Madame de Treymes
This etext was produced by Charles Aldarondo (Aldarondo@yahoo.com).
MADAME DE TREYMES
BY EDITH WHARTON
MADAME DE TREYMES
John Durham, while he waited for Madame de Malrive to draw on her
gloves, stood in the hotel doorway looking out across the Rue de
Rivoli at the afternoon brightness of the Tuileries gardens.
His European visits were infrequent enough to have kept unimpaired
the freshness of his eye, and he was always struck anew by the vast
and consummately ordered spectacle of Paris: by its look of having
been boldly and deliberately planned as a background for the
enjoyment of life, instead of being forced into grudging concessions
to the festive instincts, or barricading itself against them in
unenlightened ugliness, like his own lamentable New York.
But to-day, if the scene had never presented itself more alluringly,
in that moist spring bloom between showers, when the horse-chestnuts
dome themselves in unreal green against a gauzy sky, and the very
dust of the pavement seems the fragrance of lilac made
visible--to-day for the first time the sense of a personal stake in
it all, of having to reckon individually with its effects and
influences, kept Durham from an unrestrained yielding to the spell.
Paris might still be--to the unimplicated it doubtless still
was--the most beautiful city in the world; but whether it were the
most lovable or the most detestable depended for him, in the last
analysis, on the buttoning of the white glove over which Fanny de
Malrive still lingered.
The mere fact of her having forgotten to draw on her gloves as they
were descending in the hotel lift from his mother's drawing-room
was, in this connection, charged with significance to Durham. She
was the kind of woman who always presents herself to the mind's eye
as completely equipped, as made up of exquisitely cared for and
finely-related details; and that the heat of her parting with his
family should have left her unconscious that she was emerging
gloveless into Paris, seemed, on the whole, to speak hopefully for
Durham's future opinion of the city.
Even now, he could detect a certain confusion, a desire to draw
breath and catch up with life, in the way she dawdled over the last
buttons in the dimness of the porte-cochere, while her footman,
outside, hung on her retarded signal.
When at length they emerged, it was to learn from that functionary
that Madame la Marquise's carriage had been obliged to yield its
place at the door, but was at the moment in the act of regaining it.
Madame de Malrive cut the explanation short. "I shall walk home. The
carriage this evening at eight."
As the footman turned away, she raised her eyes for the first time
"Will you walk with me? Let us cross the Tuileries. I should like to
sit a moment on the terrace."
She spoke quite easily and naturally, as if it were the most
commonplace thing in the world for them to be straying afoot
together over Paris; but even his vague knowledge of the world she
lived in--a knowledge mainly acquired through the perusal of
yellow-backed fiction--gave a thrilling significance to her
naturalness. Durham, indeed, was beginning to find that one of the
charms of a sophisticated society is that it lends point and
perspective to the slightest contact between the sexes. If, in the
old unrestricted New York days, Fanny Frisbee, from a brown stone
door-step, had proposed that they should take a walk in the Park,
the idea would have presented itself to her companion as agreeable
but unimportant; whereas Fanny de Malrive's suggestion that they
should stroll across the Tuileries was obviously fraught with
He was so throbbing with the sense of these possibilities that he
walked beside her without speaking down the length of the wide alley
which follows the line of the Rue de Rivoli, suffering her even,
when they reached its farthest end, to direct him in silence up the
steps to the terrace of the Feuillants. For, after all, the
possibilities were double-faced, and her bold departure from custom
might simply mean that what she had to say was so dreadful that it
needed all the tenderest mitigation of circumstance.
There was apparently nothing embarrassing to her in his silence: it
was a part of her long European discipline that she had learned to
manage pauses with ease. In her Frisbee days she might have packed
this one with a random fluency; now she was content to let it widen
slowly before them like the spacious prospect opening at their feet.
The complicated beauty of this prospect, as they moved toward it
between the symmetrically clipped limes of the lateral terrace,
touched him anew through her nearness, as with the hint of some vast
impersonal power, controlling and regulating her life in ways he
could not guess, putting between himself and her the whole width of
the civilization into which her marriage had absorbed her. And there
was such fear in the thought--he read such derision of what he had
to offer in the splendour of the great avenues tapering upward to
the sunset glories of the Arch--that all he had meant to say when he
finally spoke compressed itself at last into an abrupt unmitigated:
She answered at once--as though she had only awaited the call of the
national interrogation--"I don't know when I have been so happy."
"So happy?" The suddenness of his joy flushed up through his fair
"As I was just now--taking tea with your mother and sisters."
Durham's "Oh!" of surprise betrayed also a note of disillusionment,
which she met only by the reconciling murmur: "Shall we sit down?"
He found two of the springy yellow chairs indigenous to the spot,
and placed them under the tree near which they had paused, saying
reluctantly, as he did so: "Of course it was an immense pleasure to
_them_ to see you again."
"Oh, not in the same way. I mean--" she paused, sinking into the
chair, and betraying, for the first time, a momentary inability to
deal becomingly with the situation. "I mean," she resumed smiling,
"that it was not an event for them, as it was for me."
"An event?" he caught her up again, eagerly; for what, in the
language of any civilization, could that word mean but just the one
thing he most wished it to?
"To be with dear, good, sweet, simple, real Americans again!" she
burst out, heaping up her epithets with reckless prodigality.
Durham's smile once more faded to impersonality, as he rejoined,
just a shade on the defensive: "If it's merely our Americanism you
enjoyed--I've no doubt we can give you all you want in that line."
"Yes, it's just that! But if you knew what the word means to me! It
means--it means--" she paused as if to assure herself that they were
sufficiently isolated from the desultory groups beneath the other
trees--"it means that I'm _safe_ with them: as safe as in a bank!"
Durham felt a sudden warmth behind his eyes and in his throat. "I
think I do know--"
"No, you don't, really; you can't know how dear and strange and
familiar it all sounded: the old New York names that kept coming up
in your mother's talk, and her charming quaint ideas about
Europe--their all regarding it as a great big innocent pleasure
ground and shop for Americans; and your mother's missing the
home-made bread and preferring the American asparagus--I'm so tired
of Americans who despise even their own asparagus! And then your
married sister's spending her summers at--where is it?--the
Kittawittany House on Lake Pohunk--"
A vision of earnest women in Shetland shawls, with spectacles and
thin knobs of hair, eating blueberry pie at unwholesome hours in a
shingled dining-room on a bare New England hill-top, rose pallidly
between Durham and the verdant brightness of the Champs Elysees, and
he protested with a slight smile: "Oh, but my married sister is the
black sheep of the family--the rest of us never sank as low as
"Low? I think it's beautiful--fresh and innocent and simple. I
remember going to such a place once. They have early dinner--rather
late--and go off in buckboards over terrible roads, and bring back
golden rod and autumn leaves, and read nature books aloud on the
piazza; and there is always one shy young man in flannels--only
one--who has come to see the prettiest girl (though how he can
choose among so many!) and who takes her off in a buggy for hours
and hours--" She paused and summed up with a long sigh: "It is
fifteen years since I was in America."
"And you're still so good an American."
"Oh, a better and better one every day!"
He hesitated. "Then why did you never come back?"
Her face altered instantly, exchanging its retrospective light for
the look of slightly shadowed watchfulness which he had known as
most habitual to it.
"It was impossible--it has always been so. My husband would not go;
and since--since our separation--there have been family reasons."
Durham sighed impatiently. "Why do you talk of reasons? The truth
is, you have made your life here. You could never give all this up!"
He made a discouraged gesture in the direction of the Place de la
"Give it up! I would go tomorrow! But it could never, now, be for
more than a visit. I must live in France on account of my boy."
Durham's heart gave a quick beat. At last the talk had neared the
point toward which his whole mind was straining, and he began to
feel a personal application in her words. But that made him all the
more cautious about choosing his own.
"It is an agreement--about the boy?" he ventured.
"I gave my word. They knew that was enough," she said proudly;
adding, as if to put him in full possession of her reasons: "It
would have been much more difficult for me to obtain complete
control of my son if it had not been understood that I was to live
"That seems fair," Durham assented after a moment's reflection: it
was his instinct, even in the heat of personal endeavour, to pause a
moment on the question of "fairness." The personal claim reasserted
itself as he added tentatively: "But when he _is_ brought up--when
he's grown up: then you would feel freer?"
She received this with a start, as a possibility too remote to have
entered into her view of the future. "He is only eight years old!"
"Ah, of course it would be a long way off?"
"A long way off, thank heaven! French mothers part late with their
sons, and in that one respect I mean to be a French mother."
"Of course--naturally--since he has only you," Durham again
He was eager to show how fully he took her point of view, if only to
dispose her to the reciprocal fairness of taking his when the time
came to present it. And he began to think that the time had now
come; that their walk would not have thus resolved itself, without
excuse or pretext, into a tranquil session beneath the trees, for
any purpose less important than that of giving him his opportunity.
He took it, characteristically, without seeking a transition. "When
I spoke to you, the other day, about myself--about what I felt for
you--I said nothing of the future, because, for the moment, my mind
refused to travel beyond its immediate hope of happiness. But I
felt, of course, even then, that the hope involved various
difficulties--that we can't, as we might once have done, come
together without any thought but for ourselves; and whatever your
answer is to be, I want to tell you now that I am ready to accept my
share of the difficulties." He paused, and then added explicitly:
"If there's the least chance of your listening to me, I'm willing to
live over here as long as you can keep your boy with you."
Whatever Madame de Malrive's answer was to be, there could be no
doubt as to her readiness to listen. She received Durham's words
without sign of resistance, and took time to ponder them gently
before she answered in a voice touched by emotion: "You are very
generous--very unselfish; but when you fix a limit--no matter how
remote--to my remaining here, I see how wrong it is to let myself
consider for a moment such possibilities as we have been talking
"Wrong? Why should it be wrong?"
"Because I shall want to keep my boy always! Not, of course, in the
sense of living with him, or even forming an important part of his
life; I am not deluded enough to think that possible. But I do
believe it possible never to pass wholly out of his life; and while
there is a hope of that, how can I leave him?" She paused, and
turned on him a new face, a face in which the past of which he was
still so ignorant showed itself like a shadow suddenly darkening a
clear pane. "How can I make you understand?" she went on urgently.
"It is not only because of my love for him--not only, I mean,
because of my own happiness in being with him; that I can't, in
imagination, surrender even the remotest hour of his future; it is
because, the moment he passes out of my influence, he passes under
that other--the influence I have been fighting against every hour
since he was born!--I don't mean, you know," she added, as Durham,
with bent head, continued to offer the silent fixity of his
attention, "I don't mean the special personal influence--except
inasmuch as it represents something wider, more general, something
that encloses and circulates through the whole world in which he
belongs. That is what I meant when I said you could never
understand! There is nothing in your experience--in any American
experience--to correspond with that far-reaching family
organization, which is itself a part of the larger system, and which
encloses a young man of my son's position in a network of accepted
prejudices and opinions. Everything is prepared in advance--his
political and religious convictions, his judgments of people, his
sense of honour, his ideas of women, his whole view of life. He is
taught to see vileness and corruption in every one not of his own
way of thinking, and in every idea that does not directly serve the
religious and political purposes of his class. The truth isn't a
fixed thing: it's not used to test actions by, it's tested by them,
and made to fit in with them. And this forming of the mind begins
with the child's first consciousness; it's in his nursery stories,
his baby prayers, his very games with his playmates! Already he is
only half mine, because the Church has the other half, and will be
reaching out for my share as soon as his education begins. But that
other half is still mine, and I mean to make it the strongest and
most living half of the two, so that, when the inevitable conflict
begins, the energy and the truth and the endurance shall be on my
side and not on theirs!"
