Other Times, Other Manners
by Edith Wharton
MRS. LIDCOTE, as the huge, menacing mass of New York defined itself
far off across the waters, shrank back into her corner of the deserted
deck and sat listening with a kind of unreasoning terror to the steady
onward drive of the screws.
She had set out on the voyage quietly enough, — in what she called
her "reasonable" mood, — but the week at sea had given her too much
time to think of things, had left her too long alone with the past.
When she was alone, it was always the past that occupied her. She
couldn't get away from it, and she didn't any longer care to. During
her long years of exile she had made her terms with it, had learned to
accept the fact that it would always be there, huge, obstructing,
encumbering, much bigger and more dominant than anything the future
could possibly conjure up. And, at any rate, she was sure of it, she
understood it, knew how to reckon with it; she had learned to screen
and manage and protect it as one does an afflicted member of one's
There had never been any danger of her being allowed to forget the
past. It looked out at her from the face of every acquaintance, it
appeared suddenly in the eyes of strangers when a word enlightened
them: "Yes, the Mrs. Lidcote, don't you know?" It had sprung at her the
first day out, when, across the dining-room, from the captain's table,
she had seen Mrs. Lorin Boulger's revolving eye-glass suddenly pause
and the eye behind it grow as blank as a dropped blind. The next day,
of course, the captain had asked, "You know your ambassadress, Mrs.
Boulger?" and she had replied that, No, she seldom left Florence, and
hadn't been to Rome for more than a day since the Boulgers had been
sent to Italy. She was so used to these set phrases that it cost her no
effort to repeat them. And the captain had promptly changed the
No, she didn't, as a rule, mind the past, because she was used to
it and understood it. It was a great concrete fact in her path that she
had to walk around every time she moved in any direction. But now, in
the light of the dreadful event that had summoned her from Italy, —
the sudden, unanticipated news of her daughter's divorce from Horace
Pursh and immediate remarriage with Wilbour Barkley, — the past, her
own poor, miserable past, started up at her with eyes of accusation,
became, to her disordered fancy, like the "afflicted" relative suddenly
breaking away from nurses and keepers and publicly parading the horror
and misery one had, all the long years, so patiently screened and
Yes, there it had stood before her through the long, agitated weeks
since the news had come, — during her interminable journey from India,
where Leila's letter had overtaken her, and the feverish halt in her
apartment in Florence, where she had had to stop and gather up her
possessions for a fresh start, — there it had stood grinning at her
with a new balefulness which seemed to say, "Oh, but you've got to look
at me now, because I'm not only your own past, but Leila's present."
Certainly it was a master-stroke of those arch-ironists of the
shears and spindle to duplicate her own story in her daughter's. Mrs.
Lidcote had always fancied somewhat grimly that, having so signally
failed to be of use to Leila in other ways, she would at least serve
her as a warning. She had even at times consciously abstained from
defending herself, from making the best of her case, had stoically
refused to plead extenuating circumstances, lest Leila's impulsive
sympathy should lead to deductions that might react disastrously on her
own life. And now that very thing had happened, and Mrs. Lidcote could
hear the whole of New York saying with one voice: "Yes, Leila's done
just what her mother did. With such an example, what else could you
Yet if she had been an example, poor woman, she had been an awful
one; she had been, one would have supposed, of more use as a deterrent
than a hundred blameless mothers as incentives. For how could any one
who had seen anything of her life in the last eighteen years have the
courage to repeat so disastrous an experiment?
Well, logic in such cases didn't count, example didn't count,
nothing, she supposed, counted but having the same impulses in the
blood; and that presumably was the dark inheritance she had bestowed
upon her daughter. Leila hadn't consciously copied her; she had simply
"taken after" her, had been, so to speak, a projection of her own
Mrs. Lidcote had deplored, when she started, that the Utopia was a
slow steamer, and would take eight full days to bring her to her
unhappy daughter; but now, as the moment of reunion approached, she
would willingly have turned the boat about and fled back to the high
seas. It was not only because she felt still so unprepared to face what
New York had in store for her, but because she needed more time to
dispose of what the Utopia had already given her. The past was bad
enough, but the present and future were worse, because they were less
comprehensible, and because, as she grew older, surprises and
inconsequences troubled her more than the worst certainties.
There was Mrs. Boulger, for instance. In the light, or rather the
darkness, of new developments, it might really be that Mrs. Boulger had
not meant to cut her, but had simply failed to recognize her. Mrs.
Lidcote had arrived at this extraordinary hypothesis simply by
listening to the conversation of the persons sitting next to her on
deck — two lively young women with the latest Paris hats on their
heads and the latest New York ideas beneath them. These ladies, as to
whom it would have been impossible for a person with Mrs. Lidcote's
primitive categories to determine whether they were married or
unmarried, "nice" or "horrid," or any one or other of the definite
things which young women, in her youth and her society, were of
necessity constrained to be, had revealed a familiarity with the world
of New York that, again according to Mrs. Lidcote's traditions, should
have implied a recognized place in it. But in the present fluid state
of manners what did anything imply except what their hats implied —
that one couldn't tell what was coming next?
They seemed, at any rate, to frequent a group of idle and opulent
people who executed the same gestures and revolved on the same pivots
as Mrs. Lidcote's daughter and her friends: their Coras, Matties, and
Mabels seemed at any moment likely to reveal familiar patronymics, and
once one of the speakers, summing up a discussion of which their
neighbor had missed the beginning, had affirmed with headlong
assurance: "Leila? Oh, Leila's all right."
Could it be her Leila, the mother had wondered, with a sharp thrill
of curiosity and apprehension? If only they would mention surnames! But
their talk leaped elliptically from allusion to allusion, their
unfinished sentences dangled over abysses of conjecture, and it was one
of the marks of their state that they gave their bewildered hearer the
impression not so much of talking only of their intimates, but of being
intimate with every one alive.
Her old friend Franklin Ide could have told her, perhaps; but here
was the last day of the voyage, and she hadn't yet found courage to ask
him. Great as had been the joy of discovering his name on the
passenger-list, and seeing his friendly, hirsute countenance among the
throng against the taffrail at Cherbourg, she had as yet said nothing
to him except, when they had met, "Of course I'm going out to Leila."
She had said nothing to Franklin Ide because she had always
instinctively shrunk from taking him into her confidence. She was sure
he felt sorry for her, sorrier perhaps than any one had ever felt; but
he had always paid her the supreme tribute of not showing it. His
attitude allowed her to imagine that compassion was not the basis of
his feeling for her, and it was part of her joy in his friendship that
it was the one relation seemingly unconditioned by her state, the one
in which she could think and feel and behave like any other woman.
Now, however, as the cloudy problem of New York loomed nearer, she
began to regret that she had not spoken, had not at least questioned
him about the hints she had gathered on the way. He did not know the
two ladies next to her, he did not even, as it happened, know Mrs.
Lorin Boulger; but he knew New York, and New York was the sphinx whose
riddle she must read or perish.
