by Edith Wharton
UP the long hill from the station at St.-Cloud, Lizzie West climbed
in the cold spring sunshine. As she breasted the incline, she noticed
the first waves of wistaria over courtyard railings and the high lights
of new foliage against the walls of ivy-matted gardens; and she thought
again, as she had thought a hundred times before, that she had never
seen so beautiful a spring.
She was on her way to the Deerings' house, in a street near the
hilltop; and every step was dear and familiar to her. She went there
five times a week to teach little Juliet Deering, the daughter of Mr.
Vincent Deering, the distinguished American artist. Juliet had been her
pupil for two years, and day after day, during that time, Lizzie West
had mounted the hill in all weathers; sometimes with her umbrella bent
against a driving rain, sometimes with her frail cotton parasol
unfurled beneath a fiery sun, sometimes with the snow soaking through
her patched boots or a bitter wind piercing her thin jacket, sometimes
with the dust whirling about her and bleaching the flowers of the poor
little hat that had to "carry her through" till next summer.
At first the ascent had seemed tedious enough, as dull as the
trudge to her other lessons. Lizzie was not a heaven-sent teacher; she
had no born zeal for her calling, and though she dealt kindlyand
dutifully with her pupils, she did not fly to them on winged feet. But
one day something had happened to change the face of life, and since
then the climb to the Deering house had seemed like a dream-flight up a
Her heart beat faster as she remembered it — no longer in a tumult
of fright and self-reproach, but softly, peacefully, as ifbrooding over
a possession that none could take from her.
It was on a day of the previous October that she had stopped, after
Juliet's lesson, to ask if she might speak to Juliet's papa. One had
always to apply to Mr. Deering if there was anything to be said about
the lessons. Mrs. Deering lay on her lounge up-stairs, reading greasy
relays of dog-eared novels, the choice of which she left to the cook
and the nurse, who were always fetching them forher from the cabinet de
lecture; and it was understood inthe house that she was not to be
"bothered" about Juliet. Mr. Deering's interest in his daughter was
fitful rather than consecutive; but at least he was approachable, and
listened sympathetically, if a little absently, stroking his long, fair
mustache, while Lizzie stated her difficulty or put in her plea for
maps or copy-books.
"Yes, yes — of course — whatever you think right," he would
always assent, sometimes drawing a five-franc piece from his pocket,
and laying it carelessly on the table, or oftener saying,with his
charming smile: "Get what you please, and just put it onyour account,
But this time Lizzie had not come to ask for maps or copy-books, or
even to hint, in crimson misery, — as once, poor soul! she had had to
do, — that Mr. Deering had overlooked her last little account — had
probably not noticed that she had left it, some two months earlier, on
a corner of his littered writing-table. That hour had been bad enough,
though he had done his best to make it easy to carry it off gallantly
and gaily; but this was infinitely worse. For she had come to complain
of her pupil; to say that, much as she loved little Juliet, it was
useless, unless Mr. Deering could "do something," to go on with the
"It wouldn't be honest — I should be robbing you; I'm not sure
that I haven't already," she half laughed, through mounting tears, as
she put her case. Little Juliet would not work, would not obey. Her
poor, little, drifting existence floated aimlessly between the kitchen
and the lingerie, and all the groping tendrils ofher curiosity were
fastened about the doings of the backstairs.
It was the same kind of curiosity that Mrs. Deering, overhead in
her drug-scented room, lavished on her dog-eared novels and onthe
"society notes" of the morning paper; but since Juliet's horizon was
not yet wide enough to embrace these loftier objects,her interest was
centered in the anecdotes that Celeste and Suzanne brought back from
the market and the library. That these were not always of an edifying
nature the child's artless prattle too often betrayed; but unhappily
they occupied her fancy to the complete exclusion of such nourishing
items as dates and dynasties, and the sources of the principal European
At length the crisis became so acute that poor Lizzie felt herself
bound to resign her charge or ask Mr. Deering's intervention; and for
Juliet's sake she chose the harder alternative. It was hard to speak to
him not onlybecause one hated still more to ascribe it to such vulgar
causes, but becauseone blushed to bring them to the notice of a spirit
engaged with higher things. Mr. Deering was very busy at that moment:
he had a new picture "on." And Lizzie entered the studio with the
flutterof one profanely intruding on some sacred rite; she almost heard
the rustle of retreating wings as she approached.
And then — and then — how differently it had all turned out!
Perhaps it wouldn't have, if she hadn't been such a goose — she who so
seldom cried, so prided herself on a stoic control of her little
twittering cageful of "feelings." But if she had cried, it was because
he had looked at her so kindly, so softly, and because she had
nevertheless felt him so pained and shamed by what she said. The pain,
of course, lay for both in the implication behind her words — in the
one word they left unspoken. If little Juliet was as she was, it was
because of the mother up-stairs — the mother who had given her child
her futile impulses, and grudged her the care that might have guided
them. The wretched case so obviously revolved in its own vicious circle
that when Mr. Deering had murmured, "Of course if my wife were not an
invalid," they both turned with a simultaneous spring to the flagrant
"bad example" of Celeste and Suzanne, fastening on that with a mutual
insistence that ended inhis crying out, "All the more, then, how can
you leave her to them?"
"But if I do her no good?" Lizzie wailed; and it was then that, —
when he took her hand and assured her gently, "But you do,you do!" —
it was then that, in the traditional phrase, she "brokedown," and her
conventional protest quivered off into tears.
"You do me good, at any rate — you make the houseseem less like a
desert," she heard him say; and the next moment she felt herself drawn
to him, and they kissed each other through her weeping.
They kissed each other — there was the new fact. One does not, if
one is a poor little teacher living in Mme. Clopin's Pension Suisse at
Passy, and if one has pretty brown hair and eyes that reach out
trustfully to other eyes — one does not, under these common but
defenseless conditions, arrive at the age of twenty-five without being
now and then kissed, — waylaid once by a noisy student between two
doors, surprised once by one's gray-bearded professoras one bent over
the "theme" he was correcting, — but these episodes, if they tarnish
the surface, do not reach the heart: itis not the kiss endured, but the
kiss returned, that lives. And Lizzie West's first kiss was for Vincent
As she drew back from it, something new awoke in her — something
deeper than the fright and the shame, and the penitent thought of Mrs.
Deering. A sleeping germ of life thrilled and unfolded, and started out
blindly to seek the sun.
She might have felt differently, perhaps, — the shame and
penitence might have prevailed, — had she not known him so kind and
tender, and guessed him so baffled, poor, and disappointed. She knew
the failure of his married life, and she divined a corresponding
failure in his artistic career. Lizzie, who had made her own faltering
snatch at the same laurels, brought her thwarted proficiency to bear on
the question of his pictures, which she judged to be extremely
brilliant, but suspected of having somehowfailed to affirm their merit
publicly. She understood that he had tasted an earlier moment of
success: a mention, a medal, something official and tangible; then the
tide of publicity had somehow setthe other way, and left him stranded
in a noble isolation. It was extraordinary and unbelievable that any
one so naturally eminent and exceptional should have been subject to
the same vulgar necessities that governed her own life, should have
known povertyand obscurity and indifference. But she gathered that this
had been the case, and felt that it formed the miraculous link between
them. For through what medium less revealing than that of
sharedmisfortune would he ever have perceived so inconspicuous an
object as herself? And she recalled now how gently his eyes had rested
on her from the first — the gray eyes that might have seemed mocking
if they had not been so gentle.
She remembered how he had met her the first day, when Mrs.
Deering's inevitable headache had prevented her from receiving the new
teacher, and how his few questions had at once revealed his interest in
the little stranded, compatriot, doomed to earn a precarious living so
far from her native shore. Sweet as the moment of unburdening had been,
she wondered afterward what had determined it: how she, so shy and
sequestered, had found herselfletting slip her whole poverty-stricken
story, even to the avowalof the ineffectual "artistic" tendencies that
had drawn her to Paris, and had then left her there to the dry task of
tuition. She wondered at first, but she understood now; she understood
everything after he had kissed her. It was simply because he wasas kind
as he was great.
She thought of this now as she mounted the hill in the spring
sunshine, and she thought of all that had happened since. The
intervening months, as she looked back at them, were merged in a vast
golden haze, through which here and there rose the outline of a shining
island. The haze was the general enveloping sense of his love, and the
shining islands were the days they had spent together. They had never
kissed again under his own roof. Lizzie's professional honor had a keen
edge, but she had been spared the vulgar necessity of making him feel
it. It was of theessence of her fatality that he always "understood"
when his failing to do so might have imperiled his hold on her.
