Part 5 out of 7
Sophy, who stood motionless, her lips set, her whole face
drawn to a silent fixity of resistance.
"You ought to speak, my dear--you ought to answer him."
"I only ask him to wait----"
"Yes," Owen, broke in, "and you won't say how long!"
Both instinctively addressed themselves to Anna, who stood,
nearly as shaken as themselves, between the double shock of
their struggle. She looked again from Sophy's inscrutable
eyes to Owen's stormy features; then she said: "What can I
do, when there's clearly something between you that I don't
"Oh, if it WERE between us! Can't you see it's outside
of us--outside of her, dragging at her, dragging her away
from me?" Owen wheeled round again upon his step-mother.
Anna turned from him to the girl. "Is it true that you want
to break your engagement? If you do, you ought to tell him
Owen burst into a laugh. "She doesn't dare to--she's afraid
I'll guess the reason!"
A faint sound escaped from Sophy's lips, but she kept them
close on whatever answer she had ready.
"If she doesn't wish to marry you, why should she be afraid
to have you know the reason?"
"She's afraid to have YOU know it--not me!"
"To have ME know it?"
He laughed again, and Anna, at his laugh, felt a sudden rush
"Owen, you must explain what you mean!"
He looked at her hard before answering; then: "Ask Darrow!"
"Owen--Owen!" Sophy Viner murmured.
Anna stood looking from one to the other. It had become
apparent to her in a flash that Owen's retort, though it
startled Sophy, did not take her by surprise; and the
discovery shot its light along dark distances of fear.
The immediate inference was that Owen had guessed the reason
of Darrow's disapproval of his marriage, or that, at least,
he suspected Sophy Viner of knowing and dreading it. This
confirmation of her own obscure doubt sent a tremor of alarm
through Anna. For a moment she felt like exclaiming: "All
this is really no business of mine, and I refuse to have you
mix me up in it--" but her secret fear held her fast.
Sophy Viner was the first to speak.
"I should like to go now," she said in a low voice, taking a
few steps toward the door.
Her tone woke Anna to the sense of her own share in the
situation. "I quite agree with you, my dear, that it's
useless to carry on this discussion. But since Mr. Darrow's
name has been brought into it, for reasons which I fail to
guess, I want to tell you that you're both mistaken if you
think he's not in sympathy with your marriage. If that's
what Owen means to imply, the idea's a complete delusion."
She spoke the words deliberately and incisively, as if
hoping that the sound of their utterance would stifle the
whisper in her bosom.
Sophy's only answer was a vague murmur, and a movement that
brought her nearer to the door; but before she could reach
it Owen had placed himself in her way.
"I don't mean to imply what you think," he said, addressing
his step-mother but keeping his eyes on the girl. "I don't
say Darrow doesn't like our marriage; I say it's Sophy who's
hated it since Darrow's been here!"
He brought out the charge in a tone of forced composure, but
his lips were white and he grasped the doorknob to hide the
tremor of his hand.
Anna's anger surged up with her fears. "You're absurd,
Owen! I don't know why I listen to you. Why should Sophy
dislike Mr. Darrow, and if she does, why should that have
anything to do with her wishing to break her engagement?"
"I don't say she dislikes him! I don't say she likes him; I
don't know what it is they say to each other when they're
shut up together alone."
"Shut up together alone?" Anna stared. Owen seemed like a
man in delirium; such an exhibition was degrading to them
all. But he pushed on without seeing her look.
"Yes--the first evening she came, in the study; the next
morning, early, in the park; yesterday, again, in the
spring-house, when you were at the lodge with the doctor...I
don't know what they say to each other, but they've taken
every chance they could to say it...and to say it when they
thought that no one saw them."
Anna longed to silence him, but no words came to her. It was
as though all her confused apprehensions had suddenly taken
definite shape. There was "something"--yes, there was
"something"...Darrow's reticences and evasions had been more
than a figment of her doubts.
The next instant brought a recoil of pride. She turned
indignantly on her step-son.
"I don't half understand what you've been saying; but what
you seem to hint is so preposterous, and so insulting both
to Sophy and to me, that I see no reason why we should
listen to you any longer."
Though her tone steadied Owen, she perceived at once that it
would not deflect him from his purpose. He spoke less
vehemently, but with all the more precision.
"How can it be preposterous, since it's true? Or insulting,
since I don't know, any more than YOU, the meaning of
what I've been seeing? If you'll be patient with me I'll try
to put it quietly. What I mean is that Sophy has completely
changed since she met Darrow here, and that, having noticed
the change, I'm hardly to blame for having tried to find out
Anna made an effort to answer him with the same composure.
"You're to blame, at any rate, for so recklessly assuming
that you HAVE found it out. You seem to forget that,
till they met here, Sophy and Mr. Darrow hardly knew each
"If so, it's all the stranger that they've been so often
"Owen, Owen--" the girl sighed out.
He turned his haggard face to her. "Can I help it, if I've
seen and known what I wasn't meant to? For God's sake give
me a reason--any reason I can decently make out with! Is it
my fault if, the day after you arrived, when I came back
late through the garden, the curtains of the study hadn't
been drawn, and I saw you there alone with Darrow?"
Anna laughed impatiently. "Really, Owen, if you make it a
grievance that two people who are staying in the same house
should be seen talking together----!"
"They were not talking. That's the point----"
"Not talking? How do you know? You could hardly hear them
from the garden!"
"No; but I could see. HE was sitting at my desk, with
his face in his hands. SHE was standing in the window,
looking away from him..."
He waited, as if for Sophy Viner's answer; but still she
neither stirred nor spoke.
"That was the first time," he went on; "and the second was
the next morning in the park. It was natural enough, their
meeting there. Sophy had gone out with Effie, and Effie ran
back to look for me. She told me she'd left Sophy and
Darrow in the path that leads to the river, and presently we
saw them ahead of us. They didn't see us at first, because
they were standing looking at each other; and this time they
were not speaking either. We came up close before they
heard us, and all that time they never spoke, or stopped
looking at each other. After that I began to wonder; and so
I watched them."
"Oh, I only had to wait. Yesterday, when I motored you and
the doctor back from the lodge, I saw Sophy coming out of
the spring-house. I supposed she'd taken shelter from the
rain, and when you got out of the motor I strolled back down
the avenue to meet her. But she'd disappeared--she must
have taken a short cut and come into the house by the side
door. I don't know why I went on to the spring-house; I
suppose it was what you'd call spying. I went up the steps
and found the room empty; but two chairs had been moved out
from the wall and were standing near the table; and one of
the Chinese screens that lie on it had dropped to the
Anna sounded a faint note of irony. "Really? Sophy'd gone
there for shelter, and she dropped a screen and moved a
"I said two chairs----"
"Two? What damning evidence--of I don't know what!"
"Simply of the fact that Darrow'd been there with her. As I
looked out of the window I saw him close by, walking away.
He must have turned the corner of the spring-house just as I
got to the door."
There was another silence, during which Anna paused, not
only to collect her own words but to wait for Sophy Viner's;
then, as the girl made no sign, she turned to her.
"I've absolutely nothing to say to all this; but perhaps
you'd like me to wait and hear your answer?"
Sophy raised her head with a quick flash of colour. "I've no
answer either--except that Owen must be mad."
In the interval since she had last spoken she seemed to have
regained her self-control, and her voice rang clear, with a
cold edge of anger.
Anna looked at her step-son. He had grown extremely pale,
and his hand fell from the door with a discouraged gesture.
"That's all then? You won't give me any reason?"
"I didn't suppose it was necessary to give you or any one
else a reason for talking with a friend of Mrs. Leath's
under Mrs. Leath's own roof."
Owen hardly seemed to feel the retort: he kept his dogged
stare on her face.
"I won't ask for one, then. I'll only ask you to give me
your assurance that your talks with Darrow have had nothing
to do with your suddenly deciding to leave Givre."
She hesitated, not so much with the air of weighing her
answer as of questioning his right to exact any. "I give
you my assurance; and now I should like to go," she said.
As she turned away, Anna intervened. "My dear, I think you
ought to speak."
The girl drew herself up with a faint laugh. "To him--or to
She stiffened. "I've said all there is to say."
Anna drew back, her eyes on her step-son. He had left the
threshold and was advancing toward Sophy Viner with a motion
of desperate appeal; but as he did so there was a knock on
the door. A moment's silence fell on the three; then Anna
said: "Come in!"
