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Questionable Shapes by William Dean Howells

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"No, I would rather begin at once."

"May I write to you?"

"I will write to you--when I've decided."

She gave him her hand, but she would not allow him to keep it for more
than farewell, and then she made him stay till Mrs. Rock came back, and
take leave of her too; he had frankly forgotten Mrs. Rock, who bade him
adieu with averted eyes, and many civilities about seeing him again. She
could hardly have been said to be seeing him then.


The difficulties of domestication at St. Johnswort had not been
misrepresented by the late proprietor, Hewson found, when he went to take
possession of his estate. He thought it right in engaging servants to say
openly that the place had the reputation of being haunted, and if he had
not thought it right he would have thought it expedient, for he knew that
if he had concealed the fact it would have been discovered to them within
twenty-four hours of their arrival. His declaration was sufficient at
once with most, who recoiled from his service as if he had himself been a
ghost; with one or two sceptics who seemed willing to take the risks
(probably in a guilty consciousness of records that would have kept them
out of other employ) his confession that he had himself seen the spectre
which haunted St. Johnswort, was equally effective. He prevailed at last
against the fact and his own testimony with a Japanese, who could not be
made to understand the objection to the place, and who willingly went
with Hewson as his valet and general house-workman. With the wife of the
gardener coming in to cook for them during the long daylight, he got on
in as much comfort as he could have expected, and by night he suffered no
sort of disturbance from the apparition. He had expected to be annoyed by
believers in spiritualism, and other psychical inquirers, but it sufficed
with them to learn from him that he had come to regard his experience, of
which he had no more question now than ever, as purely subjective.

It seemed to Hewson, in the six weeks' time which he spent at St.
Johnswort, waiting to hear from Rosalie (he had come already to think of
her as Rosalie), that all his life was subjective, it passed so like a
dream. He had some outward cares as to the place; he kept a horse in the
stable, where St. John had kept half a dozen, and he had the gardener
look after that as well as the shrubs and vegetables; but all went on in
a suspensive and provisional sort. In the mean time Rosalie's charm grew
upon him; everything that she had said or looked, was hourly and daily
sweeter and dearer; her truth was intoxicating, beyond the lures of other
women, in which the quality of deceit had once fascinated him. Now, so
late in his youthful life, he realized that there was no beauty but that
of truth, and he pledged himself a thousand times that if she should say
she could not live without him he would henceforward live for truth
alone, and not for the truth merely as it was in her, but as it was in
everything. In those day's he learned to know himself, as he never had
before, and to put off a certain shell of worldliness that had grown upon
him. In his remoteness from it, New York became very distasteful to him;
he thought with reluctance of going back to it; his club, which had been
his home, now appeared a joyless exile; the life of a leisure class,
which he had made his ideal, looked pitifully mean and little in the
retrospect; he wondered how he could have valued the things that he had
once thought worthy. He did not know what he should replace it all with,
but Rosalie would know, in the event of not being able to live without
him. In that event there was hardly any use of which he could not be
capable. In any other event--he surprised himself by realizing that in
any other event--still the universe had somehow more meaning than it once
had. Somehow, he felt himself an emancipated man.

He began many letters to Rosalie, and some he finished and some not, but
he sent none; and when her letter came at last, he was glad that he had
waited for it in implicit trust of its coming, though he believed she
would have forgiven him if he had not had the patience. The letter was
quite what he could have imagined of her. She said that she had put
herself thoroughly to the test, and she could not live without him. But
if he had found out that he could live without her, then she should know
that she had been to blame, and would take her punishment. Apparently in
her philosophy, which now seemed to him so divine, without punishment
there must be perdition; it was the penalty that redeemed; that was the
token of forgiveness.

Hewson hurried out to Colorado, where he found Hernshaw a stout, silent,
impersonal man, whose notion of the paternal office seemed to be a ready
acquiescence in a daughter's choice of a husband; he appeared to think
this could be best expressed to Hewson in a good cigar He perceptibly
enjoyed the business details of the affair, but he enjoyed despatching
them in the least possible time and the fewest words, and then he settled
down to the pleasure of a superficial passivity. Hewson could not make
out that he regarded his daughter as at all an unusual girl, and from
this he argued that her mother must have been a very unusual woman. His
only reason for doubting that Rosalie must have got all her originality
from her mother was something that fell from Hernshaw when they were near
the end of their cigars. He said irrelevantly to their talk at that
point, "I suppose you know Rosalie believes in that ghost of yours?"

"Was it a ghost?--I've never been sure, myself," said Hewson.

"How do you explain it?" asked his prospective father-in-law.

"I don't explain it. I have always left it just as it was. I know that it
was a real experience."

"I think I should have left it so, too," said Hernshaw. "That always
gives it a chance to explain itself. If such a thing had happened to me I
should give it all the time it wanted."

"Well, I haven't hurried it," Hewson suggested.

"What I mean," and Hernshaw stepped to the edge of the porch and threw
the butt of his cigar into the darkness, where it described a glimmering
arc, "is that if anything came to me that would help shore up my
professed faith in what most of us want to believe in, I would take the
common-law view of it. I would believe it was innocent till it proved
itself guilty. I wouldn't try to make it out a fraud myself."

"I'm afraid that's what I've really done," said Hewson. "But before
people I've put up a bluff of despising it." "Oh, yes, I understand
that," said Hernshaw. "A man thinks that if he can have an experience
like that he must be something out of the common, and if he can despise

"You've hit my case exactly," said Hewson, and the two men laughed.


After his marriage, which took place without needless delay, Hewson
returned with his wife to spend their honey-moon at St. Johnswort. The
honey-moon prolonged itself during an entire year, and in this time they
contrived so far to live down its reputation of being a haunted house
that they were able to conduct their _menage_ on the ordinary terms. They
themselves never wished to lose the sense of something supernatural in
the place, and were never quite able to accept the actual conditions as
final. That is to say, Rosalie was not, for she had taken Hewson's
apparition under her peculiar care, and defended it against even his
question. She had a feeling (it was scarcely a conviction) that if he
believed more strenuously in the validity of his apparition as an
authorized messenger from the unseen world it would yet come again and
declare its errand. She could not accept the theory that if such a thing
actually happened it could happen for nothing at all, or that the reason
of its occurrence could be indefinitely postponed. She was impatient of
that, as often as he urged the possibility, and she wished him to use a
seriousness of mind in speaking of his apparition which should form some
sort of atonement to it for his past levity, though since she had taken
his apparition into her keeping he had scarcely hazarded any suggestion
concerning it; in fact it had become so much her apparition that he had a
fantastic reluctance from meddling with it.

"You are always requiring a great occasion for it," he said, at last.
"What greater event could it have foreshadowed or foreshown, than that
which actually came to pass?"

"I don't understand you, Arthur," she said, letting her hand creep into
his, where it trembled provisionally as they sat together in the

"Why, that was the day I first saw you."

"Now, you are laughing!" she said, pulling her hand away.

"Indeed, I'm not! I couldn't imagine anything more important than the
union of our lives. And if that was what the apparition meant to portend
it could not have intimated it by a more noble and impressive behavior.
Simply to be there, and then to be gone, and leave the rest to us! It was
majestic, it was--delicate!"

"Yes, it was. But it was too much, for it was out of proportion. A mere
earthly love-affair--" "Is it merely for earth?"

"Oh, husband, I hope you don't think so! I wanted you to say you didn't.
And if you don't think so, yes, I'll believe it came for that!"

"You may be sure I don't think so."

"Then I know it will come again."

* * * * *



"All that sort of personification," said Wanhope, "is far less remarkable
than the depersonification which has now taken place so thoroughly that
we no longer think in the old terms at all. It was natural that the
primitive peoples should figure the passions, conditions, virtues, vices,
forces, qualities, in some sort of corporal shape, with each a propensity
or impulse of its own, but it does not seem to me so natural that the
derivative peoples should cease to do so. It is rational that they should
do so, and I don't know that any stronger proof of our intellectual
advance could be alleged than the fact that the old personifications
survive in the parlance while they are quite extinct in the
consciousness. We still talk of death at times as if it were an embodied
force of some kind, and of love in the same way; but I don't believe that
any man of the commonest common-school education thinks of them so. If
you try to do it yourself, you are rather ashamed of the puerility, and
when a painter or a sculptor puts them in an objective shape, you follow
him with impatience, almost with contempt."

"How about the poets?" asked Minver, less with the notion, perhaps, of
refuting the psychologist than of bringing the literary member of our
little group under the disgrace that had fallen upon him as an artist.

"The poets," said I, "are as extinct as the personifications."

"That's very handsome of you, Acton," said the artist. "But go on,

"Yes, get down to business," said Rulledge. Being of no employ whatever,
and spending his whole life at the club in an extraordinary idleness,
Rulledge was always using the most strenuous expressions, and requiring
everybody to be practical. He leaned directly forward with the difficulty
that a man of his girth has in such a movement, and vigorously broke off
the ash of his cigar against the edge of his saucer. We had been dining
together, and had been served with coffee in the Turkish room, as it was
called from its cushions and hangings of Indian and Egyptian stuffs.
"What is the instance you've got up your sleeve?" He smoked with great
energy, and cast his eyes alertly about as if to make sure that there was
no chance of Wanhope's physically escaping him, from the corner of the
divan, where he sat pretty well hemmed in by the rest of us, spreading in
an irregular circle before him.

"You unscientific people are always wanting an instance, as if an
instance were convincing. An instance is only suggestive; a thousand
instances, if you please, are convincing," said the psychologist. "But I
don't know that I wish to be convincing. I would rather be enquiring.
That is much more interesting, and, perhaps, profitable."

"All the same," Minver persisted, apparently in behalf of Rulledge, but
with an after-grudge of his own, "you'll allow that you were thinking of
something in particular when you began with that generalization about the
lost art of personifying?"

"Oh, that is very curious," said the psychologist. "We talk of
generalizing, but is there any such thing? Aren't we always striving from
one concrete to another, and isn't what we call generalizing merely a
process of finding our way?"

"I see what you mean," said the artist, expressing in that familiar
formula the state of the man who hopes to know what the other man means.

"That's what I say," Rulledge put in. "You've got something up your
sleeve. What is it?"

Wanhope struck the little bell on the table before him, but, without
waiting for a response, he intercepted a waiter who was passing with a
coffee-pot, and asked, "Oh, couldn't you give me some of that?"

The man filled his cup for him, and after Wanhope put in the sugar and
lifted it to his lips, Rulledge said, with his impetuous business air,
"It's easy to see what Wanhope does his high thinking on."

