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The Touchstone, by Edith Wharton

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feel more like crying. I don't know what I should have done if
Alexa hadn't been home to give me a cup of tea. My nerves are in
shreds--yes, another, dear, please--" and as Glennard looked his
perplexity, she went on, after pondering on the selection of a
second lump of sugar, "Why, I've just come from the reading, you
know--the reading at the Waldorf."

"I haven't been in town long enough to know anything," said
Glennard, taking the cup his wife handed him. "Who has been
reading what?"

"That lovely girl from the South--Georgie--Georgie what's her
name--Mrs. Dresham's protegee--unless she's YOURS, Mr. Dresham!
Why, the big ball-room was PACKED, and all the women were crying
like idiots--it was the most harrowing thing I ever heard--"

"What DID you hear?" Glennard asked; and his wife interposed:
"Won't you have another bit of cake, Julia? Or, Stephen, ring for
some hot toast, please." Her tone betrayed a polite satiety of
the topic under discussion. Glennard turned to the bell, but Mrs.
Armiger pursued him with her lovely amazement.

"Why, the "Aubyn Letters"--didn't you know about it? The girl
read them so beautifully that it was quite horrible--I should have
fainted if there'd been a man near enough to carry me out."

Hartly's glee redoubled, and Dresham said, jovially, "How like you
women to raise a shriek over the book and then do all you can to
encourage the blatant publicity of the readings!"

Mrs. Armiger met him more than half-way on a torrent of self-
accusal. "It WAS horrid; it was disgraceful. I told your wife we
ought all to be ashamed of ourselves for going, and I think Alexa
was quite right to refuse to take any tickets--even if it was for
a charity."

"Oh," her hostess murmured, indifferently, "with me charity begins
at home. I can't afford emotional luxuries."

"A charity? A charity?" Hartly exulted. "I hadn't seized the
full beauty of it. Reading poor Margaret Aubyn's love-letters at
the Waldorf before five hundred people for a charity! WHAT
charity, dear Mrs. Armiger?"

"Why, the Home for Friendless Women--"

"It was well chosen," Dresham commented; and Hartly buried his
mirth in the sofa-cushions.

When they were alone Glennard, still holding his untouched cup of
tea, turned to his wife, who sat silently behind the kettle. "Who
asked you to take a ticket for that reading?"

"I don't know, really--Kate Dresham, I fancy. It was she who got
it up."

"It's just the sort of damnable vulgarity she's capable of! It's
loathsome--it's monstrous--"

His wife, without looking up, answered gravely, "I thought so too.
It was for that reason I didn't go. But you must remember that
very few people feel about Mrs. Aubyn as you do--"

Glennard managed to set down his cup with a steady hand, but the
room swung round with him and he dropped into the nearest chair.
"As I do?" he repeated.

"I mean that very few people knew her when she lived in New York.
To most of the women who went to the reading she was a mere name,
too remote to have any personality. With me, of course, it was

Glennard gave her a startled look. "Different? Why different?"

"Since you were her friend--"

"Her friend!" He stood up impatiently. "You speak as if she had
had only one--the most famous woman of her day!" He moved vaguely
about the room, bending down to look at some books on the table.
"I hope," he added, "you didn't give that as a reason, by the

"A reason?"

"For not going. A woman who gives reasons for getting out of
social obligations is sure to make herself unpopular or

The words were uncalculated; but in an instant he saw that they
had strangely bridged the distance between his wife and himself.
He felt her close on him, like a panting foe; and her answer was a
flash that showed the hand on the trigger.

"I seem," she said from the threshold, "to have done both in
giving my reason to you."

The fact that they were dining out that evening made it easy for
him to avoid Alexa till she came downstairs in her opera-cloak.
Mrs. Touchett, who was going to the same dinner, had offered to
call for her, and Glennard, refusing a precarious seat between the
ladies' draperies, followed on foot. The evening was
interminable. The reading at the Waldorf, at which all the women
had been present, had revived the discussion of the "Aubyn
Letters" and Glennard, hearing his wife questioned as to her
absence, felt himself miserably wishing that she had gone, rather
than that her staying away should have been remarked. He was
rapidly losing all sense of proportion where the "Letters" were
concerned. He could no longer hear them mentioned without
suspecting a purpose in the allusion; he even yielded himself for
a moment to the extravagance of imagining that Mrs. Dresham, whom
he disliked, had organized the reading in the hope of making him
betray himself--for he was already sure that Dresham had divined
his share in the transaction.

The attempt to keep a smooth surface on this inner tumult was as
endless and unavailing as efforts made in a nightmare. He lost
all sense of what he was saying to his neighbors and once when he
looked up his wife's glance struck him cold.

She sat nearly opposite him, at Flamel's side, and it appeared to
Glennard that they had built about themselves one of those airy
barriers of talk behind which two people can say what they please.
While the reading was discussed they were silent. Their silence
seemed to Glennard almost cynical--it stripped the last disguise
from their complicity. A throb of anger rose in him, but suddenly
it fell, and he felt, with a curious sense of relief, that at
bottom he no longer cared whether Flamel had told his wife or not.
The assumption that Flamel knew about the letters had become a
fact to Glennard; and it now seemed to him better that Alexa
should know too.

He was frightened at first by the discovery of his own
indifference. The last barriers of his will seemed to be breaking
down before a flood of moral lassitude. How could he continue to
play his part, to keep his front to the enemy, with this poison of
indifference stealing through his veins? He tried to brace
himself with the remembrance of his wife's scorn. He had not
forgotten the note on which their conversation had closed. If he
had ever wondered how she would receive the truth he wondered no
longer--she would despise him. But this lent a new insidiousness
to his temptation, since her contempt would be a refuge from his
own. He said to himself that, since he no longer cared for the
consequences, he could at least acquit himself of speaking in
self-defence. What he wanted now was not immunity but
castigation: his wife's indignation might still reconcile him to
himself. Therein lay his one hope of regeneration; her scorn was
the moral antiseptic that he needed, her comprehension the one
balm that could heal him. . . .