Darrow came into the room. Seeing the three together, he
looked rapidly from one to the other; then he turned to Anna
with a smile.
"I came up to see if you were ready; but please send me off
if I'm not wanted."
His look, his voice, the simple sense of his presence,
restored Anna's shaken balance. By Owen's side he looked so
strong, so urbane, so experienced, that the lad's passionate
charges dwindled to mere boyish vapourings. A moment ago
she had dreaded Darrow's coming; now she was glad that he
She turned to him with sudden decision. "Come in, please; I
want you to hear what Owen has been saying."
She caught a murmur from Sophy Viner, but disregarded it.
An illuminating impulse urged her on. She, habitually so
aware of her own lack of penetration, her small skill in
reading hidden motives and detecting secret signals, now
felt herself mysteriously inspired. She addressed herself to
Sophy Viner. "It's much better for you both that this
absurd question should be cleared up now " Then, turning to
Darrow, she continued: "For some reason that I don't pretend
to guess, Owen has taken it into his head that you've
influenced Miss Viner to break her engagement."
She spoke slowly and deliberately, because she wished to
give time and to gain it; time for Darrow and Sophy to
receive the full impact of what she was saying, and time to
observe its full effect on them. She had said to herself:
"If there's nothing between them, they'll look at each
other; if there IS something, they won't;" and as she
ceased to speak she felt as if all her life were in her
Sophy, after a start of protest, remained motionless, her
gaze on the ground. Darrow, his face grown grave, glanced
slowly from Owen Leath to Anna. With his eyes on the latter
he asked: "Has Miss Viner broken her engagement?"
A moment's silence followed his question; then the girl
looked up and said: "Yes!"
Owen, as she spoke, uttered a smothered exclamation and
walked out of the room. She continued to stand in the same
place, without appearing to notice his departure, and
without vouchsafing an additional word of explanation; then,
before Anna could find a cry to detain her, she too turned
and went out.
"For God's sake, what's happened?" Darrow asked; but Anna,
with a drop of the heart, was saying to herself that he and
Sophy Viner had not looked at each other.
Anna stood in the middle of the room, her eyes on the door.
Darrow's questioning gaze was still on her, and she said to
herself with a quick-drawn breath: "If only he doesn't come
It seemed to her that she had been suddenly endowed with the
fatal gift of reading the secret sense of every seemingly
spontaneous look and movement, and that in his least gesture
of affection she would detect a cold design.
For a moment longer he continued to look at her enquiringly;
then he turned away and took up his habitual stand by the
mantel-piece. She drew a deep breath of relief .
"Won't you please explain?" he said.
"I can't explain: I don't know. I didn't even know--till
she told you--that she really meant to break her engagement.
All I know is that she came to me just now and said she
wished to leave Givre today; and that Owen, when he heard of
it--for she hadn't told him--at once accused her of going
away with the secret intention of throwing him over."
"And you think it's a definite break?" She perceived, as she
spoke, that his brow had cleared.
"How should I know? Perhaps you can tell me."
"I?" She fancied his face clouded again, but he did not move
from his tranquil attitude.
"As I told you," she went on, "Owen has worked himself up to
imagining that for some mysterious reason you've influenced
Sophy against him."
Darrow still visibly wondered. "It must indeed be a
mysterious reason! He knows how slightly I know Miss Viner.
Why should he imagine anything so wildly improbable?"
"I don't know that either."
"But he must have hinted at some reason."
"No: he admits he doesn't know your reason. He simply says
that Sophy's manner to him has changed since she came back
to Givre and that he's seen you together several times--in
the park, the spring-house, I don't know where--talking
alone in a way that seemed confidential--almost secret; and
he draws the preposterous conclusion that you've used your
influence to turn her against him."
"My influence? What kind of influence?"
"He doesn't say."
Darrow again seemed to turn over the facts she gave him.
His face remained grave, but without the least trace of
discomposure. "And what does Miss Viner say?"
"She says it's perfectly natural that she should
occasionally talk to my friends when she's under my roof--
and refuses to give him any other explanation."
"That at least is perfectly natural!"
Anna felt her cheeks flush as she answered: "Yes--but there
"Some reason for her sudden decision to break her
engagement. I can understand Owen's feeling, sorry as I am
for his way of showing it. The girl owes him some sort of
explanation, and as long as she refuses to give it his
imagination is sure to run wild."
"She would have given it, no doubt, if he d asked it in a
"I don't defend Owen's tone--but she knew what it was before
she accepted him. She knows he's excitable and
"Well, she's been disciplining him a little--probably the
best thing that could happen. Why not let the matter rest
"Leave Owen with the idea that you HAVE been the cause
of the break?"
He met the question with his easy smile. "Oh, as to that--
leave him with any idea of me he chooses! But leave him, at
any rate, free."
"Free?" she echoed in surprise.
"Simply let things be. You've surely done all you could for
him and Miss Viner. If they don't hit it off it's their own
affair. What possible motive can you have for trying to
Her gaze widened to a deeper wonder. "Why--naturally, what
he says of you!"
"I don't care a straw what he says of me! In such a
situation a boy in love will snatch at the most far-fetched
reason rather than face the mortifying fact that the lady
may simply be tired of him."
"You don t quite understand Owen. Things go deep with him,
and last long. It took him a long time to recover from his
other unlucky love affair. He's romantic and extravagant:
he can't live on the interest of his feelings. He worships
Sophy and she seemed to be fond of him. If she's changed
it's been very sudden. And if they part like this, angrily
and inarticulately, it will hurt him horribly--hurt his very
soul. But that, as you say, is between the two. What
concerns me is his associating you with their quarrel.
Owen's like my own son--if you'd seen him when I first came
here you'd know why. We were like two prisoners who talk to
each other by tapping on the wall. He's never forgotten it,
nor I. Whether he breaks with Sophy, or whether they make
it up, I can't let him think you had anything to do with
She raised her eyes entreatingly to Darrow's, and read in
them the forbearance of the man resigned to the discussion
of non-existent problems.
"I'll do whatever you want me to," he said; "but I don't yet
know what it is."
His smile seemed to charge her with inconsequence, and the
prick to her pride made her continue: "After all, it's not
so unnatural that Owen, knowing you and Sophy to be almost
strangers, should wonder what you were saying to each other
when he saw you talking together."
She felt a warning tremor as she spoke, as though some
instinct deeper than reason surged up in defense of its
treasure. But Darrow's face was unstirred save by the flit
of his half-amused smile.
"Well, my dear--and couldn't you have told him?"
"I?" she faltered out through her blush.
"You seem to forget, one and all of you, the position you
put me in when I came down here: your appeal to me to see
Owen through, your assurance to him that I would, Madame de
Chantelle's attempt to win me over; and most of all, my own
sense of the fact you've just recalled to me: the
importance, for both of us, that Owen should like me. It
seemed to me that the first thing to do was to get as much
light as I could on the whole situation; and the obvious way
of doing it was to try to know Miss Viner better. Of course
I've talked with her alone--I've talked with her as often as
I could. I've tried my best to find out if you were right
in encouraging Owen to marry her."
She listened with a growing sense of reassurance, struggling
to separate the abstract sense of his words from the
persuasion in which his eyes and voice enveloped them.
"I see--I do see," she murmured.
"You must see, also, that I could hardly say this to Owen
without offending him still more, and perhaps increasing the
breach between Miss Viner and himself. What sort of figure
should I cut if I told him I'd been trying to find out if
he'd made a proper choice? In any case, it's none of my
business to offer an explanation of what she justly says
doesn't need one. If she declines to speak, it's obviously
on the ground that Owen's insinuations are absurd; and that
surely pledges me to silence."
"Yes, yes! I see," Anna repeated. "But I don't want you to
explain anything to Owen."
"You haven't yet told me what you do want."
She hesitated, conscious of the difficulty of justifying her
request; then: "I want you to speak to Sophy," she said.
Darrow broke into an incredulous laugh. "Considering what
my previous attempts have resulted in----!"
She raised her eyes quickly. "They haven't, at least,
resulted in your liking her less, in your thinking less well
of her than you've told me?"
She fancied he frowned a little. "I wonder why you go back
"I want to be sure--I owe it to Owen. Won't you tell me the
exact impression she's produced on you?"
"I have told you--I like Miss Viner."
"Do you still believe she's in love with Owen?"
"There was nothing in our short talks to throw any
particular light on that."
"You still believe, though, that there's no reason why he
shouldn't marry her?"
