Part 1 out of 2
By Edith Wharton
Professor Joslin, who, as our readers are doubtless aware, is
engaged in writing the life of Mrs. Aubyn, asks us to state that
he will be greatly indebted to any of the famous novelist's
friends who will furnish him with information concerning the
period previous to her coming to England. Mrs. Aubyn had so few
intimate friends, and consequently so few regular correspondents,
that letters will be of special value. Professor Joslin's address
is 10 Augusta Gardens, Kensington, and he begs us to say that he
will promptly return any documents entrusted to him."
Glennard dropped the Spectator and sat looking into the fire. The
club was filling up, but he still had to himself the small inner
room, with its darkening outlook down the rainstreaked prospect of
Fifth Avenue. It was all dull and dismal enough, yet a moment
earlier his boredom had been perversely tinged by a sense of
resentment at the thought that, as things were going, he might in
time have to surrender even the despised privilege of boring
himself within those particular four walls. It was not that he
cared much for the club, but that the remote contingency of having
to give it up stood to him, just then, perhaps by very reason of
its insignificance and remoteness, for the symbol of his
increasing abnegations; of that perpetual paring-off that was
gradually reducing existence to the naked business of keeping
himself alive. It was the futility of his multiplied shifts and
privations that made them seem unworthy of a high attitude; the
sense that, however rapidly he eliminated the superfluous, his
cleared horizon was likely to offer no nearer view of the one
prospect toward which he strained. To give up things in order to
marry the woman one loves is easier than to give them up without
being brought appreciably nearer to such a conclusion.
Through the open door he saw young Hollingsworth rise with a yawn
from the ineffectual solace of a brandy-and-soda and transport his
purposeless person to the window. Glennard measured his course
with a contemptuous eye. It was so like Hollingsworth to get up
and look out of the window just as it was growing too dark to see
anything! There was a man rich enough to do what he pleased--had
he been capable of being pleased--yet barred from all conceivable
achievement by his own impervious dulness; while, a few feet off,
Glennard, who wanted only enough to keep a decent coat on his back
and a roof over the head of the woman he loved, Glennard, who had
sweated, toiled, denied himself for the scant measure of
opportunity that his zeal would have converted into a kingdom--sat
wretchedly calculating that, even when he had resigned from the
club, and knocked off his cigars, and given up his Sundays out of
town, he would still be no nearer attainment.
The Spectator had slipped to his feet and as he picked it up his
eye fell again on the paragraph addressed to the friends of Mrs.
Aubyn. He had read it for the first time with a scarcely
perceptible quickening of attention: her name had so long been
public property that his eye passed it unseeingly, as the crowd in
the street hurries without a glance by some familiar monument.
"Information concerning the period previous to her coming to
England. . . ." The words were an evocation. He saw her again as
she had looked at their first meeting, the poor woman of genius
with her long pale face and short-sighted eyes, softened a little
by the grace of youth and inexperience, but so incapable even then
of any hold upon the pulses. When she spoke, indeed, she was
wonderful, more wonderful, perhaps, than when later, to Glennard's
fancy at least, the conscious of memorable things uttered seemed
to take from even her most intimate speech the perfect bloom of
privacy. It was in those earliest days, if ever, that he had come
near loving her; though even then his sentiment had lived only in
the intervals of its expression. Later, when to be loved by her
had been a state to touch any man's imagination, the physical
reluctance had, inexplicably, so overborne the intellectual
attraction, that the last years had been, to both of them, an
agony of conflicting impulses. Even now, if, in turning over old
papers, his hand lit on her letters, the touch filled him with
inarticulate misery. . . .
"She had so few intimate friends . . . that letters will be of
special value." So few intimate friends! For years she had had
but one; one who in the last years had requited her wonderful
pages, her tragic outpourings of love, humility, and pardon, with
the scant phrases by which a man evades the vulgarest of
sentimental importunities. He had been a brute in spite of
himself, and sometimes, now that the remembrance of her face had
faded, and only her voice and words remained with him, he chafed
at his own inadequacy, his stupid inability to rise to the height
of her passion. His egoism was not of a kind to mirror its
complacency in the adventure. To have been loved by the most
brilliant woman of her day, and to have been incapable of loving
her, seemed to him, in looking back, the most derisive evidence of
his limitations; and his remorseful tenderness for her memory was
complicated with a sense of irritation against her for having
given him once for all the measure of his emotional capacity. It
was not often, however, that he thus probed the past. The public,
in taking possession of Mrs. Aubyn, had eased his shoulders of
their burden. There was something fatuous in an attitude of
sentimental apology toward a memory already classic: to reproach
one's self for not having loved Margaret Aubyn was a good deal
like being disturbed by an inability to admire the Venus of Milo.
From her cold niche of fame she looked down ironically enough on
his self-flagellations. . . . It was only when he came on
something that belonged to her that he felt a sudden renewal of
the old feeling, the strange dual impulse that drew him to her
voice but drove him from her hand, so that even now, at sight of
anything she had touched, his heart contracted painfully. It
happened seldom nowadays. Her little presents, one by one, had
disappeared from his rooms, and her letters, kept from some
unacknowledged puerile vanity in the possession of such treasures,
seldom came beneath his hand. . . .
"Her letters will be of special value--" Her letters! Why, he
must have hundreds of them--enough to fill a volume. Sometimes it
used to seem to him that they came with every post--he used to
avoid looking in his letter-box when he came home to his rooms--
but her writing seemed to spring out at him as he put his key in
He stood up and strolled into the other room. Hollingsworth,
lounging away from the window, had joined himself to a languidly
convivial group of men to whom, in phrases as halting as though
they struggled to define an ultimate idea, he was expounding the
cursed nuisance of living in a hole with such a damned climate
that one had to get out of it by February, with the contingent
difficulty of there being no place to take one's yacht to in
winter but that other played-out hole, the Riviera. From the
outskirts of this group Glennard wandered to another, where a
voice as different as possible from Hollingsworth's colorless
organ dominated another circle of languid listeners.
"Come and hear Dinslow talk about his patent: admission free," one
of the men sang out in a tone of mock resignation.
Dinslow turned to Glennard the confident pugnacity of his smile.
"Give it another six months and it'll be talking about itself," he
declared. "It's pretty nearly articulate now."
"Can it say papa?" someone else inquired.
Dinslow's smile broadened. "You'll be deuced glad to say papa to
IT a year from now," he retorted. "It'll be able to support even
you in affluence. Look here, now, just let me explain to you--"
Glennard moved away impatiently. The men at the club--all but
those who were "in it"--were proverbially "tired" of Dinslow's
patent, and none more so than Glennard, whose knowledge of its
merits made it loom large in the depressing catalogue of lost
opportunities. The relations between the two men had always been
friendly, and Dinslow's urgent offers to "take him in on the
ground floor" had of late intensified Glennard's sense of his own
inability to meet good luck half way. Some of the men who had
paused to listen were already in evening clothes, others on their
way home to dress; and Glennard, with an accustomed twinge of
humiliation, said to himself that if he lingered among them it was
in the miserable hope that one of the number might ask him to
dine. Miss Trent had told him that she was to go to the opera
that evening with her rich aunt; and if he should have the luck to
pick up a dinner-invitation he might join her there without extra
He moved about the room, lingering here and there in a tentative
affectation of interest; but though the men greeted him pleasantly
no one asked him to dine. Doubtless they were all engaged, these
men who could afford to pay for their dinners, who did not have to
hunt for invitations as a beggar rummages for a crust in an ash-
barrel! But no--as Hollingsworth left the lessening circle about
the table an admiring youth called out--"Holly, stop and dine!"
Hollingsworth turned on him the crude countenance that looked like
the wrong side of a more finished face. "Sorry I can't. I'm in
for a beastly banquet."
Glennard threw himself into an arm-chair. Why go home in the rain
to dress? It was folly to take a cab to the opera, it was worse
folly to go there at all. His perpetual meetings with Alexa Trent
were as unfair to the girl as they were unnerving to himself.
Since he couldn't marry her, it was time to stand aside and give a
better man the chance--and his thought admitted the ironical
implication that in the terms of expediency the phrase might stand
He dined alone and walked home to his rooms in the rain. As he
turned into Fifth Avenue he caught the wet gleam of carriages on
their way to the opera, and he took the first side street, in a
moment of irritation against the petty restrictions that thwarted
every impulse. It was ridiculous to give up the opera, not
because one might possibly be bored there, but because one must
pay for the experiment.
In his sitting-room, the tacit connivance of the inanimate had
centred the lamp-light on a photograph of Alexa Trent, placed, in
the obligatory silver frame, just where, as memory officiously
reminded him, Margaret Aubyn's picture had long throned in its
stead. Miss Trent's features cruelly justified the usurpation.
She had the kind of beauty that comes of a happy accord of face
and spirit. It is not given to many to have the lips and eyes of
their rarest mood, and some women go through life behind a mask
expressing only their anxiety about the butcher's bill or their
inability to see a joke. With Miss Trent, face and mind had the
same high serious contour. She looked like a throned Justice by
some grave Florentine painter; and it seemed to Glennard that her
most salient attribute, or that at least to which her conduct gave
most consistent expression, was a kind of passionate justice--the
intuitive feminine justness that is so much rarer than a reasoned
impartiality. Circumstances had tragically combined to develop
this instinct into a conscious habit. She had seen more than most
girls of the shabby side of life, of the perpetual tendency of
want to cramp the noblest attitude. Poverty and misfortune had
overhung her childhood and she had none of the pretty delusions
about life that are supposed to be the crowning grace of girlhood.
This very competence, which gave her a touching reasonableness,
made Glennard's situation more difficult than if he had aspired to
a princess bred in the purple. Between them they asked so little--
they knew so well how to make that little do--but they understood
also, and she especially did not for a moment let him forget, that
without that little the future they dreamed of was impossible.
