Madame de Treymes
by Edith Wharton
JOHN DURHAM, while he waited for Madame de Malrive to draw on her
gloves, stood in the hotel doorway looking out across the Rue de Rivoli
at the afternoon brightness of the Tuileries gardens.
His European visits were infrequent enough to have kept unimpaired
the freshness of his eye, and he was always struck anew by the vast and
consummately ordered spectacle of Paris: by its look of having been
boldly and deliberately planned as a background for the enjoyment of
life, instead of being forced into grudging concessions to the festive
instincts, or barricading itself against them in unenlightened
ugliness, like his own lamentable New York.
But to-day, if the scene had never presented itself more
alluringly, in that moist spring bloom between showers, when the
horse-chestnuts dome themselves in unreal green against a gauzy sky,
and the very dust of the pavement seems the fragrance of lilac made
visible — to-day for the first time the sense of a personal stake in
it all, of having to reckon individually with its effects and
influences, kept Durham from an unrestrained yielding to the spell.
Paris might still be — to the unimplicated it doubtless still was —
the most beautiful city in the world; but whether it were the most
lovable or the most detestable depended for him, in the last analysis,
on the buttoning of the white glove over which Fanny de Malrive still
The mere fact of her having forgotten to draw on her gloves as they
were descending in the hotel lift from his mother's drawing-room was,
in this connection, charged with significance to Durham. She was the
kind of woman who always presents herself to the mind's eye as
completely equipped, as made up of exquisitely cared for and
finely-related details; and that the heat of her parting with his
family should have left her unconscious that she was emerging gloveless
into Paris, seemed, on the whole, to speak hopefully for Durham's
future opinion of the city.
Even now, he could detect a certain confusion, a desire to draw
breath and catch up with life, in the way she dawdled over the last
buttons in the dimness of the porte-cochere, while her footman,
outside, hung on her retarded signal.
When at length they emerged, it was to learn from that functionary
that Madame la Marquise's carriage had been obliged to yield its place
at the door, but was at the moment in the act of regaining it. Madame
de Malrive cut the explanation short. "I shall walk home. The carriage
this evening at eight."
As the footman turned away, she raised her eyes for the first time
"Will you walk with me? Let us cross the Tuileries. I should like
to sit a moment on the terrace."
She spoke quite easily and naturally, as if it were the most
commonplace thing in the world for them to be straying afoot together
over Paris; but even his vague knowledge of the world she lived in — a
knowledge mainly acquired through the perusal of yellow-backed fiction
— gave a thrilling significance to her naturalness. Durham, indeed,
was beginning to find that one of the charms of a sophisticated society
is that it lends point and perspective to the slightest contact between
the sexes. If, in the old unrestricted New York days, Fanny Frisbee,
from a brown stone door-step, had proposed that they should take a walk
in the Park, the idea would have presented itself to her companion as
agreeable but unimportant; whereas Fanny de Malrive's suggestion that
they should stroll across the Tuileries was obviously fraught with
He was so throbbing with the sense of these possibilities that he
walked beside her without speaking down the length of the wide alley
which follows the line of the Rue de Rivoli, suffering her even, when
they reached its farthest end, to direct him in silence up the steps to
the terrace of the Feuillants. For, after all, the possibilities were
double-faced, and her bold departure from custom might simply mean that
what she had to say was so dreadful that it needed all the tenderest
mitigation of circumstance.
There was apparently nothing embarrassing to her in his silence: it
was a part of her long European discipline that she had learned to
manage pauses with ease. In her Frisbee days she might have packed this
one with a random fluency; now she was content to let it widen slowly
before them like the spacious prospect opening at their feet. The
complicated beauty of this prospect, as they moved toward it between
the symmetrically clipped limes of the lateral terrace, touched him
anew through her nearness, as with the hint of some vast impersonal
power, controlling and regulating her life in ways he could not guess,
putting between himself and her the whole width of the civilization
into which her marriage had absorbed her. And there was such fear in
the thought — he read such derision of what he had to offer in the
splendour of the great avenues tapering upward to the sunset glories of
the Arch — that all he had meant to say when he finally spoke
compressed itself at last into an abrupt unmitigated: "Well?"
She answered at once — as though she had only awaited the call of
the national interrogation — "I don't know when I have been so happy."
"So happy?" The suddenness of his joy flushed up through his fair
"As I was just now — taking tea with your mother and sisters."
Durham's "Oh!" of surprise betrayed also a note of disillusionment,
which she met only by the reconciling murmur: "Shall we sit down?"
He found two of the springy yellow chairs indigenous to the spot,
and placed them under the tree near which they had paused, saying
reluctantly, as he did so: "Of course it was an immense pleasure to
them to see you again."
"Oh, not in the same way. I mean — " she paused, sinking into the
chair, and betraying, for the first time, a momentary inability to deal
becomingly with the situation. "I mean," she resumed smiling, "that it
was not an event for them, as it was for me."
"An event?" he caught her up again, eagerly; for what, in the
language of any civilization, could that word mean but just the one
thing he most wished it to?
"To be with dear, good, sweet, simple, real Americans again!" she
burst out, heaping up her epithets with reckless prodigality.
Durham's smile once more faded to impersonality, as he rejoined,
just a shade on the defensive: "If it's merely our Americanism you
enjoyed — I've no doubt we can give you all you want in that line."
"Yes, it's just that! But if you knew what the word means to me! It
means — it means — " she paused as if to assure herself that they
were sufficiently isolated from the desultory groups beneath the other
trees — "it means that I'm safe with them: as safe as in a bank!"
Durham felt a sudden warmth behind his eyes and in his throat. "I
think I do know — "
"No, you don't, really; you can't know how dear and strange and
familiar it all sounded: the old New York names that kept coming up in
your mother's talk, and her charming quaint ideas about Europe — their
all regarding it as a great big innocent pleasure ground and shop for
Americans; and your mother's missing the home-made bread and preferring
the American asparagus — I'm so tired of Americans who despise even
their own asparagus! And then your married sister's spending her
summers at — where is it? — the Kittawittany House on Lake Pohunk —
A vision of earnest women in Shetland shawls, with spectacles and
thin knobs of hair, eating blueberry pie at unwholesome hours in a
shingled dining-room on a bare New England hill-top, rose pallidly
between Durham and the verdant brightness of the Champs Elysees, and he
protested with a slight smile: "Oh, but my married sister is the black
sheep of the family — the rest of us never sank as low as that."
"Low? I think it's beautiful — fresh and innocent and simple. I
remember going to such a place once. They have early dinner — rather
late — and go off in buckboards over terrible roads, and bring back
golden rod and autumn leaves, and read nature books aloud on the
piazza; and there is always one shy young man in flannels — only one
— who has come to see the prettiest girl (though how he can choose
among so many!) and who takes her off in a buggy for hours and hours —
" She paused and summed up with a long sigh: "It is fifteen years since
I was in America."
"And you're still so good an American."
"Oh, a better and better one every day!"
He hesitated. "Then why did you never come back?"
Her face altered instantly, exchanging its retrospective light for
the look of slightly shadowed watchfulness which he had known as most
habitual to it.
"It was impossible — it has always been so. My husband would not
go; and since — since our separation — there have been family
Durham sighed impatiently. "Why do you talk of reasons? The truth
is, you have made your life here. You could never give all this up!" He
made a discouraged gesture in the direction of the Place de la
"Give it up! I would go tomorrow! But it could never, now, be for
more than a visit. I must live in France on account of my boy."
Durham's heart gave a quick beat. At last the talk had neared the
point toward which his whole mind was straining, and he began to feel a
personal application in her words. But that made him all the more
cautious about choosing his own.
"It is an agreement — about the boy?" he ventured.
"I gave my word. They knew that was enough," she said proudly;
adding, as if to put him in full possession of her reasons: "It would
have been much more difficult for me to obtain complete control of my
son if it had not been understood that I was to live in France."
"That seems fair," Durham assented after a moment's reflection: it
was his instinct, even in the heat of personal endeavour, to pause a
moment on the question of "fairness." The personal claim reasserted
itself as he added tentatively: "But when he is brought up — when he's
grown up: then you would feel freer?"
She received this with a start, as a possibility too remote to have
entered into her view of the future. "He is only eight years old!" she
"Ah, of course it would be a long way off?"
"A long way off, thank heaven! French mothers part late with their
sons, and in that one respect I mean to be a French mother."
"Of course — naturally — since he has only you," Durham again
He was eager to show how fully he took her point of view, if only
to dispose her to the reciprocal fairness of taking his when the time
came to present it. And he began to think that the time had now come;
that their walk would not have thus resolved itself, without excuse or
pretext, into a tranquil session beneath the trees, for any purpose
less important than that of giving him his opportunity.
He took it, characteristically, without seeking a transition. "When
I spoke to you, the other day, about myself — about what I felt for
you — I said nothing of the future, because, for the moment, my mind
refused to travel beyond its immediate hope of happiness. But I felt,
of course, even then, that the hope involved various difficulties —
that we can't, as we might once have done, come together without any
thought but for ourselves; and whatever your answer is to be, I want to
tell you now that I am ready to accept my share of the difficulties."
He paused, and then added explicitly: "If there's the least chance of
your listening to me, I'm willing to live over here as long as you can
keep your boy with you."
WHATEVER Madame de Malrive's answer was to be, there could be no
doubt as to her readiness to listen. She received Durham's words
without sign of resistance, and took time to ponder them gently before
she answered in a voice touched by emotion: "You are very generous —
very unselfish; but when you fix a limit — no matter how remote — to
my remaining here, I see how wrong it is to let myself consider for a
moment such possibilities as we have been talking of."
"Wrong? Why should it be wrong?"
"Because I shall want to keep my boy always! Not, of course, in the
sense of living with him, or even forming an important part of his
life; I am not deluded enough to think that possible. But I do believe
it possible never to pass wholly out of his life; and while there is a
hope of that, how can I leave him?" She paused, and turned on him a new
face, a face in which the past of which he was still so ignorant showed
itself like a shadow suddenly darkening a clear pane. "How can I make
you understand?" she went on urgently. "It is not only because of my
love for him — not only, I mean, because of my own happiness in being
with him; that I can't, in imagination, surrender even the remotest
hour of his future; it is because, the moment he passes out of my
influence, he passes under that other — the influence I have been
fighting against every hour since he was born! — I don't mean, you
know," she added, as Durham, with bent head, continued to offer the
silent fixity of his attention, "I don't mean the special personal
influence — except inasmuch as it represents something wider, more
general, something that encloses and circulates through the whole world
in which he belongs. That is what I meant when I said you could never
understand! There is nothing in your experience — in any American
experience — to correspond with that far-reaching family organization,
which is itself a part of the larger system, and which encloses a young
man of my son's position in a network of accepted prejudices and
opinions. Everything is prepared in advance — his political and
religious convictions, his judgments of people, his sense of honour,
his ideas of women, his whole view of life. He is taught to see
vileness and corruption in every one not of his own way of thinking,
and in every idea that does not directly serve the religious and
political purposes of his class. The truth isn't a fixed thing: it's
not used to test actions by, it's tested by them, and made to fit in
with them. And this forming of the mind begins with the child's first
consciousness; it's in his nursery stories, his baby prayers, his very
games with his playmates! Already he is only half mine, because the
Church has the other half, and will be reaching out for my share as
soon as his education begins. But that other half is still mine, and I
mean to make it the strongest and most living half of the two, so that,
when the inevitable conflict begins, the energy and the truth and the
endurance shall be on my side and not on theirs!"