"Yes," the psychologist admitted, "coffee is an inspiration. But you can
overdo an inspiration. It would be interesting to know whether there
hasn't been a change in the quality of thought since the use of such
stimulants came in--whether it hasn't been subtilized--"

"Was that what you were going to say?" demanded Rulledge, relentlessly.
"Come, we've got no time to throw away!"

Everybody laughed.

"_You_ haven't, anyway," said I.

"Well, none of his own," Minver admitted for the idler.

"I suppose you mean I have thrown it all away. Well, I don't want to
throw away other peoples'. Go on, Wanhope."


The psychologist set his cup down and resumed his cigar, which he had to
pull at pretty strongly before it revived. "I should not be surprised,"
he began, "if a good deal of the fear of death had arisen, and
perpetuated itself in the race, from the early personification of
dissolution as an enemy of a certain dreadful aspect, armed and
threatening. That conception wouldn't have been found in men's minds at
first; it would have been the result of later crude meditation upon the
fact. But it would have remained through all the imaginative ages, and
the notion might have been intensified in the more delicate temperaments
as time went on, and by the play of heredity it might come down to our
own day in certain instances with a force scarcely impaired by the lapse
of incalculable time."

"You said just now," said Rulledge, in rueful reproach, "that
personification had gone out."

"Yes, it has. I did say that, and yet I suppose that though such a notion
of death, say, no longer survives in the consciousness, it does survive
in the unconsciousness, and that any vivid accident or illusory
suggestion would have force to bring it to the surface."

"I wish I knew what you were driving at," said Rulledge.

"You remember Ormond, don't you?" asked Wanhope, turning suddenly to me.

"Perfectly," I said. "I--he isn't living, is he?"

"No; he died two years ago."

"I thought so," I said, with the relief that one feels in not having put
a fellow-creature out of life, even conditionally.

"You knew Mrs. Ormond, too, I believe," the psychologist pursued.

I owned that I used to go to the Ormonds' house.

"Then you know what a type she was, I suppose," he turned to the others,
"and as they're both dead it's no contravention of the club etiquette
against talking of women, to speak of her. I can't very well give the
instance--the sign--that Rulledge is seeking without speaking of her,
unless I use a great deal of circumlocution." We all urged him to go on,
and he went on. "I had the facts I'm going to give, from Mrs. Ormond. You
know that the Ormonds left New York a couple of years ago?"

He happened to look at Minver as he spoke, and Minver answered: "No; I
must confess that I didn't even know they had left the planet."

Wanhope ignored his irrelevant ignorance. "They went to live
provisionally at a place up the Housatonic road, somewhere--perhaps
Canaan; but it doesn't matter. Ormond had been suffering some time with
an obscure affection of the heart--"

"Oh, come now!" said Rulledge. "You're not going to spring anything so
pat as heart-disease on us?"

"Acton is all ears," said Minver, nodding toward me. "He hears the weird
note afar."

The psychologist smiled. "I'm afraid you're not interested. I'm not much
interested myself in these unrelated instances."

"Oh, no!" "Don't!" "Do go on!" the different entreaties came, and after a
little time taken to recover his lost equanimity, Wanhope went on: "I
don't know whether you knew that Ormond had rather a peculiar dread of
death." We none of us could affirm that we did, and again Wanhope
resumed: "I shouldn't say that he was a coward above other men I believe
he was rather below the average in cowardice. But the thought of death
weighed upon him. You find this much more commonly among the Russians, if
we are to believe their novelists, than among Americans. He might have
been a character out of one of Tourguenief's books, the idea of death was
so constantly present with him. He once told me that the fear of it was a
part of his earliest consciousness, before the time when he could have
had any intellectual conception of it. It seemed to be something like the
projection of an alien horror into his life--a prenatal influence--"

"Jove!" Rulledge broke in. "I don't see how the women stand it. To look
forward nearly a whole year to death as the possible end of all they're
hoping for and suffering for! Talk of men's courage after that! I wonder
we're not _all_ marked.'

"I never heard of anything of the kind in Ormond's history," said
Wanhope, tolerant of the incursion.

Minver took his cigar out to ask, the more impressively, perhaps, "What
do you fellows make of the terror that a two months' babe starts in its
sleep with before it can have any notion of what fear is on its own

"We don't make anything of it," the psychologist answered. "Perhaps the
pathologists do."

"Oh, it's easy enough to say wind," Rulledge indignantly protested.

"Too easy, I agree with you," Wanhope consented. "We cannot tell what
influences reach us from our environment, or what our environment really
is, or how much or little we mean by the word. The sense of danger seems
to be inborn, and possibly it is a survival of our race life when it was
wholly animal and took care of itself through what we used to call the
instincts. But, as I was saying, it was not danger that Ormond seemed to
be afraid of, if it came short of death. He was almost abnormally
indifferent to pain. I knew of his undergoing an operation that most
people would take ether for, and not wincing, because it was not supposed
to involve a fatal result.

"Perhaps he carried his own anodyne with him," said Minver, "like the

"You mean a sort of self-anaesthesia?" Wanhope asked. "That is very
interesting. How far such a principle, if there is one, can be carried in
practice. The hypnotists--"

"I'm afraid I didn't mean anything so serious or scientific," said the

"Then don't switch Wanhope off on a side track," Rulledge implored. "You
know how hard it is to keep him on the main line. He's got a mind that
splays all over the place if you give him the least chance. Now, Wanhope,
come down to business."

Wanhope laughed amiably. "Why, there's so very little of the business.
I'm not sure that it wasn't Mrs. Ormond's attitude toward the fact that
interested me most. It was nothing short of devout. She was a convert.
She believed he really saw--I suppose," he turned to me, "there's no harm
in our recognizing now that they didn't always get on smoothly together?"

"Did they ever?" I asked.

"Oh, yes--oh, yes," said the psychologist, kindly. "They were very fond
of each other, and often very peaceful."

"I never happened to be by," I said.

"Used to fight like cats and dogs," said Minver. "And they didn't seem to
mind people. It was very swell, in a way, their indifference, and it did
help to take away a fellow's embarrassment."

"That seemed to come mostly to an end that summer," said Wanhope, "if you
could believe Mrs. Ormond."

"You probably couldn't," the painter put in.

"At any rate she seemed to worship his memory."

"Oh, yes; she hadn't him there to claw."

"Well, she was quite frank about it with me," the psychologist pursued.
"She admitted that they had always quarreled a good deal. She seemed to
think it was a token of their perfect unity. It was as if they were each
quarreling with themselves, she said. I'm not sure that there wasn't
something in the notion. There is no doubt but that they were
tremendously in love with each other, and there is something curious in
the bickerings of married people if they are in love. It's one way of
having no concealments; it's perfect confidence of a kind--"

"Or unkind," Minver suggested.

"What has all that got to do with it!" Rulledge demanded.

"Nothing directly," Wanhope confessed, "and I'm not sure that it has much
to do indirectly. Still, it has a certain atmospheric relation. It is
very remarkable how thoughts connect themselves with one another. It's a
sort of wireless telegraphy. They do not touch at all; there is
apparently no manner of tie between them, but they communicate--"

"Oh, Lord!" Rulledge fumed.

Wanhope looked at him with a smiling concern, such as a physician might
feel in the symptoms of a peculiar case. "I wonder," he said absently,
"how much of our impatience with a fact delayed is a survival of the
childhood of the race, and how far it is the effect of conditions in
which possession is the ideal!"

Rulledge pushed back his chair, and walked away in dudgeon. "I'm a busy
man myself. When you've got anything to say you can send for me."

Minver ran after him, as no doubt he meant some one should. "Oh, come
back! He's just going to begin;" and when Rulledge, after some pouting,
had been _pushed down into his chair again,_ Wanhope went on, with a
glance of scientific pleasure at him.


"The house they had taken was rather a lonely place, out of sight of
neighbors, which they had got cheap because it was so isolated and
inconvenient, I fancy. Of course Mrs. Ormond, with her exaggeration,
represented it as a sort of solitude which nobody but tramps of the most
dangerous description ever visited. As she said, she never went to sleep
without expecting to wake up murdered in her bed."

"Like her," said Minver, with a glance at me full of relish for the touch
of character which I would feel with him.

"She said," Wanhope went on, "that she was anxious from the first for the
effect upon Ormond. In the stress of any danger, she gave me to
understand, he always behaved very well, but out of its immediate
presence he was full of all sorts of gloomy apprehensions, unless the
surroundings were cheerful. She could not imagine how he came to take the
place, but when she told him so--"

"I've no doubt she told him so pretty promptly," the painter grinned.

"--he explained that he had seen it on a brilliant day in spring, when
all the trees were in bloom, and the bees humming in the blossoms, and
the orioles singing, and the outlook from the lawn down over the river
valley was at its best. He had fallen in love with the place, that was
the truth, and he was so wildly in love with it all through that he could
not feel the defect she did in it. He used to go gaily about the wide,
harking old house at night, shutting it up, and singing or whistling
while she sat quaking at the notion of their loneliness and their
absolute helplessness--an invalid and a little woman--in case anything
happened. She wanted him to get the man who did the odd jobs about the
house, to sleep there, but he laughed at her, and they kept on with their
usual town equipment of two serving-women. She could not account for his
spirits, which were usually so low when they were alone--"

"And not fighting," Minver suggested to me.

"--and when she asked him what the matter was he could not account for
them, either. But he said, one day, that the fear of death seemed to be
lifted from his soul, and that made her shudder."

Rulledge fetched a long sigh, and Minver interpreted, "Beginning to feel
that it's something like now."

"He said that for the first time within his memory he was rid of that
nether consciousness of mortality which had haunted his whole life, and
poisoned, more or less, all his pleasure in living. He had got a
reprieve, or a respite, and he felt like a boy--another kind of boy from
what he had ever been. He was full of all sorts of brilliant hopes and
plans. He had visions of success in business beyond anything he had
known, and talked of buying the place he had taken, and getting a summer
colony of friends about them. He meant to cut the property up, and make
the right kind of people inducements. His world seemed to have been
emptied of all trouble as well as all mortal danger."

"Haven't you psychologists some message about a condition like
that!" I asked.

"Perhaps it's only the pathologists again," said Minver.

"The alienists, rather more specifically," said Wanhope. "They recognize
it as one of the beginnings of insanit--_folie des grandeurs_ as the
French call the stage."

"Is it necessarily that?" Rulledge demanded, with a resentment which we
felt so droll in him that we laughed.

"I don't know that it is," said Wanhope. "I don't know why we shouldn't
sometimes, in the absence of proofs to the contrary, give such a fact the
chance to evince a spiritual import. Of course it had no other import to
poor Mrs. Ormond, and of course I didn't dream of suggesting a scientific

"I should think not!" Rulledge puffed.