She paused, flushing with the repressed fervour of her utterance,
though her voice had not been raised beyond its usual discreet
modulations; and Durham felt himself tingling with the transmitted
force of her resolve. Whatever shock her words brought to his
personal hope, he was grateful to her for speaking them so clearly,
for having so sure a grasp of her purpose.
Her decision strengthened his own, and after a pause of deliberation
he said quietly: "There might be a good deal to urge on the other
side--the ineffectualness of your sacrifice, the probability that
when your son marries he will inevitably be absorbed back into the
life of his class and his people; but I can't look at it in that
way, because if I were in your place I believe I should feel just as
you do about it. As long as there was a fighting chance I should
want to keep hold of my half, no matter how much the struggle cost
me. And one reason why I understand your feeling about your boy is
that I have the same feeling about _you:_ as long as there's a
fighting chance of keeping my half of you--the half he is willing to
spare me--I don't see how I can ever give it up." He waited again,
and then brought out firmly: "If you'll marry me, I'll agree to live
out here as long as you want, and we'll be two instead of one to
keep hold of your half of him."
He raised his eyes as he ended, and saw that hers met them through a
quick clouding of tears.
"Ah, I am glad to have had this said to me! But I could never accept
such an offer."
He caught instantly at the distinction. "That doesn't mean that you
could never accept _me?_"
"Under such conditions--"
"But if I am satisfied with the conditions? Don't think I am
speaking rashly, under the influence of the moment. I have expected
something of this sort, and I have thought out my side of the case.
As far as material circumstances go, I have worked long enough and
successfully enough to take my ease and take it where I choose. I
mention that because the life I offer you is offered to your boy as
well." He let this sink into her mind before summing up gravely:
"The offer I make is made deliberately, and at least I have a right
to a direct answer."
She was silent again, and then lifted a cleared gaze to his. "My
direct answer then is: if I were still Fanny Frisbee I would marry
He bent toward her persuasively. "But you will be--when the divorce
"Ah, the divorce--" She flushed deeply, with an instinctive
shrinking back of her whole person which made him straighten himself
in his chair.
"Do you so dislike the idea?"
"The idea of divorce? No--not in my case. I should like anything
that would do away with the past--obliterate it all--make everything
new in my life!"
"Then what--?" he began again, waiting with the patience of a wooer
on the uneasy circling of her tormented mind.
"Oh, don't ask me; I don't know; I am frightened."
Durham gave a deep sigh of discouragement. "I thought your coming
here with me today--and above all your going with me just now to see
my mother--was a sign that you were _not_ frightened!"
"Well, I was not when I was with your mother. She made everything
seem easy and natural. She took me back into that clear American air
where there are no obscurities, no mysteries--"
"What obscurities, what mysteries, are you afraid of?"
She looked about her with a faint shiver. "I am afraid of
everything!" she said.
"That's because you are alone; because you've no one to turn to.
I'll clear the air for you fast enough if you'll let me."
He looked forth defiantly, as if flinging his challenge at the great
city which had come to typify the powers contending with him for her
"You say that so easily! But you don't know; none of you know."
"I told you I was ready to take my share of the difficulties--and my
share naturally includes yours. You know Americans are great hands
at getting over difficulties." He drew himself up confidently. "Just
leave that to me--only tell me exactly what you're afraid of."
She paused again, and then said: "The divorce, to begin with--they
will never consent to it."
He noticed that she spoke as though the interests of the whole clan,
rather than her husband's individual claim, were to be considered;
and the use of the plural pronoun shocked his free individualism
like a glimpse of some dark feudal survival.
"But you are absolutely certain of your divorce! I've consulted--of
course without mentioning names--"
She interrupted him, with a melancholy smile: "Ah, so have I. The
divorce would be easy enough to get, if they ever let it come into
"How on earth can they prevent that?"
"I don't know; my never knowing how they will do things is one of
the secrets of their power."
"Their power? What power?" he broke in with irrepressible contempt.
"Who are these bogeys whose machinations are going to arrest the
course of justice in a--comparatively--civilized country? You've
told me yourself that Monsieur de Malrive is the least likely to
give you trouble; and the others are his uncle the abbe, his mother
and sister. That kind of a syndicate doesn't scare me much. A priest
and two women _contra mundum!_"
She shook her head. "Not _contra mundum_, but with it, their whole
world is behind them. It's that mysterious solidarity that you can't
understand. One doesn't know how far they may reach, or in how many
directions. I have never known. They have always cropped up where I
least expected them."
Before this persistency of negation Durham's buoyancy began to flag,
but his determination grew the more fixed.
"Well, then, supposing them to possess these supernatural powers; do
you think it's to people of that kind that I'll ever consent to give
She raised a half-smiling glance of protest. "Oh, they're not
wantonly wicked. They'll leave me alone as long as--"
"As I do?" he interrupted. "Do you want me to leave you alone? Was
that what you brought me here to tell me?"
The directness of the challenge seemed to gather up the scattered
strands of her hesitation, and lifting her head she turned on him a
look in which, but for its underlying shadow, he might have
recovered the full free beam of Fanny Frisbee's gaze.
"I don't know why I brought you here," she said gently, "except from
the wish to prolong a little the illusion of being once more an
American among Americans. Just now, sitting there with your mother
and Katy and Nannie, the difficulties seemed to vanish; the problems
grew as trivial to me as they are to you. And I wanted them to
remain so a little longer; I wanted to put off going back to them.
But it was of no use--they were waiting for me here. They are over
there now in that house across the river." She indicated the grey
sky-line of the Faubourg, shining in the splintered radiance of the
sunset beyond the long sweep of the quays. "They are a part of me--I
belong to them. I must go back to them!" she sighed.
She rose slowly to her feet, as though her metaphor had expressed an
actual fact and she felt herself bodily drawn from his side by the
influences of which she spoke.
Durham had risen too. "Then I go back with you!" he exclaimed
energetically; and as she paused, wavering a little under the shock
of his resolve: "I don't mean into your house--but into your life!"
She suffered him, at any rate, to accompany her to the door of the
house, and allowed their debate to prolong itself through the almost
monastic quiet of the quarter which led thither. On the way, he
succeeded in wresting from her the confession that, if it were
possible to ascertain in advance that her husband's family would not
oppose her action, she might decide to apply for a divorce. Short of
a positive assurance on this point, she made it clear that she would
never move in the matter; there must be no scandal, no
_retentissement_, nothing which her boy, necessarily brought up in
the French tradition of scrupulously preserved appearances, could
afterward regard as the faintest blur on his much-quartered
escutcheon. But even this partial concession again raised fresh
obstacles; for there seemed to be no one to whom she could entrust
so delicate an investigation, and to apply directly to the Marquis
de Malrive or his relatives appeared, in the light of her past
experience, the last way of learning their intentions.
"But," Durham objected, beginning to suspect a morbid fixity of idea
in her perpetual attitude of distrust--"but surely you have told me
that your husband's sister--what is her name? Madame de
Treymes?--was the most powerful member of the group, and that she
has always been on your side."
She hesitated. "Yes, Christiane has been on my side. She dislikes
her brother. But it would not do to ask her."
"But could no one else ask her? Who are her friends?"
"She has a great many; and some, of course, are mine. But in a case
like this they would be all hers; they wouldn't hesitate a moment
"Why should it be necessary to hesitate between you? Suppose Madame
de Treymes sees the reasonableness of what you ask; suppose, at any
rate, she sees the hopelessness of opposing you? Why should she make
a mystery of your opinion?"
"It's not that; it is that, if I went to her friends, I should never
get her real opinion from them. At least I should never know if it
is _was_ her real opinion; and therefore I should be no farther
advanced. Don't you see?"
Durham struggled between the sentimental impulse to soothe her, and
the practical instinct that it was a moment for unmitigated
"I'm not sure that I do; but if you can't find out what Madame de
Treymes thinks, I'll see what I can do myself."
"Oh--_you_!" broke from her in mingled terror and admiration; and
pausing on her doorstep to lay her hand in his before she touched
the bell, she added with a half-whimsical flash of regret: "Why
didn't this happen to Fanny Frisbee?"
Why had it not happened to Fanny Frisbee?
Durham put the question to himself as he walked back along the
quays, in a state of inner commotion which left him, for once,
insensible to the ordered beauty of his surroundings. Propinquity
had not been lacking: he had known Miss Frisbee since his college
days. In unsophisticated circles, one family is apt to quote
another; and the Durham ladies had always quoted the Frisbees. The
Frisbees were bold, experienced, enterprising: they had what the
novelists of the day called "dash." The beautiful Fanny was
especially dashing; she had the showiest national attributes,
tempered only by a native grace of softness, as the beam of her eyes
was subdued by the length of their lashes. And yet young Durham,
though not unsusceptible to such charms, had remained content to
enjoy them from a safe distance of good fellowship. If he had been
asked why, he could not have told; but the Durham of forty
understood. It was because there were, with minor modifications,
many other Fanny Frisbees; whereas never before, within his ken, had
there been a Fanny de Malrive.
He had felt it in a flash, when, the autumn before, he had run
across her one evening in the dining-room of the Beaurivage at
Ouchy; when, after a furtive exchange of glances, they had
simultaneously arrived at recognition, followed by an eager pressure
of hands, and a long evening of reminiscence on the starlit terrace.
She was the same, but so mysteriously changed! And it was the
mystery, the sense of unprobed depths of initiation, which drew him
to her as her freshness had never drawn him. He had not hitherto
attempted to define the nature of the change: it remained for his
sister Nannie to do that when, on his return to the Rue de Rivoli,
where the family were still sitting in conclave upon their recent
visitor, Miss Durham summed up their groping comments in the phrase:
"I never saw anything so French!"
Durham, understanding what his sister's use of the epithet implied,
recognized it instantly as the explanation of his own feelings. Yes,
it was the finish, the modelling, which Madame de Malrive's
experience had given her that set her apart from the fresh
uncomplicated personalities of which she had once been simply the
most charming type. The influences that had lowered her voice,
regulated her gestures, toned her down to harmony with the warm dim
background of a long social past--these influences had lent to her
natural fineness of perception a command of expression adapted to
complex conditions. She had moved in surroundings through which one
could hardly bounce and bang on the genial American plan without
knocking the angles off a number of sacred institutions; and her
acquired dexterity of movement seemed to Durham a crowning grace. It
was a shock, now that he knew at what cost the dexterity had been
acquired, to acknowledge this even to himself; he hated to think
that she could owe anything to such conditions as she had been
placed in. And it gave him a sense of the tremendous strength of the
organization into which she had been absorbed, that in spite of her
horror, her moral revolt, she had not reacted against its external
forms. She might abhor her husband, her marriage, and the world to
which it had introduced her, but she had become a product of that
world in its outward expression, and no better proof of the fact was
needed than her exotic enjoyment of Americanism.