But her Thursdays and Sundays were free, and it soon became a habit
to give them to him. She knew, for her peace of mind, onlytoo much
about pictures, and galleries and churches had been the one bright
outlet from the grayness of her personal atmosphere. For poetry, too,
and the other imaginative forms of literature, she had always felt more
than she had hitherto had occasion to betray; and now all these folded
sympathies shot out their tendrils to the light. Mr. Deering knew how
to express with unmatched clearness and competence the thoughts that
trembled in her mind: to talk with him was to soar up into the azure on
the outspread wings of his intelligence, and look down dizzily yet
distinctly, on all the wonders and glories of the world. She was a
little ashamed, sometimes, to find how few definite impressions she
brought back from these flights; but that was doubtless because her
heart beatso fast when he was near, and his smile made his words like a
long quiver of light. Afterward, in quieter hours, fragments of
theirtalk emerged in her memory with wondrous precision, every syllable
as minutely chiseled as some of the delicate objects in crystal or
ivory that he pointed out in the museums they frequented. It wasalways
a puzzle to Lizzie that some of their hours should be so blurred and
others so vivid.
On the morning in question she was reliving all these memories with
unusual distinctness, for it was a fortnight since she had seen her
friend. Mrs. Deering, some six weeks previously, had gone to visit a
relation at St.-Raphael; and, after she had been a month absent, her
husband and the little girl had joined her. Lizzie'sadieux to Deering
had been made on a rainy afternoon in the damp corridors of the
Aquarium at the Trocadero. She could not receive him at her own
pension. That a teacher should bevisited by the father of a pupil,
especially when that father wasstill, as Madame Clopin said, si bien,
was against that lady's austere Helvetian code. From Deering's first
tentative hint of another solution Lizzie had recoiled in a wild
unreasoned flurry of all her scruples, he took her "No, no, no!" as he
tookall her twists and turns of conscience, with eyes half-tender and
half-mocking, and an instant acquiescence which was the finest homage
to the "lady" she felt he divined and honored in her.
So they continued to meet in museums and galleries, or to extend,
on fine days, their explorations to the suburbs, where now and then, in
the solitude of grove or garden, the kiss renewed itself, fleeting,
isolated, or prolonged in a shy, silent pressure of the hand. But on
the day of his leave-taking the rain kept them under cover; and as they
threaded the subterranean windings of the Aquarium, and Lizzie looked
unseeingly at the monstrous faces glaring at her through walls of
glass, she felt like a poor drowned wretch at the bottom of the sea,
with all her glancing, sunlit memories rolling over her like the waves
of its surface.
"You'll never see him again — never see him again," the
wavesboomed in her ears through his last words; and when she had said
good-by to him at the corner, and had scrambled, wet and shivering,
into the Passy omnibus, its great, grinding wheels took up the derisive
burden — "Never see him, never see him again."
All that was only two weeks ago, and here she was, as happy as a
lark, mounting the hill to his door in the spring sunshine. Soweak a
heart did not deserve such a radiant fate; and Lizzie saidto herself
that she would never again distrust her star.
THE cracked bell tinkled sweetly through her heart as she stood
listening for the scamper of Juliet's feet. Juliet, anticipatingthe
laggard Suzanne, almost always opened the door for her governess, not
from any unnatural zeal to hasten the hour of her studies, but from the
irrepressible desire to see what was going on in the street. But on
this occasion Lizzie listened vainly for astep, and at length gave the
bell another twitch. Doubtless someunusually absorbing incident had
detained the child below-stairs;thus only could her absence be
A third ring produced no response, and Lizzie, full of dawning
fears, drew back to look up at the shabby, blistered house. She saw
that the studio shutters stood wide, and then noticed, without
surprise, that Mrs. Deering's were still unopened. No doubt Mrs.Deering
was resting after the fatigue of the journey. Instinctively Lizzie's
eyes turned again to the studio; and as she looked, she saw Deering at
the window. He caught sight of her, and an instant later came to the
door. He looked paler than usual, and she noticed that he wore a black
"I rang and rang — where is Juliet?"
He looked at her gravely, almost solemnly; then, without answering,
he led her down the passage to the studio, and closed the door when she
"My wife is dead — she died suddenly ten days ago. Didn't you see
it in the papers?"
Lizzie, with a little cry, sank down on the rickety divan. She
seldom saw a newspaper, since she could not afford one for her own
perusal, and those supplied to the Pension Clopin were usually in the
hands of its more privileged lodgers till long after the hour when she
set out on her morning round.
"No; I didn't see it," she stammered.
Deering was silent. He stood a little way off, twisting an unlit
cigarette in his hand, and looking down at her with a gaze that was
both hesitating and constrained.
She, too, felt the constraint of the situation, the impossibility
of finding words that, after what had passed between them, should seem
neither false nor heartless; and at last she exclaimed, standing up:
"Poor little Juliet! Can't I go to her?"
"Juliet is not here. I left her at St.-Raphael with the relations
with whom my wife was staying."
"Oh," Lizzie murmured, feeling vaguely that this added to the
difficulty of the moment. How differently she had pictured
"I'm so — so sorry for her!" she faltered out.
Deering made no reply, but, turning on his heel, walked the length
of the studio, and then halted vaguely before the picture on the easel.
It was the landscape he had begun the previous autumn, with the
intention of sending it to the Salon that spring. But it was still
unfinished — seemed, indeed, hardly moreadvanced than on the fateful
October day when Lizzie, standing before it for the first time, had
confessed her inability to dealwith Juliet. Perhaps the same thought
struck its creator, for hebroke into a dry laugh, and turned from the
easel with a shrug.
Under his protracted silence Lizzie roused herself to the fact
that, since her pupil was absent, there was no reason for her remaining
any longer; and as Deering again moved toward her she said with an
effort: "I'll go, then. You'll send for me when shecomes back?"
Deering still hesitated, tormenting the cigarette between his
"She's not coming back — not at present."
Lizzie heard him with a drop of the heart. Was everything to be
changed in their lives? But of course; how could she have dreamed it
would be otherwise? She could only stupidly repeat: "Not coming back?
Not this spring?"
"Probably not, since are friends are so good as to keep her. The
fact is, I've got to go to America. My wife left a little property, a
few pennies, that I must go and see to — for the child."
Lizzie stood before him, a cold knife in her breast. "I see — I
see," she reiterated, feeling all the while that she strained her eyes
into impenetrable blackness.
"It's a nuisance, having to pull up stakes," he went on, with a
fretful glance about the studio.
She lifted her eyes slowly to his face. "Shall you be gone long?"
she took courage to ask.
"There again — I can't tell. It's all so frightfully mixed up." He
met her look for an incredibly long, strange moment. "Ihate to go!" he
murmured as if to himself.
Lizzie felt a rush of moisture to her lashes, and the old, familiar
wave of weakness at her heart. She raised her hand to her face with an
instinctive gesture, and as she did so he held out his arms.
"Come here, Lizzie!" he said.
And she went — went with a sweet, wild throb of liberation, with
the sense that at last the house was his, that shewas his, if he wanted
her; that never again would that silent, rebuking presence in the room
above constrain and shame her rapture.
He pushed back her veil and covered her face with kisses. "Don't
cry, you little goose!" he said.
THAT they must see each other again before his departure, in
someplace less exposed than their usual haunts, was as clear to Lizzie
as it appeared to be to Deering. His expressing the wish seemed,indeed,
the sweetest testimony to the quality of his feeling, since, in the
first weeks of the most perfunctory widowerhood, a man of his stamp is
presumed to abstain from light adventures. If, then, at such a moment,
he wished so much to be quietly and gravely with her, it could be only
for reasons she did not call by name, but of which she felt the sacred
tremor in her heart; and it would have seemed incredibly vain and
vulgar to put forward, at such a crisis, the conventional objections by
means of which such littleexposed existences defend the treasure of
In such a mood as this one may descend from the Passy omnibus at
the corner of the Pont de la Concorde (she had not let him fetch her in
a cab) with a sense of dedication almost solemn, and may advance to
meet one's fate, in the shape of a gentleman of melancholy elegance,
with an auto-taxi at his call, as one has advanced to the altar-steps
in some girlish bridal vision.
Even the experienced waiter ushering them into an upper roomof the
quiet restaurant on the Seine could hardly have supposed their quest
for seclusion to be based on sentimental motives, so soberly did
Deering give his orders, while his companion sat small and grave at his
side. She did not, indeed, mean to let her private pang obscure their
hour together: she was already learning that Deering shrank from
sadness. He should see that she had courage and gaiety to face their
coming separation, and yet give herself meanwhile to this completer
nearness; but she waited, as always, for him to strike the opening
Looking back at it later, she wondered at the mild suavity of the
hour. Her heart was unversed inhappiness, but he had found the tone to
lull her apprehensions, and make her trust her fate for any golden
wonder. Deepest of all, he gave her the sense of something tacit and
confirmed between them, as if his tenderness were a habit of the heart
hardly needing the support of outward proof.
