by Dorothy Canfield
IT was characteristic of Frederika's relentlessly keen
self-analysis that one of the most intolerable elements of her misery
was the banality of the situation. Following every step of the
wretchedly familiar mental pilgrimage came the conviction of the total
lack of novelty in her sensation. It was as though the aridity of her
outward life penetrated to the center of her being, and she could not
even suffer but in a worn-out and threadbare fashion.
The very setting of the scene was platitudinously appropriate, she
reflected, as she looked about the little room, bare but for the grand
piano, and noted that the fire at her husband's feet had smoldered out
into white ashes. Her thin, handsome face did not move from its
expression of lassitude as this detail claimed her attention, although
her unspoken comment was acrid: "Just the thing a second-rate French
novelist would put in as a cheap and trivial bit of symbolism."
Her eyes rested long on her husband after this, in a distastefully
minute survey of his figure, relaxed in his armchair, his neck bulging
out in a red roll in spite of the unloosened collar of his uniform. She
noticed how the straight, severe lines of his officer's tunic brought
out the ugly lines of a too large waist, and she remembered, still with
no outward change in her spiritless face, that ten years ago she had
thought a uniform a becoming garment, which gave color and character to
military life, alone in a commercial age.
And yet she had not been a young girl, ignorant and inexperienced,
when she married. She had thought that she recognized unmistakably the
call of love as stronger than the rights of her art, that the humanity
in her was more vital than music. She had fancied that she knew life
and that she could weigh what she was going to give up, definitely,
against what she was getting. The dry, commercial aspect of her phrase
suddenly came to her, and her inexorable sense of justice, even to
herself, made her retract. It was not only what she was to get from
Dick that had influenced her, it was what she could give the rough,
silent giant; it was the great and joyous sacrifice of a brilliant
musical career to his interests; it was the rare and romantic chance to
prove herself worthy of a mighty love and capable of returning it by
giving up all that meaner folk hold precious ease, variety, money,
reputation, success, her name golden for all music-loving souls. She
had thought all that of little avail beside the inextinguishable fire
of affection and devotion she felt within her for Richard Farrington.
At this for the first time her mouth twisted into a wry smile, and she
looked again at the heap of white and gray between the andirons.
And how equally insignificant was the extinguishing of either fire
to the sleeping man! Another, even if he slept, would awake, shivering,
and feel the chilly desolation of the room and of her heart, but Dick
would rouse himself only to go to bed so that he could be fresh for
reveille in the morning, that hateful call to action in the bald light
of dawn which had grown so unbearable to her. And then he would be out
all day on the drill-ground, blustering paternally over his recruits,
and filling in vacant moments with the childishly detailed accounts of
every breath drawn on the little remote Western post which the
government at Washington exacted and Dick delighted to make out. And in
the evening he would come back to the ill-constructed officers'
quarters, eat his dinner with a robust disregard for what it was, drop
heavily into his armchair in front of the fire, dutifully ask his wife
to play to him, and doze off as he had to-night, not noticing that she
sat in silence.
For herself, as though in an ingenious contrivance of many-angled
mirrors, she saw her drooping figure wherever she looked, sitting as
she now sat, before a cold hearth, her long musician's fingers idle in
her lap and her self-contemptuous thoughts busy behind her impassive
face. She told herself impatiently that she envied unreasonable women
who could get a perverse satisfaction out of blaming conditions for
what they themselves were responsible for. That would be a variation
from the hopelessly clear sight which turned her thoughts inexorably
back upon herself.
She could not blame Dick for being exactly what he was. When she
married him, he had steadily and honestly told her that he was a rough,
inert, half-complete creature, all soldier and but half-man, his heart
going out in a foolishly recurrent impulse to one after another of the
groups of sodden, fumbling animals who were given him to make soldiers
of. She remembered how he had been moved to a blind fear by her passion
and the greatness of her sacrifice to marry him, and had striven
inarticulately to tell her that she was mistaken in him; that, although
his love for her was all of his personality outside his profession,
still it was not worthy of her love for him her love made up of such
fine, subtle insight and clear, bright confidence.