Wanhope went on: "I don't think I should have dared to do so to a woman
in her exaltation concerning it. I could see that however his state had
affected her with dread or discomfort in the first place, it had since
come to be her supreme hope and consolation. In view of what afterward
happened, she regarded it as the effect of a mystical intimation from
another world that was sacred, and could not he considered like an
ordinary fact without sacrilege. There was something very pathetic in her
absolute conviction that Ormond's happiness was an emanation from the
source of all happiness, such as sometimes, where the consciousness
persists, comes to a death-bed. That the dying are not afraid of dying is
a fact of such common, such almost invariable observation--"

"You mean," I interposed, "when the vital forces are beaten so low that
the natural dread of ceasing to be, has no play? It has less play, I've
noticed, in age than in youth, but for the same reason that it has when
people are weakened by sickness."

"Ah," said Wanhope, "that comparative indifference to death in the old,
to whom it is so much nearer than it is to the young, is very suggestive.
There may be something in what you say; they may not care so much because
they have no longer the strength--the muscular strength--for caring. They
are too tired to care as they used. There is a whole region of most
important inquiry in that direction--"

"Did you mean to have him take that direction?" Rulledge asked, sulkily.

"He can take any direction for me," I said. "He is always delightful."

"Ah, thank you!" said Wanhope.

"But I confess," I went on, "that I was wondering whether the fact that
the dying are indifferent to death could be established in the case of
those who die in the flush of health and strength, like, for instance,
people who are put to death."

Wanhope smiled. "I think it can--measurably. Most murderers make a good
end, as the saying used to be, when they end on the scaffold, though they
are not supported by religious fervor of any kind, or the exaltation of a
high ideal. They go meekly and even cheerfully to their death, without
rebellion or even objection. It is most exceptional that they make a
fight for their lives, as that woman did a few years ago at Dannemora,
and disgusted all refined people with capital punishment."

"I wish they would make a fight always," said Rulledge, with unexpected
feeling. "It would do more than anything to put an end to that

"It would be very interesting, as Wanhope says," Minver remarked. "But
aren't we getting rather far away? From the Ormonds, I mean."

"We are, rather," said Wanhope. "Though I agree that it would be
interesting. I should rather like to have it tried. You know Frederick
Douglass acted upon some such principle when his master attempted to whip
him. He fought, and he had a theory that if the slave had always fought
there would soon have been an end of whipping, and so an end of slavery.
But probably it will be a good while before criminals are--"

"Educated up to the idea," Minver proposed.

"Yes," Wanhope absently acquiesced. "There seems to be a resignation
intimated to the parting soul, whether in sickness or in health, by the
mere proximity of death. In Ormond's case there seems to have been
something more positive. His wife says that in the beginning of those
days he used to come to her and wonder what could be the matter with him.
He had a joy he could not account for by anything in their lives, and it
made her tremble."

"Probably it didn't. I don't think there was anything that could make
Mrs. Ormond tremble, unless it was the chance that Ormond would get the
last word," said Minver.

No one minded him, and Wanhope continued: "Of course she thought he
must be going to have a fit of sickness, as the people say in the
country, or used to say. Those expressions often survive in the common
parlance long after the peculiar mental and moral conditions in which
they originated have passed away. They must once have been more
accurate than they are now. When one said 'fit of sickness' one must
have meant something specific; it would be interesting to know what.
Women use those expressions longer than men; they seem to be inveterate
in their nerves; and women apparently do their thinking in their nerves
rather than their brains."


Wanhope had that distant look in his eyes which warned his familiars of a
possible excursion, and I said, in the hope of keeping him from it, "Then
isn't there a turn of phrase somewhat analogous to that in a

"Ah, yes--a personification," he repeated with a freshness of interest,
which he presently accounted for. "The place they had taken was very
completely furnished. They got it fully equipped, even to linen and
silver; but what was more important to poor Ormond was the library, very
rich in the English classics, which appeared to go with the house. The
owner was a girl who married and lived abroad, and these were her
father's books. Mrs. Ormond said that her husband had the greatest
pleasure in them: their print, which was good and black, and their
paper, which was thin and yellowish, and their binding, which was tree
calf in the poets, he specially liked. They were English editions as well
as English classics, and she said he caressed the books, as he read them,
with that touch which the book-lover has; he put his face into them, and
inhaled their odor as if it were the bouquet of wine; he wanted her to
like it, too."

"Then she hated it," Minver said, unrelentingly.

"Perhaps not, if there was nobody else there," I urged.

For once Wanhope was not to be tempted off on another scent. "There was a
good deal of old-fashioned fiction of the suspiratory and exclamatory
sort, like Mackenzie's, and Sterne's and his followers, full of feeling,
as people understood feeling a hundred years ago. But what Ormond
rejoiced in most were the poets, good and bad, like Gray and Collins and
Young, and their contemporaries, who personified nearly everything from
Contemplation to Indigestion, through the whole range of the Vices,
Virtues, Passions, Propensities, Attributes, and Qualities, and gave them
each a dignified capital letter to wear. She said he used to come roaring
to her with the passages in which these personifications flourished, and
read them off with mock admiration, and then shriek and sputter with
laughter. You know the way he had when a thing pleased him, especially a
thing that had some relish of the quaint or rococo. As nearly as she
would admit, in view of his loss, he bored her with these things. He was
always hunting down some new personification, and when he had got it,
adding it to the list he kept. She said he had thousands of them, but I
suppose he had not so many. He had enough, though, to keep him amused,
and she said he talked of writing something for the magazines about them,
but probably he never would have done it. He never wrote anything, did
he?" Wanhope asked of me.

"Oh, no. He was far too literary for _that_," I answered. "He had a
reputation to lose."

"Pretty good," said Minver, "even if Ormond _is_ dead."

Wanhope ignored us both. "After awhile, his wife said, she began to
notice a certain change in his attitude toward the personifications. She
noticed this, always expecting that fit of sickness for him; but she was
not so much troubled by his returning seriousness. Oh, I ought to tell
you that when she first began to be anxious for him she privately wrote
home to their family doctor, telling him how strangely happy Ormond was,
and asking him if he could advise anything. He wrote back that if Ormond
was so very happy they had better not do anything to cure him; that the
disease was not infectious, and was seldom fatal."

"What an ass!" said Rulledge.

"Yes, I think he was, in this instance. But probably he had been
consulted a good deal by Mrs. Ormond," said Wanhope. "The change that
began to set her mind at rest about Ormond was his taking the
personifications more seriously. Why, he began to ask, but always with a
certain measure of joke in it, why shouldn't there be something _in_ the
personifications? Why shouldn't Morn and Eve come corporeally walking up
their lawn, with little or no clothes on, or Despair be sitting in their
woods with her hair over her face, or Famine coming gauntly up to their
back door for a hand-out? Why shouldn't they any day see pop-eyed Rapture
passing on the trolley, or Meditation letting the car she intended to
take go by without stepping lively enough to get on board? He pretended
that we could have the personifications back again, if we were not so
conventional in our conceptions of them. He wanted to know what reason
there was for representing Life as a very radiant and bounding party,
when Life usually neither shone nor bounded; and why Death should be
figured as an enemy with a dart, when it was so often the only friend a
man had left, and had the habit of binding up wounds rather than
inflicting them. The personifications were all right, he said, but the
poets and painters did not know how they really looked. By the way,"
Wanhope broke off, "did you happen to see Hauptmann's 'Hannele' when it
was here?"

None of us had, and we waited rather restively for the passing of the
musing fit which he fell into. After a while he resumed at a point whose
relation to the matter in hand we could trace:

"It was extremely interesting for all reasons, by its absolute
fearlessness and freshness in regions where there has been nothing but
timid convention for a long time; but what I was thinking of was the
personification of Death as it appears there. The poor little dying
pauper, lying in her dream at the almshouse, sees the figure of Death. It
is not the skeleton with the dart, or the phantom with the shrouded face,
but a tall, beautiful young man,--as beautiful as they could get into the
cast, at any rate,--clothed in simple black, and standing with his back
against the mantlepiece, with his hands resting on the hilt of a long,
two-handed sword. He is so quiet that you do not see him until some time
after the child has seen him. When she begins to question him whether she
may not somehow get to heaven without dying, he answers with a sort of
sorrowful tenderness, a very sweet and noble compassion, but unsparingly
as to his mission. It is a singular moment of pure poetry that makes the
heart ache, but does not crush or terrify the spirit."

"And what has it got to do with Ormond?" asked Rulledge, but with less
impatience than usual.

"Why, nothing, I'm afraid, that I can make out very clearly. And yet
there is an obscure connection with Ormond, or his vision, if it was a
vision. Mrs. Ormond could not be very definite about what he saw, perhaps
because even at the last moment he was not definite himself. What she was
clear about, was the fact that his mood, though it became more serious,
by no means became sadder. It became a sort of solemn joy instead of the
light gaiety it had begun by being. She was no sort of scientific
observer, and yet the keenness of her affection made her as closely
observant of Ormond as if she had been studying him psychologically.
Sometimes the light in his room would wake her at night, and she would go
to him, and find him lying with a book faced down on his breast, as if he
had been reading, and his fingers interlaced under his head, and a kind
of radiant peace in his face. The poor thing said that when she would ask
him what the matter was, he would say, 'Nothing; just happiness,' and
when she would ask him if he did not think he ought to do something, he
would laugh, and say perhaps it would go off of itself. But it did not go
off; the unnatural buoyancy continued after he became perfectly tranquil.
'I don't know,' he would say. 'I seem to have got to the end of my
troubles. I haven't a care in the world, Jenny. I don't believe you could
get a rise out of me if you said the nastiest thing you could think of.
It sounds like nonsense, of course, but it seems to me that I have found
out the reason of things, though I don't know what it is. Maybe I've only
found out that there _is_ a reason of things. That would be enough,
wouldn't it?'"


At this point Wanhope hesitated with a kind of diffidence that was rather
charming in him. "I don't see," he said, "just how I can keep the facts
from this on out of the line of facts which we are not in the habit of
respecting very much, or that we relegate to the company of things that
are not facts at all. I suppose that in stating them I shall somehow make
myself responsible for them, but that is just what I don't want to do. I
don't want to do anything more than give them as they were given to me."

"You won't be able to give them half as fully," said Minver, "if Mrs.
Ormond gave them to you."

"No," Wanhope said gravely, "and that's the pity of it; for they ought to
be given as fully as possible."

"Go ahead," Rulledge commanded, "and do the best you can." "I'm not
sure," the psychologist thoughtfully said, "that I am quite satisfied to
call Ormond's experiences hallucinations. There ought to be some other
word that doesn't accuse his sanity in that degree. For he apparently
didn't show any other signs of an unsound mind."

"None that Mrs. Ormond would call so," Minver suggested.

