The Hermit And The Wild Woman
Part 1 out of 4
This etext was produced by Charles Aldarondo (Aldarondo@yahoo.com).
THE HERMIT AND THE WILD WOMAN AND OTHER STORIES
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I _The Hermit and the Wild Woman_
II _The Last Asset_
III _In Trust_
IV _The Pretext_
V _The Verdict_
VI _The Pot-Boiler_
VII _The Best Man_
THE HERMIT AND THE WILD WOMAN
THE Hermit lived in a cave in the hollow of a hill. Below him was a
glen, with a stream in a coppice of oaks and alders, and on the
farther side of the valley, half a day's journey distant, another
hill, steep and bristling, which raised aloft a little walled town
with Ghibelline swallow-tails notched against the sky.
When the Hermit was a lad, and lived in the town, the crenellations
of the walls had been square-topped, and a Guelf lord had flown his
standard from the keep. Then one day a steel-coloured line of
men-at-arms rode across the valley, wound up the hill and battered
in the gates. Stones and Greek fire rained from the ramparts,
shields clashed in the streets, blade sprang at blade in passages
and stairways, pikes and lances dripped above huddled flesh, and all
the still familiar place was a stew of dying bodies. The boy fled
from it in horror. He had seen his father go forth and not come
back, his mother drop dead from an arquebuse shot as she leaned from
the platform of the tower, his little sister fall with a slit throat
across the altar steps of the chapel--and he ran, ran for his life,
through the slippery streets, over warm twitching bodies, between
legs of soldiers carousing, out of the gates, past burning
farmsteads, trampled wheat-fields, orchards stripped and broken,
till the still woods received him and he fell face down on the
He had no wish to go back. His longing was to live hidden from life.
Up the hillside he found a hollow in the rock, and built before it a
porch of boughs bound together with withies. He fed on nuts and
roots, and on trout which he caught with his hands under the stones
in the stream. He had always been a quiet boy, liking to sit at his
mother's feet and watch the flowers grow on her embroidery frame,
while the chaplain read aloud the histories of the Desert Fathers
from a great silver-clasped volume. He would rather have been bred a
clerk and scholar than a knight's son, and his happiest moments were
when he served mass for the chaplain in the early morning, and felt
his heart flutter up and up like a lark, up and up till it was lost
in infinite space and brightness. Almost as happy were the hours
when he sat beside the foreign painter who came over the mountains
to paint the chapel, and under whose brush celestial faces grew out
of the rough wall as if he had sown some magic seed which flowered
while you watched it. With the appearing of every gold-rimmed face
the boy felt he had won another friend, a friend who would come and
bend above him at night, keeping off the ugly visions which haunted
his pillow--visions of the gnawing monsters about the church-porch,
evil-faced bats and dragons, giant worms and winged bristling hogs,
a devil's flock who crept down from the stone-work at night and
hunted the souls of sinful children through the town. With the
growth of the picture the bright mailed angels thronged so close
about the boy's bed that between their interwoven wings not a snout
or a claw could force itself; and he would turn over sighing on his
pillow, which felt as soft and warm as if it had been lined with
down from those sheltering pinions.
All these thoughts came back to him now in his cave on the
cliff-side. The stillness seemed to enclose him with wings, to fold
him away from life and evil. He was never restless or discontented.
He loved the long silent empty days, each one as like the other as
pearls in a well-matched string. Above all he liked to have time to
save his soul. He had been greatly troubled about his soul since a
band of Flagellants had passed through the town, exhibiting their
gaunt scourged bodies and exhorting the people to turn from soft
raiment and delicate fare, from marriage and money-getting and
dancing and games, and think only how they might escape the devil's
talons and the great red blaze of hell. For days that red blaze hung
on the edge of the boy's thoughts like the light of a burning city
across a plain. There seemed to be so many pitfalls to avoid--so
many things were wicked which one might have supposed to be
harmless. How could a child of his age tell? He dared not for a
moment think of anything else. And the scene of sack and slaughter
from which he had fled gave shape and distinctness to that blood-red
vision. Hell was like that, only a million million times worse. Now
he knew how flesh looked when devils' pincers tore it, how the
shrieks of the damned sounded, and how roasting bodies smelled. How
could a Christian spare one moment of his days and nights from the
long long struggle to keep safe from the wrath to come?
Gradually the horror faded, leaving only a tranquil pleasure in the
minute performance of his religious duties. His mind was not
naturally given to the contemplation of evil, and in the blessed
solitude of his new life his thoughts dwelt more and more on the
beauty of holiness. His desire was to be perfectly good, and to live
in love and charity with his fellow-men; and how could one do this
without fleeing from them?
At first his life was difficult, for in the winter season he was put
to great straits to feed himself; and there were nights when the sky
was like an iron vault, and a hoarse wind rattled the oakwood in the
valley, and a great fear came on him that was worse than any cold.
But in time it became known to his townsfolk and to the peasants in
the neighbouring valleys that he had withdrawn to the wilderness to
lead a godly life; and after that his worst hardships were over, for
pious persons brought him gifts of oil and dried fruit, one good
woman gave him seeds from her garden, another spun for him a hodden
gown, and others would have brought him all manner of food and
clothing, had he not refused to accept anything but for his bare
needs. The good woman who had given him the seeds showed him also
how to build a little garden on the southern ledge of his cliff, and
all one summer the Hermit carried up soil from the streamside, and
the next he carried up water to keep his garden green. After that
the fear of solitude quite passed from him, for he was so busy all
day long that at night he had much ado to fight off the demon of
sleep, which Saint Arsenius the Abbot has denounced as the chief foe
of the solitary. His memory kept good store of prayers and litanies,
besides long passages from the Mass and other offices, and he marked
the hours of his day by different acts of devotion. On Sundays and
feast days, when the wind was set his way, he could hear the church
bells from his native town, and these helped him to follow the
worship of the faithful, and to bear in mind the seasons of the
liturgical year; and what with carrying up water from the river,
digging in the garden, gathering fagots for his fire, observing his
religious duties, and keeping his thoughts continually upon the
salvation of his soul, the Hermit knew not a moment's idleness.
At first, during his night vigils, he had felt a great fear of the
stars, which seemed to set a cruel watch upon him, as though they
spied out the frailty of his heart and took the measure of his
littleness. But one day a wandering clerk, to whom he chanced to
give a night's shelter, explained to him that, in the opinion of the
most learned doctors of theology, the stars were inhabited by the
spirits of the blessed, and this thought brought great consolation
to the Hermit. Even on winter nights, when the eagle's wings clanged
among the peaks, and he heard the long howl of wolves about the
sheep-cotes in the valley, he no longer felt any fear, but thought
of those sounds as representing the evil voices of the world, and
hugged himself in the solitude of his cave. Sometimes, to keep
himself awake, he composed lauds in honour of Christ and the saints,
and they seemed to him so pleasant that he feared to forget them, so
after much debate with himself he decided to ask a friendly priest
from the valley, who sometimes visited him, to write down the lauds;
and the priest wrote them down on comely sheepskin, which the Hermit
dried and prepared with his own hands. When the Hermit saw them
written down they appeared to him so beautiful that he feared to
commit the sin of vanity if he looked at them too often, so he hid
them between two smooth stones in his cave, and vowed that he would
take them out only once in the year, at Easter, when our Lord has
risen and it is meet that Christians should rejoice. And this vow he
faithfully kept; but, alas, when Easter drew near, he found he was
looking forward to the blessed festival less because of our Lord's
rising than because he should then be able to read his pleasant
lauds written on fair sheepskin; and thereupon he took a vow that he
would not look upon the lauds till he lay dying.
So the Hermit, for many years, lived to the glory of God and in
great peace of mind.
ONE day he resolved to set forth on a visit to the Saint of the
Rock, who lived on the other side of the mountains. Travellers had
brought the Hermit report of this solitary, how he lived in great
holiness and austerity in a desert place among the hills, where snow
lay all winter, and in summer the sun beat down cruelly. The Saint,
it appeared, had vowed that he would withdraw from the world to a
spot where there was neither shade nor water, lest he should be
tempted to take his ease and think less continually upon his Maker;
but wherever he went he found a spreading tree or a gushing spring,
till at last he climbed up to the bare heights where nothing grows,
and where the only water comes from the melting of the snow in
spring. Here he found a tall rock rising from the ground, and in it
he scooped a hollow with his own hands, labouring for five years and
wearing his fingers to the bone. Then he seated himself in the
hollow, which faced the west, so that in winter he should have small
warmth of the sun and in summer be consumed by it; and there he had
sat without moving for years beyond number.
The Hermit was greatly drawn by the tale of such austerities, which
in his humility he did not dream of emulating, but desired, for his
soul's good, to contemplate and praise; so one day he bound sandals
to his feet, cut an alder staff from the stream, and set out to
visit the Saint of the Rock.
It was the pleasant spring season, when seeds are shooting and the
bud is on the tree. The Hermit was troubled at the thought of
leaving his plants without water, but he could not travel in winter
by reason of the snows, and in summer he feared the garden would
suffer even more from his absence. So he set out, praying that rain
might fall while he was away, and hoping to return again in five
days. The peasants labouring in the fields left their work to ask
his blessing; and they would even have followed him in great numbers
had he not told them that he was bound on a pilgrimage to the Saint
of the Rock, and that it behoved him to go alone, as one solitary
seeking another. So they respected his wish, and he went on and
entered the forest. In the forest he walked for two days and slept
for two nights. He heard the wolves crying, and foxes rustling in
the covert, and once, at twilight, a shaggy brown man peered at him
through the leaves and galloped away with a soft padding of hoofs;
but the Hermit feared neither wild beasts nor evil-doers, nor even
the fauns and satyrs who linger in unhallowed forest depths where
the Cross has not been raised; for he said: "If I die, I die to the
glory of God, and if I live it must be to the same end." Only he
felt a secret pang at the thought that he might die without seeing
his lauds again. But the third day, without misadventure, he came
out on another valley.