She paused, flushing with the repressed fervour of her utterance,
though her voice had not been raised beyond its usual discreet
modulations; and Durham felt himself tingling with the transmitted
force of her resolve. Whatever shock her words brought to his personal
hope, he was grateful to her for speaking them so clearly, for having
so sure a grasp of her purpose.
Her decision strengthened his own, and after a pause of
deliberation he said quietly: "There might be a good deal to urge on
the other side — the ineffectualness of your sacrifice, the
probability that when your son marries he will inevitably be absorbed
back into the life of his class and his people; but I can't look at it
in that way, because if I were in your place I believe I should feel
just as you do about it. As long as there was a fighting chance I
should want to keep hold of my half, no matter how much the struggle
cost me. And one reason why I understand your feeling about your boy is
that I have the same feeling about you: as long as there's a fighting
chance of keeping my half of you — the half he is willing to spare me
— I don't see how I can ever give it up." He waited again, and then
brought out firmly: "If you'll marry me, I'll agree to live out here as
long as you want, and we'll be two instead of one to keep hold of your
half of him."
He raised his eyes as he ended, and saw that hers met them through
a quick clouding of tears.
"Ah, I am glad to have had this said to me! But I could never
accept such an offer."
He caught instantly at the distinction. "That doesn't mean that you
could never accept me?"
"Under such conditions — "
"But if I am satisfied with the conditions? Don't think I am
speaking rashly, under the influence of the moment. I have expected
something of this sort, and I have thought out my side of the case. As
far as material circumstances go, I have worked long enough and
successfully enough to take my ease and take it where I choose. I
mention that because the life I offer you is offered to your boy as
well." He let this sink into her mind before summing up gravely: "The
offer I make is made deliberately, and at least I have a right to a
She was silent again, and then lifted a cleared gaze to his. "My
direct answer then is: if I were still Fanny Frisbee I would marry
He bent toward her persuasively. "But you will be — when the
divorce is pronounced."
"Ah, the divorce — " She flushed deeply, with an instinctive
shrinking back of her whole person which made him straighten himself in
"Do you so dislike the idea?"
"The idea of divorce? No — not in my case. I should like anything
that would do away with the past — obliterate it all — make
everything new in my life!"
"Then what — ?" he began again, waiting with the patience of a
wooer on the uneasy circling of her tormented mind.
"Oh, don't ask me; I don't know; I am frightened."
Durham gave a deep sigh of discouragement. "I thought your coming
here with me today — and above all your going with me just now to see
my mother — was a sign that you were not frightened!"
"Well, I was not when I was with your mother. She made everything
seem easy and natural. She took me back into that clear American air
where there are no obscurities, no mysteries — "
"What obscurities, what mysteries, are you afraid of?"
She looked about her with a faint shiver. "I am afraid of
everything!" she said.
"That's because you are alone; because you've no one to turn to.
I'll clear the air for you fast enough if you'll let me."
He looked forth defiantly, as if flinging his challenge at the
great city which had come to typify the powers contending with him for
"You say that so easily! But you don't know; none of you know."
"The difficulties — "
"I told you I was ready to take my share of the difficulties — and
my share naturally includes yours. You know Americans are great hands
at getting over difficulties." He drew himself up confidently. "Just
leave that to me — only tell me exactly what you're afraid of."
She paused again, and then said: "The divorce, to begin with —
they will never consent to it."
He noticed that she spoke as though the interests of the whole
clan, rather than her husband's individual claim, were to be
considered; and the use of the plural pronoun shocked his free
individualism like a glimpse of some dark feudal survival.
"But you are absolutely certain of your divorce! I've consulted —
of course without mentioning names — "
She interrupted him, with a melancholy smile: "Ah, so have I. The
divorce would be easy enough to get, if they ever let it come into the
"How on earth can they prevent that?"
"I don't know; my never knowing how they will do things is one of
the secrets of their power."
"Their power? What power?" he broke in with irrepressible contempt.
"Who are these bogeys whose machinations are going to arrest the course
of justice in a — comparatively — civilized country? You've told me
yourself that Monsieur de Malrive is the least likely to give you
trouble; and the others are his uncle the abbe, his mother and sister.
That kind of a syndicate doesn't scare me much. A priest and two women
She shook her head. "Not contra mundum, but with it, their whole
world is behind them. It's that mysterious solidarity that you can't
understand. One doesn't know how far they may reach, or in how many
directions. I have never known. They have always cropped up where I
least expected them."
Before this persistency of negation Durham's buoyancy began to
flag, but his determination grew the more fixed.
"Well, then, supposing them to possess these supernatural powers;
do you think it's to people of that kind that I'll ever consent to give
She raised a half-smiling glance of protest. "Oh, they're not
wantonly wicked. They'll leave me alone as long as — "
"As I do?" he interrupted. "Do you want me to leave you alone? Was
that what you brought me here to tell me?"
The directness of the challenge seemed to gather up the scattered
strands of her hesitation, and lifting her head she turned on him a
look in which, but for its underlying shadow, he might have recovered
the full free beam of Fanny Frisbee's gaze.
"I don't know why I brought you here," she said gently, "except
from the wish to prolong a little the illusion of being once more an
American among Americans. Just now, sitting there with your mother and
Katy and Nannie, the difficulties seemed to vanish; the problems grew
as trivial to me as they are to you. And I wanted them to remain so a
little longer; I wanted to put off going back to them. But it was of no
use — they were waiting for me here. They are over there now in that
house across the river. She indicated the grey sky-line of the
Faubourg, shining in the splintered radiance of the sunset beyond the
long sweep of the quays. "They are a part of me — I belong to them. I
must go back to them!" she sighed.
She rose slowly to her feet, as though her metaphor had expressed
an actual fact and she felt herself bodily drawn from his side by the
influences of which she spoke.
Durham had risen too. "Then I go back with you!" he exclaimed
energetically; and as she paused, wavering a little under the shock of
his resolve: "I don't mean into your house — but into your life!" he
She suffered him, at any rate, to accompany her to the door of the
house, and allowed their debate to prolong itself through the almost
monastic quiet of the quarter which led thither. On the way, he
succeeded in wresting from her the confession that, if it were possible
to ascertain in advance that her husband's family would not oppose her
action, she might decide to apply for a divorce. Short of a positive
assurance on this point, she made it clear that she would never move in
the matter; there must be no scandal, no retentissement, nothing which
her boy, necessarily brought up in the French tradition of scrupulously
preserved appearances, could afterward regard as the faintest blur on
his much-quartered escutcheon. But even this partial concession again
raised fresh obstacles; for there seemed to be no one to whom she could
entrust so delicate an investigation, and to apply directly to the
Marquis de Malrive or his relatives appeared, in the light of her past
experience, the last way of learning their intentions.
"But," Durham objected, beginning to suspect a morbid fixity of
idea in her perpetual attitude of distrust — "but surely you have told
me that your husband's sister — what is her name? Madame de Treymes?
— was the most powerful member of the group, and that she has always
been on your side."
She hesitated. "Yes, Christiane has been on my side. She dislikes
her brother. But it would not do to ask her."
"But could no one else ask her? Who are her friends?"
"She has a great many; and some, of course, are mine. But in a case
like this they would be all hers; they wouldn't hesitate a moment
"Why should it be necessary to hesitate between you? Suppose Madame
de Treymes sees the reasonableness of what you ask; suppose, at any
rate, she sees the hopelessness of opposing you? Why should she make a
mystery of your opinion?"
"It's not that; it is that, if I went to her friends, I should
never get her real opinion from them. At least I should never know if
it is was her real opinion; and therefore I should be no farther
advanced. Don't you see?"
Durham struggled between the sentimental impulse to soothe her, and
the practical instinct that it was a moment for unmitigated frankness.
"I'm not sure that I do; but if you can't find out what Madame de
Treymes thinks, I'll see what I can do myself."
"Oh — you!" broke from her in mingled terror and admiration; and
pausing on her doorstep to lay her hand in his before she touched the
bell, she added with a half-whimsical flash of regret: "Why didn't this
happen to Fanny Frisbee?"
WHY had it not happened to Fanny Frisbee?
Durham put the question to himself as he walked back along the
quays, in a state of inner commotion which left him, for once,
insensible to the ordered beauty of his surroundings. Propinquity had
not been lacking: he had known Miss Frisbee since his college days. In
unsophisticated circles, one family is apt to quote another; and the
Durham ladies had always quoted the Frisbees. The Frisbees were bold,
experienced, enterprising: they had what the novelists of the day
called "dash." The beautiful Fanny was especially dashing; she had the
showiest national attributes, tempered only by a native grace of
softness, as the beam of her eyes was subdued by the length of their
lashes. And yet young Durham, though not unsusceptible to such charms,
had remained content to enjoy them from a safe distance of good
fellowship. If he had been asked why, he could not have told; but the
Durham of forty understood. It was because there were, with minor
modifications, many other Fanny Frisbees; whereas never before, within
his ken, had there been a Fanny de Malrive.
He had felt it in a flash, when, the autumn before, he had run
across her one evening in the dining-room of the Beaurivage at Ouchy;
when, after a furtive exchange of glances, they had simultaneously
arrived at recognition, followed by an eager pressure of hands, and a
long evening of reminiscence on the starlit terrace. She was the same,
but so mysteriously changed! And it was the mystery, the sense of
unprobed depths of initiation, which drew him to her as her freshness
had never drawn him. He had not hitherto attempted to define the nature
of the change: it remained for his sister Nannie to do that when, on
his return to the Rue de Rivoli, where the family were still sitting in
conclave upon their recent visitor, Miss Durham summed up their groping
comments in the phrase: "I never saw anything so French!"
Durham, understanding what his sister's use of the epithet implied,
recognized it instantly as the explanation of his own feelings. Yes, it
was the finish, the modelling, which Madame de Malrive's experience had
given her that set her apart from the fresh uncomplicated personalities
of which she had once been simply the most charming type. The
influences that had lowered her voice, regulated her gestures, toned
her down to harmony with the warm dim background of a long social past
— these influences had lent to her natural fineness of perception a
command of expression adapted to complex conditions. She had moved in
surroundings through which one could hardly bounce and bang on the
genial American plan without knocking the angles off a number of sacred
institutions; and her acquired dexterity of movement seemed to Durham a
crowning grace. It was a shock, now that he knew at what cost the
dexterity had been acquired, to acknowledge this even to himself; he
hated to think that she could owe anything to such conditions as she
had been placed in. And it gave him a sense of the tremendous strength
of the organization into which she had been absorbed, that in spite of
her horror, her moral revolt, she had not reacted against its external
forms. She might abhor her husband, her marriage, and the world to
which it had introduced her, but she had become a product of that world
in its outward expression, and no better proof of the fact was needed
than her exotic enjoyment of Americanism.
