Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Reef by Edith Wharton

Part 4 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

both their faces to a smile.

"Perhaps," Anna added, "it's really the best thing for us

Owen shrugged his shoulders. "It's too preposterous and
humiliating. Dragging that woman into our secrets----!"

"This could hardly be a secret much longer."

He had moved to the hearth, where he stood pushing about the
small ornaments on the mantel-shelf; but at her answer he
turned back to her.

"You haven't, of course, spoken of it to any one?"

"No; but I intend to now."

She paused for his reply, and as it did not come she
continued: "If Adelaide Painter's to be told there's no
possible reason why I shouldn't tell Mr. Darrow."
Owen abruptly set down the little statuette between his
fingers. "None whatever: I want every one to know."

She smiled a little at his over-emphasis, and was about to
meet it with a word of banter when he continued, facing her:
"You haven't, as yet, said a word to him?"

"I've told him nothing, except what the discussion of our
own plans--his and mine--obliged me to: that you were
thinking of marrying, and that I wasn't willing to leave
France till I'd done what I could to see you through."

At her first words the colour had rushed to his forehead;
but as she continued she saw his face compose itself and his
blood subside.

"You're a brick, my dear!" he exclaimed.

"You had my word, you know."

"Yes; yes--I know." His face had clouded again. "And that's
all--positively all--you've ever said to him?"

"Positively all. But why do you ask?"

He had a moment's embarrassed hesitation. "It was
understood, wasn't it, that my grandmother was to be the
first to know?"

"Well--and so she has been, hasn't she, since you've told

He turned back to his restless shifting of the knick-knacks.

"And you're sure that nothing you've said to Darrow could
possibly have given him a hint----?"

"Nothing I've said to him--certainly."

He swung about on her. "Why do you put it in that way?"

"In what way?"

"Why--as if you thought some one else might have spoken..."

"Some one else? Who else?" She rose to her feet. "What on
earth, my dear boy, can you be driving at?"

"I'm trying to find out whether you think he knows anything

"Why should I think so? Do YOU?"

"I don't know. I want to find out."

She laughed at his obstinate insistence. "To test my
veracity, I suppose?" At the sound of a step in the gallery
she added: "Here he is--you can ask him yourself."

She met Darrow's knock with an invitation to enter, and he
came into the room and paused between herself and Owen. She
was struck, as he stood there, by the contrast between his
happy careless good-looks and her step-son's frowning

Darrow met her eyes with a smile. "Am I too soon? Or is our
walk given up?"

"No; I was just going to get ready." She continued to linger
between the two, looking slowly from one to the other. "But
there's something we want to tell you first: Owen is engaged
to Miss Viner."

The sense of an indefinable interrogation in Owen's mind
made her, as she spoke, fix her eyes steadily on Darrow.

He had paused just opposite the window, so that, even in the
rainy afternoon light, his face was clearly open to her
scrutiny. For a second, immense surprise was alone visible
on it: so visible that she half turned to her step-son, with
a faint smile for his refuted suspicions. Why, she
wondered, should Owen have thought that Darrow had already
guessed his secret, and what, after all, could be so
disturbing to him in this not improbable contingency? At any
rate, his doubt must have been dispelled: there was nothing
feigned about Darrow's astonishment. When her eyes turned
back to him he was already crossing to Owen with
outstretched hand, and she had, through an unaccountable
faint flutter of misgiving, a mere confused sense of their
exchanging the customary phrases. Her next perception was
of Owen's tranquillized look, and of his smiling return of
Darrow's congratulatory grasp. She had the eerie feeling of
having been overswept by a shadow which there had been no
cloud to cast...

A moment later Owen had left the room and she and Darrow
were alone. He had turned away to the window and stood
staring out into the down-pour.

"You're surprised at Owen's news?" she asked.

"Yes: I am surprised," he answered.

"You hadn't thought of its being Miss Viner?"

"Why should I have thought of Miss Viner?"

"You see now why I wanted so much to find out what you knew
about her." He made no comment, and she pursued: "Now that
you DO know it's she, if there's anything----"

He moved back into the room and went up to her. His face
was serious, with a slight shade of annoyance. "What on
earth should there be? As I told you, I've never in my life
heard any one say two words about Miss Viner."

Anna made no answer and they continued to face each other
without moving. For the moment she had ceased to think
about Sophy Viner and Owen: the only thought in her mind was
that Darrow was alone with her, close to her, and that, for
the first time, their hands and lips had not met.

He glanced back doubtfully at the window. "It's pouring.
Perhaps you'd rather not go out?"

She hesitated, as if waiting for him to urge her. "I
suppose I'd better not. I ought to go at once to my mother-
in-law--Owen's just been telling her," she said.

"Ah." Darrow hazarded a smile. "That accounts for my
having, on my way up, heard some one telephoning for Miss

At the allusion they laughed together, vaguely, and Anna
moved toward the door. He held it open for her and followed
her out.


He left her at the door of Madame de Chantelle's sitting-
room, and plunged out alone into the rain.

The wind flung about the stripped tree-tops of the avenue
and dashed the stinging streams into his face. He walked to
the gate and then turned into the high-road and strode along
in the open, buffeted by slanting gusts. The evenly ridged
fields were a blurred waste of mud, and the russet coverts
which he and Owen had shot through the day before shivered
desolately against a driving sky.

Darrow walked on and on, indifferent to the direction he was
taking. His thoughts were tossing like the tree-tops.
Anna's announcement had not come to him as a complete
surprise: that morning, as he strolled back to the house
with Owen Leath and Miss Viner, he had had a momentary
intuition of the truth. But it had been no more than an
intuition, the merest faint cloud-puff of surmise; and now
it was an attested fact, darkening over the whole sky.

In respect of his own attitude, he saw at once that the
discovery made no appreciable change. If he had been bound
to silence before, he was no less bound to it now; the only
difference lay in the fact that what he had just learned had
rendered his bondage more intolerable. Hitherto he had felt
for Sophy Viner's defenseless state a sympathy profoundly
tinged with compunction. But now he was half-conscious of
an obscure indignation against her. Superior as he had
fancied himself to ready-made judgments, he was aware of
cherishing the common doubt as to the disinterestedness of
the woman who tries to rise above her past. No wonder she
had been sick with fear on meeting him! It was in his power
to do her more harm than he had dreamed...

Assuredly he did not want to harm her; but he did
desperately want to prevent her marrying Owen Leath. He
tried to get away from the feeling, to isolate and
exteriorize it sufficiently to see what motives it was made
of; but it remained a mere blind motion of his blood, the
instinctive recoil from the thing that no amount of arguing
can make "straight." His tramp, prolonged as it was, carried
him no nearer to enlightenment; and after trudging through
two or three sallow mud-stained villages he turned about and
wearily made his way back to Givre. As he walked up the
black avenue, making for the lights that twinkled through
its pitching branches, he had a sudden realisation of his
utter helplessness. He might think and combine as he would;
but there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that he could

He dropped his wet coat in the vestibule and began to mount
the stairs to his room. But on the landing he was overtaken
by a sober-faced maid who, in tones discreetly lowered,
begged him to be so kind as to step, for a moment, into the
Marquise's sitting-room. Somewhat disconcerted by the
summons, he followed its bearer to the door at which, a
couple of hours earlier, he had taken leave of Mrs. Leath.
It opened to admit him to a large lamp-lit room which he
immediately perceived to be empty; and the fact gave him
time to note, even through his disturbance of mind, the
interesting degree to which Madame de Chantelle's apartment
"dated" and completed her. Its looped and corded curtains,
its purple satin upholstery, the Sevres jardinieres, the
rosewood fire-screen, the little velvet tables edged with
lace and crowded with silver knick-knacks and simpering
miniatures, reconstituted an almost perfect setting for the
blonde beauty of the 'sixties. Darrow wondered that Fraser
Leath's filial respect should have prevailed over his
aesthetic scruples to the extent of permitting such an
anachronism among the eighteenth century graces of Givre;
but a moment's reflection made it clear that, to its late
owner, the attitude would have seemed exactly in the
traditions of the place.

Madame de Chantelle's emergence from an inner room snatched
Darrow from these irrelevant musings. She was already
beaded and bugled for the evening, and, save for a slight
pinkness of the eye-lids, her elaborate appearance revealed
no mark of agitation; but Darrow noticed that, in
recognition of the solemnity of the occasion, she pinched a
lace handkerchief between her thumb and forefinger.

She plunged at once into the centre of the difficulty,
appealing to him, in the name of all the Everards, to
descend there with her to the rescue of her darling. She
wasn't, she was sure, addressing herself in vain to one
whose person, whose "tone," whose traditions so brilliantly
declared his indebtedness to the principles she besought him
to defend. Her own reception of Darrow, the confidence she
had at once accorded him, must have shown him that she had
instinctively felt their unanimity of sentiment on these
fundamental questions. She had in fact recognized in him
the one person whom, without pain to her maternal piety, she
could welcome as her son's successor; and it was almost as
to Owen's father that she now appealed to Darrow to aid in
rescuing the wretched boy.