SHE stirred restlessly in her chair, pricked through her apathetic
disgust with herself and the world by a sudden stab of mortification.
How foolishly they had talked when they were engaged! She could not
tell how it had happened. It seemed like a fantastic dream; and now she
was awake and yawning in a deadly and eternal ennui, and Dick She
looked at him again. His head hung more heavily toward his shoulder
than before, and his breathing was louder. With each outward
respiration his lips puffed out with a faint, unpleasant whistling
sound. In about five minutes he would begin to snore. She would wake
him, he would look up, nod, perhaps pat her hand, and settle down in a
new position to snore again. Nor could she blame him for it. A day of
active exercise out of doors in that eversweeping wind what could
That was not the point. What had she expected? What could she have
expected? With a qualm of self-suspicion she wondered if she was so
paltry as to be disappointed because Dick was too good an officer with
recruits and common soldiers ever to be advanced to more spectacular
Had she perhaps dreamed of being a general's wife, of having social
rank and prestige in some metropolitan society? Remembering her
incongruous school-girl admiration for Dick's uniform, she searched her
mind for traces of another vein of cheapness in her discontent. There
was even a cessation of the dull ache of dejection as she drove this
new inquiry home to the innermost fastnesses of her heart; but in a
moment she drew a long breath and again shifted her position.
No, she was not so low as that. There was no such positive element
as disappointed ambition in the flat negation of her depression. She
had married Dick because she loved him, and because that love meant
more to her than her art; and now she did not love him, and her art was
lost to her. She held her hand up to shield her eyes from the lamp, and
noticed how steadily it stood as she admitted that she no longer loved
her husband. The most terrifying cataclysm of a woman's life was upon
her, and she acknowledged it to herself so languidly that her hand did
There were, in fact, no positive aspects of her condition to make
her quiver. She said dryly to herself that in one respect at least she
differed from the unpleasant and familiar heroine of the well-worn
French novel. She did not crave any other love, having lost her first.
She had lost not only her love for her husband but her love for love.
She shuddered at the thought of ever again putting herself in that maze
of self-illusion, of ever again feeling that feverish insanity of
emotion. She was cured once and for all "a burned child."
She recalled without a tremor, so unmoved did it leave her, the
sudden outburst of passion of a young lieutenant at the post where they
had been last stationed, and remembered with a half smile how his
fervor had been frozen into a sort of terror of her unearthly
remoteness. Not even his sudden shame had made him mistake her attitude
for conscious virtue. He had called her inhuman an epithet, she
reflected, which was truer than most of those of amorous and
disappointed youth, and probably a great deal truer than he at all
realized. His ardent, impudent love-making had not moved her. She
settled a ring on a long, strong finger with the reflection that
nothing could move her.
And yet as the next gust of wind brought a sudden patter of autumn
rain upon the tin roof, she sprang to her feet, and ran across the room
like a girl, to close the window above the piano, passing an anxious
hand across the polished surface to detect dampness. There was
something that could move her, and she gave a little gasp of
thankfulness to feel her heart beating high. She was still alive,
although imprisoned in a tomb. But the thing that kept her alive was an
emotion forever unsatisfied. She looked at the great piano, sprawling
its ungainly bulk across most of the tiny room, with unreasoning,
half-hysterical devotion. It had saved the life of her soul, she
thought to herself, and a knot came in her throat at the cool, smooth
touch of the keys. The piles of music on the little table by its side
were like so many tongues, calling out to her that beauty still lived
in the world. But they also cried out that she was lost to it, and it
In the passionate lament over her realization that she was missing
all that life meant for her she exonerated herself proudly from much
personal vanity and selfish disappointment. She was not thinking of the
brilliant future her teachers had promised her, of the international
reputation which had been within her grasp. She was not so poor a thing
as to regret her name in large letters on posters. What rent her with
an intolerable sense of rebellion against fate was the thought of all
the lovely realm of joy which she might have made for herself and a
thousand thousand hearers; the inspiriting consciousness of the
actuality, the power, the invincible might of beauty she might have
And it was still hers, in blessed moments, thanks to the ugly black
monster before her. Even in her rising emotion she gave an honest
thought to the man before the hearth how he had always toiled and
contrived and mastered circumstance so that she might have her genie
with her; and always with so vacant and good-natured an incapacity to
understand one tittle of what it meant to her, that his sacrifice was
of no avail was even hateful to her a profanation!
