Part 3 out of 7
liked to be; and for the first time she felt in her veins
the security and lightness of happy love.
They reached the court and walked under the limes toward the
house. The hall door stood wide, and through the windows
opening on the terrace the sun slanted across the black and
white floor, the faded tapestry chairs, and Darrow's
travelling coat and cap, which lay among the cloaks and rugs
piled on a bench against the wall.
The sight of these garments, lying among her own wraps, gave
her a sense of homely intimacy. It was as if her happiness
came down from the skies and took on the plain dress of
daily things. At last she seemed to hold it in her hand.
As they entered the hall her eye lit on an unstamped note
conspicuously placed on the table.
"From Owen! He must have rushed off somewhere in the motor."
She felt a secret stir of pleasure at the immediate
inference that she and Darrow would probably lunch alone.
Then she opened the note and stared at it in wonder.
"Dear," Owen wrote, "after what you said yesterday I can't
wait another hour, and I'm off to Francheuil, to catch the
Dijon express and travel back with them. Don't be
frightened; I won't speak unless it's safe to. Trust me for
that--but I had to go."
She looked up slowly.
"He's gone to Dijon to meet his grandmother. Oh, I hope I
haven't made a mistake!"
"You? Why, what have you to do with his going to Dijon?"
She hesitated. "The day before yesterday I told him, for
the first time, that I meant to see him through, no matter
what happened. And I'm afraid he's lost his head, and will
be imprudent and spoil things. You see, I hadn't meant to
say a word to him till I'd had time to prepare Madame de
She felt that Darrow was looking at her and reading her
thoughts, and the colour flew to her face. "Yes: it was
when I heard you were coming that I told him. I wanted him
to feel as I felt...it seemed too unkind to make him wait!"
Her hand was in his, and his arm rested for a moment on her
"It WOULD have been too unkind to make him wait."
They moved side by side toward the stairs. Through the haze
of bliss enveloping her, Owen's affairs seemed curiously
unimportant and remote. Nothing really mattered but this
torrent of light in her veins. She put her foot on the
lowest step, saying: "It's nearly luncheon time--I must take
off my hat..." and as she started up the stairs Darrow stood
below in the hall and watched her. But the distance between
them did not make him seem less near: it was as if his
thoughts moved with her and touched her like endearing
In her bedroom she shut the door and stood still, looking
about her in a fit of dreamy wonder. Her feelings were
unlike any she had ever known: richer, deeper, more
complete. For the first time everything in her, from head
to foot, seemed to be feeding the same full current of
She took off her hat and went to the dressing-table to
smooth her hair. The pressure of the hat had flattened the
dark strands on her forehead; her face was paler than usual,
with shadows about the eyes. She felt a pang of regret for
the wasted years. "If I look like this today," she said to
herself, "what will he think of me when I'm ill or worried?"
She began to run her fingers through her hair, rejoicing in
its thickness; then she desisted and sat still, resting her
chin on her hands.
"I want him to see me as I am," she thought.
Deeper than the deepest fibre of her vanity was the
triumphant sense that AS SHE WAS, with her flattened
hair, her tired pallor, her thin sleeves a little tumbled by
the weight of her jacket, he would like her even better,
feel her nearer, dearer, more desirable, than in all the
splendours she might put on for him. In the light of this
discovery she studied her face with a new intentness, seeing
its defects as she had never seen them, yet seeing them
through a kind of radiance, as though love were a luminous
medium into which she had been bodily plunged.
She was glad now that she had confessed her doubts and her
jealousy. She divined that a man in love may be flattered
by such involuntary betrayals, that there are moments when
respect for his liberty appeals to him less than the
inability to respect it: moments so propitious that a
woman's very mistakes and indiscretions may help to
establish her dominion. The sense of power she had been
aware of in talking to Darrow came back with ten-fold force.
She felt like testing him by the most fantastic exactions,
and at the same moment she longed to humble herself before
him, to make herself the shadow and echo of his mood. She
wanted to linger with him in a world of fancy and yet to
walk at his side in the world of fact. She wanted him to
feel her power and yet to love her for her ignorance and
humility. She felt like a slave, and a goddess, and a girl
in her teens...
Darrow, late that evening, threw himself into an armchair
before his fire and mused.
The room was propitious to meditation. The red-veiled lamp,
the corners of shadow, the splashes of firelight on the
curves of old full-bodied wardrobes and cabinets, gave it an
air of intimacy increased by its faded hangings, its
slightly frayed and threadbare rugs. Everything in it was
harmoniously shabby, with a subtle sought-for shabbiness in
which Darrow fancied he discerned the touch of Fraser Leath.
But Fraser Leath had grown so unimportant a factor in the
scheme of things that these marks of his presence caused the
young man no emotion beyond that of a faint retrospective
The afternoon and evening had been perfect.
After a moment of concern over her step-son's departure,
Anna had surrendered herself to her happiness with an
impetuosity that Darrow had never suspected in her. Early
in the afternoon they had gone out in the motor, traversing
miles of sober-tinted landscape in which, here and there, a
scarlet vineyard flamed, clattering through the streets of
stony villages, coming out on low slopes above the river, or
winding through the pale gold of narrow wood-roads with the
blue of clear-cut hills at their end. Over everything lay a
faint sunshine that seemed dissolved in the still air, and
the smell of wet roots and decaying leaves was merged in the
pungent scent of burning underbrush. Once, at the turn of a
wall, they stopped the motor before a ruined gateway and,
stumbling along a road full of ruts, stood before a little
old deserted house, fantastically carved and chimneyed,
which lay in a moat under the shade of ancient trees. They
paced the paths between the trees, found a mouldy Temple of
Love on an islet among reeds and plantains, and, sitting on
a bench in the stable-yard, watched the pigeons circling
against the sunset over their cot of patterned brick. Then
the motor flew on into the dusk...
When they came in they sat beside the fire in the oak
drawing-room, and Darrow noticed how delicately her head
stood out against the sombre panelling, and mused on the
enjoyment there would always be in the mere fact of watching
her hands as they moved about among the tea-things...
They dined late, and facing her across the table, with its
low lights and flowers, he felt an extraordinary pleasure in
seeing her again in evening dress, and in letting his eyes
dwell on the proud shy set of her head, the way her dark
hair clasped it, and the girlish thinness of her neck above
the slight swell of the breast. His imagination was struck
by the quality of reticence in her beauty. She suggested a
fine portrait kept down to a few tones, or a Greek vase on
which the play of light is the only pattern.
After dinner they went out on the terrace for a look at the
moon-misted park. Through the crepuscular whiteness the
trees hung in blotted masses. Below the terrace, the garden
drew its dark diagrams between statues that stood like
muffled conspirators on the edge of the shadow. Farther
off, the meadows unrolled a silver-shot tissue to the
mantling of mist above the river; and the autumn stars
trembled overhead like their own reflections seen in dim
He lit his cigar, and they walked slowly up and down the
flags in the languid air, till he put an arm about her,
saying: "You mustn't stay till you're chilled"; then they
went back into the room and drew up their chairs to the
It seemed only a moment later that she said: "It must be
after eleven," and stood up and looked down on him, smiling
faintly. He sat still, absorbing the look, and thinking:
"There'll be evenings and evenings"--till she came nearer,
bent over him, and with a hand on his shoulder said: "Good
He got to his feet and put his arms about her.
"Good night," he answered, and held her fast; and they gave
each other a long kiss of promise and communion.
The memory of it glowed in him still as he sat over his
crumbling fire; but beneath his physical exultation he felt
a certain gravity of mood. His happiness was in some sort
the rallying-point of many scattered purposes. He summed it
up vaguely by saying to himself that to be loved by a woman
like that made "all the difference"...He was a little tired
of experimenting on life; he wanted to "take a line", to
follow things up, to centralize and concentrate, and produce
results. Two or three more years of diplomacy--with her
beside him!--and then their real life would begin: study,
travel and book-making for him, and for her--well, the joy,
at any rate, of getting out of an atmosphere of bric-a-brac
and card-leaving into the open air of competing activities.
The desire for change had for some time been latent in him,
and his meeting with Mrs. Leath the previous spring had
given it a definite direction. With such a comrade to focus
and stimulate his energies he felt modestly but agreeably
sure of "doing something". And under this assurance was the
lurking sense that he was somehow worthy of his opportunity.
His life, on the whole, had been a creditable affair. Out
of modest chances and middling talents he had built himself
a fairly marked personality, known some exceptional people,
done a number of interesting and a few rather difficult
things, and found himself, at thirty-seven, possessed of an
intellectual ambition sufficient to occupy the passage to a
robust and energetic old age. As for the private and
personal side of his life, it had come up to the current
standards, and if it had dropped, now and then, below a more
ideal measure, even these declines had been brief,
parenthetic, incidental. In the recognized essentials he
had always remained strictly within the limit of his
From this reassuring survey of his case he came back to the
contemplation of its crowning felicity. His mind turned
again to his first meeting with Anna Summers and took up one
by one the threads of their faintly sketched romance. He
dwelt with pardonable pride on the fact that fate had so
early marked him for the high privilege of possessing her:
it seemed to mean that they had really, in the truest sense
of the ill-used phrase, been made for each other.