"Don't think, please, that I'm casting the least reflection
on Anna, or showing any want of sympathy for her, when I say
that I consider her partly responsible for what's happened.
Anna is 'modern'--I believe that's what it's called when you
read unsettling books and admire hideous pictures. Indeed,"
Madame de Chantelle continued, leaning confidentially
forward, "I myself have always more or less lived in that
atmosphere: my son, you know, was very revolutionary. Only
he didn't, of course, apply his ideas: they were purely
intellectual. That's what dear Anna has always failed to
understand. And I'm afraid she's created the same kind of
confusion in Owen's mind--led him to mix up things you read
about with things you do...You know, of course, that she
sides with him in this wretched business?"

Developing at length upon this theme, she finally narrowed
down to the point of Darrow's intervention. "My grandson,
Mr. Darrow, calls me illogical and uncharitable because my
feelings toward Miss Viner have changed since I've heard
this news. Well! You've known her, it appears, for some
years: Anna tells me you used to see her when she was a
companion, or secretary or something, to a dreadfully vulgar
Mrs. Murrett. And I ask you as a friend, I ask you as one
of US, to tell me if you think a girl who has had to
knock about the world in that kind of position, and at the
orders of all kinds of people, is fitted to be Owen's wife
I'm not implying anything against her! I LIKED the girl,
Mr. Darrow...But what's that got to do with it? I don't want
her to marry my grandson. If I'd been looking for a wife
for Owen, I shouldn't have applied to the Farlows to find me
one. That's what Anna won't understand; and what you must
help me to make her see."

Darrow, to this appeal, could oppose only the repeated
assurance of his inability to interfere. He tried to make
Madame de Chantelle see that the very position he hoped to
take in the household made his intervention the more
hazardous. He brought up the usual arguments, and sounded
the expected note of sympathy; but Madame de Chantelle's
alarm had dispelled her habitual imprecision, and, though
she had not many reasons to advance, her argument clung to
its point like a frightened sharp-clawed animal.

"Well, then," she summed up, in response to his repeated
assertions that he saw no way of helping her, "you can, at
least, even if you won't say a word to the others, tell me
frankly and fairly--and quite between ourselves--your
personal opinion of Miss Viner, since you've known her so
much longer than we have."

He protested that, if he had known her longer, he had known
her much less well, and that he had already, on this point,
convinced Anna of his inability to pronounce an opinion.

Madame de Chantelle drew a deep sigh of intelligence. "Your
opinion of Mrs. Murrett is enough! I don't suppose you
pretend to conceal THAT? And heaven knows what other
unspeakable people she's been mixed up with. The only
friends she can produce are called Hoke...Don't try to
reason with me, Mr. Darrow. There are feelings that go
deeper than facts...And I KNOW she thought of studying
for the stage..." Madame de Chantelle raised the corner of
her lace handkerchief to her eyes. "I'm old-fashioned--like
my furniture," she murmured. "And I thought I could count
on you, Mr. Darrow..."

When Darrow, that night, regained his room, he reflected
with a flash of irony that each time he entered it he
brought a fresh troop of perplexities to trouble its serene
seclusion. Since the day after his arrival, only forty-
eight hours before, when he had set his window open to the
night, and his hopes had seemed as many as its stars, each
evening had brought its new problem and its renewed
distress. But nothing, as yet, had approached the blank
misery of mind with which he now set himself to face the
fresh questions confronting him.

Sophy Viner had not shown herself at dinner, so that he had
had no glimpse of her in her new character, and no means of
divining the real nature of the tie between herself and Owen
Leath. One thing, however, was clear: whatever her real
feelings were, and however much or little she had at stake,
if she had made up her mind to marry Owen she had more than
enough skill and tenacity to defeat any arts that poor
Madame de Chantelle could oppose to her.

Darrow himself was in fact the only person who might
possibly turn her from her purpose: Madame de Chantelle, at
haphazard, had hit on the surest means of saving Owen--if to
prevent his marriage were to save him! Darrow, on this
point, did not pretend to any fixed opinion; one feeling
alone was clear and insistent in him: he did not mean, if he
could help it, to let the marriage take place.

How he was to prevent it he did not know: to his tormented
imagination every issue seemed closed. For a fantastic
instant he was moved to follow Madame de Chantelle's
suggestion and urge Anna to withdraw her approval. If his
reticence, his efforts to avoid the subject, had not escaped
her, she had doubtless set them down to the fact of his
knowing more, and thinking less, of Sophy Viner than he had
been willing to admit; and he might take advantage of this
to turn her mind gradually from the project. Yet how do so
without betraying his insincerity? If he had had nothing to
hide he could easily have said: "It's one thing to know
nothing against the girl, it's another to pretend that I
think her a good match for Owen." But could he say even so
much without betraying more? It was not Anna's questions, or
his answers to them, that he feared, but what might cry
aloud in the intervals between them. He understood now that
ever since Sophy Viner's arrival at Givre he had felt in
Anna the lurking sense of something unexpressed, and perhaps
inexpressible, between the girl and himself...When at last
he fell asleep he had fatalistically committed his next step
to the chances of the morrow.

The first that offered itself was an encounter with Mrs.
Leath as he descended the stairs the next morning. She had
come down already hatted and shod for a dash to the park
lodge, where one of the gatekeeper's children had had an
accident. In her compact dark dress she looked more than
usually straight and slim, and her face wore the pale glow
it took on at any call on her energy: a kind of warrior
brightness that made her small head, with its strong chin
and close-bound hair, like that of an amazon in a frieze.

It was their first moment alone since she had left him, the
afternoon before, at her mother-in-law's door; and after a
few words about the injured child their talk inevitably
reverted to Owen.

Anna spoke with a smile of her "scene" with Madame de
Chantelle, who belonged, poor dear, to a generation when
"scenes" (in the ladylike and lachrymal sense of the term)
were the tribute which sensibility was expected to pay to
the unusual. Their conversation had been, in every detail,
so exactly what Anna had foreseen that it had clearly not
made much impression on her; but she was eager to know the
result of Darrow's encounter with her mother-in-law.

"She told me she'd sent for you: she always 'sends for'
people in emergencies. That again, I suppose, is de
l'epoque. And failing Adelaide Painter, who can't get here
till this afternoon, there was no one but poor you to turn

She put it all lightly, with a lightness that seemed to his
tight-strung nerves slightly, undefinably over-done. But he
was so aware of his own tension that he wondered, the next
moment, whether anything would ever again seem to him quite
usual and insignificant and in the common order of things.

As they hastened on through the drizzle in which the storm
of the night was weeping itself out, Anna drew close under
his umbrella, and at the pressure of her arm against his he
recalled his walk up the Dover pier with Sophy Viner. The
memory gave him a startled vision of the inevitable
occasions of contact, confidence, familiarity, which his
future relationship to the girl would entail, and the
countless chances of betrayal that every one of them

"Do tell me just what you said," he heard Anna pleading; and
with sudden resolution he affirmed: "I quite understand your
mother-in-law's feeling as she does."

The words, when uttered, seemed a good deal less significant
than they had sounded to his inner ear; and Anna replied
without surprise: "Of course. It's inevitable that she
should. But we shall bring her round in time." Under the
dripping dome she raised her face to his. "Don't you
remember what you said the day before yesterday? 'Together
we can't fail to pull it off for him!' I've told Owen that,
so you're pledged and there's no going back."

The day before yesterday! Was it possible that, no longer
ago, life had seemed a sufficiently simple business for a
sane man to hazard such assurances?

"Anna," he questioned her abruptly, "why are you so anxious
for this marriage?"

She stopped short to face him. "Why? But surely I've
explained to you--or rather I've hardly had to, you seemed
so in sympathy with my reasons!"

"I didn't know, then, who it was that Owen wanted to marry."

The words were out with a spring and he felt a clearer air
in his brain. But her logic hemmed him in.

"You knew yesterday; and you assured me then that you hadn't
a word to say----"

"Against Miss Viner?" The name, once uttered, sounded on and
on in his ears. "Of course not. But that doesn't
necessarily imply that I think her a good match for Owen."

Anna made no immediate answer. When she spoke it was to
question: "Why don't you think her a good match for Owen?"

"Well--Madame de Chantelle's reasons seem to me not quite as
negligible as you think."

"You mean the fact that she's been Mrs. Murrett's secretary,
and that the people who employed her before were called
Hoke? For, as far as Owen and I can make out, these are the
gravest charges against her."

"Still, one can understand that the match is not what Madame
de Chantelle had dreamed of."

"Oh, perfectly--if that's all you mean."
The lodge was in sight, and she hastened her step. He
strode on beside her in silence, but at the gate she checked
him with the question: "Is it really all you mean?"

"Of course," he heard himself declare.

"Oh, then I think I shall convince you--even if I can't,
like Madame de Chantelle, summon all the Everards to my
aid!" She lifted to him the look of happy laughter that
sometimes brushed her with a gleam of spring.