The sight of her photograph quickened Glennard's exasperation. He
was sick and ashamed of the part he was playing. He had loved her
now for two years, with the tranquil tenderness that gathers depth
and volume as it nears fulfilment; he knew that she would wait for
him--but the certitude was an added pang. There are times when
the constancy of the woman one cannot marry is almost as trying as
that of the woman one does not want to.
Glennard turned up his reading-lamp and stirred the fire. He had
a long evening before him and he wanted to crowd out thought with
action. He had brought some papers from his office and he spread
them out on his table and squared himself to the task. . . .
It must have been an hour later that he found himself
automatically fitting a key into a locked drawer. He had no more
notion than a somnambulist of the mental process that had led up
to this action. He was just dimly aware of having pushed aside
the papers and the heavy calf volumes that a moment before had
bounded his horizon, and of laying in their place, without a trace
of conscious volition, the parcel he had taken from the drawer.
The letters were tied in packets of thirty or forty. There were a
great many packets. On some of the envelopes the ink was fading;
on others, which bore the English post-mark, it was still fresh.
She had been dead hardly three years, and she had written, at
lengthening intervals, to the last. . . .
He undid one of the earlier packets--little notes written during
their first acquaintance at Hillbridge. Glennard, on leaving
college, had begun life in his uncle's law office in the old
university town. It was there that, at the house of her father,
Professor Forth, he had first met the young lady then chiefly
distinguished for having, after two years of a conspicuously
unhappy marriage, returned to the protection of the paternal roof.
Mrs. Aubyn was at that time an eager and somewhat tragic young
woman, of complex mind and undeveloped manners, whom her crude
experience of matrimony had fitted out with a stock of
generalizations that exploded like bombs in the academic air of
Hillbridge. In her choice of a husband she had been fortunate
enough, if the paradox be permitted, to light on one so signally
gifted with the faculty of putting himself in the wrong that her
leaving him had the dignity of a manifesto--made her, as it were,
the spokeswoman of outraged wifehood. In this light she was
cherished by that dominant portion of Hillbridge society which was
least indulgent to conjugal differences, and which found a
proportionate pleasure in being for once able to feast openly on a
dish liberally seasoned with the outrageous. So much did this
endear Mrs. Aubyn to the university ladies that they were disposed
from the first to allow her more latitude of speech and action
than the ill-used wife was generally accorded in Hillbridge, where
misfortune was still regarded as a visitation designed to put
people in their proper place and make them feel the superiority of
their neighbors. The young woman so privileged combined with a
kind of personal shyness an intellectual audacity that was like a
deflected impulse of coquetry: one felt that if she had been
prettier she would have had emotions instead of ideas. She was in
fact even then what she had always remained: a genius capable of
the acutest generalizations, but curiously undiscerning where her
personal susceptibilities were concerned. Her psychology failed
her just where it serves most women and one felt that her brains
would never be a guide to her heart. Of all this, however,
Glennard thought little in the first year of their acquaintance.
He was at an age when all the gifts and graces are but so much
undiscriminated food to the ravening egoism of youth. In seeking
Mrs. Aubyn's company he was prompted by an intuitive taste for the
best as a pledge of his own superiority. The sympathy of the
cleverest woman in Hillbridge was balm to his craving for
distinction: it was public confirmation of his secret sense that
he was cut out for a bigger place. It must not be understood that
Glennard was vain. Vanity contents itself with the coarsest diet;
there is no palate so fastidious as that of self-distrust. To a
youth of Glennard's aspirations the encouragement of a clever
woman stood for the symbol of all success. Later, when he had
begun to feel his way, to gain a foothold, he would not need such
support; but it served to carry him lightly and easily over what
is often a period of insecurity and discouragement.
It would be unjust, however, to represent his interest in Mrs.
Aubyn as a matter of calculation. It was as instinctive as love,
and it missed being love by just such a hair-breadth deflection
from the line of beauty as had determined the curve of Mrs.
Aubyn's lips. When they met she had just published her first
novel, and Glennard, who afterward had an ambitious man's
impatience of distinguished women, was young enough to be dazzled
by the semi-publicity it gave her. It was the kind of book that
makes elderly ladies lower their voices and call each other "my
dear" when they furtively discuss it; and Glennard exulted in the
superior knowledge of the world that enabled him to take as a
matter of course sentiments over which the university shook its
head. Still more delightful was it to hear Mrs. Aubyn waken the
echoes of academic drawing-rooms with audacities surpassing those
of her printed page. Her intellectual independence gave a touch
of comradeship to their intimacy, prolonging the illusion of
college friendships based on a joyous interchange of heresies.
Mrs. Aubyn and Glennard represented to each other the augur's wink
behind the Hillbridge idol: they walked together in that light of
young omniscience from which fate so curiously excludes one's
Husbands who are notoriously inopportune, may even die
inopportunely, and this was the revenge that Mr. Aubyn, some two
years after her return to Hillbridge, took upon his injured wife.
He died precisely at the moment when Glennard was beginning to
criticise her. It was not that she bored him; she did what was
infinitely worse--she made him feel his inferiority. The sense of
mental equality had been gratifying to his raw ambition; but as
his self-knowledge defined itself, his understanding of her also
increased; and if man is at times indirectly flattered by the
moral superiority of woman, her mental ascendency is extenuated by
no such oblique tribute to his powers. The attitude of looking up
is a strain on the muscles; and it was becoming more and more
Glennard's opinion that brains, in a woman, should be merely the
obverse of beauty. To beauty Mrs. Aubyn could lay no claim; and
while she had enough prettiness to exasperate him by her
incapacity to make use of it, she seemed invincibly ignorant of
any of the little artifices whereby women contrive to palliate
their defects and even to turn them into graces. Her dress never
seemed a part of her; all her clothes had an impersonal air, as
though they had belonged to someone else and been borrowed in an
emergency that had somehow become chronic. She was conscious
enough of her deficiencies to try to amend them by rash imitations
of the most approved models; but no woman who does not dress well
intuitively will ever do so by the light of reason, and Mrs.
Aubyn's plagiarisms, to borrow a metaphor of her trade, somehow
never seemed to be incorporated with the text.
Genius is of small use to a woman who does not know how to do her
hair. The fame that came to Mrs. Aubyn with her second book left
Glennard's imagination untouched, or had at most the negative
effect of removing her still farther from the circle of his
contracting sympathies. We are all the sport of time; and fate
had so perversely ordered the chronology of Margaret Aubyn's
romance that when her husband died Glennard felt as though he had
lost a friend.
It was not in his nature to be needlessly unkind; and though he
was in the impregnable position of the man who has given a woman
no more definable claim on him than that of letting her fancy that
he loves her, he would not for the world have accentuated his
advantage by any betrayal of indifference. During the first year
of her widowhood their friendship dragged on with halting renewals
of sentiment, becoming more and more a banquet of empty dishes
from which the covers were never removed; then Glennard went to
New York to live and exchanged the faded pleasures of intercourse
for the comparative novelty of correspondence. Her letters, oddly
enough, seemed at first to bring her nearer than her presence.
She had adopted, and she successfully maintained, a note as
affectionately impersonal as his own; she wrote ardently of her
work, she questioned him about his, she even bantered him on the
inevitable pretty girl who was certain before long to divert the
current of his confidences. To Glennard, who was almost a
stranger in New York, the sight of Mrs. Aubyn's writing was like a
voice of reassurance in surroundings as yet insufficiently aware
of him. His vanity found a retrospective enjoyment in the
sentiment his heart had rejected, and this factitious emotion
drove him once or twice to Hillbridge, whence, after scenes of
evasive tenderness, he returned dissatisfied with himself and her.
As he made room for himself in New York and peopled the space he
had cleared with the sympathies at the disposal of agreeable and
self-confident young men, it seemed to him natural to infer that
Mrs. Aubyn had refurnished in the same manner the void he was not
unwilling his departure should have left. But in the dissolution
of sentimental partnerships it is seldom that both associates are
able to withdraw their funds at the same time; and Glennard
gradually learned that he stood for the venture on which Mrs.
Aubyn had irretrievably staked her all. It was not the kind of
figure he cared to cut. He had no fancy for leaving havoc in his
wake and would have preferred to sow a quick growth of oblivion in
the spaces wasted by his unconsidered inroads; but if he supplied
the seed it was clearly Mrs. Aubyn's business to see to the
raising of the crop. Her attitude seemed indeed to throw his own
reasonableness into distincter relief: so that they might have
stood for thrift and improvidence in an allegory of the
It was not that Mrs. Aubyn permitted herself to be a pensioner on
his bounty. He knew she had no wish to keep herself alive on the
small change of sentiment; she simply fed on her own funded
passion, and the luxuries it allowed her made him, even then,
dimly aware that she had the secret of an inexhaustible alchemy.
Their relations remained thus negatively tender till she suddenly
wrote him of her decision to go abroad to live. Her father had
died, she had no near ties in Hillbridge, and London offered more
scope than New York to her expanding personality. She was already
famous and her laurels were yet unharvested.
For a moment the news roused Glennard to a jealous sense of lost
opportunities. He wanted, at any rate, to reassert his power
before she made the final effort of escape. They had not met for
over a year, but of course he could not let her sail without
seeing her. She came to New York the day before her departure,
and they spent its last hours together. Glennard had planned no
course of action--he simply meant to let himself drift. They both
drifted, for a long time, down the languid current of
reminiscence; she seemed to sit passive, letting him push his way
back through the overgrown channels of the past. At length she
reminded him that they must bring their explorations to an end.
He rose to leave, and stood looking at her with the same
uncertainty in his heart. He was tired of her already--he was
always tired of her--yet he was not sure that he wanted her to go.
"I may never see you again," he said, as though confidently
appealing to her compassion.
Her look enveloped him. "And I shall see you always--always!"
"Why go then--?" escaped him.
