road, that
somewhere lay in the past a procession of storms and mornings and nights
which was called the world, and a procession of people which was called
life. But she looked at him and smiled.
Outside in the square the transparent dusk of Venice settled down. In the
broad canal of the Misericordia a faint plash and drip from a passing
gondola; then, in a moment, as the boat rounded into the rio, a resounding
"Stai"; again silence and the robber in bronze.
He waited for a sign from the Giudecca. He told himself that Theodosia
Barton was not done with him yet, nor he with her.
The tourist-stream, turning northward from Rome and Florence, met in
Venice a new stream of Germans. The paved passage beside the hotel garden
was alive with a cosmopolitan picnic party. Lawrence lingered and watched;
perhaps when the current set strongly to the north again, it would carry
him along with it.
He had not seen Caspar Severance. Each day of delay made it more awkward
to meet him, made the confession of disappointment more obvious, he
reflected. Each day it was easier to put out to the lagoons for a still
dream, and return when the Adriatic breeze was winding into the heated
calles. Over there, in the heavy-scented garden on the Giudecca, lined
against a purplish sea, she was resting; she had given free warning for
him to go, but she was there----.
"She holds me here in the Mare Morto, where the sea-weeds wind about and
And he believed that he should meet her somewhere in the dead lagoon, out
yonder around the city, in the enveloping gloom of the waters which held
the pearl of Venice.
So each afternoon his gondola crept out from the Fondamenta del Zattere
into the ruffling waters of the Giudecca canal, and edged around the
deserted Campo di Marte. There the gondolier labored in the viscous sea-
One day, from far behind, came the plash of an oar in the channel. As the
narrow hull swept past, he saw a hand gather in the felza curtains, and a
woman kneel to his side.
"So Bastian takes you always to the dead sea," she tossed aboard.
"Bastian might convoy other forestieri," Lawrence defended.
"Really? here to the laguna morta?" and as his gondola slid into the
channel, she added:
"I knew you were in Venice; you could not go without--another time."
"What would that bring?" he questioned her with his eyes.
"How should I know?" she answered, evasively. "Come with me out to the San
Giorgio in Alga. It is the loneliest place in Venice!"
Lawrence sat at her feet. The gondola moved on between the sea-weed banks.
Away off by Chioggia, filmy gray clouds grew over the horizon.
She shook her head. "For the others, landward. Those opalescent clouds
streaking the sky are merely the undertone of Venice; they are always
"The note of sadness," he suggested.
"You thought to have ended with _me_."
She rested her head on her hands and looked at him. He preferred to have
her mention Caspar Severance.
"Whenever I was beyond your eyes, you were not quite sure. You went back
to your hotel and wondered. The wine was over strong for your temperate
nerves, and there was so much to do elsewhere!" she mocked him.
"After all, I was a fragment. And you judged in your wise new-world
fashion that fragments were--useless."
Just ahead was a tiny patch of earth, rimmed close to the edge by ruined
walls. The current running landward drew them about the corner, under the
madonna's hand, and the gondola came to rest beside the lichens and
lizards of a crumbling wharf.
"No," she continued, "I shall not let you go so easily." One hand fell
beside his arm, figuratively indicating her thought.
"And I shall carry you off," he responded, slowly. "It lies between you--
and all, everything."
The gondolier had gone ashore. Silence had swallowed him up.
"All, myself and the others; effort, variety--for the man who loves _you_,
there is but one act in life."
"Splendid!" Her lips parted as if savoring his words.
His voice went on, low, strained to plunge his words into her heart.
"You are the woman, the curious thing that God made to stir life. You
would draw all activities to you, and through you nothing may pass. Like
the dead sea of grass you encompass the end of desire. You have been with
me from my manhood, the fata morgana that laughed at my love of other
creatures. I must meet you, I knew, face to face!"
His lips closed.
"I have met you," he added, sullenly, "and should I turn away, I should
not forget you. You will go with me, and I shall hunger for you and hate
you, and you will make it over, my life, to fill the hollow of your hand."
"To fill the hollow of my hand," she repeated softly, as if not
"You will mould it and pat it and caress it, until it fits. You will never
reason about it, nor doubt, nor talk; the tide flows underneath into the
laguna morta, and never wholly flows out. God has painted in man's mind
the possible; and he has painted the delusions, the impossible--and that
"Impossible," she murmured. "Oh, no, not that!"
Her eyes compelled him; her hand dropped to his hand. Venice sank into a
gray blot in the lagoon. The water was waveless like a deep night.
"Possible for a moment," he added, dreamily, "possible as the unsung
lyric. Possible as the light of worlds behind the sun and moon. Possible
as the mysteries of God that the angels whisper----"
"The only possible," again her eyes flamed; the dark hair gleamed black
above the white face.
"And that is enough for us forever!"
The heavy door of the Casa Lesca swung in, admitting Lawrence to a damp
stone-flagged room. At the farther end it opened on a little cortile,
where gnarled rose-bushes were in bloom. A broken Venus, presiding over a
dusty fountain, made the centre of the cortile, and there a strapping girl
from the campagna was busy trimming the stalks of a bunch of roses. The
signorina had not arrived; Lawrence lounged against the gunwale of a
gondola, which lay on one side of the court.
A pretentious iron gate led from the cortile to the farm, where the
running vines stretched from olive-stump to trellis, weaving a mat of
undulating green. It was so quiet, here in the rear of the palace, that
one could almost hear the hum of the air swimming over the broad vine
Lawrence, at first alert, then drowsy, reclined in the shade, and watched
the girl. From time to time she threw him a soft word of Venetian. Then,
gathering her roses, she shook them in his face and tripped up the stairs
to the palace above.
He had made the appointment without intention, but he came to fulfil it in
a tumult of energy.
_She_ must choose and _he_ arrange--for that future which troubled his
mind. But the heated emptiness of the June afternoon soothed his will. He
saw that whatever she bade, that he would do. Still here, while he was
alone, before her presence came to rule, he plotted little things. When he
was left with himself he wondered about it; no, he did not want her, did
not want it! His life was over there, beyond her, and she must bend to
that conception. People, women, anyone, this piece of beauty and sense,
were merely episodic. The sum was made from all, and greater than all.
The door groaned, and he turned to meet her, shivering in the damp
passage. She gathered a wrap about her shoulders.
"Caspar would not go," she explained, appealingly.
"Which one is to go?" the young man began. She sank down on a bench and
turned her head wearily to the vineyard. Over the swaying tendrils of the
vine, a dark line, a blue slab of salt water, made the horizon.
"Should I know?" her face said, mutely.
"He thinks you should," she spoke, calmly. "He has been talking two hours
about you, your future, your brilliant performances----"
"That detained you!"
"He is plotting to make you a great man. You belong to the world, he said,
and, the world would have you. They need you to plan and exhort, I
"So you come to tell me--"
"Let us go out to the garden." She laid her hand reprovingly on his arm.
"We can see the pictures later."
She took his arm and directed him down the arched walk between the vines,
toward the purple sea.
"I did not realize that--that you were a little Ulysses. He warned me!"
"That you would love and worship at any wayside shrine; that the spirit of
devotion was not in you."
"And you believed?"
"It seemed so. I have thought so. Once a few feet away and you are
The young man was guiltily silent.
"And I am merely a wayside chapel, good for an idle prayer."
"Make it perpetual."
Her arm was heavy.
"Caspar wants you--away. He will try to arrange it. Perhaps you will
yield, and I shall lose."
"You mean he will make them recall me."
She said nothing.
"You can end it now." He stopped and raised her arm. They stood for a
moment, revolving the matter; a gardener came down the path. "You will get
the message tonight," she said, gloomily. "Go! The message will say
'come,' and you will obey."
"Shall we see the pictures?"
The peasant girl admitted them to the hall, and opened, here and there, a
long shutter. The vast hall, in the form of a Latin cross, revealed a
dusky line of frescoes.
"Veronese," she murmured. Lawrence turned to the open window that looked
across the water to the piazza. Beneath, beside the quay, a green-painted
Greek ship was unloading grain. Some panting, half-naked men were
shovelling the oats.
"We might go," he said; "Caspar is probably waiting for his report. You
can tell him that he has won."
Suddenly he felt her very near him.
"No, not that way!"
"You are good to--love," she added deliberatively, placing her hands
lightly on his heart.
"You do not care enough; ah! that is sad, sad. Caspar, or denial, or God--
nothing would stand if you cared, more than you care for the little people
and things. See, I can take you now. I can say you are mine. I can make
you love--as another may again. But love me, now, as if no other minute
could ever follow."
She sighed the words.
"Here I am, to be loved. Let us settle nothing. Let us have this minute
for a few kisses."
The hall filled with dusk. The girl came back again. Suddenly a bell began
"Caspar," she said. "Stay here; I will go."
"We will go together."
"No," she waved him back. "You will get the message. Caspar is right. You
are not for any woman for always."
"Go," he flung out, angrily.
The great doors of the hall had rattled to, leaving him alone half will-
less. He started and then returned to the balcony over the fondamenta.
In the half-light he could see her stepping into a waiting gondola, and
certain words came floating up clearly as if said to him----
"To-morrow evening, the Contessa Montelli, at nine." But she seemed to be
speaking to her companion. The gondola shot out into the broad canal.
The long June day, Lawrence sat with the yellow cablegram before his eyes.
The message had come, indeed, and the way had been cleared. Eleven--the
train for Paris! passed; then, two, and now it was dusk again.
Had she meant those words for him? So carelessly flung back. That he would
* * * * *
"The signorina awaits you." The man pointed to the garden, and turned back
with his smoking lamp up the broad staircase that clung to one side of the
court. Across the strip of garden lay a bar of moonlight on the grass.