The sense of the distance to which her American past had been
removed was never more present to him than when, a day or two later,
he went with his mother and sisters to return her visit. The region
beyond the river existed, for the Durham ladies, only as the
unmapped environment of the Bon Marche; and Nannie Durham's
exclamation on the pokiness of the streets and the dulness of the
houses showed Durham, with a start, how far he had already travelled
from the family point of view.
"Well, if this is all she got by marrying a Marquis!" the young lady
summed up as they paused before the small sober hotel in its
high-walled court; and Katy, following her mother through the
stone-vaulted and stone-floored vestibule, murmured: "It must be
simply freezing in winter."
In the softly-faded drawing-room, with its old pastels in old
frames, its windows looking on the damp green twilight of a garden
sunk deep in blackened walls, the American ladies might have been
even more conscious of the insufficiency of their friend's
compensations, had not the warmth of her welcome precluded all other
reflections. It was not till she had gathered them about her in the
corner beside the tea-table, that Durham identified the slender dark
lady loitering negligently in the background, and introduced in a
comprehensive murmur to the American group, as the redoubtable
sister-in-law to whom he had declared himself ready to throw down
There was nothing very redoubtable about Madame de Treymes, except
perhaps the kindly yet critical observation which she bestowed on
her sister-in-law's visitors: the unblinking attention of a
civilized spectator observing an encampment of aborigines. He had
heard of her as a beauty, and was surprised to find her, as Nannie
afterward put it, a mere stick to hang clothes on (but they _did_
hang!), with a small brown glancing face, like that of a charming
little inquisitive animal. Yet before she had addressed ten words to
him--nibbling at the hard English consonants like nuts--he owned the
justice of the epithet. She was a beauty, if beauty, instead of
being restricted to the cast of the face, is a pervasive attribute
informing the hands, the voice, the gestures, the very fall of a
flounce and tilt of a feather. In this impalpable _aura_ of grace
Madame de Treymes' dark meagre presence unmistakably moved, like a
thin flame in a wide quiver of light. And as he realized that she
looked much handsomer than she was, so while they talked, he felt
that she understood a great deal more than she betrayed. It was not
through the groping speech which formed their apparent medium of
communication that she imbibed her information: she found it in the
air, she extracted it from Durham's look and manner, she caught it
in the turn of her sister-in-law's defenseless eyes--for in her
presence Madame de Malrive became Fanny Frisbee again!--she put it
together, in short, out of just such unconsidered indescribable
trifles as differentiated the quiet felicity of her dress from
Nannie and Katy's "handsome" haphazard clothes.
Her actual converse with Durham moved, meanwhile, strictly in the
conventional ruts: had he been long in Paris, which of the new plays
did he like best, was it true that American _jeunes filles_ were
sometimes taken to the Boulevard theatres? And she threw an
interrogative glance at the young ladies beside the tea-table. To
Durham's reply that it depended how much French they knew, she
shrugged and smiled, replying that his compatriots all spoke French
like Parisians, enquiring, after a moment's thought, if they learned
it, _la bas, des negres_, and laughing heartily when Durham's
astonishment revealed her blunder.
When at length she had taken leave--enveloping the Durham ladies in
a last puzzled penetrating look--Madame de Malrive turned to Mrs.
Durham with a faintly embarrassed smile.
"My sister-in-law was much interested; I believe you are the first
Americans she has ever known."
"Good gracious!" ejaculated Nannie, as though such social darkness
required immediate missionary action on some one's part.
"Well, she knows _us_," said Durham, catching in Madame de Malrive's
rapid glance, a startled assent to his point.
"After all," reflected the accurate Katy, as though seeking an
excuse for Madame de Treymes' unenlightenment, "_we_ don't know
many French people, either."
To which Nannie promptly if obscurely retorted: "Ah, but we couldn't
and _she_ could!"
Madame de Treymes' friendly observation of her sister-in-law's
visitors resulted in no expression on her part of a desire to renew
her study of them. To all appearances, she passed out of their lives
when Madame de Malrive's door closed on her; and Durham felt that
the arduous task of making her acquaintance was still to be begun.
He felt also, more than ever, the necessity of attempting it; and in
his determination to lose no time, and his perplexity how to set
most speedily about the business, he bethought himself of applying
to his cousin Mrs. Boykin.
Mrs. Elmer Boykin was a small plump woman, to whose vague prettiness
the lines of middle-age had given no meaning: as though whatever had
happened to her had merely added to the sum total of her
inexperience. After a Parisian residence of twenty-five years, spent
in a state of feverish servitude to the great artists of the rue de
la Paix, her dress and hair still retained a certain rigidity in
keeping with the directness of her gaze and the unmodulated candour
of her voice. Her very drawing-room had the hard bright atmosphere
of her native skies, and one felt that she was still true at heart
to the national ideals in electric lighting and plumbing.
She and her husband had left America owing to the impossibility of
living there with the finish and decorum which the Boykin standard
demanded; but in the isolation of their exile they had created about
them a kind of phantom America, where the national prejudices
continued to flourish unchecked by the national progressiveness: a
little world sparsely peopled by compatriots in the same attitude of
chronic opposition toward a society chronically unaware of them. In
this uncontaminated air Mr. and Mrs. Boykin had preserved the purity
of simpler conditions, and Elmer Boykin, returning rakishly from a
Sunday's racing at Chantilly, betrayed, under his "knowing" coat and
the racing-glasses slung ostentatiously across his shoulder, the
unmistakeable cut of the American business man coming "up town"
after a long day in the office.
It was a part of the Boykins' uncomfortable but determined
attitude--and perhaps a last expression of their latent
patriotism--to live in active disapproval of the world about them,
fixing in memory with little stabs of reprobation innumerable
instances of what the abominable foreigner was doing; so that they
reminded Durham of persons peacefully following the course of a
horrible war by pricking red pins in a map. To Mrs. Durham, with her
gentle tourist's view of the European continent, as a vast Museum in
which the human multitudes simply furnished the element of costume,
the Boykins seemed abysmally instructed, and darkly expert in
forbidden things; and her son, without sharing her simple faith in
their omniscience, credited them with an ample supply of the kind of
information of which he was in search.
Mrs. Boykin, from the corner of an intensely modern Gobelin sofa,
studied her cousin as he balanced himself insecurely on one of the
small gilt chairs which always look surprised at being sat in.
"Fanny de Malrive? Oh, of course: I remember you were all very
intimate with the Frisbees when they lived in West Thirty-third
Street. But she has dropped all her American friends since her
marriage. The excuse was that de Malrive didn't like them; but as
she's been separated for five or six years, I can't see--. You say
she's been very nice to your mother and the girls? Well, I daresay
she is beginning to feel the need of friends she can really trust;
for as for her French relations--! That Malrive set is the worst in
the Faubourg. Of course you know what _he_ is; even the family, for
decency's sake, had to back her up, and urge her to get a
separation. And Christiane de Treymes--"
Durham seized his opportunity. "Is she so very reprehensible too?"
Mrs. Boykin pursed up her small colourless mouth. "I can't speak
from personal experience. I know Madame de Treymes slightly--I have
met her at Fanny's--but she never remembers the fact except when she
wants me to go to one of her _ventes de charite_. They all remember
us then; and some American women are silly enough to ruin themselves
at the smart bazaars, and fancy they will get invitations in return.
They say Mrs. Addison G. Pack followed Madame d'Alglade around for a
whole winter, and spent a hundred thousand francs at her stalls; and
at the end of the season Madame d'Alglade asked her to tea, and when
she got there she found _that_ was for a charity too, and she had to
pay a hundred francs to get in."
Mrs. Boykin paused with a smile of compassion. "That is not _my_
way," she continued. "Personally I have no desire to thrust myself
into French society--I can't see how any American woman can do so
without loss of self-respect. But any one can tell you about Madame
"I wish you would, then," Durham suggested.
"Well, I think Elmer had better," said his wife mysteriously, as Mr.
Boykin, at this point, advanced across the wide expanse of Aubusson
on which his wife and Durham were islanded in a state of propinquity
"What's that, Bessy? Hah, Durham, how are you? Didn't see you at
Auteuil this afternoon. You don't race? Busy sight-seeing, I
suppose? What was that my wife was telling you? Oh, about Madame de
He stroked his pepper-and-salt moustache with a gesture intended
rather to indicate than conceal the smile of experience beneath it.
"Well, Madame de Treymes has not been like a happy country--she's
had a history: several of 'em. Some one said she constituted the
_feuilleton_ of the Faubourg daily news. _La suite au prochain
numero_--you see the point? Not that I speak from personal
knowledge. Bessy and I have never cared to force our way--" He
paused, reflecting that his wife had probably anticipated him in the
expression of this familiar sentiment, and added with a significant
nod: "Of course you know the Prince d'Armillac by sight? No? I'm
surprised at that. Well, he's one of the choicest ornaments of the
Jockey Club: very fascinating to the ladies, I believe, but the
deuce and all at baccara. Ruined his mother and a couple of maiden
aunts already--and now Madame de Treymes has put the family pearls
up the spout, and is wearing imitation for love of him."
"I had that straight from my maid's cousin, who is employed by
Madame d'Armillac's jeweller," said Mrs. Boykin with conscious
"Oh, it's straight enough--more than _she_ is!" retorted her
husband, who was slightly jealous of having his facts reinforced by
any information not of his own gleaning.
"Be careful of what you say, Elmer," Mrs. Boykin interposed with
archness. "I suspect John of being seriously smitten by the lady."
Durham let this pass unchallenged, submitting with a good grace to
his host's low whistle of amusement, and the sardonic enquiry: "Ever
do anything with the foils? D'Armillac is what they call over here a
"Oh, I don't mean to resort to bloodshed unless it's absolutely
necessary; but I mean to make the lady's acquaintance," said Durham,
falling into his key.
Mrs. Boykin's lips tightened to the vanishing point. "I am afraid
you must apply for an introduction to more fashionable people than
_we_ are. Elmer and I so thoroughly disapprove of French society
that we have always declined to take any part in it. But why should
not Fanny de Malrive arrange a meeting for you?"
Durham hesitated. "I don't think she is on very intimate terms with
her husband's family--"
"You mean that she's not allowed to introduce _her_ friends to
them," Mrs. Boykin interjected sarcastically; while her husband
added, with an air of portentous initiation: "Ah, my dear fellow,
the way they treat the Americans over here--that's another chapter,
"How some people can _stand_ it!" Mrs. Boykin chimed in; and as the
footman, entering at that moment, tendered her a large coronetted
envelope, she held it up as if in illustration of the indignities to
which her countrymen were subjected.