Then he began to climb the mountain, first through brown woods of
beech and oak, then through pine and broom, and then across red
stony ledges where only a pinched growth of lentisk and briar spread
in patches over the rock. By this time he thought to have reached
his goal, but for two more days he fared on through the same scene,
with the sky close over him and the green valleys of earth receding
far below. Sometimes for hours he saw only the red glistering slopes
tufted with thin bushes, and the hard blue heaven so close that it
seemed his hand could touch it; then at a turn of the path the rocks
rolled apart, the eye plunged down a long pine-clad defile, and
beyond it the forest flowed in mighty undulations to a plain shining
with cities and another mountain-range many days' journey away. To
some eyes this would have been a terrible spectacle, reminding the
wayfarer of his remoteness from his kind, and of the perils which
lurk in waste places and the weakness of man against them; but the
Hermit was so mated to solitude, and felt such love for all things
created, that to him the bare rocks sang of their Maker and the vast
distance bore witness to His greatness. So His servant journeyed on
But one morning, after a long climb over steep and difficult slopes,
the wayfarer halted suddenly at a bend of the way; for beyond the
defile at his feet there was no plain shining with cities, but a
bare expanse of shaken silver that reached away to the rim of the
world; and the Hermit knew it was the sea. Fear seized him then, for
it was terrible to see that great plain move like a heaving bosom,
and, as he looked on it, the earth seemed also to heave beneath him.
But presently he remembered how Christ had walked the waves, and how
even Saint Mary of Egypt, who was a great sinner, had crossed the
waters of Jordan dry-shod to receive the Sacrament from the Abbot
Zosimus; and then the Hermit's heart grew still, and he sang as he
went down the mountain: "The sea shall praise Thee, O Lord."
All day he kept seeing it and then losing it; but toward night he
came to a cleft of the hills, and lay down in a pine-wood to sleep.
He had now been six days gone, and once and again he thought
anxiously of his herbs; but he said to himself: "What though my
garden perish, if I see a holy man face to face and praise God in
his company?" So he was never long cast down.
Before daylight he was afoot under the stars; and leaving the wood
where he had slept, began climbing the face of a tall cliff, where
he had to clutch the jutting ledges with his hands, and with every
step he gained, a rock seemed thrust forth to hurl him back. So,
footsore and bleeding, he reached a little stony plain as the sun
dropped to the sea; and in the red light he saw a hollow rock, and
the Saint sitting in the hollow.
The Hermit fell on his knees, praising God; then he rose and ran
across the plain to the rock. As he drew near he saw that the Saint
was a very old man, clad in goatskin, with a long white beard. He
sat motionless, his hands on his knees, and two red eye-sockets
turned to the sunset. Near him was a young boy in skins who brushed
the flies from his face; but they always came back, and settled on
the rheum which ran from his eyes.
He did not appear to hear or see the approach of the Hermit, but sat
quite still till the boy said: "Father, here is a pilgrim."
Then he lifted up his voice and asked angrily who was there and what
the stranger sought.
The Hermit answered: "Father, the report of your holy practices came
to me a long way off, and being myself a solitary, though not worthy
to be named with you for godliness, it seemed fitting that I should
cross the mountains to visit you, that we might sit together and
speak in praise of solitude."
The Saint replied: "You fool, how can two sit together and praise
solitude, since by so doing they put an end to the thing they
pretend to honour?"
The Hermit, at that, was sorely abashed, for he had thought his
speech out on the way, reciting it many times over; and now it
appeared to him vainer than the crackling of thorns under a pot.
Nevertheless he took heart and said: "True, Father; but may not two
sinners sit together and praise Christ, who has taught them the
blessings of solitude?"
But the other only answered: "If you had really learned the
blessings of solitude you would not squander them in idle
wandering." And, the Hermit not knowing how to reply, he said again:
"If two sinners meet they can best praise Christ by going each his
own way in silence."
After that he shut his lips and continued motionless while the boy
brushed the flies from his eye-sockets; but the Hermit's heart sank,
and for the first time he felt all the weariness of the way he had
fared, and the great distance dividing him from home.
He had meant to take counsel with the Saint concerning his lauds,
and whether he ought to destroy them; but now he had no heart to say
another word, and turning away he began to descend the mountain.
Presently he heard steps running behind him, and the boy came up and
pressed a honey-comb in his hand.
"You have come a long way and must be hungry," he said; but before
the Hermit could thank him he had hastened back to his task. So the
Hermit crept down the mountain till he reached the wood where he had
slept before; and there he made his bed again, but he had no mind to
eat before sleeping, for his heart hungered more than his body; and
his salt tears made the honey-comb bitter.
ON the fourteenth day he came to the valley below his cliff, and saw
the walls of his native town against the sky. He was footsore and
heavy of heart, for his long pilgrimage had brought him only
weariness and humiliation, and as no drop of rain had fallen he knew
that his garden must have perished. So he climbed the cliff heavily
and reached his cave at the angelus.
But there a great wonder awaited him. For though the scant earth of
the hillside was parched and crumbling, his garden-soil reeked with
moisture, and his plants had shot up, fresh and glistening, to a
height they had never before attained. More wonderful still, the
tendrils of the gourd had been trained about his door, and kneeling
down he saw that the earth had been loosened between the rows of
sprouting vegetables, and that every leaf sparkled with drops as
though the rain had but newly ceased. Then it appeared to the Hermit
that he beheld a miracle, but doubting his own deserts he refused to
believe himself worthy of such grace, and went within doors to
ponder on what had befallen him. And on his bed of rushes he saw a
young woman sleeping, clad in an outlandish garment, with strange
amulets about her neck.
The sight was very terrifying to the Hermit, for he recalled how
often the demon, in tempting the Desert Fathers, had taken the form
of a woman for their undoing; but he reflected that, since there was
nothing pleasing to him in the sight of this female, who was brown
as a nut and lean with wayfaring, he ran no great danger in looking
at her. At first he took her for a wandering Egyptian, but as he
looked he perceived, among the heathen charms, an Agnus Dei in her
bosom; and this so surprised him that he bent over and called on her
She sprang up with a start, but seeing the Hermit's gown and staff,
and his face above her, lay quiet and said to him: "I have watered
your garden daily in return for the beans and oil that I took from
"Who are you, and how do you come here?" asked the Hermit.
She said: "I am a wild woman and live in the woods."
And when he pressed her again to tell him why she had sought shelter
in his cave, she said that the land to the south, whence she came,
was full of armed companies and bands of marauders, and that great
license and bloodshed prevailed there; and this the Hermit knew to
be true, for he had heard of it on his homeward journey. The Wild
Woman went on to tell him that she had been hunted through the woods
like an animal by a band of drunken men-at-arms, Lansknechts from
the north by their barbarous dress and speech, and at length,
starving and spent, had come on his cave and hidden herself from her
pursuers. "For," she said, "I fear neither wild beasts nor the
woodland people, charcoal burners, Egyptians, wandering minstrels or
chapmen; even the highway robbers do not touch me, because I am poor
and brown; but these armed men flown with blood and wine are more
terrible than wolves and tigers."
And the Hermit's heart melted, for he thought of his little sister
lying with her throat slit across the altar steps, and of the scenes
of blood and rapine from which he had fled away into the wilderness.
So he said to the stranger that it was not meet he should house her
in his cave, but that he would send a messenger to the town across
the valley, and beg a pious woman there to give her lodging and work
in her household. "For," said he, "I perceive by the blessed image
about your neck that you are not a heathen wilding, but a child of
Christ, though so far astray from Him in the desert."
"Yes," she said, "I am a Christian, and know as many prayers as you;
but I will never set foot in city walls again, lest I be caught and
put back into the convent."
"What," cried the Hermit with a start, "you are a runagate nun?" And
he crossed himself, and again thought of the demon.
She smiled and said: "It is true I was once a cloistered woman, but
I will never willingly be one again. Now drive me forth if you like;
but I cannot go far, for I have a wounded foot, which I got in
climbing the cliff with water for your garden." And she pointed to a
deep cut in her foot.
At that, for all his fear, the Hermit was moved to pity, and washed
the cut and bound it up; and as he did so he bethought him that
perhaps his strange visitor had been sent to him not for his soul's
undoing but for her own salvation. And from that hour he earnestly
yearned to save her.
But it was not fitting that she should remain in his cave; so,
having given her water to drink and a handful of lentils, he raised
her up and putting his staff in her hand guided her to a hollow not
far off in the face of the cliff. And while he was doing this he
heard the sunset bells ring across the valley, and set about
reciting the _Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae_; and she joined in
very piously, with her hands folded, not missing a word.
Nevertheless the thought of her wickedness weighed on him, and the
next day when he went to carry her food he asked her to tell him how
it came about that she had fallen into such abominable sin. And this
is the story she told.
I WAS born (said she) in the north country, where the winters are
long and cold, where snow sometimes falls in the valleys, and the
high mountains for months are white with it. My father's castle is
in a tall green wood, where the winds always rustle, and a cold
river runs down from the ice-gorges. South of us was the wide plain,
glowing with heat, but above us were stony passes where the eagle
nests and the storms howl; in winter great fires roared in our
chimneys, and even in summer there was always a cool air off the
gorges. But when I was a child my mother went southward in the great
Empress's train and I went with her. We travelled many days, across
plains and mountains, and saw Rome, where the Pope lives in a golden
palace, and many other cities, till we came to the great Emperor's
court. There for two years or more we lived in pomp and merriment,
for it was a wonderful court, full of mimes, magicians, philosophers
and poets; and the Empress's ladies spent their days in mirth and
music, dressed in light silken garments, walking in gardens of
roses, and bathing in a great cool marble tank, while the Emperor's
eunuchs guarded the approach to the gardens. Oh, those baths in the
marble tank, my Father! I used to lie awake through the whole hot
southern night, and think of that plunge at sunrise under the last
stars. For we were in a burning country, and I pined for the tall
green woods and the cold stream of my father's valley; and when I
had cooled my limbs in the tank I lay all day in the scant cypress
shade and dreamed of my next bath.
My mother pined for the coolness till she died; then the Empress put
me in a convent and I was forgotten. The convent was on the side of
a bare yellow hill, where bees made a hot buzzing in the thyme.
Below was the sea, blazing with a million shafts of light; and
overhead a blinding sky, which reflected the sun's glitter like a
huge baldric of steel. Now the convent was built on the site of an
old pleasure-house which a holy Princess had given to our Order; and
a part of the house was left standing with its court and garden. The
nuns had built all about the garden; but they left the cypresses in
the middle, and the long marble tank where the Princess and her
ladies had bathed. The tank, however, as you may conceive, was no
longer used as a bath; for the washing of the body is an indulgence
forbidden to cloistered virgins; and our Abbess, who was famed for
her austerities, boasted that, like holy Sylvia the nun, she never
touched water save to bathe her finger-tips before receiving the
Sacrament. With such an example before them, the nuns were obliged
to conform to the same pious rule, and many, having been bred in the
convent from infancy, regarded all ablutions with horror, and felt
no temptation to cleanse the filth from their flesh; but I, who had
bathed daily, had the freshness of clear water in my veins, and
perished slowly for want of it, like your garden herbs in a drought.