"To be nearer you," she answered; and the words dismissed him like
a closing door.
The door was never to reopen; but through its narrow crack
Glennard, as the years went on, became more and more conscious of
an inextinguishable light directing its small ray toward the past
which consumed so little of his own commemorative oil. The
reproach was taken from this thought by Mrs. Aubyn's gradual
translation into terms of universality. In becoming a personage
she so naturally ceased to be a person that Glennard could almost
look back to his explorations of her spirit as on a visit to some
famous shrine, immortalized, but in a sense desecrated, by popular
Her letters, from London, continued to come with the same tender
punctuality; but the altered conditions of her life, the vistas of
new relationships disclosed by every phrase, made her
communications as impersonal as a piece of journalism. It was as
though the state, the world, indeed, had taken her off his hands,
assuming the maintenance of a temperament that had long exhausted
his slender store of reciprocity.
In the retrospective light shed by the letters he was blinded to
their specific meaning. He was not a man who concerned himself
with literature, and they had been to him, at first, simply the
extension of her brilliant talk, later the dreaded vehicle of a
tragic importunity. He knew, of course, that they were wonderful;
that, unlike the authors who give their essence to the public and
keep only a dry rind for their friends, Mrs. Aubyn had stored of
her rarest vintage for this hidden sacrament of tenderness.
Sometimes, indeed, he had been oppressed, humiliated almost, by
the multiplicity of her allusions, the wide scope of her
interests, her persistence in forcing her superabundance of
thought and emotion into the shallow receptacle of his sympathy;
but he had never thought of the letters objectively, as the
production of a distinguished woman; had never measured the
literary significance of her oppressive prodigality. He was
almost frightened now at the wealth in his hands; the obligation
of her love had never weighed on him like this gift of her
imagination: it was as though he had accepted from her something
to which even a reciprocal tenderness could not have justified his
He sat a long time staring at the scattered pages on his desk; and
in the sudden realization of what they meant he could almost fancy
some alchemistic process changing them to gold as he stared. He
had the sense of not being alone in the room, of the presence of
another self observing from without the stirring of subconscious
impulses that sent flushes of humiliation to his forehead. At
length he stood up, and with the gesture of a man who wishes to
give outward expression to his purpose--to establish, as it were,
a moral alibi--swept the letters into a heap and carried them
toward the grate. But it would have taken too long to burn all
the packets. He turned back to the table and one by one fitted
the pages into their envelopes; then he tied up the letters and
put them back into the locked drawer.
It was one of the laws of Glennard's intercourse with Miss Trent
that he always went to see her the day after he had resolved to
give her up. There was a special charm about the moments thus
snatched from the jaws of renunciation; and his sense of their
significance was on this occasion so keen that he hardly noticed
the added gravity of her welcome.
His feeling for her had become so vital a part of him that her
nearness had the quality of imperceptibly readjusting his point of
view, so that the jumbled phenomena of experience fell at once
into a rational perspective. In this redistribution of values the
sombre retrospect of the previous evening shrank to a mere cloud
on the edge of consciousness. Perhaps the only service an unloved
woman can render the man she loves is to enhance and prolong his
illusions about her rival. It was the fate of Margaret Aubyn's
memory to serve as a foil to Miss Trent's presence, and never had
the poor lady thrown her successor into more vivid relief.
Miss Trent had the charm of still waters that are felt to be
renewed by rapid currents. Her attention spread a tranquil
surface to the demonstrations of others, and it was only in days
of storm that one felt the pressure of the tides. This
inscrutable composure was perhaps her chief grace in Glennard's
eyes. Reserve, in some natures, implies merely the locking of
empty rooms or the dissimulation of awkward encumbrances; but Miss
Trent's reticence was to Glennard like the closed door to the
sanctuary, and his certainty of divining the hidden treasure made
him content to remain outside in the happy expectancy of the
"You didn't come to the opera last night," she began, in the tone
that seemed always rather to record a fact than to offer a
reflection on it.
He answered with a discouraged gesture. "What was the use? We
couldn't have talked."
"Not as well as here," she assented; adding, after a meditative
pause, "As you didn't come I talked to Aunt Virginia instead."
"Ah!" he returned, the fact being hardly striking enough to detach
him from the contemplation of her hands, which had fallen, as was
their wont, into an attitude full of plastic possibilities. One
felt them to be hands that, moving only to some purpose, were
capable of intervals of serene inaction.
"We had a long talk," Miss Trent went on; and she waited again
before adding, with the increased absence of stress that marked
her graver communications, "Aunt Virginia wants me to go abroad
Glennard looked up with a start. "Abroad? When?"
"Now--next month. To be gone two years."
He permitted himself a movement of tender derision. "Does she
really? Well, I want you to go abroad with ME--for any number of
years. Which offer do you accept?"
"Only one of them seems to require immediate consideration," she
returned, with a smile.
Glennard looked at her again. "You're not thinking of it?"
Her gaze dropped and she unclasped her hands. Her movements were
so rare that they might have been said to italicize her words.
"Aunt Virginia talked to me very seriously. It will be a great
relief to mother and the others to have me provided for in that
way for two years. I must think of that, you know." She glanced
down at her gown which, under a renovated surface, dated back to
the first days of Glennard's wooing. "I try not to cost much--but
"Good Lord!" Glennard groaned.
They sat silent till at length she gently took up the argument.
"As the eldest, you know, I'm bound to consider these things.
Women are such a burden. Jim does what he can for mother, but
with his own children to provide for it isn't very much. You see,
we're all poor together."
"Your aunt isn't. She might help your mother."
"She does--in her own way."
"Exactly--that's the rich relation all over! You may be miserable
in any way you like, but if you're to be happy you've got to be so
in her way--and in her old gowns."
"I could be very happy in Aunt Virginia's old gowns," Miss Trent
"Abroad, you mean?"
"I mean wherever I felt that I was helping. And my going abroad
"Of course--I see that. And I see your considerateness in putting
its advantages negatively."
"In dwelling simply on what the going will take you from, not on
what it will bring you to. It means a lot to a woman, of course,
to get away from a life like this." He summed up in a disparaging
glance the background of indigent furniture. "The question is how
you'll like coming back to it."
She seemed to accept the full consequences of his thought. "I
only know I don't like leaving it."
He flung back sombrely, "You don't even put it conditionally
Her gaze deepened. "On what?"
He stood up and walked across the room. Then he came back and
paused before her. "On the alternative of marrying me."
The slow color--even her blushes seemed deliberate--rose to her
lower lids; her lips stirred, but the words resolved themselves
into a smile and she waited.
He took another turn, with the thwarted step of the man whose
nervous exasperation escapes through his muscles.
"And to think that in fifteen years I shall have a big practice!"
Her eyes triumphed for him. "In less!"
"The cursed irony of it! What do I care for the man I shall be
then? It's slaving one's life away for a stranger!" He took her
hands abruptly. "You'll go to Cannes, I suppose, or Monte Carlo?
I heard Hollingsworth say to-day that he meant to take his yacht
over to the Mediterranean--"
She released herself. "If you think that--"
"I don't. I almost wish I did. It would be easier, I mean." He
broke off incoherently. "I believe your Aunt Virginia does,
though. She somehow connotes Hollingsworth and the
Mediterranean." He caught her hands again. "Alexa--if we could
manage a little hole somewhere out of town?"
"Could we?" she sighed, half yielding.
"In one of those places where they make jokes about the
mosquitoes," he pressed her. "Could you get on with one servant?"
"Could you get on without varnished boots?"
"Promise me you won't go, then!"
"What are you thinking of, Stephen?"
"I don't know," he stammered, the question giving unexpected form
to his intention. "It's all in the air yet, of course; but I
picked up a tip the other day--"
"You're not speculating?" she cried, with a kind of superstitious
"Lord, no. This is a sure thing--I almost wish it wasn't; I mean
if I can work it--" He had a sudden vision of the
comprehensiveness of the temptation. If only he had been less
sure of Dinslow! His assurance gave the situation the base
element of safety.
"I don't understand you," she faltered.
"Trust me, instead!" he adjured her, with sudden energy; and
turning on her abruptly, "If you go, you know, you go free," he
She drew back, paling a little. "Why do you make it harder for
"To make it easier for myself," he retorted.
Glennard, the next afternoon, leaving his office earlier than
usual, turned, on his way home, into one of the public libraries.
He had the place to himself at that closing hour, and the
librarian was able to give an undivided attention to his tentative
request for letters--collections of letters. The librarian
"I meant women--women's letters."
The librarian proffered Hannah More and Miss Martineau.
Glennard cursed his own inarticulateness. "I mean letters to--to
some one person--a man; their husband--or--"
"Ah," said the inspired librarian, "Eloise and Abailard."
"Well--something a little nearer, perhaps," said Glennard, with
lightness. "Didn't Merimee--"
"The lady's letters, in that case, were not published."
"Of course not," said Glennard, vexed at his blunder.
"There are George Sand's letters to Flaubert."
"Ah!" Glennard hesitated. "Was she--were they--?" He chafed at
his own ignorance of the sentimental by-paths of literature.
"If you want love-letters, perhaps some of the French eighteenth
century correspondences might suit you better--Mlle. Aisse or
Madame de Sabran--"
But Glennard insisted. "I want something modern--English or
American. I want to look something up," he lamely concluded.
The librarian could only suggest George Eliot.
"Well, give me some of the French things, then--and I'll have
Merimee's letters. It was the woman who published them, wasn't
He caught up his armful, transferring it, on the doorstep, to a
cab which carried him to his rooms. He dined alone, hurriedly, at
a small restaurant near by, and returned at once to his books.