Almost as the thought passed through her mind his stooping
shoulders and grizzled head detached themselves against the dazzle of
light in the west, and he sauntered down the empty deck and dropped
into the chair at her side.
"You're expecting the Barkleys to meet you, I suppose?" he asked
It was the first time she had heard any one pronounce her
daughter's new name, and it immediately occurred to her that her
friend, who was shy and inarticulate, had been trying to say it all the
way over and had at last shot it out at her only because he felt it
must be now or never.
"I don't know. I cabled, of course. But I believe she's at —
they're at — his place somewhere."
"Oh, Barkley's; yes, near Lenox, isn't it? But she's sure to come
to town to meet you."
He said it so easily and naturally that her own constraint was
relieved, and suddenly, before she knew what she meant to do, she had
burst out, "She may dislike the idea of seeing people."
Ide, whose absent, short-sighted gaze had been fixed on the slowly
gliding water, turned in his seat to stare at his companion.
"Who? Leila?" he said, with an incredulous laugh.
Mrs. Lidcote flushed to her faded hair, and grew pale again. "It
took me a long time — to get used to it," she stammered, forcing a
His look grew gently commiserating. "I think you'll find — " he
wavered for a word — "that things are different now — altogether
"That's what I've been wondering — since we started." She was
determined now to speak. She moved nearer, so that their arms touched,
and she could drop her voice to the lowest murmur. "You see, it all
came on me in a flash. My going off to India and Siam on that long trip
kept me away from letters for weeks at a time; and she didn't want to
tell me beforehand — oh, I understand that, poor child! You know how
good she's always been to me; how she's tried to spare me. And she
knew, of course, what a state of horror I'd be in. She knew I'd rush to
her at once and try to stop it. So she never gave me a hint of
anything, and she even managed to muzzle Susy Suffern — you know Susy
is the one of the family who keeps me posted about things at home. I
don't yet see how she prevented Susy's telling me; but she did. And her
first letter, the one I got up at Bangkok, simply said the thing was
over, — the divorce, I mean, — and that the very next day she'd —
well, I suppose there was no use waiting; and he seems to have behaved
as well as possible, to have wanted to marry her as much as — "
"Who? Barkley?" he helped her out. "I should say so! Why, what do
you suppose — " He interrupted himself. "He'll be devoted to her, I
assure you," he said.
"Oh, of course; I'm sure he will. He's written me — really
beautifully. But it's a terrible strain on a man's devotion, a terrible
test. I'm not sure that Leila realizes — "
Ide sounded again his little, reassuring laugh. "I'm not sure that
you realize. They're all right."
It was the very phrase that the young lady in the next seat had
applied to the unknown "Leila," and its recurrence on Ide's lips
flushed Mrs. Lidcote with fresh courage.
"I wish I knew just what you mean. The two young women next to me
— the ones with the wonderful hats — have been talking in the same
"What? About Leila?"
"About a Leila; I fancied it might be mine. And about society in
general. All their friends seem to be divorced; some of them seem to
announce their engagements before they get their decree. One of them,
— her name was Mabel, — as far as I could make out, her husband found
out that she meant to divorce him by noticing that she wore a new
"Well, you see Leila did everything 'regularly,' as the French
say," Ide rejoined.
"Yes; but are these people in society? The people my neighbors talk
Ide shrugged his shoulders. "It would take an arbitration
commission a good many sittings to define the boundaries of society
nowadays. But at any rate they're in New York; and I assure you you're
not; you're farther and farther from it."
"But I've been back there several times to see Leila." She
hesitated and looked away from him. Then she brought out slowly: "And
I've never noticed — the least change — in — in my own case — "
"Oh," he sounded deprecatingly, and she trembled with the fear of
having gone too far. But the hour was past when she could be held by
such scruples. She must know where she was and where Leila was. "Mrs.
Boulger still cuts me," she brought out with an embarrassed laugh.
"Are you sure? You've probably cut her; if not now, at least in the
past. And in a cut, if you're not first, you're nowhere. That's what
keeps up so many quarrels."
The word roused Mrs. Lidcote to a renewed sense of realities. "But
the Purshes," she said — "the Purshes are so strong! There are so many
of them, and they all back each other up, just as my husband's family
did. I know what it means to have a clan against one. They're stronger
than any number of separate friends. The Purshes will never forgive
Leila for leaving Horace. Why, his mother opposed his marrying her
because of — of my situation. She tried to get Leila to promise that
she wouldn't see me when they went to Europe on their honeymoon. And
now she'll say it was my example."
Her companion, vaguely stroking his beard, mused a moment upon
this; then he asked with seeming irrelevance, "What did Leila say when
you wrote that you were coming?"
"She said it wasn't the least necessary, but I'd better come,
because it was the only way to convince me that it wasn't."
"Well, then, that proves she's not afraid of the Purshes."
She breathed a long sigh of remembrance. "Oh, just at first, you
know — one never is."
He laid his hand on hers with a rapid gesture of intelligence and
pity. "You'll see, you'll see," he merely promised her.
A shadow lengthened down the deck before them, and a steward stood
there, proffering a wireless despatch.
"Oh, now I shall know!" she exclaimed.
She tore the message open, and then let it fall on her knees,
dropping her clasped hands on it in silence.
Ide's inquiry roused her: "It's all right?"
"Oh, quite right. Perfectly. She can't come; but she's sending Susy
Suffern. She says that Susy will explain." After another silence she
added, with a sudden gush of bitterness, "As if I needed any
She felt Ide's hesitating glance upon her. "She's in the country?"
"Yes. 'Prevented last moment. Longing for you, expecting you. Love
from both.' Don't you see, the poor darling, that she couldn't face
"No, I don't." He waited. "Do you mean to go to her immediately?"
"It will be too late to catch a train this evening; but I shall
take the first to-morrow morning." She considered a moment. "Perhaps
it's better. I need a talk with Susy first. She's to meet me at the
dock, and I'll take her straight back to the hotel with me."
As she developed this plan, she had the sense that Ide was still
thoughtfully, even gravely, considering her. When she ceased, he
remained silent a moment; then he said almost ceremoniously: "If your
talk with Miss Suffern doesn't last too late, would it be indiscreet of
me to ask to see you when it's over? I shall be dining at the club, and
I'll call you up at about ten, if I may. I'm off to Chicago on business
to-morrow morning, and it would be a satisfaction to know, before I
start, that your cousin's been able to reassure you, as I know she
He spoke with a sudden, shy deliberateness that, even to Mrs.
Lidcote's troubled perceptions, sounded a long-silenced note of
feeling. Perhaps the breaking down of the barrier of reticence between
them had released unsuspected emotions in both. The tone of his appeal
moved her curiously and loosened the tight strain of her fears.
"Oh, yes, come — do come," she murmured, rising. The huge threat
of New York was imminent now, dwarfing, under long reaches of embattled
masonry, the great deck she stood on and all the little specks of life
it carried. One of them, drifting nearer, took the shape of her maid,
flanked by luggage-laden stewards, and signing to her that it was time
to go below. As they descended to the main deck, the throng swept her
against Mrs. Lorin Boulger's shoulder, and she heard the ambassadress
call to an interlocutor, over the vexed sea of hats: "So sorry! I
should have been delighted, but I've promised to spend Sunday with some
friends at Lenox."