Such proof as he offered came, therefore, as a kind of crowning
luxury, the flower of a profoundly rooted sentiment; andhere again the
instinctive reserves and defenses would have seemed to vulgarize what
his trust ennobled. But if all the tender casuistries of her heart were
at his service, he took no grave advantage of them. Even when they sat
alone after dinner, with the lights of the river trembling through
their one low window, and the vast rumor of Paris inclosing them in a
heart of silence, he seemed, as much as herself, under the spell of
hallowing influences. She felt it most of all as she yielded to the arm
hepresently put about her, to the long caress he laid on her lips and
eyes: not a word or gesture missed the note of quiet union, or cast a
doubt, in retrospect, on the pact they sealed with their last look.
That pact, as she reviewed it through a sleepless night, seemed to
have consisted mainly, on his part, in pleadings for full and frequent
news of her, on hers in the assurance that it shouldbe given as often
as he asked it. She had felt an intense desirenot to betray any undue
eagerness, any crude desire to affirm anddefine her hold on him. Her
life had given her a certain acquaintance with the arts of defense:
girls in her situation were commonly supposed to know them all, and to
use them as occasion called. But Lizzie's very need of them had
intensified her disdain. Just because she was so poor, and had always,
materially, so to count her change and calculate her margin, she would
at least know the joy of emotional prodigality, would give her heart as
recklessly as the rich their millions. She was sure now that Deering
loved her, and if he had seized the occasion of their farewell to give
her some definitely worded sign of his feeling — if, more plainly, he
had asked her to marry him, — his doing so would have seemed less like
a proof of his sincerity than of his suspecting in her the need of a
verbal warrant. That he had abstained seemed to show that he trusted
her as she trusted him, and that they were one most of all in this deep
security of understanding.
She had tried to make him divine all this in the chariness of her
promise to write. She would write; of course she would. Buthe would be
busy, preoccupied, on the move: it was for him to lether know when he
wished a word, to spare her the embarrassment ofill-timed intrusions.
"Intrusions?" He had smiled the word away. "You can't wellintrude,
my darling, on a heart where you're already established,to the complete
exclusion of other lodgers." And then, taking her hands, and looking up
from them into her happy, dizzy eyes: "You don't know much about being
in love, do you, Lizzie?" he laughingly ended.
It seemed easy enough to reject this imputation in a kiss; but she
wondered afterward if she had not deserved it. Was she really cold and
conventional, and did other women give more richly and recklessly? She
found that it was possible to turn about every one of her reserves and
delicacies so that they looked like selfish scruples and petty
pruderies, and at this game she came in time to exhaust all the
resources of an over-abundant casuistry.
Meanwhile the first days after Deering's departure wore a soft,
refracted light like the radiance lingering after sunset. He, at any
rate, was taxable with no reserves, nocalculations, and his letters of
farewell, from train and steamer, filled her with long murmurs and
echoes of his presence. How he loved her, how he loved her — and how
he knew how to tell her so!
She was not sure of possessing the same aptitude. Unused tothe
expression of personal emotion, she fluctuated between the impulse to
pour out all she felt and the fear lest her extravagance should amuse
or even bore him. She never lost the sense that what was to her the
central crisis of experience must be a mere episode in a life so
predestined as his to romantic accidents. All that she felt and said
would be subjected to the test of comparison with what others had
already given him: from all quarters of the globeshe saw passionate
missives winging their way toward Deering, forwhom her poor little
swallow-flight ofdevotion could certainly not make a summer. But such
moments were succeeded by others in which she raised her head and dared
inwardly to affirm her conviction that no woman had ever loved him just
as she had, and that none, therefore, had probably found just such
things to say to him. And this conviction strengthened the other less
solidly based belief that he also, for the same reason,had found new
accents to express his tenderness, and that the three letters she wore
all day in her shabby blouse, and hid all night beneath her pillow,
surpassed not only in beauty, but in quality,all he had ever penned for
They gave her, at any rate, during the weeks that she wore them on
her heart, sensations even more complex and delicate thanDeering's
actual presence had ever occasioned. To be with him was always like
breasting a bright, rough sea, that blinded while it buoyed her: but
his letters formed a still pool of contemplation,above which she could
bend, and see the reflection of the sky, and the myriad movements of
life that flitted and gleamed below the surface. The wealth of his
hidden life — that was what most surprised her! It was incredible to
her now that she had had no inkling of it, but had kept on blindly
along the narrow track of habit, like a traveler climbing a road in a
fog, who suddenly finds himself on a sunlit crag between blue leagues
of sky and dizzy depths of valley. And the odd thing was that all the
people about her — the whole world of the Passy pension — were still
plodding along the same dull path, preoccupied with the pebbles
underfoot,and unconscious of the glory beyond the fog!
There were wild hours when she longed to cry out to them what one
saw from the summit — and hours of tremulous abasement when she asked
herself why her happy feet had been guided there,while others, no doubt
as worthy, stumbled and blundered in obscurity. She felt, in
particular, a sudden urgent pity for the two or three other girls at
Mme. Clopin's — girls older, duller, less alive than she, and by that
very token more appealingly flung upon her sympathy. Would they ever
know? Had they ever known? — those were the questions that haunted her
as she crossed her companions on the stairs, faced them at the
dinner-table, and listened to their poor, pining talk in the dim-lit
slippery-seated salon. One ofthe girls was Swiss, the other English;
the third, Andora Macy, was ayoung lady from the Southern States who
was studying French with the ultimate object of imparting it to the
inmates of a girls' school at Macon, Georgia.
Andora Macy was pale, faded, immature. She had a drooping Southern
accent, and a manner which fluctuated between arch audacity and fits of
panicky hauteur. She yearned to be admired,and feared to be insulted;
and yet seemed tragically conscious that she was destined to miss both
these extremes of sensation, or to enjoy them only at second hand in
the experiences of her more privileged friends.
It was perhaps for this reason that she took a wistful interest in
Lizzie, who had shrunk from her at first, as the depressing image of
her own probable future, but to whom she had now suddenly become an
object of sentimental compassion.
THE story opens in the August CENTURY, with a scene between Vincent
Deering, an American artist living in Paris, and Lizzie West, whofor
two years has been day-governess to the artist's young daughter, a
discouraging pupil, mainly because she is neglected by an indolent,
novel-reading mother. In the privacy of the studio,Lizzie West tells
the artist that she must resign her fruitless charge. Deering pleads
that in such case little Juliet will be hopelessly neglected, and in
the teacher's wavering attitude he kisses her and establishes a
relation of confidence and affection, which is discreetly cultivated,
until, through the sudden death of Mrs. Deering, the teacher has reason
to expect a devotion withoutevasion or concealment. But Deering's
reserved attitude awakens feelings of uncertainty, until the
affectionate interview which precedes his departure for America to
settle his late wife's estate. His fervent letters of farewell from
train and steamer, and one on his arrival in New York, make her eager
for the next. This is the situation at the opening of the part which
follows. — THE EDITOR.
MISS MACY's room was next to Miss West's, and the Southerner's
knock often appealed to Lizzie's hospitality when Mme. Clopin's early
curfew had driven her boarders from the salon. It sounded thus one
evening just as Lizzie, tired from an unusually long day of tuition,
was in the act of removing her dress. She was in too indulgent a mood
to withhold her "Come in," and as Miss Macy crossed the threshold,
Lizzie felt that Vincent Deering's first letter — the letter from the
train — had slipped from her loosened bodice to the floor.
Miss Macy, as promptly noting the fact, darted forward to recover
the letter. Lizzie stooped also,fiercely jealous of her touch; but the
other reached the precious paper first, andas she seized it, Lizzie
knew that she had seen whence it fell, and was weaving round the
incident a rapid web of romance.
Lizzie blushed with annoyance. "It's too stupid, having no pockets!
If one gets a letter as she is going out in the morning, she has to
carry it in her blouse all day."
Miss Macy looked at her with swimming eyes. "It's warm fromyour
heart!" she breathed, reluctantly yielding up the missive.
Lizzie laughed, for she knew better: she knew it was the letter
that had warmed her heart. Poor Andora Macy! Shewould never know. Her
bleak bosom would never take fire from such a contact. Lizzie looked at
her with kind eyes, secretly chafing at the injustice of fate.
The next evening, on her return home, she found Andora hovering in
the entrance hall.
"I thought you'd like me to put this in your own hand," MissMacy
whispered significantly, pressing a letter upon Lizzie. "I couldn't
bear to see it lying on the table with theothers."
It was Deering's letter from the steamer. Lizzie blushed tothe
forehead, but without resenting Andora's divination. She could not have
breathed a word of her bliss, but she was not altogethersorry to have
it guessed, and pity for Andora's destitution yielded to the pleasure
of using it as a mirror for her own abundance. DEERING wrote again on
reaching New York, a long, fond, dissatisfied letter, vague in its
indication of his own projects,specific in the expression of his love.