Late that night, as he undressed, he wondered what contemptible
impulse had forced from him his last words to Alexa Trent. It was
bad enough to interfere with the girl's chances by hanging about
her to the obvious exclusion of other men, but it was worse to
seem to justify his weakness by dressing up the future in delusive
ambiguities. He saw himself sinking from depth to depth of
sentimental cowardice in his reluctance to renounce his hold on
her; and it filled him with self-disgust to think that the highest
feeling of which he supposed himself capable was blent with such
His awakening was hardly cheered by the sight of her writing. He
tore her note open and took in the few lines--she seldom exceeded
the first page--with the lucidity of apprehension that is the
forerunner of evil.
"My aunt sails on Saturday and I must give her my answer the day
after to-morrow. Please don't come till then--I want to think the
question over by myself. I know I ought to go. Won't you help me
to be reasonable?"
It was settled, then. Well, he would be reasonable; he wouldn't
stand in her way; he would let her go. For two years he had been
living some other, luckier man's life; the time had come when he
must drop back into his own. He no longer tried to look ahead, to
grope his way through the endless labyrinth of his material
difficulties; a sense of dull resignation closed in on him like a
"Hullo, Glennard!" a voice said, as an electric-car, late that
afternoon, dropped him at an uptown corner.
He looked up and met the interrogative smile of Barton Flamel, who
stood on the curbstone watching the retreating car with the eye of
a man philosophic enough to remember that it will be followed by
Glennard felt his usual impulse of pleasure at meeting Flamel; but
it was not in this case curtailed by the reaction of contempt that
habitually succeeded it. Probably even the few men who had known
Flamel since his youth could have given no good reason for the
vague mistrust that he inspired. Some people are judged by their
actions, others by their ideas; and perhaps the shortest way of
defining Flamel is to say that his well-known leniency of view was
vaguely divined to include himself. Simple minds may have
resented the discovery that his opinions were based on his
perceptions; but there was certainly no more definite charge
against him than that implied in the doubt as to how he would
behave in an emergency, and his company was looked upon as one of
those mildly unwholesome dissipations to which the prudent may
occasionally yield. It now offered itself to Glennard as an easy
escape from the obsession of moral problems, which somehow could
no more be worn in Flamel's presence than a surplice in the
"Where are you going? To the club?" Flamel asked; adding, as the
younger man assented, "Why not come to my studio instead? You'll
see one bore instead of twenty."
The apartment which Flamel described as his studio showed, as its
one claim to the designation, a perennially empty easel; the rest
of its space being filled with the evidences of a comprehensive
dilettanteism. Against this background, which seemed the visible
expression of its owner's intellectual tolerance, rows of fine
books detached themselves with a prominence, showing them to be
Flamel's chief care.
Glennard glanced with the eye of untrained curiosity at the lines
of warm-toned morocco, while his host busied himself with the
uncorking of Apollinaris.
"You've got a splendid lot of books," he said.
"They're fairly decent," the other assented, in the curt tone of
the collector who will not talk of his passion for fear of talking
of nothing else; then, as Glennard, his hands in his pockets,
began to stroll perfunctorily down the long line of bookcases--
"Some men," Flamel irresistibly added, "think of books merely as
tools, others as tooling. I'm between the two; there are days
when I use them as scenery, other days when I want them as
society; so that, as you see, my library represents a makeshift
compromise between looks and brains, and the collectors look down
on me almost as much as the students."
Glennard, without answering, was mechanically taking one book
after another from the shelves. His hands slipped curiously over
the smooth covers and the noiseless subsidence of opening pages.
Suddenly he came on a thin volume of faded manuscript.
"What's this?" he asked, with a listless sense of wonder.
"Ah, you're at my manuscript shelf. I've been going in for that
sort of thing lately." Flamel came up and looked over his
shoulders. "That's a bit of Stendhal--one of the Italian stories--
and here are some letters of Balzac to Madame Commanville."
Glennard took the book with sudden eagerness. "Who was Madame
"His sister." He was conscious that Flamel was looking at him
with the smile that was like an interrogation point. "I didn't
know you cared for this kind of thing."
"I don't--at least I've never had the chance. Have you many
collections of letters?"
"Lord, no--very few. I'm just beginning, and most of the
interesting ones are out of my reach. Here's a queer little
collection, though--the rarest thing I've got--half a dozen of
Shelley's letters to Harriet Westbrook. I had a devil of a time
getting them--a lot of collectors were after them."
Glennard, taking the volume from his hand, glanced with a kind of
repugnance at the interleaving of yellow cris-crossed sheets.
"She was the one who drowned herself, wasn't she?"
Flamel nodded. "I suppose that little episode adds about fifty
per cent. to their value," he said, meditatively.
Glennard laid the book down. He wondered why he had joined
Flamel. He was in no humor to be amused by the older man's talk,
and a recrudescence of personal misery rose about him like an icy
"I believe I must take myself off," he said. "I'd forgotten an
He turned to go; but almost at the same moment he was conscious of
a duality of intention wherein his apparent wish to leave revealed
itself as a last effort of the will against the overmastering
desire to stay and unbosom himself to Flamel.
The older man, as though divining the conflict, laid a detaining
pressure on his arm.
"Won't the engagement keep? Sit down and try one of these cigars.
I don't often have the luck of seeing you here."
"I'm rather driven just now," said Glennard, vaguely. He found
himself seated again, and Flamel had pushed to his side a low
stand holding a bottle of Apollinaris and a decanter of cognac.
Flamel, thrown back in his capacious arm-chair, surveyed him
through a cloud of smoke with the comfortable tolerance of the man
to whom no inconsistencies need be explained. Connivance was
implicit in the air. It was the kind of atmosphere in which the
outrageous loses its edge. Glennard felt a gradual relaxing of
"I suppose one has to pay a lot for letters like that?" he heard
himself asking, with a glance in the direction of the volume he
had laid aside.
"Oh, so-do--depends on circumstances." Flamel viewed him
thoughtfully. "Are you thinking of collecting?"
Glennard laughed. "Lord, no. The other way round."
"Oh, I hardly know. I was thinking of a poor chap--"
Flamel filled the pause with a nod of interest.
"A poor chap I used to know--who died--he died last year--and who
left me a lot of letters, letters he thought a great deal of--he
was fond of me and left 'em to me outright, with the idea, I
suppose, that they might benefit me somehow--I don't know--I'm not
much up on such things--" he reached his hand to the tall glass
his host had filled.
"A collection of autograph letters, eh? Any big names?"
"Oh, only one name. They're all letters written to him--by one
person, you understand; a woman, in fact--"
"Oh, a woman," said Flamel, negligently.
Glennard was nettled by his obvious loss of interest. "I rather
think they'd attract a good deal of notice if they were
Flamel still looked uninterested. "Love-letters, I suppose?"
"Oh, just--the letters a woman would write to a man she knew well.
They were tremendous friends, he and she."
"And she wrote a clever letter?"
"Clever? It was Margaret Aubyn."
A great silence filled the room. It seemed to Glennard that the
words had burst from him as blood gushes from a wound.
"Great Scott!" said Flamel, sitting up. "A collection of Margaret
Aubyn's letters? Did you say YOU had them?"
"They were left me--by my friend."
"I see. Was he--well, no matter. You're to be congratulated, at
any rate. What are you going to do with them?"
Glennard stood up with a sense of weariness in all his bones.
"Oh, I don't know. I haven't thought much about it. I just
happened to see that some fellow was writing her life--"
"Joslin; yes. You didn't think of giving them to him?"
Glennard had lounged across the room and stood staring up at a
bronze Bacchus who drooped his garlanded head above the pediment
of an Italian cabinet. "What ought I to do? You're just the
fellow to advise me." He felt the blood in his cheek as he spoke.
Flamel sat with meditative eye. "What do you WANT to do with
them?" he asked.
"I want to publish them," said Glennard, swinging round with
sudden energy--"If I can--"
"If you can? They're yours, you say?"
"They're mine fast enough. There's no one to prevent--I mean
there are no restrictions--" he was arrested by the sense that
these accumulated proofs of impunity might precisely stand as the
strongest check on his action.
"And Mrs. Aubyn had no family, I believe?"
"Then I don't see who's to interfere," said Flamel, studying his
Glennard had turned his unseeing stare on an ecstatic Saint
Catherine framed in tarnished gilding.
"It's just this way," he began again, with an effort. "When
letters are as personal as--as these of my friend's. . . . Well,
I don't mind telling you that the cash would make a heap of
difference to me; such a lot that it rather obscures my judgment--
the fact is if I could lay my hand on a few thousands now I could
get into a big thing, and without appreciable risk; and I'd like
to know whether you think I'd be justified--under the
circumstances. . . ." He paused, with a dry throat. It seemed to
him at the moment that it would be impossible for him ever to sink
lower in his own estimation. He was in truth less ashamed of
weighing the temptation than of submitting his scruples to a man
like Flamel, and affecting to appeal to sentiments of delicacy on
the absence of which he had consciously reckoned. But he had
reached a point where each word seemed to compel another, as each
wave in a stream is forced forward by the pressure behind it; and
before Flamel could speak he had faltered out--"You don't think
people could say . . . could criticise the man. . . ."
"But the man's dead, isn't he?"
"He's dead--yes; but can I assume the responsibility without--"
Flamel hesitated; and almost immediately Glennard's scruples gave
way to irritation. If at this hour Flamel were to affect an
The older man's answer reassured him. "Why need you assume any
responsibility? Your name won't appear, of course; and as to your
friend's, I don't see why his should, either. He wasn't a
celebrity himself, I suppose?"
"Then the letters can be addressed to Mr. Blank. Doesn't that
make it all right?"
Glennard's hesitation revived. "For the public, yes. But I don't
see that it alters the case for me. The question is, ought I to
publish them at all?"
"Of course you ought to." Flamel spoke with invigorating
emphasis. "I doubt if you'd be justified in keeping them back.
Anything of Margaret Aubyn's is more or less public property by
this time. She's too great for any one of us. I was only
wondering how you could use them to the best advantage--to
yourself, I mean. How many are there?"