Deeper still than all these satisfactions was the mere
elemental sense of well-being in her presence. That, after
all, was what proved her to be the woman for him: the
pleasure he took in the set of her head, the way her hair
grew on her forehead and at the nape, her steady gaze when
he spoke, the grave freedom of her gait and gestures. He
recalled every detail of her face, the fine veinings of the
temples, the bluish-brown shadows in her upper lids, and the
way the reflections of two stars seemed to form and break up
in her eyes when he held her close to him...
If he had had any doubt as to the nature of her feeling for
him those dissolving stars would have allayed it. She was
reserved, she was shy even, was what the shallow and
effusive would call "cold". She was like a picture so hung
that it can be seen only at a certain angle: an angle known
to no one but its possessor. The thought flattered his
sense of possessorship...He felt that the smile on his lips
would have been fatuous had it had a witness. He was
thinking of her look when she had questioned him about his
meeting with Owen at the theatre: less of her words than of
her look, and of the effort the question cost her: the
reddening of her cheek, the deepening of the strained line
between her brows, the way her eyes sought shelter and then
turned and drew on him. Pride and passion were in the
conflict--magnificent qualities in a wife! The sight almost
made up for his momentary embarrassment at the rousing of a
memory which had no place in his present picture of himself.
Yes! It was worth a good deal to watch that fight between
her instinct and her intelligence, and know one's self the
object of the struggle...
Mingled with these sensations were considerations of another
order. He reflected with satisfaction that she was the kind
of woman with whom one would like to be seen in public. It
would be distinctly agreeable to follow her into drawing-
rooms, to walk after her down the aisle of a theatre, to get
in and out of trains with her, to say "my wife" of her to
all sorts of people. He draped these details in the
handsome phrase "She's a woman to be proud of", and felt
that this fact somehow justified and ennobled his
instinctive boyish satisfaction in loving her.
He stood up, rambled across the room and leaned out for a
while into the starry night. Then he dropped again into his
armchair with a sigh of deep content.
"Oh, hang it," he suddenly exclaimed, "it's the best thing
that's ever happened to me, anyhow!"
The next day was even better. He felt, and knew she felt,
that they had reached a clearer understanding of each other.
It was as if, after a swim through bright opposing waves,
with a dazzle of sun in their eyes, they had gained an inlet
in the shades of a cliff, where they could float on the
still surface and gaze far down into the depths.
Now and then, as they walked and talked, he felt a thrill of
youthful wonder at the coincidence of their views and their
experiences, at the way their minds leapt to the same point
in the same instant.
"The old delusion, I suppose," he smiled to himself. "Will
Nature never tire of the trick?"
But he knew it was more than that. There were moments in
their talk when he felt, distinctly and unmistakably, the
solid ground of friendship underneath the whirling dance of
his sensations. "How I should like her if I didn't love
her!" he summed it up, wondering at the miracle of such a
In the course of the morning a telegram had come from Owen
Leath, announcing that he, his grandmother and Effie would
arrive from Dijon that afternoon at four. The station of the
main line was eight or ten miles from Givre, and Anna, soon
after three, left in the motor to meet the travellers.
When she had gone Darrow started for a walk, planning to get
back late, in order that the reunited family might have the
end of the afternoon to themselves. He roamed the country-
side till long after dark, and the stable-clock of Givre was
striking seven as he walked up the avenue to the court.
In the hall, coming down the stairs, he encountered Anna.
Her face was serene, and his first glance showed him that
Owen had kept his word and that none of her forebodings had
She had just come down from the school-room, where Effie and
the governess were having supper; the little girl, she told
him, looked immensely better for her Swiss holiday, but was
dropping with sleep after the journey, and too tired to make
her habitual appearance in the drawing-room before being put
to bed. Madame de Chantelle was resting, but would be down
for dinner; and as for Owen, Anna supposed he was off
somewhere in the park--he had a passion for prowling about
the park at nightfall...
Darrow followed her into the brown room, where the tea-table
had been left for him. He declined her offer of tea, but
she lingered a moment to tell him that Owen had in fact kept
his word, and that Madame de Chantelle had come back in the
best of humours, and unsuspicious of the blow about to fall.
"She has enjoyed her month at Ouchy, and it has given her a
lot to talk about--her symptoms, and the rival doctors, and
the people at the hotel. It seems she met your Ambassadress
there, and Lady Wantley, and some other London friends of
yours, and she's heard what she calls 'delightful things'
about you: she told me to tell you so. She attaches great
importance to the fact that your grandmother was an Everard
of Albany. She's prepared to open her arms to you. I don't
know whether it won't make it harder for poor Owen...the
contrast, I mean...There are no Ambassadresses or Everards
to vouch for HIS choice! But you'll help me, won't you?
You'll help me to help him? To-morrow I'll tell you the
rest. Now I must rush up and tuck in Effie..."
"Oh, you'll see, we'll pull it off for him!" he assured her;
"together, we can't fail to pull it off."
He stood and watched her with a smile as she fled down the
half-lit vista to the hall.
If Darrow, on entering the drawing-room before dinner,
examined its new occupant with unusual interest, it was more
on Owen Leath's account than his own.
Anna's hints had roused his interest in the lad's love
affair, and he wondered what manner of girl the heroine of
the coming conflict might be. He had guessed that Owen's
rebellion symbolized for his step-mother her own long
struggle against the Leath conventions, and he understood
that if Anna so passionately abetted him it was partly
because, as she owned, she wanted his liberation to coincide
The lady who was to represent, in the impending struggle,
the forces of order and tradition was seated by the fire
when Darrow entered. Among the flowers and old furniture of
the large pale-panelled room, Madame de Chantelle had the
inanimate elegance of a figure introduced into a "still-
life" to give the scale. And this, Darrow reflected, was
exactly what she doubtless regarded as her chief obligation:
he was sure she thought a great deal of "measure", and
approved of most things only up to a certain point.
She was a woman of sixty, with a figure at once young and
old-fashioned. Her fair faded tints, her quaint corseting,
the passementerie on her tight-waisted dress, the velvet
band on her tapering arm, made her resemble a "carte de
visite" photograph of the middle sixties. One saw her,
younger but no less invincibly lady-like, leaning on a chair
with a fringed back, a curl in her neck, a locket on her
tuckered bosom, toward the end of an embossed morocco album
beginning with The Beauties of the Second Empire.
She received her daughter-in-law's suitor with an affability
which implied her knowledge and approval of his suit.
Darrow had already guessed her to be a person who would
instinctively oppose any suggested changes, and then, after
one had exhausted one's main arguments, unexpectedly yield
to some small incidental reason, and adhere doggedly to her
new position. She boasted of her old-fashioned prejudices,
talked a good deal of being a grandmother, and made a show
of reaching up to tap Owen's shoulder, though his height was
little more than hers.
She was full of a small pale prattle about the people she
had seen at Ouchy, as to whom she had the minute statistical
information of a gazetteer, without any apparent sense of
personal differences. She said to Darrow: "They tell me
things are very much changed in America...Of course in my
youth there WAS a Society"...She had no desire to return
there she was sure the standards must be so different.
"There are charming people everywhere...and one must always
look on the best side...but when one has lived among
Traditions it's difficult to adapt one's self to the new
ideas...These dreadful views of marriage...it's so hard to
explain them to my French relations...I'm thankful to say I
don't pretend to understand them myself! But YOU'RE an
Everard--I told Anna last spring in London that one sees
She wandered off to the cooking and the service of the hotel
at Ouchy. She attached great importance to gastronomic
details and to the manners of hotel servants. There, too,
there was a falling off, she said. "I don t know, of
course; but people say it's owing to the Americans.
Certainly my waiter had a way of slapping down the
dishes...they tell me that many of them are
Anarchists...belong to Unions, you know." She appealed to
Darrow's reported knowledge of economic conditions to
confirm this ominous rumour.
After dinner Owen Leath wandered into the next room, where
the piano stood, and began to play among the shadows. His
step-mother presently joined him, and Darrow sat alone with
Madame de Chantelle.
She took up the thread of her mild chat and carried it on at
the same pace as her knitting. Her conversation resembled
the large loose-stranded web between her fingers: now and
then she dropped a stitch, and went on regardless of the gap
in the pattern.
Darrow listened with a lazy sense of well-being. In the
mental lull of the after-dinner hour, with harmonious
memories murmuring through his mind, and the soft tints and
shadowy spaces of the fine old room charming his eyes to
indolence, Madame de Chantelle's discourse seemed not out of
place. He could understand that, in the long run, the
atmosphere of Givre might be suffocating; but in his present
mood its very limitations had a grace.
