Part 2 out of 7
its less hallowed haunts. Her searching enquiries about a
play whose production, on one of the latter scenes, had
provoked a considerable amount of scandal, led Darrow to
throw out laughingly: "To see THAT you'll have to wait
till you're married!" and his answer had sent her off at a
"Oh, I never mean to marry," she had rejoined in a tone of
"I seem to have heard that before!"
"Yes; from girls who've only got to choose!" Her eyes had
grown suddenly almost old. "I'd like you to see the only
men who've ever wanted to marry me! One was the doctor on
the steamer, when I came abroad with the Hokes: he'd been
cashiered from the navy for drunkenness. The other was a
deaf widower with three grown-up daughters, who kept a
clock-shop in Bayswater!--Besides," she rambled on, "I'm not
so sure that I believe in marriage. You see I'm all for
self-development and the chance to live one's life. I'm
awfully modern, you know."
It was just when she proclaimed herself most awfully modern
that she struck him as most helplessly backward; yet the
moment after, without any bravado, or apparent desire to
assume an attitude, she would propound some social axiom
which could have been gathered only in the bitter soil of
All these things came back to him as he sat beside her in
the theatre and watched her ingenuous absorption. It was on
"the story" that her mind was fixed, and in life also, he
suspected, it would always be "the story", rather than its
remoter imaginative issues, that would hold her. He did not
believe there were ever any echoes in her soul...
There was no question, however, that what she felt was felt
with intensity: to the actual, the immediate, she spread
vibrating strings. When the play was over, and they came
out once more into the sunlight, Darrow looked down at her
with a smile.
"Well?" he asked.
She made no answer. Her dark gaze seemed to rest on him
without seeing him. Her cheeks and lips were pale, and the
loose hair under her hat-brim clung to her forehead in damp
rings. She looked like a young priestess still dazed by the
fumes of the cavern.
"You poor child--it's been almost too much for you!"
She shook her head with a vague smile.
"Come," he went on, putting his hand on her arm, "let's jump
into a taxi and get some air and sunshine. Look, there are
hours of daylight left; and see what a night it's going to
He pointed over their heads, to where a white moon hung in
the misty blue above the roofs of the rue de Rivoli.
She made no answer, and he signed to a motor-cab, calling
out to the driver: "To the Bois!"
As the carriage turned toward the Tuileries she roused
herself. "I must go first to the hotel. There may be a
message--at any rate I must decide on something."
Darrow saw that the reality of the situation had suddenly
forced itself upon her. "I MUST decide on something,"
He would have liked to postpone the return, to persuade her
to drive directly to the Bois for dinner. It would have
been easy enough to remind her that she could not start for
Joigny that evening, and that therefore it was of no moment
whether she received the Farlows' answer then or a few hours
later; but for some reason he hesitated to use this
argument, which had come so naturally to him the day before.
After all, he knew she would find nothing at the hotel--so
what did it matter if they went there?
The porter, interrogated, was not sure. He himself had
received nothing for the lady, but in his absence his
subordinate might have sent a letter upstairs.
Darrow and Sophy mounted together in the lift, and the young
man, while she went into her room, unlocked his own door and
glanced at the empty table. For him at least no message had
come; and on her threshold, a moment later, she met him with
the expected: "No--there's nothing!"
He feigned an unregretful surprise. "So much the better!
And now, shall we drive out somewhere? Or would you rather
take a boat to Bellevue? Have you ever dined there, on the
terrace, by moonlight? It's not at all bad. And there's no
earthly use in sitting here waiting."
She stood before him in perplexity.
"But when I wrote yesterday I asked them to telegraph. I
suppose they're horribly hard up, the poor dears, and they
thought a letter would do as well as a telegram." The colour
had risen to her face. "That's why I wrote instead of
telegraphing; I haven't a penny to spare myself!"
Nothing she could have said could have filled her listener
with a deeper contrition. He felt the red in his own face
as he recalled the motive with which he had credited her in
his midnight musings. But that motive, after all, had
simply been trumped up to justify his own disloyalty: he had
never really believed in it. The reflection deepened his
confusion, and he would have liked to take her hand in his
and confess the injustice he had done her.
She may have interpreted his change of colour as an
involuntary protest at being initiated into such shabby
details, for she went on with a laugh: "I suppose you can
hardly understand what it means to have to stop and think
whether one can afford a telegram? But I've always had to
consider such things. And I mustn't stay here any longer
now--I must try to get a night train for Joigny. Even if
the Farlows can't take me in, I can go to the hotel: it will
cost less than staying here." She paused again and then
exclaimed: "I ought to have thought of that sooner; I ought
to have telegraphed yesterday! But I was sure I should hear
from them today; and I wanted--oh, I DID so awfully want
to stay!" She threw a troubled look at Darrow. "Do you
happen to remember," she asked, "what time it was when you
posted my letter?"
Darrow was still standing on her threshold. As she put the
question he entered the room and closed the door behind him.
His heart was beating a little faster than usual and he had
no clear idea of what he was about to do or say, beyond the
definite conviction that, whatever passing impulse of
expiation moved him, he would not be fool enough to tell her
that he had not sent her letter. He knew that most
wrongdoing works, on the whole, less mischief than its
useless confession; and this was clearly a case where a
passing folly might be turned, by avowal, into a serious
"I'm so sorry--so sorry; but you must let me help you...You
will let me help you?" he said.
He took her hands and pressed them together between his,
counting on a friendly touch to help out the insufficiency
of words. He felt her yield slightly to his clasp, and
hurried on without giving her time to answer.
"Isn't it a pity to spoil our good time together by
regretting anything you might have done to prevent our
She drew back, freeing her hands. Her face, losing its look
of appealing confidence, was suddenly sharpened by distrust.
"You didn't forget to post my letter?"
Darrow stood before her, constrained and ashamed, and ever
more keenly aware that the betrayal of his distress must be
a greater offense than its concealment.
"What an insinuation!" he cried, throwing out his hands with
Her face instantly melted to laughter. "Well, then--I
WON'T be sorry; I won't regret anything except that our
good time is over!"
The words were so unexpected that they routed all his
resolves. If she had gone on doubting him he could probably
have gone on deceiving her; but her unhesitating acceptance
of his word made him hate the part he was playing. At the
same moment a doubt shot up its serpenthead in his own
bosom. Was it not he rather than she who was childishly
trustful? Was she not almost too ready to take his word, and
dismiss once for all the tiresome question of the letter?
Considering what her experiences must have been, such
trustfulness seemed open to suspicion. But the moment his
eyes fell on her he was ashamed of the thought, and knew it
for what it really was: another pretext to lessen his own
"Why should our good time be over?" he asked. "Why
shouldn't it last a little longer?"
She looked up, her lips parted in surprise; but before she
could speak he went on: "I want you to stay with me--I want
you, just for a few days, to have all the things you've
never had. It's not always May and Paris--why not make the
most of them now? You know me--we're not strangers--why
shouldn't you treat me like a friend?"
While he spoke she had drawn away a little, but her hand
still lay in his. She was pale, and her eyes were fixed on
him in a gaze in which there was neither distrust or
resentment, but only an ingenuous wonder. He was
extraordinarily touched by her expression.
"Oh, do! You must. Listen: to prove that I'm sincere I'll
tell you...I'll tell you I didn't post your letter...I
didn't post it because I wanted so much to give you a few
good hours...and because I couldn't bear to have you go."
He had the feeling that the words were being uttered in
spite of him by some malicious witness of the scene, and yet
that he was not sorry to have them spoken.
The girl had listened to him in silence. She remained
motionless for a moment after he had ceased to speak; then
she snatched away her hand.
"You didn't post my letter? You kept it back on purpose? And
you tell me so NOW, to prove to me that I'd better put
myself under your protection?" She burst into a laugh that
had in it all the piercing echoes of her Murrett past, and
her face, at the same moment, underwent the same change,
shrinking into a small malevolent white mask in which the
eyes burned black. "Thank you--thank you most awfully for
telling me! And for all your other kind intentions! The
plan's delightful--really quite delightful, and I'm
extremely flattered and obliged."
She dropped into a seat beside her dressing-table, resting
her chin on her lifted hands, and laughing out at him under
the elf-lock which had shaken itself down over her eyes.
Her outburst did not offend the young man; its immediate
effect was that of allaying his agitation. The theatrical
touch in her manner made his offense seem more venial than
he had thought it a moment before.
He drew up a chair and sat down beside her. "After all," he
said, in a tone of good-humoured protest, "I needn't have
told you I'd kept back your letter; and my telling you seems
rather strong proof that I hadn't any very nefarious designs
She met this with a shrug, but he did not give her time to
answer. "My designs," he continued with a smile, "were not
nefarious. I saw you'd been through a bad time with Mrs.