"Oh, a lot; perhaps a hundred--I haven't counted. There may be
more. . . ."
"Gad! What a haul! When were they written?"
"I don't know--that is--they corresponded for years. What's the
odds?" He moved toward his hat with a vague impulse of flight.
"It all counts," said Flamel, imperturbably. "A long
correspondence--one, I mean, that covers a great deal of time--is
obviously worth more than if the same number of letters had been
written within a year. At any rate, you won't give them to
Joslin? They'd fill a book, wouldn't they?"
"I suppose so. I don't know how much it takes to fill a book."
"Not love-letters, you say?"
"Why?" flashed from Glennard.
"Oh, nothing--only the big public is sentimental, and if they
WERE--why, you could get any money for Margaret Aubyn's love-
Glennard was silent.
"Are the letters interesting in themselves? I mean apart from the
association with her name?"
"I'm no judge." Glennard took up his hat and thrust himself into
his overcoat. "I dare say I sha'n't do anything about it. And,
Flamel--you won't mention this to anyone?"
"Lord, no. Well, I congratulate you. You've got a big thing."
Flamel was smiling at him from the hearth.
Glennard, on the threshold, forced a response to the smile, while
he questioned with loitering indifference--"Financially, eh?"
"Rather; I should say so."
Glennard's hand lingered on the knob. "How much--should you say?
You know about such things."
"Oh, I should have to see the letters; but I should say--well, if
you've got enough to fill a book and they're fairly readable, and
the book is brought out at the right time--say ten thousand down
from the publisher, and possibly one or two more in royalties. If
you got the publishers bidding against each other you might do
even better; but of course I'm talking in the dark."
"Of course," said Glennard, with sudden dizziness. His hand had
slipped from the knob and he stood staring down at the exotic
spirals of the Persian rug beneath his feet.
"I'd have to see the letters," Flamel repeated.
"Of course--you'd have to see them. . . ." Glennard stammered;
and, without turning, he flung over his shoulder an inarticulate
"Good-by. . . ."
The little house, as Glennard strolled up to it between the trees,
seemed no more than a gay tent pitched against the sunshine. It
had the crispness of a freshly starched summer gown, and the
geraniums on the veranda bloomed as simultaneously as the flowers
in a bonnet. The garden was prospering absurdly. Seed they had
sown at random--amid laughing counter-charges of incompetence--had
shot up in fragrant defiance of their blunders. He smiled to see
the clematis unfolding its punctual wings about the porch. The
tiny lawn was smooth as a shaven cheek, and a crimson rambler
mounted to the nursery-window of a baby who never cried. A breeze
shook the awning above the tea-table, and his wife, as he drew
near, could be seen bending above a kettle that was just about to
boil. So vividly did the whole scene suggest the painted bliss of
a stage setting, that it would have been hardly surprising to see
her step forward among the flowers and trill out her virtuous
happiness from the veranda-rail.
The stale heat of the long day in town, the dusty promiscuity of
the suburban train were now but the requisite foil to an evening
of scented breezes and tranquil talk. They had been married more
than a year, and each home-coming still reflected the freshness of
their first day together. If, indeed, their happiness had a flaw,
it was in resembling too closely the bright impermanence of their
surroundings. Their love as yet was but the gay tent of holiday-
His wife looked up with a smile. The country life suited her, and
her beauty had gained depth from a stillness in which certain
faces might have grown opaque.
"Are you very tired?" she asked, pouring his tea.
"Just enough to enjoy this." He rose from the chair in which he
had thrown himself and bent over the tray for his cream. "You've
had a visitor?" he commented, noticing a half-empty cup beside her
"Only Mr. Flamel," she said, indifferently.
She answered without show of surprise. "He left just now. His
yacht is down at Laurel Bay and he borrowed a trap of the Dreshams
to drive over here."
Glennard made no comment, and she went on, leaning her head back
against the cushions of her bamboo-seat, "He wants us to go for a
sail with him next Sunday."
Glennard meditatively stirred his tea. He was trying to think of
the most natural and unartificial thing to say, and his voice
seemed to come from the outside, as though he were speaking behind
a marionette. "Do you want to?"
"Just as you please," she said, compliantly. No affectation of
indifference could have been as baffling as her compliance.
Glennard, of late, was beginning to feel that the surface which, a
year ago, he had taken for a sheet of clear glass, might, after
all, be a mirror reflecting merely his own conception of what lay
"Do you like Flamel?" he suddenly asked; to which, still engaged
with her tea, she returned the feminine answer--"I thought you
"I do, of course," he agreed, vexed at his own incorrigible
tendency to magnify Flamel's importance by hovering about the
topic. "A sail would be rather jolly; let's go."
She made no reply and he drew forth the rolled-up evening papers
which he had thrust into his pocket on leaving the train. As he
smoothed them out his own countenance seemed to undergo the same
process. He ran his eye down the list of stocks and Flamel's
importunate personality receded behind the rows of figures pushing
forward into notice like so many bearers of good news. Glennard's
investments were flowering like his garden: the dryest shares
blossomed into dividends, and a golden harvest awaited his sickle.
He glanced at his wife with the tranquil air of the man who
digests good luck as naturally as the dry ground absorbs a shower.
"Things are looking uncommonly well. I believe we shall be able
to go to town for two or three months next winter if we can find
She smiled luxuriously: it was pleasant to be able to say, with an
air of balancing relative advantages, "Really, on the baby's
account I shall be almost sorry; but if we do go, there's Kate
Erskine's house . . . she'll let us have it for almost nothing. . . ."
"Well, write her about it," he recommended, his eyes travelling on
in search of the weather report. He had turned to the wrong page;
and suddenly a line of black characters leapt out at him as from
"'Margaret Aubyn's Letters.' Two volumes. Out to-day. First
edition of five thousand sold out before leaving the press.
Second edition ready next week. THE BOOK OF THE YEAR. . . ."
He looked up stupidly. His wife still sat with her head thrown
back, her pure profile detached against the cushions. She was
smiling a little over the prospect his last words had opened.
Behind her head shivers of sun and shade ran across the striped
awning. A row of maples and a privet hedge hid their neighbor's
gables, giving them undivided possession of their leafy half-acre;
and life, a moment before, had been like their plot of ground,
shut off, hedged in from importunities, impenetrably his and hers.
Now it seemed to him that every maple-leaf, every privet-bud, was
a relentless human gaze, pressing close upon their privacy. It
was as though they sat in a brightly lit room, uncurtained from a
darkness full of hostile watchers. . . . His wife still smiled;
and her unconsciousness of danger seemed, in some horrible way, to
put her beyond the reach of rescue. . . .
He had not known that it would be like this. After the first
odious weeks, spent in preparing the letters for publication, in
submitting them to Flamel, and in negotiating with the publishers,
the transaction had dropped out of his consciousness into that
unvisited limbo to which we relegate the deeds we would rather not
have done but have no notion of undoing. From the moment he had
obtained Miss Trent's promise not to sail with her aunt he had
tried to imagine himself irrevocably committed. After that, he
argued, his first duty was to her--she had become his conscience.
The sum obtained from the publishers by Flamel's adroit
manipulations and opportunely transferred to Dinslow's successful
venture, already yielded a return which, combined with Glennard's
professional earnings, took the edge of compulsion from their way
of living, making it appear the expression of a graceful
preference for simplicity. It was the mitigated poverty which can
subscribe to a review or two and have a few flowers on the dinner-
table. And already in a small way Glennard was beginning to feel
the magnetic quality of prosperity. Clients who had passed his
door in the hungry days sought it out now that it bore the name of
a successful man. It was understood that a small inheritance,
cleverly invested, was the source of his fortune; and there was a
feeling that a man who could do so well for himself was likely to
know how to turn over other people's money.
But it was in the more intimate reward of his wife's happiness
that Glennard tasted the full flavor of success. Coming out of
conditions so narrow that those he offered her seemed spacious,
she fitted into her new life without any of those manifest efforts
at adjustment that are as sore to a husband's pride as the
critical rearrangement of the bridal furniture. She had given
him, instead, the delicate pleasure of watching her expand like a
sea-creature restored to its element, stretching out the atrophied
tentacles of girlish vanity and enjoyment to the rising tide of
opportunity. And somehow--in the windowless inner cell of his
consciousness where self-criticism cowered--Glennard's course
seemed justified by its merely material success. How could such a
crop of innocent blessedness have sprung from tainted soil?
Now he had the injured sense of a man entrapped into a
disadvantageous bargain. He had not known it would be like this;
and a dull anger gathered at his heart. Anger against whom?
Against his wife, for not knowing what he suffered? Against
Flamel, for being the unconscious instrument of his wrong-doing?
Or against that mute memory to which his own act had suddenly
given a voice of accusation? Yes, that was it; and his punishment
henceforth would be the presence, the unescapable presence, of the
woman he had so persistently evaded. She would always be there
now. It was as though he had married her instead of the other.
It was what she had always wanted--to be with him--and she had
gained her point at last. . . .
He sprang up, as though in an impulse of flight. . . . The sudden
movement lifted his wife's lids, and she asked, in the incurious
voice of the woman whose life is enclosed in a magic circle of
"No--none--" he said, roused to a sense of immediate peril. The
papers lay scattered at his feet--what if she were to see them?
He stretched his arm to gather them up, but his next thought
showed him the futility of such concealment. The same
advertisement would appear every day, for weeks to come, in every
newspaper; how could he prevent her seeing it? He could not
always be hiding the papers from her. . . . Well, and what if she
did see it? It would signify nothing to her, the chances were
that she would never even read the book. . . . As she ceased to
be an element of fear in his calculations the distance between
them seemed to lessen and he took her again, as it were, into the
circle of his conjugal protection. . . . Yet a moment before he
had almost hated her! . . . He laughed aloud at his senseless
terrors. . . . He was off his balance, decidedly.
