The Bent Twig
Part 7 out of 9
excellent in color. Those for the staircase ..."
He spoke with no more animation than was his custom, with no more
relish than was seemly; his carefully chosen words succeeded each
other in their usual exquisite precision, no complacency showed above
the surface; his attitude was, as always, composed of precisely
the right proportion of dignity and ease; but as he talked, some
untarnished instinct in Sylvia shrank away in momentary distaste, the
first she had ever felt for him.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith evidently did not at all share this feeling. "Oh,
what a house that will be!" she cried, lost in forecasting admiration.
"_You!_ with a free hand! A second house of Jacques Coeur!" Sylvia
stood up, rather abruptly. "I think I'll go for a walk beside the
river," she said, reaching for her parasol.
"May I tag along?" said Page, strolling off beside her with the ease
Sylvia turned to wave a careless farewell to the two thus left
somewhat unceremoniously in the pergola. She was in brown corduroy
with suede leather sailor collar and broad belt, a costume which
brought out vividly the pure, clear coloring of her face. "Good-bye,"
she called to them with a pointedly casual accent, nodding her
"She's a _very_ pretty girl, isn't she?" commented Mrs.
Marshall-Smith. Morrison, looking after the retreating figures, agreed
with her briefly. "Yes, very. Extraordinarily perfect specimen of her
type." His tone was dry.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith looked with annoyance across the stretch of lawn
to the house. "I think I would better go to see where Arnold is," she
said. Her tone seemed to signify more to the man than her colorless
words. He frowned and said, "Oh, is Arnold ...?"
She gave a fatigued gesture. "No--not yet--but for the last two or
three days ..."
He began impatiently, "Why can't you get him off this time before he...."
"An excellent idea," she broke in, with some impatience of her own.
"But slightly difficult of execution."
SYLVIA MEETS WITH PITY
Under the scarlet glory of frost-touched maples, beside the river
strolled Sylvia, conscious of looking very well and being admired; but
contrary to the age-old belief about her sex and age, the sensation
of looking very well and being admired by no means filled the entire
field of her consciousness. In fact, the corner occupied by the
sensation was so small that occasional efforts on her part to escape
to it from the less agreeable contents of her mind were lamentable
failures. Aloud, in terms as felicitous as she could make them, she
was commenting on the beauty of the glass-smooth river, with the
sumptuously colored autumn trees casting down into it the imperial
gold and crimson of their reflections. Silently she was struggling to
master and dominate and suppress a confusion of contradictory mental
processes. At almost regular intervals, like a hollow stroke on a
brazen gong, her brain resounded to the reverberations of "The wedding
is on the twenty-first." And each time that she thrust that away,
there sprang up with a faint hissing note of doubt and suspicion, "Why
does Aunt Victoria want Arnold married?" A murmur, always drowned out
but incessantly recurring, ran: "What about Father and Mother?
What about their absurd, impossible, cruel, unreal, and
beautiful standards?" Contemptible little echoes from the silly
self-consciousness of the adolescence so recently left behind her ...
"I must think of something clever to say. I must try to seem different
and original and independent and yet must attract," mingled with an
occasional fine sincerity of appreciation and respect for the humanity
of the man beside her. Like a perfume borne in gusts came reaction to
the glorious color about her. Quickly recurring and quickly gone, a
sharp cymbal-clap of alarm ... "What shall I do if Austin Page now
... today ... or tomorrow ... tells me ...!" And grotesquely, the
companion cymbal on which this smote, gave forth an antiphonal alarm
of, "What shall I do if he does not!" While, unheard of her conscious
ear, but coloring everything with its fundamental note of sincerity,
rose solemnly from the depths of her heart the old cry of desperate
youth, "What am I to do with my life?"
No, the eminently successful brown corduroy, present though it was
to the mind of the handsome girl wearing it, was hardly the sure and
sufficient rock of refuge which tradition would have had it.
With an effort she turned her attention from this confused tumult in
her ears, and put out her hand, rather at random, for an introduction
to talk. "You spoke, back there in the pergola, of another kind of
beauty--I didn't know what you meant." He answered at once, with his
usual direct simplicity, which continued to have for Sylvia at
this period something suspiciously like the calmness of a reigning
sovereign who is above being embarrassed, who may speak, without
shamefacedness, of anything, even of moral values, that subject tabu
in sophisticated conversation. "Ah, just a notion of mine that perhaps
all this modern ferment of what's known as 'social conscience' or
'civic responsibility,' isn't a result of the sense of duty, but of
the old, old craving for beauty."
Sylvia looked at him, astonished. "Beauty?"
"Why yes, beauty isn't only a matter of line and color, is it? There's
the desire for harmony, for true proportions, for grace and suavity,
for nobility of movement. Perhaps the lack of those qualities is felt
in human lives as much as on canvases ... at least perhaps it may be
felt in the future."
"It's an interesting idea," murmured Sylvia, "but I don't quite see
what it means, concretely, as applied to our actual America."
He meditated, looking, as was his habit when walking, up at the trees
above them. "Well, let's see. I think I mean that perhaps our race,
not especially inspired in its instinct for color and external form,
may possibly be fumbling toward an art of living. Why wouldn't it be
an art to keep your life in drawing as well as a mural decoration?" He
broke off to say, laughing, "I bet you the technique would be quite
as difficult to acquire," and went on again, thoughtfully: "In this
modern maze of terrible closeness of inter-relation, to achieve a life
that's happy and useful and causes no undeserved suffering to
the untold numbers of other lives which touch it--isn't there an
undertaking which needs the passion for harmony and proportion? Isn't
there a beauty as a possible ideal of aspiration for a race that
probably never could achieve a Florentine or Japanese beauty of line?"
He cast this out casually, as an idea which had by chance been brought
up to the top by the current of the talk, and showed no indication to
pursue it further when Sylvia only nodded her head. It was one of the
moments when she heard nothing but the brazen clangor of "the wedding
is on the twenty-first," and until the savage constriction around her
heart had relaxed she had not breath to speak. But that passed again,
and the two sauntered onward, in the peaceable silence which was one
of the great new pleasures which Page was able to give her. It now
seemed like a part of the mellow ripeness of the day.
They had come to a bend in the slowly flowing river, where, instead
of torch-bright maples and poplars, rank upon rank of somber pines
marched away to the summit of a steeply ascending foothill. The river
was clouded dark with their melancholy reflections. On their edge,
overhanging the water, stood a single sumac, a standard-bearer with a
thousand little down-drooping flags of crimson.
"Oh," said Sylvia, smitten with admiration. She sat down on a rock
partly because she wanted to admire at her leisure, partly because she
was the kind of a girl who looks well sitting on a rock; and as she
was aware of this latter motive, she felt a qualm of self-scorn. What
a cheap vein of commonness was revealed in her--in every one--by the
temptation of a great fortune! Morrison had succumbed entirely. She
was nowadays continually detecting in herself motives which made her
Page stretched his great length on the dry leaves at her feet. Any
other man would have rolled a cigarette. It was one of his oddities
that he never smoked. Sylvia looked down at his thoughtful, clean face
and reflected wonderingly that he seemed the only person not warped
by money. Was it because he had it, or was it because he was a very
He was looking partly at the river, at the pines, at the flaming tree,
and partly at the human embodiment of the richness and color of autumn
before him. After a time Sylvia said: "There's Cassandra. She's the
only one who knows of the impending doom. She's trying to warn the
pines." It had taken her some moments to think of this.
Page accepted it with no sign that he considered it anything
remarkable, with the habit of a man for whom people produced their
best: "She's using some very fine language for her warning, but like
some other fine language it's a trifle misapplied. She forgets that
no doom hangs over the pines. _She's_ the fated one. They're safe
Sylvia clasped her hands about her knees and looked across the dark
water at the somber trees. "And yet they don't seem to be very
cheerful about it." It was her opinion that they were talking very
"Perhaps," suggested Page, rolling over to face the river--"perhaps
she's not prophesying doom at all, but blowing a trumpet-peal of
exultation over her own good fortune. The pines may be black with envy
Sylvia enjoyed this rather macabre fancy with all the zest of
healthful youth, secure in the conviction of its own immortality.
"Yes, yes, life's ever so much harder than death."
Page dissented with a grave irony from the romantic exaggeration
of this generalization. "I don't suppose the statistics as to the
relative difficulty of life and death are really very reliable."
Sylvia perceived that she was being, ever so delicately, laughed at,
and tried to turn her remark so that she could carry it off. "Oh, I
don't mean for those who die, but those who are left know something
about it, I imagine. My mother always said that the encounter with
death is the great turning-point in the lives of those who live on.
She said you might miss everything else irrevocable and vital--falling
in love, having children, accomplishing anything--but that sooner or
later you have to reckon with losing somebody dear to you." She spoke
with an academic interest in the question.
"I should think," meditated Page, taking the matter into serious
consideration, "that the vitalness of even that experience would
depend somewhat on the character undergoing it. I've known some
temperaments of a proved frivolity which seemed to have passed through
it without any great modifications. But then I know nothing about it
personally. I lost my father before I could remember him, and since
then I haven't happened to have any close encounter with such loss. My
mother, you know, is very much alive."
"Well, I haven't any personal experience with death in my immediate
circle either," said Sylvia. "But I wasn't brought up with the usual
cult of the awfulness of it. Father was always anxious that we
children should feel it something as natural as breathing--you are
dipped up from the great river of consciousness, and death only pours
you back. If you've been worth living, there are more elements of
fineness in humanity."
Page nodded. "Yes, that's what they all say nowadays. Personal
immortality is as out of fashion as big sleeves."
"Do you believe it?" asked Sylvia, seeing the talk take an intimate
turn, "or are you like me, and don't know at all what you do believe?"
If she had under this pseudo-philosophical question a veiled purpose
analogous to that of the less subtle charmer whose avowed expedient
is to get "a man to talk about himself" the manoeuver was eminently
"I've never had the least chance to think about it," he said, sitting
up, "because I've always been so damnably beset by the facts of
living. I know I am not the first of my race to feel convinced that
his own problems are the most complicated, but ..."
"_Yours!_" cried Sylvia, genuinely astonished.
"And one of the hardships of my position," he told her at once with
a playful bitterness, "is that everybody refuses to believe in the
seriousness of it. Because my father, after making a great many bad
guesses as to the possible value of mining stock in Nevada, happened
to make a series of good guesses about the value of mining stock in
Colorado, it is assumed that all questions are settled for me, that I
can joyously cultivate my garden, securely intrenched in the certainty
that this is the best possible of all possible worlds,"
"Oh yes--labor unions--socialism--I.W.W.," Sylvia murmured vaguely,
unable, in spite of her intelligence, to refrain from marking, by a
subsidence of interest, her instinctive feeling that those distant
questions could not in the nature of things be compared to present,
"No--no--!" he protested. "That's no go! I've tried for five years now
to shove it out of sight on some one of those shelves. I've learned
all the arguments on both sides. I can discuss on both sides of those
names as glibly as any other modern quibbler. I can prove the rights
of all those labels or I can prove the wrongs of them, according to
the way my dinner is digesting. What stays right there, what I never
can digest (if you'll pardon an inelegant simile that's just occurred
to me), a lump I never can either swallow entirely down or get up
out of my throat, is the fact that there are men, hundreds of men,
thousands of men, working with picks underground all day, every day,
all their lives, and that part of their labor goes to provide me with
the wherewithal to cultivate my taste, to pose as a patron of the
arts, to endow promising pianists--to go through all the motions
suitable to that position to which it has pleased Providence to call
me. It sticks in my crop that my only connection with the entire
business was to give myself the trouble to be born my father's son."