My cell did not look on the garden, but on the steep mule-path
leading up the cliff, where all day long the sun beat as if with
flails of fire, and I saw the sweating peasants toil up and down
behind their thirsty asses, and the beggars whining and scraping
their sores in the heat. Oh, how I hated to look out through the
bars on that burning world! I used to turn away from it, sick with
disgust, and lying on my hard bed, stare up by the hour at the
ceiling of my cell. But flies crawled in hundreds on the ceiling,
and the hot noise they made was worse than the glare. Sometimes, at
an hour when I knew myself unobserved, I tore off my stifling gown,
and hung it over the grated window, that I might no longer see the
shaft of hot sunlight lying across my cell, and the dust dancing in
it like fat in the fire. But the darkness choked me, and I struggled
for breath as though I lay at the bottom of a pit; so that at last I
would spring up, and dragging down the dress, fling myself on my
knees before the Cross, and entreat our Lord to give me the gift of
holiness, that I might escape the everlasting fires of hell, of
which this heat was like an awful foretaste. For if I could not
endure the scorching of a summer's day, with what constancy could I
meet the thought of the flame that dieth not?
This longing to escape the heat of hell made me apply myself to a
devouter way of living, and I reflected that if my bodily distress
were somewhat eased I should be able to throw myself with greater
zeal into the practice of vigils and austerities. And at length,
having set forth to the Abbess that the sultry air of my cell
induced in me a grievous heaviness of sleep, I prevailed on her to
lodge me in that part of the building which overlooked the garden.
For a few days I was quite happy, for instead of the dusty
mountainside, and the sight of the sweating peasants and their
asses, I looked out on dark cypresses and rows of budding
vegetables. But presently I found I had not bettered myself. For
with the approach of midsummer the garden, being all enclosed with
buildings, grew as stifling as my cell. All the green things in it
withered and dried off, leaving trenches of bare red earth, across
which the cypresses cast strips of shade too narrow to cool the
aching heads of the nuns who sought shelter there; and I began to
think sorrowfully of my former cell, where now and then there came a
sea-breeze, hot and languid, yet alive, and where at least I could
look out upon the sea. But this was not the worst; for when the
dog-days came I found that the sun, at a certain hour, cast on the
ceiling of my cell the reflection of the ripples on the garden-tank;
and to say how I suffered from this sight is not within the power of
speech. It was indeed agony to watch the clear water rippling and
washing above my head, yet feel no solace of it on my limbs: as
though I had been a senseless brazen image lying at the bottom of a
well. But the image, if it felt no refreshment, would have suffered
no torture; whereas every inch of my skin throbbed with thirst, and
every vein was a mouth of Dives praying for a drop of water. Oh,
Father, how shall I tell you the grievous pains that I endured?
Sometimes I so feared the sight of the mocking ripples overhead that
I hid my eyes from their approach, lying face down on my burning bed
till I knew that they were gone; yet on cloudy days, when they did
not come, the heat was even worse to bear.
By day I hardly dared trust myself in the garden, for the nuns
walked there, and one fiery noon they found me hanging so close
above the tank that they snatched me away, crying out that I had
tried to destroy myself. The scandal of this reaching the Abbess,
she sent for me to know what demon had beset me; and when I wept and
said, the longing to bathe my burning body, she broke into great
anger and cried out: "Do you not know that this is a sin well-nigh
as great as the other, and condemned by all the greatest saints? For
a nun may be tempted to take her life through excess of
self-scrutiny and despair of her own worthiness; but this desire to
indulge the despicable body is one of the lusts of the flesh, to be
classed with concupiscence and adultery." And she ordered me to
sleep every night for a month in my heavy gown, with a veil upon my
Now, Father, I believe it was this penance that drove me to sin. For
we were in the dog-days, and it was more than flesh could bear. And
on the third night, after the portress had passed, and the lights
were out, I rose and flung off my veil and gown, and knelt in my
window fainting. There was no moon, but the sky was full of stars.
At first the garden was all blackness; but as I looked I saw a faint
twinkle between the cypress-trunks, and I knew it was the starlight
on the tank. The water! The water! It was there close to me--only a
few bolts and bars were between us.
The portress was a heavy sleeper, and I knew where her keys hung, on
a nail just within the door of her cell. I stole thither, unlatched
the door, seized the keys and crept barefoot down the corridor. The
bolts of the cloister-door were stiff and heavy, and I dragged at
them till the veins in my wrists were bursting. Then I turned the
key and it cried out in the ward. I stood still, my whole body
beating with fear lest the hinges too should have a voice--but no
one stirred, and I pushed open the door and slipped out. The garden
was as airless as a pit, but at least I could stretch my arms in it;
and, oh, my Father, the sweetness of the stars! The stones in the
path cut my feet as I ran, but I thought of the joy of bathing them
in the tank, and that made the wounds sweet to me. . . . My Father,
I have heard of the temptations which in times past assailed the
holy Solitaries of the desert, flattering the reluctant flesh beyond
resistance; but none, I think, could have surpassed in ecstasy that
first touch of the water on my limbs. To prolong the joy I let
myself slip in slowly, resting my hands on the edge of the tank, and
smiling to see my body, as I lowered it, break up the shining black
surface and shatter the starbeams into splinters. And the water, my
Father, seemed to crave me as I craved it. Its ripples rose about
me, first in furtive touches, then in a long embrace that clung and
drew me down; till at length they lay like kisses on my lips. It was
no frank comrade like the mountain pools of my childhood, but a
secret playmate compassionating my pains and soothing them with
noiseless hands. From the first I thought of it as an
accomplice--its whisper seemed to promise me secrecy if I would
promise it love. And I went back and back to it, my Father; all day
I lived in the thought of it; each night I stole to it with fresh
thirst. . . .
But at length the old portress died, and a young lay-sister took her
place. She was a light sleeper, and keen-eared; and I knew the
danger of venturing to her cell. I knew the danger, but when
darkness came I felt the water drawing me. The first night I fought
on my bed and held out; but the second I crept to her door. She made
no motion when I entered, but rose up secretly and stole after me;
and the second night she warned the Abbess, and the two came on me
as I stood by the tank.
I was punished with terrible penances: fasting, scourging,
imprisonment, and the privation of drinking water; for the Abbess
stood amazed at the obduracy of my sin, and was resolved to make me
an example to my fellows. For a month I endured the pains of hell;
then one night the Saracen pirates fell on our convent. On a sudden
the darkness was full of flames and blood; but while the other nuns
ran hither and thither, clinging to the Abbess's feet or shrieking
on the steps of the altar, I slipped through an unwatched postern
and made my way to the hills. The next day the Emperor's soldiery
descended on the carousing heathen, slew them and burned their
vessels on the beach; the Abbess and nuns were rescued, the convent
walls rebuilt, and peace restored to the holy precincts. All this I
heard from a shepherdess of the hills, who found me in my hiding,
and brought me honeycomb and water. In her simplicity she offered to
lead me home to the convent; but while she slept I laid off my
wimple and scapular, and stealing her cloak fled away lest she
should betray me. And since then I have wandered alone over the face
of the world, living in woods and desert places, often hungry, often
cold and sometimes fearful; yet resigned to any hardship, and with a
front for any peril, if only I may sleep under the free heaven and
wash the dust from my body in cool water.
THE Hermit, as may be supposed, was much perturbed by this story,
and dismayed that such sinfulness should cross his path. His first
motion was to drive the woman forth, for he knew the heinousness of
the craving for water, and how Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine and
other holy doctors have taught that they who would purify the soul
must not be distraught by the vain cares of bodily cleanliness; yet,
remembering the lust that drew him to his lauds, he dared not judge
his sister's fault too harshly.
Moreover he was moved by the Wild Woman's story of the hardships she
had suffered, and the godless company she had been driven to
keep--Egyptians, jugglers, outlaws and even sorcerers, who are
masters of the pagan lore of the East, and still practice their dark
rites among the simple folk of the hills. Yet she would not have him
think wholly ill of this vagrant people, from whom she had often
received food and comfort; and her worst danger, as he learned with
shame, had come from the _girovaghi_ or wandering monks, who are the
scourge and dishonour of Christendom; carrying their ribald idleness
from one monastery to another, and leaving on their way a trail of
thieving, revelry and worse. Once or twice the Wild Woman had nearly
fallen into their hands; but had been saved by her own quick wit and
skill in woodcraft. Once, so she assured the Hermit, she had found
refuge with a faun and his female, who fed and sheltered her in
their cave, where she slept on a bed of leaves with their shaggy
nurslings; and in this cave she had seen a stock or idol of wood,
extremely seamed and ancient, before which the wood-creatures, when
they thought she slept, laid garlands and the wild bees' honey-comb.
She told him also of a hill-village of weavers, where she lived many
weeks, and learned to ply their trade in return for her lodging; and
where wayfaring men in the guise of cobblers, charcoal-burners or
goatherds came and taught strange doctrines at midnight in the poor
hovels. What they taught she could not clearly tell, save that they
believed each soul could commune directly with its Maker, without
need of priest or intercessor; also she had heard from some of their
disciples that there are two Gods, one of good and one of evil, and
that the God of evil has his throne in the Pope's palace in Rome.
But in spite of these dark teachings they were a mild and merciful
folk, full of loving-kindness toward poor persons and wayfarers; so
that her heart grieved for them when one day a Dominican monk
appeared in the village with a company of soldiers, and some of the
weavers were seized and dragged to prison, while others, with their
wives and babes, fled to the winter woods. She fled with them,
fearing to be charged with their heresy, and for months they lay hid
in desert places, the older and weaker, who fell sick from want and
exposure, being devoutly ministered to by their brethren, and dying
in the sure faith of heaven.
All this she related modestly and simply, not as one who joys in a
godless life, but as having been drawn into it through misadventure;
and she told the Hermit that when she heard the sound of church
bells she never failed to say an Ave or a Pater; and that often, as
she lay in the midnight darkness of the forest, she had hushed her
fears by reciting the versicles from the Evening Hour:
Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of the eye,
Protect us under the shadow of Thy wings.
The wound in her foot healed slowly; and the Hermit, while it was
mending, repaired daily to her cave, reasoning with her in love and
charity, and exhorting her to return to the cloister. But this she
persistently refused to do; and fearing lest she attempt to fly
before her foot was healed, and so expose herself to hunger and
ill-usage, he promised not to betray her presence, or to take any
measures toward restoring her to her Order.