She was standing over the open well-head at the farther end where the
grass grew in rank tufts. The gloomy wall of the palace cast a shadow that
reached to the well. Just as he entered, a church-clock across the rio
struck the hour on a cracked bell.
"My friend has gone in--she is afraid of the night air," Miss Barton
explained. "Perhaps she is afraid of ghosts," she added, as the young man
stood silent by her side. "An old doge killed his wife and her children
here, some centuries ago. They say the woman walks. Are you afraid?"
"Of only one ghost----"
"Not yet a ghost!" Indeed, her warm, breathing self threw a spirit of life
into the moonlight and gainsaid his idle words.
"I have come for you," he said, a little peremptorily. "To do it I have
lost my engagement with life."
"So the message came. You refused, and now you look for a reward. A man
must be paid!"
"I tried to keep the other engagement and could not!"
"I shall make you forget it, as if it were some silly boyish dream." She
began to walk over the moonlit grass. "I was waiting for that--sacrifice.
For if you desire _me_, you must leave the other engagements, always."
"I know it."
"I lie in the laguna morta, and the dead are under me, and the living are
caught in my sea-weed." She laughed.
"Now, we have several long hours of moonlight. Shall we stay here?"
The young man shivered.
"No, the Lady Dogessa might disturb us. Let us go out toward Murano."
"Are you really--alive and mine, not Severance's?" he threw out,
She stopped and smiled.
"First you tell me that I disturb your plans; then you want to know if I
am preoccupied. You would like to have me as an 'extra' in the
As they came out on the flags by the gondola, another boat was pushing a
black prow into the rio from the Misericordia canal. It came up to the
water-steps where the two stood. Caspar Severance stepped out.
"Caspar!" Miss Barton laughed.
"They told me you were here for dinner," he explained. He was in evening
clothes, a Roman cloak hanging from his shoulders. He looked, standing on
the steps below the other two, like an impertinent intrusion.
"Lawrence! I thought you were on your way home."
Lawrence shook his head. All three were silent, wondering who would dare
to open the final theme.
"The Signora Contessa had a headache," Miss Barton began, nonchalantly.
Severance glanced skeptically at the young American by her side.
"So you fetched il dottore americano? Well, Giovanni is waiting to carry
Miss Barton stepped forward slowly, as if to enter the last gondola whose
prow was nuzzling by the steps.
Lawrence took her hand and motioned to his gondola.
Severance smiled, placidly.
"You will miss the midnight train."
The young man halted a moment, and Miss Barton's arm slipped into his
"Perhaps," he muttered.
"The night will be cool for you," Severance turned to the woman. She
wavered a moment.
"You will miss more than the midnight train," Severance added to the young
fellow, in a low voice.
Lawrence knelt beside his gondola. He glanced up into the face of the
woman above him. "Will you come?" he murmured. She gathered up her dress
and stepped firmly into the boat. Severance, left alone on the fondamenta,
watched the two. Then he turned back to his gondola. The two boats floated
out silently into the Misericordia Canal.
"To the Cimeterio," Miss Barton said. "To the Canale Grande," Severance
The two men raised their hats.
* * * * *
For a few moments the man and the woman sat without words, until the
gondola cleared the Fondamenta Nuova, and they were well out in the sea of
moonlight. Ahead of them lay the stucco walls of the Cimeterio, glowing
softly in the white light. Some dark spots were moving out from the city
mass to their right, heading for the silent island.
"There goes the conclusion," Lawrence nodded to the funeral boats.
"But between us and them lies a space of years--life."
"You looked. It was decided."
The city detached itself insensibly from them, lying black behind. A light
wind came down from Treviso, touching the white waves.
"You are thinking that back there, up the Grand Canal, lie fame and
accomplishment. You are thinking that now you have your fata
morgana--nothing else. You are already preparing a grave for her in your
Lawrence took her head in his hands. "Never," he shot out the word.
"Never--you are mine; I have come all these ocean miles to find you. I
have come for an accounting with the vision that troubles man." Her face
"I am Venice, you said. I am set in the mare morto. I am built on the sea-
weed. But from me you shall not go. You came over the mountains for this."
The man sighed. Some ultimate conception of life seemed to outline itself
on the whitish walls of the Cimeterio--a question of sex. The man would go
questioning visions. The woman was held by one.
"Caspar Severance will find his way, and will play your game for you," she
went on coaxingly. "But this," her eyes were near him, "_this_ is a moment
of life. You have chosen. There is no mine and thine."
One by one the campaniles of Venice loomed, dark pillars in the white sky.
And all around toward Mestre and Treviso and Torcello; to San Pietro di
Castello and the grim walls of the arsenal, the mare morto heaved gently
CHICAGO, January, 1897.
THE PRICE OF ROMANCE
They were paying the price of their romance, and the question was whether
they would pay it cheerfully. They had been married a couple of years, and
the first flush of excitement over their passion and the stumbling-blocks
it had met was fading away. When he, an untried young lawyer and delicate
dilettante, had married her she was a Miss Benton, of St. Louis, "niece of
Oliphant, that queer old fellow who made his money in the Tobacco Trust,"
and hence with no end of prospects. Edwards had been a pleasant enough
fellow, and Oliphant had not objected to his loafing away a vacation about
the old house at Quogue. Marriage with his niece, the one remaining member
of his family who walked the path that pleased him, was another thing. She
had plenty of warning. Had he not sent his only son adrift as a beggar
because he had married a little country cousin? He could make nothing out
of Edwards except that he was not keen after business--loafed much, smoked
much, and fooled with music, possibly wrote songs at times.
Yet Miss Benton had not expected that cruel indifference when she
announced her engagement to the keen old man. For she was fond of him and
"When do you think of marrying?" had been his single comment. She guessed
the unexpressed complement to that thought, "You can stay here until that
time. Then good-by."
She found in herself an admirable spirit, and her love added devotion and
faith in the future, her lover's future. So she tided over the months of
her engagement, when her uncle's displeasure settled down like a fog over
the pleasant house. Edwards would run down frequently, but Oliphant
managed to keep out of his way. It was none of his affair, and he let them
see plainly this aspect of it. Her spirit rose. She could do as other
women did, get on without candy and roses, and it hurt her to feel that
she had expected money from her uncle. She could show him that they were
So they were married and went to live in a little flat in Harlem, very
modest, to fit their income. Oliphant had bade her good-by with the
courtesy due to a tiresome Sunday visitor. "Oh, you're off, are you?" his
indifferent tones had said. "Well, good-by; I hope you will have a good
time." And that was all. Even the colored cook had said more; the servants
in general looked deplorable. Wealth goes so well with a pretty, bright
Thus it all rested in the way they would accept the bed they had made.
Success would be ample justification. Their friends watched to see how
well they would solve the problem they had so jauntily set themselves.
Edwards was by no means a _faineant_--his record at the Columbia Law
School promised better than that, and he had found a place in a large
office that might answer for the stepping-stone. As yet he had not
individualized himself; he was simply charming, especially in correct
summer costume, luxuriating in indolent conversation. He had the well-
bred, fine-featured air of so many of the graduates from our Eastern
colleges. The suspicion of effeminacy which he suggested might be unjust,
but he certainly had not experienced what Oliphant would call "life." He
had enough interest in music to dissipate in it. Marriage was an excellent
settler, though, on a possible income of twelve hundred!
The two years had not the expected aspiring march, however; ten-dollar
cases, even, had not been plenty in Edwards's path, and he suspected that
he was not highly valued in his office. He had been compelled to tutor a
boy the second year, and the hot summers made him listless. In short, he
felt that he had missed his particular round in the ladder. He should have
studied music, or tried for the newspapers as a musical critic.
Sunday afternoons he would loll over the piano, picturing the other life--
that life which is always so alluring! His wife followed him heroically
into all his moods with that pitiful absorption such women give to the men
they love. She believed in him tremendously, if not as a lawyer, as a man
and an artist. Somehow she hadn't been an inspiration, and for that she
humbly blamed herself. How was it accomplished, this inspiration? A loving
wife inspired the ordinary man. Why not an artist?
They got into the habit of planning their life all differently--so that it
might not be limited and futile. _If_ they had a few thousand dollars!
That was a bad sign, and she knew it, and struggled against it. _If_ she
could only do something to keep the pot boiling while he worked at his
music for fame and success! But she could reduce expenses; so the one
servant went, and the house-bills grew tinier and tinier. However, they
didn't "make connections," and--something was wrong--she wondered what.
As the second summer came in they used to stroll out of their stuffy
street of an evening, up St. Nicholas Avenue, to the Park, or to the
Riverside Drive. There they would sit speechless, she in a faded blue
serge skirt with a crisp, washed-out shirtwaist, and an old sailor hat--
dark and pretty, in spite of her troubled face; he in a ready-made black
serge suit, yet very much the gentleman--pale and listless. Their eyes
would seek out any steamer in the river below, or anything else that
reminded them of other conditions. He would hum a bit from an opera. They
needed no words; their faces were evident, though mute, indications of the
tragedy. Then they would return at bed-time into the sultry streets, where
from the open windows of the flats came the hammered music of the city.
Such discordant efforts for harmony! Her heart would fill over him,
yearning like a mother to cherish him in all the pleasant ways of life,
but impotent, impotent!