"Well, in his case, I don't think she was such a bad judge," Wanhope
returned. "She was a tolerably unbalanced person herself, but she wasn't
altogether disqualified for observing him, as I've said before. They had
a pretty hot summer, as the summer is apt to be in the Housatonic valley,
but when it got along into September the weather was divine, and they
spent nearly the whole time out of doors, driving over the hills. They
got an old horse from a native, and they hunted out a rickety buggy from
the carriage-house, and they went wherever the road led. They went mostly
at a walk, and that suited the horse exactly, as well as Mrs. Ormond, who
had no faith in Ormond's driving, and wanted to go at a pace that would
give her a chance to jump out safely if anything happened. They put their
hats in the front of the buggy, and went about in their bare heads. The
country people got used to them, and were not scandalized by their
appearance, though they were both getting a little gray, and must have
looked as if they were old enough to know better.

"They were not really old, as age goes nowadays: he was not more
than forty-two or -three, and she was still in the late thirties. In
fact, they were

"Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita--

"in that hour when life, and the conceit of life, is strongest, and when
it feels as if it might go on forever. Women are not very articulate
about such things, and it was probably Ormond who put their feeling into
words, though she recognized at once that it was her feeling, and shrank
from it as if it were something wicked, that they would be punished for;
so that one day, when he said suddenly, 'Jenny, I don't feel as if I
could ever die,' she scolded him for it. Poor women!" said Wanhope,
musingly, "they are not always cross when they scold. It is often the
expression of their anxieties, their forebodings, their sex-timidities.
They are always in double the danger that men are, and their nerves
double that danger again. Who was that famous _salonniere_--Mme.
Geoffrin, was it?--that Marmontel says always scolded her friends when
they were in trouble, and came and scolded him when he was put into the
Bastille? I suppose Mrs. Ormond was never so tender of Ormond as she was
when she took it out of him for suggesting what she wildly felt herself,
and felt she should pay for feeling."

Wanhope had the effect of appealing to Minver, but the painter would
not relent. "I don't know. I've seen her--or heard her--in very
devoted moments."

"At any rate," Wanhope resumed, "she says she scolded him, and it did not
do the least good. She could not scold him out of that feeling, which was
all mixed up in her retrospect with the sense of the weather and the
season, the leaves just beginning to show the autumn, the wild asters
coming to crowd the goldenrod, the crickets shrill in the grass, and the
birds silent in the trees, the smell of the rowan in the meadows, and the
odor of the old logs and fresh chips in the woods. She was not a woman to
notice such things much, but he talked of them all and made her notice
them. His nature took hold upon what we call nature, and clung fondly to
the lowly and familiar aspects of it. Once she said to him, trembling for
him, 'I should think you would be afraid to take such a pleasure in those
things,' and when he asked her why, she couldn't or wouldn't tell him;
but he understood, and he said: 'I've never realized before that I was so
much a part of them. Either I am going to have them forever, or they are
going to have me. We shall not part, for we are all members of the same
body. If it is the body of death, we are members of that. If it is the
body of life, we are members of that. Either I have never lived, or else
I am never going to die.' She said: 'Of course you are never going to
die; a spirit can't die.' But he told her he didn't mean that. He was
just as radiantly happy when they would get home from one of their
drives, and sit down to their supper, which they had country-fashion
instead of dinner, and then when they would turn into their big, lamplit
parlor, and sit down for a long evening with his books. Sometimes he read
to her as she sewed, but he read mostly to himself, and he said he hadn't
had such a bath of poetry since he was a boy. Sometimes in the splendid
nights, which were so clear that you could catch the silver glint of the
gossamers in the thin air, he would go out and walk up and down the long
veranda. Once, when he coaxed her out with him, he took her under the arm
and walked her up and down, and he said: 'Isn't it like a ship? The earth
is like a ship, and we're sailing, sailing! Oh, I wonder where!' Then he
stopped with a sob, and she was startled, and asked him what the matter
was, but he couldn't tell her. She was more frightened than ever at what
seemed a break in his happiness. She was troubled about his reading the
Bible so much, especially the Old Testament; but he told her he had never
known before what majestic literature it was. There were some turns or
phrases in it that peculiarly took his fancy and seemed to feed it with
inexhaustible suggestion. 'The Angel of the Lord' was one of these. The
idea of a divine messenger, embodied and commissioned to intimate the
creative will to the creature: it was sublime, it was ineffable. He
wondered that men had ever come to think in any other terms of the living
law that we were under, and that could much less conceivably operate like
an insensate mechanism than it could reveal itself as a constant purpose.
He said he believed that in every great moral crisis, in every ordeal of
conscience, a man was aware of standing in the presence of something sent
to try him and test him, and that this something was the Angel of the

"He went off that night, saying to himself, 'The Angel of the Lord, the
Angel of the Lord!' and when she lay a long time awake, waiting for him
to go to sleep, she heard him saying it again in his room. She thought he
might be dreaming, but when she went to him, he had his lamp lighted, and
was lying with that rapt smile on his face which she was so afraid of.
She told him she was afraid and she wished he would not say such things;
and that made him laugh, and he put his arms round her, and laughed and
laughed, and said it was only a kind of swearing, and she must cheer up.
He let her give him some trional to make him sleep, and then she went off
to her bed again. But when they both woke late, she heard him, as he
dressed, repeating fragments of verse, quoting quite without order, as
the poem drifted through his memory. He told her at breakfast that it was
a poem which Longfellow had written to Lowell upon the occasion of his
wife's death, and he wanted to get it and read it to her. She said she
did not see how he could let his mind run on such gloomy things. But he
protested he was not the least gloomy, and that he supposed his
recollection of the poem was a continuation of his thinking about the
Angel of the Lord.

"While they were at table a tramp came up the drive under the window, and
looked in at them hungrily. He was a very offensive tramp, and quite took
Mrs. Ormond's appetite away: but Ormond would not send him round to the
kitchen, as she wanted; he insisted upon taking him a plate and a cup of
coffee out on the veranda himself. When she expostulated with him, he
answered fantastically that the fellow might be an angel of the Lord, and
he asked her if she remembered Parnell's poem of 'The Hermit.' Of course
she didn't, but he needn't get it, for she didn't want to hear it, and if
he kept making her so nervous, she should be sick herself. He insisted
upon telling her what the poem was, and how the angel in it had made
himself abhorrent to the hermit by throttling the babe of the good man
who had housed and fed them, and committing other atrocities, till the
hermit couldn't stand it any longer, and the angel explained that he had
done it all to prevent the greater harm that would have come if he had
not killed and stolen in season. Ormond laughed at her disgust, and said
he was curious to see what a tramp would do that was treated with real
hospitality. He thought they had made a mistake in not asking this tramp
in to breakfast with them; then they might have stood a chance of being
murdered in their beds to save them from mischief."


"Mrs. Ormond really lost her patience with him, and felt better than she
had for a long time by scolding him in good earnest. She told him he was
talking very blasphemously, and when he urged that his morality was
directly in line with Parnell's, and Parnell was an archbishop, she was
so vexed that she would not go to drive with him that morning, though he
apologized and humbled himself in every way. He pleaded that it was such
a beautiful day, it must be the last they were going to have; it was
getting near the equinox, and this must be a weather-breeder. She let him
go off alone, for he would not lose the drive, and she watched him out of
sight from her upper window with a heavy heart. As soon as he was fairly
gone, she wanted to go after him, and she was wild all the forenoon. She
could not stay indoors, but kept walking up and down the piazza and
looking for him, and at times she went a bit up the road he had taken, to
meet him. She had got to thinking of the tramp, though the man had gone
directly off down another road after he had his breakfast. At last she
heard the old creaking, rattling buggy, and as soon as she saw Ormond's
bare head, and knew he was all right, she ran up to her room and shut
herself in. But she couldn't hold out against him when he came to her
door with an armful of wild flowers that he had gathered for her, and
boughs from some young maples that he had found all red in a swamp. She
showed herself so interested that he asked her to come with him after
their midday dinner and see them, and she said perhaps she would, if he
would promise not to keep talking about the things that made her so
miserable. He asked her, 'What things?' and she answered that he knew
well enough, and he laughed and promised.

"She didn't believe he would keep his word, but he did at first, and he
tried not to tease her in any way. He tried to please her in the whims
and fancies she had about going this way or that, and when she decided
not to look up his young maples with him, because the first autumn leaves
made her melancholy, he submitted. He put his arm across her shoulder as
they drove through the woods, and pulled her to him, and called her 'poor
old thing,' and accused her of being morbid. He wanted her to tell him
all there was in her mind, but she could not; she could only cry on his
arm. He asked her if it was something about him that troubled her, and
she could only say that she hated to see people so cheerful without
reason. That made him laugh, and they were very gay after she had got her
cry out; but he grew serious again. Then her temper rose, and she asked,
'Well, what is it?' and he said at first, 'Oh, nothing,' as people do
when there is really something, and presently he confessed that he was
thinking about what she had said of his being cheerful without reason.
Then, as she said, he talked so beautifully that she had to keep her
patience with him, though he was not keeping his word to her. His talk,
as far as she was able to report it, didn't amount to much more than
this: that in a world where death was, people never could be cheerful
with reason unless death was something altogether different from what
people imagined. After people came to their intellectual consciousness,
death was never wholly out of it, and if they could be joyful with that
black drop at the bottom of every cup, it was proof positive that death
was not what it seemed. Otherwise there was no logic in the scheme of
being, but it was a cruel fraud by the Creator upon the creature; a poor
practical joke, with the laugh all on one side. He had got rid of his
fear of it in that light, which seemed to have come to him before the
fear left him, and he wanted her to see it in the same light, and if he
died before her--But there she stopped him and protested that it would
kill her if she did not die first, with no apparent sense, even when she
told me, of her fatuity, which must have amused poor Ormond. He said what
he wanted to ask was that she would believe he had not been the least
afraid to die, and he wished her to remember this always, because she
knew how he always used to be afraid of dying. Then he really began to
talk of other things, and he led the way back to the times of their
courtship and their early married days, and their first journeys
together, and all their young-people friends, and the simple-hearted
pleasure they used to take in society, in teas and dinners, and going to
the theater. He did not like to think how that pleasure had dropped out
of their life, and he did not know why they had let it, and he was going
to have it again when they went to town.

"They had thought of staying a long time in the country, perhaps till
after Thanksgiving, for they had become attached to their place; but now
they suddenly agreed to go back to New York at once. She told me that as
soon as they agreed she felt a tremendous longing to be gone that
instant, as if she must go to escape from something, some calamity, and
she felt, looking back, that there was a prophetic quality in her

"Oh, she was always so," said Minver. "When a thing was to be done, she
wanted it done like lightning, no matter what the thing was."