He began indeed to doubt whether she had any calling to the life
enclosed; yet her gentleness and innocency of mind made him feel
that she might be won back to holy living, if only her freedom were
assured. So after many inward struggles (since his promise forbade
his taking counsel with any concerning her) he resolved to let her
remain in the cave till some light should come to him. And one day,
visiting her about the hour of Nones (for it became his pious habit
to say the evening office with her), he found her engaged with a
little goatherd, who in a sudden seizure had fallen from a rock
above her cave, and lay senseless and full of blood at her feet. And
the Hermit saw with wonder how skilfully she bound up his cuts and
restored his senses, giving him to drink of a liquor she had
distilled from the wild simples of the mountain; whereat the boy
opened his eyes and praised God, as one restored by heaven. Now it
was known that this lad was subject to possessions, and had more
than once dropped lifeless while he heeded his flock; and the
Hermit, knowing that only great saints or unclean necromancers can
loosen devils, feared that the Wild Woman had exorcised the spirits
by means of unholy spells. But she told him that the goatherd's
sickness was caused only by the heat of the sun, and that, such
seizures being common in the hot countries whence she came, she had
learned from a wise woman how to stay them by a decoction of the
_carduus benedictus_, made in the third night of the waxing moon,
but without the aid of magic.
"But," she continued, "you need not fear my bringing scandal on your
holy retreat, for by the arts of the same wise woman my own wound is
well-nigh healed, and tonight at sunset I set forth on my travels."
The Hermit's heart grew heavy as she spoke, and it seemed to him
that her own look was sorrowful. And suddenly his perplexities were
lifted from him, and he saw what was God's purpose with the Wild
"Why," said he, "do you fly from this place, where you are safe from
molestation, and can look to the saving of your soul? Is it that
your feet weary for the road, and your spirits are heavy for lack of
She replied that she had no wish to travel, and felt no repugnance
to solitude. "But," said she, "I must go forth to beg my bread,
since in this wilderness there is none but yourself to feed me; and
moreover, when it is known that I have healed the goatherd, curious
folk and scandal-mongers may seek me out, and, learning whence I
come, drag me back to the cloister."
Then the Hermit answered her and said: "In the early days, when the
faith of Christ was first preached, there were holy women who fled
to the desert and lived there in solitude, to the glory of God and
the edification of their sex. If you are minded to embrace so
austere a life, contenting you with such sustenance as the
wilderness yields, and wearing out your days in prayer and vigil, it
may be that you shall make amends for the great sin you have
committed, and live and die in the peace of the Lord Jesus."
He spoke thus, knowing that if she left him and returned to her
roaming, hunger and fear might drive her to fresh sin; whereas in a
life of penance and reclusion her eyes might be opened to her
iniquity, and her soul snatched back from ruin.
He saw that his words moved her, and she seemed about to consent,
and embrace a life of holiness; but suddenly she fell silent, and
looked down on the valley at their feet.
"A stream flows in the glen below us," she said. "Do you forbid me
to bathe in it in the heat of summer?"
"It is not I that forbid you, my daughter, but the laws of God,"
said the Hermit; "yet see how miraculously heaven protects you--for
in the hot season, when your lust is upon you, our stream runs dry,
and temptation will be removed from you. Moreover on these heights
there is no excess of heat to madden the body, but always, before
dawn and at the angelus, a cool breeze which refreshes it like
And after thinking long on this, and again receiving his promise not
to betray her, the Wild Woman agreed to embrace a life of reclusion;
and the Hermit fell on his knees, worshipping God and rejoicing to
think that, if he saved his sister from sin, his own term of
probation would be shortened.
THEREAFTER for two years the Hermit and the Wild Woman lived side by
side, meeting together to pray on the great feast-days of the year,
but on all other days dwelling apart, engaged in pious practices.
At first the Hermit, knowing the weakness of woman, and her little
aptitude for the life apart, had feared that he might be disturbed
by the nearness of his penitent; but she faithfully held to his
commands, abstaining from all sight of him save on the Days of
Obligation; and when they met, so modest and devout was her
demeanour that she raised his soul to fresh fervency. And gradually
it grew sweet to him to think that, near by though unseen, was one
who performed the same tasks at the same hours; so that, whether he
tended his garden, or recited his chaplet, or rose under the stars
to repeat the midnight office, he had a companion in all his labours
Meanwhile the report had spread abroad that a holy woman who cast
out devils had made her dwelling in the Hermit's cliff; and many
sick persons from the valley sought her out, and went away restored
by her. These poor pilgrims brought her oil and flour, and with her
own hands she made a garden like the Hermit's, and planted it with
corn and lentils; but she would never take a trout from the brook,
or receive the gift of a snared wild-fowl, for she said that in her
vagrant life the wild creatures of the wood had befriended her, and
as she had slept in peace among them, so now she would never suffer
them to be molested.
In the third year came a plague, and death walked the cities, and
many poor peasants fled to the hills to escape it. These the Hermit
and his penitent faithfully tended, and so skilful were the Wild
Woman's ministrations that the report of them reached the town
across the valley, and a deputation of burgesses came with rich
offerings, and besought her to descend and comfort their sick. The
Hermit, seeing her depart on so dangerous a mission, would have
accompanied her, but she bade him remain and tend those who fled to
the hills; and for many days his heart was consumed in prayer for
her, and he feared lest every fugitive should bring him word of her
But at length she returned, wearied-out but whole, and covered with
the blessings of the townsfolk; and thereafter her name for holiness
spread as wide as the Hermit's.
Seeing how constant she remained in her chosen life, and what
advance she had made in the way of perfection, the Hermit now felt
that it behoved him to exhort her again to return to the convent;
and more than once he resolved to speak with her, but his heart hung
back. At length he bethought him that by failing in this duty he
imperilled his own soul, and thereupon, on the next feast-day, when
they met, he reminded her that in spite of her good works she still
lived in sin and excommunicate, and that, now she had once more
tasted the sweets of godliness, it was her duty to confess her fault
and give herself up to her superiors.
She heard him meekly, but when he had spoken she was silent and her
tears ran over; and looking at her he wept also, and said no more.
And they prayed together, and returned each to his cave.
It was not till late winter that the plague abated; and the spring
and early summer following were heavy with rains and great heat.
When the Hermit visited his penitent at the feast of Pentecost, she
appeared to him so weak and wasted that, when they had recited the
_Veni, sancte spiritus_, and the proper psalms, he taxed her with
too great rigour of penitential practices; but she replied that her
weakness was not due to an excess of discipline, but that she had
brought back from her labours among the sick a heaviness of body
which the intemperance of the season no doubt increased. The evil
rains continued, falling chiefly at night, while by day the land
reeked with heat and vapours; so that lassitude fell on the Hermit
also, and he could hardly drag himself down to the spring whence he
drew his drinking-water. Thus he fell into the habit of going down
to the glen before cockcrow, after he had recited Matins; for at
that hour the rain commonly ceased, and a faint air was stirring.
Now because of the wet season the stream had not gone dry, and
instead of replenishing his flagon slowly at the trickling spring,
the Hermit went down to the waterside to fill it; and once, as he
descended the steep slope of the glen, he heard the covert rustle,
and saw the leaves stir as though something moved behind them. As he
looked silence fell, and the leaves grew still; but his heart was
shaken, for it seemed to him that what he had seen in the dusk had a
human semblance, such as the wood-people wear. And he was loth to
think that such unhallowed beings haunted the glen.
A few days passed, and again, descending to the stream, he saw a
figure flit by him through the covert; and this time a deeper fear
entered into him; but he put away the thought, and prayed fervently
for all souls in temptation. And when he spoke with the Wild Woman
again, on the feast of the Seven Maccabees, which falls on the first
day of August, he was smitten with fear to see her wasted looks, and
besought her to cease from labouring and let him minister to her in
her weakness. But she denied him gently, and replied that all she
asked of him was to keep her steadfastly in his prayers.
Before the feast of the Assumption the rains ceased, and the plague,
which had begun to show itself, was stayed; but the ardency of the
sun grew greater, and the Hermit's cliff was a fiery furnace. Never
had such heat been known in those regions; but the people did not
murmur, for with the cessation of the rain their crops were saved
and the pestilence banished; and these mercies they ascribed in
great part to the prayers and macerations of the two holy anchorets.
Therefore on the eve of the Assumption they sent a messenger to the
Hermit, saying that at daylight on the morrow the townspeople and
all the dwellers in the valley would come forth, led by their
Bishop, who bore the Pope's blessing to the two solitaries, and who
was mindful to celebrate the Mass of the Assumption in the Hermit's
cave in the cliffside. At the blessed word the Hermit was well-nigh
distraught with joy, for he felt this to be a sign from heaven that
his prayers were heard, and that he had won the Wild Woman's grace
as well as his own. And all night he prayed that on the morrow she
might confess her fault and receive the Sacrament with him.
Before dawn he recited the psalms of the proper nocturn; then he
girded on his gown and sandals, and went forth to meet the Bishop in
As he went downward daylight stood on the mountains, and he thought
he had never seen so fair a dawn. It filled the farthest heaven with
brightness, and penetrated even to the woody crevices of the glen,
as the grace of God had entered into the obscurest folds of his
heart. The morning airs were hushed, and he heard only the sound of
his own footfall, and the murmur of the stream which, though
diminished, still poured a swift current between the rocks; but as
he reached the bottom of the glen a sound of chanting came to him,
and he knew that the pilgrims were at hand. His heart leapt up and
his feet hastened forward; but at the streamside they were suddenly
stayed, for in a pool where the water was still deep he saw the
shining of a woman's body--and on a stone hard by lay the Wild
Woman's gown and sandals.
Fear and rage possessed the Hermit's heart, and he stood as one
smitten speechless, covering his eyes from the shame. But the song
of the approaching pilgrims swelled ever louder and nearer, and
finding voice he cried to the Wild Woman to come forth and hide
herself from the people.
She made no answer, but in the dusk he saw her limbs sway with the
swaying of the water, and her eyes were turned to him as if in
mockery. At the sight blind fury filled him, and clambering over the
rocks to the pool's edge he bent down and caught her by the
shoulder. At that moment he could have strangled her with his hands,
so abhorrent to him was the touch of her flesh; but as he cried out
on her, heaping her with cruel names, he saw that her eyes returned
his look without wavering; and suddenly it came to him that she was
dead. Then through all his anger and fear a great pang smote him;
for here was his work undone, and one he had loved in Christ laid
low in her sin, in spite of all his labours.