SUSY SUFFERN'S explanation did not end till after ten o'clock, and
she had just gone when Franklin Ide, who, complying with an old New
York tradition, had caused himself to be preceded by a long, white box
of roses, was ushered into Mrs. Lidcote's sitting-room.
He came forward with his shy, half-humorous smile and, taking her
hand, looked at her for a moment without speaking.
"It's all right," he then pronounced affirmatively.
Mrs. Lidcote returned his smile. "It's extraordinary. Everything's
changed. Even Susy has changed; and you know the extent to which Susy
stood for old New York. There's no old New York left, it seems. She
talked in the most amazing way. She snaps her fingers at the Purshes.
She told me — me, that every woman had a right to happiness, that
self-expression was the highest duty. She accused me of
misunderstanding Leila; she said my point of view was conventional! She
was bursting with pride at having been in the secret, and wearing a
brooch that Wilbour Barkley'd given her!"
Franklin Ide had seated himself in the arm-chair of green
art-velvet that she had pushed forward for him under the electric
chandelier. He threw back his head and laughed. "What did I tell you?"
"Yes; but I can't believe that Susy's not mistaken. Poor dear, she
has the habit of lost causes; and she may feel that, having stuck to
me, she can do no less than stick to Leila."
"But she didn't — did she? — openly defy the world for you? She
didn't snap her fingers at your husband's family?"
Mrs. Lidcote shook her head, still smiling. "No. It was enough to
defy my family. She did that, almost. It was doubtful at one time if
they would tolerate her seeing me, and she almost had to disinfect
herself after each visit. I believe that at first my sister-in-law
wouldn't let the girls come down when Susy dined with her."
"Well, isn't your cousin's present attitude the best possible proof
that times have changed?"
"Yes, yes; I know." She leaned forward from her sofa-corner, fixing
her eyes on his thin, kindly face, which gleamed on her indistinctly
through a sudden blur. "If it's true, it's — it's dazzling. She says
Leila's perfectly happy. It's as if an angel had gone about in all the
cemeteries lifting gravestones, and the buried people walked again, and
the living didn't shrink from them."
"That's about it," he assented.
She drew a deep breath, and sat looking away from him down the long
perspective of lamp-fringed streets over which her windows hung.
"I can understand how happy you must be," he began at length.
She turned to him impetuously. "Yes, yes; I'm happy. But I'm
lonely, too — lonelier than ever. I didn't take up much room in the
world before; but now — where is there a corner for me? Oh, since I've
begun to confess myself, why shouldn't I go on? Telling you this lifts
a gravestone from me! You see, before this, Leila needed me. She was
unhappy, and I knew it, and though we hardly ever talked of it, I felt
that, in a way, the thought that I'd been through the same thing, and
down to the dregs of it, helped her. And her needing me helped me. And
when the news of her marriage came, my first thought was that now she'd
need me more than ever, that she'd have no one but me to turn to. Yes,
under all my distress there was a fierce joy in that. It was so new and
wonderful to feel again that there was one person who wouldn't be able
to get on without me! And now what you and Susy tell me seems to have
taken my child from me; and just at first that's all that I can feel."
"Of course it's all you feel." He looked at her musingly. "Why
didn't Leila come to meet you?" he then inquired.
"Oh, that was really my fault. You see, I'd cabled that I was not
sure of being able to get off on the Utopia, and apparently my second
cable was delayed, and when she received it, she'd already asked some
people over Sunday — one or two of her old friends, Susy says. I'm so
glad they should have wanted to go to her at once; but naturally I'd
rather have been alone with her."
"You still mean to go, then?"
"Oh, I must. Susy wanted to drag me off to Ridgefield with her over
Sunday, and Leila sent me word that of course I might go if I wanted
to, and that I was not to think of her; but I know how disappointed she
would be. Susy said she was afraid I might be upset at her having
people to stay, and that, in that case, she wouldn't urge me to come.
But if they don't mind, why should I? And of course, if they're willing
to go to Leila, it must mean — "
"Of course. I'm glad you recognize that," Franklin Ide exclaimed
abruptly. He stood up and went over to her, taking her hand with one of
his quick unexpected gestures. "There's something I want to say to
you," he began — THE next morning, in the train, through all the other
contending thoughts in Mrs. Lidcote's mind there ran the warm
undercurrent of what Franklin Ide had wanted to say to her.
He had wanted, she knew, to say it once before, when, nearly eight
years earlier, the hazard of meeting at the end of a rainy autumn in a
small, deserted Swiss hotel had thrown them for a fortnight into
unwonted propinquity. They had walked and talked together, borrowed
each other's books and newspapers, spent the long, chill evenings over
the fire in the dim lamplight of her little pitch-pine sitting-room;
and she had been wonderfully comforted by his presence, and hard,
frozen places in her had melted, and she had known that she would be
desperately sorry when he went. And then, just at the end, in his odd,
indirect way, he had let her see that it rested with her to have him
stay if she chose. She could still relive the sleepless night she had
given to that discovery. It was preposterous, of course, to think of
repaying his devotion by accepting such a sacrifice; but how find
reasons to convince him? She could not bear to let him think her less
touched, less inclined to him than she was: the generosity of his love
deserved that she should repay it with the truth. Yet how let him see
what she felt, and yet refuse what he offered? How confess to him what
had been on her lips when he made the offer: "I've seen what it did to
one man; and there must never, never be another?" The tacit ignoring of
her past had been the element in which their friendship lived, and she
could not suddenly, to him of all men, begin to talk of herself like a
guilty woman in a play. Somehow, in the end, she had managed it, had
averted a direct explanation, had made him understand that her life was
over, that she existed only for her daughter, and that a more definite
word from him would have been almost a breach of delicacy. She was so
used to behaving as if her life were over! And, at any rate, he had
taken her hint, and she had been able to spare her sensitiveness and
his. The next year, when he came to Florence to see her, they met again
in the old friendly way; and that till now had continued to be the
tenor of their intimacy.
And now, suddenly and unexpectedly, he had brought up the question
again, directly this time, and in such a form that she could not evade
it: putting the renewal of his plea, after so long an interval, on the
ground that, on her own showing, her chief argument against it no
"You tell me Leila's happy. If she's happy, she doesn't need you —
need you, that is, in the same way as before. You wanted then, I know,
to be always in reach, always free and available if she should suddenly
call you to her or take refuge with you. I understood that — I
respected it. I didn't urge my case because I saw it was useless. You
couldn't, I understood well enough, have felt free to take such
happiness as life with me might have given you while she was unhappy,
and, as you imagined, with no hope of release. Even then I didn't feel
as you did about it; I understood better the trend of things here. But
ten years ago the change hadn't really come; and I had no way of
convincing you that it was coming. Still, I always fancied that Leila
might not think her case was closed, and so I chose to think that ours
wasn't either. Let me go on thinking so, at any rate, till you've seen
her, and confirmed with your own eyes what Susy Suffern tells you."
