The Other Woman by Richard Harding Davis
Young Latimer stood on one of the lower steps of the hall stairs,
leaning with one hand on the broad railing and smiling down at her.
She had followed him from the drawing-room and had stopped at the
entrance, drawing the curtains behind her, and making, unconsciously,
a dark background for her head and figure. He thought he had never
seen her look more beautiful, nor that cold, fine air of thorough
breeding about her which was her greatest beauty to him, more strongly
"Well, sir," she said, "why don't you go?"
He shifted his position slightly and leaned more comfortably upon
the railing, as though he intended to discuss it with her at some
"How can I go," he said, argumentatively, "with you standing
there— looking like that?"
"I really believe," the girl said, slowly, "that he is afraid; yes,
he is afraid. And you always said," she added, turning to him, "you
were so brave."
"Oh, I am sure I never said that," exclaimed the young man, calmly.
"I may be brave, in fact, I am quite brave, but I never said I was.
Some one must have told you."
"Yes, he is afraid," she said, nodding her head to the tall clock
across the hall, "he is temporizing and trying to save time. And
afraid of a man, too, and such a good man who would not hurt any one."
"You know a bishop is always a very difficult sort of a person," he
said, "and when he happens to be your father, the combination is just
a bit awful. Isn't it now? And especially when one means to ask him
for his daughter. You know it isn't like asking him to let one smoke
in his study."
"If I loved a girl," she said, shaking her head and smiling up at
him, "I wouldn't be afraid of the whole world; that's what they say in
books, isn't it? I would be so bold and happy."
"Oh, well, I'm bold enough," said the young man, easily; "if I had
not been, I never would have asked you to marry me; and I'm happy
enough— that's because I did ask you. But what if he says no,"
continued the youth; "what if he says he has greater ambitions for
you, just as they say in books, too. What will you do? Will you run
away with me? I can borrow a coach just as they used to do, and we can
drive off through the Park and be married, and come back and ask his
blessing on our knees—unless he should overtake us on the elevated."
"That," said the girl, decidedly, "is flippant, and I'm going to
leave you. I never thought to marry a man who would be frightened at
the very first. I am greatly disappointed."
She stepped back into the drawing-room and pulled the curtains to
behind her, and then opened them again and whispered, "Please don't be
long," and disappeared. He waited, smiling, to see if she would make
another appearance, but she did not, and he heard her touch the keys
of the piano at the other end of the drawing-room. And so, still
smiling and with her last words sounding in his ears, he walked slowly
up the stairs and knocked at the door of the bishop's study. The
bishop's room was not ecclesiastic in its character. It looked much
like the room of any man of any calling who cared for his books and to
have pictures about him, and copies of the beautiful things he had
seen on his travels. There were pictures of the Virgin and the Child,
but they were those that are seen in almost any house, and there were
etchings and plaster casts, and there were hundreds of books, and dark
red curtains, and an open fire that lit up the pots of brass with
ferns in them, and the blue and white plaques on the top of the
bookcase. The bishop sat before his writing-table, with one hand
shading his eyes from the light of a red-covered lamp, and looked up
and smiled pleasantly and nodded as the young man entered. He had a
very strong face, with white hair hanging at the side, but was still a
young man for one in such a high office. He was a man interested in
many things, who could talk to men of any profession or to the mere
man of pleasure, and could interest them in what he said, and force
their respect and liking. And he was very good, and had, they said,
seen much trouble.
"I am afraid I interrupted you," said the young man, tentatively.
"No, I have interrupted myself," replied the bishop. "I don't seem
to make this clear to myself," he said, touching the paper in front of
him, "and so I very much doubt if I am going to make it clear to any
one else. However," he added, smiling, as he pushed the manuscript to
one side, "we are not going to talk about that now. What have you to
tell me that is new?"
