The Early Short Fiction of Edith Wharton Part Two
Part 3 out of 3
This surprising reconstruction of the scene in which they had
just participated left the members of the Lunch Club
inarticulate. At length Mrs. Plinth, after visibly labouring
with the problem, said in a heavy tone: "Osric Dane was taken in
Mrs. Leveret took courage at this. "Perhaps that's what Mrs.
Roby did it for. She said Osric Dane was a brute, and she may
have wanted to give her a lesson."
Miss Van Vluyck frowned. "It was hardly worth while to do it at
"At least," said Miss Glyde with a touch of bitterness, "she
succeeded in interesting her, which was more than we did."
"What chance had we?" rejoined Mrs. Ballinger. "Mrs. Roby
monopolised her from the first. And THAT, I've no doubt, was her
purpose--to give Osric Dane a false impression of her own
standing in the Club. She would hesitate at nothing to attract
attention: we all know how she took in poor Professor Foreland."
"She actually makes him give bridge-teas every Thursday," Mrs.
Leveret piped up.
Laura Glyde struck her hands together. "Why, this is Thursday,
and it's THERE she's gone, of course; and taken Osric with her!"
"And they're shrieking over us at this moment," said Mrs.
Ballinger between her teeth.
This possibility seemed too preposterous to be admitted. "She
would hardly dare," said Miss Van Vluyck, "confess the imposture
to Osric Dane."
"I'm not so sure: I thought I saw her make a sign as she left.
If she hadn't made a sign, why should Osric Dane have rushed out
"Well, you know, we'd all been telling her how wonderful Xingu
was, and she said she wanted to find out more about it," Mrs.
Leveret said, with a tardy impulse of justice to the absent.
This reminder, far from mitigating the wrath of the other
members, gave it a stronger impetus.
"Yes--and that's exactly what they're both laughing over now,"
said Laura Glyde ironically.
Mrs. Plinth stood up and gathered her expensive furs about her
monumental form. "I have no wish to criticise," she said; "but
unless the Lunch Club can protect its members against the
recurrence of such--such unbecoming scenes, I for one--"
"Oh, so do I!" agreed Miss Glyde, rising also.
Miss Van Vluyck closed the Encyclopaedia and proceeded to button
herself into her jacket. "My time is really too valuable--" she
"I fancy we are all of one mind," said Mrs. Ballinger, looking
searchingly at Mrs. Leveret, who looked at the others.
"I always deprecate anything like a scandal--" Mrs. Plinth
"She has been the cause of one to-day!" exclaimed Miss Glyde.
Mrs. Leveret moaned: "I don't see how she COULD!" and Miss Van
Vluyck said, picking up her note-book: "Some women stop at
"--but if," Mrs. Plinth took up her argument impressively,
"anything of the kind had happened in MY house" (it never would
have, her tone implied), "I should have felt that I owed it to
myself either to ask for Mrs. Roby's resignation--or to offer
"Oh, Mrs. Plinth--" gasped the Lunch Club.
"Fortunately for me," Mrs. Plinth continued with an awful
magnanimity, "the matter was taken out of my hands by our
President's decision that the right to entertain distinguished
guests was a privilege vested in her office; and I think the
other members will agree that, as she was alone in this opinion,
she ought to be alone in deciding on the best way of effacing
its--its really deplorable consequences."
A deep silence followed this unexpected outbreak of Mrs. Plinth's
"I don't see why I should be expected to ask her to resign--"
Mrs. Ballinger at length began; but Laura Glyde turned back to
remind her: "You know she made you say that you'd got on
swimmingly in Xingu."
An ill-timed giggle escaped from Mrs. Leveret, and Mrs. Ballinger
energetically continued "--but you needn't think for a moment
that I'm afraid to!"
The door of the drawing-room closed on the retreating backs of
the Lunch Club, and the President of that distinguished
association, seating herself at her writing-table, and pushing
away a copy of "The Wings of Death" to make room for her elbow,
drew forth a sheet of the club's note-paper, on which she began
to write: "My dear Mrs. Roby--"
The End of Xingu
I had always thought Jack Gisburn rather a cheap genius--though a
good fellow enough--so it was no great surprise to me to hear
that, in the height of his glory, he had dropped his painting,
married a rich widow, and established himself in a villa on the
Riviera. (Though I rather thought it would have been Rome or
"The height of his glory"--that was what the women called it. I
can hear Mrs. Gideon Thwing--his last Chicago sitter--deploring
his unaccountable abdication. "Of course it's going to send the
value of my picture 'way up; but I don't think of that, Mr.
Rickham--the loss to Arrt is all I think of." The word, on Mrs.
Thwing's lips, multiplied its RS as though they were reflected in
an endless vista of mirrors. And it was not only the Mrs. Thwings
who mourned. Had not the exquisite Hermia Croft, at the last
Grafton Gallery show, stopped me before Gisburn's "Moon-dancers"
to say, with tears in her eyes: "We shall not look upon
its like again"?
Well!--even through the prism of Hermia's tears I felt able to
face the fact with equanimity. Poor Jack Gisburn! The women had
made him--it was fitting that they should mourn him. Among his
own sex fewer regrets were heard, and in his own trade hardly a
murmur. Professional jealousy? Perhaps. If it were, the honour
of the craft was vindicated by little Claude Nutley, who, in all
good faith, brought out in the Burlington a very handsome
"obituary" on Jack--one of those showy articles stocked with
random technicalities that I have heard (I won't say by whom)
compared to Gisburn's painting. And so--his resolve being
apparently irrevocable--the discussion gradually died out, and,
as Mrs. Thwing had predicted, the price of "Gisburns" went up.
It was not till three years later that, in the course of a few
weeks' idling on the Riviera, it suddenly occurred to me to
wonder why Gisburn had given up his painting. On reflection, it
really was a tempting problem. To accuse his wife would have
been too easy--his fair sitters had been denied the solace of
saying that Mrs. Gisburn had "dragged him down." For Mrs.
Gisburn--as such--had not existed till nearly a year after Jack's
resolve had been taken. It might be that he had married her--
since he liked his ease--because he didn't want to go on
painting; but it would have been hard to prove that he had given
up his painting because he had married her.
Of course, if she had not dragged him down, she had equally, as
Miss Croft contended, failed to "lift him up"--she had not led
him back to the easel. To put the brush into his hand again--
what a vocation for a wife! But Mrs. Gisburn appeared to have
disdained it--and I felt it might be interesting to find out why.
The desultory life of the Riviera lends itself to such purely
academic speculations; and having, on my way to Monte Carlo,
caught a glimpse of Jack's balustraded terraces between the
pines, I had myself borne thither the next day.
I found the couple at tea beneath their palm-trees; and Mrs.
Gisburn's welcome was so genial that, in the ensuing weeks, I
claimed it frequently. It was not that my hostess was
"interesting": on that point I could have given Miss Croft the
fullest reassurance. It was just because she was NOT
interesting--if I may be pardoned the bull--that I found her so.
For Jack, all his life, had been surrounded by interesting women:
they had fostered his art, it had been reared in the hot-house of
their adulation. And it was therefore instructive to note what
effect the "deadening atmosphere of mediocrity" (I quote Miss
Croft) was having on him.
I have mentioned that Mrs. Gisburn was rich; and it was
immediately perceptible that her husband was extracting from this
circumstance a delicate but substantial satisfaction. It is, as
a rule, the people who scorn money who get most out of it; and
Jack's elegant disdain of his wife's big balance enabled him,
with an appearance of perfect good-breeding, to transmute it into
objects of art and luxury. To the latter, I must add, he
remained relatively indifferent; but he was buying Renaissance
bronzes and eighteenth-century pictures with a discrimination
that bespoke the amplest resources.
"Money's only excuse is to put beauty into circulation," was one
of the axioms he laid down across the Sevres and silver of an
exquisitely appointed luncheon-table, when, on a later day, I had
again run over from Monte Carlo; and Mrs. Gisburn, beaming on
him, added for my enlightenment: "Jack is so morbidly sensitive
to every form of beauty."
Poor Jack! It had always been his fate to have women say such
things of him: the fact should be set down in extenuation. What
struck me now was that, for the first time, he resented the tone.
I had seen him, so often, basking under similar tributes--was it
the conjugal note that robbed them of their savour? No--for,
oddly enough, it became apparent that he was fond of Mrs.