"But you _do_ work!" protested Sylvia. "You work on your farm here.
You run all sorts of lumbering operations in this region. The first
time I saw you, you certainly looked less like the traditional idea of
a predatory coal-operator." She laughed at the recollection.
"Oh yes, I work. When my undigested lump gets too painful I try to
work it off--but what I do bears the same relation to real sure-enough
work that playing tennis does to laying brick. But such as it is, it's
real satisfaction I get out of my minute Vermont holdings. They come
down to me from my farmer great-grandfather who held the land by
working it himself. There's no sore spot there. But speak of Colorado
or coal--and you see me jump with the same shooting twinge you feel
when the dentist's probe reaches a nerve. An intelligent conscience
is a luxury a man in my position can't afford to have." He began with
great accuracy to toss small stones at a log showing above the surface
of the water.
Sylvia, reverting to a chance remark, now said: "I never happened to
hear you speak of your mother before. Does she ever come to Lydford?"
He shook his head. "No, she vibrates between the Madison Avenue house
and the Newport one. She's very happy in those two places. She's Mr.
Sommerville's sister, you know. She's one of Morrison's devotees too.
She collects under his guidance."
"Collects?" asked Sylvia, a little vaguely.
"Oh, it doesn't matter much what--the instinct, the resultant
satisfaction are the same. As a child, it's stamps, or buttons,
or corks, later on--As a matter of fact, it's lace that my mother
collects. She specializes in Venetian lace--the older the better, of
course. The connection with coal-mines is obvious. But after all, her
own fortune, coming mostly from the Sommerville side, is derived from
oil. The difference is great!"
"Do you live with her?" asked Sylvia.
"My washing is said to be done in New York," he said seriously. "I
believe that settles the question of residence for a man."
"Oh, how quaint!" said Sylvia, laughing. Then with her trained
instinct for contriving a creditable exit before being driven to an
enforced one by flagging of masculine interest, she rose and looked at
"Oh, don't go!" he implored her. "It's so beautiful here--we never
were so--who knows when we'll ever again be in so ..."
Sylvia divined with one of her cymbal-claps that he had meant,
perhaps, that very afternoon to--She felt a dissonant clashing of
triumph and misgiving. She thought she decided quite coolly, quite
dryly, that pursuit always lent luster to the object pursued; but in
reality she did not at all recognize the instinct which bade her say,
turning her watch around on her wrist: "It's quite late. I don't think
I'd better stay longer. Aunt Victoria likes dinner promptly." She
turned to go.
He took his small defeat with his usual imperturbable good nature, in
which Sylvia not infrequently thought she detected a flavor of the
unconscious self-assurance of the very rich and much-courted man.
He scrambled to his feet now promptly, and fell into step with her
quick-treading advance. "You're right, of course. There's no need to
be grasping. There's tomorrow--and the day after--and the day after
that--and if it rains we can wear rubbers and carry umbrellas."
"Oh, I don't carry an umbrella for a walk in the rain," she told him.
"It's one of our queer Marshall ways. We only own one umbrella for the
whole family at home, and that's to lend. I wear a rubber coat and put
on a sou'wester and _let_ it rain."
"You would!" he said in an unconscious imitation of Arnold's accent.
She laughed up at him. "Shall I confess why I do? Because my hair is
"Confession has to be prompter than that to save souls," he answered.
"I knew it was, five weeks ago, when you splashed the water up on it
so recklessly there by the brook."
She was astonished by this revelation of depths behind that
well-remembered clear gaze of admiration, and dismayed by such
unnatural accuracy of observation.
"How cynical of you to make such a mental comment!"
He apologized. "It was automatic--unconscious. I've had a good deal of
opportunity to observe young ladies." And then, as though aware that
the ice was thin over an unpleasant subject, he shifted the talk.
"Upon my word, I wonder how Molly and Morrison _will_ manage?"
"Oh, Molly's wonderful. She'd manage anything," said Sylvia with
"Morrison is rather wonderful himself," advanced Page. "And that's a
magnanimous concession for me to make when I'm now so deep in his
bad books. Do you know, by the way," he asked, looking with a quick
interrogation at the girl, "_why_ I'm so out of favor with him?"
Sylvia's eyes opened wide. She gazed at him, startled, fascinated.
Could "it" be coming so suddenly, in this casual, abrupt manner? "No,
I don't know," she managed to say; and braced herself.
"I don't blame him in the least. It was very vexing. I went back on
him--so to speak; dissolved an aesthetic partnership, in which he
furnished the brains, and my coal-mines the sinews of art. _I_ was one
of his devotees, you know. For some years after I got out of college I
collected under his guidance, as my mother does, as so many people do.
I even specialized. I don't like to boast, but I dare affirm that no
man knows more than I about sixteenth century mezza-majolica. It is
a branch of human knowledge which you must admit is singularly
appropriate for a dweller in the twentieth century. And of great value
to the world. My collection was one of Morrison's triumphs."
Sylvia felt foolish and discomfited. With an effort she showed a
proper interest in his remarks. "Was?" she asked. "What happened to
"I went back on it. In one of the first of those fits of moral
indigestion. One day, I'd been reading a report in one of the
newspapers on the status of the coal-miner, and the connection between
my bright-colored pots and platters, and my father's lucky guess,
became a little too dramatic for my taste. I gave the collection to
the Metropolitan, and I've never bought a piece since. Morrison was
immensely put out. He'd been to great trouble to find some fine
Fontana specimens for me. And then not to have me look at them--He
was right too. It was a silly, pettish thing to do. I didn't know any
better then. I don't know any better now."
It began to dawn on Sylvia that, under his air of whimsical
self-mockery he was talking to her seriously. She tried to adjust
herself to this, to be sympathetic, earnest; though she was still
smarting with the sense of having appeared to herself as undignified
"And besides that," he went on, looking away, down the dusty highroad
they were then crossing on their way back to the house--"besides that,
I went back on a great scheme of Morrison's for a National Academy of
Aesthetic Instruction, which I was to finance and he to organize. He
had gone into all the details. He had shown wonderful capacity. It's
really very magnanimous of him not to bear me more of a grudge. He
thought that giving it up was one of my half-baked ideas. And it was.
As far as anything I've accomplished since, I might as well have been
furthering the appreciation of Etruscan vases in the Middle West. But
then, I don't think he'll miss it now. If he still has a fancy for it,
he can do it with Molly's money. She has plenty. But I don't believe
he will. It has occurred to me lately (it's an idea that's been
growing on me about everybody) that Morrison, like most of us, has
been miscast. He doesn't really care a continental about the aesthetic
salvation of the country. It's only the contagion of the American
craze for connecting everything with social betterment, tagging
everything with that label, that ever made him think he did. He's far
too thoroughgoing an aesthete himself. What he was brought into
the world for, was to appreciate, as nobody else can, all sorts of
esoterically fine things. Now that he'll be able to gratify that
taste, he'll find his occupation in it. Why shouldn't he? It'd be a
hideously leveled world if everybody was, trying to be a reformer.
Besides, who'd be left to reform? I love to contemplate a genuine,
whole-souled appreciator like Morrison, without any qualms about the
way society is put together. And I envy him! I envy him as blackly as
your pines envied the sumac. He's got out of the wrong role into the
right one. I wish to the Lord I could!"
They were close to the house now, in the avenue of poplars, yellow as
gold above them in the quick-falling autumn twilight. Sylvia spoke
with a quick, spirited sincerity, her momentary pique forgotten, her
feeling rushing out generously to meet the man's simple openness. "Oh,
that's the problem for all of us! To know what role to play! If you
think it hard for you who have only to choose--how about the rest of
us who must--?" She broke off. "What's that? What's that?"
She had almost stumbled over a man's body, lying prone, half in the
driveway, half on the close-clipped grass on the side; a well-dressed
man, tall, thin, his limbs sprawled about broken-jointedly. He lay on
his back, his face glimmering white in the clear, dim dusk. Sylvia
recognized him with a cry. "Oh, it's Arnold! He's been struck by a
car! He's dead!"
She sprang forward, and stopped short, at gaze, frozen.
The man sat up, propping himself on his hands and looked at her, a
wavering smile on his lips. He began to speak, a thick, unmodulated
voice, as though his throat were stiff. "Comingtomeetyou," he
articulated very rapidly and quite unintelligibly, "an 'countered hill
in driveway ... no hill _in_ driveway, and climbed and climbed"--he
lost himself in repetition and brought up short to begin again,
"--labor so 'cessive had to rest--"
Sylvia turned a paper-white face on her companion. "What's the matter
with him?" she tried to say, but Page only saw her lips move. He made
no answer. That she would know in an instant what was the matter
flickered from her eyes, from her trembling white lips; that she did
know, even as she spoke, was apparent from the scorn and indignation
which like sheet-lightning leaped out on him. "Arnold! For _shame_!
Arnold! Think of Judith!"
At the name he frowned vaguely as though it suggested something
extremely distressing to him, though he evidently did not recognize
it. "Judish? Judish?" he repeated, drawing his brows together and
making a grimace of great pain. "What's Judish?"
And then, quite suddenly the pain and distress were wiped from his
face by sodden vacuity. He had hitched himself to one of the poplars,
and now leaned against this, his head bent on his shoulder at the
sickening angle of a man hanged, his eyes glassy, his mouth open,
a trickle of saliva flowing from one corner. He breathed hard and
loudly. There was nothing there but a lump of uncomely flesh.
Sylvia shrank back from the sight with such disgust that she felt her
flesh creep. She turned a hard, angry face on Page. "Oh, the beast!
The beast!" she cried, under her breath. She felt defiled. She hated
Arnold. She hated life.
Page said quietly: "You'll excuse my not going with you to the house?
I'll have my car and chauffeur here in a moment." He stepped away
quickly and Sylvia turned to flee into the house.
But something halted her flying feet. She hesitated, stopped, and
pressed her hands together hard. He could not be left alone there in
the driveway. A car might run over him in the dusk. She turned back.
She stood there, alone with the horror under the tree. She turned her
back on it, but she could see nothing but the abject, strengthless
body, the dreadful ignominy of the face. They filled the world.
And then quickly--everything came quickly to Sylvia--there stood
before her the little boy who had come to see them in La Chance so
long ago, the little honest-eyed boy who had so loved her mother and
Judith, who had loved Pauline the maid and suffered with her pain; and
then the bigger boy who out of his weakness had begged for a share
of her mother's strength and been refused; and then the man, still
honest-eyed, who, aimless, wavering, had cried out to her in misery
upon the emptiness of his life; and who later had wept those pure
tears of joy that he had found love. She had a moment of insight, of
vision, of terrible understanding. She did not know what was taking
place within her, something racking--spasmodic throes of sudden
growth, the emergence for the first time in all her life of the
capacity for pity ...
When, only a moment or two later, Page's car came swiftly down the
driveway, and he sprang out, he found Sylvia sitting by the drunkard,
the quiet tears streaming down her face. She had wiped his mouth with
her handkerchief, she held his limp hand in hers, his foolish staring
face was hidden on her shoulder....
The two men lifted him bodily, an ignoble, sagging weight, into the
car. She stood beside him and, without a word, stooped and gently
disposed his slackly hanging arms beside him.
Dark had quite fallen by this time. They were all silent, shadowy
forms. She felt that Page was at her side. He leaned to her. Her hand
was taken and kissed.