The younger man glanced up quickly at this, but the bishop's face
showed that his words had had no ulterior meaning, and that he
suspected nothing more serious to come than the gossip of the clubs or
a report of the local political fight in which he was keenly
interested, or on their mission on the East Side. But it seemed an
opportunity to Latimer.
"I have something new to tell you," he said, gravely, and
with his eyes turned toward the open fire, "and I don't know how to do
it exactly. I mean I don't just know how it is generally done or how
to tell it best." He hesitated and leaned forward, with his hands
locked in front of him, and his elbows resting on his knees. He was
not in the least frightened. The bishop had listened to many strange
stories, to many confessions, in this same study, and had learned to
take them as a matter of course; but to-night something in the manner
of the young man before him made him stir uneasily, and he waited for
him to disclose the object of his visit with some impatience.
"I will suppose, sir," said young Latimer, finally, "that you know
me rather well—I mean you know who my people are, and what I am doing
here in New York, and who my friends are, and what my work amounts to.
You have let me see a great deal of you, and I have appreciated your
doing so very much; to so young a man as myself it has been a great
compliment, and it has been of great benefit to me. I know that better
than any one else. I say this because unless you had shown me this
confidence it would have been almost impossible for me to say to you
what I am going to say now. But you have allowed me to come here
frequently, and to see you and talk with you here in your study, and
to see even more of your daughter. Of course, sir, you did not suppose
that I came here only to see you. I came here because I found that if
I did not see Miss Ellen for a day, that that day was wasted, and that
I spent it uneasily and discontentedly, and the necessity of seeing
her even more frequently has grown so great that I cannot come here as
often as I seem to want to come unless I am engaged to her, unless I
come as her husband that is to be." The young man had been speaking
very slowly and picking his words, but now he raised his head and ran
"I have spoken to her and told her how I love her, and she has told
me that she loves me, and that if you will not oppose us, will marry
me. That is the news I have to tell you, sir. I don't know but that I
might have told it differently, but that is it. I need not urge on you
my position and all that, because I do not think that weighs with you;
but I do tell you that I love Ellen so dearly that, though I am not
worthy of her, of course, I have no other pleasure than to give her
pleasure and to try to make her happy. I have the power to do it; but
what is much more, I have the wish to do it; it is all I think of now,
and all that I can ever think of. What she thinks of me you must ask
her; but what she is to me neither she can tell you nor do I believe
that I myself could make you understand." The young man's face was
flushed and eager, and as he finished speaking he raised his head and
watched the bishop's countenance anxiously. But the older man's face
was hidden by his hand as he leaned with his elbow on his writing-
table. His other hand was playing with a pen, and when he began to
speak, which he did after a long pause, he still turned it between his
fingers and looked down at it.
"I suppose," he said, as softly as though he were speaking to
himself, "that I should have known this; I suppose that I should have
been better prepared to hear it. But it is one of those things which
men put off—I mean those men who have children, put off—as they do
making their wills, as something that is in the future and that may be
shirked until it comes. We seem to think that our daughters will live
with us always, just as we expect to live on ourselves until death
comes one day and startles us and finds us unprepared." He took down
his hand and smiled gravely at the younger man with an evident effort,
and said, "I did not mean to speak so gloomily, but you see my point
of view must be different from yours. And she says she loves you, does
she?" he added, gently.
Young Latimer bowed his head and murmured something inarticulately
in reply, and then held his head erect again and waited, still
watching the bishop's face.
"I think she might have told me," said the older man; "but then I
suppose this is the better way. I am young enough to understand that
the old order changes, that the customs of my father's time differ
from those of to-day. And there is no alternative, I suppose," he
said, shaking his head. "I am stopped and told to deliver, and have no
choice. I will get used to it in time," he went on, "but it seems very
hard now. Fathers are selfish, I imagine, but she is all I have."
Young Latimer looked gravely into the fire and wondered how long it
would last. He could just hear the piano from below, and he was
anxious to return to her. And at the same time he was drawn toward the
older man before him, and felt rather guilty, as though he really were
robbing him. But at the bishop's next words he gave up any thought of
a speedy release, and settled himself in his chair.