Gisburn--fond enough not to see her absurdity. It was his own
absurdity he seemed to be wincing under--his own attitude as an
object for garlands and incense.
"My dear, since I've chucked painting people don't say that stuff
about me--they say it about Victor Grindle," was his only
protest, as he rose from the table and strolled out onto the
I glanced after him, struck by his last word. Victor Grindle
was, in fact, becoming the man of the moment--as Jack himself,
one might put it, had been the man of the hour. The younger
artist was said to have formed himself at my friend's feet, and I
wondered if a tinge of jealousy underlay the latter's mysterious
abdication. But no--for it was not till after that event that
the rose Dubarry drawing-rooms had begun to display their
I turned to Mrs. Gisburn, who had lingered to give a lump of
sugar to her spaniel in the dining-room.
"Why HAS he chucked painting?" I asked abruptly.
She raised her eyebrows with a hint of good-humoured surprise.
"Oh, he doesn't HAVE to now, you know; and I want him to enjoy
himself," she said quite simply.
I looked about the spacious white-panelled room, with its
famille-verte vases repeating the tones of the pale damask
curtains, and its eighteenth-century pastels in delicate faded
"Has he chucked his pictures too? I haven't seen a single one in
A slight shade of constraint crossed Mrs. Gisburn's open
countenance. "It's his ridiculous modesty, you know. He says
they're not fit to have about; he's sent them all away except
one--my portrait--and that I have to keep upstairs."
His ridiculous modesty--Jack's modesty about his pictures? My
curiosity was growing like the bean-stalk. I said persuasively
to my hostess: "I must really see your portrait, you know."
She glanced out almost timorously at the terrace where her
husband, lounging in a hooded chair, had lit a cigar and drawn
the Russian deerhound's head between his knees.
"Well, come while he's not looking," she said, with a laugh that
tried to hide her nervousness; and I followed her between the
marble Emperors of the hall, and up the wide stairs with terra-
cotta nymphs poised among flowers at each landing.
In the dimmest corner of her boudoir, amid a profusion of
delicate and distinguished objects, hung one of the familiar oval
canvases, in the inevitable garlanded frame. The mere outline of
the frame called up all Gisburn's past!
Mrs. Gisburn drew back the window-curtains, moved aside a
jardiniere full of pink azaleas, pushed an arm-chair away, and
said: "If you stand here you can just manage to see it. I had it
over the mantel-piece, but he wouldn't let it stay."
Yes--I could just manage to see it--the first portrait of Jack's
I had ever had to strain my eyes over! Usually they had the
place of honour--say the central panel in a pale yellow or rose
Dubarry drawing-room, or a monumental easel placed so that it
took the light through curtains of old Venetian point. The more
modest place became the picture better; yet, as my eyes grew
accustomed to the half-light, all the characteristic qualities
came out--all the hesitations disguised as audacities, the tricks
of prestidigitation by which, with such consummate skill, he
managed to divert attention from the real business of the picture
to some pretty irrelevance of detail. Mrs. Gisburn, presenting a
neutral surface to work on--forming, as it were, so inevitably
the background of her own picture--had lent herself in an unusual
degree to the display of this false virtuosity. The picture was
one of Jack's "strongest," as his admirers would have put it--it
represented, on his part, a swelling of muscles, a congesting of
veins, a balancing, straddling and straining, that reminded one
of the circus-clown's ironic efforts to lift a feather. It met,
in short, at every point the demand of lovely woman to be painted
"strongly" because she was tired of being painted "sweetly"--and
yet not to lose an atom of the sweetness.
"It's the last he painted, you know," Mrs. Gisburn said with
pardonable pride. "The last but one," she corrected herself--
"but the other doesn't count, because he destroyed it."
"Destroyed it?" I was about to follow up this clue when I heard
a footstep and saw Jack himself on the threshold.
As he stood there, his hands in the pockets of his velveteen
coat, the thin brown waves of hair pushed back from his white
forehead, his lean sunburnt cheeks furrowed by a smile that
lifted the tips of a self-confident moustache, I felt to what a
degree he had the same quality as his pictures--the quality of
looking cleverer than he was.
His wife glanced at him deprecatingly, but his eyes travelled
past her to the portrait.
"Mr. Rickham wanted to see it," she began, as if excusing
herself. He shrugged his shoulders, still smiling.
"Oh, Rickham found me out long ago," he said lightly; then,
passing his arm through mine: "Come and see the rest of the
He showed it to me with a kind of naive suburban pride: the
bath-rooms, the speaking-tubes, the dress-closets, the trouser-
presses--all the complex simplifications of the millionaire's
domestic economy. And whenever my wonder paid the expected
tribute he said, throwing out his chest a little: "Yes, I really
don't see how people manage to live without that."
Well--it was just the end one might have foreseen for him. Only
he was, through it all and in spite of it all--as he had been
through, and in spite of, his pictures--so handsome, so charming,
so disarming, that one longed to cry out: "Be dissatisfied with
your leisure!" as once one had longed to say: "Be dissatisfied
with your work!"
But, with the cry on my lips, my diagnosis suffered an unexpected
"This is my own lair," he said, leading me into a dark plain room
at the end of the florid vista. It was square and brown and
leathery: no "effects"; no bric-a-brac, none of the air of posing
for reproduction in a picture weekly--above all, no least sign of
ever having been used as a studio.
The fact brought home to me the absolute finality of Jack's break
with his old life.
"Don't you ever dabble with paint any more?" I asked, still
looking about for a trace of such activity.
"Never," he said briefly.
"Or water-colour--or etching?"
His confident eyes grew dim, and his cheeks paled a little under
their handsome sunburn.
"Never think of it, my dear fellow--any more than if I'd never
touched a brush."
And his tone told me in a flash that he never thought of anything
I moved away, instinctively embarrassed by my unexpected
discovery; and as I turned, my eye fell on a small picture above
the mantel-piece--the only object breaking the plain oak
panelling of the room.
"Oh, by Jove!" I said.
It was a sketch of a donkey--an old tired donkey, standing in the
rain under a wall.
"By Jove--a Stroud!" I cried.
He was silent; but I felt him close behind me, breathing a little
"What a wonder! Made with a dozen lines--but on everlasting
foundations. You lucky chap, where did you get it?"
He answered slowly: "Mrs. Stroud gave it to me."
"Ah--I didn't know you even knew the Strouds. He was such an
"I didn't--till after. . . . She sent for me to paint him when
he was dead."
"When he was dead? You?"
I must have let a little too much amazement escape through my
surprise, for he answered with a deprecating laugh: "Yes--she's
an awful simpleton, you know, Mrs. Stroud. Her only idea was to
have him done by a fashionable painter--ah, poor Stroud! She
thought it the surest way of proclaiming his greatness--of
forcing it on a purblind public. And at the moment I was THE
"Ah, poor Stroud--as you say. Was THAT his history?"
"That was his history. She believed in him, gloried in him--or
thought she did. But she couldn't bear not to have all the
drawing-rooms with her. She couldn't bear the fact that, on
varnishing days, one could always get near enough to see his
pictures. Poor woman! She's just a fragment groping for other
fragments. Stroud is the only whole I ever knew."
"You ever knew? But you just said--"
Gisburn had a curious smile in his eyes.
"Oh, I knew him, and he knew me--only it happened after he was
I dropped my voice instinctively. "When she sent for you?"
"Yes--quite insensible to the irony. She wanted him vindicated--
and by me!"
He laughed again, and threw back his head to look up at the
sketch of the donkey. "There were days when I couldn't look at
that thing--couldn't face it. But I forced myself to put it
here; and now it's cured me--cured me. That's the reason why I
don't dabble any more, my dear Rickham; or rather Stroud himself
is the reason."
For the first time my idle curiosity about my companion turned
into a serious desire to understand him better.
"I wish you'd tell me how it happened," I said.
He stood looking up at the sketch, and twirling between his
fingers a cigarette he had forgotten to light. Suddenly he
turned toward me.
"I'd rather like to tell you--because I've always suspected you
of loathing my work."
I made a deprecating gesture, which he negatived with a good-
"Oh, I didn't care a straw when I believed in myself--and now
it's an added tie between us!"
He laughed slightly, without bitterness, and pushed one of the
deep arm-chairs forward. "There: make yourself comfortable--and
here are the cigars you like."
He placed them at my elbow and continued to wander up and down
the room, stopping now and then beneath the picture.