MUCH ADO ...
The rest of October was a period never clear in Sylvia's head.
Everything that happened was confusing and almost everything was
painful; and a great deal happened. She had thought at the time that
nothing would ever blur in her mind the shock of finding Aunt Victoria
opposed to what seemed to her the first obvious necessity: writing
to Judith about Arnold. She had been trying for a long time now with
desperate sincerity to take the world as she found it, to see
people as they were with no fanatic intolerance, to realize her own
inexperience of life, to be broad, to take in without too much of a
wrench another point of view; but to Aunt Victoria's idea, held quite
simply and naturally by that lady, that Judith be kept in ignorance
of Arnold's habits until after marriage, Sylvia's mind closed as
automatically, as hermetically as an oyster-shell snaps shut. She
could not discuss it, she could not even attend with hearing ears to
Mrs. Marshall-Smith's very reasonable presentation of her case; the
long tradition as to the justifiability of such ignorance on a bride's
part; the impossibility that any woman should ever know all of any
man's character before marriage; the strong presumption that marriage
with a woman he adored would cure habits contracted only through
the inevitable aimlessness of too much wealth; the fact that, once
married, a woman like Judith would accept, and for the most part deal
competently with, facts which would frighten her in her raw girlish
state of ignorance and crudeness. Sylvia did not even hear these
arguments and many more like them, dignified with the sanction of
generations of women trying their best to deal with life. She had
never thought of the question before. It was the sort of thing from
which she had always averted her moral eyes with extreme distaste; but
now that it was forced on her, her reaction to it was instantaneous.
From the depths of her there rose up fresh in its original vigor,
never having been dulled by a single enforced compliance with a
convention running counter to a principle, the most irresistible
instinct against concealment. She did not argue; she could not. She
could only say with a breathless certainty against which there was no
holding out: "Judith must know! Judith must know!"
Mrs. Marshall-Smith, alarmed by the prospect of a passage-at-arms,
decreed quietly that they should both sleep on the question and take
it up the next morning. Sylvia had not slept. She had lain in her
bed, wide-eyed; a series of pictures passing before her eyes with the
unnatural vividness of hallucinations. These pictures were not only of
Arnold, of Arnold again, of Arnold and Judith. There were all sorts of
odd bits of memories--a conversation overheard years before, between
her father and Lawrence, when Lawrence was a little, little boy. He
had asked--it was like Lawrence's eerie ways--apropos of nothing at
all, "What sort of a man was Aunt Victoria's husband?"
His father had said, "A rich man, very rich." This prompt appearance
of readiness to answer had silenced the child for a moment: and then
(Sylvia could see his thin little hands patting down the sand-cake he
was making) he had persisted, "What kind of a rich man?" His father
had said, "Well, he was bald--quite bald--Lawrence, come run a race
with me to the woodshed." Sylvia now, ten years later, wondered why
her father had evaded. What kind of a man _had_ Arnold's father been?
But chiefly she braced herself for the struggle with Aunt Victoria in
the morning. It came to her in fleeting glimpses that Aunt Victoria
would be only human if she resented with some heat this entire
disregard of her wishes; that the discussion might very well end in
a quarrel, and that a quarrel would mean the end of Lydford with all
that Lydford meant now and potentially. But this perception was
swept out of sight, like everything else, in the singleness of her
conviction: "Judith must know! Judith must know!"
There was, however, no struggle with Aunt Victoria in the morning.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith, encountering the same passionate outcry,
recognized an irresistible force when she encountered it; recognized
it, in fact, soon enough to avoid the long-drawn-out acrimony of
discussion into which a less intelligent woman would inevitably have
plunged; recognized it almost, but not quite, in time to shut off from
Sylvia's later meditations certain startling vistas down which she
had now only fleeting glimpses. "Very well, my dear," said Mrs.
Marshall-Smith, her cherished clarity always unclouded by small
resentments,--"very well, we will trust in your judgment rather than
my own. I don't pretend to understand present-day girls, though I
manage to be very fond of one of them. Judith is your sister. You will
do, of course, what you think is right. It means, of course, Judith
being what she is, that she will instantly cast him off; and Arnold
being what he is, that means that he will drink himself into delirium
tremens in six months. His father ..." She stopped short, closing with
some haste the door to a vista, and poured herself another cup of
coffee. They were having breakfast in her room, both in negligee
and lacy caps, two singularly handsome representatives of differing
generations. Mrs. Marshall-Smith looked calm, Sylvia extremely
agitated. She had been awake at the early hour of deadly pale dawn
when a swift, long-barreled car had drawn up under the porte-cochere
and Arnold had been taken away under the guard of a short, broad,
brawny man with disproportionately long arms. She was not able to
swallow a mouthful of breakfast.
During the night, she had not looked an inch beyond her blind passion
of insistence. Now that Aunt Victoria yielded with so disconcerting
a suddenness, she faced with a pang what lay beyond. "Oh, Judith
wouldn't cast him off! She loves him so! She'll give him a chance. You
don't know Judith. She doesn't care about many things, but she gives
herself up absolutely to those that do matter to her. She adores
Arnold! It fairly frightened me to see how she was burning up when
he was near. She'll insist on his reforming, of course--she ought
"Suppose he doesn't reform to suit her," suggested Mrs.
Marshall-Smith, stirring her coffee. "He's been reformed at intervals
ever since he was fifteen. He never could stay through a whole term
in any decent boys' school." Here was a vista, ruthlessly opened.
Sylvia's eyes looked down it and shuddered. "Poor Arnold!" she said
under her breath, pushing away her untasted cup.
"I'm dull enough to find you take an odd way to show your sympathy for
him," murmured Mrs. Marshall-Smith, with none of the acidity the words
themselves seemed to indicate. She seemed indeed genuinely perplexed.
"It's not been exactly a hilarious element in _my_ life either. But
I've always tried to hold on to Arnold. I thought it my duty. And now,
since Felix Morrison has found this excellent specialist for me, it's
much easier. I telegraph to him and he comes at once and takes Arnold
back to his sanitarium, till he's himself again." For the first time
in weeks Morrison's name brought up between them no insistently
present, persistently ignored shadow. The deeper shadow now blotted
"But Aunt Victoria, it's for Judith to decide. _She_'ll do the right
"Sometimes people are thrown by circumstances into a situation where
they wouldn't have dreamed of putting themselves--and yet they rise to
it and conquer it," philosophized Aunt Victoria. "Life takes hold of
us with strong hands and makes us greater than we thought. Judith will
_mean_ to do the right thing. If she were married, she'd _have_ to do
it! It seems to me a great responsibility you take, Sylvia--you may,
with the best of intentions in the world, be ruining the happiness of
Sylvia got up, her eyes red with unshed tears. It was not the first
time that morning. "It's all too horrible," she murmured. "But I
haven't any right to conceal it from Judith."
Her eyes were still red when, an hour later, she stepped into the room
again and said, "I've mailed it."
Her aunt, still in lavender silk negligee, so far progressed towards
the day's toilet as to have her hair carefully dressed, looked up
from the _Revue Bleue_, and nodded. Her expression was one of quiet
Sylvia came closer to her and sat down on a straight-backed chair. She
was dressed for the street, and hatted, as though she herself had
gone out to mail the letter. "And now, Tantine," she said, with the
resolute air of one broaching a difficult subject, "I think I ought to
be planning to go home very soon." It was a momentous speech, and a
momentous pause followed it. It had occurred to Sylvia, still shaken
with the struggle over the question of secrecy, that she could,
in decency, only offer to take herself away, after so violently
antagonizing her hostess. She realized with what crude intolerance she
had attacked the other woman's position, how absolutely with claw and
talon she had demolished it. She smarted with the sense that she
had seemed oblivious of an "obligation." She detested the sense of
obligation. And having become aware of a debt due her dignity, she had
paid it hastily, on the impulse of the moment. But as the words still
echoed in the air, she was struck to see how absolutely her immediate
future, all her future, perhaps, depended on the outcome of that
conversation she herself had begun. She looked fixedly at her aunt,
trying to prepare herself for anything. But she was not prepared for
what Mrs. Marshall-Smith did.
She swept the magazine from her lap to the floor and held out her arms
to Sylvia. "I had hoped--I had hoped you were happy--with me," she
said, and in her voice was that change of quality, that tremor of
sincerity which Sylvia had always found profoundly moving. The girl
was overcome with astonishment and remorse--and immense relief. She
ran to her. "Oh, I am! I am! I was only thinking--I've gone against
your judgment." Her nerves, stretched with the sleepless night and the
strain of writing the dreadful letter to Judith, gave way. She broke
into sobs. She put her arms tightly around her aunt's beautiful neck
and laid her head on her shoulder, weeping, her heart swelling, her
mind in a whirling mass of disconnected impressions. Arnold--Judith
... how strange it was that Aunt Victoria really cared for her--did
she really care for Aunt Victoria or only admire her?--did she really
care for anybody, since she was agreeing to stay longer away from
her father and mother?--how good it would be not to have to give up
Helene's services--what a heartless, materialistic girl she was--she
cared for nothing but luxury and money--she would be going abroad now
to Paris--Austin Page--he had kissed her hand ... and yet she felt
that he saw through her, saw through her mean little devices and
stratagems--how astonishing that he should be so very, very rich--it
seemed that a very, very rich man ought to be different from other
men--his powers were so unnaturally great--girls could not feel
naturally about him ... And all the while that these varying
reflections passed at lightning speed through her mind, her nervous
sobs were continuing.
Aunt Victoria taking them, naturally enough, as signs of continued
remorse, lifted her out of this supposed slough of despond with
affectionate peremptoriness. "Don't feel so badly about it, darling.
We won't have any more talk for the present about differing judgments,
or of going away, or of anything uncomfortable"; and in this way,
with nothing clearly understood, on a foundation indeed of
misunderstanding, the decision was made, in the haphazard fashion
which characterizes most human decisions.
The rest of the month was no more consecutive or logical. Into the
midst of the going-away confusion of a household about to remove
itself half around the world, into a house distracted with packing,
cheerless with linen-covers, desolate with rolled-up rugs and cold
lunches and half-packed trunks, came, in a matter-of-fact manner
characteristic of its writer, Judith's answer to Sylvia's letter.
Sylvia opened it, shrinking and fearful of what she would read. She
had, in the days since hers had been sent, imagined Judith's answer in
every possible form; but never in any form remotely resembling what
Judith wrote. The letter stated in Judith's concise style that of
course she agreed with Sylvia that there should be no secrets between
betrothed lovers, nor, in this case, were there any. Arnold had told
her, the evening before she left Lydford, that he had inherited an
alcoholic tendency from his father. She had been in communication
with a great specialist in Wisconsin about the case. She knew of the
sanitarium to which Arnold had been taken and did not like it. The
medical treatment there was not serious. She hoped soon to have
him transferred to the care of Dr. Rivedal. If Arnold's general
constitution were still sound, there was every probability of a cure.
Doctors knew so much more about that sort of thing than they used
to. Had Sylvia heard that Madame La Rue was not a bit well, that old
trouble with her heart, only worse? They'd been obliged to hire a
maid--how in the world were the La Rues going to exist on American
cooking? Cousin Parnelia said she could cure Madame with some
Sanopractic nonsense, a new fad that Cousin Parnelia had taken up
lately. Professor Kennedy had been elected vice-president of the
American Mathematical Association, and it was funny to see him try to
pretend that he wasn't pleased. Mother's garden this autumn was ...