"We are still to have a long talk," said the bishop. "There are
many things I must know, and of which I am sure you will inform me
freely. I believe there are some who consider me hard, and even narrow
on different points, but I do not think you will find me so, at least
let us hope not. I must confess that for a moment I almost hoped that
you might not be able to answer the questions I must ask you, but it
was only for a moment. I am only too sure you will not be found
wanting, and that the conclusion of our talk will satisfy us both.
Yes, I am confident of that."
His manner changed, nevertheless, and Latimer saw that he was now
facing a judge and not a plaintiff who had been robbed, and that he
was in turn the defendant. And still he was in no way frightened.
"I like you," the bishop said, "I like you very much. As you say
yourself, I have seen a great deal of you, because I have enjoyed your
society, and your views and talk were good and young and fresh, and
did me good. You have served to keep me in touch with the outside
world, a world of which I used to know at one time a great deal. I
know your people and I know you, I think, and many people have spoken
to me of you. I see why now. They, no doubt, understood what was
coming better than myself, and were meaning to reassure me concerning
you. And they said nothing but what was good of you. But there are
certain things of which no one can know but yourself, and concerning
which no other person, save myself, has a right to question you. You
have promised very fairly for my daughter's future; you have suggested
more than you have said, but I understood. You can give her many
pleasures which I have not been able to afford; she can get from you
the means of seeing more of this world in which she lives, of meeting
more people, and of indulging in her charities, or in her
extravagances, for that matter, as she wishes. I have no fear of her
bodily comfort; her life, as far as that is concerned, will be easier
and broader, and with more power for good. Her future, as I say, as
you say also, is assured; but I want to ask you this," the bishop
leaned forward and watched the young man anxiously, "you can protect
her in the future, but can you assure me that you can protect her from
Young Latimer raised his eyes calmly and said, "I don't think I
"I have perfect confidence, I say," returned the bishop, "in you as
far as your treatment of Ellen is concerned in the future. You love
her and you would do everything to make the life of the woman you love
a happy one; but this is it, Can you assure me that there is nothing
in the past that may reach forward later and touch my daughter through
you—no ugly story, no oats that have been sowed, and no boomerang
that you have thrown wantonly and that has not returned—but which may
"I think I understand you now, sir," said the young man, quietly.
"I have lived," he began, "as other men of my sort have lived. You
know what that is, for you must have seen it about you at college, and
after that before you entered the Church. I judge so from your
friends, who were your friends then, I understand. You know how they
lived. I never went in for dissipation, if you mean that, because it
never attracted me. I am afraid I kept out of it not so much out of
respect for others as for respect for myself. I found my self-respect
was a very good thing to keep, and I rather preferred keeping it and
losing several pleasures that other men managed to enjoy, apparently
with free consciences. I confess I used to rather envy them. It is no
particular virtue on my part; the thing struck me as rather more
vulgar than wicked, and so I have had no wild oats to speak of; and no
woman, if that is what you mean, can write an anonymous letter, and no
man can tell you a story about me that he could not tell in my
There was something in the way the young man spoke which would have
amply satisfied the outsider, had he been present; but the bishop's
eyes were still unrelaxed and anxious. He made an impatient motion
with his hand.