The sense of the distance to which her American past had been
removed was never more present to him than when, a day or two later, he
went with his mother and sisters to return her visit. The region beyond
the river existed, for the Durham ladies, only as the unmapped
environment of the Bon Marche; and Nannie Durham's exclamation on the
pokiness of the streets and the dulness of the houses showed Durham,
with a start, how far he had already travelled from the family point of
"Well, if this is all she got by marrying a Marquis!" the young
lady summed up as they paused before the small sober hotel in its
high-walled court; and Katy, following her mother through the
stone-vaulted and stone-floored vestibule, murmured: "It must be simply
freezing in winter."
In the softly-faded drawing-room, with its old pastels in old
frames, its windows looking on the damp green twilight of a garden sunk
deep in blackened walls, the American ladies might have been even more
conscious of the insufficiency of their friend's compensations, had not
the warmth of her welcome precluded all other reflections. It was not
till she had gathered them about her in the corner beside the
tea-table, that Durham identified the slender dark lady loitering
negligently in the background, and introduced in a comprehensive murmur
to the American group, as the redoubtable sister-in-law to whom he had
declared himself ready to throw down his challenge.
There was nothing very redoubtable about Madame de Treymes, except
perhaps the kindly yet critical observation which she bestowed on her
sister-in-law's visitors: the unblinking attention of a civilized
spectator observing an encampment of aborigines. He had heard of her as
a beauty, and was surprised to find her, as Nannie afterward put it, a
mere stick to hang clothes on (but they did hang!), with a small brown
glancing face, like that of a charming little inquisitive animal. Yet
before she had addressed ten words to him — nibbling at the hard
English consonants like nuts — he owned the justice of the epithet.
She was a beauty, if beauty, instead of being restricted to the cast of
the face, is a pervasive attribute informing the hands, the voice, the
gestures, the very fall of a flounce and tilt of a feather. In this
impalpable aura of grace Madame de Treymes' dark meagre presence
unmistakably moved, like a thin flame in a wide quiver of light. And as
he realized that she looked much handsomer than she was, so while they
talked, he felt that she understood a great deal more than she
betrayed. It was not through the groping speech which formed their
apparent medium of communication that she imbibed her information: she
found it in the air, she extracted it from Durham's look and manner,
she caught it in the turn of her sister-in-law's defenseless eyes —
for in her presence Madame de Malrive became Fanny Frisbee again! —
she put it together, in short, out of just such unconsidered
indescribable trifles as differentiated the quiet felicity of her dress
from Nannie and Katy's "handsome" haphazard clothes.
Her actual converse with Durham moved, meanwhile, strictly in the
conventional ruts: had he been long in Paris, which of the new plays
did he like best, was it true that American jeunes filles were
sometimes taken to the Boulevard theatres? And she threw an
interrogative glance at the young ladies beside the tea-table. To
Durham's reply that it depended how much French they knew, she shrugged
and smiled, replying that his compatriots all spoke French like
Parisians, enquiring, after a moment's thought, if they learned it, la
bas, des negres, and laughing heartily when Durham's astonishment
revealed her blunder.
When at length she had taken leave — enveloping the Durham ladies
in a last puzzled penetrating look — Madame de Malrive turned to Mrs.
Durham with a faintly embarrassed smile.
"My sister-in-law was much interested; I believe you are the first
Americans she has ever known."
"Good gracious!" ejaculated Nannie, as though such social darkness
required immediate missionary action on some one's part.
"Well, she knows us," said Durham, catching in Madame de Malrive's
rapid glance, a startled assent to his point.
"After all," reflected the accurate Katy, as though seeking an
excuse for Madame de Treymes' unenlightenment, " we don't know many
French people, either."
To which Nannie promptly if obscurely retorted: "Ah, but we
couldn't and she could!"
MADAME DE TREYMES' friendly observation of her sister-in-law's
visitors resulted in no expression on her part of a desire to renew her
study of them. To all appearances, she passed out of their lives when
Madame de Malrive's door closed on her; and Durham felt that the
arduous task of making her acquaintance was still to be begun.
He felt also, more than ever, the necessity of attempting it; and
in his determination to lose no time, and his perplexity how to set
most speedily about the business, he bethought himself of applying to
his cousin Mrs. Boykin.
Mrs. Elmer Boykin was a small plump woman, to whose vague
prettiness the lines of middle-age had given no meaning: as though
whatever had happened to her had merely added to the sum total of her
inexperience. After a Parisian residence of twenty-five years, spent in
a state of feverish servitude to the great artists of the rue de la
Paix, her dress and hair still retained a certain rigidity in keeping
with the directness of her gaze and the unmodulated candour of her
voice. Her very drawing-room had the hard bright atmosphere of her
native skies, and one felt that she was still true at heart to the
national ideals in electric lighting and plumbing.
She and her husband had left America owing to the impossibility of
living there with the finish and decorum which the Boykin standard
demanded; but in the isolation of their exile they had created about
them a kind of phantom America, where the national prejudices continued
to flourish unchecked by the national progressiveness: a little world
sparsely peopled by compatriots in the same attitude of chronic
opposition toward a society chronically unaware of them. In this
uncontaminated air Mr. and Mrs. Boykin had preserved the purity of
simpler conditions, and Elmer Boykin, returning rakishly from a
Sunday's racing at Chantilly, betrayed, under his "knowing" coat and
the racing-glasses slung ostentatiously across his shoulder, the
unmistakeable cut of the American business man coming "up town" after a
long day in the office.
It was a part of the Boykins' uncomfortable but determined attitude
— and perhaps a last expression of their latent patriotism — to live
in active disapproval of the world about them, fixing in memory with
little stabs of reprobation innumerable instances of what the
abominable foreigner was doing; so that they reminded Durham of persons
peacefully following the course of a horrible war by pricking red pins
in a map. To Mrs. Durham, with her gentle tourist's view of the
European continent, as a vast Museum in which the human multitudes
simply furnished the element of costume, the Boykins seemed abysmally
instructed, and darkly expert in forbidden things; and her son, without
sharing her simple faith in their omniscience, credited them with an
ample supply of the kind of information of which he was in search.
Mrs. Boykin, from the corner of an intensely modern Gobelin sofa,
studied her cousin as he balanced himself insecurely on one of the
small gilt chairs which always look surprised at being sat in.
"Fanny de Malrive? Oh, of course: I remember you were all very
intimate with the Frisbees when they lived in West Thirty-third Street.
But she has dropped all her American friends since her marriage. The
excuse was that de Malrive didn't like them; but as she's been
separated for five or six years, I can't see — . You say she's been
very nice to your mother and the girls? Well, I daresay she is
beginning to feel the need of friends she can really trust; for as for
her French relations — ! That Malrive set is the worst in the
Faubourg. Of course you know what he is; even the family, for decency's
sake, had to back her up, and urge her to get a separation. And
Christiane de Treymes — "
Durham seized his opportunity. "Is she so very reprehensible too?"
Mrs. Boykin pursed up her small colourless mouth. "I can't speak
from personal experience. I know Madame de Treymes slightly — I have
met her at Fanny's — but she never remembers the fact except when she
wants me to go to one of her ventes de charite. They all remember us
then; and some American women are silly enough to ruin themselves at
the smart bazaars, and fancy they will get invitations in return. They
say Mrs. Addison G. Pack followed Madame d'Alglade around for a whole
winter, and spent a hundred thousand francs at her stalls; and at the
end of the season Madame d'Alglade asked her to tea, and when she got
there she found that was for a charity too, and she had to pay a
hundred francs to get in."
Mrs. Boykin paused with a smile of compassion. "That is not my
way," she continued. "Personally I have no desire to thrust myself into
French society — I can't see how any American woman can do so without
loss of self-respect. But any one can tell you about Madame de
"I wish you would, then," Durham suggested.
"Well, I think Elmer had better," said his wife mysteriously, as
Mr. Boykin, at this point, advanced across the wide expanse of Aubusson
on which his wife and Durham were islanded in a state of propinquity
"What's that, Bessy? Hah, Durham, how are you? Didn't see you at
Auteuil this afternoon. You don't race? Busy sight-seeing, I suppose?
What was that my wife was telling you? Oh, about Madame de Treymes."
He stroked his pepper-and-salt moustache with a gesture intended
rather to indicate than conceal the smile of experience beneath it.
"Well, Madame de Treymes has not been like a happy country — she's had
a history: several of 'em. Some one said she constituted the feuilleton
of the Faubourg daily news. La suite au prochain numero — you see the
point? Not that I speak from personal knowledge. Bessy and I have never
cared to force our way — " He paused, reflecting that his wife had
probably anticipated him in the expression of this familiar sentiment,
and added with a significant nod: "Of course you know the Prince
d'Armillac by sight? No? I'm surprised at that. Well, he's one of the
choicest ornaments of the Jockey Club: very fascinating to the ladies,
I believe, but the deuce and all at baccara. Ruined his mother and a
couple of maiden aunts already — and now Madame de Treymes has put the
family pearls up the spout, and is wearing imitation for love of him."
"I had that straight from my maid's cousin, who is employed by
Madame d'Armillac's jeweller," said Mrs. Boykin with conscious pride.
"Oh, it's straight enough — more than she is!" retorted her
husband, who was slightly jealous of having his facts reinforced by any
information not of his own gleaning.
"Be careful of what you say, Elmer," Mrs. Boykin interposed with
archness. "I suspect John of being seriously smitten by the lady."
Durham let this pass unchallenged, submitting with a good grace to
his host's low whistle of amusement, and the sardonic enquiry: "Ever do
anything with the foils? D'Armillac is what they call over here a fine
"Oh, I don't mean to resort to bloodshed unless it's absolutely
necessary; but I mean to make the lady's acquaintance," said Durham,
falling into his key.
Mrs. Boykin's lips tightened to the vanishing point. "I am afraid
you must apply for an introduction to more fashionable people than we
are. Elmer and I so thoroughly disapprove of French society that we
have always declined to take any part in it. But why should not Fanny
de Malrive arrange a meeting for you?"
Durham hesitated. "I don't think she is on very intimate terms with
her husband's family — "
"You mean that she's not allowed to introduce her friends to them,"
Mrs. Boykin interjected sarcastically; while her husband added, with an
air of portentous initiation: "Ah, my dear fellow, the way they treat
the Americans over here — that's another chapter, you know."
"How some people can stand it!" Mrs. Boykin chimed in; and as the
footman, entering at that moment, tendered her a large coronetted
envelope, she held it up as if in illustration of the indignities to
which her countrymen were subjected.
"Look at that, my dear John," she exclaimed — "another card to one
of their everlasting bazaars! Why, it's at Madame d'Armillac's, the
Prince's mother. Madame de Treymes must have sent it, of course. The
brazen way in which they combine religion and immorality! Fifty francs
admission — rien que cela! — to see some of the most disreputable
people in Europe. And if you're an American, you're expected to leave
at least a thousand behind you. Their own people naturally get off
cheaper." She tossed over the card to her cousin. "There's your
opportunity to see Madame de Treymes."