Murrett, and that there didn't seem to be much fun ahead for
you; and I didn't see--and I don't yet see--the harm of
trying to give you a few hours of amusement between a
depressing past and a not particularly cheerful future." He
paused again, and then went on, in the same tone of friendly
reasonableness: "The mistake I made was not to tell you this
at once--not to ask you straight out to give me a day or
two, and let me try to make you forget all the things that
are troubling you. I was a fool not to see that if I'd put
it to you in that way you'd have accepted or refused, as you
chose; but that at least you wouldn't have mistaken my
intentions.--Intentions!" He stood up, walked the length of
the room, and turned back to where she still sat motionless,
her elbows propped on the dressing-table, her chin on her
hands. "What rubbish we talk about intentions! The truth is
I hadn't any: I just liked being with you. Perhaps you
don't know how extraordinarily one can like being with
you...I was depressed and adrift myself; and you made me
forget my bothers; and when I found you were going--and
going back to dreariness, as I was--I didn't see why we
shouldn't have a few hours together first; so I left your
letter in my pocket."
He saw her face melt as she listened, and suddenly she
unclasped her hands and leaned to him.
"But are YOU unhappy too? Oh, I never understood--I
never dreamed it! I thought you'd always had everything in
the world you wanted!"
Darrow broke into a laugh at this ingenuous picture of his
state. He was ashamed of trying to better his case by an
appeal to her pity, and annoyed with himself for alluding to
a subject he would rather have kept out of his thoughts.
But her look of sympathy had disarmed him; his heart was
bitter and distracted; she was near him, her eyes were
shining with compassion--he bent over her and kissed her
"Forgive me--do forgive me," he said.
She stood up with a smiling head-shake. "Oh, it's not so
often that people try to give me any pleasure--much less two
whole days of it! I sha'n't forget how kind you've been. I
shall have plenty of time to remember. But this IS good-
bye, you know. I must telegraph at once to say I'm coming."
"To say you're coming? Then I'm not forgiven?"
"Oh, you're forgiven--if that's any comfort."
"It's not, the very least, if your way of proving it is to
She hung her head in meditation. "But I can't stay.--How
CAN I stay?" she broke out, as if arguing with some
"Why can't you? No one knows you're here...No one need ever
She looked up, and their eyes exchanged meanings for a rapid
minute. Her gaze was as clear as a boy's. "Oh, it's not
THAT," she exclaimed, almost impatiently; "it's not people
I'm afraid of! They've never put themselves out for me--why
on earth should I care about them?"
He liked her directness as he had never liked it before.
"Well, then, what is it? Not ME, I hope?"
"No, not you: I like you. It's the money! With me that's
always the root of the matter. I could never yet afford a
treat in my life!"
Is THAT all?" He laughed, relieved by her naturalness.
"Look here; since we re talking as man to man--can't you
trust me about that too?"
"Trust you? How do you mean? You'd better not trust
ME!" she laughed back sharply. "I might never be able to
His gesture brushed aside the allusion. "Money may be the
root of the matter; it can't be the whole of it, between
friends. Don't you think one friend may accept a small
service from another without looking too far ahead or
weighing too many chances? The question turns entirely on
what you think of me. If you like me well enough to be
willing to take a few days' holiday with me, just for the
pleasure of the thing, and the pleasure you'll be giving me,
let's shake hands on it. If you don't like me well enough
we'll shake hands too; only I shall be sorry," he ended.
"Oh, but I shall be sorry too!" Her face, as she lifted it
to his, looked so small and young that Darrow felt a
fugitive twinge of compunction, instantly effaced by the
excitement of pursuit.
"Well, then?" He stood looking down on her, his eyes
persuading her. He was now intensely aware that his
nearness was having an effect which made it less and less
necessary for him to choose his words, and he went on, more
mindful of the inflections of his voice than of what he was
actually saying: "Why on earth should we say good-bye if
we're both sorry to? Won't you tell me your reason? It's not
a bit like you to let anything stand in the way of your
saying just what you feel. You mustn't mind offending me,
She hung before him like a leaf on the meeting of cross-
currents, that the next ripple may sweep forward or whirl
back. Then she flung up her head with the odd boyish
movement habitual to her in moments of excitement. "What I
feel? Do you want to know what I feel? That you're giving me
the only chance I've ever had!"
She turned about on her heel and, dropping into the nearest
chair, sank forward, her face hidden against the dressing-
Under the folds of her thin summer dress the modelling of
her back and of her lifted arms, and the slight hollow
between her shoulder-blades, recalled the faint curves of a
terra-cotta statuette, some young image of grace hardly more
than sketched in the clay. Darrow, as he stood looking at
her, reflected that her character, for all its seeming
firmness, its flashing edges of "opinion", was probably no
less immature. He had not expected her to yield so suddenly
to his suggestion, or to confess her yielding in that way.
At first he was slightly disconcerted; then he saw how her
attitude simplified his own. Her behaviour had all the
indecision and awkwardness of inexperience. It showed that
she was a child after all; and all he could do--all he had
ever meant to do--was to give her a child's holiday to look
For a moment he fancied she was crying; but the next she was
on her feet and had swept round on him a face she must have
turned away only to hide the first rush of her pleasure.
For a while they shone on each other without speaking; then
she sprang to him and held out both hands.
"Is it true? Is it really true? Is it really going to happen
He felt like answering: "You're the very creature to whom it
was bound to happen"; but the words had a double sense that
made him wince, and instead he caught her proffered hands
and stood looking at her across the length of her arms,
without attempting to bend them or to draw her closer. He
wanted her to know how her words had moved him; but his
thoughts were blurred by the rush of the same emotion that
possessed her, and his own words came with an effort.
He ended by giving her back a laugh as frank as her own, and
declaring, as he dropped her hands: "All that and more too--
All day, since the late reluctant dawn, the rain had come
down in torrents. It streamed against Darrow's high-perched
windows, reduced their vast prospect of roofs and chimneys
to a black oily huddle, and filled the room with the drab
twilight of an underground aquarium.
The streams descended with the regularity of a third day's
rain, when trimming and shuffling are over, and the weather
has settled down to do its worst. There were no variations
of rhythm, no lyrical ups and downs: the grey lines
streaking the panes were as dense and uniform as a page of
George Darrow had drawn his armchair to the fire. The time-
table he had been studying lay on the floor, and he sat
staring with dull acquiescence into the boundless blur of
rain, which affected him like a vast projection of his own
state of mind. Then his eyes travelled slowly about the
It was exactly ten days since his hurried unpacking had
strewn it with the contents of his portmanteaux. His
brushes and razors were spread out on the blotched marble of
the chest of drawers. A stack of newspapers had accumulated
on the centre table under the "electrolier", and half a
dozen paper novels lay on the mantelpiece among cigar-cases
and toilet bottles; but these traces of his passage had made
no mark on the featureless dulness of the room, its look of
being the makeshift setting of innumerable transient
collocations. There was something sardonic, almost
sinister, in its appearance of having deliberately "made up"
for its anonymous part, all in noncommittal drabs and
browns, with a carpet and paper that nobody would remember,
and chairs and tables as impersonal as railway porters.
Darrow picked up the time-table and tossed it on to the
table. Then he rose to his feet, lit a cigar and went to
the window. Through the rain he could just discover the
face of a clock in a tall building beyond the railway roofs.
He pulled out his watch, compared the two time-pieces, and
started the hands of his with such a rush that they flew
past the hour and he had to make them repeat the circuit
more deliberately. He felt a quite disproportionate
irritation at the trifling blunder. When he had corrected
it he went back to his chair and threw himself down, leaning
back his head against his hands. Presently his cigar went
out, and he got up, hunted for the matches, lit it again and
returned to his seat.
The room was getting on his nerves. During the first few
days, while the skies were clear, he had not noticed it, or
had felt for it only the contemptuous indifference of the
traveller toward a provisional shelter. But now that he was
leaving it, was looking at it for the last time, it seemed
to have taken complete possession of his mind, to be soaking
itself into him like an ugly indelible blot. Every detail
pressed itself on his notice with the familiarity of an
accidental confidant: whichever way he turned, he felt the
nudge of a transient intimacy...
The one fixed point in his immediate future was that his
leave was over and that he must be back at his post in
London the next morning. Within twenty-four hours he would
again be in a daylight world of recognized activities,
himself a busy, responsible, relatively necessary factor in
the big whirring social and official machine. That fixed
obligation was the fact he could think of with the least
discomfort, yet for some unaccountable reason it was the one
on which he found it most difficult to fix his thoughts.
Whenever he did so, the room jerked him back into the circle
of its insistent associations. It was extraordinary with
what a microscopic minuteness of loathing he hated it all:
the grimy carpet and wallpaper, the black marble mantel-
piece, the clock with a gilt allegory under a dusty bell,
the high-bolstered brown-counterpaned bed, the framed card
of printed rules under the electric light switch, and the
door of communication with the next room. He hated the door
most of all...
At the outset, he had felt no special sense of
responsibility. He was satisfied that he had struck the
right note, and convinced of his power of sustaining it.