Lizzie brooded over every syllable of it till they formed the
undercurrent of all her waking thoughts, and murmured through her
midnight dreams; but she wouldhave been happier if they had shed some
definite light on the future.
That would come, no doubt, when he had had time to look about and
get his bearings. She counted up the days that must elapse before she
received his next letter, and stole down early to peepat the papers,
and learn when the next American mail was due. Atlength the happy date
arrived, and she hurried distractedly through the day's work, trying to
conceal her impatience by the endearments she bestowed upon her pupils.
It was easier, in her present mood, to kiss them than to keep them at
That evening, on Mme. Clopin's threshold, her heart beat so wildly
that she had to lean a moment against the door-post beforeentering. But
on the hall table, where the letters lay, there was none for her.
She went over them with a feverish hand, her heart dropping down
and down, as she had sometimes fallen down an endless stairway in a
dream — the very same stairway up which she had seemed to flywhen she
climbed the long hill to Deering's door. Then it suddenly struck her
that Andora might have found and secreted her letter, and with a spring
she was on the actual stairs and rattling Miss Macy's door-handle.
"You've a letter for me, haven't you?" she panted.
Miss Macy, turning from the toilet-table, inclosed her in
attenuated arms. "Oh, darling, did you expect one to-day?"
"Do give it to me!" Lizzie pleaded with burning eyes.
"But I haven't any! There hasn't been a sign of a letter for you."
"I know there is. There must be," Lizzie persisted,stamping her
"But, dearest, I've watched for you, and there'sbeen nothing,
Day after day, for the ensuing weeks, the same scene reenacted
itself with endless variations. Lizzie, after the first sharp spasm of
disappointment, made no effort to conceal her anxiety from Miss Macy,
and the fond Andora was charged to keep a vigilant eyeupon the
postman's coming, and to spy on the bonne for possible negligence or
perfidy. But these elaborate precautions remained fruitless, and no
letter from Deering came.
During the first fortnight of silence Lizzie exhausted all the
ingenuities of explanation. She marveled afterward at the reasons she
had found for Deering's silence: there were moments when she almost
argued herself into thinking it more natural than his continuing to
write. There was only one reason which her intelligence consistently
rejected, and that was the possibility that he had forgotten her, that
the wholeepisode had faded from his mind like a breath from a mirror.
From that she resolutely turned her thoughts, aware that if she
suffered herself to contemplate it, the motive power of life would
fail, and she would no longer understand why she rose up in the morning
and laydown at night.
If she had had leisure to indulge her anguish she might havebeen
unable to keep such speculations at bay. But she had to be up and
working: the blanchisseuse had to be paid, and Mme. Clopin's weekly
bill, and all the little "extras" that even her frugal habits had to
reckon with. And in the depths of her thought dwelt the dogging fear of
illness and incapacity, goading her to work while she could. She hardly
remembered the time when she had been without that fear; it was second
nature now, and it kept her on her feet when other incentives might
have failed. In the blankness of her misery shefelt no dread of death;
but the horror of being ill and "dependent" was in her blood.
In the first weeks of silence she wrote again and again to Deering,
entreating him for a word, for a mere sign of life. From the first she
had shrunk from seeming to assert any claim on his future, yet in her
aching bewilderment she now charged herself with having been too
possessive, too exacting in her tone. She told herself that his
fastidiousness shrank from any but a "light touch," and that hers had
not been light enough. She should havekept to the character of the
"little friend," the artless consciousness in which tormented genius
may find an escape from its complexities; and instead, she had
dramatized their relation, exaggerated her own part in it, presumed,
forsooth, to share the front of the stage with him, instead of being
content to serve asscenery or chorus.
But though to herself she admitted, and even insisted on, the
episodical nature of the experience, on the fact that for Deeringit
could be no more than an incident, she was still convinced that his
sentiment for her, however fugitive, had been genuine.
His had not been the attitude of the unscrupulous male seeking a
vulgar "advantage." For a moment he had really needed her, andif he was
silent now, it was perhaps because he feared that she had mistaken the
nature of the need and built vain hopes on its possible duration.
It was of the very essence of Lizzie's devotion that it sought
instinctively the larger freedom of its object; she could not conceive
of love under any form of exaction or compulsion. To make this clear to
Deering became an overwhelming need, and in a last short letter she
explicitly freed him from whatever sentimental obligation its
predecessors might have seemed to impose. In thisstudied communication
she playfully accused herself of having unwittingly sentimentalized
their relation, affirming, in self-defense, a retrospective astuteness,
a sense of the impermanence of the tenderer sentiments, that almost put
Deering in the fatuous position of having mistaken coquetry for
surrender. And she ended gracefully with a plea for the continuance of
the friendly regardwhich she had "always understood" to be the basis of
their sympathy. The document, when completed, seemed to her worthy of
what she conceived to be Deering's conception of a woman of the world,
and she found a spectral satisfaction in the thought of making her
final appearance before him in that distinguished character. But she
was never destined to learn what effect the appearance produced; for
the letter, like those it sought to excuse, remained unanswered.
THE fresh spring sunshine which had so often attended Lizzie Weston
her dusty climb up the hill of St.-Cloud beamed on her, some two years
later, in a scene and a situation of altered import.
The horse-chestnuts of the Champs-Elysees filtered its rays through
the symmetrical umbrage inclosing the graveled space about Daurent's
restaurant, and Miss West, seated at a table within that privileged
circle, presented to the light a hat much better able to sustain its
scrutiny than those which had sheltered the brow of Juliet Deering's
Her dress was in keeping with the hat, and both belonged to a
situation rich in such possibilities as the act of a leisurely luncheon
at Daurent's in the opening week of the Salon. Her companions, of both
sexes, confirmed and emphasized this impression by an elaborateness of
garb and an ease of attitude implying the largest range of selection
between the forms of Parisian idleness; and even Andora Macy, seated
opposite, as in the place of co-hostess or companion, reflected, in coy
grays and mauves, the festal note of the occasion.
This note reverberated persistently in the ears of a solitary
gentleman straining for glimpses of the group from a table wedgedin the
remotest corner of the garden; but to Miss West herself the occurrence
did not rise above the usual. For nearly a year she had been acquiring
the habit of such situations, and the act of offering a luncheon at
Daurent's to her cousins, the Harvey Mearses of Providence, and their
friend Mr. Jackson Benn, produced in herno emotion beyond the languid
glow which Mr. Benn's presence was beginning to impart to such scenes.
"It's frightful, the way you've got used to it," Andora Macyhad
wailed in the first days of her friend's transfigured fortune, when
Lizzie West had waked one morning to find herself among the heirs of an
old and miserly cousin whose testamentary dispositions had formed,
since her earliest childhood, the subject of pleasantry and conjecture
in her own improvident family. Old Hezron Mears had never given any
sign of life to the luckless Wests; had perhaps hardly been conscious
of including them in the carefully drawn will which, following the old
American convention, scrupulously divided his hoarded millions among
his kin. It was by a mere genealogical accident that Lizzie, falling
just within the golden circle, found herself possessed of a pittance
sufficient to release her from the prospect of a long gray future in
Mme. Clopin's pension.
The release had seemed wonderful at first; yet she presentlyfound
that it had destroyed her former world without giving her anew one. On
the ruins of the old pension life bloomed the only flower that had ever
sweetened her path; and beyond the sense of present ease, and the
removal of anxiety for the future, her reconstructed existence
blossomed with no compensating joys. Shehad hoped great things from the
opportunity to rest, to travel, to look about her, above all, in
various artful feminine ways, to be"nice" to the companions of her less
privileged state; but such widenings of scope left her, as it were, but
the more conscious of the empty margin of personal life beyond them. It
was not till she woke to the leisure of her new days that she had the
full sense of what was gone from them.
Their very emptiness made her strain to pack them with transient
sensations: she was like the possessor of an unfurnished house, with
random furniture and bric-a-brac perpetually pouring in "on approval."
It was in this experimental character that Mr. Jackson Benn had fixed
her attention, and the languid effort of her imagination to adjust him
to her requirements was seconded by thefond complicity of Andora and
the smiling approval of her cousins. Lizzie did not discourage these
demonstrations: she suffered serenely Andora's allusions to Mr. Benn's
infatuation, and Mrs. Mears's casual boast of his business standing.
All the better ifthey could drape his narrow square-shouldered frame
and round unwinking countenance in the trailing mists of sentiment:
Lizzie looked and listened, not unhopeful of the miracle.
"I never saw anything like the way these Frenchmen stare! Doesn't
it make you nervous, Lizzie?" Mrs. Mears broke out suddenly, ruffling
her feather boa about an outraged bosom. Mrs.Mears was still in that
stage of development when her countrywomen taste to the full the peril
of being exposed to the gaze of the licentious Gaul.