Darrow watched her hasten along the path between the
dripping chrysanthemums and enter the lodge. After she had
gone in he paced up and down outside in the drizzle, waiting
to learn if she had any message to send back to the house;
and after the lapse of a few minutes she came out again.

The child, she said, was badly, though not dangerously,
hurt, and the village doctor, who was already on hand, had
asked that the surgeon, already summoned from Francheuil,
should be told to bring with him certain needful appliances.
Owen had started by motor to fetch the surgeon, but there
was still time to communicate with the latter by telephone.
The doctor furthermore begged for an immediate provision of
such bandages and disinfectants as Givre itself could
furnish, and Anna bade Darrow address himself to Miss Viner,
who would know where to find the necessary things, and would
direct one of the servants to bicycle with them to the

Darrow, as he hurried off on this errand, had at once
perceived the opportunity it offered of a word with Sophy
Viner. What that word was to be he did not know; but now,
if ever, was the moment to make it urgent and conclusive.
It was unlikely that he would again have such a chance of
unobserved talk with her.

He had supposed he should find her with her pupil in the
school-room; but he learned from a servant that Effie had
gone to Francheuil with her step-brother, and that Miss
Viner was still in her room. Darrow sent her word that he
was the bearer of a message from the lodge, and a moment
later he heard her coming down the stairs.


For a second, as she approached him, the quick tremor of her
glance showed her all intent on the same thought as himself.
He transmitted his instructions with mechanical precision,
and she answered in the same tone, repeating his words with
the intensity of attention of a child not quite sure of
understanding. Then she disappeared up the stairs.

Darrow lingered on in the hall, not knowing if she meant to
return, yet inwardly sure she would. At length he saw her
coming down in her hat and jacket. The rain still streaked
the window panes, and, in order to say something, he said:
"You're not going to the lodge yourself?"

"I've sent one of the men ahead with the things; but I
thought Mrs. Leath might need me."

"She didn't ask for you," he returned, wondering how he
could detain her; but she answered decidedly: "I'd better

He held open the door, picked up his umbrella and followed
her out. As they went down the steps she glanced back at
him. "You've forgotten your mackintosh."

"I sha'n't need it."

She had no umbrella, and he opened his and held it out to
her. She rejected it with a murmur of thanks and walked on
through the thin drizzle, and he kept the umbrella over his
own head, without offering to shelter her.

Rapidly and in silence they crossed the court and began to
walk down the avenue. They had traversed a third of its
length before Darrow said abruptly: "Wouldn't it have been
fairer, when we talked together yesterday, to tell me what
I've just heard from Mrs. Leath?"

"Fairer----?" She stopped short with a startled look.

"If I'd known that your future was already settled I should
have spared you my gratuitous suggestions."

She walked on, more slowly, for a yard or two. "I couldn't
speak yesterday. I meant to have told you today."

"Oh, I'm not reproaching you for your lack of confidence.
Only, if you HAD told me, I should have been more sure
of your really meaning what you said to me yesterday."

She did not ask him to what he referred, and he saw that her
parting words to him lived as vividly in her memory as in

"Is it so important that you should be sure?" she finally

"Not to you, naturally," he returned with involuntary
asperity. It was incredible, yet it was a fact, that for
the moment his immediate purpose in seeking to speak to her
was lost under a rush of resentment at counting for so
little in her fate. Of what stuff, then, was his feeling
for her made? A few hours earlier she had touched his
thoughts as little as his senses; but now he felt old
sleeping instincts stir in him...
A rush of rain dashed against his face, and, catching
Sophy's hat, strained it back from her loosened hair. She
put her hands to her head with a familiar gesture...He came
closer and held his umbrella over her...

At the lodge he waited while she went in. The rain
continued to stream down on him and he shivered in the
dampness and stamped his feet on the flags. It seemed to
him that a long time elapsed before the door opened and she
reappeared. He glanced into the house for a glimpse of
Anna, but obtained none; yet the mere sense of her nearness
had completely altered his mood.

The child, Sophy told him, was doing well; but Mrs. Leath
had decided to wait till the surgeon came. Darrow, as they
turned away, looked through the gates, and saw the doctor's
old-fashioned carriage by the roadside.

"Let me tell the doctor's boy to drive you back," he
suggested; but Sophy answered: "No; I'll walk," and he moved
on toward the house at her side. She expressed no surprise
at his not remaining at the lodge, and again they walked on
in silence through the rain. She had accepted the shelter
of his umbrella, but she kept herself at such a carefully
measured distance that even the slight swaying movements
produced by their quick pace did not once bring her arm in
touch with his; and, noticing this, he perceived that every
drop of her blood must be alive to his nearness.

"What I meant just now," he began, "was that you ought to
have been sure of my good wishes."

She seemed to weigh the words. "Sure enough for what?"

"To trust me a little farther than you did."

"I've told you that yesterday I wasn't free to speak."

"Well, since you are now, may I say a word to you?"

She paused perceptibly, and when she spoke it was in so low
a tone that he had to bend his head to catch her answer. "I
can't think what you can have to say."

"It's not easy to say here, at any rate. And indoors I
sha'n't know where to say it." He glanced about him in the
rain. "Let's walk over to the spring-house for a minute."

To the right of the drive, under a clump of trees, a little
stucco pavilion crowned by a balustrade rose on arches of
mouldering brick over a flight of steps that led down to a
spring. Other steps curved up to a door above. Darrow
mounted these, and opening the door entered a small circular
room hung with loosened strips of painted paper whereon
spectrally faded Mandarins executed elongated gestures.
Some black and gold chairs with straw seats and an unsteady
table of cracked lacquer stood on the floor of red-glazed

Sophy had followed him without comment. He closed the door
after her, and she stood motionless, as though waiting for
him to speak.

"Now we can talk quietly," he said, looking at her with a
smile into which he tried to put an intention of the
frankest friendliness.

She merely repeated: "I can't think what you can have to

Her voice had lost the note of half-wistful confidence on
which their talk of the previous day had closed, and she
looked at him with a kind of pale hostility. Her tone made
it evident that his task would be difficult, but it did not
shake his resolve to go on. He sat down, and mechanically
she followed his example. The table was between them and
she rested her arms on its cracked edge and her chin on her
interlocked hands. He looked at her and she gave him back
his look.

"Have you nothing to say to ME?" he asked at length.

A faint smile lifted, in the remembered way, the left corner
of her narrowed lips.

"About my marriage?"

"About your marriage."

She continued to consider him between half-drawn lids. "What
can I say that Mrs. Leath has not already told you?"

"Mrs. Leath has told me nothing whatever but the fact--and
her pleasure in it."

"Well; aren't those the two essential points?"

"The essential points to YOU? I should have thought----"

"Oh, to YOU, I meant," she put in keenly.

He flushed at the retort, but steadied himself and rejoined:
"The essential point to me is, of course, that you should be
doing what's really best for you."

She sat silent, with lowered lashes. At length she
stretched out her arm and took up from the table a little
threadbare Chinese hand-screen. She turned its ebony stem
once or twice between her fingers, and as she did so Darrow
was whimsically struck by the way in which their evanescent
slight romance was symbolized by the fading lines on the
frail silk.

"Do you think my engagement to Mr. Leath not really best for
me?" she asked at length.

Darrow, before answering, waited long enough to get his
words into the tersest shape--not without a sense, as he did
so, of his likeness to the surgeon deliberately poising his
lancet for a clean incision. "I'm not sure," he replied,
"of its being the best thing for either of you."

She took the stroke steadily, but a faint red swept her face
like the reflection of a blush. She continued to keep her
lowered eyes on the screen.

"From whose point of view do you speak?"

"Naturally, that of the persons most concerned."

"From Owen's, then, of course? You don't think me a good
match for him?"

"From yours, first of all. I don't think him a good match
for you."

He brought the answer out abruptly, his eyes on her face.
It had grown extremely pale, but as the meaning of his words
shaped itself in her mind he saw a curious inner light dawn
through her set look. She lifted her lids just far enough
for a veiled glance at him, and a smile slipped through them
to her trembling lips. For a moment the change merely
bewildered him; then it pulled him up with a sharp jerk of

"I don't think him a good match for you," he stammered,
groping for the lost thread of his words.

She threw a vague look about the chilly rain-dimmed room.
"And you've brought me here to tell me why?"

The question roused him to the sense that their minutes were
numbered, and that if he did not immediately get to his
point there might be no other chance of making it.

"My chief reason is that I believe he's too young and
inexperienced to give you the kind of support you need."

At his words her face changed again, freezing to a tragic
coldness. She stared straight ahead of her, perceptibly
struggling with the tremor of her muscles; and when she had
controlled it she flung out a pale-lipped pleasantry. "But
you see I've always had to support myself!"

"He's a boy," Darrow pushed on, "a charming, wonderful boy;
but with no more notion than a boy how to deal with the
inevitable daily problems...the trivial stupid unimportant
things that life is chiefly made up of."
"I'll deal with them for him," she rejoined.