The whole incident had somehow seemed, in spite of its
vulgar setting and its inevitable prosaic propinquities, to
be enacting itself in some unmapped region outside the pale
of the usual. It was not like anything that had ever
happened to him before, or in which he had ever pictured
himself as likely to be involved; but that, at first, had
seemed no argument against his fitness to deal with it.
Perhaps but for the three days' rain he might have got away
without a doubt as to his adequacy. The rain had made all
the difference. It had thrown the whole picture out of
perspective, blotted out the mystery of the remoter planes
and the enchantment of the middle distance, and thrust into
prominence every commonplace fact of the foreground. It was
the kind of situation that was not helped by being thought
over; and by the perversity of circumstance he had been
forced into the unwilling contemplation of its every
His cigar had gone out again, and he threw it into the fire
and vaguely meditated getting up to find another. But the
mere act of leaving his chair seemed to call for a greater
exertion of the will than he was capable of, and he leaned
his head back with closed eyes and listened to the drumming
of the rain.
A different noise aroused him. It was the opening and
closing of the door leading from the corridor into the
adjoining room. He sat motionless, without opening his
eyes; but now another sight forced itself under his lowered
lids. It was the precise photographic picture of that other
room. Everything in it rose before him and pressed itself
upon his vision with the same acuity of distinctness as the
objects surrounding him. A step sounded on the floor, and
he knew which way the step was directed, what pieces of
furniture it had to skirt, where it would probably pause,
and what was likely to arrest it. He heard another sound,
and recognized it as that of a wet umbrella placed in the
black marble jamb of the chimney-piece, against the hearth.
He caught the creak of a hinge, and instantly differentiated
it as that of the wardrobe against the opposite wall. Then
he heard the mouse-like squeal of a reluctant drawer, and
knew it was the upper one in the chest of drawers beside the
bed: the clatter which followed was caused by the mahogany
toilet-glass jumping on its loosened pivots...
The step crossed the floor again. It was strange how much
better he knew it than the person to whom it belonged! Now
it was drawing near the door of communication between the
two rooms. He opened his eyes and looked. The step had
ceased and for a moment there was silence. Then he heard a
low knock. He made no response, and after an interval he
saw that the door handle was being tentatively turned. He
closed his eyes once more...
The door opened, and the step was in the room, coming
cautiously toward him. He kept his eyes shut, relaxing his
body to feign sleep. There was another pause, then a
wavering soft advance, the rustle of a dress behind his
chair, the warmth of two hands pressed for a moment on his
lids. The palms of the hands had the lingering scent of some
stuff that he had bought on the Boulevard...He looked up and
saw a letter falling over his shoulder to his knee...
"Did I disturb you? I'm so sorry! They gave me this just now
when I came in."
The letter, before he could catch it, had slipped between
his knees to the floor. It lay there, address upward, at
his feet, and while he sat staring down at the strong
slender characters on the blue-gray envelope an arm reached
out from behind to pick it up.
"Oh, don't--DON'T" broke from him, and he bent over and
caught the arm. The face above it was close to his.
----"take the trouble," he stammered.
He dropped the arm and stooped down. His grasp closed over
the letter, he fingered its thickness and weight and
calculated the number of sheets it must contain.
Suddenly he felt the pressure of the hand on his shoulder,
and became aware that the face was still leaning over him,
and that in a moment he would have to look up and kiss it...
He bent forward first and threw the unopened letter into the
middle of the fire.
The light of the October afternoon lay on an old high-roofed
house which enclosed in its long expanse of brick and
yellowish stone the breadth of a grassy court filled with
the shadow and sound of limes.
From the escutcheoned piers at the entrance of the court a
level drive, also shaded by limes, extended to a white-
barred gate beyond which an equally level avenue of grass,
cut through a wood, dwindled to a blue-green blur against a
sky banked with still white slopes of cloud.
In the court, half-way between house and drive, a lady
stood. She held a parasol above her head, and looked now at
the house-front, with its double flight of steps meeting
before a glazed door under sculptured trophies, now down the
drive toward the grassy cutting through the wood. Her air
was less of expectancy than of contemplation: she seemed not
so much to be watching for any one, or listening for an
approaching sound, as letting the whole aspect of the place
sink into her while she held herself open to its influence.
Yet it was no less apparent that the scene was not new to
her. There was no eagerness of investigation in her survey:
she seemed rather to be looking about her with eyes to
which, for some intimate inward reason, details long since
familiar had suddenly acquired an unwonted freshness.
This was in fact the exact sensation of which Mrs. Leath was
conscious as she came forth from the house and descended
into the sunlit court. She had come to meet her step-son,
who was likely to be returning at that hour from an
afternoon's shooting in one of the more distant plantations,
and she carried in her hand the letter which had sent her in
search of him; but with her first step out of the house all
thought of him had been effaced by another series of
The scene about her was known to satiety. She had seen
Givre at all seasons of the year, and for the greater part
of every year, since the far-off day of her marriage; the
day when, ostensibly driving through its gates at her
husband's side, she had actually been carried there on a
cloud of iris-winged visions.
The possibilities which the place had then represented were
still vividly present to her. The mere phrase "a French
chateau" had called up to her youthful fancy a throng of
romantic associations, poetic, pictorial and emotional; and
the serene face of the old house seated in its park among
the poplar-bordered meadows of middle France, had seemed, on
her first sight of it, to hold out to her a fate as noble
and dignified as its own mien.
Though she could still call up that phase of feeling it had
long since passed, and the house had for a time become to
her the very symbol of narrowness and monotony. Then, with
the passing of years, it had gradually acquired a less
inimical character, had become, not again a castle of
dreams, evoker of fair images and romantic legend, but the
shell of a life slowly adjusted to its dwelling: the place
one came back to, the place where one had one's duties,
one's habits and one's books, the place one would naturally
live in till one died: a dull house, an inconvenient house,
of which one knew all the defects, the shabbinesses, the
discomforts, but to which one was so used that one could
hardly, after so long a time, think one's self away from it
without suffering a certain loss of identity.
Now, as it lay before her in the autumn mildness, its
mistress was surprised at her own insensibility. She had
been trying to see the house through the eyes of an old
friend who, the next morning, would be driving up to it for
the first time; and in so doing she seemed to be opening her
own eyes upon it after a long interval of blindness.
The court was very still, yet full of a latent life: the
wheeling and rustling of pigeons about the rectangular yews
and across the sunny gravel; the sweep of rooks above the
lustrous greyish-purple slates of the roof, and the stir of
the tree-tops as they met the breeze which every day, at
that hour, came punctually up from the river.
Just such a latent animation glowed in Anna Leath. In every
nerve and vein she was conscious of that equipoise of bliss
which the fearful human heart scarce dares acknowledge. She
was not used to strong or full emotions; but she had always
known that she should not be afraid of them. She was not
afraid now; but she felt a deep inward stillness.
The immediate effect of the feeling had been to send her
forth in quest of her step-son. She wanted to stroll back
with him and have a quiet talk before they re-entered the
house. It was always easy to talk to him, and at this
moment he was the one person to whom she could have spoken
without fear of disturbing her inner stillness. She was
glad, for all sorts of reasons, that Madame de Chantelle and
Effie were still at Ouchy with the governess, and that she
and Owen had the house to themselves. And she was glad that
even he was not yet in sight. She wanted to be alone a
little longer; not to think, but to let the long slow waves
of joy break over her one by one.
She walked out of the court and sat down on one of the
benches that bordered the drive. From her seat she had a
diagonal view of the long house-front and of the domed
chapel terminating one of the wings. Beyond a gate in the
court-yard wall the flower-garden drew its dark-green
squares and raised its statues against the yellowing
background of the park. In the borders only a few late
pinks and crimsons smouldered, but a peacock strutting in
the sun seemed to have gathered into his out-spread fan all
the summer glories of the place.
In Mrs. Leath's hand was the letter which had opened her
eyes to these things, and a smile rose to her lips at the
mere feeling of the paper between her fingers. The thrill it
sent through her gave a keener edge to every sense. She
felt, saw, breathed the shining world as though a thin
impenetrable veil had suddenly been removed from it.
Just such a veil, she now perceived, had always hung between
herself and life. It had been like the stage gauze which
gives an illusive air of reality to the painted scene behind
it, yet proves it, after all, to be no more than a painted
She had been hardly aware, in her girlhood, of differing
from others in this respect. In the well-regulated well-fed
Summers world the unusual was regarded as either immoral or
ill-bred, and people with emotions were not visited.
Sometimes, with a sense of groping in a topsy-turvy
universe, Anna had wondered why everybody about her seemed
to ignore all the passions and sensations which formed the
stuff of great poetry and memorable action. In a community
composed entirely of people like her parents and her
parents' friends she did not see how the magnificent things
one read about could ever have happened. She was sure that
if anything of the kind had occurred in her immediate circle
her mother would have consulted the family clergyman, and
her father perhaps even have rung up the police; and her
sense of humour compelled her to own that, in the given
conditions, these precautions might not have been
Little by little the conditions conquered her, and she
learned to regard the substance of life as a mere canvas for
the embroideries of poet and painter, and its little swept
and fenced and tended surface as its actual substance. It
was in the visioned region of action and emotion that her
fullest hours were spent; but it hardly occurred to her that
they might be translated into experience, or connected with
anything likely to happen to a young lady living in West
Fifty- fifth Street.