"How it happened? I can tell you in five minutes--and it didn't
take much longer to happen. . . . I can remember now how
surprised and pleased I was when I got Mrs. Stroud's note. Of
course, deep down, I had always FELT there was no one like him--
only I had gone with the stream, echoed the usual platitudes
about him, till I half got to think he was a failure, one of the
kind that are left behind. By Jove, and he WAS left behind--
because he had come to stay! The rest of us had to let ourselves
be swept along or go under, but he was high above the current--on
everlasting foundations, as you say.
"Well, I went off to the house in my most egregious mood--rather
moved, Lord forgive me, at the pathos of poor Stroud's career of
failure being crowned by the glory of my painting him! Of course
I meant to do the picture for nothing--I told Mrs. Stroud so when
she began to stammer something about her poverty. I remember
getting off a prodigious phrase about the honour being MINE--oh,
I was princely, my dear Rickham! I was posing to myself like one
of my own sitters.
"Then I was taken up and left alone with him. I had sent all my
traps in advance, and I had only to set up the easel and get to
work. He had been dead only twenty-four hours, and he died
suddenly, of heart disease, so that there had been no preliminary
work of destruction--his face was clear and untouched. I had met
him once or twice, years before, and thought him insignificant
and dingy. Now I saw that he was superb.
"I was glad at first, with a merely aesthetic satisfaction: glad
to have my hand on such a 'subject.' Then his strange life-
likeness began to affect me queerly--as I blocked the head in I
felt as if he were watching me do it. The sensation was followed
by the thought: if he WERE watching me, what would he say to my
way of working? My strokes began to go a little wild--I felt
nervous and uncertain.
"Once, when I looked up, I seemed to see a smile behind his close
grayish beard--as if he had the secret, and were amusing himself
by holding it back from me. That exasperated me still more. The
secret? Why, I had a secret worth twenty of his! I dashed at
the canvas furiously, and tried some of my bravura tricks. But
they failed me, they crumbled. I saw that he wasn't watching the
showy bits--I couldn't distract his attention; he just kept his
eyes on the hard passages between. Those were the ones I had
always shirked, or covered up with some lying paint. And how he
saw through my lies!
"I looked up again, and caught sight of that sketch of the donkey
hanging on the wall near his bed. His wife told me afterward it
was the last thing he had done--just a note taken with a shaking
hand, when he was down in Devonshire recovering from a previous
heart attack. Just a note! But it tells his whole history.
There are years of patient scornful persistence in every line. A
man who had swum with the current could never have learned that
mighty up-stream stroke. . . .
"I turned back to my work, and went on groping and muddling; then
I looked at the donkey again. I saw that, when Stroud laid in
the first stroke, he knew just what the end would be. He had
possessed his subject, absorbed it, recreated it. When had I
done that with any of my things? They hadn't been born of me--I
had just adopted them. . . .
"Hang it, Rickham, with that face watching me I couldn't do
another stroke. The plain truth was, I didn't know where to put
it--I HAD NEVER KNOWN. Only, with my sitters and my public, a
showy splash of colour covered up the fact--I just threw paint
into their faces. . . . Well, paint was the one medium those
dead eyes could see through--see straight to the tottering
foundations underneath. Don't you know how, in talking a foreign
language, even fluently, one says half the time not what one
wants to but what one can? Well--that was the way I painted; and
as he lay there and watched me, the thing they called my
'technique' collapsed like a house of cards. He didn't sneer,
you understand, poor Stroud--he just lay there quietly watching,
and on his lips, through the gray beard, I seemed to hear the
question: 'Are you sure you know where you're coming out?'
"If I could have painted that face, with that question on it, I
should have done a great thing. The next greatest thing was to
see that I couldn't--and that grace was given me. But, oh, at
that minute, Rickham, was there anything on earth I wouldn't have
given to have Stroud alive before me, and to hear him say: 'It's
not too late--I'll show you how'?
"It WAS too late--it would have been, even if he'd been alive. I
packed up my traps, and went down and told Mrs. Stroud. Of
course I didn't tell her THAT--it would have been Greek to her.
I simply said I couldn't paint him, that I was too moved. She
rather liked the idea--she's so romantic! It was that that made
her give me the donkey. But she was terribly upset at not
getting the portrait--she did so want him 'done' by some one
showy! At first I was afraid she wouldn't let me off--and at my
wits' end I suggested Grindle. Yes, it was I who started
Grindle: I told Mrs. Stroud he was the 'coming' man, and she told
somebody else, and so it got to be true. . . . And he painted
Stroud without wincing; and she hung the picture among her
husband's things. . . ."
He flung himself down in the arm-chair near mine, laid back his
head, and clasping his arms beneath it, looked up at the picture
above the chimney-piece.
"I like to fancy that Stroud himself would have given it to me,
if he'd been able to say what he thought that day."
And, in answer to a question I put half-mechanically--"Begin
again?" he flashed out. "When the one thing that brings me
anywhere near him is that I knew enough to leave off?"
He stood up and laid his hand on my shoulder with a laugh. "Only
the irony of it is that I AM still painting--since Grindle's
doing it for me! The Strouds stand alone, and happen once--but
there's no exterminating our kind of art."
The End of The Verdict
"The marriage law of the new dispensation will be: THOU SHALT NOT
BE UNFAITHFUL--TO THYSELF."
A discreet murmur of approval filled the studio, and through the
haze of cigarette smoke Mrs. Clement Westall, as her husband
descended from his improvised platform, saw him merged in a
congratulatory group of ladies. Westall's informal talks on "The
New Ethics" had drawn about him an eager following of the
mentally unemployed--those who, as he had once phrased it, liked
to have their brain-food cut up for them. The talks had begun by
accident. Westall's ideas were known to be "advanced," but
hitherto their advance had not been in the direction of
publicity. He had been, in his wife's opinion, almost
pusillanimously careful not to let his personal views endanger
his professional standing. Of late, however, he had shown a
puzzling tendency to dogmatize, to throw down the gauntlet, to
flaunt his private code in the face of society; and the relation
of the sexes being a topic always sure of an audience, a few
admiring friends had persuaded him to give his after-dinner
opinions a larger circulation by summing them up in a series of
talks at the Van Sideren studio.
The Herbert Van Siderens were a couple who subsisted, socially,
on the fact that they had a studio. Van Sideren's pictures were
chiefly valuable as accessories to the mise en scene which
differentiated his wife's "afternoons" from the blighting
functions held in long New York drawing-rooms, and permitted her
to offer their friends whiskey-and-soda instead of tea. Mrs. Van
Sideren, for her part, was skilled in making the most of the kind
of atmosphere which a lay-figure and an easel create; and if at
times she found the illusion hard to maintain, and lost courage
to the extent of almost wishing that Herbert could paint, she
promptly overcame such moments of weakness by calling in some
fresh talent, some extraneous re-enforcement of the "artistic"
impression. It was in quest of such aid that she had seized on
Westall, coaxing him, somewhat to his wife's surprise, into a
flattered participation in her fraud. It was vaguely felt, in
the Van Sideren circle, that all the audacities were artistic,
and that a teacher who pronounced marriage immoral was somehow as
distinguished as a painter who depicted purple grass and a green
sky. The Van Sideren set were tired of the conventional color-
scheme in art and conduct.
Julia Westall had long had her own views on the immorality of
marriage; she might indeed have claimed her husband as a
disciple. In the early days of their union she had secretly
resented his disinclination to proclaim himself a follower of the
new creed; had been inclined to tax him with moral cowardice,
with a failure to live up to the convictions for which their
marriage was supposed to stand. That was in the first burst of
propagandism, when, womanlike, she wanted to turn her
disobedience into a law. Now she felt differently. She could
hardly account for the change, yet being a woman who never
allowed her impulses to remain unaccounted for, she tried to do
so by saying that she did not care to have the articles of her
faith misinterpreted by the vulgar. In this connection, she was
beginning to think that almost every one was vulgar; certainly
there were few to whom she would have cared to intrust the
defence of so esoteric a doctrine. And it was precisely at this
point that Westall, discarding his unspoken principles, had
chosen to descend from the heights of privacy, and stand hawking
his convictions at the street-corner!