When they left the dinner he was so afraid of speaking that he let
her drive home alone, and went to the club with Flamel.


HE rose next morning with the resolve to know what Alexa thought
of him. It was not anchoring in a haven, but lying to in a storm--
he felt the need of a temporary lull in the turmoil of his

He came home late, for they were dining alone and he knew that
they would have the evening together. When he followed her to the
drawing-room after dinner he thought himself on the point of
speaking; but as she handed him his coffee he said, involuntarily:
"I shall have to carry this off to the study, I've got a lot of
work to-night."

Alone in the study he cursed his cowardice. What was it that had
withheld him? A certain bright unapproachableness seemed to keep
him at arm's length. She was not the kind of woman whose
compassion could be circumvented; there was no chance of slipping
past the outposts; he would never take her by surprise. Well--why
not face her, then? What he shrank from could be no worse than
what he was enduring. He had pushed back his chair and turned to
go upstairs when a new expedient presented itself. What if,
instead of telling her, he were to let her find out for herself
and watch the effect of the discovery before speaking? In this
way he made over to chance the burden of the revelation.

The idea had been suggested by the sight of the formula enclosing
the publisher's check. He had deposited the money, but the notice
accompanying it dropped from his note-case as he cleared his table
for work. It was the formula usual in such cases and revealed
clearly enough that he was the recipient of a royalty on Margaret
Aubyn's letters. It would be impossible for Alexa to read it
without understanding at once that the letters had been written to
him and that he had sold them. . . .

He sat downstairs till he heard her ring for the parlor-maid to
put out the lights; then he went up to the drawing-room with a
bundle of papers in his hand. Alexa was just rising from her seat
and the lamplight fell on the deep roll of hair that overhung her
brow like the eaves of a temple. Her face had often the high
secluded look of a shrine; and it was this touch of awe in her
beauty that now made him feel himself on the brink of sacrilege.

Lest the feeling should dominate him, he spoke at once. "I've
brought you a piece of work--a lot of old bills and things that I
want you to sort for me. Some are not worth keeping--but you'll
be able to judge of that. There may be a letter or two among
them--nothing of much account, but I don't like to throw away the
whole lot without having them looked over and I haven't time to do
it myself."

He held out the papers and she took them with a smile that seemed
to recognize in the service he asked the tacit intention of making
amends for the incident of the previous day.

"Are you sure I shall know which to keep?"

"Oh, quite sure," he answered, easily--"and besides, none are of
much importance."

The next morning he invented an excuse for leaving the house
without seeing her, and when he returned, just before dinner, he
found a visitor's hat and stick in the hall. The visitor was
Flamel, who was in the act of taking leave.

He had risen, but Alexa remained seated; and their attitude gave
the impression of a colloquy that had prolonged itself beyond the
limits of speech. Both turned a surprised eye on Glennard and he
had the sense of walking into a room grown suddenly empty, as
though their thoughts were conspirators dispersed by his approach.
He felt the clutch of his old fear. What if his wife had already
sorted the papers and had told Flamel of her discovery? Well, it
was no news to Flamel that Glennard was in receipt of a royalty on
the "Aubyn Letters." . . .

A sudden resolve to know the worst made him lift his eyes to his
wife as the door closed on Flamel. But Alexa had risen also, and
bending over her writing-table, with her back to Glennard, was
beginning to speak precipitately.

"I'm dining out to-night--you don't mind my deserting you? Julia
Armiger sent me word just now that she had an extra ticket for the
last Ambrose concert. She told me to say how sorry she was that
she hadn't two--but I knew YOU wouldn't be sorry!" She ended with
a laugh that had the effect of being a strayed echo of Mrs.
Armiger's; and before Glennard could speak she had added, with her
hand on the door, "Mr. Flamel stayed so late that I've hardly time
to dress. The concert begins ridiculously early, and Julia dines
at half-past seven--"

Glennard stood alone in the empty room that seemed somehow full of
an ironical consciousness of what was happening. "She hates me,"
he murmured. "She hates me. . . ."

The next day was Sunday, and Glennard purposely lingered late in
his room. When he came downstairs his wife was already seated at
the breakfast-table. She lifted her usual smile to his entrance
and they took shelter in the nearest topic, like wayfarers
overtaken by a storm. While he listened to her account of the
concert he began to think that, after all, she had not yet sorted
the papers, and that her agitation of the previous day must be
ascribed to another cause, in which perhaps he had but an indirect
concern. He wondered it had never before occurred to him that
Flamel was the kind of man who might very well please a woman at
his own expense, without need of fortuitous assistance. If this
possibility cleared the outlook it did not brighten it. Glennard
merely felt himself left alone with his baseness.

Alexa left the breakfast-table before him and when he went up to
the drawing-room he found her dressed to go out.

"Aren't you a little early for church?" he asked.

She replied that, on the way there, she meant to stop a moment at
her mother's; and while she drew on her gloves, he fumbled among
the knick-knacks on the mantel-piece for a match to light his

"Well, good-by," she said, turning to go; and from the threshold
she added: "By the way, I've sorted the papers you gave me. Those
that I thought you would like to keep are on your study-table."
She went downstairs and he heard the door close behind her.

She had sorted the papers--she knew, then--she MUST know--and she
had made no sign!

Glennard, he hardly knew how, found himself once more in the
study. On the table lay the packet he had given her. It was much
smaller--she had evidently gone over the papers with care,
destroying the greater number. He loosened the elastic band and
spread the remaining envelopes on his desk. The publisher's
notice was among them.


His wife knew and she made no sign. Glennard found himself in the
case of the seafarer who, closing his eyes at nightfall on a scene
he thinks to put leagues behind him before day, wakes to a port-
hole framing the same patch of shore. From the kind of exaltation
to which his resolve had lifted him he dropped to an unreasoning
apathy. His impulse of confession had acted as a drug to self-
reproach. He had tried to shift a portion of his burden to his
wife's shoulders and now that she had tacitly refused to carry it,
he felt the load too heavy to be taken up again.