"I know you too well, I hope," he said, "to think of doubting your
attitude in that particular. I know you are a gentleman, that is
enough for that; but there is something beyond these more common
evils. You see, I am terribly in earnest over this—you may think
unjustly so, considering how well I know you, but this child is my
only child. If her mother had lived, my responsibility would have been
less great; but, as it is, God has left her here alone to me in my
hands. I do not think He intended my duty should end when I had fed
and clothed her, and taught her to read and write. I do not think He
meant that I should only act as her guardian until the first man she
fancied fancied her. I must look to her happiness not only now when
she is with me, but I must assure myself of it when she leaves my
roof. These common sins of youth I acquit you of. Such things are
beneath you, I believe, and I did not even consider them. But there
are other toils in which men become involved, other evils or
misfortunes which exist, and which threaten all men who are young and
free and attractive in many ways to women, as well as men. You have
lived the life of the young man of this day. You have reached a place
in your profession when you can afford to rest and marry and assume
the responsibilities of marriage. You look forward to a life of
content and peace and honorable ambition—a life, with your wife at
your side, which is to last forty or fifty years. You consider where
you will be twenty years from now, at what point of your career you
may become a judge or give up practice; your perspective is unlimited;
you even think of the college to which you may send your son. It is a
long, quiet future that you are looking forward to, and you choose my
daughter as the companion for that future, as the one woman with whom
you could live content for that length of time. And it is in that
spirit that you come to me to-night and that you ask me for my
daughter. Now I am going to ask you one question, and as you answer
that I will tell you whether or not you can have Ellen for your wife.
You look forward, as I say, to many years of life, and you have chosen
her as best suited to live that period with you; but I ask you this,
and I demand that you answer me truthfully, and that you remember that
you are speaking to her father. Imagine that I had the power to tell
you, or rather that some superhuman agent could convince you, that you
had but a month to live, and that for what you did in that month you
would not be held responsible either by any moral law or any law made
by man, and that your life hereafter would not be influenced by your
conduct in that month, would you spend it, I ask you—and on your
answer depends mine—would you spend those thirty days, with death at
the end, with my daughter, or with some other woman of whom I know
Latimer sat for some time silent, until indeed, his silence assumed
such a significance that he raised his head impatiently and said with
a motion of the hand, "I mean to answer you in a minute; I want to be
sure that I understand."
The bishop bowed his head in assent, and for a still longer period
the men sat motionless. The clock in the corner seemed to tick more
loudly, and the dead coals dropping in the grate had a sharp,
aggressive sound. The notes of the piano that had risen from the room
below had ceased.
"If I understand you," said Latimer, finally, and his voice and his
face as he raised it were hard and aggressive, "you are stating a
purely hypothetical case. You wish to try me by conditions which do
not exist, which cannot exist. What justice is there, what right is
there, in asking me to say how I would act under circumstances which
are impossible, which lie beyond the limit of human experience? You
cannot judge a man by what he would do if he were suddenly robbed of
all his mental and moral training and of the habit of years. I am not
admitting, understand me, that if the conditions which you suggest did
exist that I would do one whit differently from what I will do if they
remain as they are. I am merely denying your right to put such a
question to me at all. You might just as well judge the shipwrecked
sailors on a raft who eat each other's flesh as you would judge a
sane, healthy man who did such a thing in his own home. Are you going
to condemn men who are ice-locked at the North Pole, or buried in the
heart of Africa, and who have given up all thought of return and are
half mad and wholly without hope, as you would judge ourselves? Are
they to be weighed and balanced as you and I are, sitting here within
the sound of the cabs outside and with a bake-shop around the corner?
What you propose could not exist, could never happen. I could never be
placed where I should have to make such a choice, and you have no
right to ask me what I would do or how I would act under conditions
that are super-human—you used the word yourself—where all that I
have held to be good and just and true would be obliterated. I would
be unworthy of myself, I would be unworthy of your daughter, if I
considered such a state of things for a moment, or if I placed my
hopes of marrying her on the outcome of such a test, and so, sir,"
said the young man, throwing back his head, "I must refuse to answer
The bishop lowered his hand from before his eyes and sank back
wearily into his chair. "You have answered me," he said.
"You have no right to say that," cried the young man, springing to
his feet. "You have no right to suppose anything or to draw any
conclusions. I have not answered you." He stood with his head and
shoulders thrown back, and with his hands resting on his hips and with
the fingers working nervously at his waist.