She perceived, indeed, that other girls, leading outwardly
the same life as herself, and seemingly unaware of her world
of hidden beauty, were yet possessed of some vital secret
which escaped her. There seemed to be a kind of freemasonry
between them; they were wider awake than she, more alert,
and surer of their wants if not of their opinions. She
supposed they were "cleverer", and accepted her inferiority
good-humouredly, half aware, within herself, of a reserve of
unused power which the others gave no sign of possessing.
This partly consoled her for missing so much of what made
their "good time"; but the resulting sense of exclusion, of
being somehow laughingly but firmly debarred from a share of
their privileges, threw her back on herself and deepened the
reserve which made envious mothers cite her as a model of
Love, she told herself, would one day release her from this
spell of unreality. She was persuaded that the sublime
passion was the key to the enigma; but it was difficult to
relate her conception of love to the forms it wore in her
experience. Two or three of the girls she had envied for
their superior acquaintance with the arts of life had
contracted, in the course of time, what were variously
described as "romantic" or "foolish" marriages; one even
made a runaway match, and languished for a while under a
cloud of social reprobation. Here, then, was passion in
action, romance converted to reality; yet the heroines of
these exploits returned from them untransfigured, and their
husbands were as dull as ever when one had to sit next to
them at dinner.
Her own case, of course, would be different. Some day she
would find the magic bridge between West Fifty-fifth Street
and life; once or twice she had even fancied that the clue
was in her hand. The first time was when she had met young
Darrow. She recalled even now the stir of the encounter.
But his passion swept over her like a wind that shakes the
roof of the forest without reaching its still glades or
rippling its hidden pools. He was extraordinarily
intelligent and agreeable, and her heart beat faster when he
was with her. He had a tall fair easy presence and a mind
in which the lights of irony played pleasantly through the
shades of feeling. She liked to hear his voice almost as
much as to listen to what he was saying, and to listen to
what he was saying almost as much as to feel that he was
looking at her; but he wanted to kiss her, and she wanted to
talk to him about books and pictures, and have him insinuate
the eternal theme of their love into every subject they
Whenever they were apart a reaction set in. She wondered
how she could have been so cold, called herself a prude and
an idiot, questioned if any man could really care for her,
and got up in the dead of night to try new ways of doing her
hair. But as soon as he reappeared her head straightened
itself on her slim neck and she sped her little shafts of
irony, or flew her little kites of erudition, while hot and
cold waves swept over her, and the things she really wanted
to say choked in her throat and burned the palms of her
Often she told herself that any silly girl who had waltzed
through a season would know better than she how to attract a
man and hold him; but when she said "a man" she did not
really mean George Darrow.
Then one day, at a dinner, she saw him sitting next to one
of the silly girls in question: the heroine of the elopement
which had shaken West Fifty-fifth Street to its base. The
young lady had come back from her adventure no less silly
than when she went; and across the table the partner of her
flight, a fat young man with eye-glasses, sat stolidly
eating terrapin and talking about polo and investments.
The young woman was undoubtedly as silly as ever; yet after
watching her for a few minutes Miss Summers perceived that
she had somehow grown luminous, perilous, obscurely menacing
to nice girls and the young men they intended eventually to
accept. Suddenly, at the sight, a rage of possessorship
awoke in her. She must save Darrow, assert her right to him
at any price. Pride and reticence went down in a hurricane
of jealousy. She heard him laugh, and there was something
new in his laugh...She watched him talking, talking...He sat
slightly sideways, a faint smile beneath his lids, lowering
his voice as he lowered it when he talked to her. She
caught the same inflections, but his eyes were different.
It would have offended her once if he had looked at her like
that. Now her one thought was that none but she had a right
to be so looked at. And that girl of all others! What
illusions could he have about a girl who, hardly a year ago,
had made a fool of herself over the fat young man stolidly
eating terrapin across the table? If that was where romance
and passion ended, it was better to take to district
visiting or algebra!
All night she lay awake and wondered: "What was she saying
to him? How shall I learn to say such things?" and she
decided that her heart would tell her--that the next time
they were alone together the irresistible word would spring
to her lips. He came the next day, and they were alone, and
all she found was: "I didn't know that you and Kitty Mayne
were such friends."
He answered with indifference that he didn't know it either,
and in the reaction of relief she declared: "She's certainly
ever so much prettier than she was..."
"She's rather good fun," he admitted, as though he had not
noticed her other advantages; and suddenly Anna saw in his
eyes the look she had seen there the previous evening.
She felt as if he were leagues and leagues away from her.
All her hopes dissolved, and she was conscious of sitting
rigidly, with high head and straight lips, while the
irresistible word fled with a last wing-beat into the golden
mist of her illusions...
She was still quivering with the pain and bewilderment of
this adventure when Fraser Leath appeared. She met him
first in Italy, where she was travelling with her parents;
and the following winter he came to New York. In Italy he
had seemed interesting: in New York he became remarkable.
He seldom spoke of his life in Europe, and let drop but the
most incidental allusions to the friends, the tastes, the
pursuits which filled his cosmopolitan days; but in the
atmosphere of West Fifty-fifth Street he seemed the
embodiment of a storied past. He presented Miss Summers
with a prettily-bound anthology of the old French poets and,
when she showed a discriminating pleasure in the gift,
observed with his grave smile: "I didn't suppose I should
find any one here who would feel about these things as I
do." On another occasion he asked her acceptance of a half-
effaced eighteenth century pastel which he had surprisingly
picked up in a New York auction-room. "I know no one but you
who would really appreciate it," he explained.
He permitted himself no other comments, but these conveyed
with sufficient directness that he thought her worthy of a
different setting. That she should be so regarded by a man
living in an atmosphere of art and beauty, and esteeming
them the vital elements of life, made her feel for the first
time that she was understood. Here was some one whose scale
of values was the same as hers, and who thought her opinion
worth hearing on the very matters which they both considered
of supreme importance. The discovery restored her self-
confidence, and she revealed herself to Mr. Leath as she had
never known how to reveal herself to Darrow.
As the courtship progressed, and they grew more
confidential, her suitor surprised and delighted her by
little explosions of revolutionary sentiment. He said:
"Shall you mind, I wonder, if I tell you that you live in a
dread-fully conventional atmosphere?" and, seeing that she
manifestly did not mind: "Of course I shall say things now
and then that will horrify your dear delightful parents--I
shall shock them awfully, I warn you."
In confirmation of this warning he permitted himself an
occasional playful fling at the regular church-going of Mr.
and Mrs. Summers, at the innocuous character of the
literature in their library, and at their guileless
appreciations in art. He even ventured to banter Mrs.
Summers on her refusal to receive the irrepressible Kitty
Mayne who, after a rapid passage with George Darrow, was now
involved in another and more flagrant adventure.
"In Europe, you know, the husband is regarded as the only
judge in such matters. As long as he accepts the situation
--" Mr. Leath explained to Anna, who took his view the more
emphatically in order to convince herself that, personally,
she had none but the most tolerant sentiments toward the
The subversiveness of Mr. Leath's opinions was enhanced by
the distinction of his appearance and the reserve of his
manners. He was like the anarchist with a gardenia in his
buttonhole who figures in the higher melodrama. Every word,
every allusion, every note of his agreeably-modulated voice,
gave Anna a glimpse of a society at once freer and finer,
which observed the traditional forms but had discarded the
underlying prejudices; whereas the world she knew had
discarded many of the forms and kept almost all the
In such an atmosphere as his an eager young woman, curious
as to all the manifestations of life, yet instinctively
desiring that they should come to her in terms of beauty and
fine feeling, must surely find the largest scope for self-
expression. Study, travel, the contact of the world, the
comradeship of a polished and enlightened mind, would
combine to enrich her days and form her character; and it
was only in the rare moments when Mr. Leath's symmetrical
blond mask bent over hers, and his kiss dropped on her like
a cold smooth pebble, that she questioned the completeness
of the joys he offered.
There had been a time when the walls on which her gaze now
rested had shed a glare of irony on these early dreams. In
the first years of her marriage the sober symmetry of Givre
had suggested only her husband's neatly-balanced mind. It
was a mind, she soon learned, contentedly absorbed in
formulating the conventions of the unconventional. West
Fifty-fifth Street was no more conscientiously concerned
than Givre with the momentous question of "what people did";
it was only the type of deed investigated that was
different. Mr. Leath collected his social instances with
the same seriousness and patience as his snuff-boxes. He
exacted a rigid conformity to his rules of non-conformity
and his scepticism had the absolute accent of a dogma. He
even cherished certain exceptions to his rules as the book-
collector prizes a "defective" first edition. The
Protestant church-going of Anna's parents had provoked his
gentle sarcasm; but he prided himself on his mother's
devoutness, because Madame de Chantelle, in embracing her
second husband's creed, had become part of a society which
still observes the outward rites of piety.