Presently he found the chance to say a word in his own
behalf; and thereupon measured the advantage, never before
particularly apparent to him, of being related to the
Everards of Albany. Madame de Chantelle's conception of her
native country--to which she had not returned since her
twentieth year--reminded him of an ancient geographer's map
of the Hyperborean regions. It was all a foggy blank, from
which only one or two fixed outlines emerged; and one of
these belonged to the Everards of Albany.
The fact that they offered such firm footing--formed, so to
speak, a friendly territory on which the opposing powers
could meet and treat--helped him through the task of
explaining and justifying himself as the successor of Fraser
Leath. Madame de Chantelle could not resist such
incontestable claims. She seemed to feel her son's hovering
and discriminating presence, and she gave Darrow the sense
that he was being tested and approved as a last addition to
the Leath Collection.
She also made him aware of the immense advantage he
possessed in belonging to the diplomatic profession. She
spoke of this humdrum calling as a Career, and gave Darrow
to understand that she supposed him to have been seducing
Duchesses when he was not negotiating Treaties. He heard
again quaint phrases which romantic old ladies had used in
his youth: "Brilliant diplomatic society...social
advantages...the entree everywhere...nothing else
FORMS a young man in the same way..." and she sighingly
added that she could have wished her grandson had chosen the
same path to glory.
Darrow prudently suppressed his own view of the profession,
as well as the fact that he had adopted it provisionally,
and for reasons less social than sociological; and the talk
presently passed on to the subject of his future plans.
Here again, Madame de Chantelle's awe of the Career made her
admit the necessity of Anna's consenting to an early
marriage. The fact that Darrow was "ordered" to South
America seemed to put him in the romantic light of a young
soldier charged to lead a forlorn hope: she sighed and said:
"At such moments a wife's duty is at her husband's side."
The problem of Effie's future might have disturbed her, she
added; but since Anna, for a time, consented to leave the
little girl with her, that problem was at any rate deferred.
She spoke plaintively of the responsibility of looking after
her granddaughter, but Darrow divined that she enjoyed the
flavour of the word more than she felt the weight of the
"Effie's a perfect child. She's more like my son, perhaps,
than dear Owen. She'll never intentionally give me the
least trouble. But of course the responsibility will be
great...I'm not sure I should dare to undertake it if it
were not for her having such a treasure of a governess. Has
Anna told you about our little governess? After all the
worry we had last year, with one impossible creature after
another, it seems providential, just now, to have found her.
At first we were afraid she was too young; but now we've the
greatest confidence in her. So clever and amusing--and
SUCH a lady! I don't say her education's all it might
be...no drawing or singing...but one can't have everything;
and she speaks Italian..."
Madame de Chantelle's fond insistence on the likeness
between Effie Leath and her father, if not particularly
gratifying to Darrow, had at least increased his desire to
see the little girl. It gave him an odd feeling of
discomfort to think that she should have any of the
characteristics of the late Fraser Leath: he had, somehow,
fantastically pictured her as the mystical offspring of the
early tenderness between himself and Anna Summers.
His encounter with Effie took place the next morning, on the
lawn below the terrace, where he found her, in the early
sunshine, knocking about golf balls with her brother.
Almost at once, and with infinite relief, he saw that the
resemblance of which Madame de Chantelle boasted was mainly
external. Even that discovery was slightly distasteful,
though Darrow was forced to own that Fraser Leath's
straight-featured fairness had lent itself to the production
of a peculiarly finished image of childish purity. But it
was evident that other elements had also gone to the making
of Effie, and that another spirit sat in her eyes. Her
serious handshake, her "pretty" greeting, were worthy of the
Leath tradition, and he guessed her to be more malleable
than Owen, more subject to the influences of Givre; but the
shout with which she returned to her romp had in it the note
of her mother's emancipation.
He had begged a holiday for her, and when Mrs. Leath
appeared he and she and the little girl went off for a
ramble. Anna wished her daughter to have time to make
friends with Darrow before learning in what relation he was
to stand to her; and the three roamed the woods and fields
till the distant chime of the stable-clock made them turn
back for luncheon.
Effie, who was attended by a shaggy terrier, had picked up
two or three subordinate dogs at the stable; and as she
trotted on ahead with her yapping escort, Anna hung back to
throw a look at Darrow.
"Yes," he answered it, "she's exquisite...Oh, I see what I'm
asking of you! But she'll be quite happy here, won't she?
And you must remember it won't be for long..."
Anna sighed her acquiescence. "Oh, she'll be happy here.
It's her nature to be happy. She'll apply herself to it,
conscientiously, as she does to her lessons, and to what she
calls 'being good'...In a way, you see, that's just what
worries me. Her idea of 'being good' is to please the
person she's with--she puts her whole dear little mind on
it! And so, if ever she's with the wrong person----"
"But surely there's no danger of that just now? Madame de
Chantelle tells me that you've at last put your hand on a
Anna, without answering, glanced away from him toward her
"It's lucky, at any rate," Darrow continued, "that Madame de
Chantelle thinks her so."
"Oh, I think very highly of her too."
"Highly enough to feel quite satisfied to leave her with
"Yes. She's just the person for Effie. Only, of course,
one never knows...She's young, and she might take it into
her head to leave us..." After a pause she added: "I'm
naturally anxious to know what you think of her."
When they entered the house the hands of the hall clock
stood within a few minutes of the luncheon hour. Anna led
Effie off to have her hair smoothed and Darrow wandered into
the oak sitting-room, which he found untenanted. The sun
lay pleasantly on its brown walls, on the scattered books
and the flowers in old porcelain vases. In his eyes
lingered the vision of the dark-haired mother mounting the
stairs with her little fair daughter. The contrast between
them seemed a last touch of grace in the complex harmony of
things. He stood in the window, looking out at the park,
and brooding inwardly upon his happiness...
He was roused by Effie's voice and the scamper of her feet
down the long floors behind him.
"Here he is! Here he is!" she cried, flying over the
He turned and stooped to her with a smile, and as she caught
his hand he perceived that she was trying to draw him toward
some one who had paused behind her in the doorway, and whom
he supposed to be her mother.
"HERE he is!" Effie repeated, with her sweet impatience.
The figure in the doorway came forward and Darrow, looking
up, found himself face to face with Sophy Viner. They stood
still, a yard or two apart, and looked at each other without
As they paused there, a shadow fell across one of the
terrace windows, and Owen Leath stepped whistling into the
room. In his rough shooting clothes, with the glow of
exercise under his fair skin, he looked extraordinarily
light-hearted and happy. Darrow, with a quick side-glance,
noticed this, and perceived also that the glow on the
youth's cheek had deepened suddenly to red. He too stopped
short, and the three stood there motionless for a barely
perceptible beat of time. During its lapse, Darrow's eyes
had turned back from Owen's face to that of the girl between
them. He had the sense that, whatever was done, it was he
who must do it, and that it must be done immediately. He
went forward and held out his hand.
"How do you do, Miss Viner?"
She answered: "How do you do?" in a voice that sounded clear
and natural; and the next moment he again became aware of
steps behind him, and knew that Mrs. Leath was in the room.
To his strained senses there seemed to be another just
measurable pause before Anna said, looking gaily about the
little group: "Has Owen introduced you? This is Effie's
friend, Miss Viner."
Effie, still hanging on her governess's arm, pressed herself
closer with a little gesture of appropriation; and Miss
Viner laid her hand on her pupil's hair.
Darrow felt that Anna's eyes had turned to him.
"I think Miss Viner and I have met already--several years
ago in London."
"I remember," said Sophy Viner, in the same clear voice.
"How charming! Then we're all friends. But luncheon must be
ready," said Mrs. Leath.
She turned back to the door, and the little procession moved
down the two long drawing-rooms, with Effie waltzing on
Madame de Chantelle and Anna had planned, for the afternoon,
a visit to a remotely situated acquaintance whom the
introduction of the motor had transformed into a neighbour.
Effie was to pay for her morning's holiday by an hour or two
in the school-room, and Owen suggested that he and Darrow
should betake themselves to a distant covert in the
desultory quest for pheasants.
Darrow was not an ardent sportsman, but any pretext for
physical activity would have been acceptable at the moment;
and he was glad both to get away from the house and not to
be left to himself.
When he came downstairs the motor was at the door, and Anna
stood before the hall mirror, swathing her hat in veils.
She turned at the sound of his step and smiled at him for a
long full moment.
"I'd no idea you knew Miss Viner," she said, as he helped
her into her long coat.
"It came back to me, luckily, that I'd seen her two or three
times in London, several years ago. She was secretary, or
something of the sort, in the background of a house where I
used to dine."
He loathed the slighting indifference of the phrase, but he
had uttered it deliberately, had been secretly practising it
all through the interminable hour at the luncheon-table.
Now that it was spoken, he shivered at its note of
condescension. In such cases one was almost sure to
overdo...But Anna seemed to notice nothing unusual.
"Was she really? You must tell me all about it--tell me
exactly how she struck you. I'm so glad it turns out that
you know her."
"'Know' is rather exaggerated: we used to pass each other on
Madame de Chantelle and Owen appeared together as he spoke,
and Anna, gathering up her wraps, said: "You'll tell me
about that, then. Try and remember everything you can."