ALL through what Susy Suffern told and retold her during their
four-hours' flight to the hills this plea of Ide's kept coming back to
Mrs. Lidcote. She did not yet know what she felt as to its ultimate
bearing on her own fate, but it was something on which her confused
thoughts could stay themselves amid the welter of new impressions, and
she was inexpressibly glad that he had said what he had, and said it at
that particular moment. It helped her to hold fast to her identity in
the rush of strange names and new categories that her cousin's talk
poured out on her.
With the progress of the journey Miss Suffern's communications grew
more and more amazing. She was like a cicerone preparing the mind of an
inexperienced traveler for the marvels about to burst on it.
"You won't know Leila. She's had her pearls reset. Sargent's to
paint her. Oh, and I was to tell you that she hopes you won't mind
being the least bit squeezed over Sunday. The house was built by
Wilbour's father, you know, and it's rather old-fashioned — only ten
spare bedrooms. Of course that's small for what they mean to do, and
she'll show you the new plans they've had made. Their idea is to keep
the present house as a wing. She told me to explain — she's so
dreadfully sorry not to be able to give you a sitting-room just at
first. They're thinking of Egypt for next winter, unless of course,
Wilbour gets his appointment. Oh, didn't she write you about that? Why,
he wants Rome, you know — the second secretaryship. Or, rather, he
wanted England; but Leila insisted that if they went abroad, she must
be near you. And of course what she says is law. Oh, they quite hope
they'll get it. You see Horace's uncle is in the Cabinet, — one of the
assistant secretaries, — and I believe he has a good deal of pull — "
"Horace's uncle? You mean Wilbour's, I suppose," Mrs. Lidcote
interjected, with a gasp of which a fraction was given to Miss
Suffern's flippant use of the language.
"Wilbour's? No, I don't. I mean Horace's. Oh, there's no bad
feeling between them, I assure you. Since Horace's engagement was
announced — you didn't know Horace was engaged? Why, he's marrying one
of Bishop Thorbury's girls: the red-haired one who wrote the novel that
every one's talking about, 'This Flesh of Mine.' They're to be married
in the cathedral. Of course Horace can, because it was Leila who —
but, as I say, there's not the least feeling, and Horace wrote himself
to his uncle about Wilbour."
Mrs. Lidcote's thoughts fled back to what she had said to Ide the
day before on the deck of the Utopia. "I didn't take up much room
before, but now where is there a corner for me?" Where indeed in this
crowded, topsyturvy world, with its headlong changes and helter-skelter
readjustments, its new tolerances and indifferences and accommodations,
was there room for a character fashioned by slower, sterner processes
and a life broken under their inexorable pressure? And then, in a
flash, she viewed the chaos from a new angle, and order seemed to move
upon the void. If the old processes were changed, her case was changed
with them; she, too, was a part of the general readjustment, a tiny
fragment of the new pattern worked out in bolder, freer harmonies.
Since her daughter had no penalty to pay, was not she herself, by the
same stroke, released from the long toll that life had taken of her?
The rich arrears of youth and joy were gone irrevocably; but was there
not enough left to accumulate new stores of happiness? That, of course,
was what Franklin Ide had felt and had meant her to feel. He had seen
at once what the change in her daughter's situation would make in her
view of her own. It was almost — wondrously enough! — as if Leila's
folly had been the means of vindicating hers. EVERYTHING else for the
moment faded for Mrs. Lidcote in the glow of her daughter's embrace. It
was unnatural, it was almost terrifying, to find herself suddenly
standing on a strange threshold, under an unknown roof, in a big hall
full of pictures, flowers, firelight, and hurrying servants, and in
this spacious, unfamiliar confusion to discover Leila, bareheaded,
laughing, authoritative, with a strange young man jovially echoing her
welcome and transmitting her orders; but once Mrs. Lidcote had her
child on her breast, and her child's, "It's all right, you old
darling!" in her ears, every other feeling was lost in the deep sense
of well-being that only Leila's hug could give.
The sense was still with her, warming her veins and pleasantly
fluttering her heart, as she went up to her room after luncheon. A
little constrained by the presence of visitors, and not altogether
sorry to defer for a few hours the "long talk" with her daughter for
which she somehow felt herself tremulously unready, she had withdrawn,
on the plea of fatigue, to the bright, luxurious bedroom into which
Leila had again and again apologized for having been obliged to
"squeeze" her. The room was bigger and finer than any in her small
apartment in Florence; but it was not the standard of affluence implied
in her daughter's tone about it that chiefly struck her, nor yet the
finish and complexity of its appointments. It was the look it shared
with the rest of the house, and with the trim perspective of the
gardens beneath its windows, of being part of an "establishment" — of
something solid, avowed, founded on sacraments and precedents and
principles. There was nothing about the place, or about Leila and
Wilbour, that suggested either passion or peril: their relation seemed
as comfortable as their furniture and as respectable as their balance
at the bank.
This was, in the whole confusing experience, the thing that
confused Mrs. Lidcote most, that gave her at once the deepest feeling
of security for Leila and the strongest sense of apprehension for
herself. Yes, there was something oppressive in the completeness and
compactness of Leila's well-being. Ide had been right: her daughter did
not need her. Leila, with her first embrace, had unconsciously attested
the fact in the same phrase as Ide himself, as the two young women with
the hats. "It's all right, you old darling!" she had said; and her
mother sat alone, trying to fit herself into the new scheme of things
which such a certainty betokened.
Her first distinct feeling was one of irrational resentment. If
such a change was to come, why had it not come sooner? Here was she, a
woman not yet old, who had paid with the best years of her life for the
theft of the happiness that her daughter's contemporaries took as their
due. There was no sense, no sequence, in it. She had had what she
wanted, but she had had to pay too much for it. She had had to pay the
last bitterest price of learning that love has a price: that it is
worth so much and no more. She had known the anguish of watching the
man she loved discover this first, and of reading the discovery in his
eyes. It was a part of her history that she had not trusted herself to
think of for a long time past: she always took a big turn about that
haunted corner of her conscience. But now, at the sight of the young
man down-stairs, so openly and jovially Leila's, she was overwhelmed at
the senseless waste of her own adventure, and wrung with the irony of
perceiving that the success or failure of the deepest human experiences
may hang on a matter of chronology.
Then gradually the thought of Ide returned to her. "I chose to
think that our case wasn't closed," he had said. She had been deeply
touched by that. To every one else her case had been closed so long!
Finis was scrawled all over her. But here was one man who had believed
and waited, and what if what he believed in and waited for were coming
true? If Leila's "all right" should really foreshadow hers?
As yet, of course, it was impossible to tell. She had fancied,
indeed, when she entered the drawing-room before luncheon, that a
too-sudden hush had fallen on the assembled group of Leila's friends,
on the slender, vociferous young women and the lounging,
golf-stockinged young men. They had all received her politely, with the
kind of petrified politeness that may be either a tribute to age or a
protest at laxity; but to them, of course, she must be an old woman
because she was Leila's mother, and in a society so dominated by youth
the mere presence of maturity was a constraint.