Anna, in fact, had discovered in her amiable and elegant
mother-in-law an unexpected embodiment of the West Fifty-
fifth Street ideal. Mrs. Summers and Madame de Chantelle,
however strongly they would have disagreed as to the
authorized source of Christian dogma, would have found
themselves completely in accord on all the momentous
minutiae of drawing-room conduct; yet Mr. Leath treated his
mother's foibles with a respect which Anna's experience of
him forbade her to attribute wholly to filial affection.
In the early days, when she was still questioning the Sphinx
instead of trying to find an answer to it, she ventured to
tax her husband with his inconsistency.
"You say your mother won't like it if I call on that amusing
little woman who came here the other day, and was let in by
mistake; but Madame de Chantelle tells me she lives with her
husband, and when mother refused to visit Kitty Mayne you
Mr. Leath's smile arrested her. "My dear child, I don't
pretend to apply the principles of logic to my poor mother's
"But if you admit that they ARE prejudices----?"
"There are prejudices and prejudices. My mother, of course,
got hers from Monsieur de Chantelle, and they seem to me as
much in their place in this house as the pot-pourri in your
hawthorn jar. They preserve a social tradition of which I
should be sorry to lose the least perfume. Of course I
don't expect you, just at first, to feel the difference, to
see the nuance. In the case of little Madame de
Vireville, for instance: you point out that she's still
under her husband's roof. Very true; and if she were merely
a Paris acquaintance--especially if you had met her, as one
still might, in the RIGHT KIND of house in Paris--I
should be the last to object to your visiting her. But in
the country it's different. Even the best provincial
society is what you would call narrow: I don't deny it; and
if some of our friends met Madame de Vireville at Givre--
well, it would produce a bad impression. You're inclined to
ridicule such considerations, but gradually you'll come to
see their importance; and meanwhile, do trust me when I ask
you to be guided by my mother. It is always well for a
stranger in an old society to err a little on the side of
what you call its prejudices but I should rather describe as
After that she no longer tried to laugh or argue her husband
out of his convictions. They WERE convictions, and
therefore unassailable. Nor was any insincerity implied in
the fact that they sometimes seemed to coincide with hers.
There were occasions when he really did look at things as
she did; but for reasons so different as to make the
distance between them all the greater. Life, to Mr. Leath,
was like a walk through a carefully classified museum,
where, in moments of doubt, one had only to look at the
number and refer to one's catalogue; to his wife it was like
groping about in a huge dark lumber-room where the exploring
ray of curiosity lit up now some shape of breathing beauty
and now a mummy's grin.
In the first bewilderment of her new state these discoveries
had had the effect of dropping another layer of gauze
between herself and reality. She seemed farther than ever
removed from the strong joys and pangs for which she felt
herself made. She did not adopt her husband's views, but
insensibly she began to live his life. She tried to throw a
compensating ardour into the secret excursions of her
spirit, and thus the old vicious distinction between romance
and reality was re-established for her, and she resigned
herself again to the belief that "real life" was neither
real nor alive.
The birth of her little girl swept away this delusion. At
last she felt herself in contact with the actual business of
living: but even this impression was not enduring.
Everything but the irreducible crude fact of child-bearing
assumed, in the Leath household, the same ghostly tinge of
unreality. Her husband, at the time, was all that his own
ideal of a husband required. He was attentive, and even
suitably moved: but as he sat by her bedside, and
thoughtfully proffered to her the list of people who had
"called to enquire", she looked first at him, and then at
the child between them, and wondered at the blundering
alchemy of Nature...
With the exception of the little girl herself, everything
connected with that time had grown curiously remote and
unimportant. The days that had moved so slowly as they
passed seemed now to have plunged down head-long steeps of
time; and as she sat in the autumn sun, with Darrow's letter
in her hand, the history of Anna Leath appeared to its
heroine like some grey shadowy tale that she might have read
in an old book, one night as she was falling asleep...
Two brown blurs emerging from the farther end of the wood-
vista gradually defined themselves as her step-son and an
attendant game-keeper. They grew slowly upon the bluish
background, with occasional delays and re-effacements, and
she sat still, waiting till they should reach the gate at
the end of the drive, where the keeper would turn off to his
cottage and Owen continue on to the house.
She watched his approach with a smile. From the first days
of her marriage she had been drawn to the boy, but it was
not until after Effie's birth that she had really begun to
know him. The eager observation of her own child had shown
her how much she had still to learn about the slight fair
boy whom the holidays periodically restored to Givre. Owen,
even then, both physically and morally, furnished her with
the oddest of commentaries on his father's mien and mind.
He would never, the family sighingly recognized, be nearly
as handsome as Mr. Leath; but his rather charmingly
unbalanced face, with its brooding forehead and petulant
boyish smile, suggested to Anna what his father's
countenance might have been could one have pictured its neat
features disordered by a rattling breeze. She even pushed
the analogy farther, and descried in her step-son's mind a
quaintly-twisted reflection of her husband's. With his
bursts of door-slamming activity, his fits of bookish
indolence, his crude revolutionary dogmatizing and his
flashes of precocious irony, the boy was not unlike a
boisterous embodiment of his father's theories. It was as
though Fraser Leath's ideas, accustomed to hang like
marionettes on their pegs, should suddenly come down and
walk. There were moments, indeed, when Owen's humours must
have suggested to his progenitor the gambols of an infant
Frankenstein; but to Anna they were the voice of her secret
rebellions, and her tenderness to her step-son was partly
based on her severity toward herself. As he had the courage
she had lacked, so she meant him to have the chances she had
missed; and every effort she made for him helped to keep her
own hopes alive.
Her interest in Owen led her to think more often of his
mother, and sometimes she would slip away and stand alone
before her predecessor's portrait. Since her arrival at
Givre the picture--a "full-length" by a once fashionable
artist--had undergone the successive displacements of an
exiled consort removed farther and farther from the throne;
and Anna could not help noting that these stages coincided
with the gradual decline of the artist's fame. She had a
fancy that if his credit had been in the ascendant the first
Mrs. Leath might have continued to throne over the drawing-
room mantel- piece, even to the exclusion of her successor's
effigy. Instead of this, her peregrinations had finally
landed her in the shrouded solitude of the billiard-room, an
apartment which no one ever entered, but where it was
understood that "the light was better," or might have been
if the shutters had not been always closed.
Here the poor lady, elegantly dressed, and seated in the
middle of a large lonely canvas, in the blank contemplation
of a gilt console, had always seemed to Anna to be waiting
for visitors who never came.
"Of course they never came, you poor thing! I wonder how
long it took you to find out that they never would?" Anna
had more than once apostrophized her, with a derision
addressed rather to herself than to the dead; but it was
only after Effie's birth that it occurred to her to study
more closely the face in the picture, and speculate on the
kind of visitors that Owen's mother might have hoped for.
"She certainly doesn't look as if they would have been the
same kind as mine: but there's no telling, from a portrait
that was so obviously done 'to please the family', and that
leaves Owen so unaccounted for. Well, they never came, the
visitors; they never came; and she died of it. She died of
it long before they buried her: I'm certain of that. Those
are stone-dead eyes in the picture...The loneliness must
have been awful, if even Owen couldn't keep her from dying
of it. And to feel it so she must have HAD feelings--
real live ones, the kind that twitch and tug. And all she
had to look at all her life was a gilt console--yes, that's
it, a gilt console screwed to the wall! That's exactly and
absolutely what he is!"
She did not mean, if she could help it, that either Effie or
Owen should know that loneliness, or let her know it again.
They were three, now, to keep each other warm, and she
embraced both children in the same passion of motherhood, as
though one were not enough to shield her from her
Sometimes she fancied that Owen Leath's response was warmer
than that of her own child. But then Effie was still hardly
more than a baby, and Owen, from the first, had been almost
"old enough to understand": certainly DID understand
now, in a tacit way that yet perpetually spoke to her. This
sense of his understanding was the deepest element in their
feeling for each other. There were so many things between
them that were never spoken of, or even indirectly alluded
to, yet that, even in their occasional discussions and
differences, formed the unadduced arguments making for final
Musing on this, she continued to watch his approach; and her
heart began to beat a little faster at the thought of what
she had to say to him. But when he reached the gate she saw
him pause, and after a moment he turned aside as if to gain
a cross-road through the park.
She started up and waved her sunshade, but he did not see
her. No doubt he meant to go back with the gamekeeper,
perhaps to the kennels, to see a retriever who had hurt his
leg. Suddenly she was seized by the whim to overtake him.
She threw down the parasol, thrust her letter into her
bodice, and catching up her skirts began to run.