"Look at that, my dear John," she exclaimed--"another card to one of
their everlasting bazaars! Why, it's at Madame d'Armillac's, the
Prince's mother. Madame de Treymes must have sent it, of course. The
brazen way in which they combine religion and immorality! Fifty
francs admission--_rien que cela!_--to see some of the most
disreputable people in Europe. And if you're an American, you're
expected to leave at least a thousand behind you. Their own people
naturally get off cheaper." She tossed over the card to her cousin.
"There's your opportunity to see Madame de Treymes."
"Make it two thousand, and she'll ask you to tea," Mr. Boykin
In the monumental drawing-room of the Hotel de Malrive--it had been
a surprise to the American to read the name of the house emblazoned
on black marble over its still more monumental gateway--Durham found
himself surrounded by a buzz of feminine tea-sipping oddly out of
keeping with the wigged and cuirassed portraits frowning high on the
walls, the majestic attitude of the furniture, the rigidity of great
gilt consoles drawn up like lords-in-waiting against the tarnished
It was the old Marquise de Malrive's "day," and Madame de Treymes,
who lived with her mother, had admitted Durham to the heart of the
enemy's country by inviting him, after his prodigal disbursements at
the charity bazaar, to come in to tea on a Thursday. Whether, in
thus fulfilling Mr. Boykin's prediction, she had been aware of
Durham's purpose, and had her own reasons for falling in with it; or
whether she simply wished to reward his lavishness at the fair, and
permit herself another glimpse of an American so picturesquely
embodying the type familiar to French fiction--on these points
Durham was still in doubt.
Meanwhile, Madame de Treymes being engaged with a venerable Duchess
in a black shawl--all the older ladies present had the sloping
shoulders of a generation of shawl-wearers--her American visitor,
left in the isolation of his unimportance, was using it as a shelter
for a rapid survey of the scene.
He had begun his study of Fanny de Malrive's situation without any
real understanding of her fears. He knew the repugnance to divorce
existing in the French Catholic world, but since the French laws
sanctioned it, and in a case so flagrant as his injured friend's,
would inevitably accord it with the least possible delay and
exposure, he could not take seriously any risk of opposition on the
part of the husband's family. Madame de Malrive had not become a
Catholic, and since her religious scruples could not be played on,
the only weapon remaining to the enemy--the threat of fighting the
divorce--was one they could not wield without self-injury.
Certainly, if the chief object were to avoid scandal, common sense
must counsel Monsieur de Malrive and his friends not to give the
courts an opportunity of exploring his past; and since the echo of
such explorations, and their ultimate transmission to her son, were
what Madame de Malrive most dreaded, the opposing parties seemed to
have a common ground for agreement, and Durham could not but regard
his friend's fears as the result of over-taxed sensibilities. All
this had seemed evident enough to him as he entered the austere
portals of the Hotel de Malrive and passed, between the faded
liveries of old family servants, to the presence of the dreaded
dowager above. But he had not been ten minutes in that presence
before he had arrived at a faint intuition of what poor Fanny meant.
It was not in the exquisite mildness of the old Marquise, a little
gray-haired bunch of a woman in dowdy mourning, or in the small neat
presence of the priestly uncle, the Abbe who had so obviously just
stepped down from one of the picture-frames overhead: it was not in
the aspect of these chief protagonists, so outwardly unformidable,
that Durham read an occult danger to his friend. It was rather in
their setting, their surroundings, the little company of elderly and
dowdy persons--so uniformly clad in weeping blacks and purples that
they might have been assembled for some mortuary anniversary--it was
in the remoteness and the solidarity of this little group that
Durham had his first glimpse of the social force of which Fanny de
Malrive had spoken. All these amiably chatting visitors, who mostly
bore the stamp of personal insignificance on their mildly sloping or
aristocratically beaked faces, hung together in a visible closeness
of tradition, dress, attitude and manner, as different as possible
from the loose aggregation of a roomful of his own countrymen.
Durham felt, as he observed them, that he had never before known
what "society" meant; nor understood that, in an organized and
inherited system, it exists full-fledged where two or three of its
members are assembled.
Upon this state of bewilderment, this sense of having entered a room
in which the lights had suddenly been turned out, even Madame de
Treymes' intensely modern presence threw no illumination. He was
conscious, as she smilingly rejoined him, not of her points of
difference from the others, but of the myriad invisible threads by
which she held to them; he even recognized the audacious slant of
her little brown profile in the portrait of a powdered ancestress
beneath which she had paused a moment in advancing. She was simply
one particular facet of the solid, glittering impenetrable body
which he had thought to turn in his hands and look through like a
crystal; and when she said, in her clear staccato English, "Perhaps
you will like to see the other rooms," he felt like crying out in
his blindness: "If I could only be sure of seeing _anything_ here!"
Was she conscious of his blindness, and was he as remote and
unintelligible to her as she was to him? This possibility, as he
followed her through the nobly-unfolding rooms of the great house,
gave him his first hope of recoverable advantage. For, after all, he
had some vague traditional lights on her world and its antecedents;
whereas to her he was a wholly new phenomenon, as unexplained as a
fragment of meteorite dropped at her feet on the smooth gravel of
the garden-path they were pacing.
She had led him down into the garden, in response to his admiring
exclamation, and perhaps also because she was sure that, in the
chill spring afternoon, they would have its embowered privacies to
themselves. The garden was small, but intensely rich and deep--one
of those wells of verdure and fragrance which everywhere sweeten the
air of Paris by wafts blown above old walls on quiet streets; and as
Madame de Treymes paused against the ivy bank masking its farther
boundary, Durham felt more than ever removed from the normal
bearings of life.
His sense of strangeness was increased by the surprise of his
companion's next speech.
"You wish to marry my sister-in-law?" she asked abruptly; and
Durham's start of wonder was followed by an immediate feeling of
relief. He had expected the preliminaries of their interview to be
as complicated as the bargaining in an Eastern bazaar, and had
feared to lose himself at the first turn in a labyrinth of "foreign"
"Yes, I do," he said with equal directness; and they smiled together
at the sharp report of question and answer.
The smile put Durham more completely at his ease, and after waiting
for her to speak, he added with deliberation: "So far, however, the
wishing is entirely on my side." His scrupulous conscience felt
itself justified in this reserve by the conditional nature of Madame
de Malrive's consent.
"I understand; but you have been given reason to hope--"
"Every man in my position gives himself his own reasons for hoping,"
he interposed with a smile.
"I understand that too," Madame de Treymes assented. "But still--you
spent a great deal of money the other day at our bazaar."
"Yes: I wanted to have a talk with you, and it was the readiest--if
not the most distinguished--means of attracting your attention."
"I understand," she once more reiterated, with a gleam of amusement.
"It is because I suspect you of understanding everything that I have
been so anxious for this opportunity."
She bowed her acknowledgement, and said: "Shall we sit a moment?"
adding, as he drew their chairs under a tree: "You permit me, then,
to say that I believe I understand also a little of our good Fanny's
"On that point I have no authority to speak. I am here only to
"Listen, then: you have persuaded her that there would be no harm in
divorcing my brother--since I believe your religion does not forbid
"Madame de Malrive's religion sanctions divorce in such a case as--"
"As my brother has furnished? Yes, I have heard that your race is
stricter in judging such _ecarts_. But you must not think," she
added, "that I defend my brother. Fanny must have told you that we
have always given her our sympathy."
"She has let me infer it from her way of speaking of you."
Madame de Treymes arched her dramatic eyebrows. "How cautious you
are! I am so straightforward that I shall have no chance with you."
"You will be quite safe, unless you are so straightforward that you
put me on my guard."
She met this with a low note of amusement.
"At this rate we shall never get any farther; and in two minutes I
must go back to my mother's visitors. Why should we go on fencing?
The situation is really quite simple. Tell me just what you wish to
know. I have always been Fanny's friend, and that disposes me to be
Durham, during this appeal, had had time to steady his thoughts; and
the result of his deliberation was that he said, with a return to
his former directness: "Well, then, what I wish to know is, what
position your family would take if Madame de Malrive should sue for
a divorce." He added, without giving her time to reply: "I naturally
wish to be clear on this point before urging my cause with your
Madame de Treymes seemed in no haste to answer; but after a pause of
reflection she said, not unkindly: "My poor Fanny might have asked
me that herself."
"I beg you to believe that I am not acting as her spokesman," Durham
hastily interposed. "I merely wish to clear up the situation before
speaking to her in my own behalf."
"You are the most delicate of suitors! But I understand your
feeling. Fanny also is extremely delicate: it was a great surprise
to us at first. Still, in this case--" Madame de Treymes
paused--"since she has no religious scruples, and she had no
difficulty in obtaining a separation, why should she fear any in
demanding a divorce?"
"I don't know that she does: but the mere fact of possible
opposition might be enough to alarm the delicacy you have observed
"Ah--yes: on her boy's account."
"Partly, doubtless, on her boy's account."
"So that, if my brother objects to a divorce, all he has to do is to
announce his objection? But, my dear sir, you are giving your case
into my hands!" She flashed an amused smile on him.
"Since you say you are Madame de Malrive's friend, could there be a
better place for it?"
As she turned her eyes on him he seemed to see, under the flitting
lightness of her glance, the sudden concentrated expression of the
ancestral will. "I am Fanny's friend, certainly. But with us family
considerations are paramount. And our religion forbids divorce."
"So that, inevitably, your brother will oppose it?"
She rose from her seat, and stood fretting with her slender boot-tip
the minute red pebbles of the path.
"I must really go in: my mother will never forgive me for deserting
"But surely you owe me an answer?" Durham protested, rising also.
"In return for your purchases at my stall?"
"No: in return for the trust I have placed in you."
She mused on this, moving slowly a step or two toward the house.
"Certainly I wish to see you again; you interest me," she said
smiling. "But it is so difficult to arrange. If I were to ask you to
come here again, my mother and uncle would be surprised. And at
"Oh, not there!" he exclaimed.
"Where then? Is there any other house where we are likely to meet?"
Durham hesitated; but he was goaded by the flight of the precious
minutes. "Not unless you'll come and dine with me," he said boldly.
"Dine with you? _Au cabaret?_ Ah, that would be diverting--but
"Well, dine with my cousin, then--I have a cousin, an American lady,
who lives here," said Durham, with suddenly-soaring audacity.
She paused with puzzled brows. "An American lady whom I know?"
"By name, at any rate. You send her cards for all your charity
She received the thrust with a laugh. "We do exploit your
"Oh, I don't think she has ever gone to the bazaars."
"But she might if I dined with her?"
"Still less, I imagine."
She reflected on this, and then said with acuteness: "I like that,
and I accept--but what is the lady's name?"
On the way home, in the first drop of his exaltation, Durham had
said to himself: "But why on earth should Bessy invite her?"
He had, naturally, no very cogent reasons to give Mrs. Boykin in
support of his astonishing request, and could only, marvelling at
his own growth in duplicity, suffer her to infer that he was really,
shamelessly "smitten" with the lady he thus proposed to thrust upon
her hospitality. But, to his surprise, Mrs. Boykin hardly gave
herself time to pause upon his reasons. They were swallowed up in
the fact that Madame de Treymes wished to dine with her, as the
lesser luminaries vanish in the blaze of the sun.