One of the young girls, however, had presently emerged from the
group, and, attaching herself to Mrs. Lidcote's side, had listened to
her with a blue gaze of admiration which gave the older woman a sudden
happy consciousness of her long-forgotten social graces. It was
agreeable to find herself attracting this young Charlotte Wynn, whose
mother had been among her closest friends, and in whom something of the
soberness and softness of the earlier manners had survived. But the
little colloquy, broken up by the announcement of luncheon, could of
course result in nothing more definite than this reminiscent emotion.
No, she could not yet tell how her own case was to be fitted into
the new order of things; but there were more people — "older people"
Leila had put it — arriving by the afternoon train, and that evening
at dinner she would doubtless be able to judge. She began to wonder
nervously who the new-comers might be. Probably she would be spared the
embarrassment of finding old acquaintances among them; but it was odd
that her daughter had mentioned no names.
Leila had proposed that, later in the afternoon, Wilbour should
take her mother for a drive: she said she wanted them to have a "nice,
quiet talk." But Mrs. Lidcote wished her talk with Leila to come first,
and had, moreover, at luncheon, caught stray allusions to an impending
tennis-match in which her son-in-law was engaged. Her fatigue had been
a sufficient pretext for declining the drive, and she had begged Leila
to think of her as peacefully reposing in her room till such time as
they could snatch their quiet moment.
"Before tea, then, you duck!" Leila with a last kiss had decided;
and presently Mrs. Lidcote, through her open window, had heard the
fresh, loud voices of her daughter's visitors chiming across the
gardens from the tennis-court.
(To be concluded)
LEILA had come and gone, and they had had their talk. It had not
lasted as long as either of them wished, for in the middle of it Leila
had been summoned to the telephone to receive an important message from
town, and had sent her maid to tell Mrs. Lidcote that she couldn't come
back just then, as one of the young ladies had been called away
unexpectedly and arrangements had to be made for her departure. But the
mother and daughter had had almost an hour together, and Mrs. Lidcote
was happy. She had never seen Leila so tender, so solicitous. The only
thing that troubled her was, indeed, the very excess of this
solicitude, the exaggerated expression of her daughter's annoyance that
their first moments together should have been marred by the presence of
"Not strangers to me, darling, since they're friends of yours," her
mother had assured her.
"Yes; but I know your feeling, you queer, wild mother. I know how
you've always hated people." ( Hated people! Had Leila forgotten why?)
"And that's why I told Susy that if you preferred to go with her to
Ridgefield on Sunday, I should so perfectly understand, should so
patiently wait for our good hug. But you didn't really mind them at
luncheon, did you, dearest?"
Mrs. Lidcote, at that, had suddenly thrown a long, startled look at
her daughter. "I don't mind things of that kind any longer," she had
"But that doesn't console me for having exposed you to the bother
of it, for having let you come here when I ought to have ordered you
off to Ridgefield with Susy. If Susy hadn't been stupid, she'd have
made you go there with her. I hate to think of you up here all alone."
Again Mrs. Lidcote tried to read something more than a rather
obtuse devotion in her daughter's radiant gaze. "I'm glad to have had a
rest this afternoon, dear; and later — "
"Oh, yes, later, when all this fuss is over, we'll more than make
up for it, sha'n't we, you precious darling?" And at this point Leila
had been summoned to the telephone, leaving Mrs. Lidcote alone with her
These were still floating before her in cloudy imprecision when
Miss Suffern's tap on the door roused her to the lapse of time.
"You've come to take me down to tea? I'd forgotten how late it
was," she said.
Miss Suffern, a plump, peering little woman, with prim hair and a
conciliatory smile, nervously adjusted, as she came in, the pendant
bugles of her oddly elaborate black dress. Miss Suffern was always in
mourning, and always commemorating the demise of distant relatives by
wearing the discarded wardrobe of their next of kin. "It isn't exactly
mourning," she would say; "but it's the only stitch of black poor Julia
had — and of course George was only my mother's step-cousin."
As she came forward, Mrs. Lidcote found herself humorously
wondering whether she were mourning Horace Pursh's divorce in one of
his mother's old black satins.
"Oh, did you mean to go down?" Susy Suffern peered at her, a little
fluttered. "Leila sent me up to keep you company. She thought it would
be cozier for you to have tea here. She was afraid you were feeling
"I was; but I've had the whole afternoon to rest in. And this
wonderful sofa to help me."
"Leila told me to tell you that she'd rush up for a minute before
dinner, after everybody had arrived; but the train is always dreadfully
late. She's in despair at not giving you a sitting-room; she wanted to
know if I thought you really minded."
"Of course I don't mind. It's not like Leila to think I should."
Mrs. Lidcote drew aside to make way for the housemaid, who appeared in
the doorway, bearing a table spread with a studied variety of
"Leila saw to it herself," Miss Suffern murmured as the door closed
on the housemaid's efficient figure. "Her one idea is that you should
feel happy here."
It struck Mrs. Lidcote as one more mark of the subverted state of
things that her daughter's solicitude should find expression in the
tenuity of sandwiches and the piping-hotness of muffins; but then
everything that had happened since her arrival seemed to increase her
The note of a motor-horn down the drive gave another turn to her
thoughts. "Are those the new arrivals already?" she asked.
"Oh, dear, no; they won't be here till after seven." Miss Suffern
craned her head from the window to catch a glimpse of the motor. "It
must be Charlotte leaving."
"Was it the little Wynn girl who was called away in a hurry just
now? I hope it's not on account of illness."
"Oh, no; I believe there was some mistake about dates. Her mother
telephoned her that she was expected at the Stepleys, at Fishkill, and
she had to be rushed over to Albany to catch a train."
Mrs. Lidcote meditated. "I'm sorry. She's a charming young thing. I
hoped I should have another talk with her this evening after dinner."
"Yes; it's too bad." Miss Suffern's gaze grew vague. "You do look
tired, you know," she continued, seating herself at the tea-table and
preparing to dispense its delicacies. "You must go straight back to
your sofa and let me wait on you. The excitement has told on you more
than you think, and you mustn't fight against it any longer. Just stay
quietly up here and let yourself go. You'll have Leila to yourself on
Mrs. Lidcote received the tea-cup which her cousin proffered, but
showed no other disposition to obey her injunctions. For a moment she
stirred her tea in silence; then she asked, "Is it your idea that I
should stay quietly up here till Monday?"
Miss Suffern set down her own cup with a gesture so sudden that it
endangered an adjacent plate of scones. When she had assured herself of
the safety of the scones, she looked up with a fluttered laugh.
"Perhaps, dear, by to-morrow you'll be feeling differently. The air
here, you know — "
"Yes, I know." Mrs. Lidcote bent forward to help herself to a
scone. "Who's arriving this evening?" she then inquired.
Miss Suffern frowned and peered. "You know my wretched head for
names. Leila told me, of course — but there are so many — "
"So many? She didn't tell me she expected a big party."