As he tramped through the woods at his young host's side,
Darrow felt the partial relief from thought produced by
exercise and the obligation to talk. Little as he cared for
shooting, he had the habit of concentration which makes it
natural for a man to throw himself wholly into whatever
business he has in hand, and there were moments of the
afternoon when a sudden whirr in the undergrowth, a vivider
gleam against the hazy browns and greys of the woods, was
enough to fill the foreground of his attention. But all the
while, behind these voluntarily emphasized sensations, his
secret consciousness continued to revolve on a loud wheel of
thought. For a time it seemed to be sweeping him through
deep gulfs of darkness. His sensations were too swift and
swarming to be disentangled. He had an almost physical
sense of struggling for air, of battling helplessly with
material obstructions, as though the russet covert through
which he trudged were the heart of a maleficent jungle...
Snatches of his companion's talk drifted to him
intermittently through the confusion of his thoughts. He
caught eager self-revealing phrases, and understood that
Owen was saying things about himself, perhaps hinting
indirectly at the hopes for which Darrow had been prepared
by Anna's confidences. He had already become aware that the
lad liked him, and had meant to take the first opportunity
of showing that he reciprocated the feeling. But the effort
of fixing his attention on Owen's words was so great that it
left no power for more than the briefest and most
Young Leath, it appeared, felt that he had reached a
turning-point in his career, a height from which he could
impartially survey his past progress and projected
endeavour. At one time he had had musical and literary
yearnings, visions of desultory artistic indulgence; but
these had of late been superseded by the resolute
determination to plunge into practical life.
"I don't want, you see," Darrow heard him explaining, "to
drift into what my grandmother, poor dear, is trying to make
of me: an adjunct of Givre. I don't want--hang it all!--to
slip into collecting sensations as my father collected
snuff-boxes. I want Effie to have Givre--it's my
grandmother's, you know, to do as she likes with; and I've
understood lately that if it belonged to me it would
gradually gobble me up. I want to get out of it, into a
life that's big and ugly and struggling. If I can extract
beauty out of THAT, so much the better: that'll prove my
vocation. But I want to MAKE beauty, not be drowned in
the ready-made, like a bee in a pot of honey."
Darrow knew that he was being appealed to for corroboration
of these views and for encouragement in the course to which
they pointed. To his own ears his answers sounded now curt,
now irrelevant: at one moment he seemed chillingly
indifferent, at another he heard himself launching out on a
flood of hazy discursiveness. He dared not look at Owen,
for fear of detecting the lad's surprise at these senseless
transitions. And through the confusion of his inward
struggles and outward loquacity he heard the ceaseless trip-
hammer beat of the question: "What in God's name shall I
To get back to the house before Anna's return seemed his
most pressing necessity. He did not clearly know why: he
simply felt that he ought to be there. At one moment it
occurred to him that Miss Viner might want to speak to him
alone--and again, in the same flash, that it would probably
be the last thing she would want...At any rate, he felt he
ought to try to speak to HER; or at least be prepared to
do so, if the chance should occur...
Finally, toward four, he told his companion that he had some
letters on his mind and must get back to the house and
despatch them before the ladies returned. He left Owen with
the beater and walked on to the edge of the covert. At the
park gates he struck obliquely through the trees, following
a grass avenue at the end of which he had caught a glimpse
of the roof of the chapel. A grey haze had blotted out the
sun and the still air clung about him tepidly. At length
the house-front raised before him its expanse of damp-
silvered brick, and he was struck afresh by the high decorum
of its calm lines and soberly massed surfaces. It made him
feel, in the turbid coil of his fears and passions, like a
muddy tramp forcing his way into some pure sequestered
By and bye, he knew, he should have to think the complex
horror out, slowly, systematically, bit by bit; but for the
moment it was whirling him about so fast that he could just
clutch at its sharp spikes and be tossed off again. Only
one definite immediate fact stuck in his quivering grasp.
He must give the girl every chance--must hold himself
passive till she had taken them...
In the court Effie ran up to him with her leaping terrier.
"I was coming out to meet you--you and Owen. Miss Viner was
coming, too, and then she couldn't because she's got such a
headache. I'm afraid I gave it to her because I did my
division so disgracefully. It's too bad, isn't it? But
won't you walk back with me? Nurse won't mind the least bit;
she'd so much rather go in to tea."
Darrow excused himself laughingly, on the plea that he had
letters to write, which was much worse than having a
headache, and not infrequently resulted in one.
"Oh, then you can go and write them in Owen's study. That's
where gentlemen always write their letters."
She flew on with her dog and Darrow pursued his way to the
house. Effie's suggestion struck him as useful. He had
pictured himself as vaguely drifting about the drawing-
rooms, and had perceived the difficulty of Miss Viner's
having to seek him there; but the study, a small room on the
right of the hall, was in easy sight from the staircase, and
so situated that there would be nothing marked in his being
found there in talk with her.
He went in, leaving the door open, and sat down at the
writing-table. The room was a friendly heterogeneous place,
the one repository, in the well-ordered and amply-servanted
house, of all its unclassified odds and ends: Effie's
croquet-box and fishing rods, Owen's guns and golf-sticks
and racquets, his step-mother's flower-baskets and gardening
implements, even Madame de Chantelle's embroidery frame, and
the back numbers of the Catholic Weekly. The early twilight
had begun to fall, and presently a slanting ray across the
desk showed Darrow that a servant was coming across the hall
with a lamp. He pulled out a sheet of note-paper and began
to write at random, while the man, entering, put the lamp at
his elbow and vaguely "straightened" the heap of newspapers
tossed on the divan. Then his steps died away and Darrow
sat leaning his head on his locked hands.
Presently another step sounded on the stairs, wavered a
moment and then moved past the threshold of the study.
Darrow got up and walked into the hall, which was still
unlighted. In the dimness he saw Sophy Viner standing by
the hall door in her hat and jacket. She stopped at sight
of him, her hand on the door-bolt, and they stood for a
second without speaking.
"Have you seen Effie?" she suddenly asked. "She went out to
"She DID meet me, just now, in the court. She's gone on
to join her brother."
Darrow spoke as naturally as he could, but his voice sounded
to his own ears like an amateur actor's in a "light" part.
Miss Viner, without answering, drew back the bolt. He
watched her in silence as the door swung open; then he said:
"She has her
nurse with her. She won't be long."
She stood irresolute, and he added: "I was writing in there
--won't you come and have a little talk? Every one's out."
The last words struck him as not well-chosen, but there was
no time to choose. She paused a second longer and then
crossed the threshold of the study. At luncheon she had sat
with her back to the window, and beyond noting that she had
grown a little thinner, and had less colour and vivacity, he
had seen no change in her; but now, as the lamplight fell on
her face, its whiteness startled him.
"Poor thing...poor thing...what in heaven's name can she
suppose?" he wondered.
"Do sit down--I want to talk to you," he said and pushed a
chair toward her.
She did not seem to see it, or, if she did, she deliberately
chose another seat. He came back to his own chair and
leaned his elbows on the blotter. She faced him from the
farther side of the table.
"You promised to let me hear from you now and then," he
began awkwardly, and with a sharp sense of his awkwardness.
A faint smile made her face more tragic. "Did I? There was
nothing to tell. I've had no history--like the happy
He waited a moment before asking: "You ARE happy here?"
"I WAS," she said with a faint emphasis.
"Why do you say 'was'? You're surely not thinking of going?
There can't be kinder people anywhere." Darrow hardly knew
what he was saying; but her answer came to him with deadly
"I suppose it depends on you whether I go or stay."
"On me?" He stared at her across Owen's scattered papers.
"Good God! What can you think of me, to say that?"
The mockery of the question flashed back at him from her
wretched face. She stood up, wandered away, and leaned an
instant in the darkening window-frame. From there she
turned to fling back at him: "Don't imagine I'm the least
bit sorry for anything!"
He steadied his elbows on the table and hid his face in his
hands. It was harder, oh, damnably harder, than he had
expected! Arguments, expedients, palliations, evasions, all
seemed to be slipping away from him: he was left face to
face with the mere graceless fact of his inferiority. He
lifted his head to ask at random: "You've been here, then,
"Since June; yes. It turned out that the Farlows were
hunting for me--all the while--for this."
She stood facing him, her back to the window, evidently
impatient to be gone, yet with something still to say, or
that she expected to hear him say. The sense of her
expectancy benumbed him. What in heaven's name could he say
to her that was not an offense or a mockery?
"Your idea of the theatre--you gave that up at once, then?"
"Oh, the theatre!" She gave a little laugh. "I couldn't
wait for the theatre. I had to take the first thing that
offered; I took this."
He pushed on haltingly: "I'm glad--extremely glad--you're
happy here...I'd counted on your letting me know if there
was anything I could do...The theatre, now--if you still
regret it--if you're not contented here...I know people in
that line in London--I'm certain I can manage it for you
when I get back----"
She moved up to the table and leaned over it to ask, in a
voice that was hardly above a whisper: "Then you DO want
me to leave? Is that it?"