She never suggested greater effort. Conditions were hard, she said over
and over; if there were only a little money to give him a start in another
direction. She admired his pride in never referring to old Oliphant. Her
uncle was often in her mind, but she felt that even if she could bring
herself to petition him, her husband would indignantly refuse to consider
Still, she thought about it, and especially this summer, for she knew he
was then at Quogue. Moreover, she expected her first child. That worried
her daily; she saw how hopeless another complication would make their
fate. She cried over it at night when the room was too hot to sleep. And
then she reproached herself; God would punish her for not wanting her
One day she had gone down town to get some materials for the preparations
she must make. She liked to shop, for sometimes she met old friends; this
time in a large shop she happened upon a woman she had known at Quogue,
the efficient wife of a successful minister in Brooklyn. This Mrs.
Leicester invited her to lunch at the cafe at the top of the building, and
she had yielded, after a little urging, with real relief. They sat down at
a table near the window--it was so high up there was not much noise--and
the streets suddenly seemed interesting to Mrs. Edwards. The quiet table,
the pleasant lunch, and the energetic Mrs. Leicester were all refreshing.
"And how is your husband?" Mrs. Leicester inquired, keenly. As a
minister's wife she was compelled to interest herself in sentimental
complications that inwardly bored her. It was a part of her professional
duties. She had taken in this situation at once--she had seen that kind of
thing before; it made her impatient. But she liked the pretty little woman
before her, and was sorry she hadn't managed better.
"Pretty well," Mrs. Edwards replied, consciously. "The heat drags one down
Mrs. Leicester sent another quick glance across the table. "You haven't
been to Quogue much of late, have you? You know how poorly your uncle is."
"No! _You_ must know that Uncle James doesn't see us."
"Well," Mrs. Leicester went on, hastily, "he's been quite ill and feeble,
and they say he's growing queer. He never goes away now, and sees nobody.
Most of the servants have gone. I don't believe he will last long."
Then her worldliness struggled with her conventional position, and she
relapsed into innuendo. "He ought to have someone look after him, to see
him die decently, for he can't live beyond the autumn, and the only person
who can get in is that fat, greasy Dr. Shapless, who is after his money
for the Methodist missions. He goes down every week. I wonder where Mr.
Oliphant's son can be?"
Mrs. Edwards took in every word avidly while she ate. But she let the
conversation drift off to Quogue, their acquaintances, and the difficulty
of shopping in the summer. "Well, I must be going to get the train,"
exclaimed Mrs. Leicester at last. With a sigh the young wife rose, looked
regretfully down at the remains of their liberal luncheon, and then walked
silently to the elevator. They didn't mention Oliphant again, but there
was something understood between them. Mrs. Leicester hailed a cab; just
as she gathered her parcels to make a dive, she seemed illuminated with an
idea. "Why don't you come down some Sunday--visit us? Mr. Leicester would
Mrs. Edwards was taken unawares, but her instincts came to her rescue.
"Why, we don't go anywhere; it's awfully kind, and I should be delighted;
I am afraid Mr. Edwards can't."
"Well," sighed Mrs. Leicester, smiling back, unappeased, "come if you can;
come alone." The cab drove off, and the young wife felt her cheeks burn.
* * * * *
The Edwardses had never talked over Oliphant or his money explicitly. They
shrank from it; it would be a confession of defeat. There was something
abhorrently vulgar in thus lowering the pitch of their life. They had come
pretty near it often this last summer. But each feared what the other
might think. Edwards especially was nervous about the impression it might
make on his wife, if he should discuss the matter. Mrs. Leicester's talk,
however, had opened possibilities for the imagination. So little of Uncle
James's money, she mused, would make them ideally happy--would put her
husband on the road to fame. She had almost made up her mind on a course
of action, and she debated the propriety of undertaking the affair without
her husband's knowledge. She knew that his pride would revolt from her
plan. She could pocket her own pride, but she was tender of his
conscience, of his comfort, of his sensibilities. It would be best to act
at once by herself--perhaps she would fail, anyway--and to shield him from
the disagreeable and useless knowledge and complicity. She couldn't resist
throwing out some feelers, however, at supper that night. He had come in
tired and soiled after a day's tramp collecting bills that wouldn't
collect this droughty season. She had fussed over him and coaxed a smile
out, and now they were at their simple tea.
She recounted the day's events as indifferently as possible, but her face
trembled as she described the luncheon, the talk, the news of her uncle,
and at last Mrs. Leicester's invitation. Edwards had started at the first
mention of Quogue.
"It's been in his mind," she thought, half-relieved, and his nervous
movements of assumed indifference made it easier for her to go on.
"It was kind of her, wasn't it?" she ended.
"Yes," Edwards replied, impressively. "Of course you declined."
"Oh, yes; but she seemed to expect us all the same." Edwards frowned, but
he kept an expectant silence. So she remarked, tentatively:
"It would be so pleasant to see dear old Quogue again." Her hypocrisy made
her flush. Edwards rose abruptly from the table and wandered about the
room. At length he said, in measured tones, his face averted from her:
"_Of course_, under the circumstances, we cannot visit Quogue while your
uncle lives--unless he should send for us." Thus he had put himself
plainly on record. His wife suddenly saw the folly and meanness of her
It was hardly a disappointment; her mind felt suddenly relieved from an
unpleasant responsibility. She went to her husband, who was nervously
playing at the piano, and kissed him, almost reverently. It had been a
temptation from which he had saved her. They talked that evening a good
deal, planning what they would do if they could get over to Europe for a
year, calculating how cheaply they could go. It was an old subject.
Sometimes it kept off the blues; sometimes it indicated how blue they
were. Mrs. Edwards forgot the disturbance of the day until she was lying
wide awake in her hot bed. Then the old longings came in once more; she
saw the commonplace present growing each month more dreary; her husband
drudging away, with his hopes sinking. Suddenly he spoke:
"What made Mrs. Leicester ask us, do you suppose?" So he was thinking of
"I don't know!" she replied, vaguely. Soon his voice came again:
"You understand, Nell, that I distinctly disapprove of our making any
effort _that way_." She didn't think that her husband was a hypocrite. She
did not generalize when she felt deeply. But she knew that her husband
didn't want the responsibility of making any effort. Somehow she felt that
he would be glad if she should make the effort and take the responsibility
on her own shoulders.
Why had he lugged it into plain light again if he hadn't expected her to
do something? How could she accomplish it without making it unpleasant for
him? Before daylight she had it planned, and she turned once and kissed
her husband, protectingly.
* * * * *
That August morning, as she walked up the dusty road, fringed with
blossoming golden-rod, toward the little cottage of the Leicesters, she
was content, in spite of her tumultuous mind. It was all so heavenly
quiet! the thin, drooping elms, with their pendent vines, like the
waterfalls of a maiden lady; the dusty snarls of blackberry bushes; the
midsummer contented repose of the air, and that distantly murmuring sea--
it was all as she remembered it in her childhood. A gap of disturbed years
closed up, and peace once more! The old man slowly dying up beyond in that
deserted, gambrel-roofed house would Forget and forgive.
Mrs. Leicester received her effusively, anxious now not to meddle
dangerously in what promised to be a ticklish business. Mrs. Edwards must
stay as long as she would. The Sundays were especially lonely, for Mr.
Leicester did not think she should bear the heat of the city so soon, and
left her alone when he returned to Brooklyn for his Sunday sermon. Of
course, stay as long as Mr. Edwards could spare her--a month; if possible.
At the mention of Mr. Edwards the young wife had a twinge of remorse for
the manner in which she had evaded him--her first deceit for his sake. She
had talked vaguely about visiting a friend at Moriches, and her husband
had fallen in with the idea. New York was like a finely divided furnace,
radiating heat from every tube-like street. So she was to go for a week or
ten days. Perhaps the matter would arrange itself before that time was up;
if not, she would write him what she had done. But ten days seemed so long
that she put uncomfortable thoughts out of her head.
Mrs. Leicester showed her to her room, a pretty little box, into which the
woodbine peeped and nodded, and where from one window she could get a
glimpse of the green marshes, with the sea beyond. After chatting awhile,
her hostess went out, protesting that her guest must be too tired to come
down. Mrs. Edwards gladly accepted the excuse, ate the luncheon the maid
brought, in two bites, and then prepared to sally forth.
She knew the path between the lush meadow-grass so well! Soon she was at
the entrance to the "Oliphant place." It was more run down than two years
ago; the lower rooms were shut up tight in massive green blinds that
reached to the warped boards of the veranda. It looked old, neglected,
sad, and weary; and she felt almost justified in her mission. She could
bring comfort and light to the dying man.
In a few minutes she was smothering the hysterical enthusiasm of her old
friend, Dinah. It was as she had expected: Oliphant had grown more
suspicious and difficult for the last two years, and had refused to see a
doctor, or, in fact, anyone but the Rev. Dr. Shapless and a country lawyer
whom he used when absolutely necessary. He hadn't left his room for a
month; Dinah had carried him the little he had seen fit to eat. She was
evidently relieved to see her old mistress once more at hand. She asked no
questions, and Mrs. Edwards knew that she would obey her absolutely.
They were sitting in Oliphant's office, a small closet off the more
pretentious library, and Mrs. Edwards could see the disorder into which
the old man's papers had fallen. The confusion preceding death had already
After laying aside her hat, she went up, unannounced, to her uncle's room,
determined not to give him an opportunity to dismiss her out of hand. He
was lying with his eyes closed, so she busied herself in putting the room
to rights, in order to quiet her nerves. The air was heavily languorous,
and soon in the quiet country afternoon her self-consciousness fell
asleep, and she went dreaming over the irresponsible past, the quiet
summers, and the strange, stern old man. Suddenly she knew that he was
awake and watching her closely. She started, but, as he said nothing, she
went on with her dusting, her hand shaking.
He made no comment while she brought him his supper and arranged the bed.