She was slight and light, with a natural ease and quickness
of gait, but she could not recall having run a yard since
she had romped with Owen in his school-days; nor did she
know what impulse moved her now. She only knew that run she
must, that no other motion, short of flight, would have been
buoyant enough for her humour. She seemed to be keeping
pace with some inward rhythm, seeking to give bodily
expression to the lyric rush of her thoughts. The earth
always felt elastic under her, and she had a conscious joy
in treading it; but never had it been as soft and springy as
today. It seemed actually to rise and meet her as she went,
so that she had the feeling, which sometimes came to her in
dreams, of skimming miraculously over short bright waves.
The air, too, seemed to break in waves against her, sweeping
by on its current all the slanted lights and moist sharp
perfumes of the failing day. She panted to herself: "This
is nonsense!" her blood hummed back: "But it's glorious!"
and she sped on till she saw that Owen had caught sight of
her and was striding back in her direction.
Then she stopped and waited, flushed and laughing, her hands
clasped against the letter in her breast.
"No, I'm not mad," she called out; "but there's something in
the air today--don't you feel it?--And I wanted to have a
little talk with you," she added as he came up to her,
smiling at him and linking her arm in his.
He smiled back, but above the smile she saw the shade of
anxiety which, for the last two months, had kept its fixed
line between his handsome eyes.
"Owen, don't look like that! I don't want you to!" she said
He laughed. "You said that exactly like Effie. What do you
want me to do? To race with you as I do Effie? But I
shouldn't have a show!" he protested, still with the little
frown between his eyes.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"To the kennels. But there's not the least need. The vet
has seen Garry and he's all right. If there's anything you
wanted to tell me----"
"Did I say there was? I just came out to meet you--I wanted
to know if you'd had good sport."
The shadow dropped on him again. "None at all. The fact is
I didn't try. Jean and I have just been knocking about in
the woods. I wasn't in a sanguinary mood."
They walked on with the same light gait, so nearly of a
height that keeping step came as naturally to them as
breathing. Anna stole another look at the young face on a
level with her own.
"You DID say there was something you wanted to tell me,"
her step-son began after a pause.
"Well, there is." She slackened her pace involuntarily, and
they came to a pause and stood facing each other under the
"Is Darrow coming?" he asked.
She seldom blushed, but at the question a sudden heat
suffused her. She held her head high.
"Yes: he's coming. I've just heard. He arrives to-morrow.
But that's not----" She saw her blunder and tried to rectify
it. "Or rather, yes, in a way it is my reason for wanting
to speak to you----"
"Because he's coming?"
"Because he's not yet here."
"It's about him, then?"
He looked at her kindly, half-humourously, an almost
fraternal wisdom in his smile.
"About----? No, no: I meant that I wanted to speak today
because it's our last day alone together."
"Oh, I see." He had slipped his hands into the pockets of
his tweed shooting jacket and lounged along at her side, his
eyes bent on the moist ruts of the drive, as though the
matter had lost all interest for him.
He stopped again and faced her. "Look here, my dear, it's
no sort of use."
"What's no use?"
"Anything on earth you can any of you say."
She challenged him: "Am I one of 'any of you'?"
He did not yield. "Well, then--anything on earth that even
YOU can say."
"You don't in the least know what I can say--or what I mean
"Don't I, generally?"
She gave him this point, but only to make another. "Yes; but
this is particularly. I want to say...Owen, you've been
admirable all through."
He broke into a laugh in which the odd elder-brotherly note
was once more perceptible.
"Admirable," she emphasized. "And so has SHE."
"Oh, and so have you to HER!" His voice broke down to
boyishness. "I've never lost sight of that for a minute.
It's been altogether easier for her, though," he threw off
"On the whole, I suppose it has. Well----" she summed up
with a laugh, "aren't you all the better pleased to be told
you've behaved as well as she?"
"Oh, you know, I've not done it for you," he tossed back at
her, without the least note of hostility in the affected
lightness of his tone.
"Haven't you, though, perhaps--the least bit? Because, after
all, you knew I understood?"
"You've been awfully kind about pretending to."
She laughed. "You don't believe me? You must remember I had
your grandmother to consider."
"Yes: and my father--and Effie, I suppose--and the outraged
shades of Givre!" He paused, as if to lay more stress on the
boyish sneer: "Do you likewise include the late Monsieur de
His step-mother did not appear to resent the thrust. She
went on, in the same tone of affectionate persuasion: "Yes:
I must have seemed to you too subject to Givre. Perhaps I
have been. But you know that was not my real object in
asking you to wait, to say nothing to your grandmother
before her return."
He considered. "Your real object, of course, was to gain
"Yes--but for whom? Why not for YOU?"
"For me?" He flushed up quickly. "You don't mean----?"
She laid her hand on his arm and looked gravely into his
"I mean that when your grandmother gets back from Ouchy I
shall speak to her----"
"You'll speak to her...?"
"Yes; if only you'll promise to give me time----"
"Time for her to send for Adelaide Painter?"
"Oh, she'll undoubtedly send for Adelaide Painter!"
The allusion touched a spring of mirth in both their minds,
and they exchanged a laughing look.
"Only you must promise not to rush things. You must give me
time to prepare Adelaide too," Mrs. Leath went on.
"Prepare her too?" He drew away for a better look at her.
"Prepare her for what?"
"Why, to prepare your grandmother! For your marriage. Yes,
that's what I mean. I'm going to see you through, you know
His feint of indifference broke down and he caught her hand.
"Oh, you dear divine thing! I didn't dream----"
"I know you didn't." She dropped her gaze and began to walk
on slowly. "I can't say you've convinced me of the wisdom
of the step. Only I seem to see that other things matter
more--and that not missing things matters most. Perhaps
I've changed--or YOUR not changing has convinced me.
I'm certain now that you won't budge. And that was really
all I ever cared about."
"Oh, as to not budging--I told you so months ago: you might
have been sure of that! And how can you be any surer today
"I don't know. I suppose one learns something every day----
"Not at Givre!" he laughed, and shot a half-ironic look at
her. "But you haven't really BEEN at Givre lately--not
for months! Don't you suppose I've noticed that, my dear?"
She echoed his laugh to merge it in an undenying sigh. "Poor
"Poor empty Givre! With so many rooms full and yet not a
soul in it--except of course my grandmother, who is its
They had reached the gateway of the court and stood looking
with a common accord at the long soft-hued facade on which
the autumn light was dying. "It looks so made to be happy
in----" she murmured.
"Yes--today, today!" He pressed her arm a little. "Oh, you
darling--to have given it that look for me!" He paused, and
then went on in a lower voice: "Don't you feel we owe it to
the poor old place to do what we can to give it that look?
You, too, I mean? Come, let's make it grin from wing to
wing! I've such a mad desire to say outrageous things to it
--haven't you? After all, in old times there must have been
living people here!"
Loosening her arm from his she continued to gaze up at the
house-front, which seemed, in the plaintive decline of
light, to send her back the mute appeal of something doomed.
"It IS beautiful," she said.
"A beautiful memory! Quite perfect to take out and turn over
when I'm grinding at the law in New York, and you're----" He
broke off and looked at her with a questioning smile.
"Come! Tell me. You and I don't have to say things to talk
to each other. When you turn suddenly absentminded and
mysterious I always feel like saying: 'Come back. All is
She returned his smile. "You know as much as I know. I
promise you that."
He wavered, as if for the first time uncertain how far he
might go. "I don't know Darrow as much as you know him," he
She frowned a little. "You said just now we didn't need to
"Was I speaking? I thought it was your eyes----" He
caught her by both elbows and spun her halfway round, so
that the late sun shed a betraying gleam on her face.
"They're such awfully conversational eyes! Don't you suppose
they told me long ago why it's just today you've made up
your mind that people have got to live their own lives--even
"This is the south terrace," Anna said. "Should you like to
walk down to the river?"
She seemed to listen to herself speaking from a far-off airy
height, and yet to be wholly gathered into the circle of
consciousness which drew its glowing ring about herself and
Darrow. To the aerial listener her words sounded flat and
colourless, but to the self within the ring each one beat
with a separate heart.
It was the day after Darrow's arrival, and he had come down
early, drawn by the sweetness of the light on the lawns and
gardens below his window. Anna had heard the echo of his
step on the stairs, his pause in the stone- flagged hall,
his voice as he asked a servant where to find her. She was
at the end of the house, in the brown-panelled sitting-room
which she frequented at that season because it caught the
sunlight first and kept it longest. She stood near the
window, in the pale band of brightness, arranging some
salmon-pink geraniums in a shallow porcelain bowl. Every
sensation of touch and sight was thrice-alive in her. The
grey- green fur of the geranium leaves caressed her fingers
and the sunlight wavering across the irregular surface of
the old parquet floor made it seem as bright and shifting as
the brown bed of a stream.
Darrow stood framed in the door-way of the farthest drawing-
room, a light-grey figure against the black and white
flagging of the hall; then he began to move toward her down
the empty pale-panelled vista, crossing one after another
the long reflections which a projecting cabinet or screen
cast here and there upon the shining floors.