"Make it two thousand, and she'll ask you to tea," Mr. Boykin
In the monumental drawing-room of the Hotel de Malrive — it had
been a surprise to the American to read the name of the house
emblazoned on black marble over its still more monumental gateway —
Durham found himself surrounded by a buzz of feminine tea-sipping oddly
out of keeping with the wigged and cuirassed portraits frowning high on
the walls, the majestic attitude of the furniture, the rigidity of
great gilt consoles drawn up like lords-in-waiting against the
It was the old Marquise de Malrive's "day," and Madame de Treymes,
who lived with her mother, had admitted Durham to the heart of the
enemy's country by inviting him, after his prodigal disbursements at
the charity bazaar, to come in to tea on a Thursday. Whether, in thus
fulfilling Mr. Boykin's prediction, she had been aware of Durham's
purpose, and had her own reasons for falling in with it; or whether she
simply wished to reward his lavishness at the fair, and permit herself
another glimpse of an American so picturesquely embodying the type
familiar to French fiction — on these points Durham was still in
Meanwhile, Madame de Treymes being engaged with a venerable Duchess
in a black shawl — all the older ladies present had the sloping
shoulders of a generation of shawl-wearers — her American visitor,
left in the isolation of his unimportance, was using it as a shelter
for a rapid survey of the scene.
He had begun his study of Fanny de Malrive's situation without any
real understanding of her fears. He knew the repugnance to divorce
existing in the French Catholic world, but since the French laws
sanctioned it, and in a case so flagrant as his injured friend's, would
inevitably accord it with the least possible delay and exposure, he
could not take seriously any risk of opposition on the part of the
husband's family. Madame de Malrive had not become a Catholic, and
since her religious scruples could not be played on, the only weapon
remaining to the enemy — the threat of fighting the divorce — was one
they could not wield without self-injury. Certainly, if the chief
object were to avoid scandal, common sense must counsel Monsieur de
Malrive and his friends not to give the courts an opportunity of
exploring his past; and since the echo of such explorations, and their
ultimate transmission to her son, were what Madame de Malrive most
dreaded, the opposing parties seemed to have a common ground for
agreement, and Durham could not but regard his friend's fears as the
result of over-taxed sensibilities. All this had seemed evident enough
to him as he entered the austere portals of the Hotel de Malrive and
passed, between the faded liveries of old family servants, to the
presence of the dreaded dowager above. But he had not been ten minutes
in that presence before he had arrived at a faint intuition of what
poor Fanny meant. It was not in the exquisite mildness of the old
Marquise, a little gray-haired bunch of a woman in dowdy mourning, or
in the small neat presence of the priestly uncle, the Abbe who had so
obviously just stepped down from one of the picture-frames overhead: it
was not in the aspect of these chief protagonists, so outwardly
unformidable, that Durham read an occult danger to his friend. It was
rather in their setting, their surroundings, the little company of
elderly and dowdy persons — so uniformly clad in weeping blacks and
purples that they might have been assembled for some mortuary
anniversary — it was in the remoteness and the solidarity of this
little group that Durham had his first glimpse of the social force of
which Fanny de Malrive had spoken. All these amiably chatting visitors,
who mostly bore the stamp of personal insignificance on their mildly
sloping or aristocratically beaked faces, hung together in a visible
closeness of tradition, dress, attitude and manner, as different as
possible from the loose aggregation of a roomful of his own countrymen.
Durham felt, as he observed them, that he had never before known what
"society" meant; nor understood that, in an organized and inherited
system, it exists full-fledged where two or three of its members are
Upon this state of bewilderment, this sense of having entered a
room in which the lights had suddenly been turned out, even Madame de
Treymes' intensely modern presence threw no illumination. He was
conscious, as she smilingly rejoined him, not of her points of
difference from the others, but of the myriad invisible threads by
which she held to them; he even recognized the audacious slant of her
little brown profile in the portrait of a powdered ancestress beneath
which she had paused a moment in advancing. She was simply one
particular facet of the solid, glittering impenetrable body which he
had thought to turn in his hands and look through like a crystal; and
when she said, in her clear staccato English, "Perhaps you will like to
see the other rooms," he felt like crying out in his blindness: "If I
could only be sure of seeing anything here!" Was she conscious of his
blindness, and was he as remote and unintelligible to her as she was to
him? This possibility, as he followed her through the nobly-unfolding
rooms of the great house, gave him his first hope of recoverable
advantage. For, after all, he had some vague traditional lights on her
world and its antecedents; whereas to her he was a wholly new
phenomenon, as unexplained as a fragment of meteorite dropped at her
feet on the smooth gravel of the garden-path they were pacing.
She had led him down into the garden, in response to his admiring
exclamation, and perhaps also because she was sure that, in the chill
spring afternoon, they would have its embowered privacies to
themselves. The garden was small, but intensely rich and deep — one of
those wells of verdure and fragrance which everywhere sweeten the air
of Paris by wafts blown above old walls on quiet streets; and as Madame
de Treymes paused against the ivy bank masking its farther boundary,
Durham felt more than ever removed from the normal bearings of life.
His sense of strangeness was increased by the surprise of his
companion's next speech.
"You wish to marry my sister-in-law?" she asked abruptly; and
Durham's start of wonder was followed by an immediate feeling of
relief. He had expected the preliminaries of their interview to be as
complicated as the bargaining in an Eastern bazaar, and had feared to
lose himself at the first turn in a labyrinth of "foreign" intrigue.
"Yes, I do," he said with equal directness; and they smiled
together at the sharp report of question and answer.
The smile put Durham more completely at his ease, and after waiting
for her to speak, he added with deliberation: "So far, however, the
wishing is entirely on my side." His scrupulous conscience felt itself
justified in this reserve by the conditional nature of Madame de
"I understand; but you have been given reason to hope — "
"Every man in my position gives himself his own reasons for
hoping," he interposed with a smile.
"I understand that too," Madame de Treymes assented. "But still —
you spent a great deal of money the other day at our bazaar."
"Yes: I wanted to have a talk with you, and it was the readiest —
if not the most distinguished — means of attracting your attention."
"I understand," she once more reiterated, with a gleam of
"It is because I suspect you of understanding everything that I
have been so anxious for this opportunity."
She bowed her acknowledgement, and said: "Shall we sit a moment?"
adding, as he drew their chairs under a tree: "You permit me, then, to
say that I believe I understand also a little of our good Fanny's
"On that point I have no authority to speak. I am here only to
"Listen, then: you have persuaded her that there would be no harm
in divorcing my brother — since I believe your religion does not
"Madame de Malrive's religion sanctions divorce in such a case as
"As my brother has furnished? Yes, I have heard that your race is
stricter in judging such ecarts. But you must not think," she added,
"that I defend my brother. Fanny must have told you that we have always
given her our sympathy."
"She has let me infer it from her way of speaking of you."
Madame de Treymes arched her dramatic eyebrows. "How cautious you
are! I am so straightforward that I shall have no chance with you."
"You will be quite safe, unless you are so straightforward that you
put me on my guard."
She met this with a low note of amusement.
"At this rate we shall never get any farther; and in two minutes I
must go back to my mother's visitors. Why should we go on fencing? The
situation is really quite simple. Tell me just what you wish to know. I
have always been Fanny's friend, and that disposes me to be yours."
Durham, during this appeal, had had time to steady his thoughts;
and the result of his deliberation was that he said, with a return to
his former directness: "Well, then, what I wish to know is, what
position your family would take if Madame de Malrive should sue for a
divorce." He added, without giving her time to reply: "I naturally wish
to be clear on this point before urging my cause with your
Madame de Treymes seemed in no haste to answer; but after a pause
of reflection she said, not unkindly: "My poor Fanny might have asked
me that herself."
"I beg you to believe that I am not acting as her spokesman,"
Durham hastily interposed. "I merely wish to clear up the situation
before speaking to her in my own behalf."
"You are the most delicate of suitors! But I understand your
feeling. Fanny also is extremely delicate: it was a great surprise to
us at first. Still, in this case — " Madame de Treymes paused —
"since she has no religious scruples, and she had no difficulty in
obtaining a separation, why should she fear any in demanding a
"I don't know that she does: but the mere fact of possible
opposition might be enough to alarm the delicacy you have observed in
"Ah — yes: on her boy's account."
"Partly, doubtless, on her boy's account."
"So that, if my brother objects to a divorce, all he has to do is
to announce his objection? But, my dear sir, you are giving your case
into my hands!" She flashed an amused smile on him.
"Since you say you are Madame de Malrive's friend, could there be a
better place for it?"
As she turned her eyes on him he seemed to see, under the flitting
lightness of her glance, the sudden concentrated expression of the
ancestral will. "I am Fanny's friend, certainly. But with us family
considerations are paramount. And our religion forbids divorce."
"So that, inevitably, your brother will oppose it?"
She rose from her seat, and stood fretting with her slender
boot-tip the minute red pebbles of the path.
"I must really go in: my mother will never forgive me for deserting
"But surely you owe me an answer?" Durham protested, rising also.
"In return for your purchases at my stall?"
"No: in return for the trust I have placed in you."
She mused on this, moving slowly a step or two toward the house.
"Certainly I wish to see you again; you interest me," she said
smiling. "But it is so difficult to arrange. If I were to ask you to
come here again, my mother and uncle would be surprised. And at Fanny's
"Oh, not there!" he exclaimed.
"Where then? Is there any other house where we are likely to meet?"
Durham hesitated; but he was goaded by the flight of the precious
minutes. "Not unless you'll come and dine with me," he said boldly.
"Dine with you? Au cabaret? Ah, that would be diverting — but
"Well, dine with my cousin, then — I have a cousin, an American
lady, who lives here," said Durham, with suddenly-soaring audacity.
She paused with puzzled brows. "An American lady whom I know?"
"By name, at any rate. You send her cards for all your charity
She received the thrust with a laugh. "We do exploit your
"Oh, I don't think she has ever gone to the bazaars."
"But she might if I dined with her?"
"Still less, I imagine."
She reflected on this, and then said with acuteness: "I like that,
and I accept — but what is the lady's name?"
ON the way home, in the first drop of his exaltation, Durham had
said to himself: "But why on earth should Bessy invite her?"
He had, naturally, no very cogent reasons to give Mrs. Boykin in
support of his astonishing request, and could only, marvelling at his
own growth in duplicity, suffer her to infer that he was really,
shamelessly "smitten" with the lady he thus proposed to thrust upon her
hospitality. But, to his surprise, Mrs. Boykin hardly gave herself time
to pause upon his reasons. They were swallowed up in the fact that
Madame de Treymes wished to dine with her, as the lesser luminaries
vanish in the blaze of the sun.
