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Title: The Shadowy Third and Other Stories

Author: Ellen Glasgow

Illustrator: Elenore Plaisted Abbott

Release Date: March 5, 2019 [EBook #59015]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Roger Frank and Sue Clark from page images
digitized by the Google Books Library Project
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by HathiTrust Digital Library (

“I saw her lift her little arms, and I saw the mother stoop and gather her to her bosom”



COPYRIGHT 1899, 1916, 1917, 1920, 1922, 1923
First Edition




When the call came I remember that I turned from the telephone in a romantic flutter. Though I had spoken only once to the great surgeon, Roland Maradick, I felt on that December afternoon that to speak to him only once—to watch him in the operating-room for a single hour—was an adventure which drained the colour and the excitement from the rest of life. After all these years of work on typhoid and pneumonia cases, I can still feel the delicious tremor of my young pulses; I can still see the winter sunshine slanting through the hospital windows over the white uniforms of the nurses.

“He didn’t mention me by name. Can there be a mistake?” I stood, incredulous yet ecstatic, before the superintendent of the hospital.

“No, there isn’t a mistake. I was talking to him before you came down.” Miss Hemphill’s strong face softened while she looked at me. She was a big, resolute woman, a distant Canadian relative of my mother’s, and the kind of nurse I had discovered in the month since I had come up from Richmond, that Northern hospital boards, if not Northern patients, appear instinctively to select. From the first, in spite of her hardness, she had taken a liking—I hesitate to use the word “fancy” for a preference so impersonal—to her Virginia cousin. After all, it isn’t every Southern nurse, just out of training, who can boast a kinswoman in the superintendent of a New York hospital.

“And he made you understand positively that he meant me?” The thing was so wonderful that I simply couldn’t believe it.

“He asked particularly for the nurse who was with Miss Hudson last week when he operated. I think he didn’t even remember that you had a name. When I asked if he meant Miss Randolph, he repeated that he wanted the nurse who had been with Miss Hudson. She was small, he said, and cheerful-looking. This, of course, might apply to one or two of the others, but none of these was with Miss Hudson.”

“Then I suppose it is really true?” My pulses were tingling. “And I am to be there at six o’clock?”

“Not a minute later. The day nurse goes off duty at that hour, and Mrs. Maradick is never left by herself for an instant.”

“It is her mind, isn’t it? And that makes it all the stranger that he should select me, for I have had so few mental cases.”

“So few cases of any kind,” Miss Hemphill was smiling, and when she smiled I wondered if the other nurses would know her. “By the time you have gone through the treadmill in New York, Margaret, you will have lost a good many things besides your inexperience. I wonder how long you will keep your sympathy and your imagination? After all, wouldn’t you have made a better novelist than a nurse?”

“I can’t help putting myself into my cases. I suppose one ought not to?”

“It isn’t a question of what one ought to do, but of what one must. When you are drained of every bit of sympathy and enthusiasm, and have got nothing in return for it, not even thanks, you will understand why I try to keep you from wasting yourself.”

“But surely in a case like this—for Doctor Maradick?”

“Oh, well, of course—for Doctor Maradick.” She must have seen that I implored her confidence, for, after a minute, she let fall carelessly a gleam of light on the situation: “It is a very sad case when you think what a charming man and a great surgeon Doctor Maradick is.”

Above the starched collar of my uniform I felt the blood leap in bounds to my cheeks. “I have spoken to him only once,” I murmured, “but he is charming, and so kind and handsome, isn’t he?”

“His patients adore him.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve seen that. Everyone hangs on his visits.” Like the patients and the other nurses, I also had come by delightful, if imperceptible, degrees to hang on the daily visits of Doctor Maradick. He was, I suppose, born to be a hero to women. From my first day in his hospital, from the moment when I watched, through closed shutters, while he stepped out of his car, I have never doubted that he was assigned to the great part in the play. If I had been ignorant of his spell—of the charm he exercised over his hospital—I should have felt it in the waiting hush, like a drawn breath, which followed his ring at the door and preceded his imperious footstep on the stairs. My first impression of him, even after the terrible events of the next year, records a memory that is both careless and splendid. At that moment, when, gazing through the chinks in the shutters, I watched him, in his coat of dark fur, cross the pavement over the pale streaks of sunshine, I knew beyond any doubt—I knew with a sort of infallible prescience—that my fate was irretrievably bound up with his in the future. I knew this, I repeat, though Miss Hemphill would still insist that my foreknowledge was merely a sentimental gleaning from indiscriminate novels. But it wasn’t only first love, impressionable as my kinswoman believed me to be. It wasn’t only the way he looked. Even more than his appearance—more than the shining dark of his eyes, the silvery brown of his hair, the dusky glow in his face—even more than his charm and his magnificence, I think, the beauty and sympathy in his voice won my heart. It was a voice, I heard someone say afterwards, that ought always to speak poetry.

So you will see why—if you do not understand at the beginning, I can never hope to make you believe impossible things!—so you will see why I accepted the call when it came as an imperative summons. I couldn’t have stayed away after he sent for me. However much I may have tried not to go, I know that in the end I must have gone. In those days, while I was still hoping to write novels, I used to talk a great deal about “destiny” (I have learned since then how silly all such talk is), and I suppose it was my “destiny” to be caught in the web of Roland Maradick’s personality. But I am not the first nurse to grow love-sick about a doctor who never gave her a thought.