As he drew nearer, his figure was suddenly displaced by that
of her husband, whom, from the same point, she had so often
seen advancing down the same perspective. Straight, spare,
erect, looking to right and left with quick precise turns of
the head, and stopping now and then to straighten a chair or
alter the position of a vase, Fraser Leath used to march
toward her through the double file of furniture like a
general reviewing a regiment drawn up for his inspection.
At a certain point, midway across the second room, he always
stopped before the mantel-piece of pinkish-yellow marble and
looked at himself in the tall garlanded glass that
surmounted it. She could not remember that he had ever
found anything to straighten or alter in his own studied
attire, but she had never known him to omit the inspection
when he passed that particular mirror.
When it was over he continued more briskly on his way, and
the resulting expression of satisfaction was still on his
face when he entered the oak sitting-room to greet his
The spectral projection of this little daily scene hung but
for a moment before Anna, but in that moment she had time to
fling a wondering glance across the distance between her
past and present. Then the footsteps of the present came
close, and she had to drop the geraniums to give her hand to
"Yes, let us walk down to the river."
They had neither of them, as yet, found much to say to each
other. Darrow had arrived late on the previous afternoon,
and during the evening they had had between them Owen Leath
and their own thoughts. Now they were alone for the first
time and the fact was enough in itself. Yet Anna was
intensely aware that as soon as they began to talk more
intimately they would feel that they knew each other less
They passed out onto the terrace and down the steps to the
gravel walk below. The delicate frosting of dew gave the
grass a bluish shimmer, and the sunlight, sliding in emerald
streaks along the tree-boles, gathered itself into great
luminous blurs at the end of the wood-walks, and hung above
the fields a watery glory like the ring about an autumn
"It's good to be here," Darrow said.
They took a turn to the left and stopped for a moment to
look back at the long pink house-front, plainer, friendlier,
less adorned than on the side toward the court. So
prolonged yet delicate had been the friction of time upon
its bricks that certain expanses had the bloom and texture
of old red velvet, and the patches of gold lichen spreading
over them looked like the last traces of a dim embroidery.
The dome of the chapel, with its gilded cross, rose above
one wing, and the other ended in a conical pigeon-house,
above which the birds were flying, lustrous and slatey,
their breasts merged in the blue of the roof when they
dropped down on it.
"And this is where you've been all these years."
They turned away and began to walk down a long tunnel of
yellowing trees. Benches with mossy feet stood against the
mossy edges of the path, and at its farther end it widened
into a circle about a basin rimmed with stone, in which the
opaque water strewn with leaves looked like a slab of gold-
flecked agate. The path, growing narrower, wound on
circuitously through the woods, between slender serried
trunks twined with ivy. Patches of blue appeared above them
through the dwindling leaves, and presently the trees drew
back and showed the open fields along the river.
They walked on across the fields to the tow-path. In a
curve of the wall some steps led up to a crumbling pavilion
with openings choked with ivy. Anna and Darrow seated
themselves on the bench projecting from the inner wall of
the pavilion and looked across the river at the slopes
divided into blocks of green and fawn-colour, and at the
chalk-tinted village lifting its squat church-tower and grey
roofs against the precisely drawn lines of the landscape.
Anna sat silent, so intensely aware of Darrow's nearness
that there was no surprise in the touch he laid on her hand.
They looked at each other, and he smiled and said: "There
are to be no more obstacles now."
"Obstacles?" The word startled her. "What obstacles?"
"Don't you remember the wording of the telegram that turned
me back last May? 'Unforeseen obstacle': that was it. What
was the earth-shaking problem, by the way? Finding a
governess for Effie, wasn't it?"
"But I gave you my reason: the reason why it was an
obstacle. I wrote you fully about it."
"Yes, I know you did." He lifted her hand and kissed it.
"How far off it all seems, and how little it all matters
She looked at him quickly. "Do you feel that? I suppose I'm
different. I want to draw all those wasted months into
today--to make them a part of it."
"But they are, to me. You reach back and take everything--
back to the first days of all."
She frowned a little, as if struggling with an inarticulate
perplexity. "It's curious how, in those first days, too,
something that I didn't understand came between us."
"Oh, in those days we neither of us understood, did we? It's
part of what's called the bliss of being young."
"Yes, I thought that, too: thought it, I mean, in looking
back. But it couldn't, even then, have been as true of you
as of me; and now----"
"Now," he said, "the only thing that matters is that we're
sitting here together."
He dismissed the rest with a lightness that might have
seemed conclusive evidence of her power over him. But she
took no pride in such triumphs. It seemed to her that she
wanted his allegiance and his adoration not so much for
herself as for their mutual love, and that in treating
lightly any past phase of their relation he took something
from its present beauty. The colour rose to her face.
"Between you and me everything matters."
"Of course!" She felt the unperceiving sweetness of his
smile. "That's why," he went on, "'everything,' for me, is
here and now: on this bench, between you and me."
She caught at the phrase. "That's what I meant: it's here
and now; we can't get away from it."
"Get away from it? Do you want to? AGAIN?"
Her heart was beating unsteadily. Something in her,
fitfully and with reluctance, struggled to free itself, but
the warmth of his nearness penetrated every sense as the
sunlight steeped the landscape. Then, suddenly, she felt
that she wanted no less than the whole of her happiness.
"'Again'? But wasn't it YOU, the last time----?"
She paused, the tremor in her of Psyche holding up the lamp.
But in the interrogative light of her pause her companion's
features underwent no change.
"The last time? Last spring? But it was you who--for the
best of reasons, as you've told me--turned me back from your
very door last spring!"
She saw that he was good-humouredly ready to "thresh out,"
for her sentimental satisfaction, a question which, for his
own, Time had so conclusively dealt with; and the sense of
his readiness reassured her.
"I wrote as soon as I could," she rejoined. "I explained
the delay and asked you to come. And you never even
answered my letter."
"It was impossible to come then. I had to go back to my
"And impossible to write and tell me so?"
"Your letter was a long time coming. I had waited a week--
ten days. I had some excuse for thinking, when it came,
that you were in no great hurry for an answer."
"You thought that--really--after reading it?"
"I thought it."
Her heart leaped up to her throat. "Then why are you here
He turned on her with a quick look of wonder. "God knows--
if you can ask me that!"
"You see I was right to say I didn't understand."
He stood up abruptly and stood facing her, blocking the view
over the river and the checkered slopes. "Perhaps I might
say so too."
"No, no: we must neither of us have any reason for saying it
again." She looked at him gravely. "Surely you and I
needn't arrange the lights before we show ourselves to each
other. I want you to see me just as I am, with all my
irrational doubts and scruples; the old ones and the new
He came back to his seat beside her. "Never mind the old
ones. They were justified--I'm willing to admit it. With
the governess having suddenly to be packed off, and Effie on
your hands, and your mother-in-law ill, I see the
impossibility of your letting me come. I even see that, at
the moment, it was difficult to write and explain. But what
does all that matter now? The new scruples are the ones I
want to tackle."
Again her heart trembled. She felt her happiness so near,
so sure, that to strain it closer might be like a child's
crushing a pet bird in its caress. But her very security
urged her on. For so long her doubts had been knife-edged:
now they had turned into bright harmless toys that she could
toss and catch without peril!
"You didn't come, and you didn't answer my letter; and after
waiting four months I wrote another."
"And I answered that one; and I'm here."
"Yes." She held his eyes. "But in my last letter I repeated
exactly what I'd said in the first--the one I wrote you last
June. I told you then that I was ready to give you the
answer to what you'd asked me in London; and in telling you
that, I told you what the answer was."
"My dearest! My dearest!" Darrow murmured.
"You ignored that letter. All summer you made no sign. And
all I ask now is, that you should frankly tell me why."
"I can only repeat what I've just said. I was hurt and
unhappy and I doubted you. I suppose if I'd cared less I
should have been more confident. I cared so much that I
couldn't risk another failure. For you'd made me feel that
I'd miserably failed. So I shut my eyes and set my teeth
and turned my back. There's the whole pusillanimous truth
"Oh, if it's the WHOLE truth!----" She let him clasp
her. "There's my torment, you see. I thought that was what
your silence meant till I made you break it. Now I want to
be sure that I was right."
"What can I tell you to make you sure?"
"You can let me tell YOU everything first." She drew
away, but without taking her hands from him. "Owen saw you
in Paris," she began.
She looked at him and he faced her steadily. The light was
full on his pleasantly-browned face, his grey eyes, his
frank white forehead. She noticed for the first time a
seal-ring in a setting of twisted silver on the hand he had
kept on hers.
"In Paris? Oh, yes...So he did."
"He came back and told me. I think you talked to him a
moment in a theatre. I asked if you'd spoken of my having
put you off--or if you'd sent me any message. He didn't
remember that you had."
"In a crush--in a Paris foyer? My dear!"
"It was absurd of me! But Owen and I have always been on odd
kind of brother-and-sister terms. I think he guessed about
us when he saw you with me in London. So he teased me a
little and tried to make me curious about you; and when he
saw he'd succeeded he told me he hadn't had time to say much
to you because you were in such a hurry to get back to the
lady you were with."
