The Moving Finger by Edith Wharton
The news of Mrs. Grancy's death came to me with the shock of an
immense blunder—one of fate's most irretrievable acts of vandalism. It
was as though all sorts of renovating forces had been checked by the
clogging of that one wheel. Not that Mrs. Grancy contributed any
perceptible momentum to the social machine: her unique distinction was
that of filling to perfection her special place in the world. So many
people are like badly-composed statues, over-lapping their niches at
one point and leaving them vacant at another. Mrs. Grancy's niche was
her husband's life; and if it be argued that the space was not large
enough for its vacancy to leave a very big gap, I can only say that, at
the last resort, such dimensions must be determined by finer
instruments than any ready-made standard of utility. Ralph Grancy's was
in short a kind of disembodied usefulness: one of those constructive
influences that, instead of crystallizing into definite forms, remain
as it were a medium for the development of clear thinking and fine
feeling. He faithfully irrigated his own dusty patch of life, and the
fruitful moisture stole far beyond his boundaries. If, to carry on the
metaphor, Grancy's life was a sedulously-cultivated enclosure, his wife
was the flower he had planted in its midst—the embowering tree,
rather, which gave him rest and shade at its foot and the wind of
dreams in its upper branches.
We had all—his small but devoted band of followers—known a moment
when it seemed likely that Grancy would fail us. We had watched him
pitted against one stupid obstacle after another—ill-health, poverty,
misunderstanding and, worst of all for a man of his texture, his first
wife's soft insidious egotism. We had seen him sinking under the leaden
embrace of her affection like a swimmer in a drowning clutch; but just
as we despaired he had always come to the surface again, blinded,
panting, but striking out fiercely for the shore. When at last her
death released him it became a question as to how much of the man she
had carried with her. Left alone, he revealed numb withered patches,
like a tree from which a parasite has been stripped. But gradually he
began to put out new leaves; and when he met the lady who was to become
his second wife—his one real wife, as his friends reckoned—the
whole man burst into flower.
The second Mrs. Grancy was past thirty when he married her, and it
was clear that she had harvested that crop of middle joy which is
rooted in young despair. But if she had lost the surface of eighteen
she had kept its inner light; if her cheek lacked the gloss of
immaturity her eyes were young with the stored youth of half a
life-time. Grancy had first known her somewhere in the East—I believe
she was the sister of one of our consuls out there—and when he brought
her home to New York she came among us as a stranger. The idea of
Grancy's remarriage had been a shock to us all. After one such
calcining most men would have kept out of the fire; but we agreed that
he was predestined to sentimental blunders, and we awaited with
resignation the embodiment of his latest mistake. Then Mrs. Grancy
came—and we understood. She was the most beautiful and the most
complete of explanations. We shuffled our defeated omniscience out of
sight and gave it hasty burial under a prodigality of welcome. For the
first time in years we had Grancy off our minds. “He'll do something
great now!” the least sanguine of us prophesied; and our sentimentalist
emended: “He has done it—in marrying her!”
It was Claydon, the portrait-painter, who risked this hyperbole; and
who soon afterward, at the happy husband's request, prepared to defend
it in a portrait of Mrs. Grancy. We were all—even Claydon—ready to
concede that Mrs. Grancy's unwontedness was in some degree a matter of
environment. Her graces were complementary and it needed the mate's
call to reveal the flash of color beneath her neutral-tinted wings. But
if she needed Grancy to interpret her, how much greater was the service
she rendered him! Claydon professionally described her as the right
frame for him; but if she defined she also enlarged, if she threw the
whole into perspective she also cleared new ground, opened fresh
vistas, reclaimed whole areas of activity that had run to waste under
the harsh husbandry of privation. This interaction of sympathies was
not without its visible expression. Claydon was not alone in
maintaining that Grancy's presence—or indeed the mere mention of his
name—had a perceptible effect on his wife's appearance. It was as
though a light were shifted, a curtain drawn back, as though, to borrow
another of Claydon's metaphors, Love the indefatigable artist were
perpetually seeking a happier “pose” for his model. In this
interpretative light Mrs. Grancy acquired the charm which makes some
women's faces like a book of which the last page is never turned. There
was always something new to read in her eyes. What Claydon read
there—or at least such scattered hints of the ritual as reached him
through the sanctuary doors—his portrait in due course declared to us.