Again he betrayed a restrained impatience. "How can I
answer that without knowing her reasons for breaking with
"That's just what I want you to find out from her."
"And why in the world should she tell me?"
"Because, whatever grievance she has against Owen, she can
certainly have none against me. She can't want to have Owen
connect me in his mind with this wretched quarrel; and she
must see that he will until he's convinced you've had no
share in it."
Darrow's elbow dropped from the mantel-piece and he took a
restless step or two across the room. Then he halted before
"Why can't you tell her this yourself?"
"Don't you see?"
He eyed her intently, and she pressed on: "You must have
guessed that Owen's jealous of you."
"Jealous of me?" The blood flew up under his brown skin.
"Blind with it--what else would drive him to this folly? And
I can't have her think me jealous too! I've said all I
could, short of making her think so; and she's refused a
word more to either of us. Our only chance now is that she
should listen to you--that you should make her see the harm
her silence may do."
Darrow uttered a protesting exclamation. "It's all too
preposterous--what you suggest! I can't, at any rate, appeal
to her on such a ground as that!"
Anna laid her hand on his arm. "Appeal to her on the ground
that I'm almost Owen's mother, and that any estrangement
between you and him would kill me. She knows what he is--
she'll understand. Tell her to say anything, do anything,
she wishes; but not to go away without speaking, not to
leave THAT between us when she goes!"
She drew back a step and lifted her face to his, trying to
look into his eyes more deeply than she had ever looked; but
before she could discern what they expressed he had taken
hold of her hands and bent his head to kiss them.
"You'll see her? You'll see her?" she entreated; and he
answered: "I'll do anything in the world you want me to."
Darrow waited alone in the sitting-room.
No place could have been more distasteful as the scene of
the talk that lay before him; but he had acceded to Anna's
suggestion that it would seem more natural for her to summon
Sophy Viner than for him to go in search of her. As his
troubled pacings carried him back and forth a relentless
hand seemed to be tearing away all the tender fibres of
association that bound him to the peaceful room. Here, in
this very place, he had drunk his deepest draughts of
happiness, had had his lips at the fountain-head of its
overflowing rivers; but now that source was poisoned and he
would taste no more of an untainted cup.
For a moment he felt an actual physical anguish; then his
nerves hardened for the coming struggle. He had no notion
of what awaited him; but after the first instinctive recoil
he had seen in a flash the urgent need of another word with
Sophy Viner. He had been insincere in letting Anna think
that he had consented to speak because she asked it. In
reality he had been feverishly casting about for the pretext
she had given him; and for some reason this trivial
hypocrisy weighed on him more than all his heavy burden of
At length he heard a step behind him and Sophy Viner
entered. When she saw him she paused on the threshold and
half drew back.
"I was told that Mrs. Leath had sent for me."
"Mrs. Leath DID send for you. She'll be here presently;
but I asked her to let me see you first."
He spoke very gently, and there was no insincerity in his
gentleness. He was profoundly moved by the change in the
girl's appearance. At sight of him she had forced a smile;
but it lit up her wretchedness like a candle-flame held to a
She made no reply, and Darrow went on: "You must understand
my wanting to speak to you, after what I was told just now."
She interposed, with a gesture of protest: "I'm not
responsible for Owen's ravings!"
"Of course----". He broke off and they stood facing each
other. She lifted a hand and pushed back her loose lock
with the gesture that was burnt into his memory; then she
looked about her and dropped into the nearest chair.
"Well, you've got what you wanted," she said.
"What do you mean by what I wanted?"
"My engagement's broken--you heard me say so."
"Why do you say that's what I wanted? All I wished, from the
beginning, was to advise you, to help you as best I could--
"That's what you've done," she rejoined. "You've convinced
me that it's best I shouldn't marry him."
Darrow broke into a despairing laugh. "At the very moment
when you'd convinced me to the contrary!"
"Had I?" Her smile flickered up. "Well, I really believed
it till you showed me...warned me..."
"That I'd be miserable if I married a man I didn't love."
"Don't you love him?"
She made no answer, and Darrow started up and walked away to
the other end of the room. He stopped before the writing-
table, where his photograph, well-dressed, handsome, self-
sufficient--the portrait of a man of the world, confident of
his ability to deal adequately with the most delicate
situations--offered its huge fatuity to his gaze. He turned
back to her. "It's rather hard on Owen, isn't it, that you
should have waited until now to tell him?"
She reflected a moment before answering. "I told him as
soon as I knew."
"Knew that you couldn't marry him?"
"Knew that I could never live here with him." She looked
about the room, as though the very walls must speak for her.
For a moment Darrow continued to search her face
perplexedly; then their eyes met in a long disastrous gaze.
"Yes----" she said, and stood up.
Below the window they heard Effie whistling for her dogs,
and then, from the terrace, her mother calling her.
"There--THAT for instance," Sophy Viner said.
Darrow broke out: "It's I who ought to go!"
She kept her small pale smile. "What good would that do any
He covered his face with his hands. "Good God!" he groaned.
"How could I tell?"
"You couldn't tell. We neither of us could." She seemed to
turn the problem over critically. "After all, it might have
been YOU instead of me!"
He took another distracted turn about the room and coming
back to her sat down in a chair at her side. A mocking hand
seemed to dash the words from his lips. There was nothing on
earth that he could say to her that wasn't foolish or cruel
"My dear," he began at last, "oughtn't you, at any rate, to
Her gaze grew grave. "Try to forget you?"
He flushed to the forehead. "I meant, try to give Owen more
time; to give him a chance. He's madly in love with you;
all the good that's in him is in your hands. His step-mother
felt that from the first. And she thought--she believed----
"She thought I could make him happy. Would she think so
"Now...? I don't say now. But later? Time modifies...rubs
out...more quickly than you think...Go away, but let him
hope...I'm going too--WE'RE going--" he stumbled on the
plural--"in a very few weeks: going for a long time,
probably. What you're thinking of now may never happen. We
may not all be here together again for years."
She heard him out in silence, her hands clasped on her knee,
her eyes bent on them. "For me," she said, "you'll always
"Don't say that--oh, don't! Things change...people
"You don't understand. I don't want anything to change. I
don't want to forget--to rub out. At first I imagined I
did; but that was a foolish mistake. As soon as I saw you
again I knew it...It's not being here with you that I'm
afraid of--in the sense you think. It's being here, or
anywhere, with Owen." She stood up and bent her tragic smile
on him. "I want to keep you all to myself."
The only words that came to him were futile denunciations of
his folly; but the sense of their futility checked them on
his lips. "Poor child--you poor child!" he heard himself
Suddenly he felt the strong reaction of reality and its
impetus brought him to his feet. "Whatever happens, I
intend to go--to go for good," he exclaimed. "I want you to
understand that. Oh, don't be afraid--I'll find a reason.
But it's perfectly clear that I must go."
She uttered a protesting cry. "Go away? You? Don't you see
that that would tell everything--drag everybody into the
He found no answer, and her voice dropped back to its calmer
note. "What good would your going do? Do you suppose it
would change anything for me?" She looked at him with a
musing wistfulness. "I wonder what your feeling for me was?
It seems queer that I've never really known--I suppose we
DON'T know much about that kind of feeling. Is it like
taking a drink when you're thirsty?...I used to feel as if
all of me was in the palm of your hand..."
He bowed his humbled head, but she went on almost
exultantly: "Don't for a minute think I'm sorry! It was
worth every penny it cost. My mistake was in being ashamed,
just at first, of its having cost such a lot. I tried to
carry it off as a joke--to talk of it to myself as an
'adventure'. I'd always wanted adventures, and you'd given
me one, and I tried to take your attitude about it, to 'play
the game' and convince myself that I hadn't risked any more
on it than you. Then, when I met you again, I suddenly saw
that I HAD risked more, but that I'd won more, too--such
worlds! I'd been trying all the while to put everything I
could between us; now I want to sweep everything away. I'd
been trying to forget how you looked; now I want to remember
you always. I'd been trying not to hear your voice; now I
never want to hear any other. I've made my choice--that's
all: I've had you and I mean to keep you." Her face was
shining like her eyes. "To keep you hidden away here," she
ended, and put her hand upon her breast.
After she had left him, Darrow continued to sit motionless,
staring back into their past. Hitherto it had lingered on
the edge of his mind in a vague pink blur, like one of the
little rose-leaf clouds that a setting sun drops from its
disk. Now it was a huge looming darkness, through which his
eyes vainly strained. The whole episode was still obscure
to him, save where here and there, as they talked, some
phrase or gesture or intonation of the girl's had lit up a
little spot in the night.