"I am not surprised," she declared, with a faint smile intended to
check her husband's unruly wonder. "I wonder you are, Elmer. Didn't you
tell me that Armillac went out of his way to speak to you the other day
at the races? And at Madame d'Alglade's sale — yes, I went there after
all, just for a minute, because I found Katy and Nannie were so anxious
to be taken — well, that day I noticed that Madame de Treymes was
quite empressee when we went up to her stall. Oh, I didn't buy
anything: I merely waited while the girls chose some lampshades. They
thought it would be interesting to take home something painted by a
real Marquise, and of course I didn't tell them that those women never
make the things they sell at their stalls. But I repeat I'm not
surprised: I suspected that Madame de Treymes had heard of our little
dinners. You know they're really horribly bored in that poky old
Faubourg. My poor John, I see now why she's been making up to you! But
on one point I am quite determined, Elmer; whatever you say, I shall
not invite the Prince d'Armillac."
Elmer, as far as Durham could observe, did not say much; but, like
his wife, he continued in a state of pleasantly agitated activity till
the momentous evening of the dinner.
The festivity in question was restricted in numbers, either owing
to the difficulty of securing suitable guests, or from a desire not to
have it appear that Madame de Treymes' hosts attached any special
importance to her presence; but the smallness of the company was
counterbalanced by the multiplicity of the courses.
The national determination not to be "downed" by the despised
foreigner, to show a wealth of material resource obscurely felt to
compensate for the possible lack of other distinctions — this resolve
had taken, in Mrs. Boykin's case, the shape — or rather the multiple
shapes — of a series of culinary feats, of gastronomic combinations,
which would have commanded her deep respect had she seen them on any
other table, and which she naturally relied on to produce the same
effect on her guest. Whether or not the desired result was achieved,
Madame de Treymes' manner did not specifically declare; but it showed a
general complaisance, a charming willingness to be amused, which made
Mr. Boykin, for months afterward, allude to her among his compatriots
as "an old friend of my wife's — takes potluck with us, you know. Of
course there's not a word of truth in any of those ridiculous stories."
It was only when, to Durham's intense surprise, Mr. Boykin hazarded
to his neighbour the regret that they had not been so lucky as to
"secure the Prince" — it was then only that the lady showed, not
indeed anything so simple and unprepared as embarrassment, but a faint
play of wonder, an under-flicker of amusement, as though recognizing
that, by some odd law of social compensation, the crudity of the talk
might account for the complexity of the dishes.
But Mr. Boykin was tremulously alive to hints, and the conversation
at once slid to safer topics, easy generalizations which left Madame de
Treymes ample time to explore the table, to use her narrowed gaze like
a knife slitting open the unsuspicious personalities about her. Nannie
and Katy Durham, who, after much discussion (to which their hostess
candidly admitted them), had been included in the feast, were the
special objects of Madame de Treymes' observation. During dinner she
ignored in their favour the other carefully-selected guests — the
fashionable art-critic, the old Legitimist general, the beauty from the
English Embassy, the whole impressive marshalling of Mrs. Boykin's
social resources — and when the men returned to the drawing-room,
Durham found her still fanning in his sisters the flame of an easily
kindled enthusiasm. Since she could hardly have been held by the
intrinsic interest of their converse, the sight gave him another swift
intuition of the working of those hidden forces with which Fanny de
Malrive felt herself encompassed. But when Madame de Treymes, at his
approach, let him see that it was for him she had been reserving
herself, he felt that so graceful an impulse needed no special
explanation. She had the art of making it seem quite natural that they
should move away together to the remotest of Mrs. Boykin's far-drawn
salons, and that there, in a glaring privacy of brocade and ormolu, she
should turn to him with a smile which avowed her intentional quest of
"Confess that I have done a great deal for you!" she exclaimed,
making room for him on a sofa judiciously screened from the observation
of the other rooms.
"In coming to dine with my cousin?" he enquired, answering her
"Let us say, in giving you this half hour."
"For that I am duly grateful — and shall be still more so when I
know what it contains for me."
"Ah, I am not sure. You will not like what I am going to say."
"Shall I not?" he rejoined, changing colour.
She raised her eyes from the thoughtful contemplation of her
painted fan. "You appear to have no idea of the difficulties."
"Should I have asked your help if I had not had an idea of them?"
"But you are still confident that with my help you can surmount
"I can't believe you have come here to take that confidence from
She leaned back, smiling at him through her lashes. "And all this I
am to do for your beaux yeux?"
"No — for your own: that you may see with them what happiness you
"You are extremely clever, and I like you." She paused, and then
brought out with lingering emphasis: "But my family will not hear of a
She threw into her voice such an accent of finality that Durham,
for the moment, felt himself brought up against an insurmountable
barrier; but, almost at once, his fear was mitigated by the conviction
that she would not have put herself out so much to say so little.
"When you speak of your family, do you include yourself?" he
She threw a surprised glance at him. "I thought you understood that
I am simply their mouthpiece."
At this he rose quietly to his feet with a gesture of acceptance.
"I have only to thank you, then, for not keeping me longer in
His air of wishing to put an immediate end to the conversation
seemed to surprise her. "Sit down a moment longer," she commanded him
kindly; and as he leaned against the back of his chair, without
appearing to hear her request, she added in a low voice: "I am very
sorry for you and Fanny — but you are not the only persons to be
"The only persons?"
"In our unhappy family." She touched her breast with a sudden
tragic gesture. "I, for instance, whose help you ask — if you could
guess how I need help myself!"
She had dropped her light manner as she might have tossed aside her
fan, and he was startled at the intimacy of misery to which her look
and movement abruptly admitted him. Perhaps no Anglo-Saxon fully
understands the fluency in self-revelation which centuries of the
confessional have given to the Latin races, and to Durham, at any rate,
Madame de Treymes' sudden avowal gave the shock of a physical
"I am so sorry," he stammered — "is there any way in which I can
be of use to you?"
She sat before him with her hands clasped, her eyes fixed on his in
a terrible intensity of appeal. "If you would — if you would! Oh,
there is nothing I would not do for you. I have still a great deal of
influence with my mother, and what my mother commands we all do. I
could help you — I am sure I could help you; but not if my own
situation were known. And if nothing can be done it must be known in a
Durham had reseated himself at her side. "Tell me what I can do,"
he said in a low tone, forgetting his own preoccupations in his genuine
concern for her distress.
She looked up at him through tears. "How dare I? Your race is so
cautious, so self-controlled — you have so little indulgence for the
extravagances of the heart. And my folly has been incredible — and
unrewarded." She paused, and as Durham waited in a silence which she
guessed to be compassionate, she brought out below her breath: "I have
lent money — my husband's, my brother's — money that was not mine,
and now I have nothing to repay it with."
Durham gazed at her in genuine astonishment. The turn the
conversation had taken led quite beyond his uncomplicated experiences
with the other sex. She saw his surprise, and extended her hands in
deprecation and entreaty. "Alas, what must you think of me? How can I
explain my humiliating myself before a stranger? Only by telling you
the whole truth — the fact that I am not alone in this disaster, that
I could not confess my situation to my family without ruining myself,
and involving in my ruin some one who, however undeservedly, has been
as dear to me as — as you are to — "
Durham pushed his chair back with a sharp exclamation.
"Ah, even that does not move you!" she said.
The cry restored him to his senses by the long shaft of light it
sent down the dark windings of the situation. He seemed suddenly to
know Madame de Treymes as if he had been brought up with her in the
inscrutable shades of the Hotel de Malrive.
She, on her side, appeared to have a startled but uncomprehending
sense of the fact that his silence was no longer completely
sympathetic, that her touch called forth no answering vibration; and
she made a desperate clutch at the one chord she could be certain of
"You have asked a great deal of me — much more than you can guess.
Do you mean to give me nothing — not even your sympathy — in return?
Is it because you have heard horrors of me? When are they not said of a
woman who is married unhappily? Perhaps not in your fortunate country,
where she may seek liberation without dishonour. But here — ! You who
have seen the consequences of our disastrous marriages — you who may
yet be the victim of our cruel and abominable system; have you no pity
for one who has suffered in the same way, and without the possibility
of release?" She paused, laying her hand on his arm with a smile of
deprecating irony. "It is not because you are not rich. At such times
the crudest way is the shortest, and I don't pretend to deny that I
know I am asking you a trifle. You Americans, when you want a thing,
always pay ten times what it is worth, and I am giving you the
wonderful chance to get what you most want at a bargain."
Durham sat silent, her little gloved hand burning his coat-sleeve
as if it had been a hot iron. His brain was tingling with the shock of
her confession. She wanted money, a great deal of money: that was
clear, but it was not the point. She was ready to sell her influence,
and he fancied she could be counted on to fulfil her side of the
bargain. The fact that he could so trust her seemed only to make her
more terrible to him — more supernaturally dauntless and baleful. For
what was it that she exacted of him? She had said she must have money
to pay her debts; but he knew that was only a pretext which she
scarcely expected him to believe. She wanted the money for some one
else; that was what her allusion to a fellow-victim meant. She wanted
it to pay the Prince's gambling debts — it was at that price that
Durham was to buy the right to marry Fanny de Malrive.
Once the situation had worked itself out in his mind, he found
himself unexpectedly relieved of the necessity of weighing the
arguments for and against it. All the traditional forces of his blood
were in revolt, and he could only surrender himself to their pressure,
without thought of compromise or parley.
He stood up in silence, and the abruptness of his movement caused
Madame de Treymes' hand to slip from his arm.
"You refuse?" she exclaimed; and he answered with a bow: "Only
because of the return you propose to make me."
She stood staring at him, in a perplexity so genuine and profound
that he could almost have smiled at it through his disgust.
"Ah, you are all incredible," she murmured at last, stooping to
repossess herself of her fan; and as she moved past him to rejoin the
group in the farther room, she added in an incisive undertone: "You are
quite at liberty to repeat our conversation to your friend!"
DURHAM did not take advantage of the permission thus strangely
flung at him: of his talk with her sister-in-law he gave to Madame de
Malrive only that part which concerned her.
Presenting himself for this purpose, the day after Mrs. Boykin's
dinner, he found his friend alone with her son; and the sight of the
child had the effect of dispelling whatever illusive hopes had attended
him to the threshold. Even after the governess's descent upon the scene
had left Madame de Malrive and her visitor alone, the little boy's
presence seemed to hover admonishingly between them, reducing to a bare
statement of fact Durham's confession of the total failure of his
Madame de Malrive heard the confession calmly; she had been too
prepared for it not to have prepared a countenance to receive it. Her
first comment was: "I have never known them to declare themselves so
plainly — " and Durham's baffled hopes fastened themselves eagerly on
the words. Had she not always warned him that there was nothing so
misleading as their plainness? And might it not be that, in spite of
his advisedness, he had suffered too easy a rebuff? But second thoughts
reminded him that the refusal had not been as unconditional as his
necessary reservations made it seem in the repetition; and that,
furthermore, it was his own act, and not that of his opponents, which
had determined it. The impossibility of revealing this to Madame de
Malrive only made the difficulty shut in more darkly around him, and in
the completeness of his discouragement he scarcely needed her reminder
of his promise to regard the subject as closed when once the other side
had defined its position.