He dropped his arms with a groan. "Good heavens! How can
you think such things? At the time, you know, I begged you
to let me do what I could, but you wouldn't hear of it...and
ever since I've been wanting to be of use--to do something,
anything, to help you..."
She heard him through, motionless, without a quiver of the
clasped hands she rested on the edge of the table.
"If you want to help me, then--you can help me to stay
here," she brought out with low-toned intensity.
Through the stillness of the pause which followed, the bray
of a motor-horn sounded far down the drive. Instantly she
turned, with a last white look at him, and fled from the
room and up the stairs. He stood motionless, benumbed by
the shock of her last words. She was afraid, then--afraid
of him--sick with fear of him! The discovery beat him down
to a lower depth...
The motor-horn sounded again, close at hand, and he turned
and went up to his room. His letter-writing was a
sufficient pretext for not immediately joining the party
about the tea-table, and he wanted to be alone and try to
put a little order into his tumultuous thinking.
Upstairs, the room held out the intimate welcome of its lamp
and fire. Everything in it exhaled the same sense of peace
and stability which, two evenings before, had lulled him to
complacent meditation. His armchair again invited him from
the hearth, but he was too agitated to sit still, and with
sunk head and hands clasped behind his back he began to
wander up and down the room.
His five minutes with Sophy Viner had flashed strange lights
into the shadowy corners of his consciousness. The girl's
absolute candour, her hard ardent honesty, was for the
moment the vividest point in his thoughts. He wondered anew,
as he had wondered before, at the way in which the harsh
discipline of life had stripped her of false sentiment
without laying the least touch on her pride. When they had
parted, five months before, she had quietly but decidedly
rejected all his offers of help, even to the suggestion of
his trying to further her theatrical aims: she had made it
clear that she wished their brief alliance to leave no trace
on their lives save that of its own smiling memory. But now
that they were unexpectedly confronted in a situation which
seemed, to her terrified fancy, to put her at his mercy, her
first impulse was to defend her right to the place she had
won, and to learn as quickly as possible if he meant to
dispute it. While he had pictured her as shrinking away
from him in a tremor of self-effacement she had watched his
movements, made sure of her opportunity, and come straight
down to "have it out" with him. He was so struck by the
frankness and energy of the proceeding that for a moment he
lost sight of the view of his own character implied in it.
"Poor thing...poor thing!" he could only go on saying; and
with the repetition of the words the picture of himself as
she must see him pitiably took shape again.
He understood then, for the first time, how vague, in
comparison with hers, had been his own vision of the part he
had played in the brief episode of their relation. The
incident had left in him a sense of exasperation and self-
contempt, but that, as he now perceived, was chiefly, if not
altogether, as it bore on his preconceived ideal of his
attitude toward another woman. He had fallen below his own
standard of sentimental loyalty, and if he thought of Sophy
Viner it was mainly as the chance instrument of his lapse.
These considerations were not agreeable to his pride, but
they were forced on him by the example of her valiant
common-sense. If he had cut a sorry figure in the business,
he owed it to her not to close his eyes to the fact any
But when he opened them, what did he see? The situation,
detestable at best, would yet have been relatively simple if
protecting Sophy Viner had been the only duty involved in
it. The fact that that duty was paramount did not do away
with the contingent obligations. It was Darrow's instinct,
in difficult moments, to go straight to the bottom of the
difficulty; but he had never before had to take so dark a
dive as this, and for the minute he shivered on the
brink...Well, his first duty, at any rate, was to the girl:
he must let her see that he meant to fulfill it to the last
jot, and then try to find out how to square the fulfillment
with the other problems already in his path...
In the oak room he found Mrs. Leath, her mother-in-law and
Effie. The group, as he came toward it down the long
drawing-rooms, composed itself prettily about the tea-table.
The lamps and the fire crossed their gleams on silver and
porcelain, on the bright haze of Effie's hair and on the
whiteness of Anna's forehead, as she leaned back in her
chair behind the tea-urn.
She did not move at Darrow's approach, but lifted to him a
deep gaze of peace and confidence. The look seemed to throw
about him the spell of a divine security: he felt the joy of
a convalescent suddenly waking to find the sunlight on his
Madame de Chantelle, across her knitting, discoursed of
their afternoon's excursion, with occasional pauses induced
by the hypnotic effect of the fresh air; and Effie,
kneeling, on the hearth, softly but insistently sought to
implant in her terrier's mind some notion of the relation
between a vertical attitude and sugar.
Darrow took a chair behind the little girl, so that he might
look across at her mother. It was almost a necessity for
him, at the moment, to let his eyes rest on Anna's face, and
to meet, now and then, the proud shyness of her gaze.
Madame de Chantelle presently enquired what had become of
Owen, and a moment later the window behind her opened, and
her grandson, gun in hand, came in from the terrace. As he
stood there in the lamp-light, with dead leaves and bits of
bramble clinging to his mud-spattered clothes, the scent of
the night about him and its chill on his pale bright face,
he really had the look of a young faun strayed in from the
Effie abandoned the terrier to fly to him. "Oh, Owen, where
in the world have you been? I walked miles and miles with
Nurse and couldn't find you, and we met Jean and he said he
didn't know where you'd gone."
"Nobody knows where I go, or what I see when I get there--
that's the beauty of it!" he laughed back at her. "But if
you're good," he added, "I'll tell you about it one of these
"Oh, now, Owen, now! I don't really believe I'll ever be
much better than I am now."
"Let Owen have his tea first," her mother suggested; but the
young man, declining the offer, propped his gun against the
wall, and, lighting a cigarette, began to pace up and down
the room in a way that reminded Darrow of his own caged
wanderings. Effie pursued him with her blandishments, and
for a while he poured out to her a low-voiced stream of
nonsense; then he sat down beside his step-mother and leaned
over to help himself to tea.
"Where's Miss Viner?" he asked, as Effie climbed up on him.
"Why isn't she here to chain up this ungovernable infant?"
"Poor Miss Viner has a headache. Effie says she went to her
room as soon as lessons were over, and sent word that she
wouldn't be down for tea."
"Ah," said Owen, abruptly setting down his cup. He stood
up, lit another cigarette, and wandered away to the piano in
the room beyond.
From the twilight where he sat a lonely music, borne on
fantastic chords, floated to the group about the tea-table.
Under its influence Madame de Chantelle's meditative pauses
increased in length and frequency, and Effie stretched
herself on the hearth, her drowsy head against the dog.
Presently her nurse appeared, and Anna rose at the same
time. "Stop a minute in my sitting-room on your way up,"
she paused to say to Darrow as she went.
A few hours earlier, her request would have brought him
instantly to his feet. She had given him, on the day of his
arrival, an inviting glimpse of the spacious book-lined room
above stairs in which she had gathered together all the
tokens of her personal tastes: the retreat in which, as one
might fancy, Anna Leath had hidden the restless ghost of
Anna Summers; and the thought of a talk with her there had
been in his mind ever since. But now he sat motionless, as
if spell-bound by the play of Madame de Chantelle's needles
and the pulsations of Owen's fitful music.
"She will want to ask me about the girl," he repeated to
himself, with a fresh sense of the insidious taint that
embittered all his thoughts; the hand of the slender-
columned clock on the mantel-piece had spanned a half-hour
before shame at his own indecision finally drew him to his
From her writing-table, where she sat over a pile of
letters, Anna lifted her happy smile. The impulse to press
his lips to it made him come close and draw her upward. She
threw her head back, as if surprised at the abruptness of
the gesture; then her face leaned to his with the slow droop
of a flower. He felt again the sweep of the secret tides,
and all his fears went down in them.
She sat down in the sofa-corner by the fire and he drew an
armchair close to her. His gaze roamed peacefully about the
"It's just like you--it is you," he said, as his eyes came
back to her.
"It's a good place to be alone in--I don't think I've ever
before cared to talk with any one here."
"Let's be quiet, then: it's the best way of talking."
"Yes; but we must save it up till later. There are things I
want to say to you now."
He leaned back in his chair. "Say them, then, and I'll
"Oh, no. I want you to tell me about Miss Viner."
"About Miss Viner?" He summoned up a look of faint
He thought she seemed surprised at his surprise. "It's
important, naturally," she explained, "that I should find
out all I can about her before I leave."
"Important on Effie's account?"
"On Effie's account--of course."
"Of course...But you've every reason to be satisfied,
"Every apparent reason. We all like her. Effie's very fond
of her, and she seems to have a delightful influence on the
child. But we know so little, after all--about her
antecedents, I mean, and her past history. That's why I
want you to try and recall everything you heard about her
when you used to see her in London."
"Oh, on that score I'm afraid I sha'n't be of much use. As I
told you, she was a mere shadow in the background of the
house I saw her in--and that was four or five years ago..."
"When she was with a Mrs. Murrett?"