When the picture was exhibited it was at once acclaimed as his
masterpiece; but the people who knew Mrs. Grancy smiled and said it was
flattered. Claydon, however, had not set out to paint their Mrs.
Grancy—or ours even—but Ralph's; and Ralph knew his own at a glance.
At the first confrontation he saw that Claydon had understood. As for
Mrs. Grancy, when the finished picture was shown to her she turned to
the painter and said simply: “Ah, you've done me facing the east!”
The picture, then, for all its value, seemed a mere incident in the
unfolding of their double destiny, a foot-note to the illuminated text
of their lives. It was not till afterward that it acquired the
significance of last words spoken on a threshold never to be recrossed.
Grancy, a year after his marriage, had given up his town house and
carried his bliss an hour's journey away, to a little place among the
hills. His various duties and interests brought him frequently to New
York but we necessarily saw him less often than when his house had
served as the rallying-point of kindred enthusiasms. It seemed a pity
that such an influence should be withdrawn, but we all felt that his
long arrears of happiness should be paid in whatever coin he chose. The
distance from which the fortunate couple radiated warmth on us was not
too great for friendship to traverse; and our conception of a glorified
leisure took the form of Sundays spent in the Grancys' library, with
its sedative rural outlook, and the portrait of Mrs. Grancy
illuminating its studious walls. The picture was at its best in that
setting; and we used to accuse Claydon of visiting Mrs. Grancy in order
to see her portrait. He met this by declaring that the portrait was
Mrs. Grancy; and there were moments when the statement seemed
unanswerable. One of us, indeed—I think it must have been the
novelist—said that Clayton had been saved from falling in love with
Mrs. Grancy only by falling in love with his picture of her; and it was
noticeable that he, to whom his finished work was no more than the shed
husk of future effort, showed a perennial tenderness for this one
achievement. We smiled afterward to think how often, when Mrs. Grancy
was in the room, her presence reflecting itself in our talk like a
gleam of sky in a hurrying current, Claydon, averted from the real
woman, would sit as it were listening to the picture. His attitude, at
the time, seemed only a part of the unusualness of those picturesque
afternoons, when the most familiar combinations of life underwent a
magical change. Some human happiness is a landlocked lake; but the
Grancys' was an open sea, stretching a buoyant and illimitable surface
to the voyaging interests of life. There was room and to spare on those
waters for all our separate ventures; and always beyond the sunset, a
mirage of the fortunate isles toward which our prows bent.
It was in Rome that, three years later, I heard of her death. The
notice said “suddenly”; I was glad of that. I was glad too—basely
perhaps—to be away from Grancy at a time when silence must have seemed
obtuse and speech derisive.
I was still in Rome when, a few months afterward, he suddenly
arrived there. He had been appointed secretary of legation at
Constantinople and was on the way to his post. He had taken the place,
he said frankly, “to get away.” Our relations with the Porte held out a
prospect of hard work, and that, he explained, was what he needed. He
could never be satisfied to sit down among the ruins. I saw that, like
most of us in moments of extreme moral tension, he was playing a part,
behaving as he thought it became a man to behave in the eye of
disaster. The instinctive posture of grief is a shuffling compromise
between defiance and prostration; and pride feels the need of striking
a worthier attitude in face of such a foe. Grancy, by nature musing and
retrospective, had chosen the role of the man of action, who answers
blow for blow and opposes a mailed front to the thrusts of destiny; and
the completeness of the equipment testified to his inner weakness. We
talked only of what we were not thinking of, and parted, after a few
days, with a sense of relief that proved the inadequacy of friendship
to perform, in such cases, the office assigned to it by tradition.