"Well, very likely," Wanhope consented. "I never make much account of
those retroactive forebodings. At any rate, she says she wanted him to
turn about and drive home so that they could begin packing, and when he
demurred, and began to tease, as she called it, she felt as if she should
scream, till he turned the old horse and took the back track. She was
_wild_ to get home, and kept hurrying him, and wanting him to whip the
horse; but the old horse merely wagged his tail, and declined to go
faster than a walk, and this was the only thing that enabled her to
forgive herself afterward."

"Why, what had she done?" Rulledge asked. "She would have been
responsible for what happened, according to her notion, if she had had
her way with the horse; she would have felt that she had driven Ormond to
his doom."

"Of course!" said Minver. "She always found a hole to creep out of. Why
couldn't she go back a little further, and hold herself responsible
through having made him turn round?"

"Poor woman!" said Rulledge, with a tenderness that made Minver smile.
"What was it that did happen?"

Wanhope examined his cup for some dregs of coffee, and then put it down
with an air of resignation. I offered to touch the bell, but, "No,
don't," he said. "I'm better without it." And he went on: "There was a
lonely piece of woods that they had to drive through before they struck
the avenue leading to their house, which was on a cheerful upland
overlooking the river, and when they had got about half-way through this
woods, the tramp whom Ormond had fed in the morning, slipped out of a
thicket on the hillside above them, and crossed the road in front of
them, and slipped out of sight among the trees on the slope below. Ormond
stopped the horse, and turned to his wife with a strange kind of whisper.
'Did you see it?' he asked, and she answered yes, and bade him drive on.
He did so, slowly looking back round the side of the buggy till a turn of
the road hid the place where the tramp had crossed their track. She could
not speak, she says, till they came in sight of their house. Then her
heart gave a great bound, and she broke out on him, blaming him for
having encouraged the tramp to lurk about, as he must have done, all day,
by his foolish sentimentality in taking his breakfast out to him. 'He saw
that you were a delicate person, and now to-night he will be coming
round, and--' She says Ormond kept looking at her, while she talked, as
if he did not know what she was saying, and all at once she glanced down
at their feet, and discovered that her hat was gone.

"That, she owned, made her frantic, and she blazed out at him again, and
accused him of having lost her hat by stopping to look at that worthless
fellow, and then starting up the horse so suddenly that it had rolled
out. He usually gave her as good as she sent when she let herself go in
that way, and she told me she would have been glad if he had done it now,
but he only looked at her in a kind of daze, and when he understood, at
last, he bade her get out and go into the house--they were almost at the
door,--and he would go back and find her hat himself. 'Indeed, you'll do
nothing of the kind,' she said she told him. 'I shall go back with you,
or you'll be hunting up that precious vagabond and bringing him home to
supper.' Ormond said, 'All right,' with a kind of dreamy passivity, and
he turned the old horse again, and they drove slowly back, looking for
the hat in the road, right and left. She had not noticed before that it
was getting late, and perhaps it was not so late as it seemed when they
got into that lonely piece of woods again, and the veils of shadow began
to drop round them, as if they were something falling from the trees, she
said. They found the hat easily enough at the point where it must have
rolled out of the buggy, and he got down and picked it up. She kept
scolding him, but he did not seem to hear her. He stood dangling the hat
by its ribbons from his right hand, while he rested his left on the
dashboard, and looking--looking down into the wooded slope where the
tramp had disappeared. A cold chill went over her, and she stopped her
scolding. 'Oh, Jim,' she said, 'do you see something? What do you see?'
He flung the hat from him, and ran plunging down the hillside--she
covered up her face when she told me, and said she should always see him
running--till the dusk among the trees hid him. She ran after him, and
she heard him calling, calling joyfully, 'Yes, I'm coming!' and she
thought he was calling back to her, but the rush of his feet kept getting
farther, and then he seemed to stop with a sound like falling. He
couldn't have been much ahead of her, for it was only a moment till she
stood on the edge of a boulder in the woods, looking over, and there at
the bottom Ormond was lying with his face turned under him, as she
expressed it; and the tramp, with a heavy stick in his hand, was standing
by him, stooping over him, and staring at him. She began to scream, and
it seemed to her that she flew down from the brink of the rock, and
caught the tramp and clung to him, while she kept screaming 'Murder!'
The man didn't try to get away; he only said, over and over, 'I didn't
touch him, lady; I didn't touch him.' It all happened simultaneously,
like events in a dream, and while there was nobody there but herself
and the tramp, and Ormond lying between them, there were some people
that must have heard her from the road and come down to her. They were
neighbor-folk that knew her and Ormond, and they naturally laid hold of
the tramp; but he didn't try to escape. He helped them gather poor Ormond
up, and he went back to the house with them, and staid while one of them
ran for the doctor. The doctor could only tell them that Ormond was dead,
and that his neck must have been broken by his fall over the rock. One of
the neighbors went to look at the place the next morning, and found one
of the roots of a young tree growing on the rock, torn out, as if Ormond
had caught his foot in it; and that had probably made his fall a headlong
dive. The tramp knew nothing but that he heard shouting and running, and
got up from the foot of the rock, where he was going to pass the night,
when something came flying through the air, and struck at his feet. Then
it scarcely stirred, and the next thing, he said, the lady was _onto_
him, screeching and tearing. He piteously protested his innocence, which
was apparent enough, at the inquest, and before, for that matter. He said
Ormond was about the only man that ever treated him white, and Mrs.
Ormond was remorseful for having let him get away before she could tell
him that she didn't blame him, and ask him to forgive her."


Wanhope desisted with a provisional air, and Rulledge went and got
Himself a sandwich from the lunch-table.

"Well, upon my word!" said Minver. "I thought you had dined, Rulledge."

Rulledge came back munching, and said to Wanhope, as he settled himself
in his chair again: "Well, go on."

"Why, that's all."

The psychologist was silent, with Rulledge staring indignantly at him.

"I suppose Mrs. Ormond had her theory?" I ventured.

"Oh, yes--such as it was," said Wanhope. "It was her belief--her
religion--that Ormond had seen Death, in person or personified, or the
angel of it; and that the sight was something beautiful, and not
terrible. She thought that she should see Death, too in the same way, as
a messenger. I don't know that it was such a bad theory," he added

"Not," said Minver, "if you suppose that Ormond was off his nut. But, in
regard to the whole matter, there is always a question of how much truth
there was in what she said about it."

"Of course," the psychologist admitted, "that is a question which must be
considered. The question of testimony in such matters is the difficult
thing. You might often believe in supernatural occurrences if it were not
for the witnesses. It is very interesting," he pursued, with his
scientific smile, "to note how corrupting anything supernatural or
mystical is. Such things seem mostly to happen either in the privity of
people who are born liars, or else they deprave the spectator so, through
his spiritual vanity or his love of the marvelous, that you can't believe
a word he says.

"They are as bad as horses on human morals," said Minver. "Not that I
think it ever needed the coming of a ghost to invalidate any statement of
Mrs. Ormond's." Rulledge rose and went away growling something, partially
audible, to the disadvantage of Minver's wit, and the painter laughed
after him: "He really believes it."

Wanhope's mind seemed to be shifted from Mrs. Ormond to her convert, whom
he followed with his tolerant eyes. "Nothing in all this sort of inquiry
is so impossible to predicate as the effect of any given instance upon a
given mind. It would be very interesting--"

"Excuse me!" said Minver. "There's Whitley. I must speak to him."

He went away, leaving me alone with the psychologist.

"And what is your own conclusion in this instance?" I asked.

"Why, I haven't formulated it yet."

* * * * *



You are very welcome to the Alderling incident, my dear Acton, if you
think you can do anything with it, and I will give it as circumstantially
as possible. The thing has its limitations, I should think, for the
fictionist, chiefly in a sort of roundedness which leaves little play to
the imagination. It seems to me that it would be more to your purpose if
it were less _pat_, in its catastrophe, but you are a better judge of all
that than I am, and I will put the facts in your hands, and keep my own
hands off, so far as any plastic use of the material is concerned.

The first I knew of the peculiar Alderling situation was shortly after
William James's "Will to Believe" came out. I had been telling the
Alderlings about it, for they had not seen it, and I noticed that from
time to time they looked significantly at each other. When I had got
through he gave a little laugh, and she said, "Oh, you may laugh!" and
then I made bold to ask, "What is it?"

"Marion can tell you," he said. He motioned towards the coffee-pot and
asked, "More?" I shook my head, and he said, "Come out and let us see
what the maritime interests have been doing for us. Pipe or cigar?" I
chose cigarettes, and he brought the box off the table, stopping on his
way to the veranda, and taking his pipe and tobacco-pouch from the hall

Mrs. Alderling had got to the veranda before us, and done things to the
chairs and cushions, and was leaning against one of the slender fluted
pine columns like some rich, blond caryatid just off duty, with the
blue of her dress and the red of her hair showing deliciously against
the background of white house-wall. He and she were an astonishing and
satisfying contrast; in the midst of your amazement you felt the divine
propriety of a woman like her wanting just such a wiry,
smoky-complexioned, black-browed, black-bearded, bald-headed little man
as he was. Before he sat down where she was going to put him, he
stood stoopingly, and frowned at the waters of the cove lifting from
the foot of the lawn that sloped to it before the house. "Three
lumbermen, two goodish-sized yachts, a dozen sloop-rigged boats: not so
bad. About the usual number that come loafing in to spend the night.
You ought to see them when it threatens to breeze up. Then they're here
in flocks. Go on, Marion."

He gave a soft groan of comfort as he settled in his chair and began
pulling at his short black pipe, and she let her eyes dwell on him in a
rapture that curiously interested me. People in love are rarely
interesting--that is, flesh-and-blood people. Of course I know that
lovers are the life of fiction, and that a story of any kind can scarcely
hold the reader without them. The love-interest, as they call it, is also
supposed to be essential to the drama, and friends of mine who have tried
to foist their plays upon managers have been overthrown by the objection
that the love-interest is not strong enough in what they have done. Yet
lovers in real life are, so far as I have observed them, bores. They are
confessed to be disgusting before or after marriage when they let their
fondness appear, but even when they try to hide it, they are tiresome.
Character goes down before passion in them; nature is reduced to
propensity. Then, how is it that the novelist manages to keep these, and
to give us nature and character while seeming to offer nothing but
propensity and passion? Perhaps he does not give them. Perhaps what he
does is to hypnotize us so that we each of us identify ourselves with the
lovers, and add our own natures and characters to the single principle
that animates them. The reason we like, that we endure, to read about
them, may be that they are ourselves rendered objective in an instant of
intense vitality, without the least trouble or risk to us. But if we have
them there before us in the tiresome reality, they exclude us from their
pleasure in each other and stop up the perspective of our happiness with
their hulking personalities, bare of all the iridescence of potentiality,
which we could have cast about them. Something of this iridescence may
cling to unmarried lovers, in spite of themselves, but wedded bliss is a
sheer offence.