A fortunate interval of hard work brought respite from this phase
of sterile misery. He went West to argue an important case, won
it, and came back to fresh preoccupations. His own affairs were
thriving enough to engross him in the pauses of his professional
work, and for over two months he had little time to look himself
in the face. Not unnaturally--for he was as yet unskilled in the
subtleties of introspection--he mistook his temporary
insensibility for a gradual revival of moral health.

He told himself that he was recovering his sense of proportion,
getting to see things in their true light; and if he now thought
of his rash appeal to his wife's sympathy it was as an act of
folly from the consequences of which he had been saved by the
providence that watches over madmen. He had little leisure to
observe Alexa; but he concluded that the common-sense momentarily
denied him had counselled her uncritical acceptance of the
inevitable. If such a quality was a poor substitute for the
passionate justness that had once seemed to characterize her, he
accepted the alternative as a part of that general lowering of the
key that seems needful to the maintenance of the matrimonial duet.
What woman ever retained her abstract sense of justice where
another woman was concerned? Possibly the thought that he had
profited by Mrs. Aubyn's tenderness was not wholly disagreeable to
his wife.

When the pressure of work began to lessen, and he found himself,
in the lengthening afternoons, able to reach home somewhat
earlier, he noticed that the little drawing-room was always full
and that he and his wife seldom had an evening alone together.
When he was tired, as often happened, she went out alone; the idea
of giving up an engagement to remain with him seemed not to occur
to her. She had shown, as a girl, little fondness for society,
nor had she seemed to regret it during the year they had spent in
the country. He reflected, however, that he was sharing the
common lot of husbands, who proverbially mistake the early ardors
of housekeeping for a sign of settled domesticity. Alexa, at any
rate, was refuting his theory as inconsiderately as a seedling
defeats the gardener's expectations. An undefinable change had
come over her. In one sense it was a happy one, since she had
grown, if not handsomer, at least more vivid and expressive; her
beauty had become more communicable: it was as though she had
learned the conscious exercise of intuitive attributes and now
used her effects with the discrimination of an artist skilled in
values. To a dispassionate critic (as Glennard now rated himself)
the art may at times have been a little too obvious. Her attempts
at lightness lacked spontaneity, and she sometimes rasped him by
laughing like Julia Armiger; but he had enough imagination to
perceive that, in respect of the wife's social arts, a husband
necessarily sees the wrong side of the tapestry.

In this ironical estimate of their relation Glennard found himself
strangely relieved of all concern as to his wife's feelings for
Flamel. From an Olympian pinnacle of indifference he calmly
surveyed their inoffensive antics. It was surprising how his
cheapening of his wife put him at ease with himself. Far as he
and she were from each other they yet had, in a sense, the tacit
nearness of complicity. Yes, they were accomplices; he could no
more be jealous of her than she could despise him. The jealousy
that would once have seemed a blur on her whiteness now appeared
like a tribute to ideals in which he no longer believed. . . .

Glennard was little given to exploring the outskirts of
literature. He always skipped the "literary notices" in the
papers and he had small leisure for the intermittent pleasures of
the periodical. He had therefore no notion of the prolonged
reverberations which the "Aubyn Letters" had awakened in the
precincts of criticism. When the book ceased to be talked about
he supposed it had ceased to be read; and this apparent subsidence
of the agitation about it brought the reassuring sense that he had
exaggerated its vitality. The conviction, if it did not ease his
conscience, at least offered him the relative relief of obscurity:
he felt like an offender taken down from the pillory and thrust
into the soothing darkness of a cell.

But one evening, when Alexa had left him to go to a dance, he
chanced to turn over the magazines on her table, and the copy of
the Horoscope, to which he settled down with his cigar, confronted
him, on its first page, with a portrait of Margaret Aubyn. It was
a reproduction of the photograph that had stood so long on his
desk. The desiccating air of memory had turned her into the mere
abstraction of a woman, and this unexpected evocation seemed to
bring her nearer than she had ever been in life. Was it because
he understood her better? He looked long into her eyes; little
personal traits reached out to him like caresses--the tired droop
of her lids, her quick way of leaning forward as she spoke, the
movements of her long expressive hands. All that was feminine in
her, the quality he had always missed, stole toward him from her
unreproachful gaze; and now that it was too late life had
developed in him the subtler perceptions which could detect it in
even this poor semblance of herself. For a moment he found
consolation in the thought that, at any cost, they had thus been
brought together; then a flood of shame rushed over him. Face to
face with her, he felt himself laid bare to the inmost fold of
consciousness. The shame was deep, but it was a renovating
anguish; he was like a man whom intolerable pain has roused from
the creeping lethargy of death. . . .

He rose next morning to as fresh a sense of life as though his
hour of mute communion with Margaret Aubyn had been a more
exquisite renewal of their earlier meetings. His waking thought
was that he must see her again; and as consciousness affirmed
itself he felt an intense fear of losing the sense of her
nearness. But she was still close to him; her presence remained
the sole reality in a world of shadows. All through his working
hours he was re-living with incredible minuteness every incident
of their obliterated past; as a man who has mastered the spirit of
a foreign tongue turns with renewed wonder to the pages his youth
has plodded over. In this lucidity of retrospection the most
trivial detail had its significance, and the rapture of recovery
was embittered to Glennard by the perception of all that he had
missed. He had been pitiably, grotesquely stupid; and there was
irony in the thought that, but for the crisis through which he was
passing, he might have lived on in complacent ignorance of his
loss. It was as though she had bought him with her blood. . . .

That evening he and Alexa dined alone. After dinner he followed
her to the drawing-room. He no longer felt the need of avoiding
her; he was hardly conscious of her presence. After a few words
they lapsed into silence and he sat smoking with his eyes on the
fire. It was not that he was unwilling to talk to her; he felt a
curious desire to be as kind as possible; but he was always
forgetting that she was there. Her full bright presence, through
which the currents of life flowed so warmly, had grown as tenuous
as a shadow, and he saw so far beyond her--

Presently she rose and began to move about the room. She seemed
to be looking for something and he roused himself to ask what she

"Only the last number of the Horoscope. I thought I'd left it on
this table." He said nothing, and she went on: "You haven't seen

"No," he returned coldly. The magazine was locked in his desk.