“I am glad you got the call, Margaret. It may mean a great deal to you. Only try not to be too emotional.” I remember that Miss Hemphill was holding a bit of rose-geranium in her hand while she spoke—one of the patients had given it to her from a pot she kept in her room, and the scent of the flower is still in my nostrils—or my memory. Since then—oh, long since then—I have wondered if she also had been caught in the web.

“I wish I knew more about the case.” I was pressing for light. “Have you ever seen Mrs. Maradick?”

“Oh, dear, yes. They have been married only a little over a year, and in the beginning she used to come sometimes to the hospital and wait outside while the doctor made his visits. She was a very sweet-looking woman then—not exactly pretty, but fair and slight, with the loveliest smile, I think, I have ever seen. In those first months she was so much in love that we used to laugh about it among ourselves. To see her face light up when the doctor came out of the hospital and crossed the pavement to his car, was as good as a play. We never tired of watching her—I wasn’t superintendent then, so I had more time to look out of the window while I was on day duty. Once or twice she brought her little girl in to see one of the patients. The child was so much like her that you would have known them anywhere for mother and daughter.”

I had heard that Mrs. Maradick was a widow, with one child, when she first met the doctor, and I asked now, still seeking an illumination I had not found, “There was a great deal of money, wasn’t there?”

“A great fortune. If she hadn’t been so attractive, people would have said, I suppose, that Doctor Maradick married her for her money. Only,” she appeared to make an effort of memory, “I believe I’ve heard somehow that it was all left in trust away from Mrs. Maradick if she married again. I can’t, to save my life, remember just how it was; but it was a queer will, I know, and Mrs. Maradick wasn’t to come into the money unless the child didn’t live to grow up. The pity of it—”

A young nurse came into the office to ask for something—the keys, I think, of the operating-room, and Miss Hemphill broke off inconclusively as she hurried out of the door. I was sorry that she left off just when she did. Poor Mrs. Maradick! Perhaps I was too emotional, but even before I saw her I had begun to feel her pathos and her strangeness.

My preparations took only a few minutes. In those days I always kept a suitcase packed and ready for sudden calls; and it was not yet six o’clock when I turned from Tenth Street into Fifth Avenue, and stopped for a minute, before ascending the steps, to look at the house in which Doctor Maradick lived. A fine rain was falling, and I remember thinking, as I turned the corner, how depressing the weather must be for Mrs. Maradick. It was an old house, with damp-looking walls (though that may have been because of the rain) and a spindle-shaped iron railing which ran up the stone steps to the black door, where I noticed a dim flicker through the old-fashioned fanlight. Afterwards I discovered that Mrs. Maradick had been born in the house—her maiden name was Calloran—and that she had never wanted to live anywhere else. She was a woman—this I found out when I knew her better—of strong attachments to both persons and places; and though Doctor Maradick had tried to persuade her to move uptown after her marriage, she had clung, against his wishes, to the old house in lower Fifth Avenue. I dare say she was obstinate about it in spite of her gentleness and her passion for the doctor. Those sweet, soft women, especially when they have always been rich, are sometimes amazingly obstinate. I have nursed so many of them since—women with strong affections and weak intellects—that I have come to recognize the type as soon as I set eyes upon it.

My ring at the bell was answered after a little delay, and when I entered the house I saw that the hall was quite dark except for the waning glow from an open fire which burned in the library. When I gave my name, and added that I was the night nurse, the servant appeared to think my humble presence unworthy of illumination. He was an old negro butler, inherited perhaps from Mrs. Maradick’s mother, who, I learned afterwards, was from South Carolina; and while he passed me on his way up the staircase, I heard him vaguely muttering that he “wa’n’t gwinter tu’n on dem lights twel de chile had done playin’.”

To the right of the hall, the soft glow drew me into the library, and crossing the threshold timidly, I stooped to dry my wet coat by the fire. As I bent there, meaning to start up at the first sound of a footstep, I thought how cosy the room was after the damp walls outside to which some bared creepers were clinging; and I was watching the strange shapes and patterns the firelight made on the old Persian rug, when the lamps of a slowly turning motor flashed on me through the white shades at the window. Still dazzled by the glare, I looked round in the dimness and saw a child’s ball of red and blue rubber roll towards me out of the gloom of the adjoining room. A moment later, while I made a vain attempt to capture the toy as it spun past me, a little girl darted airily, with peculiar lightness and grace, through the doorway, and stopped quickly, as if in surprise at the sight of a stranger. She was a small child—so small and slight that her footsteps made no sound on the polished floor of the threshold; and I remember thinking while I looked at her that she had the gravest and sweetest face I had ever seen. She couldn’t—I decided this afterwards—have been more than six or seven years old, yet she stood there with a curious prim dignity, like the dignity of an elderly person, and gazed up at me with enigmatical eyes. She was dressed in Scotch plaid, with a bit of red ribbon in her hair, which was cut in a fringe over her forehead and hung very straight to her shoulders. Charming as she was, from her uncurled brown hair to the white socks and black slippers on her little feet, I recall most vividly the singular look in her eyes, which appeared in the shifting light to be of an indeterminate colour. For the odd thing about this look was that it was not the look of childhood at all. It was the look of profound experience, of bitter knowledge.