It was Una Van Sideren who, on this occasion, unconsciously
focussed upon herself Mrs. Westall's wandering resentment. In
the first place, the girl had no business to be there. It was
"horrid"--Mrs. Westall found herself slipping back into the old
feminine vocabulary--simply "horrid" to think of a young girl's
being allowed to listen to such talk. The fact that Una smoked
cigarettes and sipped an occasional cocktail did not in the least
tarnish a certain radiant innocency which made her appear the
victim, rather than the accomplice, of her parents' vulgarities.
Julia Westall felt in a hot helpless way that something ought to
be done--that some one ought to speak to the girl's mother. And
just then Una glided up.
"Oh, Mrs. Westall, how beautiful it was!" Una fixed her with
large limpid eyes. "You believe it all, I suppose?" she asked
with seraphic gravity.
"All--what, my dear child?"
The girl shone on her. "About the higher life--the freer
expansion of the individual--the law of fidelity to one's self,"
she glibly recited.
Mrs. Westall, to her own wonder, blushed a deep and burning
"My dear Una," she said, "you don't in the least understand what
it's all about!"
Miss Van Sideren stared, with a slowly answering blush. "Don't
YOU, then?" she murmured.
Mrs. Westall laughed. "Not always--or altogether! But I should
like some tea, please."
Una led her to the corner where innocent beverages were
dispensed. As Julia received her cup she scrutinized the girl
more carefully. It was not such a girlish face, after all--
definite lines were forming under the rosy haze of youth. She
reflected that Una must be six-and-twenty, and wondered why she
had not married. A nice stock of ideas she would have as her
dower! If THEY were to be a part of the modern girl's trousseau--
Mrs. Westall caught herself up with a start. It was as though
some one else had been speaking--a stranger who had borrowed her
own voice: she felt herself the dupe of some fantastic mental
ventriloquism. Concluding suddenly that the room was stifling
and Una's tea too sweet, she set down her cup, and looked about
for Westall: to meet his eyes had long been her refuge from every
uncertainty. She met them now, but only, as she felt, in
transit; they included her parenthetically in a larger flight.
She followed the flight, and it carried her to a corner to which
Una had withdrawn--one of the palmy nooks to which Mrs. Van
Sideren attributed the success of her Saturdays. Westall, a
moment later, had overtaken his look, and found a place at the
girl's side. She bent forward, speaking eagerly; he leaned back,
listening, with the depreciatory smile which acted as a filter to
flattery, enabling him to swallow the strongest doses without
apparent grossness of appetite. Julia winced at her own
definition of the smile.
On the way home, in the deserted winter dusk, Westall surprised
his wife by a sudden boyish pressure of her arm. "Did I open
their eyes a bit? Did I tell them what you wanted me to?" he
Almost unconsciously, she let her arm slip from his. "What I
"Why, haven't you--all this time?" She caught the honest wonder
of his tone. "I somehow fancied you'd rather blamed me for not
talking more openly--before-- You've made me feel, at times, that
I was sacrificing principles to expediency."
She paused a moment over her reply; then she asked quietly: "What
made you decide not to--any longer?"
She felt again the vibration of a faint surprise. "Why--the wish
to please you!" he answered, almost too simply.
"I wish you would not go on, then," she said abruptly.
He stopped in his quick walk, and she felt his stare through the
"Not go on--?"
"Call a hansom, please. I'm tired," broke from her with a sudden
rush of physical weariness.
Instantly his solicitude enveloped her. The room had been
infernally hot--and then that confounded cigarette smoke--he had
noticed once or twice that she looked pale--she mustn't come to
another Saturday. She felt herself yielding, as she always did,
to the warm influence of his concern for her, the feminine in her
leaning on the man in him with a conscious intensity of
abandonment. He put her in the hansom, and her hand stole into
his in the darkness. A tear or two rose, and she let them fall.
It was so delicious to cry over imaginary troubles!
That evening, after dinner, he surprised her by reverting to the
subject of his talk. He combined a man's dislike of
uncomfortable questions with an almost feminine skill in eluding
them; and she knew that if he returned to the subject he must
have some special reason for doing so.
"You seem not to have cared for what I said this afternoon. Did
I put the case badly?"
"No--you put it very well."
"Then what did you mean by saying that you would rather not have
me go on with it?"
She glanced at him nervously, her ignorance of his intention
deepening her sense of helplessness.
"I don't think I care to hear such things discussed in public."
"I don't understand you," he exclaimed. Again the feeling that
his surprise was genuine gave an air of obliquity to her own
attitude. She was not sure that she understood herself.
"Won't you explain?" he said with a tinge of impatience.
Her eyes wandered about the familiar drawing-room which had been
the scene of so many of their evening confidences. The shaded
lamps, the quiet-colored walls hung with mezzotints, the pale
spring flowers scattered here and there in Venice glasses and
bowls of old Sevres, recalled, she hardly knew why, the apartment
in which the evenings of her first marriage had been passed--a
wilderness of rosewood and upholstery, with a picture of a Roman
peasant above the mantel-piece, and a Greek slave in "statuary
marble" between the folding-doors of the back drawing-room. It
was a room with which she had never been able to establish any
closer relation than that between a traveller and a railway
station; and now, as she looked about at the surroundings which
stood for her deepest affinities--the room for which she had left
that other room--she was startled by the same sense of
strangeness and unfamiliarity. The prints, the flowers, the
subdued tones of the old porcelains, seemed to typify a
superficial refinement that had no relation to the deeper
significances of life.
Suddenly she heard her husband repeating his question.
"I don't know that I can explain," she faltered.
He drew his arm-chair forward so that he faced her across the
hearth. The light of a reading-lamp fell on his finely drawn
face, which had a kind of surface-sensitiveness akin to the
surface-refinement of its setting.
"Is it that you no longer believe in our ideas?" he asked.
"In our ideas--?"
"The ideas I am trying to teach. The ideas you and I are
supposed to stand for." He paused a moment. "The ideas on which
our marriage was founded."
The blood rushed to her face. He had his reasons, then--she was
sure now that he had his reasons! In the ten years of their
marriage, how often had either of them stopped to consider the
ideas on which it was founded? How often does a man dig about
the basement of his house to examine its foundation? The
foundation is there, of course--the house rests on it--but one
lives abovestairs and not in the cellar. It was she, indeed, who
in the beginning had insisted on reviewing the situation now and
then, on recapitulating the reasons which justified her course,
on proclaiming, from time to time, her adherence to the religion
of personal independence; but she had long ceased to feel the
need of any such ideal standards, and had accepted her marriage
as frankly and naturally as though it had been based on the
primitive needs of the heart, and needed no special sanction to
explain or justify it.
"Of course I still believe in our ideas!" she exclaimed.
"Then I repeat that I don't understand. It was a part of your
theory that the greatest possible publicity should be given to
our view of marriage. Have you changed your mind in that
She hesitated. "It depends on circumstances--on the public one
is addressing. The set of people that the Van Siderens get about
them don't care for the truth or falseness of a doctrine. They
are attracted simply by its novelty."
"And yet it was in just such a set of people that you and I met,
and learned the truth from each other."
"That was different."
"In what way?"
"I was not a young girl, to begin with. It is perfectly
unfitting that young girls should be present at--at such times--
should hear such things discussed--"
"I thought you considered it one of the deepest social wrongs
that such things never ARE discussed before young girls; but that
is beside the point, for I don't remember seeing any young girl
in my audience to-day--"
"Except Una Van Sideren!"
He turned slightly and pushed back the lamp at his elbow.
"Oh, Miss Van Sideren--naturally--"
"The daughter of the house--would you have had her sent out with
"If I had a daughter I should not allow such things to go on in
Westall, stroking his mustache, leaned back with a faint smile.
"I fancy Miss Van Sideren is quite capable of taking care of
"No girl knows how to take care of herself--till it's too late."
"And yet you would deliberately deny her the surest means of
"What do you call the surest means of self-defence?"
"Some preliminary knowledge of human nature in its relation to
the marriage tie."
She made an impatient gesture. "How should you like to marry
that kind of a girl?"
"Immensely--if she were my kind of girl in other respects."
She took up the argument at another point.
"You are quite mistaken if you think such talk does not affect
young girls. Una was in a state of the most absurd exaltation--"
She broke off, wondering why she had spoken.
Westall reopened a magazine which he had laid aside at the
beginning of their discussion. "What you tell me is immensely
flattering to my oratorical talent--but I fear you overrate its
effect. I can assure you that Miss Van Sideren doesn't have to
have her thinking done for her. She's quite capable of doing it
"You seem very familiar with her mental processes!" flashed
unguardedly from his wife.