His wife had moved to the mantel-piece. She stood facing him and
as he looked up he met her tentative gaze. "I was reading an
article in it--a review of Mrs. Aubyn's letters," she added,
slowly, with her deep, deliberate blush.

Glennard stooped to toss his cigar into the fire. He felt a
savage wish that she would not speak the other woman's name;
nothing else seemed to matter. "You seem to do a lot of reading,"
he said.

She still earnestly confronted him. "I was keeping this for you--
I thought it might interest you," she said, with an air of gentle

He stood up and turned away. He was sure she knew that he had
taken the review and he felt that he was beginning to hate her

"I haven't time for such things," he said, indifferently. As he
moved to the door he heard her take a precipitate step forward;
then she paused and sank without speaking into the chair from
which he had risen.


As Glennard, in the raw February sunlight, mounted the road to the
cemetery, he felt the beatitude that comes with an abrupt
cessation of physical pain. He had reached the point where self-
analysis ceases; the impulse that moved him was purely intuitive.
He did not even seek a reason for it, beyond the obvious one that
his desire to stand by Margaret Aubyn's grave was prompted by no
attempt at a sentimental reparation, but rather by the vague need
to affirm in some way the reality of the tie between them.

The ironical promiscuity of death had brought Mrs. Aubyn back to
share the narrow hospitality of her husband's last lodging; but
though Glennard knew she had been buried near New York he had
never visited her grave. He was oppressed, as he now threaded the
long avenues, by a chilling vision of her return. There was no
family to follow her hearse; she had died alone, as she had lived;
and the "distinguished mourners" who had formed the escort of the
famous writer knew nothing of the woman they were committing to
the grave. Glennard could not even remember at what season she
had been buried; but his mood indulged the fancy that it must have
been on some such day of harsh sunlight, the incisive February
brightness that gives perspicuity without warmth. The white
avenues stretched before him interminably, lined with stereotyped
emblems of affliction, as though all the platitudes ever uttered
had been turned to marble and set up over the unresisting dead.
Here and there, no doubt, a frigid urn or an insipid angel
imprisoned some fine-fibred grief, as the most hackneyed words may
become the vehicle of rare meanings; but for the most part the
endless alignment of monuments seemed to embody those easy
generalizations about death that do not disturb the repose of the
living. Glennard's eye, as he followed the way indicated to him,
had instinctively sought some low mound with a quiet headstone.
He had forgotten that the dead seldom plan their own houses, and
with a pang he discovered the name he sought on the cyclopean base
of a granite shaft rearing its aggressive height at the angle of
two avenues.

"How she would have hated it!" he murmured.

A bench stood near and he seated himself. The monument rose
before him like some pretentious uninhabited dwelling; he could
not believe that Margaret Aubyn lay there. It was a Sunday
morning and black figures moved among the paths, placing flowers
on the frost-bound hillocks. Glennard noticed that the
neighboring graves had been thus newly dressed; and he fancied a
blind stir of expectancy through the sod, as though the bare
mounds spread a parched surface to that commemorative rain. He
rose presently and walked back to the entrance of the cemetery.
Several greenhouses stood near the gates, and turning in at the
first he asked for some flowers.

"Anything in the emblematic line?" asked the anaemic man behind
the dripping counter.

Glennard shook his head.

"Just cut flowers? This way, then." The florist unlocked a glass
door and led him down a moist green aisle. The hot air was choked
with the scent of white azaleas, white lilies, white lilacs; all
the flowers were white; they were like a prolongation, a mystical
efflorescence, of the long rows of marble tombstones, and their
perfume seemed to cover an odor of decay. The rich atmosphere
made Glennard dizzy. As he leaned in the doorpost, waiting for
the flowers, he had a penetrating sense of Margaret Aubyn's
nearness--not the imponderable presence of his inner vision, but a
life that beat warm in his arms. . . .

The sharp air caught him as he stepped out into it again. He
walked back and scattered the flowers over the grave. The edges
of the white petals shrivelled like burnt paper in the cold; and
as he watched them the illusion of her nearness faded, shrank back


The motive of his visit to the cemetery remained undefined save as
a final effort of escape from his wife's inexpressive acceptance
of his shame. It seemed to him that as long as he could keep
himself alive to that shame he would not wholly have succumbed to
its consequences. His chief fear was that he should become the
creature of his act. His wife's indifference degraded him; it
seemed to put him on a level with his dishonor. Margaret Aubyn
would have abhorred the deed in proportion to her pity for the
man. The sense of her potential pity drew him back to her. The
one woman knew but did not understand; the other, it sometimes
seemed, understood without knowing.

In its last disguise of retrospective remorse, his self-pity
affected a desire for solitude and meditation. He lost himself in
morbid musings, in futile visions of what life with Margaret Aubyn
might have been. There were moments when, in the strange
dislocation of his view, the wrong he had done her seemed a tie
between them.

To indulge these emotions he fell into the habit, on Sunday
afternoons, of solitary walks prolonged till after dusk. The days
were lengthening, there was a touch of spring in the air, and his
wanderings now usually led him to the Park and its outlying

One Sunday, tired of aimless locomotion, he took a cab at the Park
gates and let it carry him out to the Riverside Drive. It was a
gray afternoon streaked with east wind. Glennard's cab advanced
slowly, and as he leaned back, gazing with absent intentness at
the deserted paths that wound under bare boughs between grass
banks of premature vividness, his attention was arrested by two
figures walking ahead of him. This couple, who had the path to
themselves,moved at an uneven pace, as though adapting their gait
to a conversation marked by meditative intervals. Now and then
they paused, and in one of these pauses the lady, turning toward
her companion, showed Glennard the outline of his wife's profile.
The man was Flamel.