"What are you laughing at?" she asked.
He explained, elaborately, that he was laughing at the
recollection of an old woman in the train, an old woman with a lot
of bundles, who couldn't find her ticket. . . . But somehow, in
the telling, the humor of the story seemed to evaporate, and he
felt the conventionality of her smile. He glanced at his watch,
"Isn't it time to dress?"
She rose with serene reluctance. "It's a pity to go in. The
garden looks so lovely."
They lingered side by side, surveying their domain. There was not
space in it, at this hour, for the shadow of the elm-tree in the
angle of the hedge; it crossed the lawn, cut the flower-border in
two, and ran up the side of the house to the nursery window. She
bent to flick a caterpillar from the honey-suckle; then, as they
turned indoors, "If we mean to go on the yacht next Sunday," she
suggested, "oughtn't you to let Mr. Flamel know?"
Glennard's exasperation deflected suddenly. "Of course I shall
let him know. You always seem to imply that I'm going to do
something rude to Flamel."
The words reverberated through her silence; she had a way of thus
leaving one space in which to contemplate one's folly at arm's
length. Glennard turned on his heel and went upstairs. As he
dropped into a chair before his dressing-table he said to himself
that in the last hour he had sounded the depths of his humiliation
and that the lowest dregs of it, the very bottom-slime, was the
hateful necessity of having always, as long as the two men lived,
to be civil to Barton Flamel.
THE week in town had been sultry, and the men, in the Sunday
emancipation of white flannel and duck, filled the deck-chairs of
the yacht with their outstretched apathy, following, through a
mist of cigarette-smoke, the flitting inconsequences of the women.
The part was a small one--Flamel had few intimate friends--but
composed of more heterogeneous atoms than the little pools into
which society usually runs. The reaction from the chief episode
of his earlier life had bred in Glennard an uneasy distaste for
any kind of personal saliency. Cleverness was useful in business;
but in society it seemed to him as futile as the sham cascades
formed by a stream that might have been used to drive a mill. He
liked the collective point of view that goes with the civilized
uniformity of dress-clothes, and his wife's attitude implied the
same preference; yet they found themselves slipping more and more
into Flamel's intimacy. Alexa had once or twice said that she
enjoyed meeting clever people; but her enjoyment took the negative
form of a smiling receptivity; and Glennard felt a growing
preference for the kind of people who have their thinking done for
them by the community.
Still, the deck of the yacht was a pleasant refuge from the heat
on shore, and his wife's profile, serenely projected against the
changing blue, lay on his retina like a cool hand on the nerves.
He had never been more impressed by the kind of absoluteness that
lifted her beauty above the transient effects of other women,
making the most harmonious face seem an accidental collocation of
The ladies who directly suggested this comparison were of a kind
accustomed to take similar risks with more gratifying results.
Mrs. Armiger had in fact long been the triumphant alternative of
those who couldn't "see" Alexa Glennard's looks; and Mrs.
Touchett's claims to consideration were founded on that
distribution of effects which is the wonder of those who admire a
highly cultivated country. The third lady of the trio which
Glennard's fancy had put to such unflattering uses, was bound by
circumstances to support the claims of the other two. This was
Mrs. Dresham, the wife of the editor of the Radiator. Mrs.
Dresham was a lady who had rescued herself from social obscurity
by assuming the role of her husband's exponent and interpreter;
and Dresham's leisure being devoted to the cultivation of
remarkable women, his wife's attitude committed her to the public
celebration of their remarkableness. For the conceivable tedium
of this duty, Mrs. Dresham was repaid by the fact that there were
people who took HER for a remarkable woman; and who in turn
probably purchased similar distinction with the small change of
her reflected importance. As to the other ladies of the party,
they were simply the wives of some of the men--the kind of women
who expect to be talked to collectively and to have their
questions left unanswered.
Mrs. Armiger, the latest embodiment of Dresham's instinct for the
remarkable, was an innocent beauty who for years had distilled
dulness among a set of people now self-condemned by their
inability to appreciate her. Under Dresham's tutelage she had
developed into a "thoughtful woman," who read his leaders in the
Radiator and bought the books he recommended. When a new novel
appeared, people wanted to know what Mrs. Armiger thought of it;
and a young gentleman who had made a trip in Touraine had recently
inscribed to her the wide-margined result of his explorations.
Glennard, leaning back with his head against the rail and a slit
of fugitive blue between his half-closed lids, vaguely wished she
wouldn't spoil the afternoon by making people talk; though he
reduced his annoyance to the minimum by not listening to what was
said, there remained a latent irritation against the general
futility of words.
His wife's gift of silence seemed to him the most vivid commentary
on the clumsiness of speech as a means of intercourse, and his
eyes had turned to her in renewed appreciation of this finer
faculty when Mrs. Armiger's voice abruptly brought home to him the
underrated potentialities of language.
"You've read them, of course, Mrs. Glennard?" he heard her ask;
and, in reply to Alexa's vague interrogation--"Why, the 'Aubyn
Letters'--it's the only book people are talking of this week."
Mrs. Dresham immediately saw her advantage. "You HAVEN'T read
them? How very extraordinary! As Mrs. Armiger says, the book's
in the air; one breathes it in like the influenza."
Glennard sat motionless, watching his wife.
"Perhaps it hasn't reached the suburbs yet," she said, with her
"Oh, DO let me come to you, then!" Mrs. Touchett cried; "anything
for a change of air! I'm positively sick of the book and I can't
put it down. Can't you sail us beyond its reach, Mr. Flamel?"
Flamel shook his head. "Not even with this breeze. Literature
travels faster than steam nowadays. And the worst of it is that
we can't any of us give up reading; it's as insidious as a vice
and as tiresome as a virtue."
"I believe it IS a vice, almost, to read such a book as the
'Letters,'" said Mrs. Touchett. "It's the woman's soul,
absolutely torn up by the roots--her whole self laid bare; and to
a man who evidently didn't care; who couldn't have cared. I don't
mean to read another line; it's too much like listening at a
"But if she wanted it published?"
"Wanted it? How do we know she did?"
"Why, I heard she'd left the letters to the man--whoever he is--
with directions that they should be published after his death--"
"I don't believe it," Mrs. Touchett declared.
"He's dead then, is he?" one of the men asked.
"Why, you don't suppose if he were alive he could ever hold up his
head again, with these letters being read by everybody?" Mrs.
Touchett protested. "It must have been horrible enough to know
they'd been written to him; but to publish them! No man could
have done it and no woman could have told him to--"
"Oh, come, come," Dresham judicially interposed; "after all,
they're not love-letters."
"No--that's the worst of it; they're unloved letters," Mrs.
"Then, obviously, she needn't have written them; whereas the man,
poor devil, could hardly help receiving them."
"Perhaps he counted on the public to save him the trouble of
reading them," said young Hartly, who was in the cynical stage.
Mrs. Armiger turned her reproachful loveliness to Dresham. "From
the way you defend him, I believe you know who he is."
Everyone looked at Dresham, and his wife smiled with the superior
air of the woman who is in her husband's professional secrets.
Dresham shrugged his shoulders.
"What have I said to defend him?"
"You called him a poor devil--you pitied him."
"A man who could let Margaret Aubyn write to him in that way? Of
course I pity him."
"Then you MUST know who he is," cried Mrs. Armiger, with a
triumphant air of penetration.
Hartly and Flamel laughed and Dresham shook his head. "No one
knows; not even the publishers; so they tell me at least."
"So they tell you to tell us," Hartly astutely amended; and Mrs.
Armiger added, with the appearance of carrying the argument a
point farther, "But even if HE'S dead and SHE'S dead, somebody
must have given the letters to the publishers."
"A little bird, probably," said Dresham, smiling indulgently on
"A little bird of prey then--a vulture, I should say--" another
"Oh, I'm not with you there," said Dresham, easily. "Those
letters belonged to the public."
"How can any letters belong to the public that weren't written to
the public?" Mrs. Touchett interposed.
"Well, these were, in a sense. A personality as big as Margaret
Aubyn's belongs to the world. Such a mind is part of the general
fund of thought. It's the penalty of greatness--one becomes a
monument historique. Posterity pays the cost of keeping one up,
but on condition that one is always open to the public."
"I don't see that that exonerates the man who gives up the keys of
the sanctuary, as it were."
"Who WAS he?" another voice inquired.
"Who was he? Oh, nobody, I fancy--the letter-box, the slit in the
wall through which the letters passed to posterity. . . ."
"But she never meant them for posterity!"
"A woman shouldn't write such letters if she doesn't mean them to
be published. . . ."
"She shouldn't write them to such a man!" Mrs. Touchett scornfully
"I never keep letters," said Mrs. Armiger, under the obvious
impression that she was contributing a valuable point to the
There was a general laugh, and Flamel, who had not spoken, said,
lazily, "You women are too incurably subjective. I venture to say
that most men would see in those letters merely their immense
literary value, their significance as documents. The personal
side doesn't count where there's so much else."
"Oh, we all know you haven't any principles," Mrs. Armiger
declared; and Alexa Glennard, lifting an indolent smile, said: "I
shall never write you a love-letter, Mr. Flamel."
Glennard moved away impatiently. Such talk was as tedious as the
buzzing of gnats. He wondered why his wife had wanted to drag him
on such a senseless expedition. . . . He hated Flamel's crowd--
and what business had Flamel himself to interfere in that way,
standing up for the publication of the letters as though Glennard
needed his defence? . . .
Glennard turned his head and saw that Flamel had drawn a seat to
Alexa's elbow and was speaking to her in a low tone. The other
groups had scattered, straying in twos along the deck. It came
over Glennard that he should never again be able to see Flamel
speaking to his wife without the sense of sick mistrust that now
loosened his joints. . . .
Alexa, the next morning, over their early breakfast, surprised her
husband by an unexpected request.