He was secretly confirmed in this acceptance of his fate by the
knowledge that it was really he who had defined the position. Even now
that he was alone with Madame de Malrive, and subtly aware of the
struggle under her composure, he felt no temptation to abate his stand
by a jot. He had not yet formulated a reason for his resistance: he
simply went on feeling, more and more strongly with every precious sign
of her participation in his unhappiness, that he could neither owe his
escape from it to such a transaction, nor suffer her, innocently, to
The only mitigating effect of his determination was in an increase
of helpless tenderness toward her; so that, when she exclaimed, in
answer to his announcement that he meant to leave Paris the next night:
"Oh, give me a day or two longer!" he at once resigned himself to
saying: "If I can be of the least use, I'll give you a hundred."
She answered sadly that all he could do would be to let her feel
that he was there — just for a day or two, till she had readjusted
herself to the idea of going on in the old way; and on this note of
renunciation they parted.
But Durham, however pledged to the passive part, could not long
sustain it without rebellion. To "hang round" the shut door of his
hopes seemed, after two long days, more than even his passion required
of him; and on the third he despatched a note of goodbye to his friend.
He was going off for a few weeks, he explained — his mother and
sisters wished to be taken to the Italian lakes: but he would return to
Paris, and say his real farewell to her, before sailing for America in
He had not intended his note to act as an ultimatum: he had no wish
to surprise Madame de Malrive into unconsidered surrender. When, almost
immediately, his own messenger returned with a reply from her, he even
felt a pang of disappointment, a momentary fear lest she should have
stooped a little from the high place where his passion had preferred to
leave her; but her first words turned his fear into rejoicing.
"Let me see you before you go: something extraordinary has
happened," she wrote.
What had happened, as he heard from her a few hours later —
finding her in a tremor of frightened gladness, with her door boldly
closed to all the world but himself — was nothing less extraordinary
than a visit from Madame de Treymes, who had come, officially delegated
by the family, to announce that Monsieur de Malrive had decided not to
oppose his wife's suit for divorce. Durham, at the news, was almost
afraid to show himself too amazed; but his small signs of alarm and
wonder were swallowed up in the flush of Madame de Malrive's
"It's the long habit, you know, of not believing them — of looking
for the truth always in what they don't say. It took me hours and hours
to convince myself that there's no trick under it, that there can't be
any," she explained.
"Then you are convinced now?" escaped from Durham; but the shadow
of his question lingered no more than the flit of a wing across her
"I am convinced because the facts are there to reassure me.
Christiane tells me that Monsieur de Malrive has consulted his lawyers,
and that they have advised him to free me. Maitre Enguerrand has been
instructed to see my lawyer whenever I wish it. They quite understand
that I never should have taken the step in face of any opposition on
their part — I am so thankful to you for making that perfectly clear
to them! — and I suppose this is the return their pride makes to mine.
For they can be proud collectively — " She broke off and added, with
happy hands outstretched: "And I owe it all to you — Christiane said
it was your talk with her that had convinced them."
Durham, at this statement, had to repress a fresh sound of
amazement; but with her hands in his, and, a moment after, her whole
self drawn to him in the first yielding of her lips, doubt perforce
gave way to the lover's happy conviction that such love was after all
too strong for the powers of darkness.
It was only when they sat again in the blissful after-calm of their
understanding, that he felt the pricking of an unappeased distrust.
"Did Madame de Treymes give you any reason for this change of
front?" he risked asking, when he found the distrust was not otherwise
to be quelled.
"Oh, yes: just what I've said. It was really her admiration of you
— of your attitude — your delicacy. She said that at first she hadn't
believed in it: they're always looking for a hidden motive. And when
she found that yours was staring at her in the actual words you said:
that you really respected my scruples, and would never, never try to
coerce or entrap me — something in her — poor Christiane! — answered
to it, she told me, and she wanted to prove to us that she was capable
of understanding us too. If you knew her history you'd find it
wonderful and pathetic that she can!"
Durham thought he knew enough of it to infer that Madame de Treymes
had not been the object of many conscientious scruples on the part of
the opposite sex; but this increased rather his sense of the
strangeness than of the pathos of her action. Yet Madame de Malrive,
whom he had once inwardly taxed with the morbid raising of obstacles,
seemed to see none now; and he could only infer that her
sister-in-law's actual words had carried more conviction than reached
him in the repetition of them. The mere fact that he had so much to
gain by leaving his friend's faith undisturbed was no doubt stirring
his own suspicions to unnatural activity; and this sense gradually
reasoned him back into acceptance of her view, as the most normal as
well as the pleasantest he could take.
THE uneasiness thus temporarily repressed slipped into the final
disguise of hoping he should not again meet Madame de Treymes; and in
this wish he was seconded by the decision, in which Madame de Malrive
concurred, that it would be well for him to leave Paris while the
preliminary negotiations were going on. He committed her interests to
the best professional care, and his mother, resigning her dream of the
lakes, remained to fortify Madame de Malrive by her mild unimaginative
view of the transaction, as an uncomfortable but commonplace necessity,
like house-cleaning or dentistry. Mrs. Durham would doubtless have
preferred that her only son, even with his hair turning gray, should
have chosen a Fanny Frisbee rather than a Fanny de Malrive; but it was
a part of her acceptance of life on a general basis of innocence and
kindliness, that she entered generously into his dream of rescue and
renewal, and devoted herself without after-thought to keeping up
Fanny's courage with so little to spare for herself.
The process, the lawyers declared, would not be a long one, since
Monsieur de Malrive's acquiescence reduced it to a formality; and when,
at the end of June, Durham returned from Italy with Katy and Nannie,
there seemed no reason why he should not stop in Paris long enough to
learn what progress had been made.
But before he could learn this he was to hear, on entering Madame
de Malrive's presence, news more immediate if less personal. He found
her, in spite of her gladness in his return, so evidently preoccupied
and distressed that his first thought was one of fear for their own
future. But she read and dispelled this by saying, before he could put
his question: "Poor Christiane is here. She is very unhappy. You have
seen in the papers — ?"
"I have seen no papers since we left Turin. What has happened?"
"The Prince d'Armillac has come to grief. There has been some
terrible scandal about money and he has been obliged to leave France to
"And Madame de Treymes has left her husband?"
"Ah, no, poor creature: they don't leave their husbands — they
can't. But de Treymes has gone down to their place in Brittany, and as
my mother-in-law is with another daughter in Auvergne, Christiane came
here for a few days. With me, you see, she need not pretend — she can
cry her eyes out."
"And that is what she is doing?"
It was so unlike his conception of the way in which, under the most
adverse circumstances, Madame de Treymes would be likely to occupy her
time, that Durham was conscious of a note of scepticism in his query.
"Poor thing — if you saw her you would feel nothing but pity. She
is suffering so horribly that I reproach myself for being happy under
the same roof."
Durham met this with a tender pressure of her hand; then he said,
after a pause of reflection: "I should like to see her."
He hardly knew what prompted him to utter the wish, unless it were
a sudden stir of compunction at the memory of his own dealings with
Madame de Treymes. Had he not sacrificed the poor creature to a purely
fantastic conception of conduct? She had said that she knew she was
asking a trifle of him; and the fact that, materially, it would have
been a trifle, had seemed at the moment only an added reason for
steeling himself in his moral resistance to it. But now that he had
gained his point — and through her own generosity, as it still
appeared — the largeness of her attitude made his own seem cramped and
petty. Since conduct, in the last resort, must be judged by its
enlarging or diminishing effect on character, might it not be that the
zealous weighing of the moral anise and cummin was less important than
the unconsidered lavishing of the precious ointment? At any rate, he
could enjoy no peace of mind under the burden of Madame de Treymes'
magnanimity, and when he had assured himself that his own affairs were
progressing favourably, he once more, at the risk of surprising his
betrothed, brought up the possibility of seeing her relative.
Madame de Malrive evinced no surprise. "It is natural, knowing what
she has done for us, that you should want to show her your sympathy.
The difficulty is that it is just the one thing you can't show her. You
can thank her, of course, for ourselves, but even that at the moment —
"Would seem brutal? Yes, I recognize that I should have to choose
my words," he admitted, guiltily conscious that his capability of
dealing with Madame de Treymes extended far beyond her sister-in-law's
Madame de Malrive still hesitated. "I can tell her; and when you
come back tomorrow — "
It had been decided that, in the interests of discretion — the
interests, in other words, of the poor little future Marquis de Malrive
— Durham was to remain but two days in Paris, withdrawing then with
his family till the conclusion of the divorce proceedings permitted him
to return in the acknowledged character of Madame de Malrive's future
husband. Even on this occasion, he had not come to her alone; Nannie
Durham, in the adjoining room, was chatting conspicuously with the
little Marquis, whom she could with difficulty be restrained from
teaching to call her "Aunt Nannie." Durham thought her voice had risen
unduly once or twice during his visit, and when, on taking leave, he
went to summon her from the inner room, he found the higher note of
ecstasy had been evoked by the appearance of Madame de Treymes, and
that the little boy, himself absorbed in a new toy of Durham's
bringing, was being bent over by an actual as well as a potential aunt.
Madame de Treymes raised herself with a slight start at Durham's
approach: she had her hat on, and had evidently paused a moment on her
way out to speak with Nannie, without expecting to be surprised by her
sister-in-law's other visitor. But her surprises never wore the awkward
form of embarrassment, and she smiled beautifully on Durham as he took
her extended hand.
The smile was made the more appealing by the way in which it lit up
the ruin of her small dark face, which looked seared and hollowed as by
a flame that might have spread over it from her fevered eyes. Durham,
accustomed to the pale inward grief of the inexpressive races, was
positively startled by the way in which she seemed to have been openly
stretched on the pyre; he almost felt an indelicacy in the ravages so
The sight caused an involuntary readjustment of his whole view of
the situation, and made him, as far as his own share in it went, more
than ever inclined to extremities of self-disgust. With him such
sensations required, for his own relief, some immediate penitential
escape, and as Madame de Treymes turned toward the door he addressed a
glance of entreaty to his betrothed.
Madame de Malrive, whose intelligence could be counted on at such
moments, responded by laying a detaining hand on her sister-in-law's
"Dear Christiane, may I leave Mr. Durham in your charge for two
minutes? I have promised Nannie that she shall see the boy put to bed."
Madame de Treymes made no audible response to this request, but
when the door had closed on the other ladies she said, looking quietly
at Durham: "I don't think that, in this house, your time will hang so
heavy that you need my help in supporting it."
Durham met her glance frankly. "It was not for that reason that
Madame de Malrive asked you to remain with me."
"Why, then? Surely not in the interest of preserving appearances,
since she is safely upstairs with your sister?"
"No; but simply because I asked her to. I told her I wanted to
speak to you."
"How you arrange things! And what reason can you have for wanting
to speak to me?"
He paused for a moment. "Can't you imagine? The desire to thank you
for what you have done."
She stirred restlessly, turning to adjust her hat before the glass
above the mantelpiece.
"Oh, as for what I have done — !"
"Don't speak as if you regretted it," he interposed.