"_Well_!" ejaculated Sylvia, stopping short. Mrs. Marshall-Smith had
stopped to listen in the midst of the exhausting toil of telling
Helene which dresses to pack and which to leave hanging in the Lydford
house. She now resumed her labors unflaggingly, waving away to
the closet a mauve satin, and beckoning into a trunk a favorite
black-and-white chiffon. To Sylvia she said, "Now I know exactly how a
balloon feels when it is pricked."
Sylvia agreed ruefully. "I might have known Judith would manage to
make me feel flat if I got wrought up about it. She hates a fuss made
over anything, and she can always take you down if you make one."
She remembered with a singular feeling of discomfiture the throbbing
phrases of her letter, written under the high pressure of the quarrel
with Aunt Victoria. She could almost see the expression of austere
distaste in the stern young beauty of Judith's face. Judith was always
making her appear foolish!
"We were both of us," commented Mrs. Marshall-Smith dryly, "somewhat
mistaken about the degree of seriousness with which Judith would take
Sylvia forgot her vexation and sprang loyally to Judith's defense.
"Why, of course she takes it like a trained nurse, like a
doctor--feels it a purely medical affair--as I suppose it is. We might
have known she'd feel that way. But as to how she really feels inside,
personally, you can't tell anything by her letter! You probably
couldn't tell anything by her manner if she were here. You never can.
She may be simply wild about a thing inside, but you'd never guess."
Mrs. Marshall-Smith ventured to express some skepticism as to the
existence of volcanic feelings always so sedulously concealed. "After
all, can you be so very sure that she is ever 'simply wild' if she
never shows anything?"
"Oh, you're _sure_, all right, if you've lived with her--you feel it.
And then, after about so long a time of keeping it down, she breaks
loose and _does_ something awful, that I'd never have the nerve to do,
and tears into flinders anything she doesn't think is right. Why, when
we were little girls and went to the public schools together, two of
our little playmates, who turned out to have a little negro blood,
we ..." Sylvia stopped, suddenly warned by some instinct that Aunt
Victoria would not be a sympathetic listener to that unforgotten
episode of her childhood, that episode which had seemed to have no
consequences, no sequel, but which ever since that day had insensibly
affected the course of her growth, like a great rock fallen into the
Current of her life.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith, deliberating with bated breath between broadcloth
and blue panama, did not notice the pause. She did, however, add a
final comment on the matter, some moments later, when she observed,
"How any girl in her senses can go on studying, when she's engaged to
a man who needs her as much as Arnold needs Judith!" To which Sylvia
answered irrelevantly with a thought which had just struck her
thrillingly, "But how perfectly fine of Arnold to tell her himself!"
"She must have hypnotized him," said Mrs. Marshall-Smith with
conviction, "but then I don't pretend to understand the ways of young
people nowadays." She was now forty-five, in the full bloom of a
rarely preserved beauty, and could afford to make remarks about the
younger generation. "At any rate," she went on, "it is a comfort to
know that Judith has set her hand to the wheel. I have not in years
crossed the ocean with so much peace of mind about Arnold as I shall
have this time," said his stepmother. "No, leave that blue voile,
Helene, the collar never fitted."
"Oh, he doesn't spend the winters in Paris with you?" asked Sylvia.
"He's been staying here in Lydford of late--crazy as it sounds. He was
simply so bored that he couldn't think of anything else to do. He has,
besides, an absurd theory that he enjoys it more in winter than in
summer. He says the natives are to be seen then. He's been here from
his childhood. He knows a good many of them, I suppose. Now, Helene,
let's see the gloves and hats."
It came over Sylvia with a passing sense of great strangeness that she
had been in this spot for four months and, with the exception of the
men at the fire, she had not met, had not spoken to, had not even
consciously seen a single inhabitant of the place.
And in the end, she went away in precisely the same state of
ignorance. On the day they drove to the station she did, indeed, give
one fleeting glimpse over the edge of her narrow prison-house of
self-centered interest. Surrounded by a great many strapped and
buckled pieces of baggage, with Helene, fascinatingly ugly in her
serf's uniform, holding the black leather bag containing Aunt
Victoria's jewels, they passed along the street for the last time,
under the great elms already almost wintry with their bare boughs.
Now that it was too late, Sylvia felt a momentary curiosity about the
unseen humanity which had been so near her all the summer. She looked
out curiously at the shabby vehicles (it seemed to her that there
were more of them than in the height of the season), at the
straight-standing, plainly dressed, briskly walking women and children
(there seemed to be a new air of life and animation about the street
now that most of the summer cottages were empty), and at the lounging,
indifferent, powerfully built men. She wondered, for a moment, what
they were like, with what fortitude their eager human hearts bore the
annual display of splendor they might never share. They looked, in
that last glimpse, somehow quite strong, as though they would care
less than she would in their places. Perhaps they were only hostile,
"I dare say," said Aunt Victoria, glancing out at a buck-board, very
muddy as to wheels, crowded with children, "that it's very forlorn for
the natives to have the life all go out of the village when the summer
people leave. They must feel desolate enough!"
The last thing she saw as the train left the valley was the upland
pass between Windward and Hemlock mountains. It brought up to her the
taste of black birch, the formidably clean smell of yellow soap, and
the rush of summer wind past her ears.
"WHOM GOD HATH JOINED ..."
They were to sail on the 23d, and ever since the big square invitation
had come it had been a foregone conclusion, conceded with no need
for wounding words, that there was no way out of attending the
Sommerville-Morrison wedding on the 21st. They kept, of course, no
constrained silence about it. Aunt Victoria detested the awkwardness
of not mentioning difficult subjects as heartily as she did the
mention of them; and as the tree toad evolves a skin to answer his
needs, she had evolved a method all her own of turning her back
squarely on both horns of a dilemma. No, there was no silence about
the wedding, only about the possibility that it might be an ordeal, or
that the ordeal might be avoided. It could not be avoided. There was
nothing to be said on that point. But there was much talk, during the
few days of their stay in New York, about the elaborate preparations
for the ceremony. Morrison, who came to see them in their temporary
quarters, kept up a somewhat satirical report as to the magnificence
of the performance, and on the one occasion when they went to see
Molly they found her flushed, excited, utterly inconsecutive,
distracted by a million details, and accepting the situation as the
normal one for a bride-to-be. There were heart-searchings as to
toilets to match the grandeur of the occasion; and later satisfaction
with the moss-green chiffon for Sylvia and violet-colored velvet for
her aunt. There were consultations about the present Aunt Victoria
was to send from them both, a wonderfully expensive, newly patented,
leather traveling-case for a car, guaranteed to hold less to the
square inch and pound than any other similar, heavy, gold-mounted
contrivance. Mrs. Marshall-Smith told Morrison frankly, in this
connection, that she had tried to select a present which Molly herself
"Am I not to have a present myself?" asked Morrison. "Something that
you selected expressly for me?"
"No," said Sylvia, dropping the sugar into his tea with deliberation.
"You are not to have any present for yourself."
She was guiltily conscious that she was thinking of a certain scene in
"The Golden Bowl," a scene in which a wedding present figures largely;
and when, a moment later, he said, "I have a new volume of Henry James
I'd like to loan you," she knew that the same scene had been in his
head. She would not look at him lest she read in his eyes that he had
meant her to know. As she frequently did in those days, she rose, and
making an excuse of a walk in the park, took herself off.
She was quite calm during this period, her mind full of trivial
things. She had the firm conviction that she was living in a dream,
that nothing of what was happening was irrevocable. And besides, as at
Lydford, for much of the day, she was absorbed in the material details
of her life, being rubbed and dressed and undressed, and adorned and
fed and catered to. They were spending the few days before sailing in
a very grand hotel, overlooking Central Park. Sylvia had almost every
day the thought that she herself was now in the center of exactly the
same picture in which, as a child, she had enviously watched Aunt
Victoria. She adored every detail of it. It was an opening-out, even
from the Lydford life. She felt herself expanding like a dried sponge
placed in water, to fill every crack and crevice of the luxurious
habits of life. The traveling along that road is always swift; and
Sylvia's feet were never slow. During the first days in Vermont,
it had seemed a magnificence to her that she need never think of
dish-washing or bed-making. By this time it seemed quite natural to
her that Helene drew and tempered the water for her bath, and put on
her stockings. Occasionally she noticed with a little surprise that
she seemed to have no more free time than in the laborious life of La
Chance; but for the most part she threw out, in all haste, innumerable
greedy root-tendrils into the surcharged richness of her new soil and
sent up a rank growth of easeful acquiescence in redundance.
The wedding was quite as grand as the Sommervilles had tried to make
it. The street was crowded with staring, curious, uninvited people on
either side of the church, and when the carriage containing the bride
drove up, the surge forward to see her was as fierce as though she had
been a defaulting bank-president being taken to prison. The police
had to intervene. The interior, fern and orchid swathed, very dimly
lighted by rich purple stained glass and aristocratic dripping wax
candles instead of the more convenient electric imitations, was
murmurous with the wonderful throbbing notes of a great organ and with
the discreet low tones of the invited guests as they speculated about
the relative ages and fortunes of the bride and bridegroom. The
chancel was filled with a vested choir which, singing and carrying a
cross, advanced down the aisle to meet the bridal party. Molly, who
had not been in a church since her childhood, had needed to be coached
over and over again in the ins and outs of the complicated service.
Sylvia, seated several guests away from the aisle, saw little of the
procession as it went up into the chancel. She caught a glimpse of a
misty mass of white and, beside it, old Mr. Sommerville's profile,
very white and nervous and determined. She did not at that time see
the bridegroom at all. The ceremony, which took place far within the
chancel, was long and interspersed with music from the choir. Sylvia,
feeling very queer and callous, as though, under an anaesthetic, she
were watching with entire unconcern the amputation of one of her
limbs, fell to observing the people about her. The woman in front of
her leaned against the pew and brought her broad, well-fed back close
under Sylvia's eyes. It was covered with as many layers as a worm in
a cocoon. There were beads on lace, the lace incrusted on other lace,
chiffon, fish-net, a dimly seen filmy satin, cut in points, and, lower
down, an invisible foundation of taffeta. Through the interstices
there gleamed a revelation of the back itself, fat, white, again like
a worm in a cocoon.
Sylvia began to plan out a comparison of dress with architecture,
bringing out the insistent tendency in both to the rococo, to the
burying of structural lines in ornamentation. The cuff, for instance,
originally intended to protect the skin from contact with unwashable
fabrics, degenerated into a mere bit of "trimming," which has lost all
its meaning, which may be set anywhere on the sleeve. Like a strong
hand about her throat came the knowledge that she was planning to say
all this to please Felix Morrison, who was now within fifty feet of
her, being married to another woman.
She flamed to fever and chilled again to her queer absence of
spirit.... There was a chorister at the end of the line near her, a
pale young man with a spiritual face who chanted his part with shining
rapt eyes. While he sang he slipped his hand under his white surplice
and took out his watch. Still singing "Glory be to the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Ghost," he cast a hasty eye on the watch and frowned
impatiently. He was evidently afraid the business in hand would drag
along and make him late to another appointment, "--is now and ever
shall be, world without end. Amen!" he sang fervently. Sylvia
repressed an hysterical desire to laugh.