She sat down before the piano, shivering with a prescience of
emotion to come, and laid her hands fondly upon the keys. As she swung
into the first movement of the Beethoven sonata in F minor, she felt
her listless weariness break and fade away. The last scudding wisp of
it, which for a moment blinded her to the glorious ether whither the
music swept her, was the sardonic reflection that the only outward
value of her talent now was that she would wake her husband, so that he
could shift to an easier position, by the crash of chords instead of a
hand on his shoulder.
And then, while the sonata lasted, she was transfigured
translated by a happy magic into a world all joy, where every pain is
beautiful. Like a viewless column the music rose up solemnly and shut
her into a fairy tower of safety from herself.
The last movement ended, the last chord was struck, the last echo
died away, and down from about her melted the fleeting bulwarks of her
soul. She sat shivering on the stool, waiting for her husband's
never-failing, cheerful, ignorant admiration. She did not look up at
him, but she knew precisely the aspect of his face, vacuous with
fatigue and faintly colored with an absent and conscientious interest
in her art. He did not speak. She turned sharply about to have the
incident over with, and saw him sitting as she had last noticed him,
but with his head now hanging completely on his shoulder. It made him
look like a man who has been hanged.
"Dick!" she called peremptorily.
He did not stir. Something about the look of his hand, fallen from
the chair-arm and hanging heavily She held her breath, and heard
stertorous gasps that turned her faint. She flung herself toward the
chair, and dropped back appalled at the blue-lipped mask of horror
which hung upon her husband's shoulder.
AFTER the last desperate expedient had been tried, it seemed to
Frederika that an hour of agonized suspense passed before the doctor
lifted his white head from the sick man's breast. In answer to the
haggard question in her eyes he nodded and drew a long breath.
"He'll pull through this time! He'll probably be conscious in a
few minutes. Get around to this side. He'll want to see you first."
Still with his eyes bent on the face of the prostrate man, with one
hand on the heart and one on the pulse, he went on: "I've been afraid
of something of this sort ever since he came to the post. I warned him
about his heart only a few months ago, and told him to keep as quiet as
he could, but he "
The woman interrupted him, a keen edge of apprehension in her
voice. "Oh, doctor, it won't mean his having to give up and go back to
Washington or New York? It would break his heart to give up his active
life! He's all soldier, you know!"
She spoke with an accent of pride which broke into a yearning
quiver as she continued: "But, oh, what does it matter now that he's
safe! Now that I have him again! Oh, doctor, don't let him die! He's
all that I have in the world."
This last she said in a tone of such simple and heartfelt
conviction that the doctor found no answer to make, and they sat
silent, one on each side of the sick man.
The fire blazing high at his feet threw a strong flickering light
into every corner of the disordered room, littered with sick-room
appliances assembled in the most frenzied haste. The piano, as almost
the only article of furniture besides the chairs, was laden with a
strange array. Basins of hot water with cloths hanging over the side, a
heap of broken ice, an overturned bottle from whose open mouth a thick
black liquid was dripping slowly upon the keys, a pile of wet flannel
rags still sending up faint wisps of steam, and a broken flask of
ammonia whose contents had left a white trail across the polished wood.