"They'll be more than ordinarily difficult."

She shot a challenging glance at him. "You must have some
special reason for saying so."

"Only my clear perception of the facts."

"What facts do you mean?"

Darrow hesitated. "You must know better than I," he
returned at length, "that the way won't be made easy to

"Mrs. Leath, at any rate, has made it so."

"Madame de Chantelle will not."

"How do YOU know that?" she flung back.

He paused again, not sure how far it was prudent to reveal
himself in the confidence of the household. Then, to avoid
involving Anna, he answered: "Madame de Chantelle sent for
me yesterday."

"Sent for you--to talk to you about me?" The colour rose to
her forehead and her eyes burned black under lowered brows.
"By what right, I should like to know? What have you to do
with me, or with anything in the world that concerns me?"

Darrow instantly perceived what dread suspicion again
possessed her, and the sense that it was not wholly
unjustified caused him a passing pang of shame. But it did
not turn him from his purpose.

"I'm an old friend of Mrs. Leath's. It's not unnatural that
Madame de Chantelle should talk to me."

She dropped the screen on the table and stood up, turning on
him the same small mask of wrath and scorn which had glared
at him, in Paris, when he had confessed to his suppression
of her letter. She walked away a step or two and then came

"May I ask what Madame de Chantelle said to you?"

"She made it clear that she should not encourage the

"And what was her object in making that clear to YOU?"

Darrow hesitated. "I suppose she thought----"

"That she could persuade you to turn Mrs. Leath against me?"

He was silent, and she pressed him: "Was that it?"
"That was it."

"But if you don't--if you keep your promise----"

"My promise?"

"To say nothing...nothing whatever..." Her strained look
threw a haggard light along the pause.

As she spoke, the whole odiousness of the scene rushed over
him. "Of course I shall say nothing...you know that..." He
leaned to her and laid his hand on hers. "You know I
wouldn't for the world..."

She drew back and hid her face with a sob. Then she sank
again into her seat, stretched her arms across the table and
laid her face upon them. He sat still, overwhelmed with
compunction. After a long interval, in which he had
painfully measured the seconds by her hard-drawn breathing,
she looked up at him with a face washed clear of bitterness.

"Don't suppose I don't know what you must have thought of

The cry struck him down to a lower depth of self-abasement.
"My poor child," he felt like answering, "the shame of it is
that I've never thought of you at all!" But he could only
uselessly repeat: "I'll do anything I can to help you."

She sat silent, drumming the table with her hand. He saw
that her doubt of him was allayed, and the perception made
him more ashamed, as if her trust had first revealed to him
how near he had come to not deserving it. Suddenly she
began to speak.

"You think, then, I've no right to marry him?"

"No right? God forbid! I only meant----"

"That you'd rather I didn't marry any friend of yours." She
brought it out deliberately, not as a question, but as a
mere dispassionate statement of fact.

Darrow in turn stood up and wandered away helplessly to the
window. He stood staring out through its small discoloured
panes at the dim brown distances; then he moved back to the

"I'll tell you exactly what I meant. You'll be wretched if
you marry a man you're not in love with."

He knew the risk of misapprehension that he ran, but he
estimated his chances of success as precisely in proportion
to his peril. If certain signs meant what he thought they
did, he might yet--at what cost he would not stop to think--
make his past pay for his future.

The girl, at his words, had lifted her head with a movement
of surprise. Her eyes slowly reached his face and rested
there in a gaze of deep interrogation. He held the look for
a moment; then his own eyes dropped and he waited.

At length she began to speak. "You're mistaken--you're
quite mistaken."

He waited a moment longer. "Mistaken----?"

"In thinking what you think. I'm as happy as if I deserved
it!" she suddenly proclaimed with a laugh.

She stood up and moved toward the door. "NOW are you
satisfied?" she asked, turning her vividest face to him from
the threshold.


Down the avenue there came to them, with the opening of the
door, the voice of Owen's motor. It was the signal which
had interrupted their first talk, and again, instinctively,
they drew apart at the sound. Without a word Darrow turned
back into the room, while Sophy Viner went down the steps
and walked back alone toward the court.

At luncheon the presence of the surgeon, and the non-
appearance of Madame de Chantelle--who had excused herself
on the plea of a headache--combined to shift the
conversational centre of gravity; and Darrow, under shelter
of the necessarily impersonal talk, had time to adjust his
disguise and to perceive that the others were engaged in the
same re-arrangement. It was the first time that he had seen
young Leath and Sophy Viner together since he had learned of
their engagement; but neither revealed more emotion than
befitted the occasion. It was evident that Owen was deeply
under the girl's charm, and that at the least sign from her
his bliss would have broken bounds; but her reticence was
justified by the tacitly recognized fact of Madame de
Chantelle's disapproval. This also visibly weighed on
Anna's mind, making her manner to Sophy, if no less kind,
yet a trifle more constrained than if the moment of final
understanding had been reached. So Darrow interpreted the
tension perceptible under the fluent exchange of
commonplaces in which he was diligently sharing. But he was
more and more aware of his inability to test the moral
atmosphere about him: he was like a man in fever testing
another's temperature by the touch.

After luncheon Anna, who was to motor the surgeon home,
suggested to Darrow that he should accompany them. Effie was
also of the party; and Darrow inferred that Anna wished to
give her step-son a chance to be alone with his betrothed.
On the way back, after the surgeon had been left at his
door, the little girl sat between her mother and Darrow, and
her presence kept their talk from taking a personal turn.
Darrow knew that Mrs. Leath had not yet told Effie of the
relation in which he was to stand to her. The premature
divulging of Owen's plans had thrown their own into the
background, and by common consent they continued, in the
little girl's presence, on terms of an informal

The sky had cleared after luncheon, and to prolong their
excursion they returned by way of the ivy-mantled ruin which
was to have been the scene of the projected picnic. This
circuit brought them back to the park gates not long before
sunset, and as Anna wished to stop at the lodge for news of
the injured child Darrow left her there with Effie and
walked on alone to the house. He had the impression that
she was slightly surprised at his not waiting for her; but
his inner restlessness vented itself in an intense desire
for bodily movement. He would have liked to walk himself
into a state of torpor; to tramp on for hours through the
moist winds and the healing darkness and come back
staggering with fatigue and sleep. But he had no pretext
for such a flight, and he feared that, at such a moment, his
prolonged absence might seem singular to Anna.

As he approached the house, the thought of her nearness
produced a swift reaction of mood. It was as if an intenser
vision of her had scattered his perplexities like morning
mists. At this moment, wherever she was, he knew he was
safely shut away in her thoughts, and the knowledge made
every other fact dwindle away to a shadow. He and she loved
each other, and their love arched over them open and ample
as the day: in all its sunlit spaces there was no cranny for
a fear to lurk. In a few minutes he would be in her presence
and would read his reassurance in her eyes. And presently,
before dinner, she would contrive that they should have an
hour by themselves in her sitting-room, and he would sit by
the hearth and watch her quiet movements, and the way the
bluish lustre on her hair purpled a little as she bent above
the fire.

A carriage drove out of the court as he entered it, and in
the hall his vision was dispelled by the exceedingly
substantial presence of a lady in a waterproof and a tweed
hat, who stood firmly planted in the centre of a pile of
luggage, as to which she was giving involved but lucid
directions to the footman who had just admitted her. She
went on with these directions regardless of Darrow's
entrance, merely fixing her small pale eyes on him while she
proceeded, in a deep contralto voice, and a fluent French
pronounced with the purest Boston accent, to specify the
destination of her bags; and this enabled Darrow to give her
back a gaze protracted enough to take in all the details of
her plain thick-set person, from the square sallow face
beneath bands of grey hair to the blunt boot-toes protruding
under her wide walking skirt.

She submitted to this scrutiny with no more evidence of
surprise than a monument examined by a tourist; but when the
fate of her luggage had been settled she turned suddenly to
Darrow and, dropping her eyes from his face to his feet,
asked in trenchant accents: "What sort of boots have you got

Before he could summon his wits to the consideration of this
question she continued in a tone of suppressed indignation:
"Until Americans get used to the fact that France is under
water for half the year they're perpetually risking their
lives by not being properly protected. I suppose you've
been tramping through all this nasty clammy mud as if you'd
been taking a stroll on Boston Common."

Darrow, with a laugh, affirmed his previous experience of
French dampness, and the degree to which he was on his guard
against it; but the lady, with a contemptuous snort,
rejoined: "You young men are all alike----"; to which she
appended, after another hard look at him: "I suppose you're
George Darrow? I used to know one of your mother's cousins,
who married a Tunstall of Mount Vernon Street. My name is
Adelaide Painter. Have you been in Boston lately? No? I'm
sorry for that. I hear there have been several new houses
built at the lower end of Commonwealth Avenue and I hoped
you could tell me about them. I haven't been there for
thirty years myself."