I do not know why it was not an offence in the case of the Alderlings,
unless it was because they both, in their different ways, saw the joke of
the thing. At any rate, I found that in their charm for each other they
had somehow not ceased to be amusing for me, and I waited confidently for
the answer she would make to his whimsically abrupt bidding. But she did
not answer very promptly, even when he had added, "Wanhope, here, is
scenting something psychological in the reason of my laughing at you,
instead of accepting the plain inference in the case."

"What is the plain inference?" I asked, partly to fill up Mrs.
Alderling's continued silence.

"When a man laughs at a woman for no apparent reason it is because he is
amused at her being afraid of him when he is so much more afraid of her,
or puzzled by him when she is such an incomparable riddle herself, or
caring for him when he knows he is not worth his salt."

"You don't expect to put me off with that sort of thing," I said.

"Well, then, go on Marion," Alderling repeated.


Mrs. Alderling stood looking at him, not me, with a smile hovering about
the corners of her mouth, which, when it decided not to alight anywhere,
scarcely left her aspect graver for its flitting. She said at last, in
her slow, deep-throated voice, "I guess I will let you tell him."

"Oh, I'll tell him fast enough," said Alderling, nursing his knee, and
bringing it well up toward his chin, between his clasped hands. "Marion
has always had the notion that I should live again if I believed I
should, and that as I don't believe I shall, I am not going to. The joke
of it is," and he began to splutter laughter round the stem of his pipe,
"she's as much of an agnostic as I am. She doesn't believe she is going
to live again, either."

Mrs. Alderling said, "I don't care for it in my case." That struck me as
rather touching, but I had no right to enter uninvited into the intimacy
of her meaning, and I said, looking as little at her as I need, "Aren't
you both rather belated?"

"You mean that protoplasm has gone out?" he chuckled.

"Not exactly," I answered. "But you know that a great many things are
allowed now that were once forbidden to the True Disbeliever."

"You mean that we may trust in the promises, as they used to be called,
and still keep the Unfaith?"

"Something like that."

Alderling took his pipe out, apparently to give his whole face to the
pleasure of teasing his wife.

"That'll be a great comfort to Marion," he said, and he threw back his
head and laughed.

She smiled faintly, vaguely, tolerantly, as if she enjoyed his pleasure
in teasing her.

"Where have you been," I asked, "that you don't know the changed attitude
in these matters?"

"Well, here for the last three years. We tried it the first winter after
we came, and found it was not so bad, and we simply stayed on. But I
haven't really looked into the question since I gave the conundrum up
twenty years ago, on what was then the best authority. Marion doesn't
complain. She knew what I was when she married me. She was another. We
were neither of us very bigoted disbelievers. We should not have burned
anybody at the stake for saying that we had souls."

Alderling put back his pipe and cackled round it, taking his knee between
his hands again.

"You know," she explained, more in my direction than to me, "that I had
none to begin with. But Alderling had. His people believed in the future

"That's what they said," Alderling crowed. "And Marion has always thought
that if she had believed that way, she could have kept me up to it; and
so when I died I should have lived again. It is perfectly logical, though
it isn't capable of a practical demonstration. If Marion had come of a
believing family, she could have brought me back into the fold. Her great
mistake was in being brought up by an uncle who denied that he was living
here, even. The poor girl could not do a thing when it came to the life

The smile now came hovering back, and alighted at a corner of Mrs.
Alderling's mouth, making it look, oddly enough, rather rueful. "It
didn't matter about me. I thought it a pity that Alderling's talent
should stop here."

"Did you ever know anything like that?" he cried. "Perfectly willing to
thrust me out into a cold other-world, and leave me to struggle on
without her, when I had got used to her looking after me. Now I'm not so
selfish as that. I shouldn't want to have Marion living on through all
eternity if I wasn't with her. It would be too lonely for her."

He looked up at her, with his dancing eyes, and she put her hand down
over his shoulder into the hand that he lifted to meet it, in a way that
would have made me sick in some people. But in her the action was so
casual, so absent, that it did not affect me disagreeably.

"Do you mean that you haven't been away since you came here three years
ago?" I asked.

"We ran up to the theatre once in Boston last winter, but it bored us to
the limit." Alderling poked his knife-blade into the bowl of his pipe as
he spoke, having freed his hand for the purpose, while Mrs. Alderling
leaned back against the slim column again. He said gravely: "It was a
great thing for Marion, though. In view of the railroad accident that
didn't happen, she convinced herself that her sole ambition was that we
should die together. Then, whether we found ourselves alive or not, we
should be company for each other. She's got it arranged with the
thunderstorms, so that one bolt will do for us both, and she never lets
me go out on the water alone, for fear I shall watch my chance, and get
drowned without her."

I did not trouble myself to make out how much of this was mocking, and as
there was no active participation in the joke expected of me, I kept on
the safe side of laughing. "No wonder you've been able to do such a lot
of pictures," I said. "But I should have thought you might have found it
dull--I mean dull together--at odd times."

"Dull?" he shouted. "It's stupendously dull! Especially when our country
neighbors come in to ''liven us up.' We've got neighbors here that can
stay longer in half an hour than most people can in a week. We get tired
of each other at times, but after a call from the people in the next
house, we return with rapture to our delusion that we are interesting."

"And you never," I ventured, making my jocosity as ironical as possible,
"wear upon each other?"

"Horribly!" said Alderling, and his wife smiled contentedly, behind him.
"We haven't a whole set of china in the house, from exchanging it across
the table, and I haven't made a study of Marion--you must have noticed
how many Marions there were that she hasn't thrown at my head. Especially
the Madonnas. She likes to throw the Madonnas at me."

I ventured still farther, addressing myself to Mrs. Alderling. "Does he
keep it up all the time--this blague?"

"Pretty much," she answered passively, with entire acquiescence in the
fact if it were the fact, or the joke if it were the joke.

"But I didn't see anything of yours, Mrs. Alderling," I said. She
had had her talent, as a girl, and some people preferred it to her
husband's,--but there was no effect of it anywhere in the house.

"The housekeeping is enough," she answered, with her tranquil smile.

There was nothing in her smile that was leading, and I did not push my
inquiry, especially as Alderling did not seem disposed to assist. "Well,"
I said, "I suppose you will forgive to science my feeling that your
situation is most suggestive."

"Oh, don't mind _us!_" said Alderling.

"I won't, thank you," I answered. "Why, it's equal to being cast away
together on an uninhabited island."

"Quite," he assented.

"There can't," I went on, "be a corner of your minds that you haven't
mutually explored. You must know each other," I cast about for the word,
and added abruptly, "by heart."

"I don't suppose he meant anything pretty?" said Alderling, with a look
up over his shoulder at his wife; and then he said to me, "We do; and
there are some very curious things I could tell you, if Marion would ever
let me get in a word."

"Do let him, Mrs. Alderling," I entreated, humoring his joke at her

She smiled, and softly shrugged, and then sighed.

"I could make your flesh creep," he went on, "or I could if you were not
a psychologist. I assure you that we are quite weird at times."

"As how?"

"Oh, just knowing what the other is thinking, at a given moment, and
saying it. There are times when Marion's thinking is such a nuisance to
me, that I have to yell down to her from my loft to stop it. The racket
it makes breaks me all up. It's a relief to have her talk, and I try to
make her, when she's posing, just to escape the din of her thinking. Then
the willing! We experimented with it, after we had first noticed it, but
we don't any more. It's too dead easy."

"What do you mean by the willing?" I asked.

"Oh, just wishing one that the other was there, and there he or she is."

"Is he trying to work me, Mrs. Alderling?" I appealed to her, and she
answered from her calm:

"It is very unaccountable."

"Then you really mean it! Why can't you give me an illustration?"

"Why, you know," said Alderling more seriously than he had yet spoken, "I
don't believe those things, if they are real, can ever be got to show
off. That's the reason why your 'Quests in the Occult' are mainly such
rubbish, as far as the evidences are concerned. If Marion and I tried to
give you an illustration, as you call it, the occult would snub us. But,
is there anything so very strange about it? The wonder _is_ that a man
and wife ever fail of knowing each what the other is thinking. They
pervade each other's minds, if they are really married, and they are so
present with each other that the tacit wish should be the same as a call.
Marion and I are only an intensified instance of what may be done by
living together. There is something, though, that is rather queer, but it
belongs to psychomancy rather than psychology, as I understand it."

"Ah!" I said. "What is that queer something?"

"Being visibly present when absent. It has not happened often, but it has
happened that I have seen Marion in my loft when she was really somewhere
else and not when I had willed her or wished her to be there."

"Now, really," I said, "I must ask you for an instance."

"You want to heap up facts, Lombroso fashion? Well, this is as good as
most of Lombroso's facts, or better. I went up one morning, last winter,
to work at a study of a Madonna from Marion, directly after breakfast,
and left her below in the dining-room, putting away the breakfast
things. She has to do that occasionally, between the local helps, who
are all we can get in the winter. She professes to like it, but you
never can tell, from what a woman says; she has to do it, anyway." It is
hard to convey a notion of the serene, impersonal acquiescence of Mrs.
Alderling in taking this talk of her. "I was banging away at it when I
knew she was behind me looking over my shoulder rather more stormily
than she usually does; usually, she is a dead calm. I glanced up, and
saw the calm succeed the storm. I kept on, and after awhile I was aware
of hearing her step on the stairs."

Alderling stopped, and smoked definitively, as if that were the end.

"Well," I said, after waiting a while, "I don't exactly get the unique
value of the incident."

"Oh," he said, as if he had accidentally forgotten the detail, "the steps
were coming up?"


"She opened the door, which she had omitted to do before, and when she
came in she denied having been there already. She owned that she had been
hurrying through her work, and thinking of mine, so as to make me do
something, or undo something, to it; and then all at once she lost her
impatience, and came up at her leisure. I don't exactly like to tell what
she wanted."

He began to laugh provokingly, and she said, tranquilly, "I don't mind
your telling Mr. Wanhope."

"Well, then, strictly in the interest of psychomancy, I will confide that
she had found some traces of a model that I used to paint my Madonnas
from, before we were married, in that picture. She had slept on her
suspicion, and then when she could not stand it any longer, she had come
up in the spirit to say that she was not going to be mixed up in a
Madonna with any such minx. The words are mine, but the meaning was
Marion's. When she found me taking the minx out, she went quietly back to
washing her dishes, and then returned in the body to give me a sitting."