She had said: "I wonder what your feeling for me was?" and
he found himself wondering too...He remembered distinctly
enough that he had not meant the perilous passion--even in
its most transient form--to play a part in their relation.
In that respect his attitude had been above reproach. She
was an unusually original and attractive creature, to whom
he had wanted to give a few days of harmless pleasuring, and
who was alert and expert enough to understand his intention
and spare him the boredom of hesitations and
misinterpretations. That had been his first impression, and
her subsequent demeanour had justified it. She had been,
from the outset, just the frank and easy comrade he had
expected to find her. Was it he, then, who, in the sequel,
had grown impatient of the bounds he had set himself? Was it
his wounded vanity that, seeking balm for its hurt, yearned
to dip deeper into the healing pool of her compassion? In
his confused memory of the situation he seemed not to have
been guiltless of such yearnings...Yet for the first few
days the experiment had been perfectly successful. Her
enjoyment had been unclouded and his pleasure in it
undisturbed. It was very gradually--he seemed to see--that
a shade of lassitude had crept over their intercourse.
Perhaps it was because, when her light chatter about people
failed, he found she had no other fund to draw on, or
perhaps simply because of the sweetness of her laugh, or of
the charm of the gesture with which, one day in the woods of
Marly, she had tossed off her hat and tilted back her head
at the call of a cuckoo; or because, whenever he looked at
her unexpectedly, he found that she was looking at him and
did not want him to know it; or perhaps, in varying degrees,
because of all these things, that there had come a moment
when no word seemed to fly high enough or dive deep enough
to utter the sense of well-being each gave to the other, and
the natural substitute for speech had been a kiss.
The kiss, at all events, had come at the precise moment to
save their venture from disaster. They had reached the
point when her amazing reminiscences had begun to flag, when
her future had been exhaustively discussed, her theatrical
prospects minutely studied, her quarrel with Mrs. Murrett
retold with the last amplification of detail, and when,
perhaps conscious of her exhausted resources and his
dwindling interest, she had committed the fatal error of
saying that she could see he was unhappy, and entreating him
to tell her why...
From the brink of estranging confidences, and from the risk
of unfavourable comparisons, his gesture had snatched her
back to safety; and as soon as he had kissed her he felt
that she would never bore him again. She was one of the
elemental creatures whose emotion is all in their pulses,
and who become inexpressive or sentimental when they try to
turn sensation into speech. His caress had restored her to
her natural place in the scheme of things, and Darrow felt
as if he had clasped a tree and a nymph had bloomed from
The mere fact of not having to listen to her any longer
added immensely to her charm. She continued, of course, to
talk to him, but it didn't matter, because he no longer made
any effort to follow her words, but let her voice run on as
a musical undercurrent to his thoughts.
She hadn't a drop of poetry in her, but she had some of the
qualities that create it in others; and in moments of heat
the imagination does not always feel the difference...
Lying beside her in the shade, Darrow felt her presence as a
part of the charmed stillness of the summer woods, as the
element of vague well-being that suffused his senses and
lulled to sleep the ache of wounded pride. All he asked of
her, as yet, was a touch on the hand or on the lips--and
that she should let him go on lying there through the long
warm hours, while a black-bird's song throbbed like a
fountain, and the summer wind stirred in the trees, and
close by, between the nearest branches and the brim of his
tilted hat, a slight white figure gathered up all the
floating threads of joy...
He recalled, too, having noticed, as he lay staring at a
break in the tree-tops, a stream of mares'-tails coming up
the sky. He had said to himself: "It will rain to-morrow,"
and the thought had made the air seem warmer and the sun
more vivid on her hair...Perhaps if the mares'-tails had not
come up the sky their adventure might have had no sequel.
But the cloud brought rain, and next morning he looked out
of his window into a cold grey blur. They had planned an
all-day excursion down the Seine, to the two Andelys and
Rouen, and now, with the long hours on their hands, they
were both a little at a loss...There was the Louvre, of
course, and the Luxembourg; but he had tried looking at
pictures with her, she had first so persistently admired the
worst things, and then so frankly lapsed into indifference,
that he had no wish to repeat the experiment. So they went
out, aimlessly, and took a cold wet walk, turning at length
into the deserted arcades of the Palais Royal, and finally
drifting into one of its equally deserted restaurants, where
they lunched alone and somewhat dolefully, served by a wan
old waiter with the look of a castaway who has given up
watching for a sail...It was odd how the waiter's face came
back to him...
Perhaps but for the rain it might never have happened; but
what was the use of thinking of that now? He tried to turn
his thoughts to more urgent issues; but, by a strange
perversity of association, every detail of the day was
forcing itself on his mind with an insistence from which
there was no escape. Reluctantly he relived the long wet
walk back to the hotel, after a tedious hour at a
cinematograph show on the Boulevard. It was still raining
when they withdrew from this stale spectacle, but she had
obstinately refused to take a cab, had even, on the way,
insisted on loitering under the dripping awnings of shop-
windows and poking into draughty passages, and finally, when
they had nearly reached their destination, had gone so far
as to suggest that they should turn back to hunt up some
show she had heard of in a theatre at the Batignolles. But
at that he had somewhat irritably protested: he remembered
that, for the first time, they were both rather irritable,
and vaguely disposed to resist one another's suggestions.
His feet were wet, and he was tired of walking, and sick of
the smell of stuffy unaired theatres, and he had said he
must really get back to write some letters--and so they had
kept on to the hotel...
Darrow had no idea how long he had sat there when he heard
Anna's hand on the door. The effort of rising, and of
composing his face to meet her, gave him a factitious sense
of self-control. He said to himself: "I must decide on
something----" and that lifted him a hair's breadth above
the whirling waters.
She came in with a lighter step, and he instantly perceived
that something unforeseen and reassuring had happened.
"She's been with me. She came and found me on the terrace.
We've had a long talk and she's explained everything. I
feel as if I'd never known her before!"
Her voice was so moved and tender that it checked his start
"It's natural, isn't it, that she should have felt a little
sore at the kind of inspection she's been subjected to? Oh,
not from you--I don't mean that! But Madame de Chantelle's
opposition--and her sending for Adelaide Painter! She told
me frankly she didn't care to owe her husband to Adelaide
Painter...She thinks now that her annoyance at feeling
herself so talked over and scrutinized may have shown itself
in her manner to Owen, and set him imagining the insane
things he did...I understand all she must have felt, and I
agree with her that it's best she should go away for a
while. She's made me," Anna summed up, "feel as if I'd been
dreadfully thick-skinned and obtuse!"
"Yes. As if I'd treated her like the bric-a-brac that used
to be sent down here 'on approval,' to see if it would look
well with the other pieces." She added, with a sudden flush
of enthusiasm: "I'm glad she's got it in her to make one
feel like that!"
She seemed to wait for Darrow to agree with her, or to put
some other question, and he finally found voice to ask:
"Then you think it's not a final break?"
"I hope not--I've never hoped it more! I had a word with
Owen, too, after I left her, and I think he understands that
he must let her go without insisting on any positive
promise. She's excited...he must let her calm down..."
Again she waited, and Darrow said: "Surely you can make him
"She'll help me to--she's to see him, of course, before she
goes. She starts immediately, by the way, with Adelaide
Painter, who is motoring over to Francheuil to catch the one
o'clock express--and who, of course, knows nothing of all
this, and is simply to be told that Sophy has been sent for
by the Farlows."
Darrow mutely signed his comprehension, and she went on:
"Owen is particularly anxious that neither Adelaide nor his
grandmother should have the least inkling of what's
happened. The need of shielding Sophy will help him to
control himself. He's coming to his senses, poor boy; he's
ashamed of his wild talk already. He asked me to tell you
so; no doubt he'll tell you so himself."
Darrow made a movement of protest. "Oh, as to that--the
thing's not worth another word."
"Or another thought, either?" She brightened. "Promise me
you won't even think of it--promise me you won't be hard on
He was finding it easier to smile back at her. "Why should
you think it necessary to ask my indulgence for Owen?"
She hesitated a moment, her eyes wandering from him. Then
they came back with a smile. "Perhaps because I need it for
"I mean, because I understand better how one can torture
one's self over unrealities."