"Oh, not big: but rather outside of her little group. And of
course, as it's the first time, she's a little excited at having the
Mrs. Lidcote considered this. "The older set? Our contemporaries,
"Why — yes." Miss Suffern paused as if to gather herself up for a
leap. "The Ashton Gileses," she brought out.
"The Ashton Gileses? Really? I shall be glad to see Mary Giles
again. It must be eighteen years," said Mrs. Lidcote, steadily.
"Yes," Miss Suffern gasped, precipitately refilling her cup.
"The Ashton Gileses; and who else?"
"Well, the Sam Fresbies. But the most important person, of course,
is Mrs. Lorin Boulger."
"Mrs. Boulger? Leila didn't tell me she was coming."
"Didn't she? I suppose she forgot everything when she saw you. But
really the party was got up for Mrs. Boulger. You see, it's very
important that she should — well, take a fancy to Leila and Wilbour:
his being appointed to Rome virtually depends on it. And you know Leila
insists on Rome in order to be near you. So she asked Mary Giles, who's
intimate with the Boulgers, if the visit couldn't possibly be arranged;
and Mary's cable caught Mrs. Boulger at Cherbourg. She's to be only a
fortnight in America; and getting her to come directly here was rather
"Yes; I see it was," said Mrs. Lidcote.
"You know, she's rather — rather fussy; and Mary was a little
doubtful if — "
"If she would, on account of Leila?" Mrs. Lidcote murmured.
"Well, yes. In her official position. But luckily she's a friend of
the Barkleys. And finding the Gileses and Fresbies here will make it
all right. The times have changed," Susy Suffern indulgently summed up.
Mrs. Lidcote smiled. "Yes; a few years ago it would have seemed
improbable that I should ever again be dining with Mary Giles and
Harriet Fresbie and Mrs. Lorin Boulger."
Miss Suffern did not at the moment seem disposed to enlarge upon
this theme; and after an interval of silence Mrs. Lidcote suddenly
resumed, "Do they know I'm here, by the way?"
The effect of her question was to produce in Miss Suffern an
exaggerated access of peering and frowning. She twitched the tea-things
about, fingered her bugles with a flurried hand, and, looking at the
clock, exclaimed amazedly: "Mercy! Is it seven already?"
"Not that it can make any difference, I suppose," Mrs. Lidcote
musingly continued. "But did Leila tell them I was coming?"
Miss Suffern looked at her with pain. "Why, you don't suppose,
dearest, that Leila would do anything — "
Mrs. Lidcote went on: "For, of course, it's of the first
importance, as you say, that Mrs. Lorin Boulger should be favorably
impressed in order that Wilbour may have the best possible chance of
"I told Leila you'd feel that, dear. You see, it's actually on your
account — so that they may get a post near you — that Leila invited
"Yes, I see that, of course." Mrs. Lidcote, abruptly rising from
her seat, turned her eyes to the clock. "But, as you say, it's getting
late. Oughtn't we to dress for dinner?"
Miss Suffern, at the suggestion, stood up also, an agitated hand
among her bugles. "I do wish I could persuade you to stay up here this
evening. I'm sure Leila'd be happier if you would. Really, you're much
too tired to come down."
"What nonsense, Susy!" Mrs. Lidcote spoke with a sudden sharpness,
her hand stretched to the bell. "When do we dine? At half-past eight?
Then I must really send you packing. At my age it takes time to dress."
Miss Suffern, thus decisively projected toward the threshold,
lingered there to reiterate reproachfully: "Leila'll never forgive
herself if you make an effort you're not up to." But Mrs. Lidcote
smiled on her without answering, and the icy light-wave propelled her
through the door.
MRS. LIDCOTE, though she had made the gesture of ringing for her
maid, had not done so.
When the door closed, she stood a moment motionless in the middle
of her soft, spacious room. The little fire which had been kindled at
twilight danced on the brightness of silver and mirrors and sober
gilding; and the sofa toward which Miss Suffern had urged her heaped up
its accumulated cushions in inviting proximity to a table laden with
new books and papers. She could not recall having ever been more
luxuriously housed, or having ever had so strange a sense of being out
alone, under the night, in a wind-beaten plain without shelter. She sat
down by the fire and thought.
A tap on the door made her lift her head, and she saw her daughter
on the threshold. The intricate ordering of Leila's fair hair and the
contrasted negligence of her draperies showed that she had interrupted
her dressing to hasten to her mother; but once in the room, she paused
a moment, smiling uncertainly, as though she had forgotten the object
of her haste.
Mrs. Lidcote rose to her feet. "Time to dress, dearest? Don't
scold! I sha'n't be late," she said.
"To dress?" Leila hung before her with a puzzled look. "Why, I
thought, dear — I mean, I hoped you'd decided just to stay here
quietly and rest."
Her mother smiled. "But I've been resting all the afternoon!"
Leila shone on her apprehensively. "Yes, but — you know you do
look tired. And when Susy told me just now that you meant to make the
effort — "
"You came in to stop me?"
"I came in to tell you that you needn't feel in the least obliged
"Of course. I understand that."
There was a pause during which Leila, vaguely averting herself from
her mother's scrutiny, drifted toward the dressing-table and began to
disturb the symmetry of the toilet implements laid out on it.
"Do your visitors know that I'm here?" Mrs. Lidcote suddenly went
"Do they — Of course — why, naturally," Leila rejoined, absorbed
in trying to turn the stopper of a salts-bottle.
"Then won't they think it odd if I don't appear at dinner?"
"Oh, not in the least, dearest. Really, I assure you they'll all
understand." Leila laid down the bottle and turned back to her mother,
her face alight with reassurance.
Mrs. Lidcote stood motionless, her head erect, her smiling eyes on
her daughter's. "Will they think it odd if I do?"
Leila stopped short, her lips half parted to reply. As she paused,
the color stole over her bare neck, swept up to her throat, and burst
into flame in her cheeks. Thence it sent its devastating crimson up to
her very temples, to the lobes of her ears, to the edges of her
eyelids, beating all over her in great waves of red, as if fanned by
some imperceptible wind which blew back the words from her lips.
Mrs. Lidcote for a moment silently watched the conflagration; then
she turned away her eyes with a slight laugh. "I only meant that I was
afraid it might upset the arrangement of your dinner-table if I didn't,
at the last, come down. If you can really assure me that it won't, I
believe I'll take you at your word and go back to this irresistible
sofa." She paused, as if waiting for her daughter to speak; then she
held out her arms. "Run off and dress, dearest, and don't have me on
your mind." She clasped Leila close, pressing a long kiss on the last
afterglow of her subsiding blush. "I do feel the least bit overdone,
and if it really won't inconvenience you to have me drop out of things,
I believe I'll just basely take to my bed and stay there till your
party scatters. And now run off, dear, or you'll be late; and make my
excuses to them all."
THE Barkleys' visitors had dispersed, and Mrs. Lidcote, completely
restored by her two days' rest, found herself, on the following Monday,
alone with her children and Miss Suffern.