He looked up quietly from the pages he was cutting.
"I should like to be," he answered. "She interests me."
If there be a distinction in being misunderstood, it was one
denied to Julia Westall when she left her first husband. Every
one was ready to excuse and even to defend her. The world she
adorned agreed that John Arment was "impossible," and hostesses
gave a sigh of relief at the thought that it would no longer be
necessary to ask him to dine.
There had been no scandal connected with the divorce: neither
side had accused the other of the offence euphemistically
described as "statutory." The Arments had indeed been obliged to
transfer their allegiance to a State which recognized desertion
as a cause for divorce, and construed the term so liberally that
the seeds of desertion were shown to exist in every union. Even
Mrs. Arment's second marriage did not make traditional morality
stir in its sleep. It was known that she had not met her second
husband till after she had parted from the first, and she had,
moreover, replaced a rich man by a poor one. Though Clement
Westall was acknowledged to be a rising lawyer, it was generally
felt that his fortunes would not rise as rapidly as his
reputation. The Westalls would probably always have to live
quietly and go out to dinner in cabs. Could there be better
evidence of Mrs. Arment's complete disinterestedness?
If the reasoning by which her friends justified her course was
somewhat cruder and less complex than her own elucidation of the
matter, both explanations led to the same conclusion: John Arment
was impossible. The only difference was that, to his wife, his
impossibility was something deeper than a social
disqualification. She had once said, in ironical defence of her
marriage, that it had at least preserved her from the necessity
of sitting next to him at dinner; but she had not then realized
at what cost the immunity was purchased. John Arment was
impossible; but the sting of his impossibility lay in the fact
that he made it impossible for those about him to be other than
himself. By an unconscious process of elimination he had
excluded from the world everything of which he did not feel a
personal need: had become, as it were, a climate in which only
his own requirements survived. This might seem to imply a
deliberate selfishness; but there was nothing deliberate about
Arment. He was as instinctive as an animal or a child. It was
this childish element in his nature which sometimes for a moment
unsettled his wife's estimate of him. Was it possible that he
was simply undeveloped, that he had delayed, somewhat longer than
is usual, the laborious process of growing up? He had the kind
of sporadic shrewdness which causes it to be said of a dull man
that he is "no fool"; and it was this quality that his wife found
most trying. Even to the naturalist it is annoying to have his
deductions disturbed by some unforeseen aberrancy of form or
function; and how much more so to the wife whose estimate of
herself is inevitably bound up with her judgment of her husband!
Arment's shrewdness did not, indeed, imply any latent
intellectual power; it suggested, rather, potentialities of
feeling, of suffering, perhaps, in a blind rudimentary way, on
which Julia's sensibilities naturally declined to linger. She so
fully understood her own reasons for leaving him that she
disliked to think they were not as comprehensible to her husband.
She was haunted, in her analytic moments, by the look of
perplexity, too inarticulate for words, with which he had
acquiesced to her explanations.
These moments were rare with her, however. Her marriage had been
too concrete a misery to be surveyed philosophically. If she had
been unhappy for complex reasons, the unhappiness was as real as
though it had been uncomplicated. Soul is more bruisable than
flesh, and Julia was wounded in every fibre of her spirit. Her
husband's personality seemed to be closing gradually in on her,
obscuring the sky and cutting off the air, till she felt herself
shut up among the decaying bodies of her starved hopes. A sense
of having been decoyed by some world-old conspiracy into this
bondage of body and soul filled her with despair. If marriage
was the slow life-long acquittal of a debt contracted in
ignorance, then marriage was a crime against human nature. She,
for one, would have no share in maintaining the pretence of which
she had been a victim: the pretence that a man and a woman,
forced into the narrowest of personal relations, must remain
there till the end, though they may have outgrown the span of
each other's natures as the mature tree outgrows the iron brace
about the sapling.
It was in the first heat of her moral indignation that she had
met Clement Westall. She had seen at once that he was
"interested," and had fought off the discovery, dreading any
influence that should draw her back into the bondage of
conventional relations. To ward off the peril she had, with an
almost crude precipitancy, revealed her opinions to him. To her
surprise, she found that he shared them. She was attracted by
the frankness of a suitor who, while pressing his suit, admitted
that he did not believe in marriage. Her worst audacities did
not seem to surprise him: he had thought out all that she had
felt, and they had reached the same conclusion. People grew at
varying rates, and the yoke that was an easy fit for the one
might soon become galling to the other. That was what divorce
was for: the readjustment of personal relations. As soon as
their necessarily transitive nature was recognized they would
gain in dignity as well as in harmony. There would be no farther
need of the ignoble concessions and connivances, the perpetual
sacrifice of personal delicacy and moral pride, by means of which
imperfect marriages were now held together. Each partner to the
contract would be on his mettle, forced to live up to the highest
standard of self-development, on pain of losing the other's
respect and affection. The low nature could no longer drag the
higher down, but must struggle to rise, or remain alone on its
inferior level. The only necessary condition to a harmonious
marriage was a frank recognition of this truth, and a solemn
agreement between the contracting parties to keep faith with
themselves, and not to live together for a moment after complete
accord had ceased to exist between them. The new adultery was
unfaithfulness to self.
It was, as Westall had just reminded her, on this understanding
that they had married. The ceremony was an unimportant
concession to social prejudice: now that the door of divorce
stood open, no marriage need be an imprisonment, and the contract
therefore no longer involved any diminution of self-respect. The
nature of their attachment placed them so far beyond the reach of
such contingencies that it was easy to discuss them with an open
mind; and Julia's sense of security made her dwell with a tender
insistence on Westall's promise to claim his release when he
should cease to love her. The exchange of these vows seemed to
make them, in a sense, champions of the new law, pioneers in the
forbidden realm of individual freedom: they felt that they had
somehow achieved beatitude without martyrdom.
This, as Julia now reviewed the past, she perceived to have been
her theoretical attitude toward marriage. It was unconsciously,
insidiously, that her ten years of happiness with Westall had
developed another conception of the tie; a reversion, rather, to
the old instinct of passionate dependency and possessorship that
now made her blood revolt at the mere hint of change. Change?
Renewal? Was that what they had called it, in their foolish
jargon? Destruction, extermination rather--this rending of a
myriad fibres interwoven with another's being! Another? But he
was not other! He and she were one, one in the mystic sense
which alone gave marriage its significance. The new law was not
for them, but for the disunited creatures forced into a mockery
of union. The gospel she had felt called on to proclaim had no
bearing on her own case. . . . She sent for the doctor and told
him she was sure she needed a nerve tonic.
She took the nerve tonic diligently, but it failed to act as a
sedative to her fears. She did not know what she feared; but
that made her anxiety the more pervasive. Her husband had not
reverted to the subject of his Saturday talks. He was unusually
kind and considerate, with a softening of his quick manner, a
touch of shyness in his consideration, that sickened her with new
fears. She told herself that it was because she looked badly--
because he knew about the doctor and the nerve tonic--that he
showed this deference to her wishes, this eagerness to screen her
from moral draughts; but the explanation simply cleared the way
for fresh inferences.
The week passed slowly, vacantly, like a prolonged Sunday. On
Saturday the morning post brought a note from Mrs. Van Sideren.
Would dear Julia ask Mr. Westall to come half an hour earlier
than usual, as there was to be some music after his "talk"?
Westall was just leaving for his office when his wife read the
note. She opened the drawing-room door and called him back to
deliver the message.
He glanced at the note and tossed it aside. "What a bore! I
shall have to cut my game of racquets. Well, I suppose it can't
be helped. Will you write and say it's all right?"
Julia hesitated a moment, her hand stiffening on the chair-back
against which she leaned.
"You mean to go on with these talks?" she asked.
"I--why not?" he returned; and this time it struck her that his
surprise was not quite unfeigned. The discovery helped her to
"You said you had started them with the idea of pleasing me--"
"I told you last week that they didn't please me."
"Last week? Oh--" He seemed to make an effort of memory. "I
thought you were nervous then; you sent for the doctor the next
"It was not the doctor I needed; it was your assurance--"
Suddenly she felt the floor fail under her. She sank into the
chair with a choking throat, her words, her reasons slipping away
from her like straws down a whirling flood.