As Darrow listened, the tension of his nerves began to
relax. Her gaze, so grave and yet so sweet, was like a deep
pool into which he could plunge and hide himself from the
hard glare of his misery. As this ecstatic sense enveloped
him he found it more and more difficult to follow her words
and to frame an answer; but what did anything matter, except
that her voice should go on, and the syllables fall like
soft touches on his tortured brain?
"Don't you know," she continued, "the bliss of waking from a
bad dream in one's own quiet room, and going slowly over all
the horror without being afraid of it any more? That's what
I'm doing now. And that's why I understand Owen..." She
broke off, and he felt her touch on his arm. "BECAUSE
I'D DREAMED THE HORROR TOO!"
He understood her then, and stammered: "You?"
"Forgive me! And let me tell you!...It will help you to
understand Owen...There WERE little things...little
signs...once I had begun to watch for them: your reluctance
to speak about her...her reserve with you...a sort of
constraint we'd never seen in her before..."
She laughed up at him, and with her hands in his he
contrived to say: "NOW you understand why?"
"Oh, I understand; of course I understand; and I want you to
laugh at me--with me! Because there were other things
too...crazier things still...There was even--last night on
the terrace--her pink cloak..."
"Her pink cloak?" Now he honestly wondered, and as she saw
it she blushed.
"You've forgotten about the cloak? The pink cloak that Owen
saw you with at the play in Paris? Yes...yes...I was mad
enough for that!...It does me good to laugh about it now!
But you ought to know that I'm going to be a jealous
woman...a ridiculously jealous woman...you ought to be
warned of it in time..."
He had dropped her hands, and she leaned close and lifted
her arms to his neck with one of her rare gestures of
"I don't know why it is; but it makes me happier now to have
been so foolish!"
Her lips were parted in a noiseless laugh and the tremor of
her lashes made their shadow move on her cheek. He looked
at her through a mist of pain and saw all her offered beauty
held up like a cup to his lips; but as he stooped to it a
darkness seemed to fall between them, her arms slipped from
his shoulders and she drew away from him abruptly.
"But she WAS with you, then?" she exclaimed; and then,
as he stared at her: "Oh, don't say no! Only go and look at
He stood speechless, and she pressed on: "Don't deny it--oh,
don't deny it! What will be left for me to imagine if you
do? Don't you see how every single thing cries it out? Owen
sees it--he saw it again just now! When I told him she'd
relented, and would see him, he said: 'Is that Darrow's
Darrow took the onslaught in silence. He might have spoken,
have summoned up the usual phrases of banter and denial; he
was not even certain that they might not, for the moment,
have served their purpose if he could have uttered them
without being seen. But he was as conscious of what had
happened to his face as if he had obeyed Anna's bidding and
looked at himself in the glass. He knew he could no more
hide from her what was written there than he could efface
from his soul the fiery record of what he had just lived
through. There before him, staring him in the eyes, and
reflecting itself in all his lineaments, was the
overwhelming fact of Sophy Viner's passion and of the act by
which she had attested it.
Anna was talking again, hurriedly, feverishly, and his soul
was wrung by the anguish in her voice. "Do speak at last--
you must speak! I don't want to ask you to harm the girl;
but you must see that your silence is doing her more harm
than your answering my questions could. You're leaving me
only the worst things to think of her...she'd see that
herself if she were here. What worse injury can you do her
than to make me hate her--to make me feel she's plotted with
you to deceive us?"
"Oh, not that!" Darrow heard his own voice before he was
aware that he meant to speak. "Yes; I did see her in
Paris," he went on after a pause; "but I was bound to
respect her reason for not wanting it known."
Anna paled. "It was she at the theatre that night?"
"I was with her at the theatre one night."
"Why should she have asked you not to say so?"
"She didn't wish it known that I'd met her."
"Why shouldn't she have wished it known?"
"She had quarrelled with Mrs. Murrett and come over suddenly
to Paris, and she didn't want the Farlows to hear of it. I
came across her by accident, and she asked me not to speak
of having seen her."
"Because of her quarrel? Because she was ashamed of her part
"Oh, no. There was nothing for her to be ashamed of. But
the Farlows had found the place for her, and she didn't want
them to know how suddenly she'd had to leave, and how badly
Mrs. Murrett had behaved. She was in a terrible plight--the
woman had even kept back her month's salary. She knew the
Farlows would be awfully upset, and she wanted more time to
Darrow heard himself speak as though the words had proceeded
from other lips. His explanation sounded plausible enough,
and he half-fancied Anna's look grew lighter. She waited a
moment, as though to be sure he had no more to add; then she
said: "But the Farlows DID know; they told me all about
it when they sent her to me."
He flushed as if she had laid a deliberate trap for him.
"They may know NOW; they didn't then----"
"That's no reason for her continuing now to make a mystery
of having met you."
"It's the only reason I can give you."
"Then I'll go and ask her for one myself." She turned and
took a few steps toward the door.
"Anna!" He started to follow her, and then checked himself.
"Don't do that!"
"It's not like you...not generous..."
She stood before him straight and pale, but under her rigid
face he saw the tumult of her doubt and misery.
"I don't want to be ungenerous; I don't want to pry into her
secrets. But things can't be left like this. Wouldn't it be
better for me to go to her? Surely she'll understand--she'll
explain...It may be some mere trifle she's concealing:
something that would horrify the Farlows, but that I
shouldn't see any harm in..." She paused, her eyes
searching his face. "A love affair, I suppose...that's it?
You met her with some man at the theatre--and she was
frightened and begged you to fib about it? Those poor young
things that have to go about among us like machines--oh, if
you knew how I pity them!"
"If you pity her, why not let her go?"
She stared. "Let her go--go for good, you mean? Is that the
best you can say for her?"
"Let things take their course. After all, it's between
herself and Owen."
"And you and me--and Effie, if Owen marries her, and I leave
my child with them! Don't you see the impossibility of what
you're asking? We're all bound together in this coil."
Darrow turned away with a groan. "Oh, let her go--let her
"Then there IS something--something really bad? She
WAS with some one when you met her? Some one with whom she
was----" She broke off, and he saw her struggling with new
thoughts. "If it's THAT, of course...Oh, don't you
see," she desperately appealed to him, "that I must find
out, and that it's too late now for you not to speak? Don't
be afraid that I'll betray you...I'll never, never let a
soul suspect. But I must know the truth, and surely it's
best for her that I should find it out from you."
Darrow waited a moment; then he said slowly: "What you
imagine's mere madness. She was at the theatre with me."
"With you?" He saw a tremor pass through her, but she
controlled it instantly and faced him straight and
motionless as a wounded creature in the moment before it
feels its wound. "Why should you both have made a mystery
"I've told you the idea was not mine." He cast about. "She
may have been afraid that Owen----"
"But that was not a reason for her asking you to tell me
that you hardly knew her--that you hadn't even seen her for
years." She broke off and the blood rose to her face and
forehead. "Even if SHE had other reasons, there could
be only one reason for your obeying her----"
Silence fell between them, a silence in which the room
seemed to become suddenly resonant with voices. Darrow's
gaze wandered to the window and he noticed that the gale of
two days before had nearly stripped the tops of the lime-
trees in the court. Anna had moved away and was resting her
elbows against the mantel-piece, her head in her hands. As
she stood there he took in with a new intensity of vision
little details of her appearance that his eyes had often
cherished: the branching blue veins in the backs of her
hands, the warm shadow that her hair cast on her ear, and
the colour of the hair itself, dull black with a tawny
under-surface, like the wings of certain birds. He felt it
to be useless to speak.
After a while she lifted her head and said: "I shall not see
her again before she goes."
He made no answer, and turning to him she added: "That is
why she's going, I suppose? Because she loves you and won't
give you up?"
Darrow waited. The paltriness of conventional denial was so
apparent to him that even if it could have delayed discovery
he could no longer have resorted to it. Under all his other
fears was the dread of dishonouring the hour.
"She HAS given me up," he said at last.
When he had gone out of the room Anna stood where he had
left her. "I must believe him! I must believe him!" she
A moment before, at the moment when she had lifted her arms
to his neck, she had been wrapped in a sense of complete
security. All the spirits of doubt had been exorcised, and
her love was once more the clear habitation in which every
thought and feeling could move in blissful freedom. And
then, as she raised her face to Darrow's and met his eyes,
she had seemed to look into the very ruins of his soul.
That was the only way she could express it. It was as
though he and she had been looking at two sides of the same
thing, and the side she had seen had been all light and
life, and his a place of graves...