Soon afterward my own work called me home, but Grancy remained
several years in Europe. International diplomacy kept its promise of
giving him work to do, and during the year in which he acted as
charge d'affaires he acquitted himself, under trying conditions,
with conspicuous zeal and discretion. A political redistribution of
matter removed him from office just as he had proved his usefulness to
the government; and the following summer I heard that he had come home
and was down at his place in the country.
On my return to town I wrote him and his reply came by the next
post. He answered as it were in his natural voice, urging me to spend
the following Sunday with him, and suggesting that I should bring down
any of the old set who could be persuaded to join me. I thought this a
good sign, and yet—shall I own it?—I was vaguely disappointed.
Perhaps we are apt to feel that our friends' sorrows should be kept
like those historic monuments from which the encroaching ivy is
That very evening at the club I ran across Claydon. I told him of
Grancy's invitation and proposed that we should go down together; but
he pleaded an engagement. I was sorry, for I had always felt that he
and I stood nearer Ralph than the others, and if the old Sundays were
to be renewed I should have preferred that we two should spend the
first alone with him. I said as much to Claydon and offered to fit my
time to his; but he met this by a general refusal.
“I don't want to go to Grancy's,” he said bluntly. I waited a
moment, but he appended no qualifying clause.
“You've seen him since he came back?” I finally ventured.
“And is he so awfully bad?”
“Bad? No: he's all right.”
“All right? How can he be, unless he's changed beyond all
“Oh, you'll recognize him,” said Claydon, with a puzzling
deflection of emphasis.
His ambiguity was beginning to exasperate me, and I felt myself shut
out from some knowledge to which I had as good a right as he.
“You've been down there already, I suppose?”
“Yes; I've been down there.”
“And you've done with each other—the partnership is dissolved?”
“Done with each other? I wish to God we had!” He rose nervously and
tossed aside the review from which my approach had diverted him. “Look
here,” he said, standing before me, “Ralph's the best fellow going and
there's nothing under heaven I wouldn't do for him—short of going down
there again.” And with that he walked out of the room.
Claydon was incalculable enough for me to read a dozen different
meanings into his words; but none of my interpretations satisfied me. I
determined, at any rate, to seek no farther for a companion; and the
next Sunday I travelled down to Grancy's alone. He met me at the
station and I saw at once that he had changed since our last meeting.
Then he had been in fighting array, but now if he and grief still
housed together it was no longer as enemies. Physically the
transformation was as marked but less reassuring. If the spirit
triumphed the body showed its scars. At five-and-forty he was gray and
stooping, with the tired gait of an old man. His serenity, however, was
not the resignation of age. I saw that he did not mean to drop out of
the game. Almost immediately he began to speak of our old interests;
not with an effort, as at our former meeting, but simply and naturally,
in the tone of a man whose life has flowed back into its normal
channels. I remembered, with a touch of self-reproach, how I had
distrusted his reconstructive powers; but my admiration for his
reserved force was now tinged by the sense that, after all, such
happiness as his ought to have been paid with his last coin. The
feeling grew as we neared the house and I found how inextricably his
wife was interwoven with my remembrance of the place: how the whole
scene was but an extension of that vivid presence.
Within doors nothing was changed, and my hand would have dropped
without surprise into her welcoming clasp. It was luncheon-time, and
Grancy led me at once to the dining-room, where the walls, the
furniture, the very plate and porcelain, seemed a mirror in which a
moment since her face had been reflected. I wondered whether Grancy,
under the recovered tranquillity of his smile, concealed the same sense
of her nearness, saw perpetually between himself and the actual her
bright unappeasable ghost. He spoke of her once or twice, in an easy
incidental way, and her name seemed to hang in the air after he had
uttered it, like a chord that continues to vibrate. If he felt her
presence it was evidently as an enveloping medium, the moral atmosphere
in which he breathed. I had never before known how completely the dead
After luncheon we went for a long walk through the autumnal fields
and woods, and dusk was falling when we re-entered the house. Grancy
led the way to the library, where, at this hour, his wife had always
welcomed us back to a bright fire and a cup of tea. The room faced the
west, and held a clear light of its own after the rest of the house had
grown dark. I remembered how young she had looked in this pale gold
light, which irradiated her eyes and hair, or silhouetted her girlish
outline as she passed before the windows. Of all the rooms the library
was most peculiarly hers; and here I felt that her nearness might take
visible shape. Then, all in a moment, as Grancy opened the door, the
feeling vanished and a kind of resistance met me on the threshold. I
looked about me. Was the room changed? Had some desecrating hand
effaced the traces of her presence? No; here too the setting was
undisturbed. My feet sank into the same deep-piled Daghestan; the
bookshelves took the firelight on the same rows of rich subdued
bindings; her armchair stood in its old place near the tea-table; and
from the opposite wall her face confronted me.