Lizzie roused herself from the contemplation of Mr. Benn's round
baby cheeks and the square blue jaw resting on his perpendicular
collar. "Is some one staring at me?" she asked with a smile.
"Don't turn round, whatever you do! There — just over
there,between the rhododendrons — the tall fair man alone at that
table. Really, Harvey, I think you ought to speak to the head-waiter,
orsomething; though I suppose in one of these places they'd only laugh
at you," Mrs. Mears shudderingly concluded.
Her husband, as if inclining to this probability, continued the
undisturbed dissection of his chicken wing; but Mr. Benn, perhaps aware
that his situation demanded a more punctilious attitude, sternly
revolved upon the parapet of his high collar inthe direction of Mrs.
"What, that fellow all alone over there? Why, he'snot French; he's
an American," he then proclaimed with a perceptible relaxing of the
"Oh!" murmured Mrs. Mears, as perceptibly disappointed, and Mr.
Benn continued carelessly: "He came over on the steamer with me. He's
some kind of an artist — a fellow named Deering. He wasstaring at me,
I guess: wondering whether I was going to remember him. Why, how d' 'e
do? How are you? Why, yes, of course; with pleasure — my friends, Mrs.
Harvey Mears — Mr. Mears; my friends Miss Macy and Miss West."
"I have the pleasure of knowing Miss West," said Vincent Deering
with a smile.
EVEN through his smile Lizzie had seen, in the first moment, how
changed he was; and the impression of the change deepened to the point
of pain when, a few days later, in reply to his brief note,she accorded
him a private hour.
That the first sight of his writing — the first answer to
hisletters — should have come, after three long years, in the shape of
this impersonal line, too curt to be called humble, yet confessing to a
consciousness of the past by the studied avoidance of its language! As
she read, her mind flashed back over what she had dreamed his letters
would be, over the exquisite answers she had composed above his name.
There was nothing exquisite in the conventional lines before her; but
dormant nerves began to throb again at the mere touch of the paper he
had touched, and she threw the little note into the fire before she
dared to reply to it.
Now that he was actually before her again, he became, as usual, the
one live spot in her consciousness. Once more her tormented throbbing
self sank back passive and numb, but now withall its power of suffering
mysteriously transferred to the presence, so known, yet so unknown, at
the opposite corner of herhearth. She was still Lizzie West, and he was
still Vincent Deering; but the Styx rolled between them, and she saw
his face through its fog. It was his face, really, rather than his
words,that told her, as she furtively studied it, the tale of failure
and slow discouragement which had so blurred its handsome lines.
Shekept afterward no precise memory of the actual details of his
narrative: the pain it evidently cost him to impart it was so much the
sharpest fact in her new vision of him. Confusedly, however,she
gathered that on reaching America he had found his wife's small
property gravely impaired; and that, while lingering on to securewhat
remained of it, he had contrived to sell a picture or two, and had even
known a brief moment of success, during which he received orders and
set up a studio. But inexplicably the tide had ebbed,his work remained
on his hands, and a tedious illness, with its miserable sequel of debt,
soon wiped out his small advantage. There followed a period of eclipse,
still more vaguely pictured, during which she was allowed to infer that
he had tried his hand at divers means of livelihood, accepting
employment from a fashionable house-decorator, designing wall-papers,
illustrating magazine articles, and acting for a time, she dimly
understood, as the social tout of a new hotel desirous of advertising
its restaurant. These disjointed facts were strung on a slender thread
of personal allusions — references to friends who had been kind
(jealously, she guessed them to be women), and to enemies who had
darkly schemed against him. But, true to his tradition of
"correctness," he carefully avoided the mention of names, and left her
trembling conjectures to grope dimly through an alien crowded world in
which there seemed little room for her small shy presence.
As she listened, her private pang was merged in the intolerable
sense of his unhappiness. Nothing he had said explained or excused his
conduct to her; but he had suffered, he had been lonely, had been
humiliated, and she suddenly felt, witha fierce maternal rage, that
there was no conceivable justification for any scheme of things in
which such facts were possible. She could not have said why: she simply
knew that it hurt too much tosee him hurt.
Gradually it came to her that her unconsciousness of any personal
grievance was due to her having so definitely determinedher own future.
She was glad she had decided, as she now felt she had, to marry Jackson
Benn, if only for the sense of detachment it gave her in dealing with
the case of Vincent Deering. Her personal safety insured her the
requisite impartiality, and justified her in dwelling as long as she
chose on the last lines of a chapter to which her own act had
deliberately fixed the close. Any lingering hesitations as to the
finality of her decision were dispelled by the imminent need of making
it known to Deering; and when her visitor paused in his reminiscences
to say, with a sigh, "But many things have happened to you too," his
words did not so much evokethe sense of her altered fortunes as the
image of the protector to whom she was about to intrust them.
"Yes, many things; it's three years," she answered.
Deering sat leaning forward, in his sad exiled elegance, hiseyes
gently bent on hers; and at his side she saw the solid form of Mr.
Jackson Benn, with shoulders preternaturally squared by the cut of his
tight black coat, and a tall shiny collar sustaining his baby cheeks
and hard blue chin. Then the vision faded as Deeringbegan to speak.
"Three years," he repeated, musingly taking up her words. "I've so
often wondered what they'd brought you."
She lifted her head with a quick blush, and the terrified wish that
he should not, at the cost of all his notions of correctness, lapse
into the blunder of becoming "personal."
"You've wondered?" She smiled back bravely.
"Do you suppose I haven't?" His look dwelt on her. "Yes, Idaresay
that was what you thought of me."
She had her answer pat — "Why, frankly, you know, I didn't think
of you." But the mounting tide of her poor dishonored memories swept it
indignantly away. If it was his correctness toignore, it could never be
hers to disavow.
" Was that what you thought of me?" she heard himrepeat in a tone
of sad insistence; and at that, with a quick lift of her head, she
resolutely answered: "How could I know what to think? I had no word
If she had expected, and perhaps almost hoped, that this answer
would create a difficulty for him, the gaze of quiet fortitude with
which he met it proved that she had underestimatedhis resources.
"No, you had no word. I kept my vow," he said.
"That you shouldn't have a word — not a syllable. Oh, I kept it
Lizzie's heart was sounding in her ears the old confused rumor of
the sea of life, but through it she desperately tried to distinguish
the still small voice of reason.
"What was your vow? Why shouldn't I have had asyllable from you?"
He sat motionless, still holding her with a look so gentle that it
almost seemed forgiving.
Then abruptly he rose, and crossing the space between them, sat
down in a chair at her side. The deliberation of his movement might
have implied a forgetfulness of changed conditions, and Lizzie, as if
thus viewing it, drew slightly back; but he appeared not to notice her
recoil, and his eyes, at last leaving her face,slowly and approvingly
made the round of the small bright drawing-room. "This is charming.
Yes, things have changed foryou," he said.
A moment before she had prayed that he might be spared the error of
a vain return upon the past. It was as if all her retrospective
tenderness, dreading to see him at such a disadvantage, rose up to
protect him from it. But his evasiveness exasperated her, and suddenly
she felt the inconsistent desire tohold him fast, face to face with his
Before she could reiterate her question, however, he had mether
"You did think of me, then? Why are you afraid totell me that you
The unexpectedness of the challenge wrung an indignant cry from
"Didn't my letters tell you so enough?"
"Ah, your letters!" Keeping her gaze on his in a passion
ofunrelenting fixity, she could detect in him no confusion, not
theleast quiver of a sensitive nerve. He only gazed back at her more
"They went everywhere with me — your letters," he said.
"Yet you never answered them." At last the accusation trembled to
"Yet I never answered them."
"Did you ever so much as read them, I wonder?"
All the demons of self-torture were up in her now, and she loosed
them on him, as if to escape from their rage.
Deering hardly seemed to hear her question. He merely shifted his
attitude, leaning a little nearer to her, but without attempting, by
the least gesture, to remind her of the privilegeswhich such nearness
had once implied.
"There were beautiful, wonderful things in them," he said, smiling.
She felt herself stiffen under his smile.
"You've waited three years to tell me so!"
He looked at her with grave surprise. "And do you resent mytelling
you even now?"
His parries were incredible. They left her with a breathless sense
of thrusting at emptiness, and a desperate, almost vindictive desire to
drive him against thewall and pin him there.
"No. Only I wonder you should take the trouble to tell me, when at
the time — "
And now, with a sudden turn, he gave her the final surprise of
meeting her squarely on her own ground.
"When at the time I didn't? But how could I — at thetime?"
"Why couldn't you? You've not yet told me?"
He gave her again his look of disarming patience. "Do I need to?
Hasn't my whole wretched story told you?"
"Told me why you never answered my letters?"
"Yes, since I could only answer them in one way — by protesting my
love and my longing."