"I am not surprised," she declared, with a faint smile intended to
check her husband's unruly wonder. "I wonder _you_ are, Elmer.
Didn't you tell me that Armillac went out of his way to speak to you
the other day at the races? And at Madame d'Alglade's sale--yes, I
went there after all, just for a minute, because I found Katy and
Nannie were so anxious to be taken--well, that day I noticed that
Madame de Treymes was quite _empressee_ when we went up to her
stall. Oh, I didn't buy anything: I merely waited while the girls
chose some lampshades. They thought it would be interesting to take
home something painted by a real Marquise, and of course I didn't
tell them that those women _never_ make the things they sell at
their stalls. But I repeat I'm not surprised: I suspected that
Madame de Treymes had heard of our little dinners. You know they're
really horribly bored in that poky old Faubourg. My poor John, I see
now why she's been making up to you! But on one point I am quite
determined, Elmer; whatever you say, I shall _not_ invite the Prince
Elmer, as far as Durham could observe, did not say much; but, like
his wife, he continued in a state of pleasantly agitated activity
till the momentous evening of the dinner.
The festivity in question was restricted in numbers, either owing to
the difficulty of securing suitable guests, or from a desire not to
have it appear that Madame de Treymes' hosts attached any special
importance to her presence; but the smallness of the company was
counterbalanced by the multiplicity of the courses.
The national determination not to be "downed" by the despised
foreigner, to show a wealth of material resource obscurely felt to
compensate for the possible lack of other distinctions--this resolve
had taken, in Mrs. Boykin's case, the shape--or rather the multiple
shapes--of a series of culinary feats, of gastronomic combinations,
which would have commanded her deep respect had she seen them on any
other table, and which she naturally relied on to produce the same
effect on her guest. Whether or not the desired result was achieved,
Madame de Treymes' manner did not specifically declare; but it
showed a general complaisance, a charming willingness to be amused,
which made Mr. Boykin, for months afterward, allude to her among his
compatriots as "an old friend of my wife's--takes potluck with us,
you know. Of course there's not a word of truth in any of those
It was only when, to Durham's intense surprise, Mr. Boykin hazarded
to his neighbour the regret that they had not been so lucky as to
"secure the Prince"--it was then only that the lady showed, not
indeed anything so simple and unprepared as embarrassment, but a
faint play of wonder, an under-flicker of amusement, as though
recognizing that, by some odd law of social compensation, the
crudity of the talk might account for the complexity of the dishes.
But Mr. Boykin was tremulously alive to hints, and the conversation
at once slid to safer topics, easy generalizations which left Madame
de Treymes ample time to explore the table, to use her narrowed gaze
like a knife slitting open the unsuspicious personalities about her.
Nannie and Katy Durham, who, after much discussion (to which their
hostess candidly admitted them), had been included in the feast,
were the special objects of Madame de Treymes' observation. During
dinner she ignored in their favour the other carefully-selected
guests--the fashionable art-critic, the old Legitimist general, the
beauty from the English Embassy, the whole impressive marshalling of
Mrs. Boykin's social resources--and when the men returned to the
drawing-room, Durham found her still fanning in his sisters the
flame of an easily kindled enthusiasm. Since she could hardly have
been held by the intrinsic interest of their converse, the sight
gave him another swift intuition of the working of those hidden
forces with which Fanny de Malrive felt herself encompassed. But
when Madame de Treymes, at his approach, let him see that it was for
him she had been reserving herself, he felt that so graceful an
impulse needed no special explanation. She had the art of making it
seem quite natural that they should move away together to the
remotest of Mrs. Boykin's far-drawn salons, and that there, in a
glaring privacy of brocade and ormolu, she should turn to him with a
smile which avowed her intentional quest of seclusion.
"Confess that I have done a great deal for you!" she exclaimed,
making room for him on a sofa judiciously screened from the
observation of the other rooms.
"In coming to dine with my cousin?" he enquired, answering her
"Let us say, in giving you this half hour."
"For that I am duly grateful--and shall be still more so when I know
what it contains for me."
"Ah, I am not sure. You will not like what I am going to say."
"Shall I not?" he rejoined, changing colour.
She raised her eyes from the thoughtful contemplation of her painted
fan. "You appear to have no idea of the difficulties."
"Should I have asked your help if I had not had an idea of them?"
"But you are still confident that with my help you can surmount
"I can't believe you have come here to take that confidence from
She leaned back, smiling at him through her lashes. "And all this I
am to do for your _beaux yeux?_"
"No--for your own: that you may see with them what happiness you are
"You are extremely clever, and I like you." She paused, and then
brought out with lingering emphasis: "But my family will not hear of
She threw into her voice such an accent of finality that Durham, for
the moment, felt himself brought up against an insurmountable
barrier; but, almost at once, his fear was mitigated by the
conviction that she would not have put herself out so much to say so
"When you speak of your family, do you include yourself?" he
She threw a surprised glance at him. "I thought you understood that
I am simply their mouthpiece."
At this he rose quietly to his feet with a gesture of acceptance. "I
have only to thank you, then, for not keeping me longer in
His air of wishing to put an immediate end to the conversation
seemed to surprise her. "Sit down a moment longer," she commanded
him kindly; and as he leaned against the back of his chair, without
appearing to hear her request, she added in a low voice: "I am very
sorry for you and Fanny--but you are not the only persons to be
She had dropped her light manner as she might have tossed aside her
fan, and he was startled at the intimacy of misery to which her look
and movement abruptly admitted him. Perhaps no Anglo-Saxon fully
understands the fluency in self-revelation which centuries of the
confessional have given to the Latin races, and to Durham, at any
rate, Madame de Treymes' sudden avowal gave the shock of a physical
"I am so sorry," he stammered--"is there any way in which I can be
of use to you?"
She sat before him with her hands clasped, her eyes fixed on his in
a terrible intensity of appeal. "If you would--if you would! Oh,
there is nothing I would not do for you. I have still a great deal
of influence with my mother, and what my mother commands we all do.
I could help you--I am sure I could help you; but not if my own
situation were known. And if nothing can be done it must be known in
a few days."
Durham had reseated himself at her side. "Tell me what I can do," he
said in a low tone, forgetting his own preoccupations in his genuine
concern for her distress.
She looked up at him through tears. "How dare I? Your race is so
cautious, so self-controlled--you have so little indulgence for the
extravagances of the heart. And my folly has been incredible--and
unrewarded." She paused, and as Durham waited in a silence which she
guessed to be compassionate, she brought out below her breath: "I
have lent money--my husband's, my brother's--money that was not
mine, and now I have nothing to repay it with."
Durham gazed at her in genuine astonishment. The turn the
conversation had taken led quite beyond his uncomplicated
experiences with the other sex. She saw his surprise, and extended
her hands in deprecation and entreaty. "Alas, what must you think of
me? How can I explain my humiliating myself before a stranger? Only
by telling you the whole truth--the fact that I am not alone in this
disaster, that I could not confess my situation to my family without
ruining myself, and involving in my ruin some one who, however
undeservedly, has been as dear to me as--as you are to--"
Durham pushed his chair back with a sharp exclamation.
"Ah, even that does not move you!" she said.
The cry restored him to his senses by the long shaft of light it
sent down the dark windings of the situation. He seemed suddenly to
know Madame de Treymes as if he had been brought up with her in the
inscrutable shades of the Hotel de Malrive.
She, on her side, appeared to have a startled but uncomprehending
sense of the fact that his silence was no longer completely
sympathetic, that her touch called forth no answering vibration; and
she made a desperate clutch at the one chord she could be certain of
"You have asked a great deal of me--much more than you can guess. Do
you mean to give me nothing--not even your sympathy--in return? Is
it because you have heard horrors of me? When are they not said of a
woman who is married unhappily? Perhaps not in your fortunate
country, where she may seek liberation without dishonour. But
here--! You who have seen the consequences of our disastrous
marriages--you who may yet be the victim of our cruel and abominable
system; have you no pity for one who has suffered in the same way,
and without the possibility of release?" She paused, laying her hand
on his arm with a smile of deprecating irony. "It is not because you
are not rich. At such times the crudest way is the shortest, and I
don't pretend to deny that I know I am asking you a trifle. You
Americans, when you want a thing, always pay ten times what it is
worth, and I am giving you the wonderful chance to get what you most
want at a bargain."
Durham sat silent, her little gloved hand burning his coat-sleeve as
if it had been a hot iron. His brain was tingling with the shock of
her confession. She wanted money, a great deal of money: that was
clear, but it was not the point. She was ready to sell her
influence, and he fancied she could be counted on to fulfil her side
of the bargain. The fact that he could so trust her seemed only to
make her more terrible to him--more supernaturally dauntless and
baleful. For what was it that she exacted of him? She had said she
must have money to pay her debts; but he knew that was only a pre-
text which she scarcely expected him to believe. She wanted the
money for some one else; that was what her allusion to a
fellow-victim meant. She wanted it to pay the Prince's gambling
debts--it was at that price that Durham was to buy the right to
marry Fanny de Malrive.
Once the situation had worked itself out in his mind, he found
himself unexpectedly relieved of the necessity of weighing the
arguments for and against it. All the traditional forces of his
blood were in revolt, and he could only surrender himself to their
pressure, without thought of compromise or parley.
He stood up in silence, and the abruptness of his movement caused
Madame de Treymes' hand to slip from his arm.
"You refuse?" she exclaimed; and he answered with a bow: "Only
because of the return you propose to make me."
She stood staring at him, in a perplexity so genuine and profound
that he could almost have smiled at it through his disgust.
"Ah, you are all incredible," she murmured at last, stooping to
repossess herself of her fan; and as she moved past him to rejoin
the group in the farther room, she added in an incisive undertone:
"You are quite at liberty to repeat our conversation to your
Durham did not take advantage of the permission thus strangely flung
at him: of his talk with her sister-in-law he gave to Madame de
Malrive only that part which concerned her.
Presenting himself for this purpose, the day after Mrs. Boykin's
dinner, he found his friend alone with her son; and the sight of the
child had the effect of dispelling whatever illusive hopes had
attended him to the threshold. Even after the governess's descent
upon the scene had left Madame de Malrive and her visitor alone, the
little boy's presence seemed to hover admonishingly between them,
reducing to a bare statement of fact Durham's confession of the
total failure of his errand.
Madame de Malrive heard the confession calmly; she had been too
prepared for it not to have prepared a countenance to receive it.
Her first comment was: "I have never known them to declare
themselves so plainly--" and Durham's baffled hopes fastened
themselves eagerly on the words. Had she not always warned him that
there was nothing so misleading as their plainness? And might it not
be that, in spite of his advisedness, he had suffered too easy a
rebuff? But second thoughts reminded him that the refusal had not
been as unconditional as his necessary reservations made it seem in
the repetition; and that, furthermore, it was his own act, and not
that of his opponents, which had determined it. The impossibility of
revealing this to Madame de Malrive only made the difficulty shut in
more darkly around him, and in the completeness of his
discouragement he scarcely needed her reminder of his promise to
regard the subject as closed when once the other side had defined
He was secretly confirmed in this acceptance of his fate by the
knowledge that it was really he who had defined the position. Even
now that he was alone with Madame de Malrive, and subtly aware of
the struggle under her composure, he felt no temptation to abate his
stand by a jot. He had not yet formulated a reason for his
resistance: he simply went on feeling, more and more strongly with
every precious sign of her participation in his unhappiness, that he
could neither owe his escape from it to such a transaction, nor
suffer her, innocently, to owe hers.