The blood rushed to Glennard's forehead. He sat up with a jerk
and pushed back the lid in the roof of the hansom; but when the
cabman bent down he dropped into his seat without speaking. Then,
becoming conscious of the prolonged interrogation of the lifted
lid, he called out--"Turn--drive back--anywhere--I'm in a hurry--"

As the cab swung round he caught a last glimpse of the two
figures. They had not moved; Alexa, with bent head, stood

"My God, my God--" he groaned.

It was hideous--it was abominable--he could not understand it.
The woman was nothing to him--less than nothing--yet the blood
hummed in his ears and hung a cloud before him. He knew it was
only the stirring of the primal instinct, that it had no more to
do with his reasoning self than any reflex impulse of the body;
but that merely lowered anguish to disgust. Yes, it was disgust
he felt--almost a physical nausea. The poisonous fumes of life
were in his lungs. He was sick, unutterably sick. . . .

He drove home and went to his room. They were giving a little
dinner that night, and when he came down the guests were arriving.
He looked at his wife: her beauty was extraordinary, but it seemed
to him the beauty of a smooth sea along an unlit coast. She
frightened him.

He sat late that night in his study. He heard the parlor-maid
lock the front door; then his wife went upstairs and the lights
were put out. His brain was like some great empty hall with an
echo in it; one thought reverberated endlessly. . . . At length
he drew his chair to the table and began to write. He addressed
an envelope and then slowly re-read what he had written.


"Many apologies for not sending you sooner the enclosed check,
which represents the customary percentage on the sale of the

"Trusting you will excuse the oversight,
"Yours truly,

He let himself out of the darkened house and dropped the letter in
the post-box at the corner.

The next afternoon he was detained late at his office, and as he
was preparing to leave he heard someone asking for him in the
outer room. He seated himself again and Flamel was shown in.

The two men, as Glennard pushed aside an obstructive chair, had a
moment to measure each other; then Flamel advanced, and drawing
out his note-case, laid a slip of paper on the desk.

"My dear fellow, what on earth does this mean?" Glennard
recognized his check.

"That I was remiss, simply. It ought to have gone to you before."

Flamel's tone had been that of unaffected surprise, but at this
his accent changed and he asked, quickly: "On what ground?"

Glennard had moved away from the desk and stood leaning against
the calf-backed volumes of the bookcase. "On the ground that you
sold Mrs. Aubyn's letters for me, and that I find the intermediary
in such cases is entitled to a percentage on the sale."

Flamel paused before answering. "You find, you say. It's a
recent discovery?"

"Obviously, from my not sending the check sooner. You see I'm new
to the business."

"And since when have you discovered that there was any question of
business, as far as I was concerned?"

Glennard flushed and his voice rose slightly. "Are you
reproaching me for not having remembered it sooner?"

Flamel, who had spoken in the rapid repressed tone of a man on the
verge of anger, stared a moment at this and then, in his natural
voice, rejoined, good-humoredly, "Upon my soul, I don't understand

The change of key seemed to disconcert Glennard. "It's simple
enough--" he muttered.

"Simple enough--your offering me money in return for a friendly
service? I don't know what your other friends expect!"

"Some of my friends wouldn't have undertaken the job. Those who
would have done so would probably have expected to be paid."

He lifted his eyes to Flamel and the two men looked at each other.
Flamel had turned white and his lips stirred, but he held his
temperate note. "If you mean to imply that the job was not a nice
one, you lay yourself open to the retort that you proposed it.
But for my part I've never seen, I never shall see, any reason for
not publishing the letters."

"That's just it!"


"The certainty of your not seeing was what made me go to you.
When a man's got stolen goods to pawn he doesn't take them to the

"Stolen?" Flamel echoed. "The letters were stolen?"

Glennard burst into a coarse laugh. "How much longer to you
expect me to keep up that pretence about the letters? You knew
well enough they were written to me."

Flamel looked at him in silence. "Were they?" he said at length.
"I didn't know it."

"And didn't suspect it, I suppose," Glennard sneered.

The other was again silent; then he said, "I may remind you that,
supposing I had felt any curiosity about the matter, I had no way
of finding out that the letters were written to you. You never
showed me the originals."

"What does that prove? There were fifty ways of finding out.
It's the kind of thing one can easily do."

Flamel glanced at him with contempt. "Our ideas probably differ
as to what a man can easily do. It would not have been easy for

Glennard's anger vented itself in the words uppermost in his
thought. "It may, then, interest you to hear that my wife DOES
know about the letters--has known for some months. . . ."

"Ah," said the other, slowly. Glennard saw that, in his blind
clutch at a weapon, he had seized the one most apt to wound.
Flamel's muscles were under control, but his face showed the
undefinable change produced by the slow infiltration of poison.
Every implication that the words contained had reached its mark;
but Glennard felt that their obvious intention was lost in the
anguish of what they suggested. He was sure now that Flamel would
never have betrayed him; but the inference only made a wider
outlet for his anger. He paused breathlessly for Flamel to speak.

"If she knows, it's not through me." It was what Glennard had
waited for.

"Through you, by God? Who said it was through you? Do you
suppose I leave it to you, or to anybody else, for that matter, to
keep my wife informed of my actions? I didn't suppose even such
egregious conceit as yours could delude a man to that degree!"
Struggling for a foothold in the small landslide of his dignity,
he added, in a steadier tone, "My wife learned the facts from me."

Flamel received this in silence. The other's outbreak seemed to
have reinforced his self-control, and when he spoke it was with a
deliberation implying that his course was chosen. "In that case I
understand still less--"

"Still less--?"

"The meaning of this." He pointed to the check. "When you began
to speak I supposed you had meant it as a bribe; now I can only
infer it was intended as a random insult. In either case, here's
my answer."

He tore the slip of paper in two and tossed the fragments across
the desk to Glennard. Then he turned and walked out of the

Glennard dropped his head on his hands. If he had hoped to
restore his self-respect by the simple expedient of assailing
Flamel's, the result had not justified his expectation. The blow
he had struck had blunted the edge of his anger, and the
unforeseen extent of the hurt inflicted did not alter the fact
that his weapon had broken in his hands. He saw now that his rage
against Flamel was only the last projection of a passionate self-
disgust. This consciousness did not dull his dislike of the man;
it simply made reprisals ineffectual. Flamel's unwillingness to
quarrel with him was the last stage of his abasement.