The ceremony was over; the air in the building beat wildly against the
walls, the stained-glass windows, and the ears of the worshipers in
the excited tumult of the wedding-march; the procession began to
leave the chancel. This time Sylvia caught one clear glimpse of the
principals, but it meant nothing to her. They looked like wax effigies
of themselves, self-conscious, posed, emptied of their personalities
by the noise, the crowds, the congestion of ceremony. The idea
occurred to Sylvia that they looked as though they had taken in as
little as she the significance of what had happened. The people about
her were moving in relieved restlessness after the long immobility of
the wedding. The woman next her went down on her knees for a devout
period, her face in her white gloves. When she rose, she said
earnestly to her companion, "Do you know if I had to choose one
hat-trimming for all the rest of my life, I should make it small pink
roses in clusters. It's perfectly miraculous how, with black chiffon,
they _never_ go out!" She settled in place the great cluster of costly
violets at her breast which she seemed to have exuded like some
natural secretion of her plump and expensive person. "Why don't they
let us out!" she said complainingly.
A young man, one of those born to be a wedding usher, now came swiftly
up the aisle on patent leather feet and untied with pearl-gray fingers
the great white satin ribbon which restrained them in the pew. Sylvia
caught her aunt's eye on her, its anxiety rather less well hidden than
usual. With no effort at all the girl achieved a flashing smile. It
was not hard. She felt quite numb. She had been present only during
one or two painful, quickly passed moments.
But the reception at the house, the big, old-fashioned, very rich
Sommerville house, was more of an ordeal. There was the sight of the
bride and groom in the receiving-line, now no longer badly executed
graven images, but quite themselves--Molly starry-eyed, triumphant,
astonishingly beautiful, her husband distinguished, ugly,
self-possessed, easily the most interesting personality in the room;
there was the difficult moment of the presentation, the handclasp with
Felix, the rapturous vague kiss from Molly, evidently too uplifted to
have any idea as to the individualities of the people defiling before
her; then the passing on into the throng, the eating and drinking and
talking with acquaintances from the Lydford summer colony, of whom
there were naturally a large assortment. Sylvia had a growing sense of
pain, which was becoming acute when across the room she saw Molly,
in a lull of arrivals, look up to her husband and receive from him a
smiling, intimate look of possession. Why, they were _married_! It was
The delicate food in Sylvia's mouth turned to ashes.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith's voice, almost fluttered, almost (for her)
excited, came to her ears: "Sylvia--here is Mr. Page! And he's just
told me the most delightful news, that he's decided to run over to
Paris for a time this fall."
"I hope Miss Marshall will think that Paris will be big enough for all
of us?" asked Austin Page, fixing his remarkably clear eyes on the
She made a great effort for self-possession. She turned her back on
the receiving-line. She held out her hand cordially. "I hope Paris
will be quite, quite small, so that we shall all see a great deal of
each other," she said warmly.
SYLVIA TELLS THE TRUTH
They left Mrs. Marshall-Smith with a book, seated on a little
yellow-painted iron chair, the fifteen-centime kind, at the top of the
great flight of steps leading down to the wide green expanse of the
Tapis Vert. She was alternately reading Huysmans' highly imaginative
ideas on Gothic cathedrals, and letting her eyes stray up and down the
long facade of the great Louis. Her powers of aesthetic assimilation
seemed to be proof against this extraordinary mixture of impressions.
She had insisted that she would be entirely happy there in the sun,
for an hour at least, especially if she were left in solitude with her
book. On which intimation Sylvia and Page had strolled off to do some
exploring. It was a situation which a month of similar arrangements
had made very familiar to them.
"No, I don't know Versailles very well," he said in answer to her
question, "but I believe the gardens back of the Grand and Petit
Trianon are more interesting than these near the Chateau itself.
The conscientiousness with which they're kept up is not quite so
So they walked down the side of the Grand Canal, admiring the rather
pensive beauty of the late November woods, and talking, as was the
proper thing, about the great Louis and his court, and how they both
detested his style of gilded, carved wall ornamentation, although his
chairs weren't as bad as some others. They turned off at the cross-arm
of the Canal towards the Great Trianon; they talked, again dutifully
in the spirit of the place, about Madame de Maintenon. They differed
on this subject just enough to enjoy discussing it. Page averred that
the whole affair had always passed his comprehension, "--what that
ease-loving, vain, indulgent, trivial-minded grandson of Henri Quatre
could ever have seen for all those years in that stiff, prim, cold old
But Sylvia shook her head. "I know how he felt. He _had_ to have her,
once he'd found her. She was the only person in all his world he could
"Why not depend on himself?" Page asked.
"Oh, he couldn't! He couldn't! She had character and he hadn't."
"What do you mean by character?" he challenged her.
"It's what I haven't!" she said.
He attempted a chivalrous exculpation. "Oh, if you mean by character
such hard, insensitive lack of imagination as Madame de Maintenon's--"
"No, not that," said Sylvia. "_You_ know what I mean by character as
well as I."
By the time they were back of the Little Trianon, this beginning had
led them naturally enough away from the frivolities of historical
conversation to serious considerations, namely themselves. The start
had been a reminiscence of Sylvia's, induced by the slow fall of
golden leaves from the last of the birches into the still water of the
lake in the midst of Marie Antoinette's hamlet. They stopped on an
outrageously rustic bridge, constructed quite in the artificially
rural style of the place, and, leaning on the railing, watched in a
fascinated silence the quiet, eddying descent of the leaves. There was
not a breath of wind. The leaves detached themselves from the tree
with no wrench. They loosened their hold gradually, gradually, and
finally out of sheer fullness of maturity floated down to their graves
with a dreamy content.
"I never happened to see that effect before," said Page. "I supposed
leaves were detached only by wind. It's astonishingly peaceful, isn't
"I saw it once before," said Sylvia, her eyes fixed on the noiseless
arabesques traced by the leaves in their fall--"at home in La Chance.
I'll never forget it." She spoke in a low tone as though not to break
the charmed silence about them, and, upon his asking her for the
incident, she went on, almost in a murmur: "It isn't a story you could
possibly understand. You've never been poor. But I'll tell you if you
like. I've talked to you such a lot about home and the queer people we
know--did I ever mention Cousin Parnelia? She's a distant cousin of my
mother's, a queer woman who lost her husband and three children in a
train-wreck years ago, and has been a little bit crazy ever since. She
has always worn, for instance, exactly the same kind of clothes, hat
and everything, that she had on, the day the news was brought to her.
The Spiritualists got hold of her then, and she's been one herself for
ever so long--table-rapping--planchette-writing--all the horrid rest
of it, and she makes a little money by being a "medium" for ignorant
people. But she hardly earns enough that way to keep her from
starving, and Mother has for ever so long helped her out.
"Well, there was a chance to buy a tiny house and lot for her--two
hundred and twenty dollars. It was just a two-roomed cottage, but it
would be a roof over her head at least. She is getting old and ought
to have something to fall back on. Mother called us all together and
said this would be a way to help provide for Cousin Parnelia's
old age. Father never could bear her (he's so hard on ignorant,
superstitious people), but he always does what Mother thinks best,
so he said he'd give up the new typewriter he'd been hoping to buy.
Mother gave up her chicken money she'd been putting by for some new
rose-bushes, and she loves her roses too! Judith gave what she'd
earned picking raspberries, and I--oh, how I hated to do it! but I was
ashamed not to--I gave what I'd saved up for my autumn suit. Lawrence
just stuck it out that he hated Cousin Parnelia and he wouldn't give a
bit. But he was so little that he only had thirty cents or something
like that in a tin bank, so it didn't matter. When we put it all
together it wasn't nearly enough of course, and we took the rest out
of our own little family savings-bank rainy-day savings and bought the
tiny house and lot. Father wanted to 'surprise' Cousin Parnelia with
the deed. He wanted to lay it under some flowers in a basket, or slip
it into her pocket, or send it to her with some eggs or something. But
Mother--it was so like her!--the first time Cousin Parnelia happened
to come to the house, Mother picked up the deed from her desk and said
offhand, 'Oh, Parnelia, we bought the little Garens house for you,'
and handed her the paper, and went to talking about cutworms or
Page smiled, appreciative of the picture. "I see her. I see your
mother--Vermont to the core."
"Well, it was only about two weeks after that, I was practising and
Mother was rubbing down a table she was fixing over. Nobody else
happened to be at home. Cousin Parnelia came in, her old battered
black straw hat on one ear as usual. She was all stirred up and
pleased about a new 'method' of using planchette. You know what
planchette is, don't you? The little heart-shaped piece of wood
spiritualists use, with a pencil fast to it, to take down their silly
'messages,' Some spiritualistic fake was visiting town conducting
seances and he claimed he'd discovered some sort of method for
inducing greater receptivity--or something like that. I don't know
anything about spiritualism but little tags I've picked up from
hearing Cousin Parnelia talk. Anyway, he was 'teaching' other mediums
for a big price. And it came out that Cousin Parnelia had mortgaged
the house for more than it was worth, and had used the money to take
those 'lessons.' I couldn't believe it for a minute. When I really
understood what she'd done, I was so angry I felt like smashing
both fists down on the piano keys and howling! I thought of my blue
corduroy I'd given up--I was only fourteen and just crazy about
clothes. Mother was sitting on the floor, scraping away at the
table-leg. She got up, laid down her sandpaper, and asked Cousin
Parnelia if she'd excuse us for a few minutes. Then she took me by
the hand, as though I was a little girl. I felt like one too, I felt
almost frightened by Mother's face, and we both marched out of the
house. She didn't say a word. She took me down to our swimming-hole
in the river. There is a big maple-tree leaning over that. It was a
perfectly breathless autumn day like this, and the tree was shedding
its leaves like that birch, just gently, slowly, steadily letting them
go down into the still water. We sat down on the bank and watched
them. The air was full of them, yet all so quiet, without any hurry.
The water was red with them, they floated down on our shoulders, on
our heads, in our laps--not a sound--so peaceful--so calm--so perfect.
It was like the andante of the Kreutzer.
"I knew what Mother wanted, to get over being angry with Cousin
Parnelia. And she was. I could see it in her face, like somebody in
church. I felt it myself--all over, like an E string that's been
pulled too high, slipping down into tune when you turn the peg. But
I didn't _want_ to feel it. I _wanted_ to hate Cousin Parnelia. I
thought it was awfully hard in Mother not to want us to have even the
satisfaction of hating Cousin Parnelia! I tried to go on doing it.
I remember I cried a little. But Mother never said a word--just
sat there in that quiet autumn sunshine, watching the leaves
falling--falling--and I had to do as she did. And by and by I felt,
just as she did, that Cousin Parnelia was only a very small part of
something very big.
"When we went in, Mother's face was just as it always was, and we got
Cousin Parnelia a cup of tea and gave her part of a boiled ham to
take home and a dozen eggs and a loaf of graham bread, just as though
nothing had happened."
She stopped speaking. There was no sound at all but the delicate,
forlorn whisper of the leaves.
"That is a very fine story!" said Page finally. He spoke with a
measured, emphatic, almost solemn accent.
"Yes, it's a very fine story," murmured Sylvia a little wistfully.
"It's finer as a story than it was as real life. It was years before I
could look at blue corduroy without feeling stirred up. I really cared
more about my clothes than I did about that stupid, ignorant old
woman. If it's only a cheerful giver the Lord loves, He didn't feel
much affection for me."
They began to retrace their steps. "You gave up the blue corduroy,"
he commented as they walked on, "and you didn't scold your silly old
"That's only because Mother hypnotized me. _She_ has character. I did
it as Louis signed the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, because
Madame de Maintenon thought he ought to."
"But she couldn't hypnotize your brother Lawrence, althought he was so
much younger. He didn't give up his thirty-seven cents. I think you're
bragging without cause if you claim any engaging and picturesque
absence of character."