Evidently he would accept her services. Her spirit leapt up with the joy
of success. That was the first step. She deemed it best to send for her
meagre satchel, and to take possession of her old room. In that way she
could be more completely mistress of the situation and of him. She had had
no very definite ideas of action before that afternoon; her one desire had
been to be on the field of battle, to see what could be done, perhaps to
use a few tears to soften the implacable heart. But now her field opened
out. She must keep the old man to herself, within her own care--not that
she knew specifically what good that would do, but it was the tangible
nine points of the law.
The next morning Oliphant showed more life, and while she was helping him
into his dressing-gown, he vouchsafed a few grunts, followed by a piercing
"Is _he_ dead yet?"
The young wife flushed with indignant protest.
"Well, we haven't starved yet." But she was cowed by his cynical
examination. He relapsed into silence; his old, bristly face assumed a
sardonic peace whenever his eyes fell upon her. She speculated about that
wicked beatitude; it made her uncomfortable. He was still, however--never
a word from morning till night.
The routine of little duties about the sickroom she performed
punctiliously. In that way she thought to put her conscience to rights, to
regard herself in the kind role of ministering angel. That illusion was
hard to attain in the presence of the sardonic comment the old man seemed
to add. After all, it was a vulgar grab after the candied fruits of this
She had felt it necessary to explain her continued absence to her husband.
Mrs. Leicester, who did not appear to regard her actions as unexpected,
had undertaken that delicate business. Evidently, she had handled it
tactfully, for Mrs. Edwards soon received a hurried note. He felt that she
was performing her most obvious duty; he could not but be pleased that the
breach caused by him had been thus tardily healed. As long as her uncle
continued in his present extremity, she must remain. He would run down to
the Leicesters over Sundays, etc. Mrs. Edwards was relieved; it was nice
of him--more than that, delicate--not to be stuffy over her action.
The uppermost question these days of monotonous speculation was how long
would this ebb-tide of a tenacious life flow. She took a guilty interest
in her uncle's condition, and yet she more than half wished him to live.
Sometimes he would rally. Something unfulfilled troubled his mind, and
once he even crawled downstairs. She found him shakily puttering over the
papers in his huge davenport. He asked her to make a fire in the grate,
and then, gathering up an armful of papers, he knelt down on the brick
hearth, but suddenly drew back. His deep eyes gleamed hatefully at her.
Holding out several stiff papers, he motioned to her to burn them. Usually
she would have obeyed docilely enough, but this deviltry of merriment she
resented. While she delayed, standing erect before the smouldering sticks,
she noticed that a look of terror crept across the sick face. A spasm
shook him, and he fainted. After that his weakness kept him in bed. She
wondered what he had been so anxious to burn.
From this time her thoughts grew more specific. Just how should she attain
her ends? Had he made a will? Could he not now do something for them, or
would it be safer to bide their time? Indeed, for a few moments she
resolved to decide all by one straightforward prayer. She began, and the
old man seemed so contentedly prepared for the scene that she remained
In this extremity of doubt she longed to get aid from her husband. Yet
under the circumstances she dared to admit so little. One Saturday
afternoon he called at the house; she was compelled to share some of her
"He seems so very feeble," she remarked. They were sitting on the veranda
some distance from Oliphant's room, yet their conversation was furtive.
"Perhaps he should see a doctor or a minister."
"No, I don't think so," Edwards replied, assuringly. "You see, he doesn't
believe in either, and such things should be left to the person himself,
as long as he's in his right mind."
"And a lawyer?" Mrs. Edwards continued, probingly.
"Has he asked for one?"
"No, but he seems to find it hard to talk."
"I guess it's best not to meddle. Who's that?"
A little, fat man in baggy black trousers and a seersucker coat was
panting up the gentle hill to the gate. He had a puggy nose and a heavy,
thinly bearded face incased about the eyes in broad steel spectacles.
"That must be Dr. Shapless," she said, in a flutter.
"What of it?" Edwards replied.
"He mustn't come in," she cried, with sudden energy. "You must see him,
and send him away! He wants to see Uncle Oliphant. Tell him he's too
sick--to come another day." Edwards went down the path to meet him.
Through the window she could hear a low conversation, and then crunched
gravel. Meantime Oliphant seemed restlessly alert, expectant of something,
and with suspicious eyes intent on her.
Her heart thumped with relief when the gate clicked. Edwards had been
effective that time. Oliphant was trying to say something, but the hot
August day had been too much for him--it all ended in a mumble. Then she
pulled in the blinds, settled the pillows nervously, and left the room in
The fight had begun--and grimly.
* * * * *
"I wonder what the old cove wanted?" Edwards said the next day; "he was
dead set on seeing your uncle; said he had an engagement with him, and
looked me up and down. I stood him off, but he'll be down again."
"Don't you know about that new fund the Methodists are raising? Uncle
Oliphant has always helped the Methodists, and I suppose Dr. Shapless
wanted to see him about some contributions." Edwards asked no more
questions, and, in fact, got back to town on a pretext of business that
afternoon. He was clearly of no use in Quogue. His wife sent for a
physician that week. It was tardy justice to propriety, but it was safe
then, for Oliphant had given up all attempts to talk.
The doctor came, looked at the old man, and uttered a few remarks. He
would come again. Mrs. Edwards did not need to be told that the end was
near. The question was, how soon?
That week had another scare. Somehow old Slocum, the local lawyer Oliphant
used, had been summoned, and one morning she ran across him in the hall.
She knew the man well of old. He was surprised and pleased to see her, and
it was not difficult to get him out of the house without arousing his
suspicions. But he would talk so boisterously; she felt her uncle's eyes
aflame in anger.
"Be sure and send for me when he rallies, quick," Slocum whispered loudly
in the hall. "Perhaps we can do a little something for some folks." And
with a wink he went out.
Had she done the clever thing, after all, in shooing old Slocum out? Her
mind went over the possibilities in tense anxiety. If there were no will,
James, Jr., would get the whole, she thought. If there was a will already
in the house, in that old davenport, what then? Would Shapless get the
money? She grew keen in speculation. To leave her in the lurch, to give it
all to that greasy Shapless, would be the most natural trick in the world
for an incisive old fellow like Oliphant.
It was too much! She cried a little, and she began to hate the helpless
man upstairs. It occurred to her to poke about in the papers in the
adjoining room. She must do it at once, for she expected Edwards every
First she ran upstairs to see if her uncle was all right. As soon as she
entered, he glared at her bitterly and would have spoken. She noted the
effort and failure, elated. He could not betray her now, unless he rallied
wonderfully. So leaving the door ajar, she walked firmly downstairs. Now
she could satisfy her desire.
If the money were _all_ left to Shapless? She might secure the will, and
bargain with the old parasite for a few thousands of dollars. Her mind was
full of wild schemes. If she only knew a little more about affairs! She
had heard of wills, and read many novels that turned upon wills lost or
stolen. They had always seemed to her improbable, mere novels. Necessity
was stranger than fiction.
It did not take long to find the very articles she was after; evidently
Oliphant had been overhauling them on that last excursion from his room.
The package lay where he had dropped it when he fainted. There were two
documents. She unfolded them on the top of the mussy desk. They were hard
reading in all their legal dress, and her head was filled with fears lest
her husband should walk in. She could make out, however, that Oliphant was
much richer than she had ever vaguely supposed, and that since her
departure he had relented toward his son. For by the first will in date
she was the principal heir, a lot of queer charities coming in besides. In
the second, James, Jr., received something. Her name did not appear.
Several clauses had been added from time to time, each one giving more
money and lands to the Methodists. Probably Shapless was after another
codicil when he called.
It had taken her into the twilight to gain even a meagre idea of all this.
She was preparing to fold the documents up in their common wrapper, when
she felt the door open behind her. All she could see in the terror of the
moment was the gaunt white arm of her uncle, and the two angry eyes in the
shaking head. She shrieked, from pure nervousness, and at her cry the old
man fell in a heap.
The accident steeled her nerves. Dinah came in in a panic, and as they
were lifting the bony frame from the floor Edwards arrived. With his
assistance they got the sick man to bed.
That was clearly the last gasp. Yet Mrs. Edwards shook in dread every time
she entered the room. The look seemed conscious still, intensified
malignity and despair creeping in. She was afraid and guilty and unstrung.
Perhaps, with some sudden revival of his forces, he would kill her. He was
lying there, too still for defeat. His life had been an expression of
hates; the last one might be dreadful.
Yet she stood to her post in the sick-room, afraid, as she knew, to trust
herself with her husband. Her mind was soiled with seething thoughts, and,
in contrast, his seemed so fresh and pure! If she could keep him
unsuspicious of her, all would be well in the end. But the task she had
set herself for him was hard, so hard!
That night when all was still she crept downstairs and groped about in the
davenport for the papers. They had been lying there unopened where they
had fallen earlier in the evening. She struck a match, caught up the
fresher document, and hugged it to her as she toiled upstairs. When she
had tucked it away in her satchel the end seemed near. They must wait now.
She put her husband out of her mind. Outside, the warm summer days died
away over the sea, one by one, and the grass beyond the gates grew heavier
with dust. Life was tense in its monotony.
* * * * *
That had happened on a Saturday; Monday Dr. Shapless came again, his shoes
dusty from his long walk from the station. He looked oiled as ever, but
more determined. Mrs. Edwards daringly permitted him to see the dying
man--he had been lying in a stupor--for she was afraid that the reverend
doctor's loud tones in the hall might exasperate Oliphant to some wild
act. Dr. Shapless shut her from the room when he went in, but he did not
stay long. A restless despair had settled down on her uncle's face, there
to remain for the last few hours.
Her heart sank; she longed to cry out to the poor old man on the bed that
_she_ did not want his money. She remained with him all night, yet she did
not dare to approach his bed. She would disturb him.