"Yes; an appalling woman who runs a roaring dinner-factory
that used now and then to catch me in its wheels. I escaped
from them long ago; but in my time there used to be half a
dozen fagged 'hands' to tend the machine, and Miss Viner was
one of them. I'm glad she's out of it, poor girl!"
"Then you never really saw anything of her there?"
"I never had the chance. Mrs. Murrett discouraged any
competition on the part of her subordinates."
"Especially such pretty ones, I suppose?" Darrow made no
comment, and she continued: "And Mrs. Murrett's own opinion
--if she'd offered you one--probably wouldn't have been of
"Only in so far as her disapproval would, on general
principles, have been a good mark for Miss Viner. But
surely," he went on after a pause, "you could have found out
about her from the people through whom you first heard of
Anna smiled. "Oh, we heard of her through Adelaide Painter
--;" and in reply to his glance of interrogation she
explained that the lady in question was a spinster of South
Braintree, Massachusetts, who, having come to Paris some
thirty years earlier, to nurse a brother through an illness,
had ever since protestingly and provisionally camped there
in a state of contemptuous protestation oddly manifested by
her never taking the slip-covers off her drawing-room
chairs. Her long residence on Gallic soil had not mitigated
her hostility toward the creed and customs of the race, but
though she always referred to the Catholic Church as the
Scarlet Woman and took the darkest views of French private
life, Madame de Chantelle placed great reliance on her
judgment and experience, and in every domestic crisis the
irreducible Adelaide was immediately summoned to Givre.
"It's all the odder because my mother-in-law, since her
second marriage, has lived so much in the country that she's
practically lost sight of all her other American friends.
Besides which, you can see how completely she has identified
herself with Monsieur de Chantelle's nationality and adopted
French habits and prejudices. Yet when anything goes wrong
she always sends for Adelaide Painter, who's more American
than the Stars and Stripes, and might have left South
Braintree yesterday, if she hadn't, rather, brought it over
with her in her trunk."
Darrow laughed. "Well, then, if South Braintree vouches for
"Oh, but only indirectly. When we had that odious adventure
with Mademoiselle Grumeau, who'd been so highly recommended
by Monsieur de Chantelle's aunt, the Chanoinesse, Adelaide
was of course sent for, and she said at once: 'I'm not the
least bit surprised. I've always told you that what you
wanted for Effie was a sweet American girl, and not one of
these nasty foreigners.' Unluckily she couldn't, at the
moment, put her hand on a sweet American; but she presently
heard of Miss Viner through the Farlows, an excellent couple
who live in the Quartier Latin and write about French life
for the American papers. I was only too thankful to find
anyone who was vouched for by decent people; and so far I've
had no cause to regret my choice. But I know, after all,
very little about Miss Viner; and there are all kinds of
reasons why I want, as soon as possible, to find out more--
to find out all I can."
"Since you've got to leave Effie I understand your feeling
in that way. But is there, in such a case, any
recommendation worth half as much as your own direct
"No; and it's been so favourable that I was ready to accept
it as conclusive. Only, naturally, when I found you'd known
her in London I was in hopes you'd give me some more
specific reasons for liking her as much as I do."
"I'm afraid I can give you nothing more specific than my
general vague impression that she seems very plucky and
"You don't, at any rate, know anything specific to the
"To the contrary? How should I? I'm not conscious of ever
having heard any one say two words about her. I only infer
that she must have pluck and character to have stuck it out
so long at Mrs. Murrett's."
"Yes, poor thing! She has pluck, certainly; and pride, too;
which must have made it all the harder." Anna rose to her
feet. "You don't know how glad I am that your impression's
on the whole so good. I particularly wanted you to like
He drew her to him with a smile. "On that condition I'm
prepared to love even Adelaide Painter."
"I almost hope you wont have the chance to--poor Adelaide!
Her appearance here always coincides with a catastrophe."
"Oh, then I must manage to meet her elsewhere." He held Anna
closer, saying to himself, as he smoothed back the hair from
her forehead: "What does anything matter but just THIS?
--Must I go now?" he added aloud.
She answered absently: "It must be time to dress"; then she
drew back a little and laid her hands on his shoulders. "My
love--oh, my dear love!" she said.
It came to him that they were the first words of endearment
he had heard her speak, and their rareness gave them a magic
quality of reassurance, as though no danger could strike
through such a shield.
A knock on the door made them draw apart. Anna lifted her
hand to her hair and Darrow stooped to examine a photograph
of Effie on the writing-table.
"Come in!" Anna said.
The door opened and Sophy Viner entered. Seeing Darrow, she
"Do come in, Miss Viner," Anna repeated, looking at her
The girl, a quick red in her cheeks, still hesitated on the
"I'm so sorry; but Effie has mislaid her Latin grammar, and
I thought she might have left it here. I need it to prepare
for tomorrow's lesson."
"Is this it?" Darrow asked, picking up a book from the
"Oh, thank you!"
He held it out to her and she took it and moved to the door.
"Wait a minute, please, Miss Viner," Anna said; and as the
girl turned back, she went on with her quiet smile: "Effie
told us you'd gone to your room with a headache. You mustn't
sit up over tomorrow's lessons if you don't feel well."
Sophy's blush deepened. "But you see I have to. Latin's one
of my weak points, and there's generally only one page of
this book between me and Effie." She threw the words off
with a half-ironic smile. "Do excuse my disturbing you,"
"You didn't disturb me," Anna answered. Darrow perceived
that she was looking intently at the girl, as though struck
by something tense and tremulous in her face, her voice, her
whole mien and attitude. "You DO look tired. You'd
much better go straight to bed. Effie won't be sorry to skip
"Thank you--but I'm really all right," murmured Sophy Viner.
Her glance, making a swift circuit of the room, dwelt for an
appreciable instant on the intimate propinquity of arm-chair
and sofa-corner; then she turned back to the door.
At dinner that evening Madame de Chantelle's slender
monologue was thrown out over gulfs of silence. Owen was
still in the same state of moody abstraction as when Darrow
had left him at the piano; and even Anna's face, to her
friend's vigilant eye, revealed not, perhaps, a personal
preoccupation, but a vague sense of impending disturbance.
She smiled, she bore a part in the talk, her eyes dwelt on
Darrow's with their usual deep reliance; but beneath the
surface of her serenity his tense perceptions detected a
He was sufficiently self-possessed to tell himself that it
was doubtless due to causes with which he was not directly
concerned. He knew the question of Owen's marriage was soon
to be raised, and the abrupt alteration in the young man's
mood made it seem probable that he was himself the centre of
the atmospheric disturbance, For a moment it occurred to
Darrow that Anna might have employed her afternoon in
preparing Madame de Chantelle for her grandson's impending
announcement; but a glance at the elder lady's unclouded
brow showed that he must seek elsewhere the clue to Owen's
taciturnity and his step-mother's concern. Possibly Anna
had found reason to change her own attitude in the matter,
and had made the change known to Owen. But this, again, was
negatived by the fact that, during the afternoon's shooting,
young Leath had been in a mood of almost extravagant
expansiveness, and that, from the moment of his late return
to the house till just before dinner, there had been, to
Darrow's certain knowledge, no possibility of a private talk
between himself and his step-mother.
This obscured, if it narrowed, the field of conjecture; and
Darrow's gropings threw him back on the conclusion that he
was probably reading too much significance into the moods of
a lad he hardly knew, and who had been described to him as
subject to sudden changes of humour. As to Anna's fancied
perturbation, it might simply be due to the fact that she
had decided to plead Owen's cause the next day, and had
perhaps already had a glimpse of the difficulties awaiting
her. But Darrow knew that he was too deep in his own
perplexities to judge the mental state of those about him.
It might be, after all, that the variations he felt in the
currents of communication were caused by his own inward
Such, at any rate, was the conclusion he had reached when,
shortly after the two ladies left the drawing-room, he bade
Owen good-night and went up to his room. Ever since the
rapid self-colloquy which had followed on his first sight of
Sophy Viner, he had known there were other questions to be
faced behind the one immediately confronting him. On the
score of that one, at least, his mind, if not easy, was
relieved. He had done what was possible to reassure the
girl, and she had apparently recognized the sincerity of his
intention. He had patched up as decent a conclusion as he
could to an incident that should obviously have had no
sequel; but he had known all along that with the securing of
Miss Viner's peace of mind only a part of his obligation was
discharged, and that with that part his remaining duty was
in conflict. It had been his first business to convince the
girl that their secret was safe with him; but it was far
from easy to square this with the equally urgent obligation
of safe-guarding Anna's responsibility toward her child.
Darrow was not much afraid of accidental disclosures. Both
he and Sophy Viner had too much at stake not to be on their
guard. The fear that beset him was of another kind, and had
a profounder source. He wanted to do all he could for the
girl, but the fact of having had to urge Anna to confide
Effie to her was peculiarly repugnant to him. His own ideas
about Sophy Viner were too mixed and indeterminate for him
not to feel the risk of such an experiment; yet he found
himself in the intolerable position of appearing to press it
on the woman he desired above all others to protect...