One moment pity possessed him; the next he bethought him how the
people would find him bending above the body of a naked woman, whom
he had held up to them as holy, but whom they might now well take
for the secret instrument of his undoing; and beholding how at her
touch all the slow edifice of his holiness was demolished, and his
soul in mortal jeopardy, he felt the earth reel round him and his
sight grew red.
Already the head of the procession had entered the glen, and the
stillness shook with the great sound of the _Salve Regina_. When the
Hermit opened his eyes once more the air was quivering with thronged
candle-flames, which glittered on the gold thread of priestly
vestments, and on the blazing monstrance beneath its canopy; and
close above him was bent the Bishop's face.
The Hermit struggled to his knees.
"My Father in God," he cried, "behold, for my sins I have been
visited by a demon--" But as he spoke he perceived that those about
him no longer heeded him, and that the Bishop and all his clergy had
fallen on their knees about the pool. Then the Hermit, following
their gaze, saw that the brown waters of the pool covered the Wild
Woman's limbs as with a garment, and that about her floating head a
great light floated; and to the utmost edges of the throng a cry of
praise went up, for many were there whom the Wild Woman had healed
and comforted, and who read God's mercy in this wonder. But fresh
fear fell on the Hermit, for he had cursed a dying saint, and
denounced her aloud to all the people; and this new anguish, coming
so close upon the other, smote down his weakened frame, so that his
limbs failed him and he sank once more to the ground.
Again the earth reeled about him, and the bending faces grew remote;
but as he forced his weak voice once more to proclaim his sins he
felt the blessed touch of absolution, and the holy oils of the last
voyage laid on his lips and eyes. Peace returned to him then, and
with it a great longing to look once more upon his lauds, as he had
dreamed of doing at his last hour; but he was too far gone to make
this longing known, and so tried to banish it from his mind. Yet in
his weakness the wish held him, and the tears ran down his face.
Then, as he lay there, feeling the earth slip from under him, and
the Everlasting Arms replace it, he heard a great peal of voices
that seemed to come down from the sky and mingle with the singing of
the throng; and the words of the chant were the words of his own
lauds, so long hidden in the secret of his breast, and now rejoicing
above him through the spheres. And his soul rose on the chant, and
soared with it to the seat of mercy.
THE LAST ASSET
"THE devil!" Paul Garnett exclaimed as he re-read his note; and the
dry old gentleman who was at the moment his only neighbour in the
quiet restaurant they both frequented, remarked with a smile: "You
don't seem particularly annoyed at meeting him."
Garnett returned the smile. "I don't know why I apostrophized him,
for he's not in the least present--except inasmuch as he may prove
to be at the bottom of anything unexpected."
The old gentleman who, like Garnett, was an American, and spoke in
the thin rarefied voice which seems best fitted to emit sententious
truths, twisted his lean neck toward the younger man and cackled out
shrewdly: "Ah, it's generally a woman who is at the bottom of the
unexpected. Not," he added, leaning forward with deliberation to
select a tooth-pick, "that that precludes the devil's being there
Garnett uttered the requisite laugh, and his neighbour, pushing back
his plate, called out with a perfectly unbending American
intonation: "Gassong! L'addition, silver play."
His repast, as usual, had been a simple one, and he left only thirty
centimes in the plate on which his account was presented; but the
waiter, to whom he was evidently a familiar presence, received the
tribute with Latin affability, and hovered helpfully about the table
while the old gentleman cut and lighted his cigar.
"Yes," the latter proceeded, revolving the cigar meditatively
between his thin lips, "they're generally both in the same hole,
like the owl and the prairie-dog in the natural history books of my
youth. I believe it was all a mistake about the owl and the
prairie-dog, but it isn't about the unexpected. The fact is, the
unexpected _is_ the devil--the sooner you find that out, the happier
you'll be." He leaned back, tilting his smooth bald head against the
blotched mirror behind him, and rambling on with gentle garrulity
while Garnett attacked his omelet.
"Get your life down to routine--eliminate surprises. Arrange things
so that, when you get up in the morning, you'll know exactly what is
going to happen to you during the day--and the next day and the
next. I don't say it's funny--it ain't. But it's better than being
hit on the head by a brick-bat. That's why I always take my meals at
this restaurant. I know just how much onion they put in things--if I
went to the next place I shouldn't. And I always take the same
streets to come here--I've been doing it for ten years now. I know
at which crossings to look out--I know what I'm going to see in the
shop-windows. It saves a lot of wear and tear to know what's coming.
For a good many years I never did know, from one minute to another,
and now I like to think that everything's cut-and-dried, and nothing
unexpected can jump out at me like a tramp from a ditch."
He paused calmly to knock the ashes from his cigar, and Garnett said
with a smile: "Doesn't such a plan of life cut off nearly all the
The old gentleman made a contemptuous motion. "Possibilities of
what? Of being multifariously miserable? There are lots of ways of
being miserable, but there's only one way of being comfortable, and
that is to stop running round after happiness. If you make up your
mind not to be happy there's no reason why you shouldn't have a
fairly good time."
"That was Schopenhauer's idea, I believe," the young man said,
pouring his wine with the smile of youthful incredulity.
"I guess he hadn't the monopoly," responded his friend. "Lots of
people have found out the secret--the trouble is that so few live up
He rose from his seat, pushing the table forward, and standing
passive while the waiter advanced with his shabby overcoat and
umbrella. Then he nodded to Garnett, lifted his hat politely to the
broad-bosomed lady behind the desk, and passed out into the street.
Garnett looked after him with a musing smile. The two had exchanged
views on life for two years without so much as knowing each other's
names. Garnett was a newspaper correspondent whose work kept him
mainly in London, but on his periodic visits to Paris he lodged in a
dingy hotel of the Latin Quarter, the chief merit of which was its
nearness to the cheap and excellent restaurant where the two
Americans had made acquaintance. But Garnett's assiduity in
frequenting the place arose, in the end, less from the excellence of
the food than from the enjoyment of his old friend's conversation.
Amid the flashy sophistications of the Parisian life to which
Garnett's trade introduced him, the American sage's conversation had
the crisp and homely flavor of a native dish--one of the domestic
compounds for which the exiled palate is supposed to yearn. It was a
mark of the old man's impersonality that, in spite of the interest
he inspired, Garnett had never got beyond idly wondering who he
might be, where he lived, and what his occupations were. He was
presumably a bachelor--a man of family ties, however relaxed, though
he might have been as often absent from home would not have been as
regularly present in the same place--and there was about him a
boundless desultoriness which renewed Garnett's conviction that
there is no one on earth as idle as an American who is not busy.
From certain allusions it was plain that he had lived many years in
Paris, yet he had not taken the trouble to adapt his tongue to the
local inflections, but spoke French with the accent of one who has
formed his conception of the language from a phrase-book.
The city itself seemed to have made as little impression on him as
its speech. He appeared to have no artistic or intellectual
curiosities, to remain untouched by the complex appeal of Paris,
while preserving, perhaps the more strikingly from his very
detachment, that odd American astuteness which seems the fruit of
innocence rather than of experience. His nationality revealed itself
again in a mild interest in the political problems of his adopted
country, though they appeared to preoccupy him only as illustrating
the boundless perversity of mankind. The exhibition of human folly
never ceased to divert him, and though his examples of it seemed
mainly drawn from the columns of one exiguous daily paper, he found
there matter for endless variations on his favorite theme. If this
monotony of topic did not weary the younger man, it was because he
fancied he could detect under it the tragic implication of the fixed
idea--of some great moral upheaval which had flung his friend
stripped and starving on the desert island of the little cafe where
they met. He hardly knew wherein he read this revelation--whether in
the resigned shabbiness of the sage's dress, the impartial courtesy
of his manner, or the shade of apprehension which lurked,
indescribably, in his guileless yet suspicious eye. There were
moments when Garnett could only define him by saying that he looked
like a man who had seen a ghost.
AN apparition almost as startling had come to Garnett himself in the
shape of the mauve note received from his _concierge_ as he was
leaving the hotel for luncheon.
Not that, on the face of it, a missive announcing Mrs. Sam Newell's
arrival at Ritz's, and her need of his presence there that afternoon
at five, carried any special mark of the portentous. It was not her
being at Ritz's that surprised him. The fact that she was
chronically hard up, and had once or twice lately been so brutally
confronted with the consequences as to accept--indeed solicit--a
loan of five pounds from him: this circumstance, as Garnett knew,
would never be allowed to affect the general tenor of her existence.
If one came to Paris, where could one go but to Ritz's? Did he see
her in some grubby hole across the river? Or in a family _pension_
near the Place de l'Etoile? There was no affectation in her tendency
to gravitate toward what was costliest and most conspicuous. In
doing so she obeyed one of the profoundest instincts of her nature,
and it was another instinct which taught her to gratify the first at
any cost, even to that of dipping into the pocket of an impecunious
newspaper correspondent. It was a part of her strength--and of her
charm too--that she did such things naturally, openly, without any
of the ugly grimaces of dissimulation or compunction.
Her recourse to Garnett had of course marked a specially low ebb in
her fortunes. Save in moments of exceptional dearth she had richer
sources of supply; and he was nearly sure that, by running over the
"society column" of the Paris _Herald_, he should find an
explanation, not perhaps of her presence at Ritz's, but of her means
of subsistence there. What really perplexed him was not the
financial but the social aspect of the case. When Mrs. Newell had
left London in July she had told him that, between Cowes and
Scotland, she and Hermy were provided for till the middle of
October: after that, as she put it, they would have to look about.
Why, then, when she had in her hand the opportunity of living for
three months at the expense of the British aristocracy, did she rush
off to Paris at heaven knew whose expense in the beginning of
September? She was not a woman to act incoherently; if she made
mistakes they were not of that kind. Garnett felt sure she would
never willingly relax her hold on her distinguished friends--was it
possible that it was they who had somewhat violently let go of her?