"Clement," she cried, "isn't it enough for you to know that I
He turned to close the door behind them; then he walked toward
her and sat down. "What is it that you hate?" he asked gently.
She had made a desperate effort to rally her routed argument.
"I can't bear to have you speak as if--as if--our marriage--were
like the other kind--the wrong kind. When I heard you there, the
other afternoon, before all those inquisitive gossiping people,
proclaiming that husbands and wives had a right to leave each
other whenever they were tired--or had seen some one else--"
Westall sat motionless, his eyes fixed on a pattern of the
"You HAVE ceased to take this view, then?" he said as she broke
off. "You no longer believe that husbands and wives ARE
justified in separating--under such conditions?"
"Under such conditions?" she stammered. "Yes--I still believe
that--but how can we judge for others? What can we know of the
He interrupted her. "I thought it was a fundamental article of
our creed that the special circumstances produced by marriage
were not to interfere with the full assertion of individual
liberty." He paused a moment. "I thought that was your reason
for leaving Arment."
She flushed to the forehead. It was not like him to give a
personal turn to the argument.
"It was my reason," she said simply.
"Well, then--why do you refuse to recognize its validity now?"
"I don't--I don't--I only say that one can't judge for others."
He made an impatient movement. "This is mere hair-splitting.
What you mean is that, the doctrine having served your purpose
when you needed it, you now repudiate it."
"Well," she exclaimed, flushing again, "what if I do? What does
it matter to us?"
Westall rose from his chair. He was excessively pale, and stood
before his wife with something of the formality of a stranger.
"It matters to me," he said in a low voice, "because I do NOT
"And because I had intended to invoke it as"--
He paused and drew his breath deeply. She sat silent, almost
deafened by her heart-beats.
--"as a complete justification of the course I am about to take."
Julia remained motionless. "What course is that?" she asked.
He cleared his throat. "I mean to claim the fulfilment of your
For an instant the room wavered and darkened; then she recovered
a torturing acuteness of vision. Every detail of her
surroundings pressed upon her: the tick of the clock, the slant
of sunlight on the wall, the hardness of the chair-arms that she
grasped, were a separate wound to each sense.
"My promise--" she faltered.
"Your part of our mutual agreement to set each other free if one
or the other should wish to be released."
She was silent again. He waited a moment, shifting his position
nervously; then he said, with a touch of irritability: "You
acknowledge the agreement?"
The question went through her like a shock. She lifted her head
to it proudly. "I acknowledge the agreement," she said.
"And--you don't mean to repudiate it?"
A log on the hearth fell forward, and mechanically he advanced
and pushed it back.
"No," she answered slowly, "I don't mean to repudiate it."
There was a pause. He remained near the hearth, his elbow
resting on the mantel-shelf. Close to his hand stood a little
cup of jade that he had given her on one of their wedding
anniversaries. She wondered vaguely if he noticed it.
"You intend to leave me, then?" she said at length.
His gesture seemed to deprecate the crudeness of the allusion.
"To marry some one else?"
Again his eye and hand protested. She rose and stood before him.
"Why should you be afraid to tell me? Is it Una Van Sideren?"
He was silent.
"I wish you good luck," she said.
She looked up, finding herself alone. She did not remember when
or how he had left the room, or how long afterward she had sat
there. The fire still smouldered on the hearth, but the slant of
sunlight had left the wall.
Her first conscious thought was that she had not broken her word,
that she had fulfilled the very letter of their bargain. There
had been no crying out, no vain appeal to the past, no attempt at
temporizing or evasion. She had marched straight up to the guns.
Now that it was over, she sickened to find herself alive. She
looked about her, trying to recover her hold on reality. Her
identity seemed to be slipping from her, as it disappears in a
physical swoon. "This is my room--this is my house," she heard
herself saying. Her room? Her house? She could almost hear the
walls laugh back at her.
She stood up, a dull ache in every bone. The silence of the room
frightened her. She remembered, now, having heard the front door
close a long time ago: the sound suddenly re-echoed through her
brain. Her husband must have left the house, then--her HUSBAND?
She no longer knew in what terms to think: the simplest phrases
had a poisoned edge. She sank back into her chair, overcome by a
strange weakness. The clock struck ten--it was only ten o'clock!
Suddenly she remembered that she had not ordered dinner . . . or
were they dining out that evening? DINNER--DINING OUT--the old
meaningless phraseology pursued her! She must try to think of
herself as she would think of some one else, a some one
dissociated from all the familiar routine of the past, whose
wants and habits must gradually be learned, as one might spy out
the ways of a strange animal. . .
The clock struck another hour--eleven. She stood up again and
walked to the door: she thought she would go up stairs to her
room. HER room? Again the word derided her. She opened the
door, crossed the narrow hall, and walked up the stairs. As she
passed, she noticed Westall's sticks and umbrellas: a pair of his
gloves lay on the hall table. The same stair-carpet mounted
between the same walls; the same old French print, in its narrow
black frame, faced her on the landing. This visual continuity
was intolerable. Within, a gaping chasm; without, the same
untroubled and familiar surface. She must get away from it
before she could attempt to think. But, once in her room, she
sat down on the lounge, a stupor creeping over her. . .
Gradually her vision cleared. A great deal had happened in the
interval--a wild marching and countermarching of emotions,
arguments, ideas--a fury of insurgent impulses that fell back
spent upon themselves. She had tried, at first, to rally, to
organize these chaotic forces. There must be help somewhere, if
only she could master the inner tumult. Life could not be broken
off short like this, for a whim, a fancy; the law itself would
side with her, would defend her. The law? What claim had she
upon it? She was the prisoner of her own choice: she had been
her own legislator, and she was the predestined victim of the
code she had devised. But this was grotesque, intolerable--a mad
mistake, for which she could not be held accountable! The law
she had despised was still there, might still be invoked . . .
invoked, but to what end? Could she ask it to chain Westall to
her side? SHE had been allowed to go free when she claimed her
freedom--should she show less magnanimity than she had exacted?
Magnanimity? The word lashed her with its irony--one does not
strike an attitude when one is fighting for life! She would
threaten, grovel, cajole . . . she would yield anything to keep
her hold on happiness. Ah, but the difficulty lay deeper! The
law could not help her--her own apostasy could not help her. She
was the victim of the theories she renounced. It was as though
some giant machine of her own making had caught her up in its
wheels and was grinding her to atoms. . .
It was afternoon when she found herself out-of-doors. She walked
with an aimless haste, fearing to meet familiar faces. The day
was radiant, metallic: one of those searching American days so
calculated to reveal the shortcomings of our street-cleaning and
the excesses of our architecture. The streets looked bare and
hideous; everything stared and glittered. She called a passing
hansom, and gave Mrs. Van Sideren's address. She did not know
what had led up to the act; but she found herself suddenly
resolved to speak, to cry out a warning. it was too late to save
herself--but the girl might still be told. The hansom rattled up
Fifth Avenue; she sat with her eyes fixed, avoiding recognition.
At the Van Siderens' door she sprang out and rang the bell.
Action had cleared her brain, and she felt calm and self-
possessed. She knew now exactly what she meant to say.
The ladies were both out . . . the parlor-maid stood waiting for
a card. Julia, with a vague murmur, turned away from the door
and lingered a moment on the sidewalk. Then she remembered that
she had not paid the cab-driver. She drew a dollar from her
purse and handed it to him. He touched his hat and drove off,
leaving her alone in the long empty street. She wandered away
westward, toward strange thoroughfares, where she was not likely
to meet acquaintances. The feeling of aimlessness had returned.
Once she found herself in the afternoon torrent of Broadway,
swept past tawdry shops and flaming theatrical posters, with a
succession of meaningless faces gliding by in the opposite
direction. . .
A feeling of faintness reminded her that she had not eaten since
morning. She turned into a side street of shabby houses, with
rows of ash-barrels behind bent area railings. In a basement
window she saw the sign LADIES' RESTAURANT: a pie and a dish of
doughnuts lay against the dusty pane like petrified food in an
ethnological museum. She entered, and a young woman with a weak
mouth and a brazen eye cleared a table for her near the window.