Her face—but was it hers? I moved nearer and stood looking
up at the portrait. Grancy's glance had followed mine and I heard him
move to my side.
“You see a change in it?” he said.
“What does it mean?” I asked.
“It means—that five years have passed.”
“Why not?—Look at me!” He pointed to his gray hair and furrowed
temples. “What do you think kept her so young? It was happiness!
But now—” he looked up at her with infinite tenderness. “I like her
better so,” he said. “It's what she would have wished.”
“That we should grow old together. Do you think she would have
wanted to be left behind?”
I stood speechless, my gaze travelling from his worn grief-beaten
features to the painted face above. It was not furrowed like his; but a
veil of years seemed to have descended on it. The bright hair had lost
its elasticity, the cheek its clearness, the brow its light: the whole
woman had waned.
Grancy laid his hand on my arm. “You don't like it?” he said sadly.
“Like it? I—I've lost her!” I burst out.
“And I've found her,” he answered.
“In that?” I cried with a reproachful gesture.
“Yes; in that.” He swung round on me almost defiantly. “The other
had become a sham, a lie! This is the way she would have looked—does
look, I mean. Claydon ought to know, oughtn't he?”
I turned suddenly. “Did Claydon do this for you?”
“Since your return?”
“Yes. I sent for him after I'd been back a week—.” He turned away
and gave a thrust to the smouldering fire. I followed, glad to leave
the picture behind me. Grancy threw himself into a chair near the
hearth, so that the light fell on his sensitive variable face. He
leaned his head back, shading his eyes with his hand, and began to
“You fellows knew enough of my early history to A guess what my
second marriage meant to me. I say guess, because no one could
understand—really. I've always had a feminine streak in me, I suppose:
the need of a pair of eyes that should see with me, of a pulse that
should keep time with mine. Life is a big thing, of course; a
magnificent spectacle; but I got so tired of looking at it alone!
Still, it's always good to live, and I had plenty of happiness—of the
evolved kind. What I'd never had a taste of was the simple inconscient
sort that one breathes in like the air....
“Well—I met her. It was like finding the climate in which I was
meant to live. You know what she was—how indefinitely she multiplied
one's points of contact with life, how she lit up the caverns and
bridged the abysses! Well, I swear to you (though I suppose the sense
of all that was latent in me) that what I used to think of on my way
home at the end of the day, was simply that when I opened this door
she'd be sitting over there, with the lamp-light falling in a
particular way on one little curl in her neck.... When Claydon painted
her he caught just the look she used to lift to mine when I came
in—I've wondered, sometimes, at his knowing how she looked when she
and I were alone.—How I rejoiced in that picture! I used to say to
her, 'You're my prisoner now—I shall never lose you. If you grew tired
of me and left me you'd leave your real self there on the wall!' It was
always one of our jokes that she was going to grow tired of me—
“Three years of it—and then she died. It was so sudden that there
was no change, no diminution. It was as if she had suddenly become
fixed, immovable, like her own portrait: as if Time had ceased at its
happiest hour, just as Claydon had thrown down his brush one day and
said, 'I can't do better than that.'