"What you have said," replied the bishop, in a voice that had
changed strangely, and which was inexpressibly sad and gentle, "is
merely a curtain of words to cover up your true feeling. It would have
been so easy to have said, 'For thirty days or for life Ellen is the
only woman who has the power to make me happy.' You see that would
have answered me and satisfied me. But you did not say that," he
added, quickly, as the young man made a movement as if to speak.
"Well, and suppose this other woman did exist, what then?" demanded
Latimer. "The conditions you suggest are impossible; you must, you
will surely, sir, admit that."
"I do not know," replied the bishop, sadly; "I do not know. It may
happen that whatever obstacle there has been which has kept you from
her may be removed. It may be that she has married, it may be that she
has fallen so low that you cannot marry her. But if you have loved her
once, you may love her again; whatever it was that separated you in
the past, that separates you now, that makes you prefer my daughter to
her, may come to an end when you are married, when it will be too
late, and when only trouble can come of it, and Ellen would bear that
trouble. Can I risk that?"
"But I tell you it is impossible," cried the young man. "The woman
is beyond the love of any man, at least such a man as I am, or try to
"Do you mean," asked the bishop, gently, and with an eager look of
hope, "that she is dead?"
Latimer faced the father for some seconds in silence. Then he
raised his head slowly. "No," he said, "I do not mean she is dead. No,
she is not dead."
Again the bishop moved back wearily into his chair. "You mean
then," he said, "perhaps, that she is a married woman?" Latimer
pressed his lips together at first as though he would not answer, and
then raised his eyes coldly. "Perhaps," he said.
The older man had held up his hand as if to signify that what he
was about to say should be listened to without interruption, when a
sharp turning of the lock of the door caused both father and the
suitor to start. Then they turned and looked at each other with
anxious inquiry and with much concern, for they recognized for the
first time that their voices had been loud. The older man stepped
quickly across the floor, but before he reached the middle of the room
the door opened from the outside, and his daughter stood in the
door-way, with her head held down and her eyes looking at the floor.
"Ellen!" exclaimed the father, in a voice of pain and the deepest
The girl moved toward the place from where his voice came, without
raising her eyes, and when she reached him put her arms about him and
hid her face on his shoulder. She moved as though she were tired, as
though she were exhausted by some heavy work.
"My child," said the bishop, gently, "were you listening?" There
was no reproach in his voice; it was simply full of pity and concern.
"I thought," whispered the girl, brokenly, "that he would be
frightened; I wanted to hear what he would say. I thought I could
laugh at him for it afterward. I did it for a joke. I thought—" she
stopped with a little gasping sob that she tried to hide, and for a
moment held herself erect and then sank back again into her father's
arms with her head upon his breast.
Latimer started forward, holding out his arms to her. "Ellen," he
said, "surely, Ellen, you are not against me. You see how preposterous
it is, how unjust it is to me. You cannot mean—"
The girl raised her head and shrugged her shoulders slightly as
though she were cold. "Father," she said, wearily, "ask him to go
away, Why does he stay? Ask him to go away."
Latimer stopped and took a step back as though some one had struck
him, and then stood silent with his face flushed and his eyes
flashing. It was not in answer to anything that they said that he
spoke, but to their attitude and what it suggested. "You stand there,"
he began, "you two stand there as though I were something unclean, as
though I had committed some crime. You look at me as though I were on
trial for murder or worse. Both of you together against me. What have
I done? What difference is there? You loved me a half-hour ago, Ellen;
you said you did. I know you loved me; and you, sir," he added, more
quietly, "treated me like a friend. Has anything come since then to
change me or you? Be fair to me, be sensible. What is the use of this?
It is a silly, needless, horrible mistake. You know I love you, Ellen;
love you better than all the world. I don't have to tell you that; you
know it, you can see and feel it. It does not need to be said; words
can't make it any truer. You have confused yourselves and stultified
yourselves with this trick, this test by hypothetical conditions, by
considering what is not real or possible. It is simple enough; it is
plain enough. You know I love you, Ellen, and you only, and that is
all there is to it, and all that there is of any consequence in the
world to me. The matter stops there; that is all there is for you to
consider. Answer me, Ellen, speak to me. Tell me that you believe me."