Miss Painter's arrival at Givre produced the same effect as
the wind's hauling around to the north after days of languid
weather. When Darrow joined the group about the tea-table
she had already given a tingle to the air. Madame de
Chantelle still remained invisible above stairs; but Darrow
had the impression that even through her drawn curtains and
bolted doors a stimulating whiff must have entered.

Anna was in her usual seat behind the tea-tray, and Sophy
Viner presently led in her pupil. Owen was also there,
seated, as usual, a little apart from the others, and
following Miss Painter's massive movements and equally
substantial utterances with a smile of secret intelligence
which gave Darrow the idea of his having been in clandestine
parley with the enemy. Darrow further took note that the
girl and her suitor perceptibly avoided each other; but this
might be a natural result of the tension Miss Painter had
been summoned to relieve.

Sophy Viner would evidently permit no recognition of the
situation save that which it lay with Madame de Chantelle to
accord; but meanwhile Miss Painter had proclaimed her tacit
sense of it by summoning the girl to a seat at her side.

Darrow, as he continued to observe the newcomer, who was
perched on her arm-chair like a granite image on the edge of
a cliff, was aware that, in a more detached frame of mind,
he would have found an extreme interest in studying and
classifying Miss Painter. It was not that she said anything
remarkable, or betrayed any of those unspoken perceptions
which give significance to the most commonplace utterances.
She talked of the lateness of her train, of an impending
crisis in international politics, of the difficulty of
buying English tea in Paris and of the enormities of which
French servants were capable; and her views on these
subjects were enunciated with a uniformity of emphasis
implying complete unconsciousness of any difference in their
interest and importance. She always applied to the French
race the distant epithet of "those people", but she betrayed
an intimate acquaintance with many of its members, and an
encyclopaedic knowledge of the domestic habits, financial
difficulties and private complications of various persons of
social importance. Yet, as she evidently felt no
incongruity in her attitude, so she revealed no desire to
parade her familiarity with the fashionable, or indeed any
sense of it as a fact to be paraded. It was evident that
the titled ladies whom she spoke of as Mimi or Simone or
Odette were as much "those people" to her as the bonne
who tampered with her tea and steamed the stamps off her
letters ("when, by a miracle, I don't put them in the box
myself.") Her whole attitude was of a vast grim tolerance
of things-as-they-came, as though she had been some
wonderful automatic machine which recorded facts but had not
yet been perfected to the point of sorting or labelling

All this, as Darrow was aware, still fell short of
accounting for the influence she obviously exerted on the
persons in contact with her. It brought a slight relief to
his state of tension to go on wondering, while he watched
and listened, just where the mystery lurked. Perhaps, after
all, it was in the fact of her blank insensibility, an
insensibility so devoid of egotism that it had no hardness
and no grimaces, but rather the freshness of a simpler
mental state. After living, as he had, as they all had, for
the last few days, in an atmosphere perpetually tremulous
with echoes and implications, it was restful and fortifying
merely to walk into the big blank area of Miss Painter's
mind, so vacuous for all its accumulated items, so echoless
for all its vacuity.

His hope of a word with Anna before dinner was dispelled by
her rising to take Miss Painter up to Madame de Chantelle;
and he wandered away to his own room, leaving Owen and Miss
Viner engaged in working out a picture-puzzle for Effie.

Madame de Chantelle--possibly as the result of her friend's
ministrations--was able to appear at the dinner-table,
rather pale and pink-nosed, and casting tenderly reproachful
glances at her grandson, who faced them with impervious
serenity; and the situation was relieved by the fact that
Miss Viner, as usual, had remained in the school-room with
her pupil.

Darrow conjectured that the real clash of arms would not
take place till the morrow; and wishing to leave the field
open to the contestants he set out early on a solitary walk.
It was nearly luncheon-time when he returned from it and
came upon Anna just emerging from the house. She had on her
hat and jacket and was apparently coming forth to seek him,
for she said at once: "Madame de Chantelle wants you to go
up to her."

"To go up to her? Now?"

"That's the message she sent. She appears to rely on you to
do something." She added with a smile: "Whatever it is,
let's have it over!"

Darrow, through his rising sense of apprehension, wondered
why, instead of merely going for a walk, he had not jumped
into the first train and got out of the way till Owen's
affairs were finally settled.

"But what in the name of goodness can I do?" he protested,
following Anna back into the hall.

"I don't know. But Owen seems so to rely on you, too----"

"Owen! Is HE to be there?"

"No. But you know I told him he could count on you."

"But I've said to your mother-in-law all I could."

"Well, then you can only repeat it."

This did not seem to Darrow to simplify his case as much as
she appeared to think; and once more he had a movement of
recoil. "There's no possible reason for my being mixed up
in this affair!"

Anna gave him a reproachful glance. "Not the fact that
I am?" she reminded him; but even this only stiffened his

"Why should you be, either--to this extent?"

The question made her pause. She glanced about the hall, as
if to be sure they had it to themselves; and then, in a
lowered voice: "I don't know," she suddenly confessed; "but,
somehow, if THEY'RE not happy I feel as if we shouldn't

"Oh, well--" Darrow acquiesced, in the tone of the man who
perforce yields to so lovely an unreasonableness. Escape
was, after all, impossible, and he could only resign himself
to being led to Madame de Chantelle's door.

Within, among the bric-a-brac and furbelows, he found Miss
Painter seated in a redundant purple armchair with the
incongruous air of a horseman bestriding a heavy mount.
Madame de Chantelle sat opposite, still a little wan and
disordered under her elaborate hair, and clasping the
handkerchief whose visibility symbolized her distress. On
the young man's entrance she sighed out a plaintive welcome,
to which she immediately appended: "Mr. Darrow, I can't help
feeling that at heart you're with me!"

The directness of the challenge made it easier for Darrow to
protest, and he reiterated his inability to give an opinion
on either side.

"But Anna declares you have--on hers!"

He could not restrain a smile at this faint flaw in an
impartiality so scrupulous. Every evidence of feminine
inconsequence in Anna seemed to attest her deeper subjection
to the most inconsequent of passions. He had certainly
promised her his help--but before he knew what he was

He met Madame de Chantelle's appeal by replying: "If there
were anything I could possibly say I should want it to be in
Miss Viner's favour."

"You'd want it to be--yes! But could you make it so?"

"As far as facts go, I don't see how I can make it either
for or against her. I've already said that I know nothing
of her except that she's charming."

"As if that weren't enough--weren't all there OUGHT to
be!" Miss Painter put in impatiently. She seemed to address
herself to Darrow, though her small eyes were fixed on her

"Madame de Chantelle seems to imagine," she pursued, "that a
young American girl ought to have a dossier--a police-
record, or whatever you call it: what those awful women in
the streets have here. In our country it's enough to know
that a young girl's pure and lovely: people don't
immediately ask her to show her bank-account and her

Madame de Chantelle looked plaintively at her sturdy
monitress. "You don't expect me not to ask if she's got a

"No; nor to think the worse of her if she hasn't. The fact
that she's an orphan ought, with your ideas, to be a merit.
You won't have to invite her father and mother to Givre!"

"Adelaide--Adelaide!" the mistress of Givre lamented.

"Lucretia Mary," the other returned--and Darrow spared an
instant's amusement to the quaint incongruity of the name--
"you know you sent for Mr. Darrow to refute me; and how can
he, till he knows what I think?"

"You think it's perfectly simple to let Owen marry a girl we
know nothing about?"

"No; but I don't think it's perfectly simple to prevent

The shrewdness of the answer increased Darrow's interest in
Miss Painter. She had not hitherto struck him as being a
person of much penetration, but he now felt sure that her
gimlet gaze might bore to the heart of any practical

Madame de Chantelle sighed out her recognition of the

"I haven't a word to say against Miss Viner; but she's
knocked about so, as it's called, that she must have been
mixed up with some rather dreadful people. If only Owen
could be made to see that--if one could get at a few facts,
I mean. She says, for instance, that she has a sister; but
it seems she doesn't even know her address!"

"If she does, she may not want to give it to you. I daresay
the sister's one of the dreadful people. I've no doubt that
with a little time you could rake up dozens of them: have
her 'traced', as they call it in detective stories. I don't
think you'd frighten Owen, but you might: it's natural
enough he should have been corrupted by those foreign ideas.
You might even manage to part him from the girl; but you
couldn't keep him from being in love with her. I saw that
when I looked them over last evening. I said to myself:
'It's a real old-fashioned American case, as sweet and sound
as home-made bread.' Well, if you take his loaf away from
him, what are you going to feed him with instead? Which of
your nasty Paris poisons do you think he'll turn to?
Supposing you succeed in keeping him out of a really bad
mess--and, knowing the young man as I do, I rather think
that, at this crisis, the only way to do it would be to
marry him slap off to somebody else--well, then, who, may I
ask, would you pick out? One of your sweet French
ingenues, I suppose? With as much mind as a minnow and as
much snap as a soft-boiled egg. You might hustle him into
that kind of marriage; I daresay you could--but if I know
Owen, the natural thing would happen before the first baby
was weaned."