He died the next afternoon, and at the last he looked out on the world and
at her with his final note of intelligence. It was pathetic, a suggestion
of past tenderness defeated, and of defeat in hate, too. She shuddered as
she closed his sad eyes; it was awful to meddle with a man's last
The funeral was almost surreptitious; old Dinah, the Leicesters, and the
Edwardses occupied the one carriage that followed him to the graveyard
across the village. They met a hay-cart or two on their way, but no
curious neighbors. Old Oliphant's death aroused no interest in this
village, ridden with summer strangers.
The day was impersonally suave and tender, with its gentle haze and autumn
premonitions. Mr. Leicester said a few equivocal words, while Mrs. Edwards
gazed helplessly into the grave. The others fell back behind the minister.
Between her and her uncle down there something remained unexplained, and
her heart ached.
* * * * *
They spent that night at the Leicesters', for Mrs. Edwards wearily refused
to return to the Oliphant place. Edwards carried the keys over to Slocum,
and told him to take the necessary steps toward settling the old man's
affairs. The next day they returned to the little flat in Harlem. The
Leicesters found their presence awkward, now that there was nothing to do,
and Mrs. Edwards was craving to be alone with her husband, to shut out the
past month from their lives as soon as possible.
These September days, while they both waited in secret anxiety, she clung
to him as she had never before. He was pure, the ideal she had voluntarily
given up, given up for his sake in order that he might have complete
perfection. His delicate sensitiveness kept him from referring to that
painful month, or to possible expectations. She worshipped him the more,
and was thankful for his complete ignorance. Their common life could go on
untainted and noble.
Yet Edwards betrayed his nervous anxiety. His eagerness for the mail every
morning, his early return from business, indicated his troubled mind.
The news came at breakfast-time. Mrs. Edwards handed Slocum's letter
across the table and waited, her face wanly eager. The letter was long; it
took some half-dozen large letter-sheets for the country lawyer to tell
his news, but in the end it came. He had found the will and was happy to
say that Mrs. Edwards was a large, a very large, beneficiary. Edwards read
these closing sentences aloud. He threw down the letter and tried to take
her in his arms. But she tearfully pushed him away, and then, repenting,
clasped his knees.
"Oh, Will! it's so much, so very much," she almost sobbed.
Edwards looked as if that were not an irremediable fault in their good
luck. He said nothing. Already he was planning their future movements.
Under the circumstances neither cared to discuss their happiness, and so
they got little fun from the first bloom.
In spite of Mrs. Edwards's delicate health and her expected confinement
they decided to go abroad. She was feverishly anxious for him to begin his
real work at once, to prove himself; and it might be easier to forget her
one vicious month when the Atlantic had been crossed. They put their
affairs to rights hurriedly, and early in November sailed for France.
The Leicesters were at the dock to bid them God-speed and to chirrup over
their good fortune.
"It's all like a good, old-fashioned story," beamed Mrs. Leicester,
content with romance for once, now that it had arranged itself so
"Very satisfactory; quite right," the clergyman added. "We'll see you soon
in Paris. We're thinking of a gay vacation, and will let you know."
Edwards looked fatuous; his wife had an orderly smile. She was glad when
Sandy Hook sank into the mist. She had only herself to avoid now.
They took some pleasant apartments just off the Rue de Rivoli, and then
their life subsided into the complacent commonplace of possession. She was
outwardly content to enjoy with her husband, to go to the galleries, the
opera, to try the restaurants, and to drive.
Yet her life went into one idea, a very fixed idea, such as often takes
hold of women in her condition. She was eager to see him at work. If he
accomplished something--even content!--she would feel justified and
perhaps happy. As to the child, the idea grew strange to her. Why should
she have a third in the problem? For she saw that the child must take its
part in her act, must grow up and share their life and inherit the
Oliphant money. In brief, she feared the yet unborn stranger, to whom she
would be responsible in this queer way. And the child could not repair the
wrong as could her husband. Certainly the child was an alien.
She tried to be tender of her husband in his boyish glee and loafing. She
could understand that he needed to accustom himself to his new freedom, to
have his vacation first. She held herself in, tensely, refraining from
criticism lest she might mar his joy. But she counted the days, and when
her child had come, she said to herself, _then_ he must work.
This morbid life was very different from what she had fancied the rich
future would be, as she looked into the grave, the end of her struggle,
that September afternoon. But she had grown to demand so much more from
_him_; she had grown so grave! His bright, boyish face, the gentle curls,
had been dear enough, and now she looked for the lines a man's face should
have. Why was he so terribly at ease? The world was bitter and hard in its
conditions, and a man should not play.
Late in December the Leicesters called; they were like gleeful sparrows,
twittering about. Mrs. Edwards shuddered to see them again, and when they
were gone she gave up and became ill.
Her tense mind relieved itself in hysterics, which frightened her to
further repression. Then one night she heard herself moaning: "Why did I
have to take all? It was so little, so very little, I wanted, and I had to
take all. Oh, Will, Will, you should have done for yourself! Why did you
need this? Why couldn't you do as other men do? It's no harder for you
than for them." Then she recollected herself. Edwards was holding her hand
and soothing her.
Some weeks later, when she was very ill, she remembered those words, and
wondered if he had suspected anything. Her child came and died, and she
forgot this matter, with others. She lay nerveless for a long time,
without thought; Edwards and the doctor feared melancholia. So she was
taken to Italy for the cold months. Edwards cared for her tenderly, but
his caressing presence was irritating, instead of soothing, to her. She
was hungry for a justification that she could not bring about.
At last it wore on into late spring. She began to force herself back into
the old activities, in order to leave no excuse for further dawdling. Her
attitude became terribly judicial and suspicious.
An absorbing idleness had settled down over Edwards, partly excused to
himself by his wife's long illness. When he noticed that his desultory
days made her restless, he took to loafing about galleries or making
little excursions, generally in company with some forlorn artist he had
picked up. He had nothing, after all, so very definite that demanded his
time; he had not yet made up his mind for any attempts. And something in
the domestic atmosphere unsettled him. His wife held herself aloof, with
alien sympathies, he felt.
So they drifted on to discontent and unhappiness until she could bear it
no longer without expression.
"Aren't we to return to Paris soon?" she remarked one morning as they
idled over a late breakfast. "I am strong now, and I should like to settle
Edwards took the cue, idly welcoming any change.
"Why, yes, in the fall. It's too near the summer now, and there's no
"Yes, there _is_ hurry," his wife replied, hastily. "We have lost almost
"Out of a lifetime," Edwards put in, indulgently.
She paused, bewildered by the insinuation of his remark. But her mood was
too incendiary to avoid taking offence. "Do you mean that that would be a
_life_, loafing around all day, enjoying this, that, and the other fine
pleasure? That wasn't what we planned."
"No, but I don't see why people who are not driven should drive
themselves. I want to get the taste of Harlem out of my mouth." He was a
bit sullen. A year ago her strict inquiry into his life would have been
absurd. Perhaps the money, her money, gave her the right.
"If people don't drive themselves," she went on, passionately, "they ought
to be driven. It's cowardly to take advantage of having money to do
nothing. You wanted the--the opportunity to do something. Now you have
Edwards twisted his wicker chair into uncomfortable places. "Well, are you
sorry you happen to have given me the chance?" He looked at her coldly, so
that a suspicious thought shot into her mind.
"Yes," she faltered, "if it means throwing it away, I _am_ sorry."
She dared no more. Her mind was so close on the great sore in her gentle
soul. He lit a cigarette, and sauntered down the hotel garden. But the
look he had given her--a queer glance of disagreeable intelligence--
illumined her dormant thoughts.
What if he had known all along? She remembered his meaning words that hot
night when they talked over Oliphant's illness for the first time. And why
had he been so yielding, so utterly passive, during the sordid drama over
the dying man? What kept him from alluding to the matter in any way? Yes,
he must have encouraged her to go on. _She_ had been his tool, and he the
passive spectator. The blind certainty of a woman made the thing assured,
settled. She picked up the faint yellow rose he had laid by her plate, and
tore it slowly into fine bits. On the whole, he was worse than she.
But before he returned she stubbornly refused to believe herself.
* * * * *
In the autumn they were again in Paris, in soberer quarters, which were
conducive to effort. Edwards was working fitfully with several teachers,
goaded on, as he must confess to himself, by a pitiless wife. Not much was
discussed between them, but he knew that the price of the _statu quo_ was
She was watching him; he felt it and resented it, but he would not
understand. All the idealism, the worship of the first sweet months in
marriage, had gone. Of course that incense had been foolish, but it was
sweet. Instead, he felt these suspicious, intolerant eyes following his
soul in and out on its feeble errands. He comforted himself with the trite
consolation that he was suffering from the natural readjustment in a
woman's mind. It was too drastic for that, however.
He was in the habit of leaving her in the evenings of the opera. The light
was too much for her eyes, and she was often tired. One wet April night,
when he returned late, he found her up, sitting by the window that
overlooked the steaming boulevard. Somehow his soul was rebellious, and
when she asked him about the opera he did not take the pains to lie.
"Oh, I haven't been there," he muttered, "I am beastly tired of it all.
Let's get out of it; to St. Petersburg or Norway--for the summer," he
Now that the understanding impended she trembled, for hitherto she had
never actually known. In suspicion there was hope. So she almost
"We go to Vienna next winter anyway, and I thought we had decided on
Switzerland for the summer."
"You decided! But what's the use of keeping up the mill night and day?
There's plenty of opportunity over there for an educated gentleman with
money, if what you are after is a 'sphere' for me."
"You want to--to go back now?"