He stopped and moved a step toward her, but as he did so, the girl,
still without looking up, drew herself nearer to her father and shrank
more closely into his arms; but the father's face was troubled and
doubtful, and he regarded the younger man with a look of the most
anxious scrutiny. Latimer did not regard this. Their hands were raised
against him as far as he could understand, and he broke forth again
proudly, and with a defiant indignation:
"What right have you to judge me?" he began; "what do you know of
what I have suffered, and endured, and overcome? How can you know what
I have had to give up and put away from me? It's easy enough for you
to draw your skirts around you, but what can a woman bred as you have
been bred know of what I've had to fight against and keep under and
cut away? It was an easy, beautiful idyl to you; your love came to you
only when it should have come, and for a man who was good and worthy,
and distinctly eligible—I don't mean that; forgive me, Ellen, but you
drive me beside myself. But he is good and he believes himself worthy,
and I say that myself before you both. But I am only worthy and only
good because of that other love that I put away when it became a
crime, when it became impossible. Do you know what it cost me? Do you
know what it meant to me, and what I went through, and how I suffered?
Do you know who this other woman is whom you are insulting with your
doubts and guesses in the dark? Can't you spare her? Am I not enough?
Perhaps it was easy for her, too; perhaps her silence cost her
nothing; perhaps she did not suffer and has nothing but happiness and
content to look forward to for the rest of her life; and I tell you
that it is because we did put it away, and kill it, and not give way
to it that I am whatever I am to-day; whatever good there is in me is
due to that temptation and to the fact that I beat it and overcame it
and kept myself honest and clean. And when I met you and learned to
know you I believed in my heart that God had sent you to me that I
might know what it was to love a woman whom I could marry and who
could be my wife; that you were the reward for my having overcome
temptation and the sign that I had done well. And now you throw me
over and put me aside as though I were something low and unworthy,
because of this temptation, because of this very thing that has made
me know myself and my own strength and that has kept me up for you."
As the young man had been speaking, the bishop's eyes had never
left his face, and as he finished, the face of the priest grew clearer
and decided, and calmly exultant. And as Latimer ceased he bent his
head above his daughter's, and said in a voice that seemed to speak
with more than human inspiration. "My child," he said, "if God had
given me a son I should have been proud if he could have spoken as
this young man has done."
But the woman only said, "Let him go to her."
"Ellen, oh, Ellen!" cried the father.
He drew back from the girl in his arms and looked anxiously and
feelingly at her lover. "How could you, Ellen," he said, "how could
you?" He was watching the young man's face with eyes full of sympathy
and concern. "How little you know him," he said, "how little you
understand. He will not do that," he added quickly, but looking
questioningly at Latimer and speaking in a tone almost of command. "He
will not undo all that he has done; I know him better than that." But
Latimer made no answer, and for a moment the two men stood watching
each other and questioning each other with their eyes. Then Latimer
turned, and without again so much as glancing at the girl walked
steadily to the door and left the room. He passed on slowly down the
stairs and out into the night, and paused upon the top of the steps
leading to the street. Below him lay the avenue with its double line
of lights stretching off in two long perspectives. The lamps of
hundreds of cabs and carriages flashed as they advanced toward him and
shone for a moment at the turnings of the cross-streets, and from
either side came the ceaseless rush and murmur, and over all hung the
strange mystery that covers a great city at night. Latimer's rooms lay
to the south, but he stood looking toward a spot to the north with a
reckless, harassed look in his face that had not been there for many
months. He stood so for a minute, and then gave a short shrug of
disgust at his momentary doubt and ran quickly down the steps. "No,"
he said, "if it were for a month, yes; but it is to be for many years,
many more long years." And turning his back resolutely to the north he
went slowly home.