"Oh, Lawrence--he's different! He's extraordinary! Sometimes I think
he is a genius. And it's Judith who hypnotizes him. _She_ supplies his
They emerged into an opening and walked in silence for some moments
towards the Grand Trianon.
"You're lucky, very lucky," commented Page, "to have such an ample
supply of character in the family. I'm an only child. There's nobody
to give me the necessary hypodermic supply of it at the crucial
moments." He went on, turning his head to look at the Great Trianon,
very mellow in the sunshine. "It's my belief, however, that at the
crucial moments you have plenty of it of your own."
"That's a safe guess!" said Sylvia ironically, "since there never have
_been_ any crucial moments in a life so uninterestingly eventless as
mine. I wonder what I _would_ do," she mused. "My own conviction is
that--suppose I'd lived in the days of the Reformation--in the days of
Christ--in the early Abolition days--" She had an instant certainty:
"Oh, I have been entirely on the side of whatever was smooth, and
elegant, and had amenity--I'd have hated the righteous side!"
Page did not look very deeply moved by this revelation of depravity.
Indeed, he smiled rather amusedly at her, and changed the subject.
"You said a moment ago that I couldn't understand, because I'd always
had money. Isn't it a bit paradoxical to say that the people who
haven't a thing are the only ones who know anything about it?"
"But you couldn't realize what _losing_ the money meant to us. You
can't know what the absence of money can do to a life."
"I can know," said Page, "what the presence of it cannot do for
a life." His accent implied rather sadly that the omissions were
"Oh, of course, of course," Sylvia agreed. "There's any amount it
can't do. After you have it, you must get the other things too."
He brought his eyes down to her from a roving quest among the tops
of the trees. "It seems to me you want a great deal," he said
"Yes, I do," she admitted. "But I don't see that you have any call
to object to my wanting it. You don't have to wish for everything at
once. You have it already."
He received this into one of his thoughtful silences, but presently it
brought him to a standstill. They were within sight of the Grand Canal
again, looking down from the terrace of the Trianon. He leaned against
the marble balustrade and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. His
clear eyes were clouded. He looked profoundly grave. "I am thirty-two
years old," he said, "and never for a moment of that time have I
made any sense out of my position in life. If you call that 'having
It occurred to Sylvia fleetingly that she had never made any sense out
of her position in life either, and had been obliged to do a great
many disagreeable things into the bargain, but she kept this thought
to herself, and looked conspicuously what she genuinely felt, a
sympathetic interest. The note of plain direct sincerity which was
Page's hallmark never failed to arrest her attention, a little to
arouse her wonder, and occasionally, for a reason that she did not
like to dwell upon, somewhat to abash her. The reason was that he
never spoke for effect, and she often did. He was not speaking for
effect now: he seemed scarcely even to be speaking to her, rather to
be musingly formulating something for his own enlightenment. He
went on. "The fact is that there _is_ no sense to be made out of my
situation in life. I am like a man with a fine voice, who has no ear."
He showed surprise that Sylvia failed to follow this, and explained.
"I mean the voice is no good to that kind of a man, it's no good to
anybody. It's the craziest, accidental affair anyhow, haven't you ever
noticed it?--who draws the fine voices. Half the time--more than half
the time, _most_ of the time it seems to me when I've been recently to
a lot of concerts, the people who have the voices haven't any other
qualifications for being singers. And it's so with coal-mines, with
everything else that's inherited. For five years now I've given up
what I'd like to do, and I've tried, under the best _maestri_ I could
find, to make something out of my voice, so to speak. And it's no
go. It's in the nature of things that I can't make a go of it.
Over everything I do lies the taint that I'm the 'owner'! They are
suspicious of me, always will be--and rightly so. Anybody else not
connected with the mediaeval idea of 'possession' could do better than
I. The whole relation's artificial. I'm in it for the preposterous
reason that my father, operating on Wall Street, made a lucky
guess,--as though I should be called upon to run a locomotive because
my middle initial is L!"
Sylvia still felt the same slight sense of flatness when this
recurring topic thrust itself into a personal talk; but during the
last month she had adjusted herself to Page so that this no longer
showed on the surface. She was indeed quite capable of taking an
interest in the subject, as soon as she could modulate herself into
the new key. "Yes, of course," she agreed, "it's like so many other
things that are perfectly necessary to go on with, perfectly absurd
when you look closely at them. My father nearly lost his position once
for saying that all inheritance was wrong. But even he never had
the slightest suggestion as to what to do about it, how to get an
inheritance into the hands of the people who might make the best use
of it." She was used from her childhood to this sort of academic doubt
of everything, conducted side by side with a practical acceptance of
everything. Professor and Madame La Rue, in actual life devotedly
faithful married lovers, staid, stout, habit-ridden elderly people,
professed a theoretical belief in the flexibility of relationships
sanctioned by the practice of free love. It was perhaps with this
recollection in her mind that she suggested, "Don't you suppose it
will be like the institution of marriage, very, very gradually altered
till it fits conditions better?"
"In the meantime, how about the cases of those who are unhappily
"I don't see anything for them but just to get along the best they
can," she told him.
"You think I'd better give up trying to do anything with my
Colorado--?" he asked her, as though genuinely seeking advice.
"I should certainly think that five years was plenty long enough for a
fair trial! You'd make a better ambassador than an active captain of
industry, anyhow," she said with conviction. Whereupon he bestowed on
her a long, thoughtful stare, as though he were profoundly pondering
They moved forward towards the Grand Canal in silence. Privately she
was considering his case hardly one of extreme hardship. Privately
also, as they advanced nearer and nearer the spot where they had left
Mrs. Marshall-Smith, she was a little dreading the return to the
perfect breeding with which Aunt Victoria did not ask, or intimate, or
look, the question which was in her mind after each of these strolling
tete-a-tetes which consistently led nowhere. There were instants when
Sylvia would positively have preferred the vulgar openness of a direct
question to which she might have answered, with the refreshing effect
to her of a little honest blood-letting: "Dear Aunt Victoria, I
haven't the least idea myself what's happening! I'm simply letting
myself go because I don't see anything else to do. I have even no very
clear idea as to what is going on inside my own head. I only know that
I like Austin Page so much (in spite of a certain quite unforgotten
episode) there would be nothing at all unpleasant about marrying him;
but I also know that I didn't feel the least interest in him until
Helene told me about his barrels of money: I also know that I feel the
strongest aversion to returning to the Spartan life of La Chance; and
it occurs to me that these two things may throw considerable light
on my 'liking' for Austin. As for what's in _his_ mind, there is
no subject on which I'm in blacker ignorance. And after being so
tremendously fooled, in the case of Felix, about the degree of
interest a man was feeling, I do not propose to take anything for
granted which is not on the surface. It is quite possible that this
singularly sincere and simple-mannered man may not have the slightest
intention of doing anything more than enjoy a pleasant vacation from
certain rather hair-splitting cares which seem to trouble him from
time to time." As they walked side by side along the stagnant waters,
she was sending inaudible messages of this sort towards her aunt; she
had even selected the particular mauve speck at the top of the steps
which might be Mrs. Marshall-Smith.
In the glowing yellow gold of the sky, a faintly whirring dark-gray
spot appeared: an airman made his way above the Grand Canal, passed
above the Chateau, and disappeared. They had sat down on a bench, the
better to crane their heads to watch him out of sight. Sylvia was
penetrated with the strangeness of that apparition in that spot and
thrilled out: "Isn't it wonderful! Isn't it wonderful! _Here!_"
"There's something _more_ wonderful!" he said, indicating with his
cane the canal before them, where a group of neat, poorly dressed,
lower middle-class people looked proudly out from their triumphal
progress in the ugly, gasping little motor-boat which operates at
twenty-five centimes a trip.
She had not walked and talked a month with him for nothing. She knew
that he did not refer to motor-boats as against aeroplanes. "You
mean," she said appreciatively, "you mean those common people going
freely around the royal canal where two hundred years ago--"
He nodded, pleased by her quickness. "Two hundred years from now,"
he conjectured, "the stubs of my checkbook will be exhibited in an
historical museum along with the regalia of the last hereditary
Here she did not follow, and she was too intelligent to pretend she
He lifted his eyebrows. "Relic of a quaint old social structure
inexplicably tolerated so late as the beginning of the twentieth
"Oh, coal-mines forever!" she said, smiling, her eyes brilliant with
"Aye! _Toujours perdrix!_" he admitted. He continued to look steadily
and seriously into her smiling, sparkling face, until, with a sudden
pulse of premonition, she was stricken into a frightened gravity. And
then, with no prelude, no approach, quite simply and directly, he
spoke. "I wonder how much you care for me?" he said musingly, as he
had said everything else that afternoon: and as she positively paled
at the eeriness of this echo from her own thought, he went on, his
voice vibrating in the deep organ note of a great moment, "You must
know, of course, by this time that I care everything possible for
Compressed into an instant of acute feeling Sylvia felt the pangs
which had racked her as a little girl when she had stood in the
schoolyard with Camilla Fingal before her, and the terrifying hostile
eyes about her. Her two selves rose up against each other fiercely,
murderously, as they had then. The little girl sprang forward to help
the woman who for an instant hesitated. The fever and the struggle
vanished as instantly as they had come. Sylvia felt very still, very
hushed. Page had told her that she always rose to crucial moments. She
rose to this one. "I don't know," she said as quietly as he, with as
utter a bravery of bare sincerity, "I don't know how much I care for
you--but I think it is a great deal." She rose upon a solemn wing of
courage to a greater height of honesty. Her eyes were on his, as clear
as his. The mere beauty of her face had gone like a lifted veil. For a
instant he saw her as Sylvia herself did not dream she could be. "It
is very hard," said Sylvia Marshall, with clear eyes and trembling
lips of honest humility, "for a girl with no money to know how much
she cares for a very rich man."
She had never been able to imagine what she would say if the moment
should come. She had certainly not intended to say this. But an
unsuspected vein of granite in her rang an instant echo to his
truth. She was bewildered to see his ardent gaze upon her deepen to
reverence. He took her hand in his and kissed it. He tried to speak,
but his voice broke.
She was immensely moved to see him so moved. She was also entirely at
a loss. How strangely different things always were from forecasts of
them! They had suddenly taken the long-expected stride away from their
former relation, but she did not know where they had arrived. What was
the new status between them? What did Austin think she meant? It came
to her with a shock that the new status between them was, on the
surface, exactly what it was in reality; that the avowed relation
between them was, as far as it went, precisely in accord with the
facts of the case. The utter strangeness of this in any human
relationship filled her with astonishment, with awe, almost with
uneasiness. It seemed unnatural not to have to pretend anything!
Apparently it did not seem unnatural to the man beside her. "You are a
very wonderful woman," he now said, his voice still but partly under
his control. "I had not thought that you could exist." He took her
hand again and continued more steadily: "Will you let me, for a little
while longer, go on living near you? Perhaps things may seem clearer
to us both, later--"
Sylvia was swept by a wave of gratitude as for some act of
magnanimity. "_You_ are the wonderful one!" she cried. Not since the
day Helene had told her who he was, had she felt so whole, so sound,
so clean, as now. The word came rushing on the heels of the thought:
"You make one feel so _clean_!" she said, unaware that he could
scarcely understand her, and then she smiled, passing with her free,
natural grace from the memorable pause, and the concentration of a
great moment forward into the even-stepping advance of life. "That
first day--even then you made me feel clean--that soap! that cold,
clean water--it is your aroma!"