"No, I want to be let alone."
"Don't you care to pay for all you have had? Haven't you any sense of
justice to Uncle Oliphant, to your opportunities?"
"Oliphant!" Edwards laughed, disagreeably. "Wouldn't he be pleased to have
an operetta, a Gilbert and Sullivan affair, dedicated to him! No. I have
tried to humor your idea of making myself famous. But what's the use of
being wretched?" The topic seemed fruitless. Mrs. Edwards looked over to
the slight, careless figure. He was sitting dejectedly on a large
fauteuil, smoking. He seemed fagged and spiritless. She almost pitied him
and gave in, but suddenly she rose and crossed the room.
"We've made ourselves pretty unhappy," she said, apologetically, resting
her hand on the lapel of his coat. "I guess it's mostly my fault, Will. I
have wanted so much that you should do something fine with Uncle
Oliphant's money, with _yourself_. But we can make it up in other ways."
"What are you so full of that idea for?" Edwards asked, curiously. "Why
can't you be happy, even as happy as you were in Harlem?" His voice was
"Don't you know?" she flashed back. "You _do_ know, I believe. Tell me,
did you look over those papers on the davenport that night Uncle James
The unexpected rush of her mind bewildered him. A calm lie would have set
matters to rights, but he was not master of it.
"So you were willing--you knew?"
"It wasn't my affair," he muttered, weakly, but she had left him.
He wandered about alone for a few days until the suspense became
intolerable. When he turned up one afternoon in their apartments he found
preparations on foot for their departure.
"We're going away?" he asked.
"Yes, to New York."
"Not so fast," he interrupted, bitterly. "We might as well face the matter
openly. What's the use of going back there?"
"We can't live here, and besides I shall be wanted there."
"You can't do anything now. Talk sensibly about it. I will not go back."
She looked at him coldly, critically. "I cabled Slocum yesterday, and we
must live somehow."
"You--" but she laid her hand on his arm. "It makes no difference now, you
know, and it can't be changed. I've done everything."
CHICAGO, August, 1895.
A REJECTED TITIAN
"John," my wife remarked in horrified tones, "he's coming to Rome!"
"Who is coming to Rome--the Emperor?"
"Uncle Ezra--see," she handed me the telegram. "Shall arrive in Rome
Wednesday morning; have Watkins at the Grand Hotel."
I handed the despatch to Watkins.
"Poor uncle!" my wife remarked.
"He will get it in the neck," I added, profanely.
"They ought to put nice old gentlemen like your uncle in bond when they
reach Italy," Watkins mused, as if bored in advance. "The _antichitas_ get
after them, like--like confidence-men in an American city, and the same
old story is the result; they find, in some mysterious fashion, a
wonderful Titian, a forgotten Giorgione, cheap at _cinque mille lire_.
Then it's all up with them. His pictures are probably decalcomanias, you
know, just colored prints pasted over board. Why, we _know_ every picture
in Venice; it's simply _impossible_--"
Watkins was a connoisseur; he had bought his knowledge in the dearest
school of experience.
"What are you going to do, Mr. Watkins?" my wife put in. "Tell him the
"There's nothing else to do. I used up all my ambiguous terms over that
daub he bought in the Piazza di Spagna--'reminiscential' of half a dozen
worthless things, 'suggestive,' etc. I can't work them over again."
Watkins was lugubrious.
"Tell him the truth as straight as you can; it's the best medicine." I was
Uncle Ezra's heir; naturally, I felt for the inheritance.
"Well," my wife was invariably cheerful, "perhaps he has found something
valuable; at least, one of them may be; isn't it possible?"
Watkins looked at my wife indulgently.
"He's been writing me about them for a month, suggesting that, as I was
about to go on to Venice, he would like to have me see them; such
treasures as I should find them. I have been waiting until he should get
out. It isn't a nice job, and your uncle--"
"There are three of them, Aunt Mary writes: Cousin Maud has bought one,
with the advice of Uncle Ezra and Professor Augustus Painter, and Painter
himself is the last one to succumb."
"They have all gone mad," Watkins murmured.
"Where did Maudie get the cash?" I asked.
"She had a special gift on coming of age, and she has been looking about
for an opportunity for throwing it away"--my wife had never sympathized
with my cousin, Maud Vantweekle. "She had better save it for her
trousseau, if she goes on much more with that young professor. Aunt Mary
should look after her."
Watkins rose to go.
"Hold on a minute," I said. "Just listen to this delicious epistle from
"'... We have hoped that you would arrive in Venice before we break up our
charming home here. Mary has written you that Professor Painter has joined
us at the Palazzo Palladio, complementing our needs and completing our
circle. He has an excellent influence for seriousness upon Maud; his fine,
manly qualities have come out. Venice, after two years of Berlin, has
opened his soul in a really remarkable manner. All the beauty lying loose
around here has been a revelation to him--'"
"Maud's beauty," my wife interpreted.
"'And our treasures you will enjoy so much--such dashes of color, such
great slaps of light! I was the first to buy--they call it a Savoldo, but
I think no third-rate man could be capable of so much--such reaching out
after infinity. However, that makes little difference. I would not part
with it, now that I have lived these weeks with so fine a thing. Maud won
a prize in her Bonifazio, which she bought under my advice. Then Augustus
secured the third one, a Bissola, and it has had the greatest influence
upon him already; it has given him his education in art. He sits with it
by the hour while he is at work, and its charm has gradually produced a
revolution in his character. We had always found him too Germanic, and he
had immured himself in that barbarous country for so long over his Semitic
books that his nature was stunted on one side. His picture has opened a
new world for him. Your Aunt Mary and I already see the difference in his
character; he is gentler, less narrowly interested in the world. This
precious bit of fine art has been worth its price many times, but I don't
think Augustus would part with it for any consideration now that he has
lived with it and learned to know its power.'"
"I can't see why he is coming to Rome," Watkins commented at the end. "If
they are confident that they know all about their pictures, and don't care
anyway who did them, and are having all this spiritual love-feast, what in
the world do they want any expert criticism of their text for? Now for
such people to buy pictures, when they haven't a mint of money! Why don't
they buy something within their means really fine--a coin, a Van Dyck
print? I could get your uncle a Whistler etching for twenty-five pounds; a
really fine thing, you know--"
This was Watkins's hobby.
"Oh, well, it won't be bad in the end of the hall at New York; it's as
dark as pitch there; and then Uncle Ezra can leave it to the Metropolitan
as a Giorgione. It will give the critics something to do. And I suppose
that in coming on here he has in mind to get an indorsement for his
picture that will give it a commercial value. He's canny, is my Uncle
Ezra, and he likes to gamble too, like the rest of us. If he should draw a
prize, it wouldn't be a bad thing to brag of."
Watkins called again the next morning.
"Have you seen Uncle Ezra?" my wife asked, anxiously.
"No. Three telegrams. Train was delayed--I suppose by the importance of
the works of art it's bringing on."
"When do you expect him?"
"Mr. Watkins," my wife flamed out, "I believe you are just shirking it, to
meet that poor old man with his pictures. You ought to have been at the
station, or at least at the hotel. Why, it's twelve now!"
Watkins hung his head.
"I believe you are a coward," my wife went on. "Just think of his arriving
there, all excitement over his pictures, and finding you gone!"
"Well, well," I said, soothingly, "it's no use to trot off now, Watkins;
stay to breakfast. He will be in shortly. When he finds you are out at the
hotel he will come straight on here, I am willing to bet."
Watkins looked relieved at my suggestion.
"I believe you meant to run away all along," my wife continued, severely,
"and to come here for refuge."
We waited in suspense, straining our ears to hear the sound of a cab
stopping in the street. At last one did pull up. My wife made no pretence
of indifference, but hurried to the window.
"It's Uncle Ezra, with a big, black bundle. John, run down--No! there's a
We looked at each other and laughed.
Our patron of art came in, with a warm, gentle smile, his tall, thin
figure a little bent with the fatigue of the journey, his beard a little
grayer and dustier than usual, and his hands all a-tremble with nervous
impatience and excitement. He had never been as tremulous before an
opinion from the Supreme Court. My wife began to purr over him soothingly;
Watkins looked sheepish; I hurried them all off to breakfast.
The omelette was not half eaten before Uncle Ezra jumped up, and began
unstrapping the oil-cloth covering to the pictures. There was
consternation at the table. My wife endeavored soothingly to bring Uncle
Ezra's interest back to breakfast, but he was not to be fooled. My Uncle
Ezra was a courageous man.
"Of course you fellows," he said, smiling at Watkins, in his suave
fashion, "are just whetting your knives for me, I know. That's right. I
want to know the worst, the hardest things you can say. You can't destroy
the intrinsic _worth_ of the pictures for us; I have lived with mine too
long, and know how precious it is!"
At last the three pictures were tipped up against the wall, and the
Madonnas and saints in gold, red, and blue were beaming out insipidly at
us. Uncle Ezra affected indifference. Watkins continued with the omelette.
"We'll look them over after breakfast," he said, severely, thus getting us
out of the hole temporarily.
After breakfast my wife cooked up some engagement, and hurried me off. We
left Uncle Ezra in the hands of the physician. Two hours later, when we
entered, the operation had been performed--we could see at a glance--and
in a bloody fashion. The pictures were lying about the vast room as if
they had been spat at. Uncle Ezra smiled wanly at us, with the courage of
the patient who is a sceptic about physicians.