She didn't now recall who had spoken first, or even, very
clearly, what had been said. It seemed to her only a moment
later that she had found herself standing at the other end
of the room--the room which had suddenly grown so small
that, even with its length between them, she felt as if he
touched her--crying out to him "It IS because of you
she's going!" and reading the avowal in his face.
That was his secret, then, THEIR secret: he had met the
girl in Paris and helped her in her straits--lent her money,
Anna vaguely conjectured--and she had fallen in love with
him, and on meeting him again had been suddenly overmastered
by her passion. Anna, dropping back into her sofa-corner,
sat staring these facts in the face.
The girl had been in a desperate plight--frightened,
penniless, outraged by what had happened, and not knowing
(with a woman like Mrs. Murrett) what fresh injury might
impend; and Darrow, meeting her in this distracted hour, had
pitied, counselled, been kind to her, with the fatal, the
inevitable result. There were the facts as Anna made them
out: that, at least, was their external aspect, was as much
of them as she had been suffered to see; and into the secret
intricacies they might cover she dared not yet project her
"I must believe him...I must believe him..." She kept on
repeating the words like a talisman. It was natural, after
all, that he should have behaved as he had: defended the
girl's piteous secret to the last. She too began to feel the
contagion of his pity--the stir, in her breast, of feelings
deeper and more native to her than the pains of jealousy.
From the security of her blessedness she longed to lean over
with compassionate hands...But Owen? What was Owen's part to
be? She owed herself first to him--she was bound to protect
him not only from all knowledge of the secret she had
surprised, but also--and chiefly!--from its consequences.
Yes: the girl must go--there could be no doubt of it--Darrow
himself had seen it from the first; and at the thought she
had a wild revulsion of relief, as though she had been
trying to create in her heart the delusion of a generosity
she could not feel...
The one fact on which she could stay her mind was that Sophy
was leaving immediately; would be out of the house within an
hour. Once she was gone, it would be easier to bring Owen
to the point of understanding that the break was final; if
necessary, to work upon the girl to make him see it. But
that, Anna was sure, would not be necessary. It was clear
that Sophy Viner was leaving Givre with no thought of ever
seeing it again...
Suddenly, as she tried to put some order in her thoughts,
she heard Owen's call at the door: "Mother!----" a name he
seldom gave her. There was a new note in his voice: the
note of a joyous impatience. It made her turn hastily to
the glass to see what face she was about to show him; but
before she had had time to compose it he was in the room and
she was caught in a school-boy hug.
"It's all right! It's all right! And it's all your doing! I
want to do the worst kind of penance--bell and candle and
the rest. I've been through it with HER, and now she
hands me on to you, and you're to call me any names you
please." He freed her with his happy laugh. "I'm to be
stood in the corner till next week, and then I'm to go up to
see her. And she says I owe it all to you!"
"To me?" It was the first phrase she found to clutch at as
she tried to steady herself in the eddies of his joy.
"Yes: you were so patient, and so dear to her; and you saw
at once what a damned ass I'd been!" She tried a smile, and
it seemed to pass muster with him, for he sent it back in a
broad beam. "That's not so difficult to see? No, I admit it
doesn't take a microscope. But you were so wise and
wonderful--you always are. I've been mad these last days,
simply mad--you and she might well have washed your hands of
me! And instead, it's all right--all right!"
She drew back a little, trying to keep the smile on her lips
and not let him get the least glimpse of what it hid. Now
if ever, indeed, it behoved her to be wise and wonderful!
"I'm so glad, dear; so glad. If only you'll always feel
like that about me..." She stopped, hardly knowing what she
said, and aghast at the idea that her own hands should have
retied the knot she imagined to be broken. But she saw he
had something more to say; something hard to get out, but
absolutely necessary to express. He caught her hands,
pulled her close, and, with his forehead drawn into its
whimsical smiling wrinkles, "Look here," he cried, "if
Darrow wants to call me a damned ass too you're not to stop
It brought her back to a sharper sense of her central peril:
of the secret to be kept from him at whatever cost to her
"Oh, you know, he doesn't always wait for orders!" On the
whole it sounded better than she'd feared.
"You mean he's called me one already?" He accepted the fact
with his gayest laugh. "Well, that saves a lot of trouble;
now we can pass to the order of the day----" he broke off
and glanced at the clock--"which is, you know, dear, that
she's starting in about an hour; she and Adelaide must
already be snatching a hasty sandwich. You'll come down to
bid them good-bye?"
There had, in fact, grown upon her while he spoke the
urgency of seeing Sophy Viner again before she left. The
thought was deeply distasteful: Anna shrank from
encountering the girl till she had cleared a way through her
own perplexities. But it was obvious that since they had
separated, barely an hour earlier, the situation had taken a
new shape. Sophy Viner had apparently reconsidered her
decision to break amicably but definitely with Owen, and
stood again in their path, a menace and a mystery; and
confused impulses of resistance stirred in Anna's mind.
She felt Owen's touch on her arm. "Are you coming?"
"What's the matter? You look so strange."
"What do you mean by strange?"
"I don't know: startled--surprised " She read what her look
must be by its sudden reflection in his face.
"Do I? No wonder! You've given us all an exciting morning."
He held to his point. "You're more excited now that there's
no cause for it. What on earth has happened since I saw
He looked about the room, as if seeking the clue to her
agitation, and in her dread of what he might guess she
answered: "What has happened is simply that I'm rather
tired. Will you ask Sophy to come up and see me here?"
While she waited she tried to think what she should say when
the girl appeared; but she had never been more conscious of
her inability to deal with the oblique and the tortuous.
She had lacked the hard teachings of experience, and an
instinctive disdain for whatever was less clear and open
than her own conscience had kept her from learning anything
of the intricacies and contradictions of other hearts. She
said to herself: "I must find out----" yet everything in her
recoiled from the means by which she felt it must be done...
Sophy Viner appeared almost immediately, dressed for
departure, her little bag on her arm. She was still pale to
the point of haggardness, but with a light upon her that
struck Anna with surprise. Or was it, perhaps, that she was
looking at the girl with new eyes: seeing her, for the first
time, not as Effie's governess, not as Owen's bride, but as
the embodiment of that unknown peril lurking in the
background of every woman's thoughts about her lover? Anna,
at any rate, with a sudden sense of estrangement, noted in
her graces and snares never before perceived. It was only
the flash of a primitive instinct, but it lasted long enough
to make her ashamed of the darknesses it lit up in her
She signed to Sophy to sit down on the sofa beside her. "I
asked you to come up to me because I wanted to say good-bye
quietly," she explained, feeling her lips tremble, but
trying to speak in a tone of friendly naturalness.
The girl's only answer was a faint smile of acquiescence,
and Anna, disconcerted by her silence, went on: "You've
decided, then, not to break your engagement?"
Sophy Viner raised her head with a look of surprise.
Evidently the question, thus abruptly put, must have sounded
strangely on the lips of so ardent a partisan as Mrs. Leath!
"I thought that was what you wished," she said.
"What I wished?" Anna's heart shook against her side. "I
wish, of course, whatever seems best for Owen...It's
natural, you must understand, that that consideration should
come first with me..."
Sophy was looking at her steadily. "I supposed it was the
only one that counted with you."
The curtness of retort roused Anna's latent antagonism. "It
is," she said, in a hard voice that startled her as she
heard it. Had she ever spoken so to any one before? She
felt frightened, as though her very nature had changed
without her knowing it...Feeling the girl's astonished gaze
still on her, she continued: "The suddenness of the change
has naturally surprised me. When I left you it was
understood that you were to reserve your decision----"
"And now----?" Anna waited for a reply that did not come.
She did not understand the girl's attitude, the edge of
irony in her short syllables, the plainly premeditated
determination to lay the burden of proof on her
interlocutor. Anna felt the sudden need to lift their
intercourse above this mean level of defiance and distrust.
She looked appealingly at Sophy.
"Isn't it best that we should speak quite frankly? It's this
change on your part that perplexes me. You can hardly be
surprised at that. It's true, I asked you not to break with
Owen too abruptly--and I asked it, believe me, as much for
your sake as for his: I wanted you to take time to think
over the difficulty that seems to have arisen between you.
The fact that you felt it required thinking over seemed to
show you wouldn't take the final step lightly--wouldn't, I
mean, accept of Owen more than you could give him. But your
change of mind obliges me to ask the question I thought you
would have asked yourself. Is there any reason why you
shouldn't marry Owen?"