There was a note of jubilation in the air, for the party had "gone
off" so extraordinarily well, and so completely, as it appeared, to the
satisfaction of Mrs. Lorin Boulger, that Wilbour's early appointment to
Rome was almost to be counted on. So certain did this seem that the
prospect of a prompt reunion mitigated the distress with which Leila
learned of her mother's decision to return almost immediately to Italy.
No one understood this decision: it seemed to Leila absolutely
unintelligible that Mrs. Lidcote should not stay on with them till
their own fate was fixed, and Wilbour handsomely echoed her
"Why shouldn't you, as Leila says, wait here till we can all pack
up and go together?"
Mrs. Lidcote smiled her gratitude with her refusal. "After all,
it's not yet sure that you'll be packing up."
"Oh, you ought to have seen Wilbour with Mrs. Boulger," Leila
"No, you ought to have seen Leila with her," Leila's husband
Miss Suffern enthusiastically appended, "I do think inviting
Harriet Fresbie was a stroke of genius!"
"Oh, we'll be with you soon," Leila laughed. "So soon that it's
really foolish to separate."
But Mrs. Lidcote held out with the quiet firmness which her
daughter knew it was useless to oppose. After her long months in India,
it was really imperative, she declared, that she should get back to
Florence and see what was happening to her little place there; and she
had been so comfortable on the Utopia that she had a fancy to return by
the same ship. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to acquiesce in
her decision and keep her with them till the afternoon before the day
of the Utopia's sailing. This arrangement fitted in with certain
projects which, during her two days' seclusion, Mrs. Lidcote had
silently matured. It had become to her of the first importance to get
away as soon as she could, and the little place in Florence, which held
her past in every fold of its curtains and between every page of its
books, seemed now to her the one spot where that past would be
endurable to look upon.
She was not unhappy during the intervening days. The sight of
Leila's well-being, the sense of Leila's tenderness, were, after all,
what she had come for; and of these she had full measure. Leila had
never been happier or more tender; and the contemplation of her bliss,
and the enjoyment of her affection, were an absorbing occupation for
her mother. But they were also a sharp strain on certain over-tightened
chords, and Mrs. Lidcote, when at last she found herself alone in the
New York hotel to which she had returned the night before embarking,
had the feeling that she had just escaped with her life from the clutch
of a giant hand.
She had refused to let her daughter come to town with her; she had
even rejected Susy Suffern's ministrations. She wanted no viaticum but
that of her own thoughts; and she let these come to her without
shrinking from them as she sat in the same high-hung sitting-room in
which, just a week before, she and Franklin Ide had had their memorable
She had promised her friend to let him hear from her, but she had
not done so. She knew that he had probably come back from Chicago, and
that if he learned of her sudden decision to return to Italy it would
be impossible for her not to see him before sailing; and as she wished
above all things not to see him, she had kept silent, intending to send
him a letter from the steamer.
There was no reason why she should wait till then to write it. The
actual moment was more favorable, and the task, though not agreeable,
would at least bridge over an hour of her lonely evening. She went up
to the writing-table, drew out a sheet of paper, and began to write his
name. And as she did so, the door opened, and he came in.
The words she met him with were the last she could have imagined
herself saying when they had parted. "How in the world did you know
that I was here?"
He caught her meaning in a flash. "You didn't want me to, then?" He
stood looking at her. "I suppose I ought to have taken your silence as
meaning that. But I happened to meet Mrs. Wynn, who is stopping here,
and she asked me to dine with her and Charlotte, and Charlotte's young
man. They told me they'd seen you arriving this afternoon, and I
couldn't help coming up."
There was a pause between them, which Mrs. Lidcote at last
surprisingly broke with the exclamation, "Ah, she did recognize me,
"Recognize you?" He stared. "Why — "
"Oh, I saw she did, though she never moved an eyelid. I saw it by
Charlotte's blush. The child has the prettiest blush. I saw that her
mother wouldn't let her speak to me."
Ide put down his hat with an impatient laugh. "Hasn't Leila cured
you of your delusions?"
She looked at him intently. "Then you don't think Margaret Wynn
meant to cut me?"
"I think your ideas are absurd."
She paused for a perceptible moment without taking this up; then
she said, at a tangent: "I'm sailing to-morrow early. I meant to write
to you — there's the letter I'd begun."
Ide followed her gesture, and then turned his eyes back to her
face. "You didn't mean to see me, then, or even to let me know that you
were going till you'd left?"
"I felt it would be easier to explain to you in a letter — "
"What in God's name is there to explain?" She made no reply, and he
pressed on: "It can't be that you're worried about Leila, for Charlotte
Wynn told me she'd been there last week, and there was a big party
arriving when she left: Fresbies and Gileses, and Mrs. Lorin Boulger —
all the board of examiners! If Leila has passed that, she's got her
Mrs. Lidcote had dropped down into a corner of the sofa where she
had sat during their talk of the week before. "I was stupid," she began
abruptly. "I ought to have gone to Ridgefield with Susy. I didn't see
till afterward that I was expected to."
"You were expected to?"
"Yes. Oh, it wasn't Leila's fault. She suffered — poor darling;
she was distracted. But she'd asked her party before she knew I was
"Oh, as to that — " Ide drew a deep breath of relief. "I can
understand that it must have annoyed her dreadfully not to have you to
herself just at first. But, after all, you were among old friends or
their children: the Gileses and Fresbies — and little Charlotte Wynn."
He paused a moment before the last name, and scrutinized her
hesitatingly. "Even if they came at the wrong time, you must have been
glad to see them all at Leila's."
She gave him back his look with a faint smile. "I didn't see them,"
"You didn't see them?"
"No. That is, excepting little Charlotte Wynn. That child is
exquisite. We had a little talk before luncheon the day I arrived. But
when her mother found out that I was staying in the house, she
telephoned her to leave immediately, and so I didn't see her again."
The blood rushed suddenly to Ide's sallow face. "I don't know where
you get such ideas!"
She pursued, as if she had not heard him: "Oh, and I saw Mary Giles
for a minute, too. Susy Suffern brought her up to my room the last
evening, after dinner, when all the others were at bridge. She meant it
kindly — but it wasn't much use."
"But what were you doing in your room in the evening after dinner?"
"Why, you see, when I found out my mistake in coming, — how
embarrassing it was for Leila, I mean, — I simply told her that I was
very tired, and preferred to stay up-stairs till the party was over."
Ide, with a groan, struck his hand against the arm of his chair. "I
wonder how much of all this you simply imagined!"
"I didn't imagine the fact of Harriet Fresbie's not even asking if
she might see me when she knew I was in the house. Nor of Mary Giles's
getting Susy, at the eleventh hour, to smuggle her up to my room when
the others wouldn't know where she'd gone; nor poor Leila's ghastly
fear lest Mrs. Lorin Boulger, for whom the party was given, should
guess I was in the house, and prevent her husband's giving Wilbour the
second secretaryship because she'd been obliged to spend a night under
the same roof with his mother-in-law!"
Ide continued to drum on his chair-arm with exasperated fingers.