“I went away, as you know, and stayed over there five years. I
worked as hard as I knew how, and after the first black months a little
light stole in on me. From thinking that she would have been interested
in what I was doing I came to feel that she was interested—that
she was there and that she knew. I'm not talking any psychical
jargon—I'm simply trying to express the sense I had that an influence
so full, so abounding as hers couldn't pass like a spring shower. We
had so lived into each other's hearts and minds that the consciousness
of what she would have thought and felt illuminated all I did. At first
she used to come back shyly, tentatively, as though not sure of finding
me; then she stayed longer and longer, till at last she became again
the very air I breathed.... There were bad moments, of course, when her
nearness mocked me with the loss of the real woman; but gradually the
distinction between the two was effaced and the mere thought of her
grew warm as flesh and blood.
“Then I came home. I landed in the morning and came straight down
here. The thought of seeing her portrait possessed me and my heart beat
like a lover's as I opened the library door. It was in the afternoon
and the room was full of light. It fell on her picture—the picture of
a young and radiant woman. She smiled at me coldly across the distance
that divided us. I had the feeling that she didn't even recognize me.
And then I caught sight of myself in the mirror over there—a
gray-haired broken man whom she had never known!
“For a week we two lived together—the strange woman and the strange
man. I used to sit night after night and question her smiling face; but
no answer ever came. What did she know of me, after all? We were
irrevocably separated by the five years of life that lay between us. At
times, as I sat here, I almost grew to hate her; for her presence had
driven away my gentle ghost, the real wife who had wept, aged,
struggled with me during those awful years.... It was the worst
loneliness I've ever known. Then, gradually, I began to notice a look
of sadness in the picture's eyes; a look that seemed to say: 'Don't you
see that I am lonely too?' And all at once it came over me how
she would have hated to be left behind! I remembered her comparing life
to a heavy book that could not be read with ease unless two people held
it together; and I thought how impatiently her hand would have turned
the pages that divided us!—So the idea came to me: 'It's the picture
that stands between us; the picture that is dead, and not my wife. To
sit in this room is to keep watch beside a corpse.' As this feeling
grew on me the portrait became like a beautiful mausoleum in which she
had been buried alive: I could hear her beating against the painted
walls and crying to me faintly for help....
“One day I found I couldn't stand it any longer and I sent for
Claydon. He came down and I told him what I'd been through and what I
wanted him to do. At first he refused point-blank to touch the picture.
The next morning I went off for a long tramp, and when I came home I
found him sitting here alone. He looked at me sharply for a moment and
then he said: 'I've changed my mind; I'll do it.' I arranged one of the
north rooms as a studio and he shut himself up there for a day; then he
sent for me. The picture stood there as you see it now—it was as
though she'd met me on the threshold and taken me in her arms! I tried
to thank him, to tell him what it meant to me, but he cut me short.
“'There's an up train at five, isn't there?' he asked. 'I'm booked
for a dinner to-night. I shall just have time to make a bolt for the
station and you can send my traps after me.' I haven't seen him since.
“I can guess what it cost him to lay hands on his masterpiece; but,
after all, to him it was only a picture lost, to me it was my wife
After that, for ten years or more, I watched the strange spectacle
of a life of hopeful and productive effort based on the structure of a
dream. There could be no doubt to those who saw Grancy during this
period that he drew his strength and courage from the sense of his
wife's mystic participation in his task. When I went back to see him a
few months later I found the portrait had been removed from the library
and placed in a small study up-stairs, to which he had transferred his
desk and a few books. He told me he always sat there when he was alone,
keeping the library for his Sunday visitors. Those who missed the
portrait of course made no comment on its absence, and the few who were
in his secret respected it. Gradually all his old friends had gathered
about him and our Sunday afternoons regained something of their former
character; but Claydon never reappeared among us.
As I look back now I see that Grancy must have been failing from the
time of his return home. His invincible spirit belied and disguised the
signs of weakness that afterward asserted themselves in my remembrance
of him. He seemed to have an inexhaustible fund of life to draw on, and
more than one of us was a pensioner on his superfluity.