In the light of this final humiliation his assumption of his
wife's indifference struck him as hardly so fatuous as the
sentimental resuscitation of his past. He had been living in a
factitious world wherein his emotions were the sycophants of his
vanity, and it was with instinctive relief that he felt its ruins
crash about his head.

It was nearly dark when he left his office, and he walked slowly
homeward in the complete mental abeyance that follows on such a
crisis. He was not aware that he was thinking of his wife; yet
when he reached his own door he found that, in the involuntary
readjustment of his vision, she had once more become the central
point of consciousness.


It had never before occurred to him that she might, after all,
have missed the purport of the document he had put in her way.
What if, in her hurried inspection of the papers, she had passed
it over as related to the private business of some client? What,
for instance, was to prevent her concluding that Glennard was the
counsel of the unknown person who had sold the "Aubyn Letters."
The subject was one not likely to fix her attention--she was not a
curious woman.

Glennard at this point laid down his fork and glanced at her
between the candle-shades. The alternative explanation of her
indifference was not slow in presenting itself. Her head had the
same listening droop as when he had caught sight of her the day
before in Flamel's company; the attitude revived the vividness of
his impression. It was simple enough, after all. She had ceased
to care for him because she cared for someone else.

As he followed her upstairs he felt a sudden stirring of his
dormant anger. His sentiments had lost all their factitious
complexity. He had already acquitted her of any connivance in his
baseness, and he felt only that he loved her and that she had
escaped him. This was now, strangely enough, his dominating
thought: the consciousness that he and she had passed through the
fusion of love and had emerged from it as incommunicably apart as
though the transmutation had never taken place. Every other
passion, he mused, left some mark upon the nature; but love passed
like the flight of a ship across the waters.

She sank into her usual seat near the lamp, and he leaned against
the chimney, moving about with an inattentive hand the knick-
knacks on the mantel.

Suddenly he caught sight of her reflection in the mirror. She was
looking at him. He turned and their eyes met.

He moved across the room and stood before her.

"There's something that I want to say to you," he began in a low

She held his gaze, but her color deepened. He noticed again, with
a jealous pang, how her beauty had gained in warmth and meaning.
It was as though a transparent cup had been filled with wine. He
looked at her ironically.

"I've never prevented your seeing your friends here," he broke
out. "Why do you meet Flamel in out-of-the-way places? Nothing
makes a woman so cheap--"

She rose abruptly and they faced each other a few feet apart.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I saw you with him last Sunday on the Riverside Drive," he went
on, the utterance of the charge reviving his anger.

"Ah," she murmured. She sank into her chair again and began to
play with a paper-knife that lay on the table at her elbow.

Her silence exasperated him.

"Well?" he burst out. "Is that all you have to say?"

"Do you wish me to explain?" she asked, proudly.

"Do you imply I haven't the right to?"

"I imply nothing. I will tell you whatever you wish to know. I
went for a walk with Mr. Flamel because he asked me to."

"I didn't suppose you went uninvited. But there are certain
things a sensible woman doesn't do. She doesn't slink about in
out-of-the-way streets with men. Why couldn't you have seen him

She hesitated. "Because he wanted to see me alone."

"Did he, indeed? And may I ask if you gratify all his wishes with
equal alacrity?"

"I don't know that he has any others where I am concerned." She
paused again and then continued, in a lower voice that somehow had
an under-note of warning. "He wished to bid me good-by. He's
going away."

Glennard turned on her a startled glance. "Going away?"

"He's going to Europe to-morrow. He goes for a long time. I
supposed you knew."

The last phrase revived his irritation. "You forget that I depend
on you for my information about Flamel. He's your friend and not
mine. In fact, I've sometimes wondered at your going out of your
way to be so civil to him when you must see plainly enough that I
don't like him."

Her answer to this was not immediate. She seemed to be choosing
her words with care, not so much for her own sake as for his, and
his exasperation was increased by the suspicion that she was
trying to spare him.

"He was your friend before he was mine. I never knew him till I
was married. It was you who brought him to the house and who
seemed to wish me to like him."

Glennard gave a short laugh. The defence was feebler than he had
expected: she was certainly not a clever woman.

"Your deference to my wishes is really beautiful; but it's not the
first time in history that a man has made a mistake in introducing
his friends to his wife. You must, at any rate, have seen since
then that my enthusiasm had cooled; but so, perhaps, has your
eagerness to oblige me."

She met this with a silence that seemed to rob the taunt of half
its efficacy.

"Is that what you imply?" he pressed her.

"No," she answered with sudden directness. "I noticed some time
ago that you seemed to dislike him, but since then--"

"Well--since then?"

"I've imagined that you had reasons for still wishing me to be
civil to him, as you call it."

"Ah," said Glennard, with an effort at lightness; but his irony
dropped, for something in her voice made him feel that he and she
stood at last in that naked desert of apprehension where meaning
skulks vainly behind speech.

"And why did you imagine this?" The blood mounted to his
forehead. "Because he told you that I was under obligations to

She turned pale. "Under obligations?"

"Oh, don't let's beat about the bush. Didn't he tell you it was I
who published Mrs. Aubyn's letters? Answer me that."

"No," she said; and after a moment which seemed given to the
weighing of alternatives, she added: "No one told me."

"You didn't know then?"

She seemed to speak with an effort. "Not until--not until--"

"Till I gave you those papers to sort?"

Her head sank.

"You understood then?"


He looked at her immovable face. "Had you suspected--before?" was
slowly wrung from him.

"At times--yes--" Her voice dropped to a whisper.

"Why? From anything that was said--?"

There was a shade of pity in her glance. "No one said anything--
no one told me anything." She looked away from him. "It was your

"My manner?"