She turned back to him with a flash of laughter lighting up the
haggardness of her face. "Regret working for the happiness of two such
excellent persons? Can't you fancy what a charming change it is for me
to do something so innocent and beneficent?"
He moved across the room and went up to her, drawing down the hand
which still flitted experimentally about her hat.
"Don't talk in that way, however much one of the persons of whom
you speak may have deserved it."
"One of the persons? Do you mean me?"
He released her hand, but continued to face her resolutely. "I mean
myself, as you know. You have been generous — extraordinarily
"Ah, but I was doing good in a good cause. You have made me see
that there is a distinction."
He flushed to the forehead. "I am here to let you say whatever you
choose to me."
"Whatever I choose?" She made a slight gesture of deprecation. "Has
it never occurred to you that I may conceivably choose to say nothing?"
Durham paused, conscious of the increasing difficulty of the
advance. She met him, parried him, at every turn: he had to take his
baffled purpose back to another point of attack.
"Quite conceivably," he said: "so much so that I am aware I must
make the most of this opportunity, because I am not likely to get
"But what remains of your opportunity, if it isn't one to me?"
"It still remains, for me, an occasion to abase myself — " He
broke off, conscious of a grossness of allusion that seemed, on a
closer approach, the real obstacle to full expression. But the moments
were flying, and for his self-esteem's sake he must find some way of
making her share the burden of his repentance.
"There is only one thinkable pretext for detaining you: it is that
I may still show my sense of what you have done for me."
Madame de Treymes, who had moved toward the door, paused at this
and faced him, resting her thin brown hands on a slender sofa-back.
"How do you propose to show that sense?" she enquired.
Durham coloured still more deeply: he saw that she was determined
to save her pride by making what he had to say of the utmost
difficulty. Well! he would let his expiation take that form, then — it
was as if her slender hands held out to him the fool's cap he was
condemned to press down on his own ears.
"By offering in return — in any form, and to the utmost — any
service you are forgiving enough to ask of me."
She received this with a low sound of laughter that scarcely rose
to her lips. "You are princely. But, my dear sir, does it not occur to
you that I may, meanwhile, have taken my own way of repaying myself for
any service I have been fortunate enough to render you?"
Durham, at the question, or still more, perhaps, at the tone in
which it was put, felt, through his compunction, a vague faint chill of
apprehension. Was she threatening him or only mocking him? Or was this
barbed swiftness of retort only the wounded creature's way of defending
the privacy of her own pain? He looked at her again, and read his
answer in the last conjecture.
"I don't know how you can have repaid yourself for anything so
disinterested — but I am sure, at least, that you have given me no
chance of recognizing, ever so slightly, what you have done."
She shook her head, with the flicker of a smile on her melancholy
lips. "Don't be too sure! You have given me a chance and I have taken
it — taken it to the full. So fully," she continued, keeping her eyes
fixed on his, "that if I were to accept any farther service you might
choose to offer, I should simply be robbing you — robbing you
shamelessly." She paused, and added in an undefinable voice: "I was
entitled, wasn't I, to take something in return for the service I had
the happiness of doing you?"
Durham could not tell whether the irony of her tone was
self-directed or addressed to himself — perhaps it comprehended them
both. At any rate, he chose to overlook his own share in it in replying
earnestly: "So much so, that I can't see how you can have left me
nothing to add to what you say you have taken."
"Ah, but you don't know what that is!" She continued to smile,
elusively, ambiguously. "And what's more, you wouldn't believe me if I
"How do you know?" he rejoined.
"You didn't believe me once before; and this is so much more
He took the taunt full in the face. "I shall go away unhappy unless
you tell me — but then perhaps I have deserved to," he confessed.
She shook her head again, advancing toward the door with the
evident intention of bringing their conference to a close; but on the
threshold she paused to launch her reply.
"I can't send you away unhappy, since it is in the contemplation of
your happiness that I have found my reward."
THE next day Durham left with his family for England, with the
intention of not returning till after the divorce should have been
pronounced in September.
To say that he left with a quiet heart would be to overstate the
case: the fact that he could not communicate to Madame de Malrive the
substance of his talk with her sister-in-law still hung upon him
uneasily. But of definite apprehensions the lapse of time gradually
freed him, and Madame de Malrive's letters, addressed more frequently
to his mother and sisters than to himself, reflected, in their
reassuring serenity, the undisturbed course of events.
There was to Durham something peculiarly touching — as of an
involuntary confession of almost unbearable loneliness — in the way
she had regained, with her re-entry into the clear air of American
associations, her own fresh trustfulness of view. Once she had
accustomed herself to the surprise of finding her divorce unopposed,
she had been, as it now seemed to Durham, in almost too great haste to
renounce the habit of weighing motives and calculating chances. It was
as though her coming liberation had already freed her from the garb of
a mental slavery, as though she could not too soon or too conspicuously
cast off the ugly badge of suspicion. The fact that Durham's cleverness
had achieved so easy a victory over forces apparently impregnable,
merely raised her estimate of that cleverness to the point of letting
her feel that she could rest in it without farther demur. He had even
noticed in her, during his few hours in Paris, a tendency to reproach
herself for her lack of charity, and a desire, almost as fervent as his
own, to expiate it by exaggerated recognition of the disinterestedness
of her opponents — if opponents they could still be called. This
sudden change in her attitude was peculiarly moving to Durham. He knew
she would hazard herself lightly enough wherever her heart called her;
but that, with the precious freight of her child's future weighing her
down, she should commit herself so blindly to his hand stirred in him
the depths of tenderness. Indeed, had the actual course of events been
less auspiciously regular, Madame de Malrive's confidence would have
gone far toward unsettling his own; but with the process of law going
on unimpeded, and the other side making no sign of open or covert
resistance, the fresh air of good faith gradually swept through the
inmost recesses of his distrust.
It was expected that the decision in the suit would be reached by
mid-September; and it was arranged that Durham and his family should
remain in England till a decent interval after the conclusion of the
proceedings. Early in the month, however, it became necessary for
Durham to go to France to confer with a business associate who was in
Paris for a few days, and on the point of sailing for Cherbourg. The
most zealous observance of appearances could hardly forbid Durham's
return for such a purpose; but it had been agreed between himself and
Madame de Malrive — who had once more been left alone by Madame de
Treymes' return to her family — that, so close to the fruition of
their wishes, they would propitiate fate by a scrupulous adherence to
usage, and communicate only, during his hasty visit, by a daily
interchange of notes.
The ingenuity of Madame de Malrive's tenderness found, however, the
day after his arrival, a means of tempering their privation.
"Christiane," she wrote, "is passing through Paris on her way from
Trouville, and has promised to see you for me if you will call on her
today. She thinks there is no reason why you should not go to the Hotel
de Malrive, as you will find her there alone, the family having gone to
Auvergne. She is really our friend and understands us."
In obedience to this request — though perhaps inwardly regretting
that it should have been made — Durham that afternoon presented
himself at the proud old house beyond the Seine. More than ever, in the
semi-abandonment of the morte saison, with reduced service, and
shutters closed to the silence of the high-walled court, did it strike
the American as the incorruptible custodian of old prejudices and
strange social survivals. The thought of what he must represent to the
almost human consciousness which such old houses seem to possess, made
him feel like a barbarian desecrating the silence of a temple of the
earlier faith. Not that there was anything venerable in the
attestations of the Hotel de Malrive, except in so far as, to a
sensitive imagination, every concrete embodiment of a past order of
things testifies to real convictions once suffered for. Durham, at any
rate, always alive in practical issues to the view of the other side,
had enough sympathy left over to spend it sometimes, whimsically, on
such perceptions of difference. Today, especially, the assurance of
success — the sense of entering like a victorious beleaguerer
receiving the keys of the stronghold — disposed him to a sentimental
perception of what the other side might have to say for itself, in the
language of old portraits, old relics, old usages dumbly outraged by
his mere presence.
On the appearance of Madame de Treymes, however, such
considerations gave way to the immediate act of wondering how she meant
to carry off her share of the adventure. Durham had not forgotten the
note on which their last conversation had closed: the lapse of time
serving only to give more precision and perspective to the impression
he had then received.
Madame de Treymes' first words implied a recognition of what was in
"It is extraordinary, my receiving you here; but que voulez vous?
There was no other place, and I would do more than this for our dear
Durham bowed. "It seems to me that you are also doing a great deal
"Perhaps you will see later that I have my reasons," she returned
smiling. "But before speaking for myself I must speak for Fanny."
She signed to him to take a chair near the sofa-corner in which she
had installed herself, and he listened in silence while she delivered
Madame de Malrive's message, and her own report of the progress of
"You have put me still more deeply in your debt," he said, as she
concluded; "I wish you would make the expression of this feeling a
large part of the message I send back to Madame de Malrive."
She brushed this aside with one of her light gestures of
deprecation. "Oh, I told you I had my reasons. And since you are here
— and the mere sight of you assures me that you are as well as Fanny
charged me to find you — with all these preliminaries disposed of, I
am going to relieve you, in a small measure, of the weight of your
Durham raised his head quickly. "By letting me do something in
She made an assenting motion. "By asking you to answer a question."
"That seems very little to do."
"Don't be so sure! It is never very little to your race." She
leaned back, studying him through half-dropped lids.
"Well, try me," he protested.
She did not immediately respond; and when she spoke, her first
words were explanatory rather than interrogative.
"I want to begin by saying that I believe I once did you an
injustice, to the extent of misunderstanding your motive for a certain
Durham's uneasy flush confessed his recognition of her meaning.
"Ah, if we must go back to that — "
"You withdraw your assent to my request?"
"By no means; but nothing consolatory you can find to say on that
point can really make any difference."
"Will not the difference in my view of you perhaps make a
difference in your own?"
She looked at him earnestly, without a trace of irony in her eyes
or on her lips. "It is really I who have an amende to make, as I now
understand the situation. I once turned to you for help in a painful
extremity, and I have only now learned to understand your reasons for
refusing to help me."
"Oh, my reasons — " groaned Durham.
"I have learned to understand them," she persisted, "by being so
much, lately, with Fanny."
"But I never told her!" he broke in.
"Exactly. That was what told me. I understood you through her, and
through your dealings with her. There she was — the woman you adored
and longed to save; and you would not lift a finger to make her yours
by means which would have seemed — I see it now — a desecration of
your feeling for each other." She paused, as if to find the exact words
for meanings she had never before had occasion to formulate. "It came
to me first — a light on your attitude — when I found you had never
breathed to her a word of our talk together. She had confidently
commissioned you to find a way for her, as the mediaeval lady sent a
prayer to her knight to deliver her from captivity, and you came back,
confessing you had failed, but never justifying yourself by so much as
a hint of the reason why. And when I had lived a little in Fanny's
intimacy — at a moment when circumstances helped to bring us
extraordinarily close — I understood why you had done this; why you
had let her take what view she pleased of your failure, your passive
acceptance of defeat, rather than let her suspect the alternative
offered you. You couldn't, even with my permission, betray to any one a
hint of my miserable secret, and you couldn't, for your life's
happiness, pay the particular price that I asked." She leaned toward
him in the intense, almost childlike, effort at full expression. "Oh,
we are of different races, with a different point of honour; but I
understand, I see, that you are good people — just simply,
She paused, and then said slowly: "Have I understood you? Have I
put my hand on your motive?"