"Just what I expected," he said, briskly, to relieve Watkins, who was
smoking, with the air of a man who has finished his job and is now cooling
off. "Mr. Watkins thinks Painter's picture and Maud's are copies,
Painter's done a few years ago and Maud's a little older, the last
century. My Savoldo he finds older, but repainted. You said cinque cento,
"Perhaps, Mr. Williams," Watkins answered, and added, much as a dog would
give a final shake to the bird, "_Much_ repainted, hardly anything left of
the original. There may be a Savoldo underneath, but you don't see it."
Watkins smiled at us knowingly. My wife snubbed him.
"Of course, Uncle Ezra, _that's_ one man's opinion. I certainly should not
put much faith in one critic, no matter how eminent he may be. Just look
at the guide-books and see how the 'authorities' swear at one another.
Ruskin says every man is a fool who can't appreciate his particular love,
and Burckhardt calls it a daub, and Eastlake insipid. Now, there are a set
of young fellows who think they know all about paint and who painted what.
They're renaming all the great masterpieces. Pretty soon they will
discover that some tenth-rate fellow painted the Sistine Chapel."
Watkins put on an aggrieved and expostulatory manner. Uncle Ezra cut in.
"Oh! my dear! Mr. Watkins may be right, quite right. It's his business to
know, I am sure, and I anticipated all that he would say; indeed, I have
come off rather better than I expected. There is old paint in it
"Pretty far down," Watkins muttered. My wife bristled up, but Uncle Ezra
assumed his most superb calm.
"It makes no difference to me, of course, as far as the _worth_ of the
work of art is concerned. I made up my mind before I came here that my
picture was worth a great deal to me, much more than I paid for it." There
was a heroic gasp. Watkins interposed mercilessly, "And may I ask, Mr.
Williams, what you did give for it?"
Uncle Ezra was an honest man. "Twenty-five hundred lire," he replied,
"Excuse me" (Watkins was behaving like a pitiless cad), "but you paid a
great deal too much for it, I assure you. I could have got it for----"
"Mr. Watkins," my wife was hardly civil to him, "it doesn't matter much
what you could have got it for."
"No," Uncle Ezra went on bravely, "I am a little troubled as to what this
may mean to Maud and Professor Painter, for you see their pictures are
"Undoubted modern copies," the unquenchable Watkins emended.
"Maud has learned a great deal from her picture. And as for Painter, it
has been an education in art, an education in life. He said to me the
night before I came away, 'Mr. Williams, I wouldn't take two thousand for
that picture; it's been the greatest influence in my life.'"
I thought Watkins would have convulsions.
"And it has brought those two young souls together in a marvellous way,
this common interest in fine art. You will find Maud a much more serious
person, Jane. No, if I were Painter I certainly should not care a fig
whether it proves to be a copy or not. I shouldn't let that influence me
in my love for such an educational wonder."
The bluff was really sublime, but painful. My wife gave a decided hint to
Watkins that his presence in such a family scene was awkward. He took his
hat and cane. Uncle Ezra rose and grasped him cordially by the hand.
"You have been very generous, Mr. Watkins," he said, in his own sweet way,
"to do such an unpleasant job. It's a large draft to make on the kindness
of a friend."
"Oh, don't mention it, Mr. Williams; and if you want to buy something
really fine, a Van Dyck print--a----"
Uncle Ezra was shooing him toward the door. From the stairs we could still
hear his voice. "Or a Whistler etching for twenty-five pounds, I could get
you, now, a very fine----"
"No, thank you, Mr. Watkins," Uncle Ezra said, firmly. "I don't believe I
have any money just now for such an investment."
My wife tiptoed about the room, making faces at the exposed masterpieces.
"What shall we do?" Uncle Ezra came back into the room, his face a trifle
grayer and more worn. "Capital fellow, that Watkins," he said; "so firm
"Uncle," I ventured at random, "I met Flugel the other day in the street.
You know Flugel's new book on the Renaissance. He's the coming young
critic in art, has made a wonderful reputation the last three years, is on
the _Beaux Arts_ staff, and really _knows_. He is living out at Frascati.
I could telegraph and have him here this afternoon, perhaps."
"Well, I don't know;" his tone, however, said "Yes." "I don't care much
for expert advice--for specialists. But it wouldn't do any harm to hear
what he has to say. And Maud and Painter have made up their minds that
Maud's is a Titian."
So I ran out and sent off the despatch. My wife took Uncle Ezra down to
the Forum and attempted to console him with the ugliness of genuine
antiquity, while I waited for Flugel. He came in a tremendous hurry, his
little, muddy eyes winking hard behind gold spectacles.
"Ah, yes," he began to paw the pictures over as if they were live stock,
"that was bought for a Bonifazio," he had picked up Maud's ruby-colored
prize. "Of course, of course, it's a copy, an old copy, of Titian's
picture, No. 3,405, in the National Gallery at London. There is a replica
in the Villa Ludovisi here at Rome. It's a stupid copy, some alterations,
all for the bad--worthless--well, not to the _antichita_, for it must be
1590, I should say. But worthless for us and in bad condition. I wouldn't
give cinque lire for it."
"And the Bissola?" I said. "Oh, that was done in the seventeenth
century--it would make good kindling. But this," he turned away from
Painter's picture with a gesture of contempt, "this is Domenico Tintoretto
fast enough, at least what hasn't been stippled over and painted out. St.
Agnes's leg here is entire, and that tree in the background is original. A
damn bad man, but there are traces of his slop work. Perhaps the hair is
by him, too. Well, good-by, old fellow; I must be off to dinner."
That was slight consolation; a leg, a tree, and some wisps of hair in a
picture three feet six by four feet eight. Our dinner that evening was
labored. The next morning Uncle Ezra packed his three treasures tenderly,
putting in cotton-wool at the edges, my wife helping him to make them
comfortable. We urged him to stay over with us for a few days; we would
all go on later to Venice. But Uncle Ezra seemed moved by some hidden
cause. Back he would trot at once. "Painter will want his picture," he
said, "he has been waiting on in Venice just for this, and I must not keep
him." Watkins turned up as we were getting into the cab to see Uncle Ezra
off, and insisted upon accompanying us to the station. My wife took the
opportunity to rub into him Flugel's remarks, which, at least, made
Watkins out shady in chronology. At the station we encountered a new
difficulty. The ticket collector would not let the pictures through the
gate. My uncle expostulated in pure Tuscan. Watkins swore in Roman.
"Give him five lire, Mr. Williams."
Poor Uncle Ezra fumbled in his pocket-book for the piece of money. He had
never bribed in his life. It was a terrible moral fall, to see him
tremblingly offer the piece of scrip. The man refused, "positive orders,
_permesso_ necessary," etc., etc. The bell rang; there was a rush. Uncle
Ezra looked unhappy.
"Here," Watkins shouted, grabbing the precious pictures in a manner far
from reverent, "I'll send these on, Mr. Williams; run for your train."
Uncle Ezra gave one undecided glance, and then yielded. "You will look
after them," he pleaded, "carefully."
"You shall have them safe enough," my wife promised.
"Blast the pasteboards," Watkins put in under his breath, "the best thing
to do with them is to chop 'em up." He was swinging them back and forth
under his arm. My wife took them firmly from him. "He shall have his
pictures, and not from your ribald hands."
A week later Rome became suddenly oppressively warm. We started off for
Venice, Watkins tagging on incorrigibly. "I want to see 'Maud,'" he
explained. The pictures had been packed and sent ahead by express. "The
storm must have burst, tears shed, tempers cooled, mortification set in,"
I remarked, as we were being shoved up the Grand Canal toward the Palazzo
Palladio. "There they are in the balcony," my wife exclaimed, "waving to
us. Something is up; Maudie is hanging back, with Aunt Mary, and Professor
Painter is at the other end, with Uncle Ezra."
The first thing that caught the eye after the flurry of greetings was the
impudent blue and red of Uncle Ezra's "Sancta Conversazione," Domenico
Tintoretto, Savoldo, or what not; St. Agnes's leg and all, beaming at us
from the wall. The other two were not there. My wife looked at me. Maudie
was making herself very gracious with little Watkins. Painter's solemn
face began to lower more and more. Aunt Mary and Uncle Ezra industriously
poured oil by the bucket upon the social sea.
At last Maud rose: "You _must_ take me over there at once, Mr. Watkins. It
will be such an enjoyment to have someone who really knows about pictures
and has taste." This shot at poor Painter; then to my wife, "Come, Jane,
you will like to see your room."
Painter crossed to me and suggested, lugubriously, a cigar on the balcony.
He smoked a few minutes in gloomy silence.
"Does that fellow know anything?" he emitted at last, jerking his head at
Watkins, who was pouring out information at Uncle Ezra. I began gently to
give Charles Henderson Watkins a fair reputation for intelligence. "I mean
anything about art? Of course it doesn't matter what he says about my
picture, whether it is a copy or not, but Miss Vantweekle takes it very
hard about hers. She blames me for having been with her when she bought
it, and having advised her and encouraged her to put six hundred dollars
"Six hundred," I gasped.
"Cheap for a Bonifazio, or a _Titian_, as we thought it."
"Too cheap," I murmured.
"Well, I got bitten for about the same on my own account. I sha'n't get
that Rachel's library at Berlin, that's all. The next time you catch me
fooling in a subject where I don't know my bearings--like fine art--You
see Mr. Williams found my picture one day when he was nosing about at an
_antichita's_, and thought it very fine. I admire Mr. Williams
tremendously, and I valued his opinion about art subjects much more then
than I do now. He and Mrs. Williams were wild over it. They had just
bought their picture, and they wanted us each to have one. They have lots
of sentiment, you know."
"Lots," I assented.