Frederika's hair hung in a disordered maze about her shoulders. Her
hands, swollen and red with manipulating hot cloths, were clasped
across her breast as though to keep her heart in her bosom, and her
deep eyes never for a moment left her husband's face.
The bluish tinge was gradually fading from his lips. As his
countenance relaxed into lines of peace she bent over him in a frenzy
of attention, but when he opened his eyes and looked at her
recognizingly, she began to cry quietly, like a little child.
He put out his hand weakly, his first impulse being to comfort her.
"Don't cry, Freddie, dear," he whispered. "I won't do it if you
don't like to have me "
He stopped, his voice failing him, suddenly realizing his situation
and trying vainly to lift his head. His wife caught up his hand and
held it to her lips, as the doctor came briskly to the explanation.
"Don't stir, old man. We've had trouble enough with you as it is.
You've had one of those attacks I prophesied to you. It's come, but
you're none the worse for it, thanks to about the hardest two hours I
ever put in but mostly thanks to your wife. She's missed her
vocation. She should have been a trained nurse."
The sick man smiled, his swollen lips twisting in a grotesque and
"There's nothing she can't do, doctor." And then with a sudden
accent of horror, "Oh, Freddie, darling, what have you done to your
piano? It'll be ruined!"
He tried to raise himself, a distracted anxiety in his voice.
The fire blazed high and in a flickering leap brought the wild
confusion of the instrument close to them. The musician surveyed it for
a moment with unseeing eyes blank and inattentive. Then she turned
back impatiently to her husband, put her arms about him, and still
sobbing a little, laid her head on his shoulder. A moment later she
sought blindly for his lips and kissed his feverish, swollen mouth with
so profound a fervor that the doctor turned away.
"Come, Mrs. Farrington," he said as he came back to the hearth,
"pleasurable emotions won't hurt our patient, but we mustn't let him
worry. The piano's all right, captain; and now, my dear lady, if I may
have a glass of just plain cold water I guarantee to have him ready for
bed in half an hour. These attacks pass as quickly as they come."
The woman rose alertly from her knees and went to the door. As she
passed the piano her skirt caught on a pail of water standing near the
stool, and stooping to free herself she brushed one hand against the
keys. At the touch she stood suddenly erect, electrified, looking at
the piano as though she saw it for the first time.
"Oh!" she said in a low tone, with a sharp, indrawn breath, and she
gazed at it with a fierce attention. Her voice went up an octave. "Oh!"
she cried with an enigmatic intonation, and turning, she fixed her eyes
on her husband with a strange and ambiguous expression of wonder. She
looked at the piano again, and then going swiftly to the fire, she
knelt by the sick man and taking his large square hand in hers she
The doctor followed her out of the room with his eyes. "Captain
Farrington, heart failure or not, I envy you. Through all the
excitement of the last two hours the thought which has been uppermost
in my mind has been that you are a very lucky man. It's positive
cruelty to show a loveless old bachelor such depths of affection! It
makes me feel as though I were dying of cold in sight of a blazing
The soldier smiled humbly. "What she ever saw in me "
"It's not only what she saw in you then, it's what she continues to
see in you now. You don't begin to deserve it and yet somehow you
must! I'd never dare to marry a woman like that. I'd be sure I never
could keep her affection. Good God! To see her look at you as you were
coming to after ten years of married life!"
Captain Farrington spoke with a grave and boyish solemnity. "You
can't know what it is no man who is not married can! It's not just
the passion of a moment of anxiety. It's the never-wavering,
never-faltering quality of a true woman's love. A man who is married to
a good woman who loves him is in a haven of peace which heaven can't
better. The surety of it the blessed certainty!"
The doctor rose to his feet and began dropping the bottles in his
medicine-case back to their sockets.
"Yes, I know," he quoted sententiously in the tone of one who
utters a self-evident axiomatic truth. "'Man's love is of man's life a
thing apart; 'tis woman's whole existence!'"