Durham sat speechless, subdued by the rush of emotion which her
words set free.
"That, you understand, is my question," she concluded with a faint
smile; and he answered hesitatingly: "What can it matter, when the
upshot is something I infinitely regret?"
"Having refused me? Don't!" She spoke with deep seriousness,
bending her eyes full on his: "Ah, I have suffered — suffered! But I
have learned also — my life has been enlarged. You see how I have
understood you both. And that is something I should have been incapable
of a few months ago."
Durham returned her look. "I can't think that you can ever have
been incapable of any generous interpretation."
She uttered a slight exclamation, which resolved itself into a
laugh of self-directed irony.
"If you knew into what language I have always translated life! But
that," she broke off, "is not what you are here to learn."
"I think," he returned gravely, "that I am here to learn the
measure of Christian charity."
She threw him a new, odd look. "Ah, no — but to show it!" she
"To show it? And to whom?"
She paused for a moment, and then rejoined, instead of answering:
"Do you remember that day I talked with you at Fanny's? The day after
you came back from Italy?"
He made a motion of assent, and she went on: "You asked me then
what return I expected for my service to you, as you called it; and I
answered, the contemplation of your happiness. Well, do you know what
that meant in my old language — the language I was still speaking
then? It meant that I knew there was horrible misery in store for you,
and that I was waiting to feast my eyes on it: that's all!"
She had flung out the words with one of her quick bursts of
self-abandonment, like a fevered sufferer stripping the bandage from a
wound. Durham received them with a face blanching to the pallour of her
"What misery do you mean?" he exclaimed.
She leaned forward, laying her hand on his with just such a gesture
as she had used to enforce her appeal in Mrs. Boykin's boudoir. The
remembrance made him shrink slightly from her touch, and she drew back
with a smile.
"Have you never asked yourself," she enquired, "why our family
consented so readily to a divorce?"
"Yes, often," he replied, all his unformed fears gathering in a
dark throng about him. "But Fanny was so reassured, so convinced that
we owed it to your good offices — "
She broke into a laugh. "My good offices! Will you never, you
Americans, learn that we do not act individually in such cases? That we
are all obedient to a common principle of authority?"
"Then it was not you — ?"
She made an impatient shrugging motion. "Oh, you are too confiding
— it is the other side of your beautiful good faith!"
"The side you have taken advantage of, it appears?"
"I — we — all of us. I especially!" she confessed.
THERE was another pause, during which Durham tried to steady
himself against the shock of the impending revelation. It was an odd
circumstance of the case that, though Madame de Treymes' avowal of
duplicity was fresh in his ears, he did not for a moment believe that
she would deceive him again. Whatever passed between them now would go
to the root of the matter.
The first thing that passed was the long look they exchanged:
searching on his part, tender, sad, undefinable on hers. As the result
of it he said: "Why, then, did you consent to the divorce?"
"To get the boy back," she answered instantly; and while he sat
stunned by the unexpectedness of the retort, she went on: "Is it
possible you never suspected? It has been our whole thought from the
first. Everything was planned with that object."
He drew a sharp breath of alarm. "But the divorce — how could that
give him back to you?"
"It was the only thing that could. We trembled lest the idea should
occur to you. But we were reasonably safe, for there has only been one
other case of the same kind before the courts." She leaned back, the
sight of his perplexity checking her quick rush of words. "You didn't
know," she began again, "that in that case, on the remarriage of the
mother, the courts instantly restored the child to the father, though
he had — well, given as much cause for divorce as my unfortunate
Durham gave an ironic laugh. "Your French justice takes a grammar
and dictionary to understand."
She smiled. " We understand it — and it isn't necessary that you
"So it would appear!" he exclaimed bitterly.
"Don't judge us too harshly — or not, at least, till you have
taken the trouble to learn our point of view. You consider the
individual — we think only of the family."
"Why don't you take care to preserve it, then?"
"Ah, that's what we do; in spite of every aberration of the
individual. And so, when we saw it was impossible that my brother and
his wife should live together, we simply transferred our allegiance to
the child — we constituted him the family."
"A precious kindness you did him! If the result is to give him back
to his father."
"That, I admit, is to be deplored; but his father is only a
fraction of the whole. What we really do is to give him back to his
race, his religion, his true place in the order of things."
"His mother never tried to deprive him of any of those inestimable
Madame de Treymes unclasped her hands with a slight gesture of
"Not consciously, perhaps; but silences and reserves can teach so
much. His mother has another point of view — "
"Thank heaven!" Durham interjected.
"Thank heaven for her — yes — perhaps; but it would not have done
for the boy."
Durham squared his shoulders with the sudden resolve of a man
breaking through a throng of ugly phantoms.
"You haven't yet convinced me that it won't have to do for him. At
the time of Madame de Malrive's separation, the court made no
difficulty about giving her the custody of her son; and you must pardon
me for reminding you that the father's unfitness was the reason
Madame de Treymes shrugged her shoulders. "And my poor brother, you
would add, has not changed; but the circumstances have, and that proves
precisely what I have been trying to show you: that, in such cases, the
general course of events is considered, rather than the action of any
"Then why is Madame de Malrive's action to be considered?"
"Because it breaks up the unity of the family."
" Unity — !" broke from Durham; and Madame de Treymes gently
suffered his smile.
"Of the family tradition, I mean: it introduces new elements. You
are a new element."
"Thank heaven!" said Durham again.
She looked at him singularly. "Yes — you may thank heaven. Why
isn't it enough to satisfy Fanny?"
"Why isn't what enough?"
"Your being, as I say, a new element; taking her so completely into
a better air. Why shouldn't she be content to begin a new life with
you, without wanting to keep the boy too?"
Durham stared at her dumbly. "I don't know what you mean," he said
"I mean that in her place — " she broke off, dropping her eyes.
"She may have another son — the son of the man she adores."
Durham rose from his seat and took a quick turn through the room.
She sat motionless, following his steps through her lowered lashes,
which she raised again slowly as he stood before her.
"Your idea, then, is that I should tell her nothing?" he said.
"Tell her now? But, my poor friend, you would be ruined!"
"Exactly." He paused. "Then why have you told me?"
Under her dark skin he saw the faint colour stealing. "We see
things so differently — but can't you conceive that, after all that
has passed, I felt it a kind of loyalty not to leave you in ignorance?"
"And you feel no such loyalty to her?"
"Ah, I leave her to you," she murmured, looking down again.
Durham continued to stand before her, grappling slowly with his
perplexity, which loomed larger and darker as it closed in on him.
"You don't leave her to me; you take her from me at a stroke! I
suppose," he added painfully, "I ought to thank you for doing it before
it's too late."
She stared. "I take her from you? I simply prevent your going to
her unprepared. Knowing Fanny as I do, it seemed to me necessary that
you should find a way in advance — a way of tiding over the first
moment. That, of course, is what we had planned that you shouldn't
have. We meant to let you marry, and then — . Oh, there is no question
about the result: we are certain of our case — our measures have been
taken de loin." She broke off, as if oppressed by his stricken silence.
"You will think me stupid, but my warning you of this is the only
return I know how to make for your generosity. I could not bear to have
you say afterward that I had deceived you twice."
"Twice?" He looked at her perplexedly, and her colour rose.
"I deceived you once — that night at your cousin's, when I tried
to get you to bribe me. Even then we meant to consent to the divorce —
it was decided the first day that I saw you." He was silent, and she
added, with one of her mocking gestures: "You see from what a milieu
you are taking her!"
Durham groaned. "She will never give up her son!"
"How can she help it? After you are married there will be no
"No — but there is one now."
" Now?" She sprang to her feet, clasping her hands in dismay.
"Haven't I made it clear to you? Haven't I shown you your course?" She
paused, and then brought out with emphasis: "I love Fanny, and I am
ready to trust her happiness to you."
"I shall have nothing to do with her happiness," he repeated
She stood close to him, with a look intently fixed on his face.
"Are you afraid?" she asked with one of her mocking flashes.
"Of not being able to make it up to her — ?"
Their eyes met, and he returned her look steadily.
"No; if I had the chance, I believe I could."
"I know you could!" she exclaimed.
"That's the worst of it," he said with a cheerless laugh.
"The worst — ?"
"Don't you see that I can't deceive her? Can't trick her into
marrying me now?"
Madame de Treymes continued to hold his eyes for a puzzled moment
after he had spoken; then she broke out despairingly: "Is happiness
never more to you, then, than this abstract standard of truth?"
Durham reflected. "I don't know — it's an instinct. There doesn't
seem to be any choice."
"Then I am a miserable wretch for not holding my tongue!"
He shook his head sadly. "That would not have helped me; and it
would have been a thousand times worse for her."
"Nothing can be as bad for her as losing you! Aren't you moved by
seeing her need?"
"Horribly — are not you?" he said, lifting his eyes to hers
She started under his look. "You mean, why don't I help you? Why
don't I use my influence? Ah, if you knew how I have tried!"
"And you are sure that nothing can be done?"
"Nothing, nothing: what arguments can I use? We abhor divorce — we
go against our religion in consenting to it — and nothing short of
recovering the boy could possibly justify us."
Durham turned slowly away. "Then there is nothing to be done," he
said, speaking more to himself than to her.
He felt her light touch on his arm. "Wait! There is one thing more
— " She stood close to him, with entreaty written on her small
passionate face. "There is one thing more," she repeated. "And that is,
to believe that I am deceiving you again."
He stopped short with a bewildered stare. "That you are deceiving
me — about the boy?"
"Yes — yes; why shouldn't I? You're so credulous — the temptation
"Ah, it would be too easy to find out — "
"Don't try, then! Go on as if nothing had happened. I have been
lying to you," she declared with vehemence.
"Do you give me your word of honour?" he rejoined.
"A liar's? I haven't any! Take the logic of the facts instead. What
reason have you to believe any good of me? And what reason have I to do
any to you? Why on earth should I betray my family for your benefit?
Ah, don't let yourself be deceived to the end!" She sparkled up at him,
her eyes suffused with mockery; but on the lashes he saw a tear.
He shook his head sadly. "I should first have to find a reason for
your deceiving me."
"Why, I gave it to you long ago. I wanted to punish you — and now
I've punished you enough."
"Yes, you've punished me enough," he conceded.
The tear gathered and fell down her thin cheek. "It's you who are
punishing me now. I tell you I'm false to the core. Look back and see
what I've done to you!"
He stood silent, with his eyes fixed on the ground. Then he took
one of her hands and raised it to his lips.
"You poor, good woman!" he said gravely.
Her hand trembled as she drew it away. "You're going to her —
straight from here?"
"Yes — straight from here."
"To tell her everything — to renounce your hope?"
"That is what it amounts to, I suppose."
She watched him cross the room and lay his hand on the door.
"Ah, you poor, good man!" she said with a sob.