"Whenever the book was mentioned. Things you said--once or twice--
your irritation--I can't explain--"

Glennard, unconsciously, had moved nearer. He breathed like a man
who has been running. "You knew, then, you knew"--he stammered.
The avowal of her love for Flamel would have hurt him less, would
have rendered her less remote. "You knew--you knew--" he
repeated; and suddenly his anguish gathered voice. "My God!" he
cried, "you suspected it first, you say--and then you knew it--
this damnable, this accursed thing; you knew it months ago--it's
months since I put that paper in your way--and yet you've done
nothing, you've said nothing, you've made no sign, you've lived
alongside of me as if it had made no difference--no difference in
either of our lives. What are you made of, I wonder? Don't you
see the hideous ignominy of it? Don't you see how you've shared
in my disgrace? Or haven't you any sense of shame?"

He preserved sufficient lucidity, as the words poured from him, to
see how fatally they invited her derision; but something told him
they had both passed beyond the phase of obvious retaliations, and
that if any chord in her responded it would not be that of scorn.

He was right. She rose slowly and moved toward him.

"Haven't you had enough--without that?" she said, in a strange
voice of pity.

He stared at her. "Enough--?"

"Of misery. . . ."

An iron band seemed loosened from his temples. "You saw then . . .?"
he whispered.

"Oh, God----oh, God----" she sobbed. She dropped beside him and
hid her anguish against his knees. They clung thus in silence, a
long time, driven together down the same fierce blast of shame.

When at length she lifted her face he averted his. Her scorn
would have hurt him less than the tears on his hands.

She spoke languidly, like a child emerging from a passion of
weeping. "It was for the money--?"

His lips shaped an assent.

"That was the inheritance--that we married on?"


She drew back and rose to her feet. He sat watching her as she
wandered away from him.

"You hate me," broke from him.

She made no answer.

"Say you hate me!" he persisted.

"That would have been so simple," she answered with a strange
smile. She dropped into a chair near the writing-table and rested
a bowed forehead on her hand.

"Was it much--?" she began at length.

"Much--?" he returned, vaguely.

"The money."

"The money?" That part of it seemed to count so little that for a
moment he did not follow her thought.

"It must be paid back," she insisted. "Can you do it?"

"Oh, yes," he returned, listlessly. "I can do it."

"I would make any sacrifice for that!" she urged.

He nodded. "Of course." He sat staring at her in dry-eyed self-
contempt. "Do you count on its making much difference?"

"Much difference?"

"In the way I feel--or you feel about me?"

She shook her head.

"It's the least part of it," he groaned.

"It's the only part we can repair."

"Good heavens! If there were any reparation--" He rose quickly
and crossed the space that divided them. "Why did you never
speak?" he asked.

"Haven't you answered that yourself?"

"Answered it?"

"Just now--when you told me you did it for me." She paused a
moment and then went on with a deepening note--"I would have
spoken if I could have helped you."

"But you must have despised me."

"I've told you that would have been simpler."

"But how could you go on like this--hating the money?"

"I knew you would speak in time. I wanted you, first, to hate it
as I did."

He gazed at her with a kind of awe. "You're wonderful," he
murmured. "But you don't yet know the depths I've reached."

She raised an entreating hand. "I don't want to!"

"You're afraid, then, that you'll hate me?"

"No--but that you'll hate ME. Let me understand without your
telling me."

"You can't. It's too base. I thought you didn't care because you
loved Flamel."

She blushed deeply. "Don't--don't--" she warned him.

"I haven't the right to, you mean?"

"I mean that you'll be sorry."

He stood imploringly before her. "I want to say something worse--
something more outrageous. If you don't understand THIS you'll be
perfectly justified in ordering me out of the house."

She answered him with a glance of divination. "I shall
understand--but you'll be sorry."

"I must take my chance of that." He moved away and tossed the
books about the table. Then he swung round and faced her. "Does
Flamel care for you?" he asked.

Her flush deepened, but she still looked at him without anger.
"What would be the use?" she said with a note of sadness.

"Ah, I didn't ask THAT," he penitently murmured.

"Well, then--"

To this adjuration he made no response beyond that of gazing at
her with an eye which seemed now to view her as a mere factor in
an immense redistribution of meanings.

"I insulted Flamel to-day. I let him see that I suspected him of
having told you. I hated him because he knew about the letters."

He caught the spreading horror of her eyes, and for an instant he
had to grapple with the new temptation they lit up. Then he said,
with an effort--"Don't blame him--he's impeccable. He helped me
to get them published; but I lied to him too; I pretended they
were written to another man . . . a man who was dead. . . ."

She raised her arms in a gesture that seemed to ward off his

"You DO despise me!" he insisted.

"Ah, that poor woman--that poor woman--" he heard her murmur.

"I spare no one, you see!" he triumphed over her. She kept her
face hidden.

"You do hate me, you do despise me!" he strangely exulted.

"Be silent!" she commanded him; but he seemed no longer conscious
of any check on his gathering purpose.

"He cared for you--he cared for you," he repeated, "and he never
told you of the letters--"

She sprang to her feet. "How can you?" she flamed. "How dare
you? THAT--!"

Glennard was ashy pale. "It's a weapon . . . like another. . . ."

"A scoundrel's!"

He smiled wretchedly. "I should have used it in his place."

"Stephen! Stephen!" she cried, as though to drown the blasphemy
on his lips. She swept to him with a rescuing gesture. "Don't
say such things. I forbid you! It degrades us both."

He put her back with trembling hands. "Nothing that I say of
myself can degrade you. We're on different levels."

"I'm on yours, whatever it is!"

He lifted his head and their gaze flowed together.


The great renewals take effect as imperceptibly as the first
workings of spring. Glennard, though he felt himself brought
nearer to his wife, was still, as it were, hardly within speaking
distance. He was but laboriously acquiring the rudiments of their
new medium of communication; and he had to grope for her through
the dense fog of his humiliation, the distorting vapor against
which his personality loomed grotesque and mean.

Only the fact that we are unaware how well our nearest know us
enables us to live with them. Love is the most impregnable refuge
of self-esteem, and we hate the eye that reaches to our nakedness.
If Glennard did not hate his wife it was slowly, sufferingly, that
there was born in him that profounder passion which made his
earlier feeling seem a mere commotion of the blood. He was like a
child coming back to the sense of an enveloping presence: her
nearness was a breast on which he leaned.