We were silent a moment, till I asked, "Is this true, Mrs. Alderling?"

"About," she said. "I don't remember the storm, exactly."

"Well, I don't see why you bother to remain in the body at all," I

"We haven't arranged just how to leave it together," said Alderling.
"Marion, here, if I managed to get off first, would have no means of
knowing whether her theory of the effect of my unbelief on my future was
right or not; and if _she_ gave _me_ the slip, she would always be sorry
that she had not stayed here to convert me."

"Why don't you agree that if either of you lives again, he or she shall
make some sign to let the other know?" I suggested. "Well, that has been
tried so often, and has it ever worked? It's open to the question whether
the dead do not fail to show up because they are forbidden to communicate
with the living; and you are just where you were, as to the main point.
No, I don't see any way out of it."

Mrs. Alderling went into the house and came out with a book in her hand,
and her fingers in it at two places. It was that impressive collection of
Christ's words from the New Testament called "The Great Discourse." She
put the book before me, first at one place and then at another, and I
read, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die," and then,
"Nay, but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." She did not
say anything in showing me these passages, and I found something in her
action touchingly childlike and elemental, as well as curiously
heathenish. It was as if some poor pagan had brought me his fetish to
test its effect upon me. "Yes," I said, "those are things that we hardly
know what to do with in our philosophy. They seem to be said as with
authority, and yet, somehow, we cannot admit their validity in a
philosophical inquiry as to a future life. Aren't they generally taken to
mean that we shall be unhappy or happy hereafter, rather than that we
shall be or not be at all? And what is believing? Is it the mere act of
acknowledgement, or is it something more vital, which expresses itself in

She did not try to say. In fact she did not answer at all. Whatever point
was in her mind she did not, or could not, debate it. I perceived, in a
manner, that her life was so largely subliminal that if she had tried she
could not have met my question any more than if she had not had the gift
of speech at all. But, in her inarticulate fashion, she had exposed to me
a state of mind which I was hardly withheld by the decencies from
exploring. "You know," I said, "that psychology almost begins by
rejecting the authority of these sayings, and that while we no longer
deny anything, we cannot allow anything merely because it has been
strongly affirmed. Supposing that there is a life after this, how can it
be denied to one and bestowed upon another because one has assented to a
certain supernatural claim and another has refused to do so? That does
not seem reasonable, it does not seem right. Why should you base your
conclusion as to that life upon a promise and a menace which may not
really refer to it in the sense which they seem to have?"

"Isn't it all there is?" she asked, and Alderling burst into his laugh.

"I'm afraid she's got you there, Wanhope. When it comes to polemics
there's nothing like the passive obstruction of Mrs. Alderling. Marion
might never have been an early Christian herself--I think she's an
inexpugnable pagan--but she would have gone round making it awfully
uncomfortable for the other unbelievers."

"You know," she said to him, and I never could decide how much she was in
earnest, "that I can't believe till you do. I couldn't take the risk of
keeping on without you."

Alderling followed her in-doors, where she now went to put the book away,
with the mock addressed to me, "Did you ever know such a stubborn woman?"


One conclusion from my observation of the Alderlings during the week I
spent with them was that it is bad for a husband and wife to be
constantly and unreservedly together, not because they grow tired of each
other, but because they grow more intensely interested in each other.
Children, when they come, serve the purpose of separating the parents;
they seem to unite them in one care, but they divide them in their
employments, at least in the normally constituted family. If they are
rich, and can throw the care of the children upon servants, then they
cannot enjoy the relief from each other that children bring to the mother
who nurtures and teaches them, and to the father who must work for them
harder than before. The Alderlings were not rich enough to have been
freed from the wholesome responsibilities of parentage, but they were
childless, and so they were not detached from the perpetual thought of
each other. If they had only had different tastes, it might have been
better, but they were both artists, she not less than he, though she no
longer painted. When their common thoughts were not centred upon each
other's being, they were centred on his work, which, viciously enough,
was the constant reproduction of her visible personality. I could always
see them studying each other, he with an eye to her beauty, she with an
eye to his power.

He was every now and then saying to her, "Hold on, Marion," and staying
her in some pose or movement, while he made mental note of it, and I was
conscious of her preying upon his inmost thoughts and following him into
the recesses of his reveries, where it is best for a man to be alone,
even if he is sometimes a beast there. She was not like those wives who
ask their husbands, when they do not happen to be talking, "What are you
thinking about?" and I put this to her credit, till I realized that she
had no need to ask, for she knew already. Now and then I saw him get up
and shake himself restively, but I am bound to say in her behalf, that
her pursuit of him seemed quite involuntary, and that she enjoyed it no
more than he did. Twenty times I was on the point of asking, "Why don't
you people go in for a good long separation? Is there nothing to call you
to Europe, Alderling? Haven't you got a mother, or sister, or some one
that you could visit, Mrs. Alderling? It would do you both a world of

But it happened, oddly enough, that the Alderlings were as kinless as
they were childless, and if he had gone to Europe he would have taken her
with him, and prolonged their seclusion by the isolation in which people
necessarily live in a foreign country. I found I was the only
acquaintance who had visited them during the years of their retirement on
the coast, where they had stayed, partly through his inertia, and partly
from his superstition that he could paint better away from the ordinary
associations and incentives; and they ceased, before I left, to get the
good they might of my visit because they made me a part of their
intimacy, instead of making themselves part of my strangeness.

After a day or two, their queer experiences began to resume themselves,
unabashed by my presence. These were mostly such as they had already more
than hinted to me: the thought-transferences, and the unconscious
hypnotic suggestions which they made to each other. There was more
novelty in the last than the first. If I could trust them, and they did
not seem to wish to exploit their mysteries for the effect on me, they
were with each other because one or the other had willed it. She would
say, if we were sitting together without him, "I think Rupert wants me;
I'll be back in a moment," and he, if she were not by, for some time,
would get up with, "Excuse me, I must go to Marion; she's calling me."

I had to take a great deal of this on faith; in fact, none of it was
susceptible of proof; but I have not been able since to experience all
the skepticism which usually replaces the impression left by sympathy
with such supposed occurrences. The thing was not quite what we call
uncanny; the people were so honest, both of them, that the morbid
character of like situations was wanting. The events, if they could be
called so, were not invited, I was quite sure, and they were varied by
such diversions as we had in reach. I went blueberrying with Mrs.
Alderling in the morning after she had got her breakfast dishes put away,
in order that we might have something for dessert at our midday dinner;
and I went fishing off the old stone crib with Alderling in the
afternoon, so that we might have cunners for supper. The farmerfolks and
fisherfolks seemed to know them and to be on tolerant terms with them,
though it was plain that they still considered them probational in
their fellow-citizenship. I do not think they were liked the less
because they did not assume to be of the local sort, but let their
difference stand, if it would. There was nothing countrified in her
dress, which was frankly conventional; the short walking-skirt had as
sharp a slant in front as her dinner-gown would have had, and he wore his
knickerbockers--it was then the now-faded hour of knickerbockers--with an
air of going out golfing in the suburbs. They stood on ceremony in
addressing the natives, who might have been Jim or Liza to each other,
but were always Mr. Donald or Mrs. Moody, with the Alderlings. They said
they would not like being called by their first names themselves, and
they did not see why they should take that freedom with others. Neither
by nature nor by nurture were they out of the ordinary in their ideals,
and it was by a sort of accident that they were so different in their
realities. She had stayed on with him through the first winter in the
place they had taken for the summer, because she wished to be with him,
rather than because she wished to be there, and he had stayed because he
had not just found the moment to break away, though afterwards he
pretended a reason for staying. They had no more voluntarily
cultivated the natural than the supernatural; he kindled the fire for
her, and she made the coffee for him, not because they preferred, but
because they must; and they had arrived at their common ground in the
occult by virtue of being alone together, and not by seeking the solitude
for the experiment which the solitude promoted. Mrs. Alderling did not
talk less, nor he more, when either was alone with me, than when we were
all together; perhaps he was more silent, and she not quite so much; she
was making up for him in his absence as he was for her in her presence.
But they were always hospitable and attentive hosts, and though under the
peculiar circumstances of Mrs. Alderling's having to do the house-work I
necessarily had to do a good many things for myself, there were certain
little graces which were never wanting, from her hands: my curtains were
always carefully drawn, and my coverlet triangularly opened, so that I
did not have to pull it down myself. There was a freshly trimmed lamp on
the stand at my bed-head, and a book and paper-cutter put there, with a
decanter of whiskey and a glass of water. I note these things to you,
because they are touches which help remove the sense of anything
intentional in the occultism of the Alderlings.

I do not know whether I shall be able to impart the feeling of an obscure
pathos in the case of Mrs. Alderling, which I certainly did not
experience in Alderling's. Temperamentally he was less fitted to undergo
the rigors of their seclusion than she was; in his liking to talk, he
needed an audience and a variety of listening, and she, in her somewhat
feline calm, could not have been troubled by any such need. You can be
silent to yourself, but you cannot very well be loquacious, without
danger of having the devil for a listener, if the old saying is true. Yet
still, I felt a keener poignancy in her sequestration. Her beauty had
even greater claim to regard than his eloquence. She was a woman who
could have commanded a whole roomful with it, and no one would have
wanted a word from her. She could only have been entirely herself in
society, where, and in spite of everything that can be said against it,
we can each, if we will, be more natural than out of it. The reason that
most of us are not natural in it is that we want to play parts for which
we are more or less unfit, and Marion Alderling never wished to play a
part, I was sure. It would have sufficed her to be herself wherever she
was, and the more people there were by, the more easily she could have
been herself.

I am not able to say now how much of all this is observation of previous
facts, and how much speculation based upon subsequent occurrences. At the
best I can only let it stand for characterization. In the same interest I
will add a fact in relation to Mrs. Alderling which ought to have its
weight against any undue appeal I have been making in her behalf. Without
in the least blaming her, I will say that I think that Mrs. Alderling ate
too much. She must have had naturally a strong appetite, which her active
life sharpened, and its indulgence formed a sort of refuge from the
pressure of the intense solitude in which she lived, and which was all
the more a solitude because it was _solitude a deux_. I noticed that
beyond the habit of cooks she partook of the dishes she had prepared,
and that after Alderling and I had finished dinner, and he was impatient
to get at his pipe, she remained prolonging her dessert. One night, when
he and I came in from the veranda, she was standing at the sideboard,
bent over a saucer of something, and she made me think of a large
tortoise-shell cat which has got at the cream. I expected in my nerves to
hear her lap, and my expectation was heightened by the soft, purring
laugh with which she owned that she was hungry, and those berries were so

At the risk of giving the effect of something sensuous, even sensual, in
her, I find myself insisting upon this detail, which did not lessen her
peculiar charm. As far as the mystical quality of the situation was
concerned, I fancy your finding that rather heightened by her innocent
_gourmandise_. You must have noticed how inextricably, for this life at
least, the spiritual is trammeled in the material, how personal character
and ancestral propensity seem to flow side by side in the same individual
without necessarily affecting each other. On the moral side Mrs.
Alderling was no more to be censured for the refuge which her nerves
sought from the situation in over-eating than Alderling for the smoking
in which he escaped from the pressure they both felt from one another;
and she was not less fitted than he for their joint experience.