As Garnett reviewed the situation he began to see that this
possibility had for some time been latent in it. He had felt that
something might happen at any moment--and was not this the something
he had obscurely foreseen? Mrs. Newell really moved too fast: her
position was as perilous as that of an invading army without a base
of supplies. She used up everything too quickly--friends, credit,
influence, forbearance. It was so easy for her to acquire all
these--what a pity she had never learned to keep them! He himself,
for instance--the most insignificant of her acquisitions--was
beginning to feel like a squeezed sponge at the mere thought of her;
and it was this sense of exhaustion, of the inability to provide
more, either materially or morally, which had provoked his
exclamation on opening her note. From the first days of their
acquaintance her prodigality had amazed him, but he had believed it
to be surpassed by the infinity of her resources. If she exhausted
old supplies she always found new ones to replace them. When one set
of people began to find her impossible, another was always beginning
to find her indispensable. Yes--but there were limits--there were
only so many sets of people, at least in her social classification,
and when she came to an end of them, what then? Was this flight to
Paris a sign that she had come to an end--was she going to try Paris
because London had failed her? The time of year precluded such a
conjecture. Mrs. Newell's Paris was non-existent in September. The
town was a desert of gaping trippers--he could as soon think of her
seeking social restoration at Margate.
For a moment it occurred to him that she might have to come over to
replenish her wardrobe; but he knew her dates too well to dwell long
on this hope. It was in April and December that she visited the
dress-makers: before December, he had heard her explain, one got
nothing but "the American fashions." Mrs. Newell's scorn of all
things American was somewhat illogically coupled with the
determination to use her own Americanism to the utmost as a means of
social advance. She had found out long ago that, on certain lines,
it paid in London to be American, and she had manufactured for
herself a personality independent of geographical or social
demarcations, and presenting that remarkable blend of plantation
dialect, Bowery slang and hyperbolic statement, which is the British
nobility's favorite idea of an unadulterated Americanism. Mrs.
Newell, for all her talents, was not naturally either humorous or
hyperbolic, and there were times when it would doubtless have been a
relief to her to be as monumentally stolid as some of the persons
whose dulness it was her fate to enliven. It was perhaps the need of
relaxing which had drawn her into her odd intimacy with Garnett,
with whom she did not have to be either scrupulously English or
artificially American, since the impression she made on him was of
no more consequence than that which she produced on her footman.
Garnett was perfectly aware that he owed his success to his
insignificance, but the fact affected him only as adding one more
element to his knowledge of Mrs. Newell's character. He was as ready
to sacrifice his personal vanity in such a cause as he had been, at
the outset of their acquaintance, to sacrifice his professional
pride to the opportunity of knowing her.
When he had accepted the position of "London correspondent" (with an
occasional side-glance at Paris) to the New York _Searchlight_, he
had not understood that his work was to include the obligation of
"interviewing"; indeed, had the possibility presented itself in
advance, he would have met it by unpacking his valise and returning
to the drudgery of his assistant-editorship in New York. But when,
after three months in Europe, he received a letter from his chief,
suggesting that he should enliven the Sunday _Searchlight_ by a
series of "Talks with Smart Americans in London" (beginning, say,
with Mrs. Sam Newell), the change of focus already enabled him to
view the proposal without passion. For his life on the edge of the
great world-caldron of art, politics and pleasure--of that
high-spiced brew which is nowhere else so subtly and variously
compounded--had bred in him an eager appetite to taste of the heady
mixture. He knew he should never have the full spoon at his lips,
but he recalled the peasant-girl in one of Browning's plays, who has
once eaten polenta cut with a knife which has carved an ortolan.
Might not Mrs. Newell, who had so successfully cut a way into the
dense and succulent mass of English society, serve as the knife to
season his polenta?
He had expected, as the result of the interview, to which she
promptly, almost eagerly, assented, no more than the glimpse of
brightly lit vistas which a waiting messenger may catch through open
doors; but instead he had found himself drawn at once into the inner
sanctuary, not of London society, but of Mrs. Newell's relation to
it. She had been candidly charmed by the idea of the interview: it
struck him that she was conscious of the need of being freshened up.
Her appearance was brilliantly fresh, with the inveterate freshness
of the toilet-table; her paint was as impenetrable as armor. But her
personality was a little tarnished: she was in want of social
renovation. She had been doing and saying the same things for too
long a time. London, Cowes, Homburg, Scotland, Monte Carlo--that had
been the round since Hermy was a baby. Hermy was her daughter, Miss
Hermione Newell, who was called in presently to be shown off to the
interviewer and add a paragraph to the celebration of her mother's
Miss Newell's appearance was so full of an unassisted freshness that
for a moment Garnett made the mistake of fancying that she could
fill a paragraph of her own. But he soon found that her vague
personality was merely tributary to her parent's; that her youth and
grace were, in some mysterious way, her mother's rather than her
own. She smiled obediently on Garnett, but could contribute little
beyond her smile and the general sweetness of her presence, to the
picture of Mrs. Newell's existence which it was the young man's
business to draw. And presently he found that she had left the room
without his noticing it.
He learned in time that this unnoticeableness was the most
conspicuous thing about her. Burning at best with a mild light, she
became invisible in the glare of her mother's personality. It was in
fact only as a product of her environment that poor Hermione struck
the imagination. With the smartest woman in London as her guide and
example she had never developed a taste for dress, and with
opportunities for enlightenment from which Garnett's fancy recoiled
she remained simple, unsuspicious and tender, with an inclination to
good works and afternoon church, a taste for the society of dull
girls, and a clinging fidelity to old governesses and retired
nurse-maids. Mrs. Newell, whose boast it was that she looked facts
in the face, frankly owned that she had not been able to make
anything of Hermione. "If she has a role I haven't discovered it,"
she confessed to Garnett. "I've tried everything, but she doesn't
fit in anywhere."
Mrs. Newell spoke as if her daughter were a piece of furniture
acquired without due reflection, and for which no suitable place
could be found. She got, of course, what she could out of Hermione,
who wrote her notes, ran her errands, saw tiresome people for her,
and occupied an intermediate office between that of lady's maid and
secretary; but such small returns on her investment were not what
Mrs. Newell had counted on. What was the use of producing and
educating a handsome daughter if she did not, in some more positive
way, contribute to her parent's advancement?
"IT'S about Hermy," Mrs. Newell said, rising from the heap of
embroidered cushions which formed the background of her afternoon
Her sitting-room at Ritz's was full of penetrating warmth and
fragrance. Long-stemmed roses filled the vases on the chimney-piece,
in which a fire sparkled with that effect of luxury which fires
produce when the weather is not cold enough to justify them. On the
writing-table, among notes and cards, and signed photographs of
celebrities, Mrs. Newell's gold inkstand, her jewelled penholder,
her heavily-monogrammed despatch-box, gave back from their expensive
surfaces the glint of the flame, which sought out and magnified the
orient of the pearls among the lady's laces and found a mirror in
the pinky polish of her finger-tips. It was just such a scene as a
little September fire, lit for show and not for warmth, would
delight to dwell on and pick out in all its opulent details; and
even Garnett, inured to Mrs. Newell's capacity for extracting manna
from the desert, reflected that she must have found new fields to
"It's about Hermy," she repeated, making room for him among the
cushions. "I had to see you at once. We came over yesterday from
Garnett, seating himself, continued his leisurely survey of the
room. In the glitter of Mrs. Newell's magnificence Hermione, as
usual, faded out of sight, and he hardly noticed her mother's
"I have never seen you more resplendent," he remarked.
She received the tribute with complacency. "The rooms are not bad,
are they? We came over with the Woolsey Hubbards (you've heard of
them, of course?--they're from Detroit), and really they do things
very decently. Their motor-car met us at Boulogne, and the courier
always wires ahead to have the rooms filled with flowers. This
_salon,_ is really a part of their suite. I simply couldn't have
afforded it myself."
She delivered these facts in a high decisive voice, which had a note
akin to the clink of her many bracelets and the rattle of her ringed
hands against the enamelled cigarette-case which she extended to
Garnett after helping herself from its contents.
"You are always meeting such charming people," said Garnett with
mild irony; and, reverting to her first remark, he bethought himself
to add: "I hope Miss Hermione is not ill?"
"Ill? She was never ill in her life," exclaimed Mrs. Newell, as
though her daughter had been accused of an indelicacy.
"It was only that you said you had come over on her account."
"So I have. Hermione is to be married."
Mrs. Newell brought out the words impressively, drawing back to
observe their effect on her visitor. It was such that he received
them with a long silent stare, which finally passed into a cry of
wonder. "Married? For heaven's sake, to whom?"
Mrs. Newell continued to regard him with a smile so serene and
victorious that he saw she took his somewhat unseemly astonishment
as a merited tribute to her genius. Presently she extended a
glittering hand and took a sheet of note paper from the blotter.
"You can have that put in to-morrow's _Herald_," she said.
Garnett, receiving the paper, read in Hermione's own finished hand:
"A marriage has been arranged, and will shortly take place, between
the Comte Louis du Trayas, son of the Marquis du Trayas de la Baume,
and Miss Hermione Newell, daughter of Samuel C. Newell Esqre. of
Elmira, N. Y. Comte Louis du Trayas belongs to one of the oldest and
most distinguished families in France, and is equally well connected
in England, being the nephew of Lord Saint Priscoe and a cousin of
the Countess of Morningfield, whom he frequently visits at Adham and
The perusal of this document filled Garnett with such deepening
wonder that he could not, for the moment, even do justice to the
strangeness of its being written out for publication in the bride's
own hand. Hermione a bride! Hermione a future countess! Hermione on
the brink of a marriage which would give her not only a great
"situation" in the Parisian world but a footing in some of the best
houses in England! Regardless of its unflattering implications,
Garnett prolonged his stare of mute amazement till Mrs. Newell
somewhat sharply exclaimed--"Well, didn't I always tell you that she
would marry a Frenchman?"
Garnett, in spite of himself, smiled at this revised version of his
hostess's frequent assertion that Hermione was too goody-goody to
take in England, but that with her little dowdy air she might very
well "go off" in the Faubourg if only a _dot_ could be raked up for
her--and the recollection flashed a new light on the versatility of
Mrs. Newell's genius.
"But how did you do it--?" was on the tip of his tongue; and he had
barely time to give the query the more conventional turn of: "How
did it happen?"
"Oh, we were up at Glaish with the Edmund Fitzarthurs. Lady Edmund
is a sort of cousin of the Morningfields', who have a shooting-lodge
near Glaish--a place called Portlow--and young Trayas was there with
them. Lady Edmund, who is a dear, drove Hermy over to Portlow, and
the thing was done in no time. He simply fell over head and ears in
love with her. You know Hermy is really very handsome in her
peculiar way. I don't think you have ever appreciated her," Mrs.
Newell summed up with a note of exquisite reproach.
"I've appreciated her, I assure you; but one somehow didn't think of
her marrying--so soon."
"Soon? She's three-and-twenty; but you've no imagination," said Mrs.