She stopped a little breathlessly, her eyes on Sophy Viner's
burning face. "Any reason----? What do you mean by a
Anna continued to look at her gravely. "Do you love some
one else?" she asked.
Sophy's first look was one of wonder and a faint relief;
then she gave back the other's scrutiny in a glance of
indescribable reproach. "Ah, you might have waited!" she
"Till I'd gone: till I was out of the house. You might have
known...you might have guessed..." She turned her eyes
again on Anna. "I only meant to let him hope a little
longer, so that he shouldn't suspect anything; of course I
can't marry him," she said.
Anna stood motionless, silenced by the shock of the avowal.
She too was trembling, less with anger than with a confused
compassion. But the feeling was so blent with others, less
generous and more obscure, that she found no words to
express it, and the two women faced each other without
"I'd better go," Sophy murmured at length with lowered head.
The words roused in Anna a latent impulse of compunction.
The girl looked so young, so exposed and desolate! And what
thoughts must she be hiding in her heart! It was impossible
that they should part in such a spirit.
"I want you to know that no one said anything...It was I
Sophy looked at her. "You mean that Mr. Darrow didn't tell
you? Of course not: do you suppose I thought he did? You
found it out, that's all--I knew you would. In your place I
should have guessed it sooner."
The words were spoken simply, without irony or emphasis; but
they went through Anna like a sword. Yes, the girl would
have had divinations, promptings that she had not had! She
felt half envious of such a sad precocity of wisdom.
"I'm so sorry...so sorry..." she murmured.
"Things happen that way. Now I'd better go. I'd like to
say good-bye to Effie."
"Oh----" it broke in a cry from Effie's mother. "Not like
this--you mustn't! I feel--you make me feel too horribly: as
if I were driving you away..." The words had rushed up from
the depths of her bewildered pity.
"No one is driving me away: I had to go," she heard the girl
There was another silence, during which passionate impulses
of magnanimity warred in Anna with her doubts and dreads.
At length, her eyes on Sophy's face: "Yes, you must go now,"
she began; "but later on...after a while, when all this is
over...if there's no reason why you shouldn't marry Owen----
" she paused a moment on the words--" I shouldn't want you
to think I stood between you..."
"You?" Sophy flushed again, and then grew pale. She seemed
to try to speak, but no words came.
"Yes! It was not true when I said just now that I was
thinking only of Owen. I'm sorry--oh, so sorry!--for you
too. Your life--I know how hard it's been; and
mine...mine's so full...Happy women understand best!" Anna
drew near and touched the girl's hand; then she began again,
pouring all her soul into the broken phrases: "It's terrible
now...you see no future; but if, by and bye...you know
best...but you're so young...and at your age things DO
pass. If there's no reason, no real reason, why you
shouldn't marry Owen, I WANT him to hope, I'll help him
to hope...if you say so..."
With the urgency of her pleading her clasp tightened on
Sophy's hand, but it warmed to no responsive tremor: the
girl seemed numb, and Anna was frightened by the stony
silence of her look. "I suppose I'm not more than half a
woman," she mused, "for I don't want my happiness to hurt
her;" and aloud she repeated: "If only you'll tell me
there's no reason----"
The girl did not speak; but suddenly, like a snapped branch,
she bent, stooped down to the hand that clasped her, and
laid her lips upon it in a stream of weeping. She cried
silently, continuously, abundantly, as though Anna's touch
had released the waters of some deep spring of pain; then,
as Anna, moved and half afraid, leaned over her with a sound
of pity, she stood up and turned away.
"You're going, then--for good--like this?" Anna moved
toward her and stopped. Sophy stopped too, with eyes that
shrank from her.
"Oh----" Anna cried, and hid her face.
The girl walked across the room and paused again in the
doorway. From there she flung back: "I wanted it--I chose
it. He was good to me--no one ever was so good!"
The door-handle turned, and Anna heard her go.
Her first thought was: "He's going too in a few hours--I
needn't see him again before he leaves..." At that moment
the possibility of having to look in Darrow's face and hear
him speak seemed to her more unendurable than anything else
she could imagine. Then, on the next wave of feeling, came
the desire to confront him at once and wring from him she
knew not what: avowal, denial, justification, anything that
should open some channel of escape to the flood of her pent-
She had told Owen she was tired, and this seemed a
sufficient reason for remaining upstairs when the motor came
to the door and Miss Painter and Sophy Viner were borne off
in it; sufficient also for sending word to Madame de
Chantelle that she would not come down till after luncheon.
Having despatched her maid with this message, she lay down
on her sofa and stared before her into darkness...
She had been unhappy before, and the vision of old miseries
flocked like hungry ghosts about her fresh pain: she
recalled her youthful disappointment, the failure of her
marriage, the wasted years that followed; but those were
negative sorrows, denials and postponements of life. She
seemed in no way related to their shadowy victim, she who
was stretched on this fiery rack of the irreparable. She
had suffered before--yes, but lucidly, reflectively,
elegiacally: now she was suffering as a hurt animal must,
blindly, furiously, with the single fierce animal longing
that the awful pain should stop...
She heard her maid knock, and she hid her face and made no
answer. The knocking continued, and the discipline of habit
at length made her lift her head, compose her face and hold
out her hand to the note the woman brought her. It was a
word from Darrow--"May I see you?"--and she said at once, in
a voice that sounded thin and empty: "Ask Mr. Darrow to come
The maid enquired if she wished to have her hair smoothed
first, and she answered that it didn't matter; but when the
door had closed, the instinct of pride drew her to her feet
and she looked at herself in the glass above the mantelpiece
and passed her hands over her hair. Her eyes were burning
and her face looked tired and thinner; otherwise she could
see no change in her appearance, and she wondered that at
such a moment her body should seem as unrelated to the self
that writhed within her as if it had been a statue or a
The maid reopened the door to show in Darrow, and he paused
a moment on the threshold, as if waiting for Anna to speak.
He was extremely pale, but he looked neither ashamed nor
uncertain, and she said to herself, with a perverse thrill
of appreciation: "He's as proud as I am."
Aloud she asked: "You wanted to see me?"
"Naturally," he replied in a grave voice.
"Don't! It's useless. I know everything. Nothing you can
say will help."
At the direct affirmation he turned even paler, and his
eyes, which he kept resolutely fixed on her, confessed his
"You allow me no voice in deciding that?"
"That there's nothing more to be said?" He waited for her to
answer, and then went on: "I don't even know what you mean
"Oh, I don't know what more there is! I know enough. I
implored her to deny it, and she couldn't...What can you and
I have to say to each other?" Her voice broke into a sob.
The animal anguish was upon her again--just a blind cry
against her pain!
Darrow kept his head high and his eyes steady. "It must be
as you wish; and yet it's not like you to be afraid."
"To talk things out--to face them."
"It's for YOU to face this--not me!"
"All I ask is to face it--but with you." Once more he
paused. "Won't you tell me what Miss Viner told you?"
"Oh, she's generous--to the utmost!" The pain caught her
like a physical throe. It suddenly came to her how the girl
must have loved him to be so generous--what memories there
must be between them!
"Oh, go, please go. It's too horrible. Why should I have
to see you?" she stammered, lifting her hands to her eyes.
With her face hidden she waited to hear him move away, to
hear the door open and close again, as, a few hours earlier,
it had opened and closed on Sophy Viner. But Darrow made no
sound or movement: he too was waiting. Anna felt a thrill
of resentment: his presence was an outrage on her sorrow, a
humiliation to her pride. It was strange that he should
wait for her to tell him so!
"You want me to leave Givre?" he asked at length. She made
no answer, and he went on: "Of course I'll do as you wish;
but if I go now am I not to see you again?"
His voice was firm: his pride was answering her pride!
She faltered: "You must see it's useless----"
"I might remind you that you're dismissing me without a
"Without a hearing? I've heard you both!"
----"but I won't," he continued, "remind you of that, or of
anything or any one but Owen."
"Yes; if we could somehow spare him----"
She had dropped her hands and turned her startled eyes on
him. It seemed to her an age since she had thought of Owen!
"You see, don't you," Darrow continued, "that if you send me
She interrupted: "Yes, I see----" and there was a long
silence between them. At length she said, very low: "I
don't want any one else to suffer as I'm suffering..."
"Owen knows I meant to leave tomorrow," Darrow went on. "Any
sudden change of plan may make him think..."