Their walk along the silent water, over the great lawn, and up the
steps was golden with the level rays of the sun setting back of them,
at the end of the canal, between the distant, sentinel poplars. Their
mood was as golden as the light. Sometimes they spoke, sometimes they
were silent. Truth walked between them.
Sylvia's mind, released from the tension of that great moment, began
making its usual, sweeping, circling explorations of its own depths.
Not all that it found was of an equal good report. Once she thought
fleetingly: "This is only a very, very pretty way of saying that it
is all really settled. With his great wealth, he is like a reigning
monarch--let him be as delicate-minded as he pleases, when he
indicates a wish--" More than once--many, many times--Felix Morrison's
compelling dark eyes looked at her penetratingly, but she resolutely
turned away her head from them, and from the impulse to answer their
reproach even with an indignant, well-founded reproach of her own.
Again and again she felt a sweet strangeness in her new position. The
aroma of utter sincerity was like the scent of a wildflower growing in
the sun, spicy, free. She wondered at a heart like his that could be
at once ardent and subtle, that could desire so profoundly (the deep
vibrations of that voice of yearning were in her ears still) and yet
pause, and stand back, and wait, rather than force a hair's breadth
of pretense. How he had liberated her! And once she found herself
thinking, "I shall have sables myself, and diamonds, and a house as
great as Molly's, and I shall learn how to entertain ambassadors,
as she will never know." She was ashamed of this, she knew it to be
shockingly out of key with the grand passage behind them. But she had
And, as these thoughts, and many more, passed through her mind, as she
spoke with a quiet peace, or was silent, she was transfigured into a
beauty almost startling, by the accident of the level golden beams of
light back of her. Her aureole of bright hair glowed like a saint's
halo. The curiously placed lights and unexpected shadows brought
out new subtleties in the modeling of her face. Her lightened heart
gleamed through her eyes, like a lighted lamp. After a time, the man
fell into a complete silence, glancing at her frequently as though
storing away a priceless memory....
"A MILESTONE PASSED, THE ROAD SEEMS CLEAR"
As the "season" heightened, the beautiful paneled walls of Mrs.
Marshall-Smith's salon were frequently the background for chance
gatherings of extremely appropriate callers. They seemed a visible
emanation of the room, so entirely did they represent what that sort
of a room was meant to contain. They were not only beautifully but
severely dressed, with few ornaments, and those few a result of the
same concentrated search for the rare which had brought together the
few bibelots in the room, which had laid the single great dull Persian
rug on the unobtrusively polished oaken floor, which had set in the
high, south windows the boxes of feathery green plants with delicate
And it was not only in externals that these carefully brushed and
combed people harmonized with the mellow beauty of their background.
They sat, or stood, moved about, took their tea, and talked with an
extraordinary perfection of manner. There was not a voice there,
save perhaps Austin Page's unstudied tones, which was not carefully
modulated in a variety of rhythm and pitch which made each sentence a
work of art. They used, for the most part, low tones and few gestures,
but those well chosen. There was an earnest effort apparent to achieve
true conversational give-and-take, and if one of the older men found
himself yielding to the national passion for lengthy monologues on a
favorite theme, or to the mediocre habit of anecdote, there was an
instant closing in on him of carefully casual team-work on the part of
the others which soon reduced him to the tasteful short comment
and answer which formed the framework of the afternoon's social
The topics of the conversation were as explicitly in harmony with the
group-ideal as the perfectly fitting gloves of the men, or the smooth,
burnished waves of the women's hair. They talked of the last play at
the Francais, of the exhibitions then on view at the Petit Palais, of
a new tenor in the choir of the Madeleine, of the condition of the
automobile roads in the Loire country, of the restoration of the
stained glass at Bourges.
On such occasions, a good deal of Sylvia's attention being given to
modulating her voice and holding her hands and managing her skirts as
did the guests of the hour, she usually had an impression that the
conversation was clever. Once or twice, looking back, she had been
somewhat surprised to find that she could remember nothing of what had
been said. It occurred to her, fleetingly, that of so much talk, some
word ought to stick in her usually retentive memory; but she gave the
matter no more thought. She had also been aware, somewhat dimly, that
Austin Page was more or less out of drawing in the carefully composed
picture presented on those social afternoons. He had the inveterate
habit of being at his ease under all circumstances, but she had felt
that he took these great people with a really exaggerated lack of
seriousness, answering their chat at random, and showing no chagrin
when he was detected in the grossest ignorance about the latest move
of the French Royalist party, or the probabilities as to the winner
of the Grand Prix. She had seen in the corners of his mouth an
inexplicable hidden imp of laughter as he gravely listened, cup in
hand, to the remarks of the beautiful Mrs. William Winterton Perth
about the inevitable promiscuity of democracy, and he continually
displayed a tendency to gravitate into the background, away from the
center of the stage where their deference for his name, fortune, and
personality would have placed him. Sylvia's impression of him was far
from being one of social brilliance, but rather of an almost wilful
negligence. She quite grew used to seeing him, a tall, distinguished
figure, sitting at ease in a far corner, and giving to the scene a
pleasant though not remarkably respectful attention.
On such an afternoon in January, the usual routine had been preserved.
The last of the callers, carrying off Mrs. Marshall-Smith with her,
had taken an urbane, fair-spoken departure. Sylvia turned back from
the door of the salon, feeling a fine glow of conscious amenity, and
found that Austin Page's mood differed notably from her own. He had
lingered for a tete-a-tete, as was so frequently his habit, and now
stood before the fire, his face all one sparkle of fun. "Don't they
do it with true American fervor!" he remarked. "It would take a
microscope to tell the difference between them and a well-rehearsed
society scene on the stage of the Francais! That's their model,
of course. It is positively touching to see old Colonel Patterson
subduing his twang and shutting the lid down on his box of comic
stories. I should think Mrs. Patterson might allow him at least that
one about the cowboy and the tenderfoot who wanted to take a bath!"
The impression made on Sylvia had not in the least corresponded to
this one; but with a cat-like twist of her flexible mind, she fell
on her feet, took up his lead, and deftly produced the only suitable
material she had at command. "They _seem_ to talk well, about such
interesting things, and yet I can never remember anything they say.
It's odd," she sat down near the fireplace with a great air of
pondering the strange phenomenon.
"No, it isn't odd," he explained, dropping into the chair opposite her
and stretching out his long legs to the blaze. "It's only people who
do something, who have anything to say. These folks don't do anything
except get up and sit down the right way, and run their voices up and
down the scale so that their great-aunts would faint away to hear
them! They haven't any energy left over. If some one would only write
out suitable parts for them to memorize, the performance would be
perfect!" He threw back his head and laughed aloud, the sound ringing
through the room. Sylvia had seldom seen him so light-heartedly
amused. He explained: "I haven't seen this sort of solemn, genteel
posturing for several years now, and I find it too delicious! To see
the sweet, invincible American naivete welling up in their intense
satisfaction in being so sophisticated,--oh, the harmless dears!" He
cried out upon them gaily, with the indulgence of an adult who looks
on at children's play.
Sylvia was a trifle breathless, seeing him disappear so rapidly down
this unexpected path, but she was for the moment spared the effort to
overtake him by the arrival of Tojiko with a tray of fresh mail. "Oh,
letters from home!" Sylvia rejoiced, taking a bulky one and a thin one
from the pile. "The fat one is from Father," she said, holding it up.
"He is like me, terribly given to loquaciousness. We always write each
other reams when we're apart. The little flat one is from Judith. She
never can think of anything to say except that she is still alive and
hopes I am, and that her esteem for me is undiminished. Dear Spartan
"Do you know," said the man opposite her, "if I hadn't met you, I
should have been tempted to believe that the institution of the
family had disappeared. I never saw anything like you Marshalls! You
positively seem to have a real regard for each other in spite of
what Bernard Shaw says about the relations of blood-kin. You even,
incredible as it seems, appear to feel a mutual respect!"
"That's a very pretty compliment indeed," said Sylvia, smiling at him
flashingly, "and I'm going to reward you by reading some of Judith's
letter aloud. Letters do paint personalities so, don't they?"
He settled himself to listen.
"Oh, it won't take long!" she reassured him laughingly. She read:
"'DEAR SYLVIE: Your last letter about the palaces at Versailles was
very interesting. Mother looked you up on the plan of the grounds in
Father's old Baedeker. I'm glad to know you like Paris so much. Our
chief operating surgeon says he thinks the opportunities at the School
of Medicine in Paris are fully as good as in Vienna, and chances for
individual diagnoses greater. Have you visited that yet?'" Over
the letter Sylvia raised a humorous eyebrow at Page, who smiled,
appreciative of the point.
She went on: "'Lawrence is making me a visit of a few days. Isn't he
a queer boy! I got Dr. Wilkinson to agree, as a great favor, to let
Lawrence see a very interesting operation. Right in the middle of it,
Lawrence fainted dead away and had to be carried out. But when he came
to, he said he wouldn't have missed it for anything, and before he
could really sit up he was beginning a poem about the "cruel mercy of
the shining knives."'" Sylvia shook her head. "Isn't that Lawrence!
Isn't that Judith!"
Page agreed thoughtfully, their eyes meeting in a trustful intimacy.
They themselves might have been bound together by a family tie, so
wholly natural seemed their sociable sitting together over the fire.
Sylvia thought with an instant's surprise, "Isn't it odd how close he
has come to seem--as though I'd always, always known him; as though I
could speak to him of anything--nobody else ever seemed that way to
She read on from the letter: "'All of us at St. Mary's are feeling
very sore about lawyers. Old Mr. Winthrop had left the hospital
fifteen thousand dollars in his will, and we'd been counting on that
to make some changes in the operating-room and the men's accident ward
that are awfully needed. And now comes along a miserable lawyer who
finds something the matter with the will, and everything goes to that
worthless Charlie Winthrop, who'll probably blow it all in on one
grand poker-playing spree. It makes me tired! We can't begin to keep
up with the latest X-ray developments without the new apparatus, and
only the other day we lost a case, a man hurt in a railroad wreck,
that I know we could have pulled through if we'd been better equipped!
Well, hard luck! But I try to remember Mother's old uncle's motto,
"Whatever else you do, _don't_ make a fuss!" Father has been off for a
few days, speaking before Alumni reunions. He looks very well. Mother
has got her new fruit cellar fixed up, and it certainly is great.
She's going to keep the carrots and parsnips there too. I've just
heard that I'm going to graduate first in my class--thought you might
like to know. Have a good time, Sylvia. And don't let your imagination
get away with you.
"'Your loving sister,
"Of all the perfect characterizations!" murmured Page, as Sylvia
finished. "I can actually see her and hear her!"
"Oh, there's nobody like Judith!" agreed Sylvia, falling into a
reverie, her eyes on the fire.
The peaceful silence which ensued spoke vividly of the intimacy
After a time Sylvia glanced up, and finding her companion's eyes
abstractedly fixed on the floor, she continued to look into his face,
noting its fine, somewhat gaunt modeling, the level line of his brown
eyebrows, the humor and kindness of his mouth. The winter twilight
cast its first faint web of blue shadow into the room. The fire burned
with a steady blaze.
As minute after minute of this hushed, wordless calm continued, Sylvia
was aware that something new was happening to her, that something in
her stirred which had never before made its presence known. She felt
very queer, a little startled, very much bewildered. What was that
half-thought fluttering a dusky wing in the back of her mind? It came
out into the twilight and she saw it for what it was. She had been
wondering what she would feel if that silent figure opposite her
should rise and take her in his arms. As she looked at that tender,
humorous mouth, she had been wondering what she would feel to press
her lips upon it?