There was a long pause of resigned expectancy on his part, on hers,
of a wild confused reconstruction of her shattered past. "You mean,
then, that you didn't write because — "
"Because I found, when I reached America, that I was a pauper; that
my wife's money was gone, and that what I could earn — I've so little
gift that way! — was barely enough to keep Juliet clothed and
educated. It was as if an iron door had been suddenly locked andbarred
Lizzie felt herself driven back, panting upon the last defenses of
her incredulity. "You might at least have told me — have explained. Do
you think I shouldn't have understood?"
He did not hesitate. "You would have understood. It wasn'tthat."
"What was it then?" she quavered.
"It's wonderful you shouldn't see! Simply that I couldn't write you
that. Anything else — not that!"
"And so you preferred to let me suffer?"
There was a shade of reproach in his eyes. "I suffered too," he
It was his first direct appeal to her compassion, and for a moment
it nearly unsettled the delicate poise of her sympathies, and sent them
trembling in the direction of scorn and irony. Buteven as the impulse
rose, it was stayed by another sensation. Once again, as so often in
the past, she became aware of a fact which,in his absence, she always
failed to reckon with — the fact of thedeep irreducible difference
between his image in her mind and hisactual self, the mysterious
alteration in her judgment produced by the inflections of his voice,
the look of his eyes, the whole complex pressure of his personality.
She had phrased it once self-reproachfully by saying to herself that
she "never could rememberhim," so completely did the sight of him
supersede the counterfeit about which her fancy wove its perpetual
wonders. Bright and breathing as that counterfeit was, it became a gray
figment of the mind at the touch of his presence; and on this occasion
the immediate result was to cause her to feel his possible unhappiness
with an intensity beside which her private injury paled.
"I suffered horribly," he repeated, "and all the more that
Icouldn't make a sign, couldn't cry out my misery. There was onlyone
escape from it all — to hold my tongue, and pray that you might hate
The blood rushed to Lizzie's forehead. "Hate you — you prayed that
I might hate you?"
He rose from his seat, and moving closer, lifted her hand gently in
his. "Yes; because your letters showed me that, if youdidn't, you'd be
Her hand lay motionless, with the warmth of his flowing through it,
and her thoughts, too — her poor fluttering stormy thoughts — felt
themselves suddenly penetrated by the same soft current of communion.
"And I meant to keep my resolve," he went on, slowly releasing his
clasp. "I meant to keep it even after the random stream of things swept
me back here in your way; but when I saw you the other day, I felt that
what had been possible at a distance was impossible now that we were
near each other. How was it possibleto see you and want you to hate
He had moved away, but not to resume his seat. He merely paused at
a little distance, his hand resting on a chair-back, inthe transient
attitude that precedes departure.
Lizzie's heart contracted. He was going, then, and this washis
farewell. He was going, and she could find no word to detainhim but the
senseless stammer "I never hated you."
He considered her with his faint grave smile. "It's not necessary,
at any rate, that you should do so now. Time and circumstances have
made me so harmless — that's exactly why I've dared to venture back.
And I wanted to tell you how I rejoice inyour good fortune. It's the
only obstacle between us that I can't bring myself to wish away."
Lizzie sat silent, spellbound, as she listened, by the sudden
evocation of Mr. Jackson Benn. He stood there again, between herself
and Deering, perpendicular and reproachful, but less solid and sharply
outlined than before, with a look in his small hard eyes that
desperately wailed for reembodiment.
Deering was continuing his farewell speech. "You're rich now,
you're free. You will marry." She vaguely saw him holding out his hand.
"It's not true that I'm engaged!" she broke out. They were the last
words she had meant to utter; they were hardly related to her conscious
thoughts; but she felt her whole will suddenly gathered up in the
irrepressible impulse to repudiate and fling away from her forever the
spectral claim of Mr. Jackson Benn.
THIS story opened in the August CENTURY, with a scene between
Vincent Deering, an American artist living in Paris, and Lizzie West,
who for two years had been day-governess to the artist's young
daughter, a discouraging pupil, mainly because she was neglected by an
indolent, novel-reading mother. In the privacy of the studio, Lizzie
West told the artist that she must resign her fruitless charge. Deering
pleaded that in such case little Juliet would be hopelessly neglected,
and in the teacher's wavering attitude he kissed her and established a
relation of confidence and affection, which was discreetly cultivated,
until, through the sudden death of Mrs. Deering, the teacher had reason
to expect a devotion without evasion or concealment. Deering departed
for America to settle his late wife's estate, but his fervent lettersof
farewell from train and steamer, with one on his arrival in New York,
were his only messages to her.
In the Second Part, the hard-working teacher after sending many
letters to Deering, which were unanswered, adjusted herself to the
situation, and finally, through a moderate legacy, rearrangedher life
on a scale of comparative comfort. After an interval ofthree years
Deering returned to Paris. He protested that his silence had been due
to his unwillingness to make her a partner to the ill-fortune which had
marked his return to America, and tactfully reawakened her love. The
concluding chapters, given below, begin at a period in their married
life after the birth oftheir child. — THE EDITOR.
IT was the firm conviction of Andora Macy that every object in the
Vincent Deerings' charming little house at Neuilly had been expressly
designed for the Deerings' son to play with.
The house was full of pretty things, some not obviously applicable
to the purpose; but Miss Macy's casuistry was equal tothe baby's
appetite, and the baby's mother was no match for them in the art of
defending her possessions. There were moments, in fact, when Lizzie
almost fell in with Andora's summary division of her works of art into
articles safe or unsafe for the baby to lick, or resisted it only to
the extent of occasionally substituting some less precious or less
perishable object for the particular fragility on which her son's
desire was fixed. And it was with this intention that, on a certain
fair spring morning — which worethe added luster of being the baby's
second birthday — she had murmured, with her mouth in his curls, and
one hand holding a bitof Chelsea above his dangerous clutch: "Wouldn't
he rather have that beautiful shiny thing over there in Aunt Andorra's
The two friends were together in Lizzie's little morning-room —
the room she had chosen, on acquiring the house, because, when she sat
there, she could hear Deering's step as he paced up and down before his
easel in the studio she had built for him. His step had been less
regularly audible than she had hoped, for, after three years of wedded
bliss, he had somehow failed to settle downto the great work which was
to result from that privileged state;but even when she did not hear him
she knew that he was there, above her head, stretched out on the old
divan from Passy, and smoking endless cigarettes while he skimmed the
morning papers; and the sense of his nearness had not yet lost its
first keen edge of bliss.
Lizzie herself, on the day in question, was engaged in a more
arduous task than the study of the morning's news. She had
neverunlearned the habit of orderly activity, and the trait she least
understood in her husband's character was his way of letting the loose
ends of life hang as they would. She had been disposed at first to
ascribe this to the chronic incoherence of his first menage; but now
she knew that, though he basked under therule of her beneficent hand,
he would never feel any active impulse to further its work. He liked to
see things fall into place about him at a wave of her wand; but his
enjoyment of her household magic in no way diminished his smiling
irresponsibility, and it was with one of its least amiable consequences
that his wife and her friend were now dealing.
Before them stood two travel-worn trunks and a distended
portmanteau, which had shed their contents in heterogeneous heapsover
Lizzie's rosy carpet. They represented the hostages left byher husband
on his somewhat precipitate departure from a New Yorkboarding-house,
and indignantly redeemed by her on her learning, in a curt letter from
his landlady, that the latter was not disposedto regard them as an
equivalent for the arrears of Deering's board.
Lizzie had not been shocked by the discovery that her husband had
left America in debt. She had too sad an acquaintance with the economic
strain to see any humiliation in such accidents; but it offended her
sense of order that he should not have liquidated his obligation in the
three years since their marriage. He took her remonstrance with his
usual disarming grace, and left her to forward the liberating draft,
though her delicacy had provided him with a bank-account which assured
his personal independence. Lizzie had discharged the duty without
repugnance, since she knewthat his delegating it to her was the result
of his good-humored indolence and not of any design on her exchequer.
Deering was not dazzled by money; his altered fortunes had tempted him
to no excesses: he was simply too lazy to draw the check, as he had
been too lazy to remember the debt it canceled.
"No, dear! No!" Lizzie lifted the Chelsea figure higher. "Can't you
find something for him, Andora, among that rubbish over there? Where's
the beaded bag you had in your hand just now? I don't think it could
hurt him to lick that."
Miss Macy, bag in hand, rose from her knees, and stumbled through
the slough of frayed garments and old studio properties. Before the
group of mother and son she fell into a raptured attitude.
"Do look at him reach for it, the tyrant! Isn't he just like the
Lizzie laughed and swung her son in air. "Dangle it before him,
Andora. If you let him have it too quickly, he won't care for it. He's
just like any man, I think."