The only mitigating effect of his determination was in an increase
of helpless tenderness toward her; so that, when she exclaimed, in
answer to his announcement that he meant to leave Paris the next
night: "Oh, give me a day or two longer!" he at once resigned
himself to saying: "If I can be of the least use, I'll give you a
She answered sadly that all he could do would be to let her feel
that he was there--just for a day or two, till she had readjusted
herself to the idea of going on in the old way; and on this note of
renunciation they parted.
But Durham, however pledged to the passive part, could not long
sustain it without rebellion. To "hang round" the shut door of his
hopes seemed, after two long days, more than even his passion
required of him; and on the third he despatched a note of goodbye to
his friend. He was going off for a few weeks, he explained--his
mother and sisters wished to be taken to the Italian lakes: but he
would return to Paris, and say his real farewell to her, before
sailing for America in July.
He had not intended his note to act as an ultimatum: he had no wish
to surprise Madame de Malrive into unconsidered surrender. When,
almost immediately, his own messenger returned with a reply from
her, he even felt a pang of disappointment, a momentary fear lest
she should have stooped a little from the high place where his
passion had preferred to leave her; but her first words turned his
fear into rejoicing.
"Let me see you before you go: something extraordinary has
happened," she wrote.
What had happened, as he heard from her a few hours later--finding
her in a tremor of frightened gladness, with her door boldly closed
to all the world but himself--was nothing less extraordinary than a
visit from Madame de Treymes, who had come, officially delegated by
the family, to announce that Monsieur de Malrive had decided not to
oppose his wife's suit for divorce. Durham, at the news, was almost
afraid to show himself too amazed; but his small signs of alarm and
wonder were swallowed up in the flush of Madame de Malrive's
"It's the long habit, you know, of not believing them--of looking
for the truth always in what they _don't_ say. It took me hours and
hours to convince myself that there's no trick under it, that there
can't be any," she explained.
"Then you _are_ convinced now?" escaped from Durham; but the shadow
of his question lingered no more than the flit of a wing across her
"I am convinced because the facts are there to reassure me.
Christiane tells me that Monsieur de Malrive has consulted his
lawyers, and that they have advised him to free me. Maitre
Enguerrand has been instructed to see my lawyer whenever I wish it.
They quite understand that I never should have taken the step in
face of any opposition on their part--I am so thankful to you for
making that perfectly clear to them!--and I suppose this is the
return their pride makes to mine. For they _can_ be proud
collectively--" She broke off and added, with happy hands
outstretched: "And I owe it all to you--Christiane said it was your
talk with her that had convinced them."
Durham, at this statement, had to repress a fresh sound of
amazement; but with her hands in his, and, a moment after, her whole
self drawn to him in the first yielding of her lips, doubt perforce
gave way to the lover's happy conviction that such love was after
all too strong for the powers of darkness.
It was only when they sat again in the blissful after-calm of their
understanding, that he felt the pricking of an unappeased distrust.
"Did Madame de Treymes give you any reason for this change of
front?" he risked asking, when he found the distrust was not
otherwise to be quelled.
"Oh, yes: just what I've said. It was really her admiration of
_you_--of your attitude--your delicacy. She said that at first she
hadn't believed in it: they're always looking for a hidden motive.
And when she found that yours was staring at her in the actual words
you said: that you really respected my scruples, and would never,
never try to coerce or entrap me--something in her--poor
Christiane!--answered to it, she told me, and she wanted to prove to
us that she was capable of understanding us too. If you knew her
history you'd find it wonderful and pathetic that she can!"
Durham thought he knew enough of it to infer that Madame de Treymes
had not been the object of many conscientious scruples on the part
of the opposite sex; but this increased rather his sense of the
strangeness than of the pathos of her action. Yet Madame de Malrive,
whom he had once inwardly taxed with the morbid raising of
obstacles, seemed to see none now; and he could only infer that her
sister-in-law's actual words had carried more conviction than
reached him in the repetition of them. The mere fact that he had so
much to gain by leaving his friend's faith undisturbed was no doubt
stirring his own suspicions to unnatural activity; and this sense
gradually reasoned him back into acceptance of her view, as the most
normal as well as the pleasantest he could take.
The uneasiness thus temporarily repressed slipped into the final
disguise of hoping he should not again meet Madame de Treymes; and
in this wish he was seconded by the decision, in which Madame de
Malrive concurred, that it would be well for him to leave Paris
while the preliminary negotiations were going on. He committed her
interests to the best professional care, and his mother, resigning
her dream of the lakes, remained to fortify Madame de Malrive by her
mild unimaginative view of the transaction, as an uncomfortable but
commonplace necessity, like house-cleaning or dentistry. Mrs. Durham
would doubtless have preferred that her only son, even with his hair
turning gray, should have chosen a Fanny Frisbee rather than a Fanny
de Malrive; but it was a part of her acceptance of life on a general
basis of innocence and kindliness, that she entered generously into
his dream of rescue and renewal, and devoted herself without
after-thought to keeping up Fanny's courage with so little to spare
The process, the lawyers declared, would not be a long one, since
Monsieur de Malrive's acquiescence reduced it to a formality; and
when, at the end of June, Durham returned from Italy with Katy and
Nannie, there seemed no reason why he should not stop in Paris long
enough to learn what progress had been made.
But before he could learn this he was to hear, on entering Madame de
Malrive's presence, news more immediate if less personal. He found
her, in spite of her gladness in his return, so evidently
preoccupied and distressed that his first thought was one of fear
for their own future. But she read and dispelled this by saying,
before he could put his question: "Poor Christiane is here. She is
very unhappy. You have seen in the papers--?"
"I have seen no papers since we left Turin. What has happened?"
"The Prince d'Armillac has come to grief. There has been some
terrible scandal about money and he has been obliged to leave France
to escape arrest."
"And Madame de Treymes has left her husband?"
"Ah, no, poor creature: they don't leave their husbands--they can't.
But de Treymes has gone down to their place in Brittany, and as my
mother-in-law is with another daughter in Auvergne, Christiane came
here for a few days. With me, you see, she need not pretend--she can
cry her eyes out."
"And that is what she is doing?"
It was so unlike his conception of the way in which, under the most
adverse circumstances, Madame de Treymes would be likely to occupy
her time, that Durham was conscious of a note of scepticism in his
"Poor thing--if you saw her you would feel nothing but pity. She is
suffering so horribly that I reproach myself for being happy under
the same roof."
Durham met this with a tender pressure of her hand; then he said,
after a pause of reflection: "I should like to see her."
He hardly knew what prompted him to utter the wish, unless it were a
sudden stir of compunction at the memory of his own dealings with
Madame de Treymes. Had he not sacrificed the poor creature to a
purely fantastic conception of conduct? She had said that she knew
she was asking a trifle of him; and the fact that, materially, it
would have been a trifle, had seemed at the moment only an added
reason for steeling himself in his moral resistance to it. But now
that he had gained his point--and through her own generosity, as it
still appeared--the largeness of her attitude made his own seem
cramped and petty. Since conduct, in the last resort, must be judged
by its enlarging or diminishing effect on character, might it not be
that the zealous weighing of the moral anise and cummin was less
important than the unconsidered lavishing of the precious ointment?
At any rate, he could enjoy no peace of mind under the burden of
Madame de Treymes' magnanimity, and when he had assured himself that
his own affairs were progressing favourably, he once more, at the
risk of surprising his betrothed, brought up the possibility of
seeing her relative.
Madame de Malrive evinced no surprise. "It is natural, knowing what
she has done for us, that you should want to show her your sympathy.
The difficulty is that it is just the one thing you _can't_ show
her. You can thank her, of course, for ourselves, but even that at
"Would seem brutal? Yes, I recognize that I should have to choose my
words," he admitted, guiltily conscious that his capability of
dealing with Madame de Treymes extended far beyond her
Madame de Malrive still hesitated. "I can tell her; and when you
come back tomorrow--"
It had been decided that, in the interests of discretion--the
interests, in other words, of the poor little future Marquis de
Malrive--Durham was to remain but two days in Paris, withdrawing
then with his family till the conclusion of the divorce proceedings
permitted him to return in the acknowledged character of Madame de
Malrive's future husband. Even on this occasion, he had not come to
her alone; Nannie Durham, in the adjoining room, was chatting
conspicuously with the little Marquis, whom she could with
difficulty be restrained from teaching to call her "Aunt Nannie."
Durham thought her voice had risen unduly once or twice during his
visit, and when, on taking leave, he went to summon her from the
inner room, he found the higher note of ecstasy had been evoked by
the appearance of Madame de Treymes, and that the little boy,
himself absorbed in a new toy of Durham's bringing, was being bent
over by an actual as well as a potential aunt.
Madame de Treymes raised herself with a slight start at Durham's
approach: she had her hat on, and had evidently paused a moment on
her way out to speak with Nannie, without expecting to be surprised
by her sister-in-law's other visitor. But her surprises never wore
the awkward form of embarrassment, and she smiled beautifully on
Durham as he took her extended hand.
The smile was made the more appealing by the way in which it lit up
the ruin of her small dark face, which looked seared and hollowed as
by a flame that might have spread over it from her fevered eyes.
Durham, accustomed to the pale inward grief of the inexpressive
races, was positively startled by the way in which she seemed to
have been openly stretched on the pyre; he almost felt an indelicacy
in the ravages so tragically confessed.
The sight caused an involuntary readjustment of his whole view of
the situation, and made him, as far as his own share in it went,
more than ever inclined to extremities of self-disgust. With him
such sensations required, for his own relief, some immediate
penitential escape, and as Madame de Treymes turned toward the door
he addressed a glance of entreaty to his betrothed.
Madame de Malrive, whose intelligence could be counted on at such
moments, responded by laying a detaining hand on her sister-in-law's
"Dear Christiane, may I leave Mr. Durham in your charge for two
minutes? I have promised Nannie that she shall see the boy put to
Madame de Treymes made no audible response to this request, but when
the door had closed on the other ladies she said, looking quietly at
Durham: "I don't think that, in this house, your time will hang so
heavy that you need my help in supporting it."
Durham met her glance frankly. "It was not for that reason that
Madame de Malrive asked you to remain with me."
"Why, then? Surely not in the interest of preserving appearances,
since she is safely upstairs with your sister?"
"No; but simply because I asked her to. I told her I wanted to speak
"How you arrange things! And what reason can you have for wanting to
speak to me?"
He paused for a moment. "Can't you imagine? The desire to thank you
for what you have done."
She stirred restlessly, turning to adjust her hat before the glass
above the mantelpiece.
"Oh, as for what I have done--!"
"Don't speak as if you regretted it," he interposed.
