The Romance of Certain Old Clothes by Henry James
Towards the middle of the eighteenth century there lived in the
Province of Massachusetts a widowed gentlewoman, the mother of three
children, by name Mrs Veronica Wingrave. She had lost her husband
early in life, and had devoted herself to the care of her progeny.
These young persons grew up in a manner to reward her tenderness and
to gratify her highest hopes. The first-born was a son, whom she had
called Bernard, after his father. The others were daughters--born at
an interval of three years apart. Good looks were traditional in the
family, and this youthful trio were not likely to allow the tradition
to perish. The boy was of that fair and ruddy complexion and that
athletic structure which in those days (as in these) were the sign of
good English descent--a frank, affectionate young fellow, a
deferential son, a patronizing brother, a steadfast friend. Clever,
however, he was not; the wit of the family had been apportioned
chiefly to his sisters. The late Mr Wingrave had been a great reader
of Shakespeare, at a time when this pursuit implied more freedom of
thought than at the present day, and in a community where it required
much courage to patronize the drama even in the closet: and he had
wished to call attention to his admiration of the great poet by
calling his daughters out of his favourite plays.
Upon the elder he had bestowed the romantic name of Rosalind, and
the younger he had called Perdita, in memory of a little girl born
between them, who had lived but a few weeks.
When Bernard Wingrave came to his sixteenth year his mother put a
brave face upon it and prepared to execute her husband's last
injunction. This had been a formal command that, at the proper age,
his son should be sent out to England, to complete his education at
the university of Oxford, where he himself had acquired his taste for
elegant literature. It was Mrs Wingrave's belief that the lad's equal
was not to be found in the two hemispheres, but she had the old
traditions of literal obedience. She swallowed her sobs, and made up
her boy's trunk and his simple provincial outfit, and sent him on his
way across the seas. Bernard presented himself at his father's
college, and spent five years in England, without great honour,
indeed, but with a vast deal of pleasure and no discredit. On leaving
the university he made the journey to France.
In his twenty-fourth year he took ship for home, prepared to find
poor little New England (New England was very small in those days) a
very dull, unfashionable residence. But there had been changes at
home, as well as in Mr Bernard's opinions. He found his mother's
house quite habitable, and his sisters grown into two very charming
young ladies, with all the accomplishments and graces of the young
women of Britain, and a certain native-grown originality and
wildness, which, if it was not an accomplishment, was certainly a
grace the more.
Bernard privately assured his mother that his sisters were fully a
match for the most genteel young women in the old country; whereupon
poor Mrs Wingrave, you may be sure, bade them hold up their heads.
Such was Bernard's opinion, and such, in a tenfold higher degree, was
the opinion of Mr Arthur Lloyd. This gentleman was a college-mate of
Mr Bernard, a young man of reputable family, of a good person and a
handsome inheritance; which latter appurtenance he proposed to invest
in trade in the flourishing colony. He and Bernard were sworn
friends; they had crossed the ocean together, and the young American
had lost no time in presenting him at his mother's house, where he
had made quite as good an impression as that which he had received
and of which I have just given a hint.
The two sisters were at this time in all the freshness of their
youthful bloom; each wearing, of course, this natural brilliancy in
the manner that became her best. They were equally dissimilar in
appearance and character. Rosalind, the elder--now in her
twenty-second year--was tall and white, with calm grey eyes and
auburn tresses; a very faint likeness to the Rosalind of
Shakespeare's comedy, whom I imagine a brunette (if you will), but a
slender, airy creature, full of the softest, quickest impulses. Miss
Wingrave, with her slightly lymphatic fairness, her fine arms, her
majestic height, her slow utterance, was not cut out for adventures.
She would never have put on a man's jacket and hose; and, indeed,
being a very plump beauty, she may have had reasons apart from her
natural dignity. Perdita, too, might very well have exchanged the
sweet melancholy of her name against something more in consonance
with her aspect and disposition.
She had the cheek of a gypsy and the eye of an eager child, as
well as the smallest waist and lightest foot in all the country of
the Puritans. When you spoke to her she never made you wait, as her
handsome sister was wont to do (while she looked at you with a cold
fine eye), but gave you your choke of a dozen answers before you had
uttered half your thought.
The young girls were very glad to see their brother once more; but
they found themselves quite able to spare part of their attention for
their brother's friend. Among the young men their friends and
neighbours, the belle jeunesse of the Colony, there were many
excellent fellows, several devoted swains, and some two or three who
enjoyed the reputation of universal charmers and conquerors. But the
homebred arts and somewhat boisterous gallantry of these honest
colonists were completely eclipsed by the good looks, the fine
clothes, the punctilious courtesy, the perfect elegance, the immense
information, of Mr Arthur Lloyd. He was in reality no paragon; he was
a capable, honourable, civil youth, rich in pounds sterling, in his
health and complacency and his little capital of uninvested
affections. But he was a gentleman; he had a handsome person; he had
studied and travelled; he spoke French, he played the flute, and he
read verses aloud with very great taste. There were a dozen reasons
why Miss Wingrave and her sister should have thought their other male
acquaintance made but a poor figure before such a perfect man of the
world. Mr Lloyd's anecdotes told our little New England maidens a
great deal more of the ways and means of people of fashion in
European capitals than he had any idea of doing. It was delightful to
sit by and hear him and Bernard talk about the fine people and fine
things they had seen. They would all gather round the fire after tea,
in the little wainscoted parlour, and the two young men would remind
each other, across the rug, of this, that and the other adventure.
Rosalind and Perdita would often have given their ears to know
exactly what adventure it was, and where it happened, and who was
there, and what the ladies had on; but in those days a well-bred
young woman was not expected to break into the conversation of her
elders, or to ask too many questions; and the poor girls used
therefore to sit fluttering behind the more languid--or more
discreet--curiosity of their mother.
II That they were both very fine girls Arthur Lloyd was not slow
to discover; but it took him some time to make up his mind whether he
liked the big sister or the little sister best. He had a strong
presentiment--an emotion of a nature entirely too cheerful to be
called a foreboding--that he was destined to stand up before the
parson with one of them; yet he was unable to arrive at a preference,
and for such a consummation a preference was certainly necessary, for
Lloyd had too much young blood in his veins to make a choice by lot
and be cheated of the satisfaction of falling in love. He resolved to
take things as they came--to let his heart speak. Meanwhile he was on
very pleasant footing. Mrs Wingrave showed a dignified indifference
to his 'intentions', equally remote from a carelessness of her
daughter's honour and from that sharp alacrity to make him come to
the point, which, in his quality of young man of property, he had too
often encountered in the worldly matrons of his native islands. As
for Bernard, all that he asked was that his friend should treat his
sisters as his own; and as for the poor girls themselves, however
each may have secretly longed that their visitor should do or say
something 'marked', they kept a very modest and contented
Towards each other, however, they were somewhat more on the
offensive. They were good friends enough, and accommodating
bed-fellows (they shared the same four-poster), betwixt whom it would
take more than a day for the seeds of jealousy to sprout and bear
fruit; but they felt that the seeds had been sown on the day that Mr
Lloyd came into the house. Each made up her mind that, if she should
be slighted, she would bear her grief in silence, and that no one
should be any the wiser; for if they had a great deal of ambition,
they had also a large share of pride. But each prayed in secret,
nevertheless, that upon her the selection, the distinction, might
fall. They had need of a vast deal of patience, of self-control, of
dissimulation. In those days a young girl of decent breeding could
make no advances whatever, and barely respond, indeed, to those that
were made. She was expected to sit still in her chair, with her eyes
on the carpet, watching the spot where the mystic handkerchief should
fall. Poor Arthur Lloyd was obliged to carry on his wooing in the
little wainscoted parlour, before the eyes of Mrs Wingrave, her son,
and his prospective sister-in-law. But youth and love are so cunning
that a hundred signs and tokens might travel to and fro, and not one
of these three pairs of eyes detect them in their passage. The two
maidens were almost always together, and had plenty of chances to
betray themselves. That each knew she was being watched, made not a
grain of difference in the little offices they mutually rendered, or
in the various household tasks they performed in common.
Neither flinched nor fluttered beneath the silent battery of her
sister's eyes. The only apparent change in their habits was that they
had less to say to each other. It was impossible to talk about Mr
Lloyd, and it was ridiculous to talk about anything else. By tacit
agreement they began to wear all their choice finery, and to devise
such little implements of conquest, in the way of ribbons and
top-knots and kerchiefs, as were sanctioned by indubitable modesty.
They executed in the same inarticulate fashion a contract of fair
play in this exciting game. 'Is it better so?'
Rosalind would ask, tying a bunch of ribbons on her bosom, and
turning about from her glass to her sister. Perdita would look up
gravely from her work and examine the decoration. 'I think you had
better give it another loop,' she would say, with great solemnity,
looking hard at her sister with eyes that added, 'upon my honour!' So
they were for ever stitching and turning their petticoats, and
pressing out their muslins, and contriving washes and ointments and
cosmetics, like the ladies in the household of the vicar of
Wakefield. Some three or four months went by; it grew to be
midwinter, and as yet Rosalind knew that if Perdita had nothing more
to boast of than she, there was not much to be feared from her
rivalry. But Perdita by this time--the charming Perdita--felt that
her secret had grown to be tenfold more precious than her
One afternoon Miss Wingrave sat alone--that was a rare
accident--before her toilet-glass, combing out her long hair. It was
getting too dark to see; she lit the two candles in their sockets, on
the frame of her mirror, and then went to the window to draw her
curtains. It was a grey December evening; the landscape was bare and
bleak, and the sky heavy with snowclouds. At the end of the large
garden into which her window looked was a wall with a little postern
door, opening into a lane. The door stood ajar, as she could vaguely
see in the gathering darkness, and moved slowly to and fro, as if
someone were swaying it from the lane without. It was doubtless a
servant-maid who had been having a tryst with her sweetheart. But as
she was about to drop her curtain Rosalind saw her sister step into
the garden and hum' along the path which led to the house. She
dropped the curtain, all save a little crevice for her eyes. As
Perdita came up the path she seemed to be examining something in her
hand, holding it close to her eyes. When she reached the house she
stopped a moment, looked intently at the object, and pressed it to
Poor Rosalind slowly came back to her chair and sat down before
her glass where, if she had looked at it less abstractly, she would
have seen her handsome features sadly disfigured by jealousy. A
moment afterwards the door opened behind her and her sister came into
the room, out of breath, her cheeks aglow with the chilly air.
Perdita started. 'Ah,' said she, 'I thought you were with our
mother.' The ladies were to go to a tea-party, and on such occasions
it was the habit of one of the girls to help their mother to
Instead of coming in, Perdita lingered at the door.
'Come in, come in,' said Rosalind. 'We have more than an hour yet.
I should like you very much to give a few strokes to my hair.' She
knew that her sister wished to retreat, and that she could see in the
glass all her movements in the room. 'Nay, just help me with my
hair,' she said, 'and I will go to mamma.'
Perdita came reluctantly, and took the brush. She saw her sister's
eyes, in the glass, fastened hard upon her hands. She had not made
three passes when Rosalind clapped her own right hand upon her
sister's left, and started out of her chair. "Whose ring is that?"
she cried, passionately, drawing her towards the light.
On the young girl's third finger glistened a little gold ring,
adorned with a very small sapphire.
Perdita felt that she need no longer keep her secret, yet that she
must put a bold face on her avowal. 'It's mine,' she said
'Who gave it to you?' cried the other.
Perdita hesitated a moment. 'Mr Lloyd.'
'Mr Lloyd is generous, all of a sudden.'
'Ah no,' cried Perdita, with spirit, 'not all of a sudden! He
offered it to me a month ago.'
'And you needed a month's begging to take it?' said Rosalind,
looking at the little trinket, which indeed was not especially
elegant, although it was the best that the jeweller of the Province
could furnish. 'I wouldn't have taken it in less than two.'
'It isn't the ring,' Perdita answered, 'it's what it means!'
'It means that you are not a modest girl!' cried Rosalind. 'Pray,
does your mother know of your intrigue? does Bernard?'
'My mother has approved my "intrigue", as you call it. My Lloyd
has asked for my hand, and mamma has given it. Would you have had him
apply to you, dearest sister?'
Rosalind gave her companion a long look, full of passionate envy
and sorrow. Then she dropped her lashes on her pale cheeks and turned
away. Perdita felt that it had not been a pretty scene; but it was
her sister's fault. However, the elder girl rapidly called back her
pride, and turned herself about again. 'You have my very best
wishes,' she said, with a low curtsey. 'I wish you every happiness,
and a very long life.'
Perdita gave a bitter laugh. 'Don't speak in that tone!' she
cried. 'I would rather you should curse me outright. Come, Rosy,' she
added, 'he couldn't marry both of us.'
'I wish you very great joy,' Rosalind repeated, mechanically,
sitting down to her glass again, 'and a very long life, and plenty of
children.' There was something in the sound of these words not at all
to Perdita's taste, 'Will you give me a year to live at least?' she
said. 'In a year I can have one little boy--or one little girl at
If you will give me your brush again I will do your hair.'
'Thank you,' said Rosalind. 'You had better go to mamma. It isn't
becoming that a young lady with a promised husband should wait on a
girl with none.'
'Nay,' said Perdita good-humouredly, 'I have Arthur to wait upon
me. You need my service more than I need yours.'
But her sister motioned her away, and she left the room. When she
had gone poor Rosalind fell on her knees before her dressing-table,
buried her head in her arms, and poured out a flood of tears and
sobs. She felt very much the better for this effusion of sorrow. When
her sister came back she insisted on helping her to dress--on her
wearing her prettiest things. She forced upon her acceptance a bit of
lace of her own, and declared that now that she was to be married she
should do her best to appear worthy of her lover's choice. She
discharged these offices in stern silence; but, such as they were,
they had to do duty as an apology and an atonement; she never made
Now that Lloyd was received by the family as an accepted suitor
nothing remained but to fix the wedding-day. It was appointed for the
following April, and in the interval preparations were diligently
made for the marriage. Lloyd, on his side, was buss with his
commercial arrangements, and with establishing a correspondence with
the great mercantile house to which he had attached himself in
England. He was therefore not so frequent a visitor at Mrs Wingrave's
as during the months of his diffidence and irresolution, and poor
Rosalind had less to suffer than she had feared from the sight of the
mutual endearments of the young lovers. Touching his future
sister-in--law Lloyd had a perfectly clear conscience. There had not
been a particle of love-making between them, and he had not the
slightest suspicion that he had dealt her a terrible blow. He was
quite at his ease; life promised so well, both domestically and
financially. The great revolt of the Colonies Was not yet in the air,
and that his connubial felicity should take a tragic turn it was
absurd, it was blasphemous, to apprehend. Meanwhile, at Mrs
Wingrave's, there was a greater rustling of silks, a more rapid
clicking of scissors and flying of needles, than ever. The good lady
had determined that her daughter should carry from home the
genteelest outfit that her money could buy or that the country could
furnish. All the sage women in the Province were convened, and their
united taste was brought to bear on Perdita's wardrobe. Rosalind's
situation, at this moment, was assuredly not to be envied. The poor
girl had an inordinate love of dress, and the very best taste in the
world, as her sister perfectly well knew. Rosalind was tall, she was
stately and sweeping, she was made to earn stiff brocade and masses
of heavy lace, such as belong to the toilet of a rich man's wife. But
Rosalind sat aloof with her beautiful arms folded and her head
averted, while her mother and sister and the venerable women
aforesaid worried and wondered over their materials, oppressed by the
multitude of their resources. One day there came in a beautiful piece
of white silk, brocaded with heavenly blue and silver sent by the
bridegroom himself--it not being thought amiss in those days that the
husband-elect should contribute to the bride's trousseau. Perdita
could think of no form or fashion which would do sufficient honour to
the splendour of the material.
'Blue's your colour, sister, more than mine,' she said, with
appealing eyes. 'It is a pity it's not for you. You would know what
to do with it.'
Rosalind got up from her place and looked at the great shining
fabric, as it lay spread over the back of a chair. Then she took it
up in her hands and felt it--lovingly, as Perdita could see--and
turned about towards the mirror with it. She let it roll down to her
feet, and flung the other end over her shoulder, gathering it in
about her waist with her white arm, which was bare to the elbow. She
threw back her head, and looked at her image, and a hanging tress of
her auburn hair fell upon the gorgeous surface of the silk. It made a
dazzling picture. The women standing about uttered a little 'Look,
look!' of admiration. 'Yes, indeed,' said Rosalind, quietly, 'blue is
my colour.' But Perdita could see that her fancy had been stirred,
and that she would now fall to work and solve all their silken
riddles. And indeed she behaved very well, as Perdita, knowing her
insatiable love of millinery, was quite ready to declare. Innumerable
yards of lustrous silk and satin, of muslin, velvet and lace, passed
through her cunning hands, without a jealous word coming from her
lips. Thanks to her industry, when the wedding-day came Perdita was
prepared to espouse more of the vanities of life than any fluttering
young bride who had yet received the sacramental blessing of a New
It had been arranged that the young couple should go out and spend
the first days of their wedded life at the country-house of an
English gentleman--a man of rank and a very kind friend to Arthur
Lloyd. He was a bachelor; he declared he should be delighted to give
up the place to the influence of Hymen. After the ceremony at
church--it had been performed by an English clergyman--young Mrs
Lloyd hastened back to her mother's house to change her nuptial robes
for a riding-dress. Rosalind helped her to effect the change, in the
little homely room in which they had spent their undivided younger
years. Perdita then hurried off to bid farewell to her mother,
leaving Rosalind to follow. Then parting was short; the horses were
at the door, and Arthur was impatient to start. But Rosalind had not
followed, and Perdita hastened back to her room, opening the door
abruptly. Rosalind, as usual, was before the glass, but in a position
which caused the other to stand still, amazed. She had dressed
herself in Perdita's cast-off wedding veil and wreath, and on her
neck she had hung the full string of pearls which the young girl had
received from her husband as a wedding-gift. These things had been
hastily laid aside, to await their possessor's disposal on her return
from the country. Bedizened by this unnatural garb Rosalind stood
before the mirror, plunging a long look into its depths and reading
heaven knows what audacious visions. Perdita was horrified. It was a
hideous image of their old rivalry come to life again. She made a
step towards her sister, as if to pull off the veil and the flowers.
But catching her eyes in the glass, she stopped.
'Farewell, sweetheart,' she said. 'You might at least have waited
till I had got out of the house!' And she hurried away from the
Mr Lloyd had purchased in Boston a house which to the taste of
those days appeared as elegant as it was commodious; and here he very
soon established himself with his young wife. He was thus separated
by a distance of twenty miles from the residence of his
mother-in-law. Twenty miles, in that primitive era of roads and
conveyances, were as serious a matter as a hundred at the present
day, and Mrs Wingrave saw but little of her daughter during the first
twelvemonth of her marriage. She suffered in no small degree from
Perdita's absence; and her affliction was not diminished by the fact
that Rosalind had fallen into terribly low spirits and was not to be
roused or cheered but by change of air and company. The real cause of
the young lady's dejection the reader will not be slow to suspect.
Mrs Wingrave and her gossips, however, deemed her complaint a mere
bodily ill, and doubted not that she would obtain relief from the
remedy just mentioned. Her mother accordingly proposed, on her
behalf, a visit to certain relatives on the paternal side,
established in New York, who had long complained that they were able
to see so little of their New England cousins. Rosalind was
despatched to these good people, under a suitable escort, and
remained with them for several months. In the interval her brother
Bernard, who had begun the practice of the law, made up his mind to
take a wife. Rosalind came home to the wedding, apparently cured of
her heartache, with bright roses and lilies in her face and a proud
smile on her lips. Arthur Lloyd came over from Boston to see his
brother-in-law married, but without his wife, who was expecting very
soon to present him with an heir. It was nearly a year since Rosalind
had seen him. She was glad--she hardly knew why--that Perdita had
stayed at home. Arthur looked happy, but he was more grave and
important than before his marriage.
She thought he looked 'interesting'--for although the word, in its
modern sense, was not then invented, we may be sure that the idea
was. The truth is, he was simply anxious about his wife and her
coming ordeal, Nevertheless, he by no means failed to observe
Rosalind's beauty and splendour, and to note how she effaced the poor
little bride. The allowance that Perdita had enjoyed for her dress
had now been transferred to her sister, who turned it to wonderful
On the morning after the wedding he had a lady's saddle put on the
horse of the servant who had come with him from town, and went out
with the young girl for a ride. It was a keen, clear morning in
January; the ground was bare and hard, and the horses in good
condition--to say nothing of Rosalind, who was charming in her hat
and plume, and her dark blue riding coat, trimmed with fur. They rode
all the morning, lost their way and were obliged to stop for dinner
at a farmhouse. The early winter dusk had fallen when they got home.
Mrs Wingrave met them with a long face. A messenger had arrived at
noon from Mrs Lloyd; she was beginning to be ill, she desired her
husband's immediate return. The young man, at the thought that he had
lost several hours, and that by hard riding he might already have
been with his wife, uttered a passionate oath. He barely consented to
stop for a mouthful of supper, but mounted the messenger's horse and
started off at a gallop.
He reached home at midnight. His wife had been delivered of a
little girl. 'Ah, why weren't you with me?' she said, as he came to
'I was out of the house when the man came. I was with Rosalind,'
said Lloyd, innocently.
Mrs Lloyd made a little moan, and turned away. But she continued
to do very well, and for a week her improvement was uninterrupted.
Finally, however, through some indiscretion in the way of diet or
exposure, it was checked, and the poor lady grew rapidly worse. Lloyd
was in despair. It very soon became evident that she was breathing
her last. Mrs Lloyd came to a sense of her approaching end, and
declared that she was reconciled with death. On the third evening
after the change took place she told her husband that she felt she
should not get through the night. She dismissed her servants, and
also requested her mother to withdraw--Mrs Wingrave having arrived on
the preceding day. She had had her infant placed on the bed beside
her, and she lay on her side, with the child against her breast,
holding her husband's hands. The night-lamp was hidden behind the
heavy curtains of the bed, but the room was illuminated with a red
glow from the immense fire of logs on the hearth.
'It seems strange not to be warmed into life by such a fire as
that,' the young woman said, feebly trying to smile. 'If I had but a
little of it in my veins! But I have given all my fire to this little
spark of mortality.' And she dropped her eyes on her child. Then
raising them she looked at her husband with a long, penetrating gaze.
The last feeling which lingered in her heart was one of suspicion.
She had not recovered from the shock which Arthur had given her by
telling her that in the hour of her agony he had been with Rosalind.
She trusted her husband very nearly as well as she loved him; but now
that she was called away forever she felt a cold horror of her
sister. She felt in her soul that Rosalind had never ceased to be
jealous of her good fortune; and a year of happy security had not
effaced the young girl's image, dressed in her wedding-garments, and
smiling with simulated triumph. Now that Arthur was to be alone, what
might not Rosalind attempt? She was beautiful, she was engaging; what
arts might she not use, what impression might she not make upon the
young man's saddened heart? Mrs Lloyd looked at her husband in
silence. It seemed hard, after all, to doubt of his constancy. His
fine eyes were filled with tears; his face was convulsed with
weeping; the clasp of his hands was warm and passionate. How noble he
looked, how tender, how faithful and devoted! 'Nay,' thought Perdita,
'he's not for such a one as Rosalind. He'll never forget me. Nor does
Rosalind truly care for him; she cares only for vanities and finery
and jewels.' And she lowered her eyes on her white hands, which her
husband's liberality had covered with rings, and on the lace ruffles
which trimmed the edge of her nightdress. 'She covets my rings and my
laces more than she covets my husband.'
At this moment the thought of her sister's rapacity seemed to cast
a dark shadow between her and the helpless figure of her little girl.
'Arthur,' she said, 'you must take off my rings. I shall not be
buried in them. One of these days my daughter shall wear them--my
rings and my laces and silks. I had them all brought out and shown me
today. It's a great wardrobe--there's not such another in the
Province; I can say it without vanity, now that I have done with it.
It will be a great inheritance for my daughter when she grows into a
young woman. There are things there that a man never buys twice, and
if they are lost you will never again see the like. So you will watch
them well. Some dozen things I have left to Rosalind: I have named
them to my mother. I have given her that blue and silver; it was
meant for her; I wore it only once, I looked ill in it.
But the rest are to be sacredly kept for this little innocent.
It's such a providence that she should be my colour; she can wear my
gowns; she has her mother's eyes. You know the same fashions come
back even twenty years. She can wear my gowns as they are. They will
lie there quietly waiting till she grows into them--wrapped in
camphor and rose-leaves, and keeping their colours in the
sweetscented darkness. She shall have black hair, she shall wear my
carnation satin. Do you promise me, Arthur?'
'Promise you what, dearest?'
'Promise me to keep your poor little wife's old gowns.'
'Are you afraid I shall sell them?'
'No, but that they may get scattered, My mother will have them
properly wrapped up, and you shall lay them away under a double-lock.
Do you know the great chest in the attic, with the iron bands? There
is no end to what it will hold. You can put them all there. My mother
and the housekeeper will do it, and give you the key. And you will
keep the key in your secretary, and never give it to anyone but your
child. Do you promise me?'
'Ah, yes, I promise you,' said Lloyd, puzzled at the intensity
with which his wife appeared to cling to this idea.
'Will you swear?' repeated Perdita.
'Yes, I swear.'
'Well--I trust you--I trust you,' said the poor lady, looking into
his eyes with eyes in which, if he had suspected her vague
apprehensions, he might have read an appeal quite as much as an
Lloyd bore his bereavement rationally and manfully. A month after
his wife's death, in the course of business, circumstances arose
which offered him an opportunity of going to England.
He took advantage of it, to change the current of his thoughts. He
was absent nearly a year, during which his little girl was tenderly
nursed and guarded by her grandmother. On his return he had his house
again thrown open, and announced his intention of keeping the same
state as during his wife's lifetime. It very soon came to be
predicted that he would marry again, and there were at least a dozen
young women of whom one may say that it was by no fault of theirs
that, for six months after his return, the prediction did not come
true. During this interval he still left his little daughter in Mrs
Wingrave's hands, the latter assuring him that a change of residence
at so tender an age would be full of danger for her health. Finally,
however, he declared that his heart longed for his daughter's
presence and that she must be brought up to town. He sent his coach
and his housekeeper to fetch her home. Mrs Wingrave was in terror
lest something should befall her on the road; and, in accordance with
this feeling. Rosalind offered to accompany her.
She could return the next day. So she went up to town with her
little niece, and Mr Lloyd met her on the threshold of his house,
overcome with her kindness and with paternal joy. Instead of
returning the next day Rosalind stayed out the week; and when at last
she reappeared, she had only come for her clothes. Arthur would not
hear of her coming home, nor would the baby. That little person cried
and choked if Rosalind left her; and at the sight of her grief Arthur
lost his wits, and swore that she was going to die. In fine, nothing
would suit them but that the aunt should remain until the little
niece had grown used to strange faces.
It took two months to bring this consummation about; for it was
not until this period had elapsed that Rosalind took leave of her
brother-in-law. Mrs Wingrave had shaken her head over her daughter's
absence; she had declared that it was not becoming, that it was the
talk of the whole country. She had reconciled herself to it only
because, during the girl's visit, the household enjoyed an unwonted
term of peace. Bernard Wingrave had brought his wife home to live,
between whom and her sister-in-law there was as little love as you
please. Rosalind was perhaps no angel; but in the daily practice of
life she was a sufficiently good-natured girl, and if she quarrelled
with Mrs Bernard, it was not without provocation. Quarrel, however,
she did, to the great annoyance not only of her antagonist, but of
the two spectators of these constant altercations. Her stay in the
household of her brother-in-law, therefore, would have been
delightful, if only because it removed her from contact with the
object of her antipathy at home.
It was doubly--it was ten times--delightful, in that it kept her
near the object of her early passion. Mrs Lloyd's sharp suspicions
had fallen very far short of the truth. Rosalind's sentiment had been
a passion at first, and a passion it remained--a passion of whose
radiant heat, tempered to the delicate state of his feelings, Mr
Lloyd very soon felt the influence. Lloyd, as I have hinted, was not
a modern Petrarch; it was not in his nature to practise an ideal
constancy. He had not been many days in the house with his
sister-in-law before he began to assure himself that she was, in the
language of that day, a devilish fine woman. Whether Rosalind really
practised those insidious arts that her sister had been tempted to
impute to her it is needless to enquire. It is enough to say that she
found means to appear to the very best advantage. She used to seat
herself every morning before the big fireplace in the dining-room, at
work upon a piece of tapestry, with her little niece disporting
herself on the carpet at her feet, or on the train of her dress, and
playing with her woollen balls. Lloyd would have been a very stupid
fellow if he had remained insensible to the rich suggestions of this
charming picture. He was exceedingly fond of his little girl, and was
never weary of taking her in his arms and tossing her up and down,
and making her crow with delight. Very often, however, he would
venture upon greater liberties than the young lady was yet prepared
to allow, and then she would suddenly vociferate her displeasure.
Rosalind, at this, would drop her tapestry, and put out her
handsome hands with the serious smile of the young girl whose virgin
fancy has revealed to her all a mother's healing arts. Lloyd would
give up the child, their eyes would meet, their hands would touch,
and Rosalind would extinguish the little girl's sobs upon the snowy
folds of the kerchief that crossed her bosom. Her dignity was
perfect, and nothing could be more discreet than the manner in which
she accepted her brother-in-law's hospitality. It may almost be said,
perhaps, that there was something harsh in her reserve. Lloyd had a
provoking feeling that she was in the house and yet was
unapproachable. Half-an-hour after supper, at the very outset of the
long winter evenings, she would light her candle, make the young man
a most respectful curtsey, and march off to bed. If these were arts,
Rosalind was a great artist. But their effect was so gentle, so
gradual, they were calculated to work upon the young widower's fancy
with a crescendo so finely shaded, that, as the reader has seen,
several weeks elapsed before Rosalind began to feel sure that her
returns would cover her outlay. When this became morally certain she
packed up her trunk and returned to her mother's house. For three
days she waited: on the fourth Mr Lloyd made his appearance---a
respectful but pressing suitor, Rosalind heard him to the end, with
great humility, and accepted him with infinite modesty. It is hard to
imagine that Mrs Lloyd would have forgiven her husband; but if
anything might have disarmed her resentment it would have been the
ceremonious continence of this interview. Rosalind imposed upon her
lover but a short probation. They were married, as was becoming, with
great privacy--almost with secrecy--in the hope perhaps, as was
waggishly remarked at the time, that the late Mrs Lloyd wouldn't hear
The marriage was to all appearance a happy one, and each party
obtained what each had desired--Lloyd 'a devilish fine woman', and
Rosalind--but Rosalind's desires, as the reader will have observed,
had remained a good deal of a mystery. There were, indeed, two blots
upon their felicity, but time would perhaps efface them. During the
first three years of her marriage Mrs Lloyd failed to become a
mother, and her husband on his side suffered heavy losses of
This latter circumstance compelled a material retrenchment in his
expenditure, and Rosalind was perforce less of a fine lady than her
sister had been. She contrived, however, to carry it like a woman of
considerable fashion. She had long since ascertained that her
sister's copious wardrobe had been sequestrated for the benefit of
her daughter, and that it lay languishing in thankless gloom in the
dusty attic. It was a revolting thought that these exquisite fabrics
should await the good pleasure of a little girl who sat in a high
chair and ate bread-and-milk with a wooden spoon. Rosalind had the
good taste, however, to say nothing about the matter until several
months had expired. Then, at last, she timidly broached it to her
husband. Was it not a pity that so much finery should be lost?--for
lost it would be, what with colours fading, and moths eating it up,
and the change of fashions. But Lloyd gave her so abrupt and
peremptory a refusal, that she saw, for the present, her attempt was
vain. Six months went by, however, and brought with them new needs
and new visions. Rosalind's thoughts hovered lovingly about her
sister's relies. She went up and looked at the chest in which they
lay imprisoned. There was a sullen defiance in its three great
padlocks and its iron bands which only quickened her cupidity.
There was something exasperating in its incorruptible immobility.
It was like a grim and grizzled old household servant, who locks his
jaws over a family secret. And then there was a look of capacity in
its vast extent, and a sound as of dense fullness, when Rosalind
knocked its side with the toe of her little shoe, which caused her to
flush with baffled longing. 'It's absurd,' she cried; 'it's improper,
it's wicked'; and she forthwith resolved upon another attack upon her
On the following day, after dinner, when he had had his wine, she
boldly began it. But he cut her short with great sternness.
'Once for all, Rosalind,' said he, 'it's out of the question. I
shall be gravely displeased if you return to the matter.'
'Very good,' said Rosalind. 'I am glad to learn the esteem in
which I held. Gracious heaven,' she cried, 'I am a very happy woman!
It's an agreeable thing to feel one's self sacrificed to a caprice!'
And her eyes filled with tears of anger and disappointment.
Lloyd had a good-natured man's horror of a woman's sobs, and he
attempted--I may say he condescended--to explain. 'It's not a
caprice, dear, it's a promise,' he said--'an oath.'
'An oath? It's a pretty matter for oaths! and to whom, pray?'
'To Perdita,' said the young man, raising his eyes for an instant,
and immediately dropping them.
'Perdita--ah, Perdita!' and Rosalind's tears broke forth. Her
bosom heaved with stormy sobs--sobs which were the long-deferred
sequel of the violent fit of weeping in which she had indulged
herself on the night when she discovered her sister's betrothal. She
had hoped, in her better moments, that she had done with her
jealousy; but her temper, on that occasion, had taken an ineffaceable
hold, 'And pray, what right had Perdita to dispose of my future?' she
'What right had she to bind you to meanness and cruelty? Ah, I
occupy a dignified place, and I make a very fine figure! I am welcome
to what Perdita has left! And what has she left? I never knew till
now how little! Nothing, nothing, nothing.'
This was very poor logic, but it was very good as a 'scene'. Lloyd
put his arm around his wife's waist and tried to kiss her, but she
shook him off with magnificent scorn. Poor fellow! he had coveted a
'devilish fine woman', and he had got one. Her scorn was intolerable.
He walked away with his ears tingling--irresolute, distracted. Before
him was his secretary, and in it the sacred key which with his own
hand he had turned in the triple lock. He marched up and opened it,
and took the key from a secret drawer, wrapped in a little packet
which he had sealed with his own honest bit of glazonry. Je garde,
said the motto--'I keep.' But he was ashamed to put it back. He flung
it upon the table beside his wife.
'Put it back!' she cried. 'I want it not. I hate it!'
'I wash my hands of it,' cried her husband. 'God forgive me!'
Mrs Lloyd gave an indignant shrug of her shoulders, and swept out
of the room, while the young man retreated by another door. Ten
minutes later Mrs Lloyd returned, and found the room occupied by her
little stepdaughter and the nursery-maid. The key was not on the
table. She glanced at the child. Her little niece was perched on a
chair, with the packet in her hands. She had broken the seal with her
own small fingers. Mrs Lloyd hastily took possession of the key.
At the habitual supper-hour Arthur Lloyd came back from his
counting-room. It was the month of June, and supper was served by
daylight. The meal was placed on the table, but Mrs Lloyd failed to
make her appearance. The servant whom his master sent to call her
came back with the assurance that her room was empty, and that the
women informed him that she had not been seen since dinner. They had,
in truth, observed her to have been in tears, and, supposing her to
be shut up in her chamber, had not disturbed her. Her husband called
her name in various parts of the house, but without response. At last
it occurred to him that he might find her by taking the way to the
attic. The thought gave him a strange feeling of discomfort, and he
bade his servants remain behind, wishing no witness in his quest. He
reached the foot of the staircase leading to the topmost flat, and
stood with his hands on the banisters, pronouncing his wife's name.
His voice trembled. He called again louder and more firmly. The only
sound which disturbed the absolute silence was a faint echo of his
own tones, repeating his question under the great eaves.
He nevertheless felt irresistibly moved to ascend the staircase.
It opened upon a wide hall, lined with wooden closets, and
terminating in a window which looked westward, and admitted the last
rays of the sun. Before the window stood the great chest. Before the
chest, on her knees, the young man saw with amazement and horror the
figure of his wife. In an instant he crossed the interval between
them, bereft of utterance. The lid of the chest stood open, exposing,
amid their perfumed napkins, its treasure of stuffs and jewels.
Rosalind had fallen backward from a kneeling posture, with one hand
supporting her on the floor and the other pressed to her heart.
On her limbs was the stiffness of death, and on her face, in the
fading light of the sun, the terror of something more than death. Her
lips were parted in entreaty, in dismay, in agony; and on her
blanched brow and cheeks there glowed the marks of ten hideous wounds
from two vengeful ghostly hands.