Andora slowly lowered the shining bag till the heir of the Deerings
closed his masterful fist upon it. "There — my Chelsea'ssafe!" Lizzie
smiled, setting her boy on the floor, and watchinghim stagger away with
Andora stood beside her, watching too. "Have you any idea where
that bag came from, Lizzie?"
Mrs. Deering, bent above a pile of dis-collared shirts, shook an
inattentive head. "I never saw such wicked washing! There isn't one
that's fit to mend. The bag? No; I've not the least idea."
Andora surveyed her dramatically. "Doesn't it make you utterly
miserable to think that some woman may have made it for him?"
Lizzie, bowed in anxious scrutiny above the shirts, broke into an
unruffled laugh. "Really, Andora, really — six, seven, nine; no, there
isn't even a dozen. There isn't a whole dozen of anything. I don't see
how men live alone!"
Andora broodingly pursued her theme. "Do you mean to tell me it
doesn't make you jealous to handle these things of his that other women
may have given him?"
Lizzie shook her head again, and, straightening herself witha
smile, tossed a bundle in her friend's direction. "No, it doesn't make
me the least bit jealous. Here, count these socks for me, like a
Andora moaned, "Don't you feel anything at all?" asthe socks landed
in her hollow bosom; but Lizzie, intent upon her task, tranquilly
continued to unfold and sort. She felt a great deal as she did so, but
her feelings were too deep and delicate for the simplifying process of
speech. She only knew that each article she drew from the trunks sent
through her the long tremor of Deering's touch. It was part of her
wonderful new life that everything belonging to him contained an
infinitesimal fraction of himself — a fraction becoming visible in the
warmth of her love as certain secret elements become visible in rare
intensities of temperature. And in the case of the objects before her,
poor shabby witnesses of his days of failure, what they gave out
acquired a special poignancy from its contrast to his present cherished
state. His shirts were all in round dozens now, and washed as carefully
as old lace. As for his socks, she knew the pattern of every pair, and
would have liked to see the washerwoman who dared to mislay one, or
bring it home with the colors "run"! And in these homely tokens of his
well-being she saw the symbol of what her tenderness had brought him.
He was safe in it, encompassed by it, morally and materially, and she
defied the embattled powers of malice to reach him through the armor of
her love. Such feelings, however, were not communicable, even had one
desired to express them: they wereno more to be distinguished from the
sense of life itself than bees from the lime-blossoms in which they
"Oh, do look at him, Lizzie! He's found out how toopen the bag!"
Lizzie lifted her head to smile a moment at her son, who satthroned
on a heap of studio rubbish, with Andora before him on adoring knees.
She thought vaguely, "Poor Andora!" and then resumed the discouraged
inspection of a buttonless white waistcoat. The next sound she was
aware of was a fluttered exclamation from her friend.
"Why, Lizzie, do you know what he used the bag for? To keepyour
Lizzie looked up more quickly. She was aware that Andora's pronoun
had changed its object, and was now applied to Deering. And it struck
her as odd, and slightly disagreeable, that a letter of hers should be
found among the rubbish abandoned in her husband's New York lodgings.
"How funny! Give it to me, please."
"Give the bag to Aunt Andora, darling! Here — look inside, and see
what else a big big boy can find there! Yes, here's another! Why, why
Lizzie rose with a shade of impatience and crossed the floorto the
romping group beside the other trunk.
"What is it? Give me the letters, please." As she spoke, she
suddenly recalled the day when, in Mme. Clopin's pension,she had
addressed a similar behest to Andora Macy.
Andora had lifted a look of startled conjecture. "Why, thisone's
never been opened! Do you suppose that awful woman could have kept it
Lizzie laughed. Andora's imaginings were really puerile. "What
awful woman? His landlady? Don't be such a goose, Andora. How can it
have been kept back from him,when we've found it here among his
"Yes; but then why was it never opened?"
Andora held out the letter, and Lizzie took it. The writingwas
hers; the envelop bore the Passy postmark; and it was unopened. She
stood looking at it with a sudden sharp drop of the heart.
"Why, so are the others — all unopened!" Andora threw out on a
rising note; but Lizzie, stooping over, stretched out her hand.
"Give them to me, please."
"Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie — " Andora, still on her knees, continued to
hold back the packet, her pale face paler with anger and compassion.
"Lizzie, they're the letters I used to post for you — the letters he
never answered! Look!"
"Give them back to me, please."
The two women faced each other, Andora kneeling, Lizzie motionless
before her, the letters in her hand. The blood had rushed to her face,
humming in her ears, and forcing itself into the veins of her temples
like hot lead. Then it ebbed, and she felt cold and weak.
"It must have been some plot — some conspiracy!" Andora cried, so
fired by the ecstasy of invention that for the moment she seemed lost
to all but the esthetic aspect of the case.
Lizzie turned away her eyes with an effort, and they rested on the
boy, who sat at her feet placidly sucking the tassels of the bag. His
mother stooped and extracted them from his rosy mouth, which a cry of
wrath immediately filled. She lifted him in her arms, and for the first
time no current of life ran from his bodyinto hers. He felt heavy and
clumsy, like some one else's child;and his screams annoyed her.
"Take him away, please, Andora."
"Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie!" Andora wailed.
Lizzie held out the child, and Andora, struggling to her feet,
"I know just how you feel," she gasped out above the baby's head.
Lizzie, in some dark hollow of herself, heard the echo of a laugh.
Andora always thought she knew how people felt!
"Tell Marthe to take him with her when she fetches Juliet home from
"Yes, yes." Andora gloated over her. "If you'd only give way, my
The baby, howling, dived over Andora's shoulder for the bag.
"Oh, take him!" his mother ordered.
Andora, from the door, cried out: "I'll be back at once. Remember,
love, you're not alone!"
But Lizzie insisted, "Go with them — I wish you to go with them,"
in the tone to which Miss Macy had never learned the answer.
The door closed on her outraged back, and Lizzie stood alone. She
looked about the disordered room, which offered a dreary image of the
havoc of her life. An hour or two ago everything about her had been so
exquisitely ordered, without and within; her thoughtsand emotions had
lain outspread before her like delicate jewels laid away symmetrically
in a collector's cabinet. Now they had been tossed down helter-skelter
among the rubbish there on the floor, and had themselves turned to
rubbish like the rest. Yes, there lay her life at her feet, among all
that tarnished trash.
She knelt and picked up her letters, ten in all, and examined the
flaps of the envelops. Not one had been opened — not one. Asshe
looked, every word she had written fluttered to life, and every feeling
prompting it sent a tremor through her. With vertiginousspeed and
microscopic vision she was reliving that whole period of her life,
stripping bare again the black ruin over which the drift of three happy
years had fallen.
She laughed at Andora's notion of a conspiracy — of the letters
having been "kept back." She required no extraneous aid in deciphering
the mystery: her three years' experience of Deering shed on it all the
light she needed. And yet a moment before shehad believed herself to be
perfectly happy! Now it was the worstpart of her anguish that it did
not really surprise her.
She knew so well how it must have happened. The letters hadreached
him when he was busy, occupied with something else, and had been put
aside to be read at some future time — a time which nevercame. Perhaps
on his way to America, on the steamer, even, he had met "some one else"
— the "some one" who lurks, veiled and ominous, in the background of
every woman's thoughts about her lover. Or perhaps he had been merely
forgetful. She had learned from experience that the sensations which he
seemed to feel with the most exquisite intensity left no reverberations
in his mind — thathe did not relive either his pleasures or his pains.
She needed no better proof of that than the lightness of his conduct
toward hisdaughter. He seemed to have taken it for granted that Juliet
would remain indefinitely with the friends who had received her after
her mother's death, and it was at Lizzie's suggestion that the
littlegirl was brought home and that they had established themselves
atNeuilly to be near her school. But Juliet once with them, he became
the model of a tender father, and Lizzie wondered that he had not felt
the child's absence, since he seemed so affectionately aware of her
Lizzie had noted all this in Juliet's case, but had taken for
granted that her own was different; that she formed, for Deering,the
exception which every woman secretly supposes herself to formin the
experience of the man she loves. Certainly, she had learned by this
time that she could not modify his habits, but she imagined that she
had deepened his sensibilities, had furnished him with an "ideal" —
angelic function! And she now saw that the fact of her letters — her
unanswered letters — having, on his own assurance, "meant so much" to
him, had been the basis on which this beautiful fabric was reared.
There they lay now, the letters, precisely as when they had left
her hands. He had not had time to read them; and there had been a
moment in her past when that discovery would have been thesharpest pang
imaginable to her heart. She had traveled far beyond that point. She
could have forgiven him now for having forgottenher; but she could
never forgive him for having deceived her.
She sat down, and looked again vaguely about the room. Suddenly she
heard his step overhead, and her heart contracted. She was afraid he
was coming down to her. She sprang up and bolted the door; then she
dropped into the nearest chair, tremulous and exhausted, as if the
pushing of the bolt had required an immense muscular effort. A moment
later she heard him on the stairs, andher tremor broke into a cold fit
of shaking. "I loathe you — I loathe you!" she cried.