"Will you bring me those letters from town?" she asked.
"What letters?" he said, putting down his cup. He felt himself as
helplessly vulnerable as a man who is lunged at in the dark.
"Mrs. Aubyn's. The book they were all talking about yesterday."
Glennard, carefully measuring his second cup of tea, said, with
deliberation, "I didn't know you cared about that sort of thing."
She was, in fact, not a great reader, and a new book seldom
reached her till it was, so to speak, on the home stretch; but she
replied, with a gentle tenacity, "I think it would interest me
because I read her life last year."
"Her life? Where did you get that?"
"Someone lent it to me when it came out--Mr. Flamel, I think."
His first impulse was to exclaim, "Why the devil do you borrow
books of Flamel? I can buy you all you want--" but he felt
himself irresistibly forced into an attitude of smiling
compliance. "Flamel always has the newest books going, hasn't he?
You must be careful, by the way, about returning what he lends
you. He's rather crotchety about his library."
"Oh, I'm always very careful," she said, with a touch of
competence that struck him; and she added, as he caught up his
hat: "Don't forget the letters."
Why had she asked for the book? Was her sudden wish to see it the
result of some hint of Flamel's? The thought turned Glennard
sick, but he preserved sufficient lucidity to tell himself, a
moment later, that his last hope of self-control would be lost if
he yielded to the temptation of seeing a hidden purpose in
everything she said and did. How much Flamel guessed, he had no
means of divining; nor could he predicate, from what he knew of
the man, to what use his inferences might be put. The very
qualities that had made Flamel a useful adviser made him the most
dangerous of accomplices. Glennard felt himself agrope among
alien forces that his own act had set in motion. . . .
Alexa was a woman of few requirements; but her wishes, even in
trifles, had a definiteness that distinguished them from the fluid
impulses of her kind. He knew that, having once asked for the
book, she would not forget it; and he put aside, as an ineffectual
expedient, his momentary idea of applying for it at the
circulating library and telling her that all the copies were out.
If the book was to be bought it had better be bought at once. He
left his office earlier than usual and turned in at the first
book-shop on his way to the train. The show-window was stacked
with conspicuously lettered volumes. "Margaret Aubyn" flashed
back at him in endless repetition. He plunged into the shop and
came on a counter where the name reiterated itself on row after
row of bindings. It seemed to have driven the rest of literature
to the back shelves. He caught up a copy, tossing the money to an
astonished clerk who pursued him to the door with the unheeded
offer to wrap up the volumes.
In the street he was seized with a sudden apprehension. What if
he were to meet Flamel? The thought was intolerable. He called a
cab and drove straight to the station where, amid the palm-leaf
fans of a perspiring crowd, he waited a long half-hour for his
train to start.
He had thrust a volume in either pocket and in the train he dared
not draw them out; but the detested words leaped at him from the
folds of the evening paper. The air seemed full of Margaret
Aubyn's name. The motion of the train set it dancing up and down
on the page of a magazine that a man in front of him was reading. . . .
At the door he was told that Mrs. Glennard was still out, and he
went upstairs to his room and dragged the books from his pocket.
They lay on the table before him like live things that he feared
to touch. . . . At length he opened the first volume. A familiar
letter sprang out at him, each word quickened by its glaring garb
of type. The little broken phrases fled across the page like
wounded animals in the open. . . . It was a horrible sight. . . .
A battue of helpless things driven savagely out of shelter. He
had not known it would be like this. . . .
He understood now that, at the moment of selling the letters, he
had viewed the transaction solely as it affected himself: as an
unfortunate blemish on an otherwise presentable record. He had
scarcely considered the act in relation to Margaret Aubyn; for
death, if it hallows, also makes innocuous. Glennard's God was a
god of the living, of the immediate, the actual, the tangible; all
his days he had lived in the presence of that god, heedless of the
divinities who, below the surface of our deeds and passions,
silently forge the fatal weapons of the dead.
A knock roused him and looking up he saw his wife. He met her
glance in silence, and she faltered out, "Are you ill?"
The words restored his self-possession. "Ill? Of course not.
They told me you were out and I came upstairs."
The books lay between them on the table; he wondered when she
would see them. She lingered tentatively on the threshold, with
the air of leaving his explanation on his hands. She was not the
kind of woman who could be counted on to fortify an excuse by
appearing to dispute it.
"Where have you been?" Glennard asked, moving forward so that he
obstructed her vision of the books.
"I walked over to the Dreshams for tea."
"I can't think what you see in those people," he said with a
shrug; adding, uncontrollably--"I suppose Flamel was there?"
"No; he left on the yacht this morning."
An answer so obstructing to the natural escape of his irritation
left Glennard with no momentary resource but that of strolling
impatiently to the window. As her eyes followed him they lit on
"Ah, you've brought them! I'm so glad," she exclaimed.
He answered over his shoulder, "For a woman who never reads you
make the most astounding exceptions!"
Her smile was an exasperating concession to the probability that
it had been hot in town or that something had bothered him.
"Do you mean it's not nice to want to read the book?" she asked.
"It was not nice to publish it, certainly; but after all, I'm not
responsible for that, am I?" She paused, and, as he made no
answer, went on, still smiling, "I do read sometimes, you know;
and I'm very fond of Margaret Aubyn's books. I was reading
'Pomegranate Seed' when we first met. Don't you remember? It was
then you told me all about her."
Glennard had turned back into the room and stood staring at his
wife. "All about her?" he repeated, and with the words
remembrance came to him. He had found Miss Trent one afternoon
with the novel in her hand, and moved by the lover's fatuous
impulse to associate himself in some way with whatever fills the
mind of the beloved, had broken through his habitual silence about
the past. Rewarded by the consciousness of figuring impressively
in Miss Trent's imagination he had gone on from one anecdote to
another, reviving dormant details of his old Hillbridge life, and
pasturing his vanity on the eagerness with which she received his
reminiscences of a being already clothed in the impersonality of
The incident had left no trace in his mind; but it sprang up now
like an old enemy, the more dangerous for having been forgotten.
The instinct of self-preservation--sometimes the most perilous
that man can exercise--made him awkwardly declare--"Oh, I used to
see her at people's houses, that was all;" and her silence as
usual leaving room for a multiplication of blunders, he added,
with increased indifference, "I simply can't see what you can find
to interest you in such a book."
She seemed to consider this intently. "You've read it, then?"
"I glanced at it--I never read such things."
"Is it true that she didn't wish the letters to be published?"
Glennard felt the sudden dizziness of the mountaineer on a narrow
ledge, and with it the sense that he was lost if he looked more
than a step ahead.
"I'm sure I don't know," he said; then, summoning a smile, he
passed his hand through her arm. "I didn't have tea at the
Dreshams, you know; won't you give me some now?" he suggested.
That evening Glennard, under pretext of work to be done, shut
himself into the small study opening off the drawing-room. As he
gathered up his papers he said to his wife: "You're not going to
sit indoors on such a night as this? I'll join you presently
But she had drawn her armchair to the lamp. "I want to look at my
book," she said, taking up the first volume of the "Letters."
Glennard, with a shrug, withdrew into the study. "I'm going to
shut the door; I want to be quiet," he explained from the
threshold; and she nodded without lifting her eyes from the book.
He sank into a chair, staring aimlessly at the outspread papers.
How was he to work, while on the other side of the door she sat
with that volume in her hand? The door did not shut her out--he
saw her distinctly, felt her close to him in a contact as painful
as the pressure on a bruise.
The sensation was part of the general strangeness that made him
feel like a man waking from a long sleep to find himself in an
unknown country among people of alien tongue. We live in our own
souls as in an unmapped region, a few acres of which we have
cleared for our habitation; while of the nature of those nearest
us we know but the boundaries that march with ours. Of the points
in his wife's character not in direct contact with his own,
Glennard now discerned his ignorance; and the baffling sense of
her remoteness was intensified by the discovery that, in one way,
she was closer to him than ever before. As one may live for years
in happy unconsciousness of the possession of a sensitive nerve,
he had lived beside his wife unaware that her individuality had
become a part of the texture of his life, ineradicable as some
growth on a vital organ; and he now felt himself at once incapable
of forecasting her judgment and powerless to evade its effects.
To escape, the next morning, the confidences of the breakfast-
table, he went to town earlier than usual. His wife, who read
slowly, was given to talking over what she read, and at present
his first object in life was to postpone the inevitable discussion
of the letters. This instinct of protection in the afternoon, on
his way uptown, guided him to the club in search of a man who
might be persuaded to come out to the country to dine. The only
man in the club was Flamel.
Glennard, as he heard himself almost involuntarily pressing Flamel
to come and dine, felt the full irony of the situation. To use
Flamel as a shield against his wife's scrutiny was only a shade
less humiliating than to reckon on his wife as a defence against
He felt a contradictory movement of annoyance at the latter's
ready acceptance, and the two men drove in silence to the station.
As they passed the bookstall in the waiting-room Flamel lingered a
moment and the eyes of both fell on Margaret Aubyn's name,
conspicuously displayed above a counter stacked with the familiar
"We shall be late, you know," Glennard remonstrated, pulling out
"Go ahead," said Flamel, imperturbably. "I want to get something--"
Glennard turned on his heel and walked down the platform. Flamel
rejoined him with an innocent-looking magazine in his hand; but
Glennard dared not even glance at the cover, lest it should show
the syllables he feared.
The train was full of people they knew, and they were kept apart
till it dropped them at the little suburban station. As they
strolled up the shaded hill, Glennard talked volubly, pointing out
the improvements in the neighborhood, deploring the threatened
approach of an electric railway, and screening himself by a series
of reflex adjustments from the imminent risk of any allusion to
the "Letters." Flamel suffered his discourse with the bland
inattention that we accord to the affairs of someone else's
suburb, and they reached the shelter of Alexa's tea-table without
a perceptible turn toward the dreaded topic.