Till late in the night his thoughts revolved in a turmoil of
indecision. His pride was humbled by the discrepancy
between what Sophy Viner had been to him and what he had
thought of her. This discrepancy, which at the time had
seemed to simplify the incident, now turned out to be its
most galling complication. The bare truth, indeed, was that
he had hardly thought of her at all, either at the time or
since, and that he was ashamed to base his judgement of her
on his meagre memory of their adventure.
The essential cheapness of the whole affair--as far as his
share in it was concerned--came home to him with humiliating
distinctness. He would have liked to be able to feel that,
at the time at least, he had staked something more on it,
and had somehow, in the sequel, had a more palpable loss to
show. But the plain fact was that he hadn't spent a penny
on it; which was no doubt the reason of the prodigious score
it had since been rolling up. At any rate, beat about the
case as he would, it was clear that he owed it to Anna--and
incidentally to his own peace of mind--to find some way of
securing Sophy Viner's future without leaving her installed
at Givre when he and his wife should depart for their new
The night brought no aid to the solving of this problem; but
it gave him, at any rate, the clear conviction that no time
was to be lost. His first step must be to obtain from Miss
Viner the chance of another and calmer talk; and he resolved
to seek it at the earliest hour.
He had gathered that Effie's lessons were preceded by an
early scamper in the park, and conjecturing that her
governess might be with her he betook himself the next
morning to the terrace, whence he wandered on to the gardens
and the walks beyond.
The atmosphere was still and pale. The muffled sunlight
gleamed like gold tissue through grey gauze, and the beech
alleys tapered away to a blue haze blent of sky and forest.
It was one of those elusive days when the familiar forms of
things seem about to dissolve in a prismatic shimmer.
The stillness was presently broken by joyful barks, and
Darrow, tracking the sound, overtook Effie flying down one
of the long alleys at the head of her pack. Beyond her he
saw Miss Viner seated near the stone-rimmed basin beside
which he and Anna had paused on their first walk to the
The girl, coming forward at his approach, returned his
greeting almost gaily. His first glance showed him that she
had regained her composure, and the change in her appearance
gave him the measure of her fears. For the first time he
saw in her again the sidelong grace that had charmed his
eyes in Paris; but he saw it now as in a painted picture.
"Shall we sit down a minute?" he asked, as Effie trotted
The girl looked away from him. "I'm afraid there's not much
time; we must be back at lessons at half-past nine."
"But it's barely ten minutes past. Let's at least walk a
little way toward the river."
She glanced down the long walk ahead of them and then back
in the direction of the house. "If you like," she said in a
low voice, with one of her quick fluctuations of colour; but
instead of taking the way he proposed she turned toward a
narrow path which branched off obliquely through the trees.
Darrow was struck, and vaguely troubled, by the change in
her look and tone. There was in them an undefinable appeal,
whether for help or forbearance he could not tell. Then it
occurred to him that there might have been something
misleading in his so pointedly seeking her, and he felt a
momentary constraint. To ease it he made an abrupt dash at
"I came out to look for you because our talk of yesterday
was so unsatisfactory. I want to hear more about you--about
your plans and prospects. I've been wondering ever since
why you've so completely given up the theatre."
Her face instantly sharpened to distrust. "I had to live,"
she said in an off-hand tone.
"I understand perfectly that you should like it here--for a
time." His glance strayed down the gold-roofed windings
ahead of them. "It's delightful: you couldn't be better
placed. Only I wonder a little at your having so completely
given up any idea of a different future."
She waited for a moment before answering: "I suppose I'm
less restless than I used to be."
"It's certainly natural that you should be less restless
here than at Mrs. Murrett's; yet somehow I don't seem to see
you permanently given up to forming the young."
"What--exactly--DO you seem to see me permanently given
up to? You know you warned me rather emphatically against
the theatre." She threw off the statement without
impatience, as though they were discussing together the fate
of a third person in whom both were benevolently interested.
Darrow considered his reply. "If I did, it was because you
so emphatically refused to let me help you to a start."
She stopped short and faced him "And you think I may let you
Darrow felt the blood in his cheek. He could not understand
her attitude--if indeed she had consciously taken one, and
her changes of tone did not merely reflect the involuntary
alternations of her mood. It humbled him to perceive once
more how little he had to guide him in his judgment of her.
He said to himself: "If I'd ever cared a straw for her I
should know how to avoid hurting her now"--and his
insensibility struck him as no better than a vulgar
obtuseness. But he had a fixed purpose ahead and could only
push on to it.
"I hope, at any rate, you'll listen to my reasons. There's
been time, on both sides, to think them over since----" He
caught himself back and hung helpless on the "since":
whatever words he chose, he seemed to stumble among
reminders of their past.
She walked on beside him, her eyes on the ground. "Then I'm
to understand--definitely--that you DO renew your
offer?" she asked
"With all my heart! If you'll only let me----"
She raised a hand, as though to check him. "It's extremely
friendly of you--I DO believe you mean it as a friend--
but I don't quite understand why, finding me, as you say, so
well placed here, you should show more anxiety about my
future than at a time when I was actually, and rather
"Oh, no, not more!"
"If you show any at all, it must, at any rate, be for
different reasons.--In fact, it can only be," she went on,
with one of her disconcerting flashes of astuteness, "for
one of two reasons; either because you feel you ought to
help me, or because, for some reason, you think you owe it
to Mrs. Leath to let her know what you know of me."
Darrow stood still in the path. Behind him he heard Effie's
call, and at the child's voice he saw Sophy turn her head
with the alertness of one who is obscurely on the watch.
The look was so fugitive that he could not have said wherein
it differed from her normal professional air of having her
pupil on her mind.
Effie sprang past them, and Darrow took up the girl's
"What you suggest about Mrs. Leath is hardly worth
answering. As to my reasons for wanting to help you, a good
deal depends on the words one uses to define rather
indefinite things. It's true enough that I want to help
you; but the wish isn't due to...to any past kindness on
your part, but simply to my own interest in you. Why not
put it that our friendship gives me the right to intervene
for what I believe to be your benefit?"
She took a few hesitating steps and then paused again.
Darrow noticed that she had grown pale and that there were
rings of shade about her eyes.
"You've known Mrs. Leath a long time?" she asked him
He paused with a sense of approaching peril. "A long time--
"She told me you were friends--great friends"
"Yes," he admitted, "we're great friends."
"Then you might naturally feel yourself justified in telling
her that you don't think I'm the right person for Effie."
He uttered a sound of protest, but she disregarded it. "I
don't say you'd LIKE to do it. You wouldn't: you'd hate
it. And the natural alternative would be to try to persuade
me that I'd be better off somewhere else than here. But
supposing that failed, and you saw I was determined to stay?
THEN you might think it your duty to tell Mrs. Leath."
She laid the case before him with a cold lucidity. "I
should, in your place, I believe," she ended with a little
"I shouldn't feel justified in telling her, behind your
back, if I thought you unsuited for the place; but I should
certainly feel justified," he rejoined after a pause, "in
telling YOU if I thought the place unsuited to you."
"And that's what you're trying to tell me now?"
"Yes; but not for the reasons you imagine."
"What, then, are your reasons, if you please?"
"I've already implied them in advising you not to give up
all idea of the theatre. You're too various, too gifted,
too personal, to tie yourself down, at your age, to the
dismal drudgery of teaching."
"And is THAT what you've told Mrs. Leath?"
She rushed the question out at him as if she expected to
trip him up over it. He was moved by the simplicity of the
"I've told her exactly nothing," he replied.
"And what--exactly--do you mean by 'nothing'? You and she
were talking about me when I came into her sitting-room
Darrow felt his blood rise at the thrust.
"I've told her, simply, that I'd seen you once or twice at
"And not that you've ever seen me since?"
"And not that I've ever seen you since..."
"And she believes you--she completely believes you?"
He uttered a protesting exclamation, and his flush reflected
itself in the girl's cheek.
"Oh, I beg your pardon! I didn't mean to ask you that." She
halted, and again cast a rapid glance behind and ahead of
her. Then she held out her hand. "Well, then, thank you--
and let me relieve your fears. I sha'n't be Effie's
governess much longer."
At the announcement, Darrow tried to merge his look of
relief into the expression of friendly interest with which
he grasped her hand. "You really do agree with me, then?
And you'll give me a chance to talk things over with you?"
She shook her head with a faint smile. "I'm not thinking of
the stage. I've had another offer: that's all."
The relief was hardly less great. After all, his personal
responsibility ceased with her departure from Givre.
"You'll tell me about that, then--won't you?"
Her smile flickered up. "Oh, you'll hear about it soon...I
must catch Effie now and drag her back to the blackboard."
She walked on for a few yards, and then paused again and
confronted him. "I've been odious to you--and not quite
honest," she broke out suddenly.
"Not quite honest?" he repeated, caught in a fresh wave of
"I mean, in seeming not to trust you. It's come over me
again as we talked that, at heart, I've always KNOWN I
Her colour rose in a bright wave, and her eyes clung to his
for a swift instant of reminder and appeal. For the same
space of time the past surged up in him confusedly; then a
veil dropped between them.