"You don't know that any of the acts you describe are due to the causes
Mrs. Lidcote paused before replying, as if honestly trying to
measure the weight of this argument. Then she said in a low tone: "I
know that Leila was in an agony lest I should come down to dinner the
first night. And it was for me she was afraid, not for herself. Leila
is never afraid for herself."
"But the conclusions you draw are simply preposterous. There are
narrow-minded women everywhere, but the women who were at Leila's knew
perfectly well that their going there would give her a sort of social
sanction, and if they were willing that she should have it, why on
earth should they want to withhold it from you?"
"That's what I told myself a week ago, in this very room, after my
first talk with Susy Suffern." She lifted a misty smile to his anxious
eyes. "That's why I listened to what you said to me the same evening,
and why your arguments half convinced me, and made me think that what
had been possible for Leila might not be altogether impossible for me.
If the new dispensation had come, why not for me as well as for the
others? I can't tell you the flight my imagination took!"
Franklin Ide rose from his seat and crossed the room to a chair
near her sofa-corner. "All I cared about was that it seemed — for the
moment — to be carrying you toward me," he said.
"I cared about that, too. That's why I meant to go away without
seeing you." They gave each other grave look for look. "Because, you
see, I was mistaken," she went on. "We were both mistaken. You say it's
preposterous that the women who didn't object to accepting Leila's
hospitality should have objected to meeting me under her roof. And so
it is; but I begin to understand why. It's simply that society is much
too busy to revise its own judgments. Probably no one in the house with
me stopped to consider that my case and Leila's were identical. They
only remembered that I'd done something which, at the time I did it,
was condemned by society. My case has been passed on and classified:
I'm the woman who has been cut for nearly twenty years. The older
people have half forgotten why, and the younger ones have never really
known: it's simply become a tradition to cut me. And traditions that
have lost their meaning are the hardest of all to destroy."
Ide had sat motionless while she spoke. As she ended, he stood up
with a short laugh and walked across the room to the window. Outside,
the immense, black prospect of New York, strung with myriads of lines
of light, stretched away into the smoky edges of the night. He showed
it to her with a gesture.
"What do you suppose such words as you've been using — 'society,'
'tradition,' and the rest — mean to all the life out there?"
She came and stood by him, and looked out of the window. "Less than
nothing, of course. But you and I are not out there. We're shut up in a
little, tight round of habit and association, just as we're shut up in
this room. Remember, I thought I'd got out of it once; but what really
happened was that the other people went out, and left me in the same
little room. The only difference was that I was there alone. Oh, I've
made it habitable now, I'm used to it; but I've lost any illusions I
may have had as to an angel's opening the door."
Ide again laughed impatiently. "Well, if the door won't open, why
not let another prisoner in? At least it would be less of a solitude —
She turned from the dark window back into the vividly lighted room.
"It would be more of a prison. You forget that I know all about
that. We're all imprisoned, of course — all of us middling people, who
don't carry our freedom in our heads. But we've accommodated ourselves
to our different cells, and if we're moved suddenly into new ones,
we're likely to find a stone wall where we thought there was thin air,
and to knock ourselves senseless against it. I saw a man do that once."
Ide, leaning with folded arms against the window-frame, watched her
in silence as she moved restlessly about the room, gathering together
some scattered books and tossing a handful of torn letters into the
paper-basket. When she ceased, he rejoined: "All you say is based on
preconceived theories. Why didn't you put them to the test by coming
down to meet your old friends? Don't you see the inference they would
naturally draw from your hiding yourself when they arrived? It looked
as though you were afraid of them — or as though you hadn't forgiven
them. Either way, you put them in the wrong, instead of waiting to let
them put you in the right. If Leila had buried herself in the desert,
do you suppose society would have gone to fetch her out? You say you
were afraid for Leila, and that she was afraid for you. Don't you see
what all these complications of feeling mean? Simply that you were too
nervous at the moment to let things happen naturally, just as you're
too nervous now to judge them rationally." He paused and turned his
eyes to her face. "Don't try to just yet. Give yourself a little more
time. Give me a little more time. I've always known it would take
He moved nearer, and she let him have her hand. With the grave
kindness of his face so close above her she felt like a child roused
out of frightened dreams and finding a light in the room.
"Perhaps you're right," she heard herself begin; then something
within her clutched her back, and her hand fell away from him.
"I know I'm right; trust me," he urged. "We'll talk of this in
She stood before him, feeling with despair his kindness, his
patience, and his unreality. Everything he said seemed like a painted
gauze let down between herself and the real facts of life; and a sudden
desire seized her to tear the gauze into shreds.
She drew back a little and looked at him with a smile of
superficial reassurance. "You are right — about not talking any longer
now. I'm nervous and tired, and it would do no good. I brood over
things too much. As you say, I must try not to shrink from people." She
turned away and glanced at the clock. "Why, it's only ten! If I send
you off, I shall begin to brood again; and if you stay, we shall go on
talking about the same thing. Why shouldn't we go down and see Margaret
Wynn for half an hour?"
She spoke lightly and rapidly, her brilliant eyes on his face. As
she watched him, she saw it change, as if her smile had thrown a too
vivid light upon it.
"Oh, no — not to-night!" he exclaimed.
"Not to-night? Why, what other night have I, when I'm off at dawn?
Besides, I want to show you at once that I mean to be more sensible —
that I'm not going to be afraid of people any more. And I should really
like another glimpse of little Charlotte." He stood before her, his
hand in his beard, with the gesture he had in moments of perplexity.
"Come!" she ordered him gaily, turning to the door.
He followed her and laid his hand on the door-knob. "Don't you
think — hadn't you better let me go first and see? They told me they'd
had a tiring day at the dressmaker's. I dare say they have gone to
"But you said they'd a young man of Charlotte's dining with them.
Surely he wouldn't have left by ten? At any rate, I'll go down with you
and see. It takes so long if one sends a servant first." She put him
gently aside, and then paused as a new thought struck her. "Or wait; my
maid's in the next room. I'll tell her to go and ask if Margaret will
receive me. Yes, that's much the best way."
She turned back and went toward the door that led to her bedroom;
but before she could open it she felt Ide's quick touch on her arm.
"I believe — I remember now — Charlotte's young man was
suggesting that they should all go out — to a music-hall or something
of the sort. I'm sure — I'm positively sure, that you won't find
Her hand dropped from the door, his dropped from her arm, and as
they drew back and faced each other she saw the blood rise slowly
through his sallow skin, redden his neck and ears, encroach upon the
edges of his beard, and settle in dull patches under his kind, troubled
eyes. She had seen the same blush on another face, and the same impulse
of compassion she had then felt made her turn her gaze away again.
A knock on the door broke the silence, and a porter put his head
into the room.
"It's only just to know how many pieces there'll be to go down to
the steamer in the morning."
With the words she suddenly felt that the veil of painted gauze was
torn in tatters, and that she was moving again among the grim edges of
"Oh, dear," she exclaimed, "I never can remember! Wait a minute; I
shall have to ask my maid."
She opened her bedroom door and called out briskly: "Annette!"