Nevertheless, when I came back one summer from my European holiday
and heard that he had been at the point of death, I understood at once
that we had believed him well only because he wished us to.
I hastened down to the country and found him midway in a slow
convalescence. I felt then that he was lost to us and he read my
thought at a glance.
“Ah,” he said, “I'm an old man now and no mistake. I suppose we
shall have to go half-speed after this; but we shan't need towing just
The plural pronoun struck me, and involuntarily I looked up at Mrs.
Grancy's portrait. Line by line I saw my fear reflected in it. It was
the face of a woman who knows that her husband is dying. My heart stood
still at the thought of what Claydon had done.
Grancy had followed my glance. “Yes, it's changed her,” he said
quietly. “For months, you know, it was touch and go with me—we had a
long fight of it, and it was worse for her than for me.” After a pause
he added: “Claydon has been very kind; he's so busy nowadays that I
seldom see him, but when I sent for him the other day he came down at
I was silent and we spoke no more of Grancy's illness; but when I
took leave it seemed like shutting him in alone with his death-warrant.
The next time I went down to see him he looked much better. It was a
Sunday and he received me in the library, so that I did not see the
portrait again. He continued to improve and toward spring we began to
feel that, as he had said, he might yet travel a long way without being
One evening, on returning to town after a visit which had confirmed
my sense of reassurance, I found Claydon dining alone at the club. He
asked me to join him and over the coffee our talk turned to his work.
“If you're not too busy,” I said at length, “you ought to make time
to go down to Grancy's again.”
He looked up quickly. “Why?” he asked.
“Because he's quite well again,” I returned with a touch of cruelty.
“His wife's prognostications were mistaken.”
Claydon stared at me a moment. “Oh, she knows,” he affirmed
with a smile that chilled me.
“You mean to leave the portrait as it is then?” I persisted.
He shrugged his shoulders. “He hasn't sent for me yet!”
A waiter came up with the cigars and Claydon rose and joined another
It was just a fortnight later that Grancy's housekeeper telegraphed
for me. She met me at the station with the news that he had been “taken
bad” and that the doctors were with him. I had to wait for some time in
the deserted library before the medical men appeared. They had the
baffled manner of empirics who have been superseded by the great
Healer; and I lingered only long enough to hear that Grancy was not
suffering and that my presence could do him no harm.
I found him seated in his arm-chair in the little study. He held out
his hand with a smile.
“You see she was right after all,” he said.
“She?” I repeated, perplexed for the moment.
“My wife.” He indicated the picture. “Of course I knew she had no
hope from the first. I saw that”—he lowered his voice—“after Claydon
had been here. But I wouldn't believe it at first!”
I caught his hands in mine. “For God's sake don't believe it now!” I
He shook his head gently. “It's too late,” he said. “I might have
known that she knew.”
“But, Grancy, listen to me,” I began; and then I stopped. What could
I say that would convince him? There was no common ground of argument
on which we could meet; and after all it would be easier for him to die
feeling that she had known. Strangely enough, I saw that Claydon
had missed his mark....
Grancy's will named me as one of his executors; and my associate,
having other duties on his hands, begged me to assume the task of
carrying out our friend's wishes. This placed me under the necessity of
informing Claydon that the portrait of Mrs. Grancy had been bequeathed
to him; and he replied by the next post that he would send for the
picture at once. I was staying in the deserted house when the portrait
was taken away; and as the door closed on it I felt that Grancy's
presence had vanished too. Was it his turn to follow her now, and could
one ghost haunt another?
After that, for a year or two, I heard nothing more of the picture,
and though I met Claydon from time to time we had little to say to each
other. I had no definable grievance against the man and I tried to
remember that he had done a fine thing in sacrificing his best picture
to a friend; but my resentment had all the tenacity of unreason.