She turned back to him with a flash of laughter lighting up the
haggardness of her face. "Regret working for the happiness of two
such excellent persons? Can't you fancy what a charming change it is
for me to do something so innocent and beneficent?"
He moved across the room and went up to her, drawing down the hand
which still flitted experimentally about her hat.
"Don't talk in that way, however much one of the persons of whom you
speak may have deserved it."
"One of the persons? Do you mean me?"
He released her hand, but continued to face her resolutely. "I mean
myself, as you know. You have been generous--extraordinarily
"Ah, but I was doing good in a good cause. You have made me see that
there is a distinction."
He flushed to the forehead. "I am here to let you say whatever you
choose to me."
"Whatever I choose?" She made a slight gesture of deprecation. "Has
it never occurred to you that I may conceivably choose to say
Durham paused, conscious of the increasing difficulty of the
advance. She met him, parried him, at every turn: he had to take his
baffled purpose back to another point of attack.
"Quite conceivably," he said: "so much so that I am aware I must
make the most of this opportunity, because I am not likely to get
"But what remains of your opportunity, if it isn't one to me?"
"It still remains, for me, an occasion to abase myself--" He broke
off, conscious of a grossness of allusion that seemed, on a closer
approach, the real obstacle to full expression. But the moments were
flying, and for his self-esteem's sake he must find some way of
making her share the burden of his repentance.
"There is only one thinkable pretext for detaining you: it is that I
may still show my sense of what you have done for me."
Madame de Treymes, who had moved toward the door, paused at this and
faced him, resting her thin brown hands on a slender sofa-back.
"How do you propose to show that sense?" she enquired.
Durham coloured still more deeply: he saw that she was determined to
save her pride by making what he had to say of the utmost
difficulty. Well! he would let his expiation take that form,
then--it was as if her slender hands held out to him the fool's cap
he was condemned to press down on his own ears.
"By offering in return--in any form, and to the utmost--any service
you are forgiving enough to ask of me."
She received this with a low sound of laughter that scarcely rose to
her lips. "You are princely. But, my dear sir, does it not occur to
you that I may, meanwhile, have taken my own way of repaying myself
for any service I have been fortunate enough to render you?"
Durham, at the question, or still more, perhaps, at the tone in
which it was put, felt, through his compunction, a vague faint chill
of apprehension. Was she threatening him or only mocking him? Or was
this barbed swiftness of retort only the wounded creature's way of
defending the privacy of her own pain? He looked at her again, and
read his answer in the last conjecture.
"I don't know how you can have repaid yourself for anything so
disinterested--but I am sure, at least, that you have given me no
chance of recognizing, ever so slightly, what you have done."
She shook her head, with the flicker of a smile on her melancholy
lips. "Don't be too sure! You have given me a chance and I have
taken it--taken it to the full. So fully," she continued, keeping
her eyes fixed on his, "that if I were to accept any farther service
you might choose to offer, I should simply be robbing you--robbing
you shamelessly." She paused, and added in an undefinable voice: "I
was entitled, wasn't I, to take something in return for the service
I had the happiness of doing you?"
Durham could not tell whether the irony of her tone was
self-directed or addressed to himself--perhaps it comprehended them
both. At any rate, he chose to overlook his own share in it in
replying earnestly: "So much so, that I can't see how you can have
left me nothing to add to what you say you have taken."
"Ah, but you don't know what that is!" She continued to smile,
elusively, ambiguously. "And what's more, you wouldn't believe me if
I told you."
"How do you know?" he rejoined.
"You didn't believe me once before; and this is so much more
He took the taunt full in the face. "I shall go away unhappy unless
you tell me--but then perhaps I have deserved to," he confessed.
She shook her head again, advancing toward the door with the evident
intention of bringing their conference to a close; but on the
threshold she paused to launch her reply.
"I can't send you away unhappy, since it is in the contemplation of
your happiness that I have found my reward."
The next day Durham left with his family for England, with the
intention of not returning till after the divorce should have been
pronounced in September.
To say that he left with a quiet heart would be to overstate the
case: the fact that he could not communicate to Madame de Malrive
the substance of his talk with her sister-in-law still hung upon him
uneasily. But of definite apprehensions the lapse of time gradually
freed him, and Madame de Malrive's letters, addressed more
frequently to his mother and sisters than to himself, reflected, in
their reassuring serenity, the undisturbed course of events.
There was to Durham something peculiarly touching--as of an
involuntary confession of almost unbearable loneliness--in the way
she had regained, with her re-entry into the clear air of American
associations, her own fresh trustfulness of view. Once she had
accustomed herself to the surprise of finding her divorce unopposed,
she had been, as it now seemed to Durham, in almost too great haste
to renounce the habit of weighing motives and calculating chances.
It was as though her coming liberation had already freed her from
the garb of a mental slavery, as though she could not too soon or
too conspicuously cast off the ugly badge of suspicion. The fact
that Durham's cleverness had achieved so easy a victory over forces
apparently impregnable, merely raised her estimate of that
cleverness to the point of letting her feel that she could rest in
it without farther demur. He had even noticed in her, during his few
hours in Paris, a tendency to reproach herself for her lack of
charity, and a desire, almost as fervent as his own, to expiate it
by exaggerated recognition of the disinterestedness of her
opponents--if opponents they could still be called. This sudden
change in her attitude was peculiarly moving to Durham. He knew she
would hazard herself lightly enough wherever her heart called her;
but that, with the precious freight of her child's future weighing
her down, she should commit herself so blindly to his hand stirred
in him the depths of tenderness. Indeed, had the actual course of
events been less auspiciously regular, Madame de Malrive's
confidence would have gone far toward unsettling his own; but with
the process of law going on unimpeded, and the other side making no
sign of open or covert resistance, the fresh air of good faith
gradually swept through the inmost recesses of his distrust.
It was expected that the decision in the suit would be reached by
mid-September; and it was arranged that Durham and his family should
remain in England till a decent interval after the conclusion of the
proceedings. Early in the month, however, it became necessary for
Durham to go to France to confer with a business associate who was
in Paris for a few days, and on the point of sailing for Cherbourg.
The most zealous observance of appearances could hardly forbid
Durham's return for such a purpose; but it had been agreed between
himself and Madame de Malrive--who had once more been left alone by
Madame de Treymes' return to her family--that, so close to the
fruition of their wishes, they would propitiate fate by a scrupulous
adherence to usage, and communicate only, during his hasty visit, by
a daily interchange of notes.
The ingenuity of Madame de Malrive's tenderness found, however, the
day after his arrival, a means of tempering their privation.
"Christiane," she wrote, "is passing through Paris on her way from
Trouville, and has promised to see you for me if you will call on
her today. She thinks there is no reason why you should not go to
the Hotel de Malrive, as you will find her there alone, the family
having gone to Auvergne. She is really our friend and understands
In obedience to this request--though perhaps inwardly regretting
that it should have been made--Durham that afternoon presented
himself at the proud old house beyond the Seine. More than ever, in
the semi-abandonment of the _morte saison_, with reduced service,
and shutters closed to the silence of the high-walled court, did it
strike the American as the incorruptible custodian of old prejudices
and strange social survivals. The thought of what he must represent
to the almost human consciousness which such old houses seem to
possess, made him feel like a barbarian desecrating the silence of a
temple of the earlier faith. Not that there was anything venerable
in the attestations of the Hotel de Malrive, except in so far as, to
a sensitive imagination, every concrete embodiment of a past order
of things testifies to real convictions once suffered for. Durham,
at any rate, always alive in practical issues to the view of the
other side, had enough sympathy left over to spend it sometimes,
whimsically, on such perceptions of difference. Today, especially,
the assurance of success--the sense of entering like a victorious
beleaguerer receiving the keys of the stronghold--disposed him to a
sentimental perception of what the other side might have to say for
itself, in the language of old portraits, old relics, old usages
dumbly outraged by his mere presence.
On the appearance of Madame de Treymes, however, such considerations
gave way to the immediate act of wondering how she meant to carry
off her share of the adventure. Durham had not forgotten the note on
which their last conversation had closed: the lapse of time serving
only to give more precision and perspective to the impression he had
Madame de Treymes' first words implied a recognition of what was in
"It is extraordinary, my receiving you here; but _que voulez vous?_
There was no other place, and I would do more than this for our dear
Durham bowed. "It seems to me that you are also doing a great deal
"Perhaps you will see later that I have my reasons," she returned
smiling. "But before speaking for myself I must speak for Fanny."
She signed to him to take a chair near the sofa-corner in which she
had installed herself, and he listened in silence while she
delivered Madame de Malrive's message, and her own report of the
progress of affairs.
"You have put me still more deeply in your debt," he said, as she
concluded; "I wish you would make the expression of this feeling a
large part of the message I send back to Madame de Malrive."
She brushed this aside with one of her light gestures of
deprecation. "Oh, I told you I had my reasons. And since you are
here--and the mere sight of you assures me that you are as well as
Fanny charged me to find you--with all these preliminaries disposed
of, I am going to relieve you, in a small measure, of the weight of
Durham raised his head quickly. "By letting me do something in
She made an assenting motion. "By asking you to answer a question."
"That seems very little to do."
"Don't be so sure! It is never very little to your race." She leaned
back, studying him through half-dropped lids.
"Well, try me," he protested.
She did not immediately respond; and when she spoke, her first words
were explanatory rather than interrogative.
"I want to begin by saying that I believe I once did you an
injustice, to the extent of misunderstanding your motive for a
Durham's uneasy flush confessed his recognition of her meaning. "Ah,
if we must go back to _that_--"
"You withdraw your assent to my request?"
"By no means; but nothing consolatory you can find to say on that
point can really make any difference."
"Will not the difference in my view of you perhaps make a difference
in your own?"
She looked at him earnestly, without a trace of irony in her eyes or
on her lips. "It is really I who have an _amende_ to make, as I now
understand the situation. I once turned to you for help in a painful
extremity, and I have only now learned to understand your reasons
for refusing to help me."
"Oh, my reasons--" groaned Durham.
"I have learned to understand them," she persisted, "by being so
much, lately, with Fanny."
"But I never told her!" he broke in.
"Exactly. That was what told _me_. I understood you through her, and
through your dealings with her. There she was--the woman you adored
and longed to save; and you would not lift a finger to make her
yours by means which would have seemed--I see it now--a desecration
of your feeling for each other." She paused, as if to find the exact
words for meanings she had never before had occasion to formulate.
"It came to me first--a light on your attitude--when I found you had
never breathed to her a word of our talk together. She had
confidently commissioned you to find a way for her, as the mediaeval
lady sent a prayer to her knight to deliver her from captivity, and
you came back, confessing you had failed, but never justifying
yourself by so much as a hint of the reason why. And when I had
lived a little in Fanny's intimacy--at a moment when circumstances
helped to bring us extraordinarily close--I understood why you had
done this; why you had let her take what view she pleased of your
failure, your passive acceptance of defeat, rather than let her
suspect the alternative offered you. You couldn't, even with my
permission, betray to any one a hint of my miserable secret, and you
couldn't, for your life's happiness, pay the particular price that I
asked." She leaned toward him in the intense, almost childlike,
effort at full expression. "Oh, we are of different races, with a
different point of honour; but I understand, I see, that you are
good people--just simply, courageously _good!_"
She paused, and then said slowly: "Have I understood you? Have I put
my hand on your motive?"