She listened apprehensively for his touch on the handle of the
door. He would come in, humming a tune, to ask some idle question and
lay a caress on her hair. But no, the door was bolted; she was safe.
She continued to listen, and the step passed on. He had not been coming
to her, then. He must have gone down-stairs to fetchsomething —
another newspaper, perhaps. He seemed to read little else, and she
sometimes wondered when he had found time to store the material that
used to serve for their famous "literary" talks. The wonder shot
through her again, barbed with a sneer. At that moment it seemed to her
that everything he had ever done and beenwas a lie.
She heard the house-door close, and started up. Was he going out?
It was not his habit to leave the house in the morning.
She crossed the room to the window, and saw him walking, with a
quick decided step, between the budding lilacs to the gate. What could
have called him forth at that unwonted hour? It was odd that he should
not have told her. The fact that she thought it odd suddenly showed her
how closely their lives were interwoven. Shehad become a habit to him,
and he was fond of his habits. But toher it was as if a stranger had
opened the gate and gone out. She wondered what he would feel if he
knew that she felt that.
"In an hour he will know," she said to herself, with a kind of
fierce exultation; and immediately she began to dramatize the scene. As
soon as he came in she meant to call him up to her room and hand him
the letters without a word. For a moment she gloated on the picture;
then her imagination recoiled from it. She was humiliated by the
thought of humiliating him. She wanted to keephis image intact; she
would not see him.
He had lied to her about her letters — had lied to her when he
found it to his interest to regain her favor. Yes, there was thepoint
to hold fast. He had sought her out when he learned that she was rich.
Perhaps he had come back from America on purpose to marry her; no doubt
he had come back on purpose. It was incredible that she had not seen
this at the time. She turned sick at the thought of her fatuity and of
the grossness of his arts. Well, the event proved that they were all
heneeded. But why had he gone out at such an hour? She was irritated to
find herself still preoccupied by his comings and goings.
Turning from the window, she sat down again. She wondered what she
meant to do next. No, she would not show him the letters; she would
simply leave them on his table and go away. She would leave the house
with her boy and Andora. It was a relief to feela definite plan forming
itself in her mind — something that her uprooted thoughts could fasten
on. She would go away, of course;and meanwhile, in order not to see
him, she would feign a headache, and remain in her room till after
luncheon. Then she and Andora would pack a few things, and fly with the
child while he was dawdling about up-stairs in the studio. When one's
house fell, one fled from the ruins: nothing could be simpler, more
Her thoughts were checked by the impossibility of picturing what
would happen next. Try as she would, she could not see herself and the
child away from Deering. But that, of course, was because of her
nervous weakness. She had youth, money, energy: all the trumps were on
her side. It was much more difficult to imagine what would become of
Deering. He was so dependent on her, and they had been so happy
together! The fact struck her as illogical, and even immoral, and yet
she knew he had been happy with her. It never happened like that in
novels: happiness "built on a lie" always crumbled, and buried the
presumptuous architect beneath the ruins. According to the laws of
every novel she had ever read, Deering, having deceived her once, would
inevitably have gone on deceiving her. Yet she knew he had not gone on
She tried again to picture her new life. Her friends, of course,
would rally about her. But the prospect left her cold; she did not want
them to rally. She wanted only one thing — the life she had been
living before she had given her baby the embroideredbag to play with.
Oh, why had she given him the bag? She had been so happy, they had all
been so happy! Every nerve in her clamored for her lost happiness,
angrily, unreasonably, as the boy had clamored for his bag! It was
horrible to know too much; there was always blood in the foundations.
Parents "kept things" from children — protected them from all the dark
secrets of pain and evil. And was any life livable unless it were thus
protected? Could any one look in the Medusa's face and live?
But why should she leave the house, since it was hers? Here, with
her boy and Andora, she could still make for herself the semblance of a
life. It was Deering who would have to go; he would understand that as
soon as he saw the letters.
She pictured him in the act of going — leaving the house as he had
left it just now. She saw the gate closing on him for the last time.
Now her vision was acute enough: she saw him as distinctlyas if he were
in the room. Ah, he would not like returning to the old life of
privations and expedients! And yet she knew he wouldnot plead with her.
Suddenly a new thought rushed through her mind. What if Andora had
rushed to him with the tale of the discovery of the letters — with the
"Fly, you are discovered!" of romantic fiction? What if he had left her
for good? It would not be unlikehim, after all. Under his wonderful
gentleness he was always evasive and inscrutable. He might have said to
himself that he would forestall her action, and place himself at once
on the defensive. It might be that she had seen him go out of the gate
forthe last time.
She looked about the room again, as if this thought had given it a
new aspect. Yes, this alone could explain her husband's going out. It
was past twelve o'clock, their usual luncheon hour, and he was
scrupulously punctual at meals, and gently reproachful if shekept him
waiting. Only some unwonted event could have caused himto leave the
house at such an hour and with such marks of haste. Well, perhaps it
was better that Andora should have spoken. She mistrusted her own
courage; she almost hoped the deed had been done for her. Yet her next
sensation was one of confused resentment. She said to herself, "Why has
Andora interfered?" She felt baffled and angry, as though her prey had
escaped her. If Deering had been in the house, she would have gone to
him instantly and overwhelmed him with her scorn. But he had gone out,
and she did not know where he had gone, and oddly mingled with her
anger against him was the latent instinct of vigilance, thesolicitude
of the woman accustomed to watch over the man she loves. It would be
strange never to feel that solicitude again, never to hear him say,
with his hand on her hair: "Why, you foolish child, were you worried?
Am I late?"
The sense of his touch was so real that she stiffened herself
against it, flinging back her head as if to throw off his hand. The
mere thought of his caress was hateful; yet she felt it in all her
traitorous veins. Yes, she felt it, but with horror and repugnance. It
was something she wanted to escape from, and the fact of struggling
against it was what made its hold so strong. It was as though her mind
were sounding her body to make sure of itsallegiance, spying on it for
any secret movement of revolt.
To escape from the sensation, she rose and went again to thewindow.
No one was in sight. But presently the gate began to swing back, and
her heart gave a leap — she knew not whether up ordown. A moment later
the gate opened slowly to admit a perambulator, propelled by the nurse
and flanked by Juliet and Andora. Lizzie's eyes rested on the familiar
group as if she hadnever seen it before, and she stood motionless,
instead of flyingdown to meet the children.
Suddenly there was a step on the stairs, and she heard Andora's
agitated knock. She unbolted the door, and was strainedto her friend's
"My darling!" Miss Macy cried. "Remember you have your child — and
Lizzie loosened herself gently. She looked at Andora with afeeling
of estrangement which she could not explain.
"Have you spoken to my husband?" she asked, drawing coldly back.
"Spoken to him? No." Andora stared at her in genuine wonder.
"Then you haven't met him since he left me?"
"No, my love. Is he out? I haven't met him."
Lizzie sat down with a confused sense of relief, which welled up to
her throat and made speech difficult.
Suddenly light came to Andora. "I understand, dearest. Youdon't
feel able to see him yourself. You want me to go to him for you." She
looked about her, scenting the battle. "You're right,darling. As soon
as he comes in I'll go to him. The sooner we get it over the better."
She followed Lizzie, who without answering her had turned
mechanically back to the window. As they stood there, the gate moved
again, and Deering entered the garden.
"There he is now!" Lizzie felt Andora's fervent clutch uponher arm.
"Where are the letters? I will go down at once. You allow me to speak
for you? You trust my woman's heart? Oh, believe me, darling," Miss
Macy panted, "I shall know just what to say to him!"
"What to say to him?" Lizzie absently repeated.
As her husband advanced up the path she had a sudden trembling
vision of their three years together. Those years were her wholelife;
everything before them had been colorless and unconscious, like the
blind life of the plant before it reaches the surface ofthe soil. They
had not been exactly what she dreamed; but if they had taken away
certain illusions, they had left richer realities in their stead. She
understood now that she had gradually adjusted herself to the new image
of her husband as he was, as he would always be. He was not the hero of
her dream, but he was the man she loved, and who had loved her. For she
saw now, in this last wide flash of pity and initiation, that, as a
solid marble may bemade out of worthless scraps of mortar, glass and
pebbles, so outof mean mixed substances may be fashioned a love that
will bear the stress of life.
More urgently, she felt the pressure of Miss Macy's hand.
"I shall hand him the letters without a word. You may rely,love, on
my sense of dignity. I know everything you're feeling at this moment!"
Deering had reached the door-step. Lizzie continued to watch him in
silence till he disappeared under the glazed roof of the porch below
the window; then she turned and looked almost compassionately at her
"Oh, poor Andora, you don't know anything — you don't know
anything at all!" she said.