She was twenty-three years old, but so occupied with mental effort and
physical activity had been her life, that not till now had she known
one of those half-daring, half-frightened excursions of the fancy
which fill the hours of any full-blooded idle girl of eighteen. It was
a woman grown with a girl's freshness of impression, who knew that
ravished, scared, exquisite moment of the first dim awakening of the
senses. But because it was a woman grown with a woman's capacity for
emotion, the moment had a solemnity, a significance, which no girl
could have felt. This was no wandering, flitting, winged excursion.
It was a grave step upon a path from which there was no turning back.
Sylvia had passed a milestone. But she did not know this. She sat very
still in her chair as the twilight deepened, only knowing that she
could not take her eyes from those tender, humorous lips. That was the
moment when if the man had spoken, if he had but looked at her ...
But he was following out some thought of his own, and now rose, went
to Mrs. Marshall-Smith's fine, small desk, snapped on an electric
light, and began to write.
When he finished, he handed a bit of paper to Sylvia. "Do you suppose
your sister would be willing to let me make up for the objectionable
Charlie Winthrop's deficiences?" he asked with a deprecatory air as
though he feared a refusal.
Sylvia looked at the piece of paper. It was a check for fifteen
thousand dollars. She held there in her hand seven years of her
father's life, as much money as they all had lived on from the years
she was sixteen until now. And this man had but to dip pen into ink to
produce it. There was something stupefying about the thought to her.
She no longer saw the humor and tenderness of his mouth. She looked up
at him and thought, "What an immensely rich man he is!" She said to
him wonderingly, "You can't imagine how strange it is--like magic--not
to be believed--to have money like that!"
His face clouded. He looked down uncertainly at his feet and away at
the lighted electric bulb. "I thought it might please your sister," he
said and turned away.
Sylvia was aghast to think that she had perhaps wounded him. He seemed
to fear that he had flaunted his fortune in her face. He looked
acutely uncomfortable. She found that, as she had thought, she could
say anything, anything to him, and say it easily. She went to him
quickly and laid her hand on his arm. "It's splendid," she said,
looking deeply and frankly into his eyes. "Judith will be too
rejoiced! It _is_ like magic. And nobody but you could have done it so
that the money seems the least part of the deed!"
He looked down at her, touched, moved, his eyes very tender, but sad
as though with a divination of the barrier his fortune eternally
raised between them.
The door opened suddenly and Mrs. Marshall-Smith came in quickly,
not looking at them at all. From the pale agitation of her face they
recoiled, startled and alarmed. She sat down abruptly as though her
knees had given way under her. Her gloved hands were perceptibly
trembling in her lap. She looked straight at Sylvia, and for an
instant did not speak. If she had rushed in screaming wildly, her
aspect to Sylvia's eyes would scarcely have been more eloquent of
portentous news to come. It was a fitting introduction to what she now
said to them in an unsteady voice: "I've just heard--a despatch
from Jamiaca--something terrible has happened. The news came to
the American Express office when I was there. It is awful. Molly
Sommerville driving her car alone--an appalling accident to the
steering-gear, they think. Molly found dead under the car."
THE ROAD IS NOT SO CLEAR
It shocked Sylvia that Molly's death should make so little difference.
After one sober evening with the stunning words fresh before their
eyes, the three friends quickly returned to their ordinary routine
of life. It was not that they did not care, she reflected--she _did_
care. She had cried and cried at the thought of that quivering, vital
spirit broken by the inert crushing mass of steel--she could not bring
herself to think of the soft body, mangled, bloody. Austin cared too:
she was sure of it; but when they had expressed their pity, what more
could they do? The cabled statement was so bald, they hardly could
believe it--they failed altogether to realize what it meant--they
had no details on which to base any commentary. She who had lived so
intensely, was dead. They were sorry for her. That was all.
As an apology for their seeming callousness they reiterated Aunt
Victoria's dictum: "We can know nothing about it until Felix comes.
Let us hold our minds in suspense until we know what to think." That
Morrison would be in Paris soon, none of them doubted. Indeed,
they united in insisting on the number of natural--oh, perfectly
natural--reasons for his coming. He had always spent a part of every
winter there, had in fact a tiny apartment on the Rue St. Honore which
dated from his bachelor life; and now he had a double reason for
coming, since much of Molly's fortune chanced to be in French bonds.
Her father had been (among other things) American agent for the
Comptoir National des Escomptes, and he had taken advantage of his
unusual opportunities for acquiring solid French and remunerative
Algerian securities. Page had said at once that Morrison would need to
go through a good many formalities, under the French laws. So pending
fuller information, they did not discuss the tragedy. Their lives ran
on, and Molly, dead, was in their minds almost as little as Molly,
living but absent, had been.
It was only two months before Felix Morrison arrived in Paris. They
had expected him. They had spoken of the chance of his arrival on
this or that day. Sylvia had rehearsed all the possible forms of
self-possession for their first meeting; but on the rainy February
afternoon when she came in from representing Aunt Victoria at a
reception and saw him sitting by the fire, her heart sank down and
stopped for an instant, and when it went on beating she could hear no
sound but the drumming of her pulse. The back of his chair was towards
her. All she could see as she stood for a moment in the doorway
was his head, the thick, graying dark hair, and one long-fingered,
sensitive, beautiful hand lying on the arm of the chair. At the
sight, she felt in her own palm the soft firmness of those fingers as
palpably as ever she had in reality.
The instant's pause before Aunt Victoria saw her standing there, gave
her back her self-control. When Mrs. Marshall-Smith turned and gravely
held out her hand, Sylvia came forward with a sober self-possession.
The man turned too, sprang up with an exclamation apparently of
surprise, "Miss Marshall, you _here_!" and extended his hand. Sylvia,
searching his face earnestly, found it so worn, saw in it such dark
traces of suffering and sorrow, that the quick tears of sympathy stood
in her eyes.
Her dread of the meeting, a morbid dread that had in it an
acknowledged element of horror, vanished. Before that moment she had
seen only Molly's face as it had looked the day of their desperate
talk, white and despairing, and resolutely bent over the
steering-wheel. She had not been able to imagine Felix' face at all,
had instinctively put it out of her mind; but as she looked into it
now, her fear of it disappeared. It was the fine, sensitive face of a
fine, sensitive man who has known a great shock. What had she feared
she would see there? He was still holding her hand, very much affected
at seeing her, evidently still in a super-sensitive condition when
everything affected him strongly. "She loved you--she admired you so!"
he said, his wonderful voice wavering and uncertain. Sylvia's tears
fell openly at this. She sat down on a low stool near her aunt's
knees. "I can't believe it--I haven't been able to believe it!" she
told him; "Molly was--she was more alive than anybody I ever saw!"
"If you had seen her that morning," he told them both,--"like a flame
of vitality--almost frightening--so vivid. She waved good-bye, and
then that was not enough; she got out of the car and ran back up
the hotel-step to say good-bye for just those few moments--and was
off--such youth! such youth in all her--"
Sylvia cried out, "Oh, no! no! it's too dreadful!" She felt the horror
sweep down on her again; but now it did not bear Felix' face among
its baneful images. He stood there, shocked, stricken, but utterly
bewildered, utterly ignorant--for the moment in her relief she had
called his ignorance utter innocence ...
They did not see him again for many days, and when he came, very
briefly, speaking of business technicalities which absorbed him, he
was noticeably absent and careworn. He looked much older. The gray in
his thick hair had increased. He looked very beautiful and austere to
Sylvia. They exchanged no more than the salutations of arrival and
Then one day, as she and Aunt Victoria and Austin Page strolled down
the long gallery of the Louvre, they came upon him, looking at the
Ribera Entombment. He joined them, walking with them through the Salon
Carre and out to the Winged Victory, calling Sylvia's attention to the
Botticelli frescoes beyond on the landing. "It's the first time I've
been here," he told them, his only allusion to what lay back of him.
"It is like coming back to true friends. Blessed be all true friends."
He shook hands with them, and went away down the great stairway, a
splendid figure of dignity and grace.
After this he came once and again to the apartment of the Rue de
Presbourg, generally it would appear to use the piano. He had none in
his own tiny _pied-a-terre_ and he missed it. Sylvia immensely liked
his continuing to cling for a time to the simple arrangements of his
frugal bachelor days. He could now of course have bought a thousand
pianos. They understood how he would miss his music, and stole in
quietly when, upon opening the door, Tojiko told them that Mr.
Morrison had come in, and they heard from the salon his delicately
firm touch on the keys. Sometimes they listened from their rooms,
sometimes the two women took possession of the little octagonal room
off the salon, all white paneling and gilt chairs, and listened there;
sometimes, as the weeks went on and an especially early spring began
to envelop Paris in a haze of sunshine and budding leaves, they
stepped out to listen on the wrought-iron balcony which looked down
the long, shining vista of the tree-framed avenue. For the most part
he played Bach, grave, courageous, formal, great-hearted music.
Sometimes he went away with no more than a nod and a smile to them,
but more and more, when he had finished, he came out where they were,
and stood or sat to exchange brief impressions on the enchanting
season, or on some social or aesthetic treat which "_ces dames_" had
been enjoying. Austin Page was frequently with them, as in the earlier
part of the winter, and it was finally he himself who one day took the
step of asking Morrison if he would not go with them to the Louvre.
"No one could appreciate more than Miss Marshall what has always been
such a delight to us all."
They went, and not only once. That was the beginning of another phase;
a period when, as he began to take up life again, he turned to his old
friends to help him do it. He saw almost no one else, certainly no one
else there, for he was sure to disappear upon the arrival of a caller,
or the announcement of an expedition in which other people were
included. But he returned again and again to the Louvre with them, his
theory of galleries necessitating frequent visits. Nothing could be
more idiotic, he held, than to try to see on one occasion all, or even
half, or even a tenth part, of a great collection of works of art. "It
is exactly as reasonable," he contended, "as to read through on the
same day every poem in a great anthology. Who could have anything but
nausea for poetry after such a gorge? And they _must_ hate pictures or
else be literally blind to them, the people who look at five hundred
in a morning! If I had looked at every picture in the Long Gallery
in one walk through it, I should thrust my cane through the Titian
Francis-First itself when I came to the Salon Carre."
So he took them to see only a few, five or six, carefully selected
things--there was one wonderful day when he showed them nothing
but the Da Vinci Saint Anne, and the Venus of Melos, comparing the
dissimilar beauty of those two divine faces so vitally, that Sylvia
for days afterwards, when she closed her eyes and saw them, felt that
she looked on two living women. She told them this and, "Which one do
you see most?" he asked her. "Oh, the Saint Anne," she told him.
He seemed dissatisfied. But she did not venture to ask him why. They
lived in an atmosphere where omissions were vital.
Sylvia often wondered in those days if there ever had been a situation
so precariously balanced which continued to hang poised and stable,
minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day. There were
moments when her head was swimming with moral dizziness. She wondered
if such moments ever came to the two quiet, self-controlled men who
came and went, with cordial, easy friendliness, in and out of the
appartement on the Rue de Presbourg. They gave no sign of it, they
gave no sign of anything beyond the most achieved appearance of a
natural desire to be obliging and indulgent to the niece of an old
friend. This appearance was kept up with such unflagging perseverance
that it almost seemed consciously concerted between them. They so
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