"I don't know why you insinuate such odious things against

"Do you think it would be odious of him to return to his
real love when he'd been forcibly parted from her? At any
rate, it's what your French friends do, every one of them!
Only they don't generally have the grace to go back to an
old love; and I believe, upon my word, Owen would!"

Madame de Chantelle looked at her with a mixture of awe and
exultation. "Of course you realize, Adelaide, that in
suggesting this you're insinuating the most shocking things
against Miss Viner?"

"When I say that if you part two young things who are dying
to be happy in the lawful way it's ten to one they'll come
together in an unlawful one? I'm insinuating shocking things
against YOU, Lucretia Mary, in suggesting for a moment
that you'll care to assume such a responsibility before your
Maker. And you wouldn't, if you talked things straight out
with him, instead of merely sending him messages through a
miserable sinner like yourself!"

Darrow expected this assault on her adopted creed to provoke
in Madame de Chantelle an explosion of pious indignation;
but to his surprise she merely murmured: "I don't know what
Mr. Darrow'll think of you!"

"Mr. Darrow probably knows his Bible as well as I do," Miss
Painter calmly rejoined; adding a moment later, without the
least perceptible change of voice or expression: "I suppose
you've heard that Gisele de Folembray's husband accuses her
of being mixed up with the Duc d'Arcachon in that business
of trying to sell a lot of imitation pearls to Mrs. Homer
Pond, the Chicago woman the Duke's engaged to? It seems the
jeweller says Gisele brought Mrs. Pond there, and got
twenty-five per cent--which of course she passed on to
d'Arcachon. The poor old Duchess is in a fearful state--so
afraid her son'll lose Mrs. Pond! When I think that Gisele
is old Bradford Wagstaff's grand-daughter, I'm thankful he's
safe in Mount Auburn!"


It was not until late that afternoon that Darrow could claim
his postponed hour with Anna. When at last he found her
alone in her sitting-room it was with a sense of liberation
so great that he sought no logical justification of it. He
simply felt that all their destinies were in Miss Painter's
grasp, and that, resistance being useless, he could only
enjoy the sweets of surrender.

Anna herself seemed as happy, and for more explicable
reasons. She had assisted, after luncheon, at another
debate between Madame de Chantelle and her confidant, and
had surmised, when she withdrew from it, that victory was
permanently perched on Miss Painter's banners.

"I don't know how she does it, unless it's by the dead
weight of her convictions. She detests the French so that
she'd back up Owen even if she knew nothing--or knew too
much--of Miss Viner. She somehow regards the match as a
protest against the corruption of European morals. I told
Owen that was his great chance, and he's made the most of

"What a tactician you are! You make me feel that I hardly
know the rudiments of diplomacy," Darrow smiled at her,
abandoning himself to a perilous sense of well-being.

She gave him back his smile. "I'm afraid I think nothing
short of my own happiness is worth wasting any diplomacy

"That's why I mean to resign from the service of my
country," he rejoined with a laugh of deep content.

The feeling that both resistance and apprehension were vain
was working like wine in his veins. He had done what he
could to deflect the course of events: now he could only
stand aside and take his chance of safety. Underneath this
fatalistic feeling was the deep sense of relief that he had,
after all, said and done nothing that could in the least
degree affect the welfare of Sophy Viner. That fact took a
millstone off his neck.

Meanwhile he gave himself up once more to the joy of Anna's
presence. They had not been alone together for two long
days, and he had the lover's sense that he had forgotten, or
at least underestimated, the strength of the spell she cast.
Once more her eyes and her smile seemed to bound his world.
He felt that their light would always move with him as the
sunset moves before a ship at sea.

The next day his sense of security was increased by a
decisive incident. It became known to the expectant
household that Madame de Chantelle had yielded to the
tremendous impact of Miss Painter's determination and that
Sophy Viner had been "sent for" to the purple satin sitting-

At luncheon, Owen's radiant countenance proclaimed the happy
sequel, and Darrow, when the party had moved back to the
oak-room for coffee, deemed it discreet to wander out alone
to the terrace with his cigar. The conclusion of Owen's
romance brought his own plans once more to the front. Anna
had promised that she would consider dates and settle
details as soon as Madame de Chantelle and her grandson had
been reconciled, and Darrow was eager to go into the
question at once, since it was necessary that the
preparations for his marriage should go forward as rapidly
as possible. Anna, he knew, would not seek any farther
pretext for delay; and he strolled up and down contentedly
in the sunshine, certain that she would come out and
reassure him as soon as the reunited family had claimed its
due share of her attention.

But when she finally joined him her first word was for the
younger lovers.

"I want to thank you for what you've done for Owen," she
began, with her happiest smile.

"Who--I?" he laughed. "Are you confusing me with Miss

"Perhaps I ought to say for ME," she corrected herself.
"You've been even more of a help to us than Adelaide."

"My dear child! What on earth have I done?"

"You've managed to hide from Madame de Chantelle that you
don't really like poor Sophy."

Darrow felt the pallour in his cheek. "Not like her? What
put such an idea into your head?"

"Oh, it's more than an idea--it's a feeling. But what
difference does it make, after all? You saw her in such a
different setting that it's natural you should be a little
doubtful. But when you know her better I'm sure you'll feel
about her as I do."

"It's going to be hard for me not to feel about everything
as you do."

"Well, then--please begin with my daughter-in-law!"

He gave her back in the same tone of banter: "Agreed: if you
ll agree to feel as I do about the pressing necessity of our
getting married."

"I want to talk to you about that too. You don't know what
a weight is off my mind! With Sophy here for good, I shall
feel so differently about leaving Effie. I've seen much
more accomplished governesses--to my cost!--but I've never
seen a young thing more gay and kind and human. You must
have noticed, though you've seen them so little together,
how Effie expands when she's with her. And that, you know,
is what I want. Madame de Chantelle will provide the
necessary restraint." She clasped her hands on his arm.
"Yes, I'm ready to go with you now. But first of all--this
very moment!--you must come with me to Effie. She knows, of
course, nothing of what's been happening; and I want her to
be told first about YOU."

Effie, sought throughout the house, was presently traced to
the school-room, and thither Darrow mounted with Anna. He
had never seen her so alight with happiness, and he had
caught her buoyancy of mood. He kept repeating to himself:
"It's over--it's over," as if some monstrous midnight
hallucination had been routed by the return of day.

As they approached the school-room door the terrier's barks
came to them through laughing remonstrances.

"She's giving him his dinner," Anna whispered, her hand in

"Don't forget the gold-fish!" they heard another voice call

Darrow halted on the threshold. "Oh--not now!"

"Not now?"

"I mean--she'd rather have you tell her first. I'll wait
for you both downstairs."

He was aware that she glanced at him intently. "As you
please. I'll bring her down at once."

She opened the door, and as she went in he heard her say:
"No, Sophy, don't go! I want you both."

The rest of Darrow's day was a succession of empty and
agitating scenes. On his way down to Givre, before he had
seen Effie Leath, he had pictured somewhat sentimentally the
joy of the moment when he should take her in his arms and
receive her first filial kiss. Everything in him that
egotistically craved for rest, stability, a comfortably
organized middle-age, all the home-building instincts of the
man who has sufficiently wooed and wandered, combined to
throw a charm about the figure of the child who might--who
should--have been his. Effie came to him trailing the cloud
of glory of his first romance, giving him back the magic
hour he had missed and mourned. And how different the
realization of his dream had been! The child's radiant
welcome, her unquestioning acceptance of, this new figure in
the family group, had been all that he had hoped and
fancied. If Mother was so awfully happy about it, and Owen
and Granny, too, how nice and cosy and comfortable it was
going to be for all of them, her beaming look seemed to say;
and then, suddenly, the small pink fingers he had been
kissing were laid on the one flaw in the circle, on the one
point which must be settled before Effie could, with
complete unqualified assurance, admit the new-comer to full
equality with the other gods of her Olympus.

"And is Sophy awfully happy about it too?" she had asked,
loosening her hold on Darrow's neck to tilt back her head
and include her mother in her questioning look.

"Why, dearest, didn't you see she was?" Anna had exclaimed,
leaning to the group with radiant eyes.

"I think I should like to ask her," the child rejoined,
after a minute's shy consideration; and as Darrow set her
down her mother laughed: "Do, darling, do! Run off at once,
and tell her we expect her to be awfully happy too."

The scene had been succeeded by others less poignant but
almost as trying. Darrow cursed his luck in having, at such
a moment, to run the gauntlet of a houseful of interested
observers. The state of being "engaged", in itself an
absurd enough predicament, even to a man only intermittently
exposed, became intolerable under the continuous scrutiny of
a small circle quivering with participation. Darrow was
furthermore aware that, though the case of the other couple
ought to have made his own less conspicuous, it was rather
they who found a refuge in the shadow of his prominence.
Madame de Chantelle, though she had consented to Owen's
engagement and formally welcomed his betrothed, was
nevertheless not sorry to show, by her reception of Darrow,
of what finely-shaded degrees of cordiality she was capable.
Miss Painter, having won the day for Owen, was also free to
turn her attention to the newer candidate for her sympathy;
and Darrow and Anna found themselves immersed in a warm bath
of sentimental curiosity.