One day, however, a lady whose portrait he had just finished begged
me to go with her to see it. To refuse was impossible, and I went with
the less reluctance that I knew I was not the only friend she had
invited. The others were all grouped around the easel when I entered,
and after contributing my share to the chorus of approval I turned away
and began to stroll about the studio. Claydon was something of a
collector and his things were generally worth looking at. The studio
was a long tapestried room with a curtained archway at one end. The
curtains were looped back, showing a smaller apartment, with books and
flowers and a few fine bits of bronze and porcelain. The tea-table
standing in this inner room proclaimed that it was open to inspection,
and I wandered in. A bleu poudre vase first attracted me; then I
turned to examine a slender bronze Ganymede, and in so doing found
myself face to face with Mrs. Grancy's portrait. I stared up at her
blankly and she smiled back at me in all the recovered radiance of
youth. The artist had effaced every trace of his later touches and the
original picture had reappeared. It throned alone on the panelled wall,
asserting a brilliant supremacy over its carefully-chosen surroundings.
I felt in an instant that the whole room was tributary to it: that
Claydon had heaped his treasures at the feet of the woman he loved.
Yes—it was the woman he had loved and not the picture; and my
instinctive resentment was explained.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Ah, how could you?” I cried, turning on him.
“How could I?” he retorted. “How could I not? Doesn't she
belong to me now?”
I moved away impatiently.
“Wait a moment,” he said with a detaining gesture. “The others have
gone and I want to say a word to you.—Oh, I know what you've thought
of me—I can guess! You think I killed Grancy, I suppose?”
I was startled by his sudden vehemence. “I think you tried to do a
cruel thing,” I said.
“Ah—what a little way you others see into life!” he murmured. “Sit
down a moment—here, where we can look at her—and I'll tell you.”
He threw himself on the ottoman beside me and sat gazing up at the
picture, with his hands clasped about his knee.
“Pygmalion,” he began slowly, “turned his statue into a real woman;
I turned my real woman into a picture. Small compensation, you
think—but you don't know how much of a woman belongs to you after
you've painted her!—Well, I made the best of it, at any rate—I gave
her the best I had in me; and she gave me in return what such a woman
gives by merely being. And after all she rewarded me enough by making
me paint as I shall never paint again! There was one side of her,
though, that was mine alone, and that was her beauty; for no one else
understood it. To Grancy even it was the mere expression of
herself—what language is to thought. Even when he saw the picture he
didn't guess my secret—he was so sure she was all his! As though a man
should think he owned the moon because it was reflected in the pool at
“Well—when he came home and sent for me to change the picture it
was like asking me to commit murder. He wanted me to make an old woman
of her—of her who had been so divinely, unchangeably young! As if any
man who really loved a woman would ask her to sacrifice her youth and
beauty for his sake! At first I told him I couldn't do it—but
afterward, when he left me alone with the picture, something queer
happened. I suppose it was because I was always so confoundedly fond of
Grancy that it went against me to refuse what he asked. Anyhow, as I
sat looking up at her, she seemed to say, 'I'm not yours but his, and I
want you to make me what he wishes.” And so I did it. I could have cut
my hand off when the work was done—I daresay he told you I never would
go back and look at it. He thought I was too busy—he never
“Well—and then last year he sent for me again—you remember. It was
after his illness, and he told me he'd grown twenty years older and
that he wanted her to grow older too—he didn't want her to be left
behind. The doctors all thought he was going to get well at that time,
and he thought so too; and so did I when I first looked at him. But
when I turned to the picture—ah, now I don't ask you to believe me;
but I swear it was her face that told me he was dying, and that
she wanted him to know it! She had a message for him and she made me
He rose abruptly and walked toward the portrait; then he sat down
beside me again.
“Cruel? Yes, it seemed so to me at first; and this time, if I
resisted, it was for his sake and not for mine. But all the
while I felt her eyes drawing me, and gradually she made me understand.
If she'd been there in the flesh (she seemed to say) wouldn't she have
seen before any of us that he was dying? Wouldn't he have read the news
first in her face? And wouldn't it be horrible if now he should
discover it instead in strange eyes?—Well—that was what she wanted of
me and I did it—I kept them together to the last!” He looked up at the
picture again. “But now she belongs to me,” he repeated....