The table was covered with a red and white cotton cloth and
adorned with a bunch of celery in a thick tumbler and a salt-
cellar full of grayish lumpy salt. Julia ordered tea, and sat a
long time waiting for it. She was glad to be away from the noise
and confusion of the streets. The low-ceilinged room was empty,
and two or three waitresses with thin pert faces lounged in the
background staring at her and whispering together. At last the
tea was brought in a discolored metal teapot. Julia poured a cup
and drank it hastily. It was black and bitter, but it flowed
through her veins like an elixir. She was almost dizzy with
exhilaration. Oh, how tired, how unutterably tired she had been!
She drank a second cup, blacker and bitterer, and now her mind
was once more working clearly. She felt as vigorous, as
decisive, as when she had stood on the Van Siderens' door-step--
but the wish to return there had subsided. She saw now the
futility of such an attempt--the humiliation to which it might
have exposed her. . . The pity of it was that she did not know
what to do next. The short winter day was fading, and she
realized that she could not remain much longer in the restaurant
without attracting notice. She paid for her tea and went out
into the street. The lamps were alight, and here and there a
basement shop cast an oblong of gas-light across the fissured
pavement. In the dusk there was something sinister about the
aspect of the street, and she hastened back toward Fifth Avenue.
She was not used to being out alone at that hour.
At the corner of Fifth Avenue she paused and stood watching the
stream of carriages. At last a policeman caught sight of her and
signed to her that he would take her across. She had not meant
to cross the street, but she obeyed automatically, and presently
found herself on the farther corner. There she paused again for
a moment; but she fancied the policeman was watching her, and
this sent her hastening down the nearest side street. . . After
that she walked a long time, vaguely. . . Night had fallen, and
now and then, through the windows of a passing carriage, she
caught the expanse of an evening waistcoat or the shimmer of an
opera cloak. . .
Suddenly she found herself in a familiar street. She stood still
a moment, breathing quickly. She had turned the corner without
noticing whither it led; but now, a few yards ahead of her, she
saw the house in which she had once lived--her first husband's
house. The blinds were drawn, and only a faint translucence
marked the windows and the transom above the door. As she stood
there she heard a step behind her, and a man walked by in the
direction of the house. He walked slowly, with a heavy middle-
aged gait, his head sunk a little between the shoulders, the red
crease of his neck visible above the fur collar of his overcoat.
He crossed the street, went up the steps of the house, drew forth
a latch-key, and let himself in. . .
There was no one else in sight. Julia leaned for a long time
against the area-rail at the corner, her eyes fixed on the front
of the house. The feeling of physical weariness had returned,
but the strong tea still throbbed in her veins and lit her brain
with an unnatural clearness. Presently she heard another step
draw near, and moving quickly away, she too crossed the street
and mounted the steps of the house. The impulse which had
carried her there prolonged itself in a quick pressure of the
electric bell--then she felt suddenly weak and tremulous, and
grasped the balustrade for support. The door opened and a young
footman with a fresh inexperienced face stood on the threshold.
Julia knew in an instant that he would admit her.
"I saw Mr. Arment going in just now," she said. "Will you ask
him to see me for a moment?"
The footman hesitated. "I think Mr. Arment has gone up to dress
for dinner, madam."
Julia advanced into the hall. "I am sure he will see me--I will
not detain him long," she said. She spoke quietly,
authoritatively, in the tone which a good servant does not
mistake. The footman had his hand on the drawing-room door.
"I will tell him, madam. What name, please?"
Julia trembled: she had not thought of that. "Merely say a
lady," she returned carelessly.
The footman wavered and she fancied herself lost; but at that
instant the door opened from within and John Arment stepped into
the hall. He drew back sharply as he saw her, his florid face
turning sallow with the shock; then the blood poured back to it,
swelling the veins on his temples and reddening the lobes of his
It was long since Julia had seen him, and she was startled at the
change in his appearance. He had thickened, coarsened, settled
down into the enclosing flesh. But she noted this insensibly:
her one conscious thought was that, now she was face to face with
him, she must not let him escape till he had heard her. Every
pulse in her body throbbed with the urgency of her message.
She went up to him as he drew back. "I must speak to you," she
Arment hesitated, red and stammering. Julia glanced at the
footman, and her look acted as a warning. The instinctive
shrinking from a "scene" predominated over every other impulse,
and Arment said slowly: "Will you come this way?"
He followed her into the drawing-room and closed the door.
Julia, as she advanced, was vaguely aware that the room at least
was unchanged: time had not mitigated its horrors. The contadina
still lurched from the chimney-breast, and the Greek slave
obstructed the threshold of the inner room. The place was alive
with memories: they started out from every fold of the yellow
satin curtains and glided between the angles of the rosewood
furniture. But while some subordinate agency was carrying these
impressions to her brain, her whole conscious effort was centred
in the act of dominating Arment's will. The fear that he would
refuse to hear her mounted like fever to her brain. She felt her
purpose melt before it, words and arguments running into each
other in the heat of her longing. For a moment her voice failed
her, and she imagined herself thrust out before she could speak;
but as she was struggling for a word, Arment pushed a chair
forward, and said quietly: "You are not well."
The sound of his voice steadied her. It was neither kind nor
unkind--a voice that suspended judgment, rather, awaiting
unforeseen developments. She supported herself against the back
of the chair and drew a deep breath. "Shall I send for
something?" he continued, with a cold embarrassed politeness.
Julia raised an entreating hand. "No--no--thank you. I am quite
He paused midway toward the bell and turned on her. "Then may I
"Yes," she interrupted him. "I came here because I wanted to see
you. There is something I must tell you."
Arment continued to scrutinize her. "I am surprised at that," he
said. "I should have supposed that any communication you may
wish to make could have been made through our lawyers."
"Our lawyers!" She burst into a little laugh. "I don't think
they could help me--this time."
Arment's face took on a barricaded look. "If there is any
question of help--of course--"
It struck her, whimsically, that she had seen that look when some
shabby devil called with a subscription-book. Perhaps he thought
she wanted him to put his name down for so much in sympathy--or
even in money. . . The thought made her laugh again. She saw
his look change slowly to perplexity. All his facial changes
were slow, and she remembered, suddenly, how it had once diverted
her to shift that lumbering scenery with a word. For the first
time it struck her that she had been cruel. "There IS a question
of help," she said in a softer key: "you can help me; but only by
listening. . . I want to tell you something. . ."
Arment's resistance was not yielding. "Would it not be easier
to--write?" he suggested.
She shook her head. "There is no time to write . . . and it
won't take long." She raised her head and their eyes met. "My
husband has left me," she said.
"Westall--?" he stammered, reddening again.
"Yes. This morning. Just as I left you. Because he was tired
The words, uttered scarcely above a whisper, seemed to dilate to
the limit of the room. Arment looked toward the door; then his
embarrassed glance returned to Julia.
"I am very sorry," he said awkwardly.
"Thank you," she murmured.
"But I don't see--"
"No--but you will--in a moment. Won't you listen to me?
Please!" Instinctively she had shifted her position putting
herself between him and the door. "It happened this morning,"
she went on in short breathless phrases. "I never suspected
anything--I thought we were--perfectly happy. . . Suddenly he
told me he was tired of me . . . there is a girl he likes better. . .
He has gone to her. . ." As she spoke, the lurking anguish
rose upon her, possessing her once more to the exclusion of every
other emotion. Her eyes ached, her throat swelled with it, and
two painful tears burnt a way down her face.
Arment's constraint was increasing visibly. "This--this is very
unfortunate," he began. "But I should say the law--"
"The law?" she echoed ironically. "When he asks for his
"You are not obliged to give it."
"You were not obliged to give me mine--but you did."
He made a protesting gesture.
"You saw that the law couldn't help you--didn't you?" she went
on. "That is what I see now. The law represents material
rights--it can't go beyond. If we don't recognize an inner law . . .
the obligation that love creates . . . being loved as well as
loving . . . there is nothing to prevent our spreading ruin
unhindered . . . is there?" She raised her head plaintively,
with the look of a bewildered child. "That is what I see now . . .
what I wanted to tell you. He leaves me because he's tired . . .
but I was not tired; and I don't understand why he is. That's
the dreadful part of it--the not understanding: I hadn't realized
what it meant. But I've been thinking of it all day, and things
have come back to me--things I hadn't noticed . . . when you and
I. . ." She moved closer to him, and fixed her eyes on his with
the gaze that tries to reach beyond words. "I see now that YOU
didn't understand--did you?"
Their eyes met in a sudden shock of comprehension: a veil seemed
to be lifted between them. Arment's lip trembled.