"Here's Effie now!" she exclaimed.
He turned and saw the little girl trotting back to them, her
hand in Owen Leath's.
Even through the stir of his subsiding excitement Darrow was
at once aware of the change effected by the young man's
approach. For a moment Sophy Viner's cheeks burned redder;
then they faded to the paleness of white petals. She lost,
however, nothing of the bright bravery which it was her way
to turn on the unexpected. Perhaps no one less familiar
with her face than Darrow would have discerned the tension
of the smile she transferred from himself to Owen Leath, or
have remarked that her eyes had hardened from misty grey to
a shining darkness. But her observer was less struck by
this than by the corresponding change in Owen Leath. The
latter, when he came in sight, had been laughing and talking
unconcernedly with Effie; but as his eye fell on Miss Viner
his expression altered as suddenly as hers.
The change, for Darrow, was less definable; but, perhaps for
that reason, it struck him as more sharply significant.
Only--just what did it signify? Owen, like Sophy Viner, had
the kind of face which seems less the stage on which
emotions move than the very stuff they work in. In moments
of excitement his odd irregular features seemed to grow
fluid, to unmake and remake themselves like the shadows of
clouds on a stream. Darrow, through the rapid flight of the
shadows, could not seize on any specific indication of
feeling: he merely perceived that the young man was
unaccountably surprised at finding him with Miss Viner, and
that the extent of his surprise might cover all manner of
Darrow's first idea was that Owen, if he suspected that the
conversation was not the result of an accidental encounter,
might wonder at his step-mother's suitor being engaged, at
such an hour, in private talk with her little girl's
governess. The thought was so disturbing that, as the three
turned back to the house, he was on the point of saying to
Owen: "I came out to look for your mother." But, in the
contingency he feared, even so simple a phrase might seem
like an awkward attempt at explanation; and he walked on in
silence at Miss Viner's side. Presently he was struck by
the fact that Owen Leath and the girl were silent also; and
this gave a new turn to his thoughts. Silence may be as
variously shaded as speech; and that which enfolded Darrow
and his two companions seemed to his watchful perceptions to
be quivering with cross-threads of communication. At first
he was aware only of those that centred in his own troubled
consciousness; then it occurred to him that an equal
activity of intercourse was going on outside of it.
Something was in fact passing mutely and rapidly between
young Leath and Sophy Viner; but what it was, and whither it
tended, Darrow, when they reached the house, was but just
beginning to divine...
Anna Leath, from the terrace, watched the return of the
She looked down on them, as they advanced across the garden,
from the serene height of her unassailable happiness. There
they were, coming toward her in the mild morning light, her
child, her step-son, her promised husband: the three beings
who filled her life. She smiled a little at the happy
picture they presented, Effie's gambols encircling it in a
moving frame within which the two men came slowly forward in
the silence of friendly understanding. It seemed part of
the deep intimacy of the scene that they should not be
talking to each other, and it did not till afterward strike
her as odd that neither of them apparently felt it necessary
to address a word to Sophy Viner.
Anna herself, at the moment, was floating in the mid-current
of felicity, on a tide so bright and buoyant that she seemed
to be one with its warm waves. The first rush of bliss had
stunned and dazzled her; but now that, each morning, she
woke to the calm certainty of its recurrence, she was
growing used to the sense of security it gave.
"I feel as if I could trust my happiness to carry me; as if
it had grown out of me like wings." So she phrased it to
Darrow, as, later in the morning, they paced the garden-
paths together. His answering look gave her the same
assurance of safety. The evening before he had seemed
preoccupied, and the shadow of his mood had faintly
encroached on the great golden orb of their blessedness; but
now it was uneclipsed again, and hung above them high and
bright as the sun at noon.
Upstairs in her sitting-room, that afternoon, she was
thinking of these things. The morning mists had turned to
rain, compelling the postponement of an excursion in which
the whole party were to have joined. Effie, with her
governess, had been despatched in the motor to do some
shopping at Francheuil; and Anna had promised Darrow to join
him, later in the afternoon, for a quick walk in the rain.
He had gone to his room after luncheon to get some belated
letters off his conscience; and when he had left her she had
continued to sit in the same place, her hands crossed on her
knees, her head slightly bent, in an attitude of brooding
retrospection. As she looked back at her past life, it
seemed to her to have consisted of one ceaseless effort to
pack into each hour enough to fill out its slack folds; but
now each moment was like a miser's bag stretched to bursting
with pure gold.
She was roused by the sound of Owen's step in the gallery
outside her room. It paused at her door and in answer to
his knock she called out "Come in!"
As the door closed behind him she was struck by his look of
pale excitement, and an impulse of compunction made her say:
"You've come to ask me why I haven't spoken to your
He sent about him a glance vaguely reminding her of the
strange look with which Sophy Viner had swept the room the
night before; then his brilliant eyes came back to her.
"I've spoken to her myself," he said.
Anna started up, incredulous.
"You've spoken to her? When?"
"Just now. I left her to come here."
Anna's first feeling was one of annoyance. There was really
something comically incongruous in this boyish surrender to
impulse on the part of a young man so eager to assume the
responsibilities of life. She looked at him with a faintly
"You asked me to help you and I promised you I would. It was
hardly worth while to work out such an elaborate plan of
action if you intended to take the matter out of my hands
without telling me."
"Oh, don't take that tone with me!" he broke out, almost
"That tone? What tone?" She stared at his quivering face.
"I might," she pursued, still half-laughing, "more properly
make that request of YOU!"
Owen reddened and his vehemence suddenly subsided.
"I meant that I HAD to speak--that's all. You don't
give me a chance to explain..."
She looked at him gently, wondering a little at her own
"Owen! Don't I always want to give you every chance? It's
because I DO that I wanted to talk to your grandmother
first--that I was waiting and watching for the right
"The right moment? So was I. That's why I've spoken." His
voice rose again and took the sharp edge it had in moments
of high pressure.
His step-mother turned away and seated herself in her sofa-
corner. "Oh, my dear, it's not a privilege to quarrel over!
You've taken a load off my shoulders. Sit down and tell me
all about it."
He stood before her, irresolute. "I can't sit down," he
"Walk about, then. Only tell me: I'm impatient."
His immediate response was to throw himself into the
armchair at her side, where he lounged for a moment without
speaking, his legs stretched out, his arms locked behind his
thrown-back head. Anna, her eyes on his face, waited
quietly for him to speak.
"Well--of course it was just what one expected."
"She takes it so badly, you mean?"
"All the heavy batteries were brought up: my father, Givre,
Monsieur de Chantelle, the throne and the altar. Even my
poor mother was dragged out of oblivion and armed with
Anna sighed out her sympathy. "Well--you were prepared for
"I thought I was, till I began to hear her say it. Then it
sounded so incredibly silly that I told her so."
"Yes: I know. I was a fool; but I couldn't help it."
"And you've mortally offended her, I suppose? That's exactly
what I wanted to prevent." She laid a hand on his shoulder.
"You tiresome boy, not to wait and let me speak for you!"
He moved slightly away, so that her hand slipped from its
place. "You don't understand," he said, frowning.
"I don't see how I can, till you explain. If you thought
the time had come to tell your grandmother, why not have
asked me to do it? I had my reasons for waiting; but if
you'd told me to speak I should have done so, naturally."
He evaded her appeal by a sudden turn. "What WERE your
reasons for waiting?"
Anna did not immediately answer. Her step-son's eyes were
on her face, and under his gaze she felt a faint
"I was feeling my way...I wanted to be absolutely sure..."
"Absolutely sure of what?"
She delayed again for a just perceptible instant. "Why,
simply of OUR side of the case."
"But you told me you were, the other day, when we talked it
over before they came back from Ouchy."
"Oh, my dear--if you think that, in such a complicated
matter, every day, every hour, doesn't more or less modify
one's surest sureness!"
"That's just what I'm driving at. I want to know what has
She made a slight gesture of impatience. "What does it
matter, now the thing's done? I don't know that I could give
any clear reason..."
He got to his feet and stood looking down on her with a
tormented brow. "But it's absolutely necessary that you
At his tone her impatience flared up. "It's not necessary
that I should give you any explanation whatever, since
you've taken the matter out of my hands. All I can say is
that I was trying to help you: that no other thought ever
entered my mind." She paused a moment and then added: "If
you doubted it, you were right to do what you've done."
"Oh, I never doubted YOU!" he retorted, with a fugitive
stress on the pronoun. His face had cleared to its old look
of trust. "Don't be offended if I've seemed to," he went
on. "I can't quite explain myself, either...it's all a kind
of tangle, isn't it? That's why I thought I'd better speak
at once; or rather why I didn't think at all, but just
suddenly blurted the thing out----"
Anna gave him back his look of conciliation. "Well, the how
and why don't much matter now. The point is how to deal
with your grandmother. You've not told me what she means to
"Oh, she means to send for Adelaide Painter."
The name drew a faint note of mirth from him and relaxed