Newell; and Garnett inwardly admitted that he had not enough to soar
to the heights of her invention. For the marriage, of course, was an
invention of her own, a superlative stroke of business, in which he
was sure the principal parties had all been passive agents, in which
everyone, from the bankrupt and disreputable Fitzarthurs to the rich
and immaculate Morningfields, had by some mysterious sleight of hand
been made to fit into Mrs. Newell's designs. But it was not enough
for Garnett to marvel at her work--he wanted to understand it, to
take it apart, to find out how the trick had been done. It was true
that Mrs. Newell had always said Hermy might go off in the Faubourg
if she had a _dot_--but even Mrs. Newell's juggling could hardly
conjure up a _dot:_ such feats as she was able to perform in this
line were usually made to serve her own urgent necessities. And
besides, who was likely to take sufficient interest in Hermione to
supply her with the means of marrying a French nobleman? The flowers
ordered in advance by the Woolsey Hubbards' courier made Garnett
wonder if that accomplished functionary had also wired over to have
Miss Newell's settlements drawn up. But of all the comments hovering
on his lips the only one he could decently formulate was the remark
that he supposed Mrs. Newell and her daughter had come over to see
the young man's family and make the final arrangements.
"Oh, they're made--everything is settled," said Mrs. Newell, looking
him squarely in the eye. "You're wondering, of course, about the
_dot_--Frenchmen never go off their heads to the extent of
forgetting _that;_ or at least their parents don't allow them to."
Garnett murmured a vague assent, and she went on without the least
appearance of resenting his curiosity: "It all came about so
fortunately. Only fancy, just the week they met I got a little
legacy from an aunt in Elmira--a good soul I hadn't seen or heard of
for years. I suppose I ought to have put on mourning for her, by the
way, but it would have eaten up a good bit of the legacy, and I
really needed it all for poor Hermy. Oh, it's not a fortune, you
understand--but the young man is madly in love, and has always had
his own way, so after a lot of correspondence it's been arranged.
They saw Hermy this morning, and they're enchanted."
"And the marriage takes place very soon?"
"Yes, in a few weeks, here. His mother is an invalid and couldn't
have gone to England. Besides, the French don't travel. And as Hermy
has become a Catholic--"
Mrs. Newell stared. "It doesn't take long. And it suits Hermy
exactly--she can go to church so much oftener. So I thought," Mrs.
Newell concluded with dignity, "that a wedding at Saint Philippe du
Roule would be the most suitable thing at this season."
"Dear me," said Garnett, "I am left breathless--I can't catch up
with you. I suppose even the day is fixed, though Miss Hermione
doesn't mention it," and he indicated the official announcement in
Mrs. Newell laughed. "Hermy had to write that herself, poor dear,
because my scrawl's too hideous--but I dictated it. No, the day
isn't fixed--that's why I sent for you." There was a splendid
directness about Mrs. Newell. It would never have occurred to her to
pretend to Garnett that she had summoned him for the pleasure of his
"You've sent for me--to fix the day?" he enquired humourously.
"To remove the last obstacle to its being fixed."
"I? What kind of an obstacle could I have the least effect on?"
Mrs. Newell met his banter with a look which quelled it. "I want you
to find her father."
"Her father? Miss Hermione's--?"
"My husband, of course. I suppose you know he's living."
Garnett blushed at his own clumsiness. "I--yes--that is, I really
knew nothing--" he stammered, feeling that each word added to it. If
Hermione was unnoticeable, Mr. Newell had always been invisible. The
young man had never so much as given him a thought, and it was
awkward to come on him so suddenly at a turn of the talk.
"Well, he is--living here in Paris," said Mrs. Newell, with a note
of asperity which seemed to imply that her friend might have taken
the trouble to post himself on this point.
"In Paris? But in that case isn't it quite simple--?"
"To find him? I daresay it won't be difficult, though he is rather
mysterious. But the point is that I can't go to him--and that if I
write to him he won't answer."
"Ah," said Garnett thoughtfully.
"And so you've got to find him for me, and tell him."
"Tell him what?"
"That he must come to the wedding--that we must show ourselves
together at church and at the breakfast."
She delivered the behest in her sharp imperative key, the tone of
the born commander. But for once Garnett ventured to question her
"And supposing he won't come?"
"He must if he cares for his daughter's happiness. She can't be
married without him."
"Can't be married?"
"The French are like that--especially the old families. I was given
to understand at once that my husband must appear--if only to
establish the fact that we're not divorced."
"Ah--you're _not_, then?" escaped from Garnett.
"Mercy, no! Divorce is stupid. They don't like it in Europe. And in
this case it would have been the end of Hermy's marriage. They
wouldn't think of letting their son marry the child of divorced
"How fortunate, then--"
"Yes; but I always think of such things beforehand. And of course
I've told them that my husband will be present."
"You think he will consent?"
"No; not at first; but you must make him. You must tell him how
sweet Hermione is--and you must see Louis, and be able to describe
their happiness. You must dine here to-night--he is coming. We're
all dining with the Hubbards, and they expect you. They have given
Hermy some very good diamonds--though I should have preferred a
cheque, as she'll be horribly poor. But I think Kate Hubbard means
to do something about the trousseau--Hermy is at Paquin's with her
now. You've no idea how delightful all our friends have been.--Ah,
here is one of them now," she broke off smiling, as the door opened
to admit, without preliminary announcement, a gentleman so glossy
and ancient, with such a fixed unnatural freshness of smile and eye,
that he gave Garnett the effect of having been embalmed and then
enamelled. It needed not the exotic-looking ribbon in the visitor's
button-hole, nor Mrs. Newell's introduction of him as her friend
Baron Schenkelderff, to assure Garnett of his connection with a race
as ancient as his appearance.
Baron Schenkelderff greeted his hostess with paternal playfulness,
and the young man with an ease which might have been acquired on the
Stock Exchange and in the dressing-rooms of "leading ladies." He
spoke a faultless, colourless English, from which one felt he might
pass with equal mastery to half a dozen other languages. He enquired
patronizingly for the excellent Hubbards, asked his hostess if she
did not mean to give him a drop of tea and a cigarette, remarked
that he need not ask if Hermione was still closeted with the
dress-maker, and, on the waiter's coming in answer to his ring,
ordered the tea himself, and added a request for _fine champagne_.
It was not the first time that Garnett had seen such minor liberties
taken in Mrs. Newell's drawing-room, but they had hitherto been
taken by persons who had at least the superiority of knowing what
they were permitting themselves, whereas the young man felt almost
sure that Baron Schenkelderff's manner was the most distinguished he
could achieve; and this deepened the disgust with which, as the
minutes passed, he yielded to the conviction that the Baron was Mrs.
GARNETT had always foreseen that Mrs. Newell might some day ask him
to do something he should greatly dislike. He had never gone so far
as to conjecture what it might be, but had simply felt that if he
allowed his acquaintance with her to pass from spectatorship to
participation he must be prepared to find himself, at any moment, in
a queer situation.
The moment had come; and he was relieved to find that he could meet
it by refusing her request. He had not always been sure that she
would leave him this alternative. She had a way of involving people
in her complications without their being aware of it, and Garnett
had pictured himself in holes so tight that there might not be room
for a wriggle. Happily in this case he could still move freely.
Nothing compelled him to act as an intermediary between Mrs. Newell
and her husband, and it was preposterous to suppose that, even in a
life of such perpetual upheaval as hers, there were no roots which
struck deeper than her casual intimacy with himself. She had simply
laid hands on him because he happened to be within reach, and he
would put himself out of reach by leaving for London on the morrow.
Having thus inwardly asserted his independence, he felt free to let
his fancy dwell on the strangeness of the situation. He had always
supposed that Mrs. Newell, in her flight through life, must have
thrown a good many victims to the wolves, and had assumed that Mr.
Newell had been among the number. That he had been dropped overboard
at an early stage in the lady's career seemed probable from the fact
that neither his wife nor his daughter ever mentioned him. Mrs.
Newell was incapable of reticence, and if her husband had still been
an active element in her life he would certainly have figured in her
conversation. Garnett, if he thought of the matter at all, had
concluded that divorce must long since have eliminated Mr. Newell;
but he now saw how he had underrated his friend's faculty for using
up the waste material of life. She had always struck him as the most
extravagant of women, yet it turned out that by a miracle of thrift
she had for years kept a superfluous husband on the chance that he
might some day be useful to her. The day had come, and Mr. Newell
was to be called from his obscurity. Garnett wondered what had
become of him in the interval, and in what shape he would respond to
the evocation. The fact that his wife feared he might not respond to
it at all, seemed to show that his exile was voluntary, or had at
least come to appear preferable to other alternatives; but if that
were the case it was curious that he should not have taken legal
means to free himself. He could hardly have had his wife's motives
for wishing to maintain the vague tie between them; but conjecture
lost itself in trying to picture what his point of view was likely
to be, and Garnett, on his way to the Hubbards' dinner that evening,
could not help regretting that circumstances denied him the
opportunity of meeting so enigmatic a person. The young man's
knowledge of Mrs. Newell's methods made him feel that her husband
might be an interesting study. This, however, did not affect his
resolve to keep clear of the business. He entered the Hubbards'
dining-room with the firm intention of refusing to execute Mrs.
Newell's commission, and if he changed his mind in the course of the
evening it was not owing to that lady's persuasions.
Garnett's curiosity as to the Hubbards' share in Hermione's marriage
was appeased before he had been seated five minutes at their table.
Mrs. Woolsey Hubbard was an expansive blonde, whose ample but
disciplined outline seemed the result of a well-matched struggle
between her cook and her corset-maker. She talked a great deal of
what was appropriate in dress and conduct, and seemed to regard Mrs.
Newell as a final arbiter on both points. To do or to wear anything
inappropriate would have been extremely mortifying to Mrs. Hubbard,
and she was evidently resolved, at the price of eternal vigilance,
to prove her familiarity with what she frequently referred to as
"the right thing." Mr. Hubbard appeared to have no such
preoccupations. Garnett, if called upon to describe him, would have
done so by saying that he was the American who always pays. The
young man, in the course of his foreign wanderings, had come across
many fellow-citizens of Mr. Hubbard's type, in the most diverse
company and surroundings; and wherever they were to be found, they
always had their hands in their pockets. Mr. Hubbard's standard of
gentility was the extent of a man's capacity to "foot the bill"; and
as no one but an occasional compatriot cared to dispute the
privilege with him, he seldom had reason to doubt his social
Garnett, nevertheless, did not believe that this lavish pair were,
as Mrs. Newell would have phrased it, "putting up" Hermione's _dot_.