"No," he said, "I didn't understand."
She gave a little cry, almost of triumph. "I knew it! I knew
it! You wondered--you tried to tell me--but no words came. . .
You saw your life falling in ruins . . . the world slipping from
you . . . and you couldn't speak or move!"
She sank down on the chair against which she had been leaning.
"Now I know--now I know," she repeated.
"I am very sorry for you," she heard Arment stammer.
She looked up quickly. "That's not what I came for. I don't
want you to be sorry. I came to ask you to forgive me . . . for
not understanding that YOU didn't understand. . . That's all I
wanted to say." She rose with a vague sense that the end had
come, and put out a groping hand toward the door.
Arment stood motionless. She turned to him with a faint smile.
"You forgive me?"
"There is nothing to forgive--"
"Then will you shake hands for good-by?" She felt his hand in
hers: it was nerveless, reluctant.
"Good-by," she repeated. "I understand now."
She opened the door and passed out into the hall. As she did so,
Arment took an impulsive step forward; but just then the footman,
who was evidently alive to his obligations, advanced from the
background to let her out. She heard Arment fall back. The
footman threw open the door, and she found herself outside in the
The End of The Reckoning
BOTTICELLI'S MADONNA IN THE LOUVRE.
WHAT strange presentiment, O Mother, lies
On thy waste brow and sadly-folded lips,
Forefeeling the Light's terrible eclipse
On Calvary, as if love made thee wise,
And thou couldst read in those dear infant eyes
The sorrow that beneath their smiling sleeps,
And guess what bitter tears a mother weeps
When the cross darkens her unclouded skies?
Sad Lady, if some mother, passing thee,
Should feel a throb of thy foreboding pain,
And think--"My child at home clings so to me,
With the same smile . . . and yet in vain, in vain,
Since even this Jesus died on Calvary"--
Say to her then: "He also rose again."
THE TOMB OF ILARIA GIUNIGI.
ILARIA, thou that wert so fair and dear
That death would fain disown thee, grief made wise
With prophecy thy husband's widowed eyes
And bade him call the master's art to rear
Thy perfect image on the sculptured bier,
With dreaming lids, hands laid in peaceful guise
Beneath the breast that seems to fall and rise,
And lips that at love's call should answer, "Here!"
First-born of the Renascence, when thy soul
Cast the sweet robing of the flesh aside,
Into these lovelier marble limbs it stole,
Regenerate in art's sunrise clear and wide
As saints who, having kept faith's raiment whole,
Change it above for garments glorified.
PURE form, that like some chalice of old time
Contain'st the liquid of the poet's thought
Within thy curving hollow, gem-enwrought
With interwoven traceries of rhyme,
While o'er thy brim the bubbling fancies climb,
What thing am I, that undismayed have sought
To pour my verse with trembling hand untaught
Into a shape so small yet so sublime?
Because perfection haunts the hearts of men,
Because thy sacred chalice gathered up
The wine of Petrarch, Shakspere, Shelley--then
Receive these tears of failure as they drop
(Sole vintage of my life), since I am fain
To pour them in a consecrated cup.
LA VIERGE AU DONATEUR.
HERE by the ample river's argent sweep,
Bosomed in tilth and vintage to her walls,
A tower-crowned Cybele in armored sleep
The city lies, fat plenty in her halls,
With calm, parochial spires that hold in fee
The friendly gables clustered at their base,
And, equipoised o'er tower and market-place,
The Gothic minster's winged immensity;
And in that narrow burgh, with equal mood,
Two placid hearts, to all life's good resigned,
Might, from the altar to the lych-gate, find
Long years of peace and dreamless plenitude.
Yon strange blue city crowns a scarped steep
No mortal foot hath bloodlessly essayed;
Dreams and illusions beacon from its keep,
But at the gate an Angel bares his blade;
And tales are told of those who thought to gain
At dawn its ramparts; but when evening fell
Far off they saw each fading pinnacle
Lit with wild lightnings from the heaven of pain;
Yet there two souls, whom life's perversities
Had mocked with want in plenty, tears in mirth,
Might meet in dreams, ungarmented of earth,
And drain Joy's awful chalice to the lees.
LIKE Crusoe with the bootless gold we stand
Upon the desert verge of death, and say:
"What shall avail the woes of yesterday
To buy to-morrow's wisdom, in the land
Whose currency is strange unto our hand?
In life's small market they have served to pay
Some late-found rapture, could we but delay
Till Time hath matched our means to our demand."
But otherwise Fate wills it, for, behold,
Our gathered strength of individual pain,
When Time's long alchemy hath made it gold,
Dies with us--hoarded all these years in vain,
Since those that might be heir to it the mould
Renew, and coin themselves new griefs again.
O, Death, we come full-handed to thy gate,
Rich with strange burden of the mingled years,
Gains and renunciations, mirth and tears,
And love's oblivion, and remembering hate,
Nor know we what compulsion laid such freight
Upon our souls--and shall our hopes and fears
Buy nothing of thee, Death? Behold our wares,
And sell us the one joy for which we wait.
Had we lived longer, life had such for sale,
With the last coin of sorrow purchased cheap,
But now we stand before thy shadowy pale,
And all our longings lie within thy keep--
Death, can it be the years shall naught avail?
"Not so," Death answered, "they shall purchase sleep."
IMMENSE, august, like some Titanic bloom,
The mighty choir unfolds its lithic core,
Petalled with panes of azure, gules and or,
Splendidly lambent in the Gothic gloom,
And stamened with keen flamelets that illume
The pale high-altar. On the prayer-worn floor,
By surging worshippers thick-thronged of yore,
A few brown crones, familiars of the tomb,
The stranded driftwood of Faith's ebbing sea--
For these alone the finials fret the skies,
The topmost bosses shake their blossoms free,
While from the triple portals, with grave eyes,
Tranquil, and fixed upon eternity,
The cloud of witnesses still testifies.
The crimson panes like blood-drops stigmatize
The western floor. The aisles are mute and cold.
A rigid fetich in her robe of gold
The Virgin of the Pillar, with blank eyes,
Enthroned beneath her votive canopies,
Gathers a meagre remnant to her fold.
The rest is solitude; the church, grown old,
Stands stark and gray beneath the burning skies.
Wellnigh again its mighty frame-work grows
To be a part of nature's self, withdrawn
From hot humanity's impatient woes;
The floor is ridged like some rude mountain lawn,
And in the east one giant window shows
The roseate coldness of an Alp at dawn.
LIFE, like a marble block, is given to all,
A blank, inchoate mass of years and days,
Whence one with ardent chisel swift essays
Some shape of strength or symmetry to call;
One shatters it in bits to mend a wall;
One in a craftier hand the chisel lays,
And one, to wake the mirth in Lesbia's gaze,
Carves it apace in toys fantastical.
But least is he who, with enchanted eyes
Filled with high visions of fair shapes to be,
Muses which god he shall immortalize
In the proud Parian's perpetuity,
Till twilight warns him from the punctual skies
That the night cometh wherein none shall see.
AN AUTUMN SUNSET
LEAGUERED in fire
The wild black promontories of the coast extend
Their savage silhouettes;
The sun in universal carnage sets,
And, halting higher,
The motionless storm-clouds mass their sullen threats,
Like an advancing mob in sword-points penned,
That, balked, yet stands at bay.
Mid-zenith hangs the fascinated day
In wind-lustrated hollows crystalline,
A wan valkyrie whose wide pinions shine
Across the ensanguined ruins of the fray,
And in her lifted hand swings high o'erhead,
Above the waste of war,
The silver torch-light of the evening star
Wherewith to search the faces of the dead.
Lagooned in gold,
Seem not those jetty promontories rather
The outposts of some ancient land forlorn,
Uncomforted of morn,
Where old oblivions gather,
The melancholy, unconsoling fold
Of all things that go utterly to death
And mix no more, no more
With life's perpetually awakening breath?
Shall Time not ferry me to such a shore,
Over such sailless seas,
To walk with hope's slain importunities
In miserable marriage? Nay, shall not
All things be there forgot,
Save the sea's golden barrier and the black
Dead to all shames, forgotten of all glories,
Shall I not wander there, a shadow's shade,
A spectre self-destroyed,
So purged of all remembrance and sucked back
Into the primal void,
That should we on that shore phantasmal meet
I should not know the coming of your feet?
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