"Mrs. Williams got at me, and well, she made me feel that it would bring
me nearer to Miss Vantweekle. You know she goes in for art, and she used
to be impatient with me because I couldn't appreciate. I was dumb when she
walked me up to some old Madonna, and the others would go on at a great
rate. Well, in a word, I bought it for my education, and I guess I have
"Then the man, he's an old Jew on the Grand Canal--Raffman, you know him?
He got out another picture, the Bonifazio. The Williamses began to get up
steam over that, too. They hung over that thing Mr. Williams bought, that
Savoldo or Domenico Tintoretto, and prowled about the churches and the
galleries finding traces of it here in the style of this picture and that;
in short, we all got into a fever about pictures, and Miss Vantweekle
invested all the money an aunt had given her before coming abroad, in that
"I must say that Miss Vantweekle held off some time, was doubtful about
the picture; didn't feel that she wanted to put all her money into it. But
she caught fire in the general excitement, and I may say"--here a sad sort
of conscious smile crept over the young professor's face--"at that time I
had a good deal of influence with her. She bought the picture, we brought
it home, and put it up at the other end of the hall. We spent hours over
that picture, studying out every line, placing every color. We made up our
minds soon enough that it wasn't a Bonifazio, but we began to think--now
don't laugh, or I'll pitch you over the balcony--it was an early work by
Titian. There was an attempt in it for great things, as Mr. Williams said:
no small man could have planned it. One night we had been talking for
hours about them, and we were all pretty well excited. Mr. Williams
suggested getting Watkins's opinion. Maud--Miss Vantweekle said, loftily,
'Oh! it does not make any difference what the critics say about it, the
picture means everything to me'; and I, like a fool, felt happier than
ever before in my life. The next morning Mr. Williams telegraphed you and
"And when he returned?"
"It's been hell ever since."
He was in no condition to see the comic side of the affair. Nor was Miss
Vantweekle. She was on my wife's bed in tears.
"All poor Aunt Higgins's present gone into that horrid thing," she moaned,
"and all the dresses I was planning to get in Paris. I shall have to go
home looking like a perfect dowd!"
"But think of the influence it has been in your life--the education you
have received from that picture. How can you call all that color, those
noble faces, 'that horrid thing?'" I said, reprovingly. She sat upright.
"See here, Jerome Parker, if you ever say anything like that again, I will
never speak to you any more, or to Jane, though you are my cousins."
"They have tried to return the picture," my wife explained. "Professor
Painter and Uncle Ezra took it over yesterday; but, of course, the Jew
laughed at them."
"'A copy!' he said." Maud explained, "Why, it's no more a copy than
Titian's 'Assumption.' He could show us the very place in a palace on the
Grand Canal where it had hung for four hundred years. Of course, all the
old masters used the same models, and grouped their pictures alike. Very
probably Titian had a picture something like it. What of that? He defied
us to find the exact original."
"Well," I remarked, soothingly, "that ought to comfort you, I am sure.
Call your picture a new Titian, and sell it when you get home."
"Mr. Watkins says that's an old trick," moaned Maud, "that story about the
palace. He says old Raffman has a pal among the Italian nobility, and
works off copies through him all the time. I won't say anything about
Uncle Ezra; he has been as kind and good as he can be, only a little too
enthusiastic. But Professor Painter!"
She tossed her head.
The atmosphere in the Palazzo Palladio for the next few days was highly
At dinner Uncle Ezra placidly made remarks about the Domenico Tintoretto,
almost vaingloriously, I thought. "Such a piece of Venice to carry away.
We missed it so much, those days you had it in Rome. It is so precious
that I cannot bear to pack it up and lose sight of it for five months.
Mary, just see that glorious piece of color over there."
Meantime some kind of conspiracy was on foot. Maud went off whole mornings
with Watkins and Uncle Ezra. We were left out as unsympathetic. Painter
wandered about like a sick ghost. He would sit glowering at Maud and
Watkins while they held whispered conversations at the other end of the
hall. Watkins was the hero. He had accepted Flugel's judgment with
"A copy of Titian, of course," he said to me; "really, it is quite hard on
poor Miss Vantweekle. People, even learned people, who don't know about
such things, had better not advise. I have had the photographs of all
Titian's pictures sent on, and we have found the original of your cousin's
picture. Isn't it very like?"
It was very like; a figure was left out in the copy, the light was
changed, but still it was a happy guess of Flugel.
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" I said to Maud, who had just
"Oh, Mr. Watkins has kindly consented to manage the matter for me; I
believe he has a friend here, an artist, Mr. Hare, who will give expert
judgment on it. Then the American vice-consul is a personal friend of Mr.
Watkins, and also Count Corner, the adviser at the Academy. We shall
frighten the old Jew, sha'n't we, Mr. Watkins?"
I walked over to the despised Madonna that was tipped up on its side,
ready to be walked off on another expedition of defamation.
"Poor Bonifazio," I sighed, "Maud, how can you part with a work of fine
art that has meant so much to you?"
"Do you think, Jerome, I would go home and have Uncle Higgins, with his
authentic Rembrandt and all his other pictures, laugh at me and my Titian?
I'd burn it first."
I turned to Uncle Ezra. "Uncle, what strange metamorphosis has happened to
this picture? The spiritual light from that color must shine as brightly
as ever; the intrinsic value remains forever fixed in Maud's soul; it is
desecration to reject such a precious message. Why, it's like sending back
the girl you married because her pedigree proved defective, or because she
had lost her fortune. It's positively brutal!"
Maud darted a venomous glance at me; however, I had put the judge in a
"I cannot agree with you, Jerome." Uncle Ezra could never be put in a
hole. "Maud's case is a very different one from Mr. Painter's or mine. We
can carry back what we like personally, but for Maud to carry home a
doubtful picture into the atmosphere she has to live in--why, it would be
intolerable--with her uncle a connoisseur, all her friends owners of
masterpieces." Uncle Ezra had a flowing style. "It would expose her to
annoyance, to mortification--constant, daily. Above all, to have taken a
special gift, a fund of her aunt's, and to apply it in this mistaken
fashion is cruel."
Painter remarked bitterly to me afterward, "He wants to crawl on his share
of the responsibility. I'd buy the picture if I could raise the cash, and
end the whole miserable business."
Indeed, Watkins seemed the only one blissfully in his element. As my wife
remarked, Watkins had exchanged his interest in pictures for an interest
in woman. Certainly he had planned his battle well. It came off the next
day. They all left in a gondola at an early hour. Painter and I watched
them from the balcony. After they were seated, Watkins tossed in
carelessly the suspected picture. What went on at the _antichita's_ no one
of the boat-load ever gave away. Watkins had a hold on the man somehow,
and the evidence of the fraud was overwhelming. About noon they came back,
Maud holding an enormous envelope in her hand.
"I can never, never thank you enough, Mr. Watkins," she beamed at him.
"You have saved me from such mortification and unhappiness, and you were
That night at dinner Uncle Ezra was more than usually genial, and beamed
upon Maud and Watkins perpetually. Watkins was quite the hero and did his
best to look humble.
"How much rent did the spiritual influence cost, Maud?" I asked. She was
too happy to be offended. "Oh, we bought an old ring to make him feel
pleased, five pounds, and Mr. Hare's services were worth five pounds, and
Mr. Watkins thinks we should give the vice-consul a box of cigars.
"Let's see; ten pounds and a box of cigars, that's three hundred lire at
the price of exchange. You had the picture just three weeks, a hundred
lire a week for the use of all that education in art, all that spiritual
influence. Quite cheap, I should say."
"And Mr. Watkins's services, Maud!" my wife asked, viciously. There was a
slight commotion at the table.
"May I, Maud?" Watkins murmured.
"As you please, Charles," Maud replied, with her eyes lowered to the
"Maud has given herself," Uncle Ezra said, gleefully.
Painter rose from the table and disappeared into his room. Pretty soon he
came out bearing a tray with a dozen champagne glasses, of modern-antique
"Let me present this to you, Miss Vantweekle," he pronounced, solemnly,
"as an engagement token. I, I exchanged my picture for them this morning."
"Some Asti Spumante, Ricci."
"To the rejected Titian--" I suggested for the first toast.
VENICE, May, 1896.
PAYMENT IN FULL
The two black horses attached to the light buggy were chafing in the crisp
October air. Their groom was holding them stiffly, as if bolted to the
ground, in the approved fashion insisted upon by the mistress of the
house. Old Stuart eyed them impatiently from the tower window of the
breakfast-room where he was smoking his first cigar; Mrs. Stuart held him
in a vise of astounding words.
"They will need not only the lease of a house in London for two years, but
a great deal of money besides," she continued in even tones, ignoring his
"I've done enough for 'em already," the old fellow protested, drawing on
his driving gloves over knotted hands stained by age.
Mrs. Stuart rustled the letter that lay, with its envelope, beside her
untouched plate. It bore the flourishes of a foreign hotel and a foreign-
"My mother writes that their summer in Wiesbaden has made it surer that
Lord Raincroft is interested in Helen. It is evidently a matter of time. I
say two years--it may be less."
"Well," her husband broke in. "Haven't they enough to live on?"
"At my marriage," elucidated Mrs. Stuart, imperturbably, "you settled on
them securities which yield about five thousand a year. That does not give
them the means to take the position which I expect for my family in such a
crisis. They must have a large house, must entertain lavishly," she swept
an impassive hand toward him in royal emphasis, "and do all that that set
expects--to meet them as equals. You could not imagine that Lord Raincroft
would marry Helen out of a pension?"
"I don't care a damn how he marries her, or if he marries her at all." He
rose, testily. "I guess my family would have thought five thousand a year
enough to marry the gals on, and to spare, and it was more'n you ever had
in your best days."
"Naturally," her voice showed scorn at his perverse lack of intelligence.
"Out contract was made with that understanding."
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