It was a relief to Darrow that he was under a positive
obligation to end his visit within the next forty-eight
hours. When he left London, his Ambassador had accorded him
a ten days' leave. His fate being definitely settled and
openly published he had no reason for asking to have the
time prolonged, and when it was over he was to return to his
post till the time fixed for taking up his new duties. Anna
and he had therefore decided to be married, in Paris, a day
or two before the departure of the steamer which was to take
them to South America; and Anna, shortly after his return to
England, was to go up to Paris and begin her own

In honour of the double betrothal Effie and Miss Viner were
to appear that evening at dinner; and Darrow, on leaving his
room, met the little girl springing down the stairs, her
white ruffles and coral-coloured bows making her look like a
daisy with her yellow hair for its centre. Sophy Viner was
behind her pupil, and as she came into the light Darrow
noticed a change in her appearance and wondered vaguely why
she looked suddenly younger, more vivid, more like the
little luminous ghost of his Paris memories. Then it
occurred to him that it was the first time she had appeared
at dinner since his arrival at Givre, and the first time,
consequently, that he had seen her in evening dress. She
was still at the age when the least adornment embellishes;
and no doubt the mere uncovering of her young throat and
neck had given her back her former brightness. But a second
glance showed a more precise reason for his impression.
Vaguely though he retained such details, he felt sure she
was wearing the dress he had seen her in every evening in
Paris. It was a simple enough dress, black, and transparent
on the arms and shoulders, and he would probably not have
recognized it if she had not called his attention to it in
Paris by confessing that she hadn't any other. "The same
dress? That proves that she's forgotten!" was his first
half-ironic thought; but the next moment, with a pang of
compunction, he said to himself that she had probably put it
on for the same reason as before: simply because she hadn't
any other.

He looked at her in silence, and for an instant, above
Effie's bobbing head, she gave him back his look in a full
bright gaze.

"Oh, there's Owen!" Effie cried, and whirled away down the
gallery to the door from which her step-brother was
emerging. As Owen bent to catch her, Sophy Viner turned
abruptly back to Darrow.

"You, too?" she said with a quick laugh. "I didn't know----
" And as Owen came up to them she added, in a tone that
might have been meant to reach his ear: "I wish you all the
luck that we can spare!"

About the dinner-table, which Effie, with Miss Viner's aid,
had lavishly garlanded, the little party had an air of
somewhat self-conscious festivity. In spite of flowers,
champagne and a unanimous attempt at ease, there were
frequent lapses in the talk, and moments of nervous groping
for new subjects. Miss Painter alone seemed not only
unaffected by the general perturbation but as tightly sealed
up in her unconsciousness of it as a diver in his bell. To
Darrow's strained attention even Owen's gusts of gaiety
seemed to betray an inward sense of insecurity. After
dinner, however, at the piano, he broke into a mood of
extravagant hilarity and flooded the room with the splash
and ripple of his music.

Darrow, sunk in a sofa corner in the lee of Miss Painter's
granite bulk, smoked and listened in silence, his eyes
moving from one figure to another. Madame de Chantelle, in
her armchair near the fire, clasped her little granddaughter
to her with the gesture of a drawing-room Niobe, and Anna,
seated near them, had fallen into one of the attitudes of
vivid calm which seemed to Darrow to express her inmost
quality. Sophy Viner, after moving uncertainly about the
room, had placed herself beyond Mrs. Leath, in a chair near
the piano, where she sat with head thrown back and eyes
attached to the musician, in the same rapt fixity of
attention with which she had followed the players at the
Francais. The accident of her having fallen into the same
attitude, and of her wearing the same dress, gave Darrow, as
he watched her, a strange sense of double consciousness. To
escape from it, his glance turned back to Anna; but from the
point at which he was placed his eyes could not take in the
one face without the other, and that renewed the disturbing
duality of the impression. Suddenly Owen broke off with a
crash of chords and jumped to his feet.

"What's the use of this, with such a moon to say it for us?"

Behind the uncurtained window a low golden orb hung like a
ripe fruit against the glass.

"Yes--let's go out and listen," Anna answered. Owen threw
open the window, and with his gesture a fold of the heavy
star-sprinkled sky seemed to droop into the room like a
drawn-in curtain. The air that entered with it had a frosty
edge, and Anna bade Effie run to the hall for wraps.

Darrow said: "You must have one too," and started toward the
door; but Sophy, following her pupil, cried back: "We'll
bring things for everybody."

Owen had followed her, and in a moment the three reappeared,
and the party went out on the terrace. The deep blue purity
of the night was unveiled by mist, and the moonlight rimmed
the edges of the trees with a silver blur and blanched to
unnatural whiteness the statues against their walls of

Darrow and Anna, with Effie between them, strolled to the
farther corner of the terrace. Below them, between the
fringes of the park, the lawn sloped dimly to the fields
above the river. For a few minutes they stood silently side
by side, touched to peace beneath the trembling beauty of
the sky. When they turned back, Darrow saw that Owen and
Sophy Viner, who had gone down the steps to the garden, were
also walking in the direction of the house. As they
advanced, Sophy paused in a patch of moonlight, between the
sharp shadows of the yews, and Darrow noticed that she had
thrown over her shoulders a long cloak of some light colour,
which suddenly evoked her image as she had entered the
restaurant at his side on the night of their first dinner in
Paris. A moment later they were all together again on the
terrace, and when they re-entered the drawing-room the older
ladies were on their way to bed.

Effie, emboldened by the privileges of the evening, was for
coaxing Owen to round it off with a game of forfeits or some
such reckless climax; but Sophy, resuming her professional
role, sounded the summons to bed. In her pupil's wake she
made her round of good-nights; but when she proffered her
hand to Anna, the latter ignoring the gesture held out both

"Good-night, dear child," she said impulsively, and drew the
girl to her kiss.



The next day was Darrow's last at Givre and, foreseeing that
the afternoon and evening would have to be given to the
family, he had asked Anna to devote an early hour to the
final consideration of their plans. He was to meet her in
the brown sitting-room at ten, and they were to walk down to
the river and talk over their future in the little pavilion
abutting on the wall of the park.

It was just a week since his arrival at Givre, and Anna
wished, before he left, to return to the place where they
had sat on their first afternoon together. Her
sensitiveness to the appeal of inanimate things, to the
colour and texture of whatever wove itself into the
substance of her emotion, made her want to hear Darrow's
voice, and to feel his eyes on her, in the spot where bliss
had first flowed into her heart.

That bliss, in the interval, had wound itself into every
fold of her being. Passing, in the first days, from a high
shy tenderness to the rush of a secret surrender, it had
gradually widened and deepened, to flow on in redoubled
beauty. She thought she now knew exactly how and why she
loved Darrow, and she could see her whole sky reflected in
the deep and tranquil current of her love.

Early the next day, in her sitting-room, she was glancing
through the letters which it was Effie's morning privilege
to carry up to her. Effie meanwhile circled inquisitively
about the room, where there was always something new to
engage her infant fancy; and Anna, looking up, saw her
suddenly arrested before a photograph of Darrow which, the
day before, had taken its place on the writing-table.

Anna held out her arms with a faint blush. "You do like
him, don't you, dear?"

"Oh, most awfully, dearest," Effie, against her breast,
leaned back to assure her with a limpid look. "And so do
Granny and Owen--and I DO think Sophy does too," she
added, after a moment's earnest pondering.

"I hope so," Anna laughed. She checked the impulse to
continue: "Has she talked to you about him, that you're so
sure?" She did not know what had made the question spring to
her lips, but she was glad she had closed them before
pronouncing it. Nothing could have been more distasteful to
her than to clear up such obscurities by turning on them the
tiny flame of her daughter's observation. And what, after
all, now that Owen's happiness was secured, did it matter if
there were certain reserves in Darrow's approval of his

A knock on the door made Anna glance at the clock. "There's
Nurse to carry you off."

"It's Sophy's knock," the little girl answered, jumping down
to open the door; and Miss Viner in fact stood on the

"Come in," Anna said with a smile, instantly remarking how
pale she looked.

"May Effie go out for a turn with Nurse?" the girl asked.
"I should like to speak to you a moment."

"Of course. This ought to be YOUR holiday, as yesterday
was Effie's. Run off, dear," she added, stooping to kiss
the little girl.

When the door had closed she turned back to Sophy Viner with
a look that sought her confidence. "I'm so glad you came,
my dear. We've got so many things to talk about, just you
and I together."

The confused intercourse of the last days had, in fact, left
little time for any speech with Sophy but such as related to
her marriage and the means of overcoming Madame de
Chantelle's opposition to it. Anna had exacted of Owen that
no one, not even Sophy Viner, should be given a hint of her
own projects till all contingent questions had been disposed
of. She had felt, from the outset, a secret reluctance to
intrude her securer happiness on the doubts and fears of the
young pair.