Durham sat speechless, subdued by the rush of emotion which her
words set free.
"That, you understand, is my question," she concluded with a faint
smile; and he answered hesitatingly: "What can it matter, when the
upshot is something I infinitely regret?"
"Having refused me? Don't!" She spoke with deep seriousness, bending
her eyes full on his: "Ah, I have suffered--suffered! But I have
learned also--my life has been enlarged. You see how I have
understood you both. And that is something I should have been
incapable of a few months ago."
Durham returned her look. "I can't think that you can ever have been
incapable of any generous interpretation."
She uttered a slight exclamation, which resolved itself into a laugh
of self-directed irony.
"If you knew into what language I have always translated life! But
that," she broke off, "is not what you are here to learn."
"I think," he returned gravely, "that I am here to learn the measure
of Christian charity."
She threw him a new, odd look. "Ah, no--but to show it!" she
"To show it? And to whom?"
She paused for a moment, and then rejoined, instead of answering:
"Do you remember that day I talked with you at Fanny's? The day
after you came back from Italy?"
He made a motion of assent, and she went on: "You asked me then what
return I expected for my service to you, as you called it; and I
answered, the contemplation of your happiness. Well, do you know
what that meant in my old language--the language I was still
speaking then? It meant that I knew there was horrible misery in
store for you, and that I was waiting to feast my eyes on it: that's
She had flung out the words with one of her quick bursts of
self-abandonment, like a fevered sufferer stripping the bandage from
a wound. Durham received them with a face blanching to the pallour
of her own.
"What misery do you mean?" he exclaimed.
She leaned forward, laying her hand on his with just such a gesture
as she had used to enforce her appeal in Mrs. Boykin's boudoir. The
remembrance made him shrink slightly from her touch, and she drew
back with a smile.
"Have you never asked yourself," she enquired, "why our family
consented so readily to a divorce?"
"Yes, often," he replied, all his unformed fears gathering in a dark
throng about him. "But Fanny was so reassured, so convinced that we
owed it to your good offices--"
She broke into a laugh. "My good offices! Will you never, you
Americans, learn that we do not act individually in such cases? That
we are all obedient to a common principle of authority?"
"Then it was not you--?"
She made an impatient shrugging motion. "Oh, you are too
confiding--it is the other side of your beautiful good faith!"
"The side you have taken advantage of, it appears?"
"I--we--all of us. I especially!" she confessed.
There was another pause, during which Durham tried to steady himself
against the shock of the impending revelation. It was an odd
circumstance of the case that, though Madame de Treymes' avowal of
duplicity was fresh in his ears, he did not for a moment believe
that she would deceive him again. Whatever passed between them now
would go to the root of the matter.
The first thing that passed was the long look they exchanged:
searching on his part, tender, sad, undefinable on hers. As the
result of it he said: "Why, then, did you consent to the divorce?"
"To get the boy back," she answered instantly; and while he sat
stunned by the unexpectedness of the retort, she went on: "Is it
possible you never suspected? It has been our whole thought from the
first. Everything was planned with that object."
He drew a sharp breath of alarm. "But the divorce--how could that
give him back to you?"
"It was the only thing that could. We trembled lest the idea should
occur to you. But we were reasonably safe, for there has only been
one other case of the same kind before the courts." She leaned back,
the sight of his perplexity checking her quick rush of words. "You
didn't know," she began again, "that in that case, on the remarriage
of the mother, the courts instantly restored the child to the
father, though he had--well, given as much cause for divorce as my
Durham gave an ironic laugh. "Your French justice takes a grammar
and dictionary to understand."
She smiled. "_ We_ understand it--and it isn't necessary that you
"So it would appear!" he exclaimed bitterly.
"Don't judge us too harshly--or not, at least, till you have taken
the trouble to learn our point of view. You consider the
individual--we think only of the family."
"Why don't you take care to preserve it, then?"
"Ah, that's what we do; in spite of every aberration of the
individual. And so, when we saw it was impossible that my brother
and his wife should live together, we simply transferred our
allegiance to the child--we constituted _him_ the family."
"A precious kindness you did him! If the result is to give him back
to his father."
"That, I admit, is to be deplored; but his father is only a fraction
of the whole. What we really do is to give him back to his race, his
religion, his true place in the order of things."
"His mother never tried to deprive him of any of those inestimable
Madame de Treymes unclasped her hands with a slight gesture of
"Not consciously, perhaps; but silences and reserves can teach so
much. His mother has another point of view--"
"Thank heaven!" Durham interjected.
"Thank heaven for _her_--yes--perhaps; but it would not have done
for the boy."
Durham squared his shoulders with the sudden resolve of a man
breaking through a throng of ugly phantoms.
"You haven't yet convinced me that it won't have to do for him. At
the time of Madame de Malrive's separation, the court made no
difficulty about giving her the custody of her son; and you must
pardon me for reminding you that the father's unfitness was the
Madame de Treymes shrugged her shoulders. "And my poor brother, you
would add, has not changed; but the circumstances have, and that
proves precisely what I have been trying to show you: that, in such
cases, the general course of events is considered, rather than the
action of any one person."
"Then why is Madame de Malrive's action to be considered?"
"Because it breaks up the unity of the family."
"_ Unity--!_" broke from Durham; and Madame de Treymes gently
suffered his smile.
"Of the family tradition, I mean: it introduces new elements. You
are a new element."
"Thank heaven!" said Durham again.
She looked at him singularly. "Yes--you may thank heaven. Why isn't
it enough to satisfy Fanny?"
"Why isn't what enough?"
"Your being, as I say, a new element; taking her so completely into
a better air. Why shouldn't she be content to begin a new life with
you, without wanting to keep the boy too?"
Durham stared at her dumbly. "I don't know what you mean," he said
"I mean that in her place--" she broke off, dropping her eyes. "She
may have another son--the son of the man she adores."
Durham rose from his seat and took a quick turn through the room.
She sat motionless, following his steps through her lowered lashes,
which she raised again slowly as he stood before her.
"Your idea, then, is that I should tell her nothing?" he said.
"Tell her _now?_ But, my poor friend, you would be ruined!"
"Exactly." He paused. "Then why have you told _me?_"
Under her dark skin he saw the faint colour stealing. "We see things
so differently--but can't you conceive that, after all that has
passed, I felt it a kind of loyalty not to leave you in ignorance?"
"And you feel no such loyalty to her?"
"Ah, I leave her to you," she murmured, looking down again.
Durham continued to stand before her, grappling slowly with his
perplexity, which loomed larger and darker as it closed in on him.
"You don't leave her to me; you take her from me at a stroke! I
suppose," he added painfully, "I ought to thank you for doing it
before it's too late."
She stared. "I take her from you? I simply prevent your going to her
unprepared. Knowing Fanny as I do, it seemed to me necessary that
you should find a way in advance--a way of tiding over the first
moment. That, of course, is what we had planned that you shouldn't
have. We meant to let you marry, and then--. Oh, there is no
question about the result: we are certain of our case--our measures
have been taken _de loin_." She broke off, as if oppressed by his
stricken silence. "You will think me stupid, but my warning you of
this is the only return I know how to make for your generosity. I
could not bear to have you say afterward that I had deceived you
"Twice?" He looked at her perplexedly, and her colour rose.
"I deceived you once--that night at your cousin's, when I tried to
get you to bribe me. Even then we meant to consent to the
divorce--it was decided the first day that I saw you." He was
silent, and she added, with one of her mocking gestures: "You see
from what a _milieu_ you are taking her!"
Durham groaned. "She will never give up her son!"
"How can she help it? After you are married there will be no
"No--but there is one now."
"_ Now?_" She sprang to her feet, clasping her hands in dismay.
"Haven't I made it clear to you? Haven't I shown you your course?"
She paused, and then brought out with emphasis: "I love Fanny, and I
am ready to trust her happiness to you."
"I shall have nothing to do with her happiness," he repeated
She stood close to him, with a look intently fixed on his face. "Are
you afraid?" she asked with one of her mocking flashes.
"Of not being able to make it up to her--?"
Their eyes met, and he returned her look steadily.
"No; if I had the chance, I believe I could."
"I know you could!" she exclaimed.
"That's the worst of it," he said with a cheerless laugh.
"Don't you see that I can't deceive her? Can't trick her into
marrying me now?"
Madame de Treymes continued to hold his eyes for a puzzled moment
after he had spoken; then she broke out despairingly: "Is happiness
never more to you, then, than this abstract standard of truth?"
Durham reflected. "I don't know--it's an instinct. There doesn't
seem to be any choice."
"Then I am a miserable wretch for not holding my tongue!"
He shook his head sadly. "That would not have helped me; and it
would have been a thousand times worse for her."
"Nothing can be as bad for her as losing you! Aren't you moved by
seeing her need?"
"Horribly--are not _you?_" he said, lifting his eyes to hers
She started under his look. "You mean, why don't I help you? Why
don't I use my influence? Ah, if you knew how I have tried!"
"And you are sure that nothing can be done?"
"Nothing, nothing: what arguments can I use? We abhor divorce--we go
against our religion in consenting to it--and nothing short of
recovering the boy could possibly justify us."
Durham turned slowly away. "Then there is nothing to be done," he
said, speaking more to himself than to her.
He felt her light touch on his arm. "Wait! There is one thing
more--" She stood close to him, with entreaty written on her small
passionate face. "There is one thing more," she repeated. "And that
is, to believe that I am deceiving you again."
He stopped short with a bewildered stare. "That you are deceiving
me--about the boy?"
"Yes--yes; why shouldn't I? You're so credulous--the temptation is
"Ah, it would be too easy to find out--"
"Don't try, then! Go on as if nothing had happened. I have been
lying to you," she declared with vehemence.
"Do you give me your word of honour?" he rejoined.
"A liar's? I haven't any! Take the logic of the facts instead. What
reason have you to believe any good of me? And what reason have I to
do any to you? Why on earth should I betray my family for your
benefit? Ah, don't let yourself be deceived to the end!" She
sparkled up at him, her eyes suffused with mockery; but on the
lashes he saw a tear.
He shook his head sadly. "I should first have to find a reason for
your deceiving me."
"Why, I gave it to you long ago. I wanted to punish you--and now
I've punished you enough."
"Yes, you've punished me enough," he conceded.
The tear gathered and fell down her thin cheek. "It's you who are
punishing me now. I tell you I'm false to the core. Look back and
see what I've done to you!"
He stood silent, with his eyes fixed on the ground. Then he took one
of her hands and raised it to his lips.
"You poor, good woman!" he said gravely.
Her hand trembled as she drew it away. "You're going to
her--straight from here?"
"Yes--straight from here."
"To tell her everything--to renounce your hope?"
"That is what it amounts to, I suppose."
She watched him cross the room and lay his hand on the door.
"Ah, you poor, good man!" she said with a sob.
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