I do not suppose it was with the notion of keeping her weight down that
Mrs. Alderling rowed a good deal on the cove before the cottage; but she
had a boat, which she managed very well, and which she was out in, pretty
much the whole time when she was not cooking, or eating or sleeping, or
roaming the berry-pastures with me, or sitting to Alderling for his
Madonnas. He did not care for the water himself; he said he knew every
inch of that cove, and was tired of it; but he rather liked his wife's
going, and they may both have had an unconscious relief from each other
in the absences which her excursions promoted. She swam as well as she
rowed, and often we saw her going down water-proofed to the shore, where
we presently perceived her pulling off in her bathing-dress. Well out in
the cove she had the habit of plunging overboard, and after a good swim,
she rowed back, and then, discreetly water-proofed again, she climbed the
lawn back to the house. Now and then she took me out in her boat, but so
far as I remember, Alderling never went with her. Once I ventured to ask
him if he never felt anxious about her. He said no, he should not have
been afraid to go with her, and she could take better care of herself
than he could. Besides, by means of their telepathy they were in constant
communion, and he could make her feel at any sort of chance, that he did
not wish her to take it, and she would not. This was the only occasion
when he treated their peculiar psychomancy boastfully, and the only
occasion when I felt a distinct misgiving of his sincerity.

The day before I left, Mrs. Alderling went down about eleven in the
morning to her boat, and rowed out into the cove. She rowed far toward
the other shore, whither, following her with my eyes from Alderling's
window, I saw its ridge blotted out by a long low cloud. It was straight
and level as a wall, and looked almost as dense, and I called Alderling.

"Oh, that fog won't come in before afternoon," he said. "We usually get
it about four o'clock. But even if it does," he added dreamily, "Marion
can manage. I'd trust her anywhere in this cove in any kind of weather."

He went back to his work, and painted away for five or six minutes. Then
he asked me, still at the window, "What's that fog doing now?"

"Well, I don't know," I answered. "I should say it was making in."

"Do you see Marion?"

"Yes, she seems to be taking her bath."

Again he painted a while before he asked, "Has she had her dip?"

"She's getting back into her boat."

"All right," said Alderling, in a tone of relief. "She's good to beat
any fog in these parts ashore. I wish you would come and look at this
a minute."

I went, and we lost ourselves for a time in our criticism of the picture.
He was harder on it than I was. He allowed, _"C'est un bon portrait_, as
the French used to say of a faithful landscape, though I believe now the
portrait can't be too good for them. I can't say about landscape. But in
a Madonna I feel that there can be too much Marion, not for me, of
course, but for the ideal, which I suppose we are bound to respect.
Marion is not spiritual, but I would not have her less of the earth
earthy, for all the angels that ever spread themselves 'in strong level

I recognized the words from "The Blessed Damozel," and I made bold to be
so personal as to say, "If her hair were a little redder than 'the color
of ripe corn' one might almost feel that the Blessed Damozel had been
painted from Mrs. Alderling. It's the lingering earthiness in her that
makes the Damozel so divine."

"Yes, that was a great conception. I wonder none of the fellows do that
kind of thing now."

I laughed and said, "Well, so few of them have had the advantage of
seeing Mrs. Alderling. And besides, Rosettis don't happen every day."

"It was the period, too. I always tell her that she belongs among the
later eighteen sixties. But she insists that she wasn't even born then.
Marion is tremendously single-minded."

"She has her mind all on you."

He looked askance at me. "You've noticed--"

"I've noticed that your mind is all on her."

"Not half as much!" he protested, fervidly. "I don't think it's good for
her, though of course I like it. That is, in a way. Sometimes it's
rather too--" He suddenly flung his brush from him, and started up, with
a loudly shouted, "Yes, yes! I'm coming," and hurled himself out of the
garret which he used for his studio, and cleared the stairs with two

By the time I reached the outer door of the cottage, he was a dark blur
in the white blur of the fog which had swallowed up the cove, and was
rising round the house-walls from the grass. I heard him shouting,
"Marion!" and a faint mellow answer, far out in the cove, "Hello!" and

"Where are you?" and her answer "Here!" I heard him jump into a boat, and
the thump of the oars in the row-locks, and then the rapid beat of the
oars while he shouted, "Keep calling!" and she answered,--

"I will!" and called "Hello! Hello! Hello!"

I made my mental comment that this time their mystical means of
communication was somehow not working. But after her last hello, no sound
broke the white silence of the fog except the throb of Alderling's oars.
She was evidently resting on hers, lest she should baffle his attempts to
find her by trying to find him.

I suppose ten minutes or so had passed, when the dense air brought me the
sound of low laughing that was also like the sound of low sobbing, and
then I knew that they had met somewhere in the blind space. I began to
hear rowing again, but only as of one boat, and suddenly out of the mist,
almost at my feet, Alderling's boat shot up on the shelving beach, and
his wife leaped ashore from it, and ran past me up the lawn, while he
pulled her boat out on the gravel. She must have been trailing it from
the stern of his.


I was abroad when Mrs. Alderling died, but I heard that it was from a
typhoid fever which she had contracted from the water in their well, as
was supposed. The water-supply all along that coast is scanty, and that
summer most of the wells were dry, and quite a plague of typhoid raged
among the people from drinking the dregs. The fever might have gone the
worse with her because of her over-fed robustness; at any rate it went
badly enough.

I first heard of her death from Minver at the club, and I heard with
still greater astonishment that Alderling was down there alone where she
had died. Minver said that somebody ought to go down and look after the
poor old fellow, but nobody seemed to feel it exactly his office.
Certainly I did not feel it mine, and I thought it rather a hardship when
a few days after I found a letter from Alderling at the club quite
piteously beseeching me to come to him. He had read of my arrival home,
in a stray New York paper, and he was firing his letter, he said, at the
club, with one chance in a thousand of hitting me with it. Rulledge was
by when I read it, and he decided, with that unsparing activity of his,
where other people are concerned, that I must go; I certainly could not
resist such an appeal as that. He had a vague impression, he said, of
something weird in the situation down there, and I ought to go and pull
Alderling out of it; besides, I might find my account in it as a
psychologist. I hesitated a day, out of self-respect, or self-assertion,
and then, the weather coming on suddenly hot, in the beginning of
September, I went.

Of course I had meant to go, all along, but I was not so glad when I
arrived, as I might have been if Alderling had given me a little
warmer welcome. His mood had changed since writing to me, and the
strongest feeling he showed at seeing me was what affected me very
like a cold surprise.

If I had broken in on a solitude in that place before, I was now the
intruder upon a desolation. Alderling was living absolutely alone,
except for the occasional presence of a neighboring widow--all the
middle-aged women there are widows, with dim or dimmer memories of
husbands lost off the Banks, or elsewhere at sea--who came in to get his
meals and make his bed, and then had instructions to leave. It was in one
of her prevailing absences that I arrived with my bag, and I had to
hammer a long time with the knocker on the open door before Alderling
came clacking down the stairs in his slippers from the top of the house,
and gave me his somewhat defiant greeting. I could almost have said that
he did not recognize me at the first bleared glance, and his inability,
when he realized who it was, to make me feel at home, encouraged me to
take the affair into my own hands.

He looked frightfully altered, but perhaps it was the shaggy beard that
he had let grow over his poor, lean muzzle, that mainly made the
difference. His clothes hung gauntly upon him, and he had a weak-kneed
stoop. His coat sleeves were tattered at the wrists, and one of them
showed the white lining at the elbow. I simply shuddered at his shirt.

"Will you smoke?" he asked huskily, almost at the first word, and with an
effect of bewilderment in his hospitality that almost made me shed tears.

"Well, not just yet, Alderling," I said. "Shall I go to my old room?"

"Go anywhere," he answered, and he let me carry my bag to the chamber
where I had slept before.

It was quite as his wife would have arranged it, even to the detail of a
triangular portion of the bedding turned down as she used to do it for
me. The place was well aired and dusted, and gave me the sense of being
as immaculately clean and fresh as Alderling was not. He sat down in a
chair by the window, and he remained, while I laid out my things and made
my brief toilet, unabashed by those incidents for which I did not feel it
necessary to banish him, if he liked staying.

We had supper by-and-by, a very well-cooked meal of fried fresh cod and
potatoes, with those belated blackberries which grow so sweet when they
hang long on the canes into September. There was a third plate laid, and
I expected that when the housekeeper had put the dishes on the table, she
would sit down with us, as the country-fashion still is, but she did not
reappear till she came in with the dessert and coffee. Alderling ate
hungrily, and much more than I had remembered his doing, but perhaps I
formerly had the impression of Mrs. Alderling's fine appetite so strongly
in mind that I had failed to note his. Certainly, however, there was a
difference in one sort which I could not be mistaken in, and that was in
his not talking. Her mantle of silence had fallen upon him, and whereas
he used hardly to give me a chance in the conversation, he now let me do
all of it. He scarcely answered my questions, and he asked none of his
own; but I saw that he liked being talked to, and I did my best, shying
off from his sorrow, as people foolishly do, and speaking banalities
about my trip to Europe, and the Psychological Congress in Geneva, and
the fellows at the club, and heaven knows what rot else.

He listened, but I do not know whether he heard much of my clack, and I
got very tired of it myself at last. When I had finished my blackberries,
he asked mechanically, in an echo of my former visit, with a repetition
of his gesture towards the coffee-pot, "More?" I shook my head, and then
he led the way out to the veranda, stopping to get his pipe and tobacco
from the mantel on the way. But when we sat down in the early falling
September twilight outside, he did not light his pipe, letting me smoke
my cigarette alone.

"Are you off your tobacco?" I asked.

"I don't smoke," he answered, but he did not explain why, and I did not
feel authorized to ask.

The talk went on as lopsidedly as before, and I began to get sleepy. I
made bold to yawn, but Alderling did not mind that, and then I made bold
to say that I thought I would go to bed. He followed me indoors, saying
that he would go to bed, too. The hall was lighted from a hanging-lamp
and two clear-burning hand-lamps which the widow had put for us on a
small table. She had evidently gone home, and left us to ourselves. He

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