The dinner passed off safely. Flamel, always at his best in
Alexa's presence, gave her the kind of attention which is like a
beaconing light thrown on the speaker's words: his answers seemed
to bring out a latent significance in her phrases, as the sculptor
draws his statue from the block. Glennard, under his wife's
composure, detected a sensibility to this manoeuvre, and the
discovery was like the lightning-flash across a nocturnal
landscape. Thus far these momentary illuminations had served only
to reveal the strangeness of the intervening country: each fresh
observation seemed to increase the sum-total of his ignorance.
Her simplicity of outline was more puzzling than a complex
surface. One may conceivably work one's way through a labyrinth;
but Alexa's candor was like a snow-covered plain where, the road
once lost, there are no landmarks to travel by.
Dinner over, they returned to the veranda, where a moon, rising
behind the old elm, was combining with that complaisant tree a
romantic enlargement of their borders. Glennard had forgotten the
cigars. He went to his study to fetch them, and in passing
through the drawing-room he saw the second volume of the "Letters"
lying open on his wife's table. He picked up the book and looked
at the date of the letter she had been reading. It was one of the
last . . . he knew the few lines by heart. He dropped the book
and leaned against the wall. Why had he included that one among
the others? Or was it possible that now they would all seem like
that . . .?
Alexa's voice came suddenly out of the dusk. "May Touchett was
right--it IS like listening at a key-hole. I wish I hadn't read
Flamel returned, in the leisurely tone of the man whose phrases
are punctuated by a cigarette, "It seems so to us, perhaps; but to
another generation the book will be a classic."
"Then it ought not to have been published till it had become a
classic. It's horrible, it's degrading almost, to read the
secrets of a woman one might have known." She added, in a lower
tone, "Stephen DID know her--"
"Did he?" came from Flamel.
"He knew her very well, at Hillbridge, years ago. The book has
made him feel dreadfully . . . he wouldn't read it . . . he didn't
want me to read it. I didn't understand at first, but now I can
see how horribly disloyal it must seem to him. It's so much worse
to surprise a friend's secrets than a stranger's."
"Oh, Glennard's such a sensitive chap," Flamel said, easily; and
Alexa almost rebukingly rejoined, "If you'd known her I'm sure
you'd feel as he does. . . ."
Glennard stood motionless, overcome by the singular infelicity
with which he had contrived to put Flamel in possession of the two
points most damaging to his case: the fact that he had been a
friend of Margaret Aubyn's, and that he had concealed from Alexa
his share in the publication of the letters. To a man of less
than Flamel's astuteness it must now be clear to whom the letters
were addressed; and the possibility once suggested, nothing could
be easier than to confirm it by discreet research. An impulse of
self-accusal drove Glennard to the window. Why not anticipate
betrayal by telling his wife the truth in Flamel's presence? If
the man had a drop of decent feeling in him, such a course would
be the surest means of securing his silence; and above all, it
would rid Glennard of the necessity of defending himself against
the perpetual criticism of his wife's belief in him. . . .
The impulse was strong enough to carry him to the window; but
there a reaction of defiance set in. What had he done, after all,
to need defence and explanation? Both Dresham and Flamel had, in
his hearing, declared the publication of the letters to be not
only justifiable but obligatory; and if the disinterestedness of
Flamel's verdict might be questioned, Dresham's at least
represented the impartial view of the man of letters. As to
Alexa's words, they were simply the conventional utterance of the
"nice" woman on a question already decided for her by other "nice"
women. She had said the proper thing as mechanically as she would
have put on the appropriate gown or written the correct form of
dinner-invitation. Glennard had small faith in the abstract
judgments of the other sex; he knew that half the women who were
horrified by the publication of Mrs. Aubyn's letters would have
betrayed her secrets without a scruple.
The sudden lowering of his emotional pitch brought a proportionate
relief. He told himself that now the worst was over and things
would fall into perspective again. His wife and Flamel had turned
to other topics, and coming out on the veranda, he handed the
cigars to Flamel, saying, cheerfully--and yet he could have sworn
they were the last words he meant to utter!--"Look here, old man,
before you go down to Newport you must come out and spend a few
days with us--mustn't he, Alexa?"
Glennard had, perhaps unconsciously, counted on the continuance of
this easier mood. He had always taken pride in a certain
robustness of fibre that enabled him to harden himself against the
inevitable, to convert his failures into the building materials of
success. Though it did not even now occur to him that what he
called the inevitable had hitherto been the alternative he
happened to prefer, he was yet obscurely aware that his present
difficulty was one not to be conjured by any affectation of
indifference. Some griefs build the soul a spacious house--but in
this misery of Glennard's he could not stand upright. It pressed
against him at every turn. He told himself that this was because
there was no escape from the visible evidences of his act. The
"Letters" confronted him everywhere. People who had never opened
a book discussed them with critical reservations; to have read
them had become a social obligation in circles to which literature
never penetrates except in a personal guise.
Glennard did himself injustice. it was from the unexpected
discovery of his own pettiness that he chiefly suffered. Our
self-esteem is apt to be based on the hypothetical great act we
have never had occasion to perform; and even the most self-
scrutinizing modesty credits itself negatively with a high
standard of conduct. Glennard had never thought himself a hero;
but he had been certain that he was incapable of baseness. We all
like our wrong-doings to have a becoming cut, to be made to order,
as it were; and Glennard found himself suddenly thrust into a garb
of dishonor surely meant for a meaner figure.
The immediate result of his first weeks of wretchedness was the
resolve to go to town for the winter. He knew that such a course
was just beyond the limit of prudence; but it was easy to allay
the fears of Alexa who, scrupulously vigilant in the management of
the household, preserved the American wife's usual aloofness from
her husband's business cares. Glennard felt that he could not
trust himself to a winter's solitude with her. He had an
unspeakable dread of her learning the truth about the letters, yet
could not be sure of steeling himself against the suicidal impulse
of avowal. His very soul was parched for sympathy; he thirsted
for a voice of pity and comprehension. But would his wife pity?
Would she understand? Again he found himself brought up abruptly
against his incredible ignorance of her nature. The fact that he
knew well enough how she would behave in the ordinary emergencies
of life, that he could count, in such contingencies, on the kind
of high courage and directness he had always divined in her, made
him the more hopeless of her entering into the torturous
psychology of an act that he himself could no longer explain or
understand. It would have been easier had she been more complex,
more feminine--if he could have counted on her imaginative
sympathy or her moral obtuseness--but he was sure of neither. He
was sure of nothing but that, for a time, he must avoid her.
Glennard could not rid himself of the delusion that by and by his
action would cease to make its consequences felt. He would not
have cared to own to himself that he counted on the dulling of his
sensibilities: he preferred to indulge the vague hypothesis that
extraneous circumstances would somehow efface the blot upon his
conscience. In his worst moments of self-abasement he tried to
find solace in the thought that Flamel had sanctioned his course.
Flamel, at the outset, must have guessed to whom the letters were
addressed; yet neither then nor afterward had he hesitated to
advise their publication. This thought drew Glennard to him in
fitful impulses of friendliness, from each of which there was a
sharper reaction of distrust and aversion. When Flamel was not at
the house, he missed the support of his tacit connivance; when he
was there, his presence seemed the assertion of an intolerable
Early in the winter the Glennards took possession of the little
house that was to cost them almost nothing. The change brought
Glennard the immediate relief of seeing less of his wife, and of
being protected, in her presence, by the multiplied preoccupations
of town life. Alexa, who could never appear hurried, showed the
smiling abstraction of a pretty woman to whom the social side of
married life has not lost its novelty. Glennard, with the
recklessness of a man fresh from his first financial imprudence,
encouraged her in such little extravagances as her good sense at
first resisted. Since they had come to town, he argued, they
might as well enjoy themselves. He took a sympathetic view of the
necessity of new gowns, he gave her a set of furs at Christmas,
and before the New Year they had agreed on the obligation of
adding a parlour-maid to their small establishment.
Providence the very next day hastened to justify this measure by
placing on Glennard's breakfast-plate an envelope bearing the name
of the publishers to whom he had sold Mrs. Aubyn's letters. It
happened to be the only letter the early post had brought, and he
glanced across the table at his wife, who had come down before him
and had probably laid the envelope on his plate. She was not the
woman to ask awkward questions, but he felt the conjecture of her
glance, and he was debating whether to affect surprise at the
receipt of the letter, or to pass it off as a business
communication that had strayed to his house, when a check fell
from the envelope. It was the royalty on the first edition of the
letters. His first feeling was one of simple satisfaction. The
money had come with such infernal opportuneness that he could not
help welcoming it. Before long, too, there would be more; he knew
the book was still selling far beyond the publisher's previsions.
He put the check in his pocket and left the room without looking
at his wife.
On the way to his office the habitual reaction set in. The money
he had received was the first tangible reminder that he was living
on the sale of his self-esteem. The thought of material benefit
had been overshadowed by his sense of the intrinsic baseness of
making the letters known; now he saw what an element of sordidness
it added to the situation and how the fact that he needed the
money, and must use it, pledged him more irrevocably than ever to
the consequences of his act. It seemed to him, in that first hour
of misery, that he had betrayed his friend anew.
When, that afternoon, he reached home earlier than usual, Alexa's
drawing-room was full of a gayety that overflowed to the stairs.
Flamel, for a wonder, was not there; but Dresham and young Hartly,
grouped about the tea-table, were receiving with resonant mirth a
narrative delivered in the fluttered staccato that made Mrs.
Armiger's conversation like the ejaculations of a startled aviary.
She paused as Glennard entered, and he had time to notice that his
wife, who was busied about the tea-tray, had not joined in the
laughter of the men.
"Oh, go on, go on," young Hartly rapturously groaned; and Mrs.
Armiger met Glennard's inquiry with the deprecating cry that
really she didn't see what there was to laugh at. "I'm sure I