He still held her hands, but she felt no tremor in his, and
the blood did not stir in his brown cheek. He seemed to be
honestly turning over his memories.
"Yes: and what else did he tell you?"
"Oh, not much, except that she was awfully pretty. When I
asked him to describe her he said you had her tucked away in
a baignoire and he hadn't actually seen her; but he saw the
tail of her cloak, and somehow knew from that that she was
pretty. One DOES, you know...I think he said the cloak
Darrow broke into a laugh. "Of course it was--they always
are! So that was at the bottom of your doubts?"
"Not at first. I only laughed. But afterward, when I wrote
you and you didn't answer----Oh, you DO see?" she
appealed to him.
He was looking at her gently. "Yes: I see."
"It's not as if this were a light thing between us. I want
you to know me as I am. If I thought that at that
moment...when you were on your way here, almost----"
He dropped her hand and stood up. "Yes, yes--I understand."
"But do you?" Her look followed him. "I'm not a goose of a
girl. I know...of course I KNOW...but there are things
a woman feels...when what she knows doesn't make any
difference. It's not that I want you to explain--I mean
about that particular evening. It's only that I want you to
have the whole of my feeling. I didn't know what it was
till I saw you again. I never dreamed I should say such
things to you!"
"I never dreamed I should be here to hear you say them!" He
turned back and lifting a floating end of her scarf put his
lips to it. "But now that you have, I know--I know," he
smiled down at her.
"That this is no light thing between us. Now you may ask me
anything you please! That was all I wanted to ask YOU."
For a long moment they looked at each other without
speaking. She saw the dancing spirit in his eyes turn grave
and darken to a passionate sternness. He stooped and kissed
her, and she sat as if folded in wings.
It was in the natural order of things that, on the way back
to the house, their talk should have turned to the future.
Anna was not eager to define it. She had an extraordinary
sensitiveness to the impalpable elements of happiness, and
as she walked at Darrow's side her imagination flew back and
forth, spinning luminous webs of feeling between herself and
the scene about her. Every heightening of emotion produced
for her a new effusion of beauty in visible things, and with
it the sense that such moments should be lingered over and
absorbed like some unrenewable miracle. She understood
Darrow's impatience to see their plans take shape. She knew
it must be so, she would not have had it otherwise; but to
reach a point where she could fix her mind on his appeal for
dates and decisions was like trying to break her way through
the silver tangle of an April wood.
Darrow wished to use his diplomatic opportunities as a means
of studying certain economic and social problems with which
he presently hoped to deal in print; and with this in view
he had asked for, and obtained, a South American
appointment. Anna was ready to follow where he led, and not
reluctant to put new sights as well as new thoughts between
herself and her past. She had, in a direct way, only Effie
and Effie's education to consider; and there seemed, after
due reflection, no reason why the most anxious regard for
these should not be conciliated with the demands of Darrow's
career. Effie, it was evident, could be left to Madame de
Chantelle's care till the couple should have organized their
life; and she might even, as long as her future step-
father's work retained him in distant posts, continue to
divide her year between Givre and the antipodes.
As for Owen, who had reached his legal majority two years
before, and was soon to attain the age fixed for the taking
over of his paternal inheritance, the arrival of this date
would reduce his step-mother's responsibility to a friendly
concern for his welfare. This made for the prompt
realization of Darrow's wishes, and there seemed no reason
why the marriage should not take place within the six weeks
that remained of his leave.
They passed out of the wood-walk into the open brightness of
the garden. The noon sunlight sheeted with gold the bronze
flanks of the polygonal yews. Chrysanthemums, russet,
saffron and orange, glowed like the efflorescence of an
enchanted forest; belts of red begonia purpling to wine-
colour ran like smouldering flame among the borders; and
above this outspread tapestry the house extended its
harmonious length, the soberness of its lines softened to
grace in the luminous misty air.
Darrow stood still, and Anna felt that his glance was
travelling from her to the scene about them and then back to
"You're sure you're prepared to give up Givre? You look so
made for each other!"
"Oh, Givre----" She broke off suddenly, feeling as if her
too careless tone had delivered all her past into his hands;
and with one of her instinctive movements of recoil she
added: "When Owen marries I shall have to give it up."
"When Owen marries? That's looking some distance ahead! I
want to be told that meanwhile you'll have no regrets."
She hesitated. Why did he press her to uncover to him her
poor starved past? A vague feeling of loyalty, a desire to
spare what could no longer harm her, made her answer
evasively: "There will probably be no 'meanwhile.' Owen may
marry before long."
She had not meant to touch on the subject, for her step-son
had sworn her to provisional secrecy; but since the
shortness of Darrow's leave necessitated a prompt adjustment
of their own plans, it was, after all, inevitable that she
should give him at least a hint of Owen's.
"Owen marry? Why, he always seems like a faun in flannels! I
hope he's found a dryad. There might easily be one left in
these blue-and-gold woods."
"I can't tell you yet where he found his dryad, but she
IS one, I believe: at any rate she'll become the Givre
woods better than I do. Only there may be difficulties----"
"Well! At that age they're not always to be wished away."
She hesitated. "Owen, at any rate, has made up his mind to
overcome them; and I've promised to see him through."
She went on, after a moment's consideration, to explain that
her step-son's choice was, for various reasons, not likely
to commend itself to his grandmother. "She must be prepared
for it, and I've promised to do the preparing. You know I
always HAVE seen him through things, and he rather
counts on me now."
She fancied that Darrow's exclamation had in it a faint note
of annoyance, and wondered if he again suspected her of
seeking a pretext for postponement.
"But once Owen's future is settled, you won't, surely, for
the sake of what you call seeing him through, ask that I
should go away again without you?" He drew her closer as
they walked. "Owen will understand, if you don't. Since
he's in the same case himself I'll throw myself on his
mercy. He'll see that I have the first claim on you; he
won't even want you not to see it."
"Owen sees everything: I'm not afraid of that. But his
future isn't settled. He's very young to marry--too young,
his grandmother is sure to think--and the marriage he wants
to make is not likely to convince her to the contrary."
"You don't mean that it's like his first choice?"
"Oh, no! But it's not what Madame de Chantelle would call a
good match; it's not even what I call a wise one."
"Yet you're backing him up?"
"Yet I'm backing him up." She paused. "I wonder if you'll
understand? What I've most wanted for him, and shall want
for Effie, is that they shall always feel free to make their
own mistakes, and never, if possible, be persuaded to make
other people's. Even if Owen's marriage is a mistake, and
has to be paid for, I believe he'll learn and grow in the
paying. Of course I can't make Madame de Chantelle see
this; but I can remind her that, with his character--his big
rushes of impulse, his odd intervals of ebb and apathy--she
may drive him into some worse blunder if she thwarts him
"And you mean to break the news to her as soon as she comes
back from Ouchy?"
"As soon as I see my way to it. She knows the girl and
likes her: that's our hope. And yet it may, in the end,
prove our danger, make it harder for us all, when she learns
the truth, than if Owen had chosen a stranger. I can't tell
you more till I've told her: I've promised Owen not to tell
any one. All I ask you is to give me time, to give me a few
days at any rate She's been wonderfully 'nice,' as she would
call it, about you, and about the fact of my having soon to
leave Givre; but that, again, may make it harder for Owen.
At any rate, you can see, can't you, how it makes me want to
stand by him? You see, I couldn't bear it if the least
fraction of my happiness seemed to be stolen from his--as if
it were a little scrap of happiness that had to be pieced
out with other people's!" She clasped her hands on Darrow's
arm. "I want our life to be like a house with all the
windows lit: I'd like to string lanterns from the roof and
She ended with an inward tremor. All through her exposition
and her appeal she had told herself that the moment could
hardly have been less well chosen. In Darrow's place she
would have felt, as he doubtless did, that her carefully
developed argument was only the disguise of an habitual
indecision. It was the hour of all others when she would
have liked to affirm herself by brushing aside every
obstacle to his wishes; yet it was only by opposing them
that she could show the strength of character she wanted him
to feel in her.
But as she talked she began to see that Darrow's face gave
back no reflection of her words, that he continued to wear
the abstracted look of a man who is not listening to what is
said to him. It caused her a slight pang to discover that
his thoughts could wander at such a moment; then, with a
flush of joy she perceived the reason.
In some undefinable way she had become aware, without
turning her head, that he was steeped in the sense of her
nearness, absorbed in contemplating the details of her face
and dress; and the discovery made the words throng to her
lips. She felt herself speak with ease, authority,
conviction. She said to herself: "He doesn't care what I
say--it's enough that I say it--even if it's stupid he'll
like me better for it..." She knew that every inflexion of
her voice, every gesture, every characteristic of her
person--its very defects, the fact that her forehead was too
high, that her eyes were not large enough, that her hands,
though slender, were not small, and that the fingers did not
taper--she knew that these deficiencies were so many
channels through which her influence streamed to him; that
she pleased him in spite of them, perhaps because of them;
that he wanted her as she was, and not as she would have