From the sofa-corner to which she had dropped back she
pointed to Darrow's chair. "Come and sit by me, dear. I
wanted to see you alone. There's so much to say that I
hardly know where to begin."

She leaned forward, her hands clasped on the arms of the
sofa, her eyes bent smilingly on Sophy's. As she did so,
she noticed that the girl's unusual pallour was partly due
to the slight veil of powder on her face. The discovery was
distinctly disagreeable. Anna had never before noticed, on
Sophy's part, any recourse to cosmetics, and, much as she
wished to think herself exempt from old-fashioned
prejudices, she suddenly became aware that she did not like
her daughter's governess to have a powdered face. Then she
reflected that the girl who sat opposite her was no longer
Effie's governess, but her own future daughter-in-law; and
she wondered whether Miss Viner had chosen this odd way of
celebrating her independence, and whether, as Mrs. Owen
Leath, she would present to the world a bedizened
countenance. This idea was scarcely less distasteful than
the other, and for a moment Anna continued to consider her
without speaking. Then, in a flash, the truth came to her:
Miss Viner had powdered her face because Miss Viner had been

Anna leaned forward impulsively. "My dear child, what's the
matter?" She saw the girl's blood rush up under the white
mask, and hastened on: "Please don't be afraid to tell me.
I do so want you to feel that you can trust me as Owen does.
And you know you mustn't mind if, just at first, Madame de
Chantelle occasionally relapses."

She spoke eagerly, persuasively, almost on a note of
pleading. She had, in truth, so many reasons for wanting
Sophy to like her: her love for Owen, her solicitude for
Effie, and her own sense of the girl's fine mettle. She had
always felt a romantic and almost humble admiration for
those members of her sex who, from force of will, or the
constraint of circumstances, had plunged into the conflict
from which fate had so persistently excluded her. There
were even moments when she fancied herself vaguely to blame
for her immunity, and felt that she ought somehow to have
affronted the perils and hardships which refused to come to
her. And now, as she sat looking at Sophy Viner, so small,
so slight, so visibly defenceless and undone, she still
felt, through all the superiority of her worldly advantages
and her seeming maturity, the same odd sense of ignorance
and inexperience. She could not have said what there was in
the girl's manner and expression to give her this feeling,
but she was reminded, as she looked at Sophy Viner, of the
other girls she had known in her youth, the girls who seemed
possessed of a secret she had missed. Yes, Sophy Viner had
their look--almost the obscurely menacing look of Kitty
Mayne...Anna, with an inward smile, brushed aside the image
of this forgotten rival. But she had felt, deep down, a
twinge of the old pain, and she was sorry that, even for the
flash of a thought, Owen's betrothed should have reminded
her of so different a woman...

She laid her hand on the girl's. "When his grandmother sees
how happy Owen is she'll be quite happy herself. If it's
only that, don't be distressed. Just trust to Owen--and the

Sophy Viner, with an almost imperceptible recoil of her
whole slight person, had drawn her hand from under the palm
enclosing it.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about--the future."

"Of course! We've all so many plans to make--and to fit into
each other's. Please let's begin with yours."

The girl paused a moment, her hands clasped on the arms of
her chair, her lids dropped under Anna's gaze; then she
said: "I should like to make no plans at all...just yet..."

"No plans?"

"No--I should like to go away...my friends the Farlows would
let me go to them..." Her voice grew firmer and she lifted
her eyes to add: "I should like to leave today, if you don't

Anna listened with a rising wonder.

"You want to leave Givre at once?" She gave the idea a
moment's swift consideration. "You prefer to be with your
friends till your marriage? I understand that--but surely
you needn't rush off today? There are so many details to
discuss; and before long, you know, I shall be going away

"Yes, I know." The girl was evidently trying to steady her
voice. "But I should like to wait a few days--to have a
little more time to myself."

Anna continued to consider her kindly. It was evident that
she did not care to say why she wished to leave Givre so
suddenly, but her disturbed face and shaken voice betrayed a
more pressing motive than the natural desire to spend the
weeks before her marriage under her old friends' roof.
Since she had made no response to the allusion to Madame de
Chantelle, Anna could but conjecture that she had had a
passing disagreement with Owen; and if this were so, random
interference might do more harm than good.

"My dear child, if you really want to go at once I sha'n't,
of course, urge you to stay. I suppose you have spoken to

"No. Not yet..."

Anna threw an astonished glance at her. "You mean to say
you haven't told him?"

"I wanted to tell you first. I thought I ought to, on
account of Effie." Her look cleared as she put forth this

"Oh, Effie!--" Anna's smile brushed away the scruple. "Owen
has a right to ask that you should consider him before you
think of his sister...Of course you shall do just as you
wish," she went on, after another thoughtful interval.

"Oh, thank you," Sophy Viner murmured and rose to her feet.

Anna rose also, vaguely seeking for some word that should
break down the girl's resistance. "You'll tell Owen at
once?" she finally asked.

Miss Viner, instead of replying, stood before her in
manifest uncertainty, and as she did so there was a light
tap on the door, and Owen Leath walked into the room.

Anna's first glance told her that his face was unclouded.
He met her greeting with his happiest smile and turned to
lift Sophy's hand to his lips. The perception that he was
utterly unconscious of any cause for Miss Viner's agitation
came to his step-mother with a sharp thrill of surprise.

"Darrow's looking for you," he said to her. "He asked me to
remind you that you'd promised to go for a walk with him."

Anna glanced at the clock. "I'll go down presently." She
waited and looked again at Sophy Viner, whose troubled eyes
seemed to commit their message to her. "You'd better tell
Owen, my dear."

Owen's look also turned on the girl. "Tell me what? Why,
what's happened?"

Anna summoned a laugh to ease the vague tension of the
moment. "Don't look so startled! Nothing, except that Sophy
proposes to desert us for a while for the Farlows."

Owen's brow cleared. "I was afraid she'd run off before
long." He glanced at Anna. "Do please keep her here as long
as you can!"

Sophy intervened: "Mrs. Leath's already given me leave to

"Already? To go when?"

"Today," said Sophy in a low tone, her eyes on Anna's.

"Today? Why on earth should you go today?" Owen dropped back
a step or two, flushing and paling under his bewildered
frown. His eyes seemed to search the girl more closely.
"Something's happened." He too looked at his step-mother.
"I suppose she must have told you what it is?"

Anna was struck by the suddenness and vehemence of his
appeal. It was as though some smouldering apprehension had
lain close under the surface of his security.

"She's told me nothing except that she wishes to be with her
friends. It's quite natural that she should want to go to

Owen visibly controlled himself. "Of course--quite
natural." He spoke to Sophy. "But why didn't you tell me
so? Why did you come first to my step-mother?"

Anna intervened with her calm smile. "That seems to me
quite natural, too. Sophy was considerate enough to tell me
first because of Effie."

He weighed it. "Very well, then: that's quite natural, as
you say. And of course she must do exactly as she pleases."
He still kept his eyes on the girl. "Tomorrow," he abruptly
announced, "I shall go up to Paris to see you."

"Oh, no--no!" she protested.

Owen turned back to Anna. "NOW do you say that
nothing's happened?"

Under the influence of his agitation Anna felt a vague
tightening of the heart. She seemed to herself like some
one in a dark room about whom unseen presences are groping.

"If it's anything that Sophy wishes to tell you, no doubt
she'll do so. I'm going down now, and I'll leave you here
to talk it over by yourselves."

As she moved to the door the girl caught up with her. "But
there's nothing to tell: why should there be? I've explained
that I simply want to be quiet." Her look seemed to detain
Mrs. Leath.

Owen broke in: "Is that why I mayn't go up tomorrow?"

"Not tomorrow!"

"Then when may I?"

"Later...in a little while...a few days..."

"In how many days?"
"Owen!" his step-mother interposed; but he seemed no longer
aware of her. "If you go away today, the day that our
engagement's made known, it's only fair," he persisted,
"that you should tell me when I am to see you."

Sophy's eyes wavered between the two and dropped down
wearily. "It's you who are not fair--when I've said I
wanted to be quiet."

"But why should my coming disturb you? I'm not asking now to
come tomorrow. I only ask you not to leave without telling
me when I'm to see you."

"Owen, I don't understand you!" his step-mother exclaimed.

"You don't understand my asking for some explanation, some
assurance, when I'm left in this way, without a word,
without a sign? All I ask her to tell me is when she'll see

Anna turned back to Sophy Viner, who stood straight and
tremulous between the two.

"After all, my dear, he's not unreasonable!"

"I'll write--I'll write," the girl repeated.

"WHAT will you write?" he pressed her vehemently.

"Owen," Anna exclaimed, "you are unreasonable!"

He turned from Sophy to his step-mother. "I only want her
to say what she means: that she's going to write to break
off our engagement. Isn't that what you're going away for?"

Anna felt the contagion of his excitement. She looked at

Book of the day: