Veil by Howard
From The Smart Set
If the house had been merely shabby I doubt whether I would have
been interested. Every residence section has its shabby houses,
monuments to departed aspirations, falling into slow decay in the midst
of weedy yards, sometimes uninhabited and sometimes sheltering one or
two members of the family who apparently have been left, like the
ancient furniture, to be forgotten. The paint cracks and peels, the
windows fall into impossible angles or are boarded up, the porches sag,
the chimneys lose a brick or two and come in time to look like stumps
of teeth. By and by the whole structure seems to sink into the grass
under the burden of its neglect, and only a faint tenacity, a
melancholy inertia keeps it from crumbling altogether. Then suddenly
the inhabitants die, the neighbors awake to a sudden sense of change,
and that is all.
The Drainger house was such a house, but it was more. It was
mysterious, uncommunicative. In the midst of the commonplace residence
block, with its white cottages, its monotonous lawns and uninteresting
gardens, the contrast was startling, secretive, contemptuous. The tall
grass waved ironically at the neat grassplots which flanked it. The
great untrimmed elms sent branches to beat against the decaying
shingles, or downward into the faces of passers-by, with patrician
indifference to the law. They had, indeed, the air of ragged retainers,
haughty and starving, and yet crowding about the house as if to hide
the poverty of their master from the eyes of the vulgar. City
ordinances required the laying of cement walks; the rotting boardwalk
in front of the Drainger mansion was already treacherous, and no one
The building itself was extraordinary. Built in the days when Crosby
had been a lumber town and building material had consequently been
cheap, its pretensions were immense. A tall, six-sided tower occupied
two-thirds of the front, an elaborate affair, crowned by rusty ironwork
in lieu of battlements. Windows were inserted at appropriate intervals,
suggesting a donjon keep or a page from Walter Scott. The heavy brown
shutters were never opened. There was a grim angularity to the deep
porch below, a military cut to the bare front door which added to the
forbidding character of the place. Behind this imposing front the rest
of the building lay like the parts of a castle, each portion a little
lower than the preceding. There were four of these sections, like four
platforms, their flat roofs crowned with further rusty ironwork. The
windows were infrequent and all barred, and a massive elm to the east
of the house threw over them a gloomy and impenetrable shade. Although
the whole building had been painted brown, time and the weather had
combined to make it almost black, the only patch of color being the
rich green of the mossy shingles on the roof of the porch.
I had first noticed the Drainger house because of its oddity. Then I
was impressed by its air of speechless and implacable resentment. So
far as I could observe it was empty; no foot disturbed the rank grass
or troubled the dismal porches. The windows were never thrown open to
the sunlight. The front door, in the month I had spent in Crosby,
remained locked. I had once observed a grocery wagon standing in front
of the house, but this, I assumed, was because the driver wished to
leave his horse in the shade.
Proceeding homeward one night to my cousin's, Mark Jedfrey, with
whom I was spending the summer, I was startled, when I came in front of
the Drainger place, to see a light in the front window of the tower on
the ground floor. It was moonlight, and the heavy shadows sculptured
the old mansion into fantastic shapes, revealing a barred window
inscrutably facing the moon, carving the top of the house into
gargoyles of light and throwing the porch into Egyptian darkness. The
light through the shutter of the window was therefore as unexpected as
a stab. I paused without knowing it. Apparently I was observed; there
was a light sound of footsteps from the invisible porch and the
creaking, followed by the shutting, of the front door. Immediately
afterwards the light was extinguished.
The person who had been on the porch had moved so quickly and so
quietly, and the street, drenched in the July moonlight, seemed so
still, that I wondered a moment later whether to credit my senses. At
any rate, it was not my business, I concluded, to stand staring at a
strange house at one o'clock in the morning, and I resumed my walk
A week later, a change in the routine of my daily life made me a
regular visitant in the neighborhood. Twice a day I passed the Drainger
house. In the morning it seemed to resist the genial sunlight, drawing
its hedge of shade trees closer about it and remaining impervious to
all suggestions of warmth. And on my return from the office in the
evening it was as sealed, as autumnal as ever. The pleasant sounds of
human intercourse, the chatting of women on the steps or the whirr of
lawn-mowers should, I fancied, at least unshutter a window or burst
open a frigid door. But the warm impulses of neighborhood life, like
the cries of the boys at their evening game of baseball, broke unheeded
against that clifflike impassivity. No one stirred within; no one, not
even the paper boy, dared to cut across the front yard; and a pile of
yellowing bills on the front steps testified to the unavailing temerity
There was nothing to show I had not dreamed the episode of the
light, as I had begun to think of it. I could have made
inquiriesHelen, Mark's wife, knows everybodybut I did not. I could
have consulted the directory. But I preferred to keep the house to
myself. I had a secret sense of proprietorship (I am, I suppose, a
romantic and imaginative soul) and I preferred that the mystery should
come to me. My alert devotion must, I thought, have its reward. Indeed,
my daily walks to and from my work took on the character of a silent
duel between the expressionless walls and my expressionless face, and I
was not going to be beaten in taciturnity.
One Friday morning, well into August, I was surprised and curious to
see a woman standing under the elms in the front of the Drainger
mansion. The neighborhood was, for the moment, deserted. I concealed my
eagerness under a mask of impassivity. I thought myself masterly as,
pretending an interest in nothing, I yet watched the place out of the
tail of my eye. Imagine my increasing surprise to observe that as I
approached, the person in question came slowly down to the junction of
her walk with the sidewalk, so that, as I drew near we were face to
You are Mr. Gillingham? she asked.
I stopped mechanically and raised my hat. I visit Crosby regularly,
where I am well known, so that I was not surprised to be thus accosted
by one who was a stranger to me. She was about forty, obviously a
spinster, and clad in a costume not merely out-of-date, but so far
out-of-date as to possess a false air of theatricalism. I can best
describe her (I am not clever in matters of dress) by saying that, with
the exception that she was not wearing a hoopskirt, she appeared to
have stepped out of Godey's Lady's Book. A Paisley shawl was
wrapped tightly around her head, although the morning was warm, and its
subdued brilliance clashed oddly with the faded lemon of her dress. Her
face was small, the features regular, but her complexion was more than
sallow, it was yellow, the yellow of dying grass and sunless places. A
spot of rouge glared on either cheek, and, with her eyes, which were
black and brilliant, gave her face the look of fever. Her dark hair,
just visible under the shawl, deepened the hectic quality of her
features, although, as a matter of fact, she was not ill.
You are a lawyer? she continued, her brilliant eyes searching my
face, I thought with some boldness, and without waiting for an answer
she said, Come, and walked abruptly toward the house.
I followed her. On the porch we paused; my companion turned and
searched the street, which was still empty, a fact which seemed to
increase her satisfaction, and without giving me a glance, unlocked the
front door with a key which she was carrying.
She led me into the house and through two of the rooms into a third
before we paused. The transition from sunlight to darkness had been too
rapid for my eyes, so that, for some moments I could only stand
ridiculously in the middle of the room. I was conscious of the presence
of a third personintensely consciousand exceedingly uncomfortable.
My conductor busied herself pushing forward a chair which, fortunately,
she placed under the shuttered window. To this I stumbled.
You are a lawyer? asked a voice from the darkness.
I was startled.
The voice sprang from the corner I was facing as though it were a
live thing that had seized upon me. It was the voice of a woman, of
great age apparently, and yet it possessed a fierce, biting energy that
no amount of years could weaken.
This is Mr. Gillingham, said my conductor with, I thought, a shade
of asperity. Of course he's a lawyer.
To this there succeeded a silence, broken only by the sibilant
drawing in of the younger woman's breath.
I am indeed a lawyer, I said at length. In what way can I be of
We see no one, said the imperious voice abruptly. You must
therefore pardon the manner in which I have had you called in.
I was now able to discern something through the gloom.
The speaker sat in extreme shadow. Her dress was a blur in the
darkness, faintly outlining her person, which seemed to be of medium
height, though in the great chair she looked shrunken and huddled
together. Her eyes, faint points of light, were steadfastly fixed on
mine, but her face was, I thought, in such deep shadow that I could not
make it out.
But the concentration points, so to speak, were not her eyes, but
her hands. They lay in her lap motionless, and yet they were
extraordinarily alive. Even in that light their emaciated condition
testified to her extreme age; but they were not decrepit, they seemed
to glow with a steady light, an inward and consuming energy.
You may leave us, Emily, said the voice, and Emily, who had been
hovering with what I somehow felt to be a hint of malice, unwillingly
withdrew. The other closed her eyes until the shutting of the door
assured us of privacy.
I am dying, she began suddenly in her strange, impersonal manner.
Do not interrupt me, she added coldly as I was about to utter some
inanity. I desire to be certain of one thing while there is time,
namely, that my wishes respecting the disposition of my body shall be
respectedin every particular.
Her manner indicated nothing out of the ordinary. She might have
been speaking of the merest commonplace.
You are a lawyer. How can I so arrange that the directions I will
leave must be carried out after my death?
Ordinarily, I managed to stammer, directions in such matters when
given to the heirs, have the binding force
There was a second's pause.
That is not what I wish, continued the inflexible voice. I wish
to compel attention to my instructions.
A provision can be inserted in your will, I said at length, which
would make the inheritance of your property conditional upon the
fulfillment of your wishes.
She seemed to consider this. Her hands moved slightly in her lap.
And if those conditions were not fulfilled?
Your estate would go elsewhere as you might direct.
There was prolonged pause. Her eyes disappeared, and try as I would,
I could not distinguish her face. Her hands shifted, and she spoke.
Step to the door and call my daughter. I am Mrs. Drainger.
I might have been the servant. I arose and groped my way toward the
door. She neither offered me any direction as to its location, nor
commented upon the gloom in which I hesitated.
I reached the door and, opening it, was about to call, when I was
aware of Miss Drainger's presence; she seemed to have materialized, a
pale specter, out of the dusk, and I was again conscious of vague
Your mother wished me to call you, I said, holding the door open.
Her strange eyes searched mine for a brief moment as she entered the
Suddenly Miss Drainger, poised in the gloom over her mother's chair,
seemed to my startled sense like a monstrous pallid moth. The
impression, though momentary, was none the less vivid. I felt choked,
uncomfortable. An instant only, and Mrs. Drainger's voice recalled me
to my senses.
She gave directions for the bringing of a box containing some
documents she wished. Miss Drainger said nothing, but turned abruptly,
gave me another sidelong glance and left the room.
In the time she was absent neither of us spoke. The strange woman in
the corner shrank, it seemed to me, deeper into the dusk, until only
her extraordinary hands remained; and I sat in my uncomfortable and
ancient chair, the little streaks of sunlight from the blind making odd
patterns on my legs and hands.
The return of the daughter with a tin box which she placed in my
hands was followed by an extraordinary moment. I became, if I did not
deceive myself, increasingly conscious of a silent struggle going on
between the two. Mrs. Drainger, in her biting, inflexible voice, again
requested her daughter to leave us. Emily demurred and in the interval
that followed I had a sense of crisis. Nay, I fancied more; upon
hearing Emily's brief protest Mrs. Drainger slowly clenched her hands,
and the movement was as though she were steadily bending her daughter's
will to her purpose. At length, with the same sibilant in-taking of the
breath I had observed before, Emily turned and swept through the door,
her face unusually yellow, the little spots of rouge on her cheeks
The box she had given me contained a will made by Mrs. Drainger,
together with a few securities totaling no great value, and other less
important documents. This will she now directed me to modify so that
the inheritance of the property upon her death would be conditional
upon the fulfillment by the heir of certain conditions which she said
she would indicate in writing.
I asked why those conditions could not now be indicated.
You are all alike, she said bitterly. All alike in your
curiosity. I prefer to put them in writing.
I assured her of the inviolability of her confidence and rose.
Stay, she commanded. If that girl asks you any impertinent
questions send her to me.
Her hands moved quickly as she spoke. The concentration of her voice
alarmed me so that I could think of nothing to say. I bowed and
withdrew. It was only when I was once outside the room that I recalled,
curiously enough, at no time during my interview had I seen Mrs.
Miss Emily was not visible. I was about to search for the street
door when, in her usual extraordinary manner, she appeared out of the
What did she want? she demanded, almost fiercely, her eyes holding
me as though they were hands.
I explained as best I could why I could not tell her.
Humph! she ejaculated, and without further speech led me to the
There will be fees, I suppose, she said contemptuously, staring at
her hand upon the doorknob. Do not expect much. You are the only
person who has entered this house for a year.
I was embarrassed how to reply.
Poverty is like contagion. People flee from it, she added with a
mirthless laugh, and opened the door.
I bade her farewell. She stared at me, a shrewd look in her black
eyes, but said nothing. The instant I was on the porch the door was
shut and locked behind me.
On my way to Jedfrey's office I could not shake off my unfavorable
impression of Miss Drainger. I assured myself again and again that the
oddity of their manner of life was sufficient reason for her
peculiarities, and yet the same picture of her kept recurring to my
minda vision of her flitting to and fro in that great house like a
monstrous evil moth. I imagined her pale face with its spots of rouge
and her lemon dress so unlike any costume I had ever seen. I pictured
her materializing, as I phrased it, out of the shadows; hovering
expectantly (I knew not why) over the gaunt form in the great chair by
the window; or peering out of the unopened shutters as she moved from
room to room. I positively grew ashamed of myself for my fancies.
The following morning a square, yellowed envelope (everything about
that place seemed to lack freshness), addressed in the fine, regular
hand of a generation ago, caught my eye in the heap of mail, and
putting aside more important matters, I at once opened it. The note was
from Mrs. Drainger, evidently written in her own hand, and contained
the provision I was to insert in the will. It was sufficiently queer.
She desired that upon her death no one should venture to see her face,
which would be covered, she wrote, by a thick veil, and she was
particularly anxious that her daughter Emily should respect her wishes.
Otherwise her property was to go elsewhere.
The energy and clarity exhibited by the old lady on the previous day
forbade any notion that this preposterous idea sprang from a mind
touched by the infirmities of age, and yet her stipulation was so
peculiar, so irrational that I pondered long over my duty in the case.
What Mrs. Drainger wanted was, in one sense, absurdly simplemerely
the revision of her will, scarcely more than the retyping of that
simple document; but I was conscious of a deeper demand; as though, to
the support of her desires, she had called in my person upon the
assurance, even the majesty of the law. I could not justify her
breaking of what I instinctively took to be a determined habit of
seclusion except by postulating deeper issues than I saw on the
surface. There was no reason why I should not revise the document and
be done with it; queerer provisions have been made in other wills. Yet,
to make the inheritance conditional upon so strange a request might be
unfair to Miss Drainger. It was true, I distrusted her; but that was
not to the point, and this provision was one that she would have every
natural incentive to break.
A further thought occurredthere might be other children not known
to me who would expect some share in the modest estate; finding the
property willed to Emily upon so tenuous a provision, they might easily
charge that that provision had been broken, when proof and disproof
would be equally difficult, and Mrs. Drainger's wish that her companion
(despite her singular testament) be her sole heir would then not be
met. The will simply provided that, should Emily forfeit her right to
the property the estate should go to a local charity; no mention was
made of other children; but this silence did not disprove their
I was too well aware of the ease with which so singular a document
could be attacked in court, not to be uneasy. I resolved finally again
to consult my client (if the name could attach to so imperious a lady)
and briefly announcing my absence to Mark Jedfrey, I sought the
The old house looked as deathlike as ever. It seemed incredible that
human existence could be possible within its sunless walls. Indeed, my
persistent efforts at the rusty bell-handle produced only a feeble
echo, and the round-eyed interest of a group of urchins, who
volunteered, after a time, that nobody lived there. I was beginning to
agree with them when a key was turned in the lock and the weatherbeaten
door yielded a few cautious inches. Miss Emily looked out at me.
It's you, she said ungraciously, and seemed rather to hope that I
would disappear as at the uttering of a charm.
I wish to see your mother, I said.
She hesitated. At length, opening the door scarcely enough to admit
me, she bade me enter, and disappeared. The house was as dismal as
Come in here, she said, appearing after her usual sudden fashion
in a dim doorway and looking more like a wraith than ever.
Her eyes burned me as I walked cautiously into the other room.
It was one I had not seen, but Mrs. Drainger was seated, as before,
in the obscurest corner, a blur of white in which her pale hands looked
like pallid lumps of flame. I faced my invisible client.
I have come about the will, I began, and was immediately conscious
of Miss Emily's voracious interest. The opening was, as I recognized
too late, scarcely diplomatic.
Will? said the daughter in a harsh voice. You are making a will?
She looked enormously tall and unpleasant as she spoke.
Yes, my dear, responded Mrs. Drainger dryly.
You? You? continued the daughter rapidly. After all these
years? It is incredible. It is incredible. She laughed unpleasantly
with closed eyes.
Then, conscious that she was betraying emotions not meant for me,
she turned to my chair. You will understand that the information is
something of a shock for a daughter. My mother's condition
Mrs. Drainger, I ventured to interrupt, wishes merely to make
certain changes in an instrument already drawn up. I was conscious of
a stir, whether of gratitude or of resentment, from the darkened
Emily seemed momentarily bewildered.
You frightened me, she said at length with a frankness palpably
I quite understand, I retorted, the sham being, I thought,
tolerably obvious. And now if your mother and I
She took the hint.
I will leave you, she said.
It was evident I had not won her gratitude.
As the door closed behind her I heard a low sound from Mrs.
I am afraidafraid, she murmured weakly. I think forgetting my
presence; and then, as if suddenly conscious of a slip:
Old women, Mr. Gillingham, have their fancies. Death seems at times
I murmured some polite deprecation, but I was sure it was not death
that frightened her.
Drawing from my pocket her letter and the copy of the will I had
prepared I explained as best I could why I had come. I was tolerably
confused. I could not question her entire sanity, and as I did not wish
in any way to hint at what I felt concerning Emily I soon involved
myself in a veritable dust of legal pedantry. Finally I asked whether
there were other children.
Mrs. Drainger heard me out in ironic silence.
I have no others, she admitted at length, and added after a
second, Thank heaven!
There remains only one other matter, I said. The provisions of
your will are such that unless she knows them in advance Miss Emily
will almost inevitably forfeit the inheritance.
I am aware of that, said the voice, and the pale hands moved
imperceptibly. I am quite well aware of what I am doing, Mr.
Gillingham, and I repeat, my daughter is not to ask impertinent
I bowed, somewhat ruffled. I added that it would be necessary to
witness her signature in the usual manner. She seemed surprised to
learn that two persons were necessary, and remained silent.
Call Emily, she directed.
Emily will not do, I objected, since she is a possible
I am aware, she responded coldly. Call Emily.
Emily, being summoned, was directed to procure the presence of a
Mrs. Mueller, living near by, who occasionally helped with the work.
She seemed unusually tractable and departed on her errand without
For some three or four minutes Mrs. Drainger did not speak. I could
not, of course, see her face; but once or twice her hands shifted in
her lap, and I thought she was perturbed. My own conversational efforts
had been so uniformly unfortunate that I concluded to remain silent.
You will see an old, worn woman, she said musingly. But it does
The entrance of Miss Emily followed by that of a stout, comfortable
German woman prevented the necessity of a reply. I explained what was
wanted; Emily assisted me in making it clear to Mrs. Mueller, and then
withdrew to the door, where she assumed an attitude of
disinterestednesstoo obviously assumed it, I thought.
It became necessary to have more light, and Emily went to the window
and opened the shutter. I turned to where Mrs. Drainger sat, the will
in my left hand, my fountain pen in the other, and in that attitude I
hesitated for a brief moment of incredulity. I thought I was looking at
a woman without a head.
A second's glance showed how mistaken I was. The thin, emaciated
figure, clad like her daughter's, in a fashion long forgotten, was, as
I had surmised, somewhat shrunken by age. Her strange hands, loosely
held in her lap, were wrinkled with a thousand wrinkles like crumpled
parchment, and yet, even in that crueler light, they conveyed the
impression of power. They seemed like antennæ wherewith their owner
touched and tested the outer world. As I sought the reason for this
impression I saw that the face and head were entirely wrapped in the
thick folds of a black veil, which was so arranged that the eyes alone
were visible. These seemed to swim up faintly as from the bottom of a
My imperceptible pause of surprise drew from Emily that sudden
in-taking of breath I have before remarked, and I could not but feel
that she intended, as I felt, a subtle sarcasm in the sound.
Accordingly I made no comment, secured Mrs. Drainger's signature
without difficulty, then that of Mrs. Mueller (who, during the whole
procedure, uttered no word), and added my own with as natural an air as
I could manage. Miss Emily led Mrs. Mueller away and I offered the
completed document to Mrs. Drainger.
Keep it, she said with some feebleness and then, more loudly,
I will take care. Keep it. Make her call for it when it is time.
Now let her come to me.
My search for the daughter necessitated my going through the several
rooms, so that I had a tolerable notion of the house. Miss Emily's
inheritance would not be great, although the lot was itself valuable.
The furniture was all old and of just that antiquity which lacks value
without acquiring charm. I remarked a vast what-not in one corner; one
table promised well, and there were one or two really fine engravings;
but for the most part the upholstered chairs were shabby, the tables
and desks old and cracked, and the carpets of a faded elegance. The
kitchen into which I passed was notably bleak, and the decrepit
wood-stove seemed never to have held a fire.
Miss Drainger came in the back entrance as I entered the kitchen.
Her face was paler than I had ever seen it. She confronted me silently.
If you are through, she said bitingly, I will let you out the
I observed mildly that her mother wanted her and accompanied her
into the sitting room. I hesitated how best to broach the matter I had
in mind without giving offense and resolved, unfortunately, on a
My fee has been paid, I said, awkwardly enough.
She searched my face. I affected to be busy with my hat.
I see, she commented with a short, cynical laugh. Sometimes it is
done that way, sometimes in ways less pleasant. We are quite used to
it. I suppose I had better thank you.
I felt my face flush scarlet.
It is not necessary, I faltered and was grateful to get out of the
house without further blunders.
I filled my lungs with the sweet August morning in positive relief,
feeling that I had been in the land of the dead.
I had no further contact with the Draingers for some days. Indeed,
the whole curious episode was beginning to fade in my mind when, some
three weeks later, a dinner that Helen was giving recalled my
experience and added fresh interest to my relations with them. I sat
next to one of those conventionally pretty women who require only the
surface of one's attention, and I was preparing to be bored for the
rest of the evening when I caught a chance remark of Isobel Allyn's.
Mrs. Allyn (everybody calls her Isobel) was talking across the table
to Dr. Fawcett.
You've lost your mysterious veiled lady, she said.
Yes, said Fawcett.
Fawcett is a good fellow, about forty-five, and inclined to be
Veiled lady? shrilled some feminine nonentity, much to Fawcett's
distaste. How thrilling! Do tell us about it!
There is nothing to tell, growled Fawcett.
Isobel, however, is not easily swept aside.
Oh, yes, there is, she persisted. Dr. Fawcett has for years had a
mysterious patient whose face, whenever he visits her, remains
obstinately invisible. Now, without revealing her features, the lady
has had the bad taste to die.
I leaned forward.
Is it Mrs. Drainger, Fawcett?
He turned to me with mingled relief and inquiry.
Yes. How did you know?
I promised myself something later and remained vague.
I had heard of her, I said.
His eyes questioned mine.
Everyone must have heard of her but me, came the same irritating
voice. Aren't you going to tell us?
Merely a patient of mine, said Fawcett impolitely. She has just
diedat an advanced age.
It was cruel, but justified.
Isobel was penitent.
I am sorry, she said prettily, and Helen hastily introduced the
subject of automobiles, concerning which she knows very little.
I sought out Fawcett on the porch after dinner.
About Mrs. Drainger, he said. How did you know?
I am, I suppose, her lawyeror was, rather, I explained. I have
I thought soulless corporations and bloated bondholders were more
They are, I said, and briefly recounted how I had come to be Mrs.
Fawcett's cigar glowed in the dark. His wicker chair creaked as he
shifted his weight.
The daughter is a curious creature, he observed slowly, something
uncanny about her, even devilish. Somehow I picture her striding up and
down the shabby rooms like a lioness. The town has grown, the
neighborhood changed, and I don't believe either of them was aware of
it. They lived absolutely in the past. So far as I could see they hated
each othernot, you understand with any petty, feminine spite, but
splendidly, like elemental beings. I never went into the house without
feeling that hot, suppressed atmosphere of hate. And yet there they
were, tied together, as absolutely alone as though they had been left
on a deserted island.
Tied togetherI fancy that's it. Emily could, of course, have gone
away. And yet I have a queer fancy, too, that so long as Mrs. Drainger
wore her veil the girl could not leave; that if she had once uncovered
her face the tie between them would have been broken. The old lady knew
that, certainly, and I think Emily knew it, too, and I fancy she must
have tried again and again to lift the covering from her mother's face.
But Mrs. Draingershe was will incarnatewas always just too much for
I told him about the provisions of her will.
Ah, he said, it is even clearer now. My theory is right. The veil
was, as it were, the symbol that held them together. But now, I wonder,
does the will represent the old lady's revenge, or her forgiveness?
We shall know shortly, I interjected.
Fawcett nodded in the dark.
Captain Drainger built the house, he continued inconsequentially,
back in the forties for himself and his young bride, and, though it
looks bleak enough now, it was for the Crosby of those days a mansion
of the first class. The captain, the tradition is, was a wild,
obstinate fellow with black hair and brilliant eyes (I fancy Emily has
much of her father in her), and nobody was greatly surprised, when the
war broke out, to have him at first lukewarm, and then avowedly a
Confederate. Of course he might as well have professed atheism or free
love in this localityhe might better have blown his brains outwhich
he practically did, anyway. Public sentiment forced him out of the
state and over Mason and Dixon's line, and he entered the rebel army as
a cavalry captain, and deliberately (we heard) got himself killed. Of
course the Drainger fortune, fair enough for those days, went to pieces
Mrs. Drainger immediately adopted the policy of complete seclusion
she was to follow ever after. When the captain left, it was said they
would not speak; at any rate, she broke off her friendships, refused
herself to callers, and saw nobody. Her condition served her as an
excuse, but everybody knew, I guess, the real reason why she kept to
herself. There, alone with an old servant who died a year or so later,
she walked the floor of that mockery of a house, or sat brooding over
the coming of the child. It must have been pleasant! Emily was born
just before we heard of the captain's death.
One or two of her nearest friends tried to comfort her, but she
would see no one except the doctorwho, by the way was my father. I
have inherited the Draingers, you see.
Fawcett's cigar was out, but he did not light another.
My mother, from whom I got all this, said there was something
magnificent in the way Mrs. Drainger suffered, in the way she resented
any intrusion upon her self-imposed solitude. My mother was a
courageous woman, but she said she was positively frightened when Mrs.
Drainger, a tall, fair woman with straight, level eyes, came to the
door in answer to her knock.
'You may go back, Lucy Fawcett,' she said. 'A rebel has no
friends,' and shut the door in my mother's mortified face.
At first there was some grumbling and ill-natured talk, but it soon
ceased. People who knew her family (she was a Merion) saw pretty
clearly that Mrs. Drainger's heart had, for most purposes, stopped
beating when the captain found the bullet he was looking for, and
tumbled from his horse. What was left was the magnificent shell of a
woman in that great shell of a housethat, and the child. I can
picture her sitting upright in some great chair by the shuttered
window, peering out at the rank grass and the elm trees, or else
wandering, always majestic, from room to room with her baby in her
arms, listening to the silence. She cut herself off from the world of
the living as though she had been buried, and she tried to bring up
Emily as though they were in the land of the dead.
Emily was, of course, her only friend, her only companion, her only
link with life. Tragically enough, she was to fail her. She grew up, a
solitary, imperious child, I imagine much as she is now. She strikes me
as being one of those unfortunate natures who are as old at twelve as
they ever will be. Mother hinted at terrible scenes between the woman,
like a tragedy queen, and her baby, the child stormily demanding to be
like other children, the mother stonily listening and never bending her
ways. The will of the motherI grow fancifulwas like ice-cold metal,
the child was hot with life, and the result was passionate rebellions,
followed by long weeks of sullen silence. And always Mrs. Drainger
hugged her isolation and hugged her child to that isolation because she
was her father's daughter. How or on what they lived, nobody knows.
You understand, Fawcett interposed, that this is mainly
conjecture. They were long before my day then. I am merely putting
together what I heard and my own inferences from what I have seen. And
it seems to me, looking back, that Mrs. Drainger set, as it were, when
the captain died, into that terrible fixed mold she was to wear ever
after, and the lonely child with the brilliant black eyes was not
merely fighting solitude, she was beating her passionate little fists
against the granite of her mother's nature. And I fancy that at an
early age (she was very mature, mind), Emily came to hate her mother
quite earnestly and conscientiously, and, so to speak, without meanness
Of course it was impossible to keep the girl totally confined. She
did not, it is true, go to school, but she went out more or less, and
in a queer, unnatural way she made friends. That was later, however.
She never went to parties, since her mother would not give any and she
was proudall the Draingers are proud. And she had no playmates. Until
she was a young woman, so far as human intercourse was concerned, Emily
might as well have had the plague in the house.
But she went out as she grew older. For instance, she went to
church, not, I fancy, because she had any need of religion, but because
it was a place she could go without embarrassment or comment.
There was a moment of silence as though Fawcett was pondering how to
continue, and I heard the blur of voices from the hall and prayed that
nobody would come.
We lived across the street from them in those days, he resumed,
and I was a young cub from the medical school, home only at vacations.
I really don't know all that happened. Indeed, it seems to me that I
have known the Draingers only by flashes at any time. They were always
wrapped in mysterious human differences, and even when you saw her on
the street some of that surcharged atmosphere of silence seemed to
color Emily's face. She had grown up then. Her clothes were quite
orthodox, and she was handsome as a leopard is handsome, but always she
struck me as haunted by a vague fear, a fear of the house, perhaps, and
of her mother's power to rule her. I used to fancy, watching her return
to their sombre dwelling, that she was drawn back as to a spider's web
by the fascination of its tragic silences. The story of her life is
like a strange book read by lightning, with many leaves turned over
unseen between the flashes.
You were in love with her! I cried.
No, he said slowly. I might have been, but I wasn't. You are
right, though, in guessing there was love in her story, only it was not
I, it was Charlie Brede who, so to speak, sprang the trap.
She got to know him at church. Charles was an honest, ordinary,
likable boy with a face like a Greek god and a streak of the most
unaccountable perversity. His obstinacy was at once intense and wild.
That made him interesting and, though there was no greatness behind it,
any woman would have loved his face. Don't imagine, furthermore,
because I have supposed they met at church, that he was narrowly pious.
Everybody went to church in those daysthere was nowhere else to go.
Charlie was, in short, an ordinary, well-behaved youngster, except that
his face hinted at possibilities he couldn't have fulfilled, and except
for his dash of narrow rebellion. I don't see how, to such a stormy
creature as Emily, he could have been bearable.
The affair had got well along when I came home in the spring. At
first, I gathered from the talk, Emily had met him only away from the
house (it was not home), at church or downtown, or in such ways as she
could unsuspiciously contrive. Then somehow Charlie suspected something
queer and insisted, in one of his obstinate fits, on his duty to call.
I know this because they stood for a long time under the trees in
front of our house, Charles's voice booming up through the scented
darkness as he argued. Emily put him off with various feminine
subterfugesshe was, I remember, rather magnificent in her despairing
diplomacyand I thought for a while she would succeed. Then I heard
Brede's voice, wrathful and sullen, with a quality of finality.
'If you are ashamed of me' he said, and walked off.
It was the one statement she could not outwit. Emily stood for a
moment, thenI can imagine with what terrific surrender of prideran
'Charlie, Charlie!' she called. He stopped. She came up to him.
There was a low murmur of voices, and I thought she was crying.
'Tuesday, then,' he said, and kissed her.
Emily waited until he was well away, and in the moonlight I could
see her raise her hands to her head in a gesture that might have been
despair, that might have been puzzlement. Then she crossed the street
into the blackness of their porch.
Did she love him? I don't know. Do you?
The question hung motionless in the air. Fawcett lit another cigar.
One would have expected something regal about the man Emily
Drainger should choose. You agree with me, I suspect, that she isor
wasleonine, terrific. Perhaps she was deceived by his face. Perhaps,
after the manner of lovers, she found splendid lights and vistas in the
Charlie Brede the rest of us considered rather ordinary. Or perhaps,
since she had lived her solitary life so long, pestered and haunted by
her mother, any pair of lips would have awakened in her the same
powerful and primitive impulses. He was her man, and she wanted him,
and she was not to get him. I have even thought that she did not love
him at all: that she was quite willing to feign a passion in order to
escape from that terrible mother with her eyes forever focused on her
tragedy, her mother, and that gaunt, grim house. I am superstitious
about that house. Nothing good can come out of it. It warped Mrs.
Drainger out of all semblance to human nature, and it was warping
Emily, and Mrs. Drainger was somehow the presiding genius, the central
heart of that sinister fascination.
Charlie called that Tuesday night, I know, because I stayed home to
see. I was quite unashamed in doing so. He had, I must say, courage.
But he did not see Emily. There were two chairs on the porch, and, to
the enormous surprise of the neighborhood, which had not seen Mrs.
Drainger for years, she occupied one of those chairs and Charlie the
other, and, after a fashion, they conversed. I could not hear what they
said, but there was in Mrs. Drainger's calm, in her placid acceptance
of the situation, a quality of danger. I had an impulse to cry out. She
made me think of a steel instrument ready to close. And, as Charlie had
an obstinate streak in him, it became fairly evident that we were
witnessing a duela duel for the possession of Emily Drainger. Mute
obstinacy was pitted against will, and Emily, enchained and chafing,
was permitted only to stand by.
Considered from Mrs. Drainger's point of view, she was not, I
suppose, so hideously unfair. One doesn't shut off the last ray of
light from the prisoner's dungeon or grudge clothing to a naked man.
And her daughter was, as I have intimated, her only link with the
living. Hers was the selfishness of narrow hunger, if you will, of an
almost literal nakedness. And yet one cannot live alone with the dead
for twenty years and remain sane. Since Mrs. Drainger's life was to
Mrs. Drainger entirely normal, she could not, in the nature of the
case, imagine what she was condemning Emily to. The mother thought of
Brede, I fancy, as of some spiritual calamity that would rob her of
half her soul, and she brought to the issue her one powerher power of
breaking people's wills, and fought him as fiercely as she would have
fought the devil.
Charlie called again Friday and had again the pleasure of Mrs.
Drainger's society. He called again next week; this time both Emily and
Mrs. Drainger entertained him. The result was, I imagine, even more
unsatisfactorywhat Mrs. Drainger wanted. If it had not been so
terrific, it would have been funny. Some of us, indeed, took to making
wagers on the contest. He called repeatedly. Whether he saw Emily or
not, there was always Mrs. Drainger.
It is not her mere presence, mind, that was disconcerting. The old
lady was somehow sinister in her silent intensity, in her subtle power
of infiltration. Emily seemed, so far as I could see, thoroughly cowed.
Strain as she would at her leash, the keeper held her, and the tedious
pattern of their struggling conversation concealed bright chains. This,
Mrs. Drainger seemed to say, is what you are coming to. And Charlie
would look appealingly at Emily, and she at him, and they both looked
at the imperturbable monster of a woman, and on Charlie's lips the
desperate proposals to go somewhere, to do something, to get out of it,
died before he could utter them. Only mute obstinacy held him there.
Mrs. Drainger, if she could not prevent his coming, could at least hold
It lasted some four weeks. At lengthwhat was bound to happenthe
weakest snapped. A week went by, and Charlie did not come. Emily
haunted the porch in an ironic appearance of freedom. Mrs. Drainger, in
some subtle way, knew that she had won, that the girl was eternally
hers. Emily's face was pitifully white: she was suffering. Was it love?
Or was it her passionate hatred of the prison that held her, the
guardian that kept her helpless?
Then, one evening, Charlie came up the street. He looked unwell, as
though the contest of wills had somehow broken him. He walked straight
to the porch where Emily sat. She rose to meet himI think she was
'Good-bye,' he said, and held out his hand.
Apparently she did not ask why he had failed her, or where he was
going, or how he came so abruptly to bid her farewell. She took his
hand for a moment, and, with the other, steadied herself against the
chair, and so they stood looking at each other. There must have been
queer lights in their eyesdesire baffled in some strange way, wounded
pride, and an eating, mortal sickness. Charlie's hand dropped, he ran
down the walk, crossed the street straight toward me so that I saw his
white face, and walked away. We never saw him again. Emily stood
watching him, perhaps hoping that he would look back. If he did there
was still a possibility. But he did not, and she heard, I suppose, the
iron gates clang to. She went abruptly into the house. An hour later I
saw her go out, and after an interval, return.
The story lay between us like a damp mist.
Fawcett seemed to have forgotten me, but my silence clung to him
with mute tenacity.
What I should know, his voice rumbled on, I don't knowthat is,
of course, the scene between the two afterwards. When Emily Drainger
returned to her house that night something awful happened. What it was,
she alone now knows. But the next flash I had of their history came
three or four years laterwhen I had taken up my father's practice
after his death. I have said the Draingers were an inheritance; he had
been called in to see Mrs. Drainger several times and on those times
had seen what I saw later, but I had been away. I could not question
him and he was, above everything, scrupulously exact in keeping the
confidences of his patientseven with me. At any rate, I was called in
to see Mrs. Drainger as my father's son. I saw for the first time that
her face was entirely shrouded in the thick black veil she wore ever
after; and the wearing of that veil dates, I think, from the night that
Charlie Brede and Emily Drainger looked with baffled wonder into each
Imagine living with the thing. Imagine the torture of patience, the
fixity of will required to keep it eternally on. Do you know how
bandages feel after a time? Think of shrouding your head for twenty
years. But think also of the slow stealthiness with which the mute
reproach of that shrouded face would creep into your nerves if you had
to live with it; think of the imaginative persistency which saw, in
this covering of the features, not merely just the tie that would hold
Emily to her forever, but the tedious process of revenge for an injury
not known to us, for some monstrous moment between the two that only
the dull walls of the house could hear.
Think, too, of the ingenuity of that symbol. Its very helplessness
forbade to Emily the exultation of revilement. Good Heavens! It is bad
enough to be tied by your own weakness to a face that you hate, but to
be chained forever to that thing, to rise up with it and lie down with
it, to talk to it, to insult it, to listen to it, and yet never see
your sarcasms strike home! Think of hating a black veil for twenty
Emily, of course, had changed. She met me at the door as she met
you. She was a shell burned out by one fierce moment of fire. Something
had toppled in her and collapsed, and only by the pitiless and
continual irony of her silence could she hide her inward loathing. With
me she was proud and acid, but in her mother's room, whither she led
me, her silence was like a frightened, defensive covering which might,
at any moment, be stripped from her, leaving her indecently, almost
physically bare. Her pride, in sum, was broken, but not her hatred.
That smoldered where before it had flamed.
Mrs. Drainger had some minor complaint, I have forgotten what.
Emily followed me into the room where she satshe seems to me always
to have been sitting with patient intensity in some corner of that
house. I recall the stab of surprise with which I searched the shadowy
room for the austere and beautiful face of the Mrs. Drainger we knew,
and how, in my confusion, I could see nothing but her hands. Emily
mocked me with her eyes, but did not speak. Then I saw.
I remember I asked Mrs. Drainger, for some reason, to remove the
veil. I was raw in those days. Emily stiffened behind me and, I
thought, started to speak, but the rigid silence of Mrs. Drainger was
never broken. Her very speechlessness rebuked me. I prescribed for her
and got out of the house.
If you will believe me, Gillingham, Fawcett went on with a change
of voice, I have visited that house for twenty years and during that
time Mrs. Drainger, so far as I know, has never divested herself of her
veil. I got that much out of Emily. But I could get no more. She seemed
to freeze when I sought after reasons. I do not know what she had done,
but I do know that the wearing of that black mantle represented to them
that flaming crisis in their relationship when Emily lost forever her
one hope of escape.
I have watched them for twenty years. Twenty yearsthink of it!
They were like two granite rocks, clashed once together, and thereafter
frozen into immobility. They have never changed. All pretense of
affection had dropped from themeven before me. There was only naked
hate. Year after weary year, seeing no one, never going anywhere, they
have rasped and worn each other merely by being what they are.
And now the ultimate ingenuity, the last refinement of unhappiness!
The veil, I say, is a symbol of their shuddering cohesion which death
would normally destroy. But the will of this woman, as it triumphed
over life, she has made to triumph over death: if Emily removes the
veil she becomes, with her lack of training, her useless equipment, a
helpless beggar; if she does not remove it, if she never sees her
mother's face, she will be tormented by memory, bound forever, as she
was in life, to a blank and inscrutable shawl. Is it forgivenessor
justice, mercy or revenge?
Fawcett broke off as a swirl of guests flooded the coolness of the
I will tell you what happens, I said when I could.
Do, he returned. And you must take precautions.
On my way to the office next morning, it suddenly dawned on me what
Fawcett meant. How, in truth, was I to ascertain whether the singular
provision of Mrs. Drainger's will had or had not been met? Fawcett had
not, he said, been present at the death; and even if he had been, there
must elapse a considerable time in which Emily would necessarily be
alone with her mother's body.
The more I pondered, the more puzzled I grew. It seemed grotesque
that Mrs. Drainger should have overlooked this situation. Moreover, I
was naturally curious. Fawcett's narrative justified me in all I had
thought, but it had not given a motive for the veil, nor for the
tenacity with which Mrs. Drainger clung to it.
The house looked unchanged as I turned into the street on which it
faced. Death was, it said, of so little consequence to the walls which
had immured and conquered life itself. There was in the very lack of
change a great irony. A barren device of crêpe on the door, one lower
window partly openthat was all. The very papers yellowing before the
door had not been swept away.
Mrs. Mueller, the woman who had witnessed the signing of the will,
was standing on the steps that led to the street. If my relations with
the Draingers had been odd, they were to conclude as strangely. The
woman was apparently expecting me, and her manner testified to recent
What do you want? I asked.
She told me, Mrs. Mueller said, to get you.
Her hunted look and the solemn glance she gave me testified that
she was as real to her as though Mrs. Drainger had not for
twenty-four hours been dead. She told me if a certain thing happened I
was to call you.
Suddenly I saw. That tremendous woman was reaching at me over the
very boundaries of life.
I don't like it, continued Mrs. Mueller with an indescribable
accent of fear and a sidelong look at me for support. I don't like it.
But she said the day before she died, she said, 'If Miss Emily uncovers
my face when I am dead, you are to tell Mr. Gillingham,' she said. And
she made me promise to watch.
She seemed to want to tell me something she could not put in words.
It is terrible, she went on in a vague, haunted manner, what I
She was always a queer woman. 'If Miss Emily uncovers my face,' she
said, 'you are to call Mr. Gillingham.' And she made me watch. I didn't
want to. So when she died I came right over.
How did you know when to come?
I don't know, she answered helplessly. I just came. She told me
Miss Emily wasn't to see me, but I was to watch. It is terrible.
We were at the door. I had a sudden distaste for the woman, though
she was quite simply honest, and, as it were, the helpless and
unconscious spy that Mrs. Drainger, in her grave, had set upon her
daughter. I was anxious to get it over with.
You will see, she said again and brought me into the house.
Her terror was beginning to affect me. She was quite unable to tell
me what she had seen, but her whole manner expressed a dazed horror,
not so much of some concrete fear as of the ghastly position in which
she found herself.
She led me to the door of the room in which I had last seen Mrs.
Drainger alive, but no inducement could make her come in, nor could I
get from her anything more explicit. Poor soul! I do not wonder at her
The room was as before. The shuttered windows admitted only faint
bars and pencils of light. The dim chairs and shadowy tables were
discernible, but, as if they yielded precedence to death, the most
solid object in the obscurity was the coffin in which Mrs. Drainger's
body lay. I advanced to it. The mistress of this ill-fated mansion
seemed to have grown larger in death; her body was no longer shrunken
and her folded hands still retained faintly their peculiar luminous
quality. I could see in the shadow that around her face there was no
longer the black mantle, but the face puzzled meI could not make it
out, and, opening the shutter, I let in the light.
I stepped again to the side of the coffin. Could this be the queenly
beauty of whom Fawcett had spoken? For, where the features should have
been there was, naked to the light, only a shapeless, contorted mass of
flesh in which, the twisted eyelids being closed, there seemed to my
horrified gaze no decent trace of human resemblance!
I turned half-sick from the sight. Emily Drainger, tall, pallid
yellow, her great eyes burning with an evil glow, her lemon dress an
unhealthy splotch in the doorway, stood regarding me.
The willthe will! she cried. She thought she could stop me, but
she could not!
Whowhat has done this? I pointed involuntarily to her mother's
She seemed to expand before my eyes with evil triumph.
II, she cried at length, her black eyes holding me as I
stood, weak and faint, clinging unconsciously to the coffin for
support. Twenty years ago! Butshe laughed hysterically and
came to look at the shapeless, brutalized faceI never knew, until
she died, that it was done so well!!