They did not, at first, talk much together, and each beat a
devious track about the outskirts of the subject that lay between
them like a haunted wood. But every word, every action, seemed to
glance at it, to draw toward it, as though a fount of healing
sprang in its poisoned shade. If only they might cut away through
the thicket to that restoring spring!

Glennard, watching his wife with the intentness of a wanderer to
whom no natural sign is negligible, saw that she had taken
temporary refuge in the purpose of renouncing the money. If both,
theoretically, owned the inefficacy of such amends, the woman's
instinctive subjectiveness made her find relief in this crude form
of penance. Glennard saw that she meant to live as frugally as
possible till what she deemed their debt was discharged; and he
prayed she might not discover how far-reaching, in its merely
material sense, was the obligation she thus hoped to acquit. Her
mind was fixed on the sum originally paid for the letters, and
this he knew he could lay aside in a year or two. He was touched,
meanwhile, by the spirit that made her discard the petty luxuries
which she regarded as the signs of their bondage. Their shared
renunciations drew her nearer to him, helped, in their evidence of
her helplessness, to restore the full protecting stature of his
love. And still they did not speak.

It was several weeks later that, one afternoon by the drawing-room
fire, she handed him a letter that she had been reading when he

"I've heard from Mr. Flamel," she said.

Glennard turned pale. It was as though a latent presence had
suddenly become visible to both. He took the letter mechanically.

"It's from Smyrna," she said. "Won't you read it?"

He handed it back. "You can tell me about it--his hand's so
illegible." He wandered to the other end of the room and then
turned and stood before her. "I've been thinking of writing to
Flamel," he said.

She looked up.

"There's one point," he continued, slowly, "that I ought to clear
up. I told him you'd known about the letters all along; for a
long time, at least; and I saw it hurt him horribly. It was just
what I meant to do, of course; but I can't leave him to that false
impression; I must write him."

She received this without outward movement, but he saw that the
depths were stirred. At length she returned, in a hesitating
tone, "Why do you call it a false impression? I did know."

"Yes, but I implied you didn't care."


He still stood looking down on her. "Don't you want me to set
that right?" he tentatively pursued.

She lifted her head and fixed him bravely. "It isn't necessary,"
she said.

Glennard flushed with the shock of the retort; then, with a
gesture of comprehension, "No," he said, "with you it couldn't be;
but I might still set myself right."

She looked at him gently. "Don't I," she murmured, "do that?"

"In being yourself merely? Alas, the rehabilitation's too
complete! You make me seem--to myself even--what I'm not; what I
can never be. I can't, at times, defend myself from the delusion;
but I can at least enlighten others."

The flood was loosened, and kneeling by her he caught her hands.
"Don't you see that it's become an obsession with me? That if I
could strip myself down to the last lie--only there'd always be
another one left under it!--and do penance naked in the market-
place, I should at least have the relief of easing one anguish by
another? Don't you see that the worst of my torture is the
impossibility of such amends?"

Her hands lay in his without returning pressure. "Ah, poor woman,
poor woman," he heard her sigh.

"Don't pity her, pity me! What have I done to her or to you,
after all? You're both inaccessible! It was myself I sold."

He took an abrupt turn away from her; then halted before her
again. "How much longer," he burst out, "do you suppose you can
stand it? You've been magnificent, you've been inspired, but
what's the use? You can't wipe out the ignominy of it. It's
miserable for you and it does HER no good!"

She lifted a vivid face. "That's the thought I can't bear!" she

"What thought?"

"That it does her no good--all you're feeling, all you're
suffering. Can it be that it makes no difference?"

He avoided her challenging glance. "What's done is done," he

"Is it ever, quite, I wonder?" she mused. He made no answer and
they lapsed into one of the pauses that are a subterranean channel
of communication.

It was she who, after awhile, began to speak with a new suffusing
diffidence that made him turn a roused eye on her.

"Don't they say," she asked, feeling her way as in a kind of
tender apprehensiveness, "that the early Christians, instead of
pulling down the heathen temples--the temples of the unclean gods--
purified them by turning them to their own uses? I've always
thought one might do that with one's actions--the actions one
loathes but can't undo. One can make, I mean, a wrong the door to
other wrongs or an impassable wall against them. . . ." Her voice
wavered on the word. "We can't always tear down the temples we've
built to the unclean gods, but we can put good spirits in the
house of evil--the spirits of mercy and shame and understanding,
that might never have come to us if we hadn't been in such great
need. . . ."

She moved over to him and laid a hesitating hand on his. His head
was bent and he did not change his attitude. She sat down beside
him without speaking; but their silences now were fertile as rain-
clouds--they quickened the seeds of understanding.

At length he looked up. "I don't know," he said, "what spirits
have come to live in the house of evil that I built--but you're
there and that's enough for me. It's strange," he went on after
another pause, "she wished the best for me so often, and now, at
last, it's through her that it's come to me. But for her I
shouldn't have known you--it's through her that I've found you.
Sometimes, do you know?--that makes it hardest--makes me most
intolerable to myself. Can't you see that it's the worst thing
I've got to face? I sometimes think I could have borne it better
if you hadn't understood! I took everything from her--everything--
even to the poor shelter of loyalty she'd trusted in--the only
thing I could have left her!--I took everything from her, I
deceived her, I despoiled her, I destroyed her--and she's given me
YOU in return!"

His wife's cry caught him up. "It isn't that she's given ME to
you--it is that she's given you to yourself." She leaned to him
as though swept forward on a wave of pity. "Don't you see," she
went on, as his eyes hung on her, "that that's the gift you can't
escape from, the debt you're pledged to acquit? Don't you see
that you've never before been what she thought you, and that now,
so wonderfully, she's made you into the man she loved? THAT'S
worth suffering for, worth dying for, to a woman--that's the gift
she would have wished to give!"

"Ah," he cried, "but woe to him by whom it cometh. What did I
ever give her?"

"The happiness of giving," she said.

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