Oh, she saw his inevitable logic: the horror of it was on
every side of her! It had seemed possible to control her
grief and face Darrow calmly while she was upheld by the
belief that this was their last hour together, that after he
had passed out of the room there would be no fear of seeing
him again, no fear that his nearness, his look, his voice,
and all the unseen influences that flowed from him, would
dissolve her soul to weakness. But her courage failed at the
idea of having to conspire with him to shield Owen, of
keeping up with him, for Owen's sake, a feint of union and
felicity. To live at Darrow's side in seeming intimacy and
harmony for another twenty-four hours seemed harder than to
live without him for all the rest of her days. Her strength
failed her, and she threw herself down and buried her sobs
in the cushions where she had so often hidden a face aglow
"Anna----" His voice was close to her. "Let me talk to you
quietly. It's not worthy of either of us to be afraid."
Words of endearment would have offended her; but her heart
rose at the call to her courage.
"I've no defense to make," he went on. "The facts are
miserable enough; but at least I want you to see them as
they are. Above all, I want you to know the truth about
The name sent the blood to Anna's forehead. She raised her
head and faced him. "Why should I know more of her than
what she's told me? I never wish to hear her name again!"
"It's because you feel about her in that way that I ask you
--in the name of common charity--to let me give you the facts
as they are, and not as you've probably imagined them."
"I've told you I don't think uncharitably of her. I don't
want to think of her at all!"
"That's why I tell you you're afraid."
"Yes. You've always said you wanted, above all, to look at
life, at the human problem, as it is, without fear and
without hypocrisy; and it's not always a pleasant thing to
look at." He broke off, and then began again: "Don't think
this a plea for myself! I don't want to say a word to lessen
my offense. I don't want to talk of myself at all. Even if
I did, I probably couldn't make you understand--I don't,
myself, as I look back. Be just to me--it's your right; all
I ask you is to be generous to Miss Viner..."
She stood up trembling. "You're free to be as generous to
her as you please!"
"Yes: you've made it clear to me that I'm free. But there's
nothing I can do for her that will help her half as much as
your understanding her would."
"Nothing you can do for her? You can marry her!"
His face hardened. "You certainly couldn't wish her a worse
"It must have been what she expected...relied on..."He was
silent, and she broke out: "Or what is she? What are you?
It's too horrible! On your way here...to ME..." She felt
the tears in her throat and stopped.
"That was it," he said bluntly. She stared at him.
"I was on my way to you--after repeated delays and
postponements of your own making. At the very last you
turned me back with a mere word--and without explanation. I
waited for a letter; and none came. I'm not saying this to
justify myself. I'm simply trying to make you understand.
I felt hurt and bitter and bewildered. I thought you meant
to give me up. And suddenly, in my way, I found some one to
be sorry for, to be of use to. That, I swear to you, was
the way it began. The rest was a moment's folly...a flash
of madness...as such things are. We've never seen each
Anna was looking at him coldly. "You sufficiently describe
her in saying that!"
"Yes, if you measure her by conventional standards--which is
what you always declare you never do."
"Conventional standards? A girl who----" She was checked by
a sudden rush of almost physical repugnance. Suddenly she
broke out: "I always thought her an adventuress!"
"I don't mean always...but after you came..."
"She's not an adventuress."
"You mean that she professes to act on the new theories? The
stuff that awful women rave about on platforms?"
"Oh, I don't think she pretended to have a theory----"
"She hadn't even that excuse?"
"She had the excuse of her loneliness, her unhappiness--of
miseries and humiliations that a woman like you can't even
guess. She had nothing to look back to but indifference or
unkindness--nothing to look forward to but anxiety. She saw
I was sorry for her and it touched her. She made too much
of it--she exaggerated it. I ought to have seen the danger,
but I didn't. There's no possible excuse for what I did."
Anna listened to him in speechless misery. Every word he
spoke threw back a disintegrating light on their own past.
He had come to her with an open face and a clear conscience
--come to her from this! If his security was the security of
falsehood it was horrible; if it meant that he had
forgotten, it was worse. She would have liked to stop her
ears, to close her eyes, to shut out every sight and sound
and suggestion of a world in which such things could be; and
at the same time she was tormented by the desire to know
more, to understand better, to feel herself less ignorant
and inexpert in matters which made so much of the stuff of
human experience. What did he mean by "a moment's folly, a
flash of madness"? How did people enter on such adventures,
how pass out of them without more visible traces of their
havoc? Her imagination recoiled from the vision of a sudden
debasing familiarity: it seemed to her that her thoughts
would never again be pure...
"I swear to you," she heard Darrow saying, "it was simply
that, and nothing more."
She wondered at his composure, his competence, at his
knowing so exactly what to say. No doubt men often had to
make such explanations: they had the formulas by heart...A
leaden lassitude descended on her. She passed from flame
and torment into a colourless cold world where everything
surrounding her seemed equally indifferent and remote. For
a moment she simply ceased to feel.
She became aware that Darrow was waiting for her to speak,
and she made an effort to represent to herself the meaning
of what he had just said; but her mind was as blank as a
blurred mirror. Finally she brought out: "I don't think I
understand what you've told me."
"No; you don't understand," he returned with sudden
bitterness; and on his lips the charge of incomprehension
seemed an offense to her.
"I don't want to--about such things!"
He answered almost harshly: "Don't be afraid...you never
will..." and for an instant they faced each other like
enemies. Then the tears swelled in her throat at his
"You mean I don't feel things--I'm too hard?"
"No: you're too high...too fine...such things are too far
He paused, as if conscious of the futility of going on with
whatever he had meant to say, and again, for a short space,
they confronted each other, no longer as enemies--so it
seemed to her--but as beings of different language who had
forgotten the few words they had learned of each other's
Darrow broke the silence. "It's best, on all accounts, that
I should stay till tomorrow; but I needn't intrude on you;
we needn't meet again alone. I only want to be sure I know
your wishes." He spoke the short sentences in a level voice,
as though he were summing up the results of a business
Anna looked at him vaguely. "My wishes?"
"As to Owen----
At that she started. "They must never meet again!"
"It's not likely they will. What I meant was, that it
depends on you to spare him..."
She answered steadily: "He shall never know," and after
another interval Darrow said: "This is good-bye, then."
At the word she seemed to understand for the first time
whither the flying moments had been leading them. Resentment
and indignation died down, and all her consciousness
resolved itself into the mere visual sense that he was there
before her, near enough for her to lift her hand and touch
him, and that in another instant the place where he stood
would be empty.
She felt a mortal weakness, a craven impulse to cry out to
him to stay, a longing to throw herself into his arms, and
take refuge there from the unendurable anguish he had caused
her. Then the vision called up another thought: "I shall
never know what that girl has known..." and the recoil of
pride flung her back on the sharp edges of her anguish.
"Good-bye," she said, in dread lest he should read her face;
and she stood motionless, her head high, while he walked to
the door and went out.
Anna Leath, three days later, sat in Miss Painter's drawing-
room in the rue de Matignon.
Coming up precipitately that morning from the country, she
had reached Paris at one o'clock and Miss Painter's landing
some ten minutes later. Miss Painter's mouldy little man-
servant, dissembling a napkin under his arm, had mildly
attempted to oppose her entrance; but Anna, insisting, had
gone straight to the dining-room and surprised her friend--
who ate as furtively as certain animals--over a strange meal
of cold mutton and lemonade. Ignoring the embarrassment she
caused, she had set forth the object of her journey, and
Miss Painter, always hatted and booted for action, had
immediately hastened out, leaving her to the solitude of the
bare fireless drawing-room with its eternal slip-covers and
In this inhospitable obscurity Anna had sat alone for close
upon two hours. Both obscurity and solitude were acceptable
to her, and impatient as she was to hear the result of the
errand on which she had despatched her hostess, she desired
still more to be alone. During her long meditation in a
white-swathed chair before the muffled hearth she had been
able for the first time to clear a way through the darkness
and confusion of her thoughts. The way did not go far, and
her attempt to trace it was as weak and spasmodic as a
convalescent's first efforts to pick up the thread of
living. She seemed to herself like some one struggling to
rise from a long sickness of which it would have been so
much easier to die. At Givre she had fallen into a kind of
torpor, a deadness of soul traversed by wild flashes of
pain; but whether she suffered or whether she was numb, she
seemed equally remote from her real living and doing self.
It was only the discovery--that very morning--of Owen's
unannounced departure for Paris that had caught her out of
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