They would go very far in diamonds, but they would hang back from
securities. Their readiness to pay was indefinably mingled with a
dread of being expected to, and their prodigalities would take
flight at the first hint of coercion. Mrs. Newell, who had had a
good deal of experience in managing this type of millionaire, could
be trusted not to arouse their susceptibilities, and Garnett was
therefore certain that the chimerical legacy had been extracted from
other pockets. There were none in view but those of Baron
Schenkelderff, who, seated at Mrs. Hubbard's right, with a new order
in his button-hole, and a fresh glaze upon his features, enchanted
that lady by his careless references to crowned heads and his
condescending approval of the champagne. Garnett was more than ever
certain that it was the Baron who was paying; and it was this
conviction which made him suddenly feel that, at any cost,
Hermione's marriage must take place. He had felt no special interest
in the marriage except as one more proof of Mrs. Newell's
extraordinary capacity; but now it appealed to him from the girl's
own stand-point. For he saw, with a touch of compunction, that in
the mephitic air of her surroundings a love-story of surprising
freshness had miraculously flowered. He had only to intercept the
glances which the young couple exchanged to find himself transported
to the candid region of romance. It was evident that Hermione adored
and was adored; that the lovers believed in each other and in every
one about them, and that even the legacy of the defunct aunt had not
been too great a strain on their faith in human nature.
His first glance at the Comte Louis du Trayas showed Garnett that,
by some marvel of fitness, Hermione had happened upon a kindred
nature. If the young man's long mild features and short-sighted
glance revealed no special force of character, they showed a
benevolence and simplicity as incorruptible as her own, and declared
that their possessor, whatever his failings, would never imperil the
illusions she had so miraculously preserved. The fact that the girl
took her good fortune naturally, and did not regard herself as
suddenly snatched from the jaws of death, added poignancy to the
situation; for if she missed this way of escape, and was thrown back
on her former life, the day of discovery could not be long deferred.
It made Garnett shiver to think of her growing old between her
mother and Schenkelderff, or such successors of the Baron's as might
probably attend on Mrs. Newell's waning fortunes; for it was clear
to him that the Baron marked the first stage in his friend's
decline. When Garnett took leave that evening he had promised Mrs.
Newell that he would try to find her husband.
IF Mr. Newell read in the papers the announcement of his daughter's
marriage it did not cause him to lift the veil of seclusion in which
his wife represented him as shrouded.
A round of the American banks in Paris failed to give Garnett his
address, and it was only in chance talk with one of the young
secretaries of the Embassy that he was put on Mr. Newell's track.
The secretary's father, it appeared, had known the Newells some
twenty years earlier. He had had business relations with Mr. Newell,
who was then a man of property, with factories or something of the
kind, the narrator thought, somewhere in Western New York. There had
been at this period, for Mrs. Newell, a phase of large hospitality
and showy carriages in Washington and at Narragansett. Then her
husband had had reverses, had lost heavily in Wall Street, and had
finally drifted abroad and been lost to sight. The young man did not
know at what point in his financial decline Mr. Newell had parted
company with his wife and daughter; "though you may bet your hat,"
he philosophically concluded, "that the old girl hung on as long as
there were any pickings." He did not himself know Mr. Newell's
address, but opined that it might be extracted from a certain
official at the Consulate, if Garnett could give a sufficiently good
reason for the request; and here in fact Mrs. Newell's emissary
learned that her husband was to be found in an obscure street of the
In order to be near the scene of action, Garnett went to breakfast
at his usual haunt, determined to despatch his business as early in
the day as politeness allowed. The head waiter welcomed him to a
table near that of the transatlantic sage, who sat in his customary
corner, his head tilted back against the blistered mirror at an
angle suggesting that in a freer civilization his feet would have
sought the same level. He greeted Garnett affably and the two
exchanged their usual generalizations on life till the sage rose to
go; whereupon it occurred to Garnett to accompany him. His friend
took the offer in good part, merely remarking that he was going to
the Luxembourg gardens, where it was his invariable habit, on good
days, to feed the sparrows with the remains of his breakfast roll;
and Garnett replied that, as it happened, his own business lay in
the same direction.
"Perhaps, by the way," he added, "you can tell me how to find the
rue Panonceaux where I must go presently. I thought I knew this
quarter fairly well, but I have never heard of it."
His companion came to a sudden halt on the narrow sidewalk, to the
confusion of the dense and desultory traffic which marks the old
streets of the Latin quarter. He fixed his mild eye on Garnett and
gave a twist to the cigar which lingered in the corner of his mouth.
"The rue Panonceaux? It _is_ an out of the way hole, but I can tell
you how to find it," he answered.
He made no motion to do so, however, but continued to bend on the
young man the full force of his interrogative gaze; then he added
abruptly: "Would you mind telling me your object in going there?"
Garnett looked at him with surprise: a question so unblushingly
personal was strangely out of keeping with his friend's usual
attitude of detachment. Before he could reply, however, the other
had quietly continued: "Do you happen to be in search of Samuel C.
"Why, yes, I am," said Garnett with a start of conjecture.
His companion uttered a sigh. "I supposed so," he said resignedly;
"and in that case," he added, "we may as well have the matter out in
Garnett had halted before him with deepening astonishment. "But you
don't mean to tell me--?" he stammered.
The little man made a motion of assent. "I am Samuel C. Newell," he
said drily; "and if you have no objection, I prefer not to break
through my habit of feeding the sparrows. We are five minutes late
as it is."
He quickened his pace without awaiting any reply from Garnett, who
walked beside him in unsubdued wonder till they reached the
Luxembourg gardens, where Mr. Newell, making for one of the less
frequented alleys, seated himself on a bench and drew the fragment
of a roll from his pocket. His coming was evidently expected, for a
shower of little dusky bodies at once descended on him, and the
gravel fluttered with battling wings and beaks as he distributed his
dole with impartial gestures.
It was not till the ground was white with crumbs, and the first
frenzy of his pensioners appeased, that he turned to Garnett and
said: "I presume, sir, that you come from my wife."
Garnett coloured with embarrassment: the more simply the old man
took his mission the more complicated it appeared to himself.
"From your wife--and from Miss Newell," he said at length. "You have
perhaps heard that she is to be married."
"Oh, yes--I read the _Herald_ pretty faithfully," said Miss Newell's
parent, shaking out another handful of crumbs.
Garnett cleared his throat. "Then you have no doubt thought it
natural that, under the circumstances, they should wish to
communicate with you."
The sage continued to fix his attention on the sparrows. "My wife,"
he remarked, "might have written to me."
"Mrs. Newell was afraid she might not hear from you in reply."
"In reply? Why should she? I suppose she merely wishes to announce
the marriage. She knows I have no money left to buy
wedding-presents," said Mr. Newell astonishingly.
Garnett felt his colour deepen: he had a vague sense of standing as
the representative of something guilty and enormous, with which he
had rashly identified himself.
"I don't think you understand," he said. "Mrs. Newell and your
daughter have asked me to see you because they are anxious that you
should consent to appear at the wedding."
Mr. Newell, at this, ceased to give his attention to the birds, and
turned a compassionate gaze upon Garnett.
"My dear sir--I don't know your name--" he remarked, "would you mind
telling me how long you have been acquainted with Mrs. Newell?" And
without waiting for an answer he added judicially: "If you wait long
enough she will ask you to do some very disagreeable things for
This echo of his own thoughts gave Garnett a sharp twinge of
discomfort, but he made shift to answer good-humouredly: "If you
refer to my present errand, I must tell you that I don't find it
disagreeable to do anything which may be of service to Miss
Mr. Newell fumbled in his pocket, as though searching unavailingly
for another morsel of bread; then he said: "From her point of view I
shall not be the most important person at the ceremony."
Garnett smiled. "That is hardly a reason--" he began; but he was
checked by the brevity of tone with which his companion replied: "I
am not aware that I am called upon to give you my reasons."
"You are certainly not," the young man rejoined, "except in so far
as you are willing to consider me as the messenger of your wife and
"Oh, I accept your credentials," said the other with his dry smile;
"what I don't recognize is their right to send a message."
This reduced Garnett to silence, and after a moment's pause Mr.
Newell drew his watch from his pocket.
"I am sorry to cut the conversation short, but my days are mapped
out with a certain regularity, and this is the hour for my nap." He
rose as he spoke and held out his hand with a glint of melancholy
humour in his small clear eyes.
"You dismiss me, then? I am to take back a refusal?" the young man
"My dear sir, those ladies have got on very well without me for a
number of years: I imagine they can put through this wedding without
"You are mistaken, then; if it were not for that I shouldn't have
undertaken this errand."
Mr. Newell paused as he was turning away. "Not for what?" he
"The fact that, as it happens, the wedding can't be put through
without your help."
Mr. Newell's thin lips formed a noiseless whistle. "They've got to
have my consent, have they? Well, is he a good young man?"
"The bridegroom?" Garnett echoed in surprise. "I hear the best
accounts of him--and Miss Newell is very much in love."
Her parent met this with an odd smile. "Well, then, I give my
consent--it's all I've got left to give," he added philosophically.
Garnett hesitated. "But if you consent--if you approve--why do you
refuse your daughter's request?"
Mr. Newell looked at him a moment. "Ask Mrs. Newell!" he said. And
as Garnett was again silent, he turned away with a slight gesture of
But in an instant the young man was at his side. "I will not ask
your reasons, sir," he said, "but I will give you mine for being
here. Miss Newell cannot be married unless you are present at the
ceremony. The young man's parents know that she has a father living,
and they give their consent only on condition that he appears at her
marriage. I believe it is customary in old French families--."
"Old French families be damned!" said Mr. Newell with sudden vigour.
"She had better marry an American." And he made a more decided
motion to free himself from Garnett's importunities.
But his resistance only strengthened the young man's. The more
unpleasant the latter's task became, the more unwilling he grew to
see his efforts end in failure. During the three days which had been
consumed in his quest it had become clear to him that the
bridegroom's parents, having been surprised into a reluctant
consent, were but too ready to withdraw it on the plea of Mr.
Newell's non-appearance. Mrs. Newell, on the last edge of tension,
had confided to Garnett that the Morningfields were "being nasty";
and he could picture the whole powerful clan, on both sides of the
Channel, arrayed in a common resolve to exclude poor Hermione from
their ranks. The very inequality of the contest stirred his blood,
and made him vow that in this case at least the sins of the parents
should not be visited on the children. In his talk with the young
secretary he had obtained some glimpses of Baron Schenkelderff's
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