“Have you come for your ball?” I asked; but while the friendly question was still on my lips, I heard the servant returning. In my confusion I made a second ineffectual grasp at the plaything, which had rolled away from me into the dusk of the drawing-room. Then, as I raised my head, I saw that the child also had slipped from the room; and without looking after her I followed the old negro into the pleasant study above, where the great surgeon awaited me.

Ten years ago, before hard nursing had taken so much out of me, I blushed very easily, and I was aware at the moment when I crossed Doctor Maradick’s study that my cheeks were the colour of peonies. Of course, I was a fool—no one knows this better than I do—but I had never been alone, even for an instant, with him before, and the man was more than a hero to me, he was—there isn’t any reason now why I should blush over the confession—almost a god. At that age I was mad about the wonders of surgery, and Roland Maradick in the operating-room was magician enough to have turned an older and more sensible head than mine. Added to his great reputation and his marvelous skill, he was, I am sure of this, the most splendid-looking man, even at forty-five, that one could imagine. Had he been ungracious—had he been positively rude to me, I should still have adored him; but when he held out his hand, and greeted me in the charming way he had with women, I felt that I would have died for him. It is no wonder that a saying went about the hospital that every woman he operated on fell in love with him. As for the nurses—well, there wasn’t a single one of them who had escaped his spell—not even Miss Hemphill, who could have been scarcely a day under fifty.

“I am glad you could come, Miss Randolph. You were with Miss Hudson last week when I operated?”

I bowed. To save my life I couldn’t have spoken without blushing the redder.

“I noticed your bright face at the time. Brightness, I think, is what Mrs. Maradick needs. She finds her day nurse depressing.” His eyes rested so kindly upon me that I have suspected since that he was not entirely unaware of my worship. It was a small thing, heaven knows, to flatter his vanity—a nurse just out of a training-school—but to some men no tribute is too insignificant to give pleasure.

“You will do your best, I am sure.” He hesitated an instant—just long enough for me to perceive the anxiety beneath the genial smile on his face—and then added gravely, “We wish to avoid, if possible, having to send her away.”

I could only murmur in response, and after a few carefully chosen words about his wife’s illness, he rang the bell and directed the maid to take me upstairs to my room. Not until I was ascending the stairs to the third storey did it occur to me that he had really told me nothing. I was as perplexed about the nature of Mrs. Maradick’s malady as I had been when I entered the house.

I found my room pleasant enough. It had been arranged—at Doctor Maradick’s request, I think—that I was to sleep in the house, and after my austere little bed at the hospital, I was agreeably surprised by the cheerful look of the apartment into which the maid led me. The walls were papered in roses, and there were curtains of flowered chintz at the window, which looked down on a small formal garden at the rear of the house. This the maid told me, for it was too dark for me to distinguish more than a marble fountain and a fir-tree, which looked old, though I afterwards learned that it was replanted almost every season.

In ten minutes I had slipped into my uniform and was ready to go to my patient; but for some reason—to this day I have never found out what it was that turned her against me at the start—Mrs. Maradick refused to receive me. While I stood outside her door I heard the day nurse trying to persuade her to let me come in. It wasn’t any use, however, and in the end I was obliged to go back to my room and wait until the poor lady got over her whim and consented to see me. That was long after dinner—it must have been nearer eleven than ten o’clock—and Miss Peterson was quite worn out by the time she came for me.

“I’m afraid you’ll have a bad night,” she said as we went downstairs together. That was her way, I soon saw, to expect the worst of everything and everybody.

“Does she often keep you up like this?”

“Oh, no, she is usually very considerate. I never knew a sweeter character. But she still has this hallucination—”

Here again, as in the scene with Doctor Maradick, I felt that the explanation had only deepened the mystery. Mrs. Maradick’s hallucination, whatever form it assumed, was evidently a subject for evasion and subterfuge in the household. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask, “What is her hallucination?”—but before I could get the words past my lips we had reached Mrs. Maradick’s door, and Miss Peterson motioned me to be silent. As the door opened a little way to admit me, I saw that Mrs. Maradick was already in bed, and that the lights were out except for a night-lamp burning on a candle-stand beside a book and a carafe of water.

“I won’t go in with you,” said Miss Peterson in a whisper; and I was on the point of stepping over the threshold when I saw the little girl, in the dress of Scotch plaid, slip by me from the dusk of the room into the electric light of the hall. She held a doll in her arms, and as she went by she dropped a doll’s work-basket in the doorway. Miss Peterson must have picked up the toy, for when I turned in a minute to look for it I found that it was gone. I remember thinking that it was late for a child to be up—she looked delicate, too—but, after all, it was no business of mine, and four years in a hospital had taught me never to meddle in things that do not concern me. There is nothing a nurse learns quicker than not to try to put the world to rights in a day.

When I crossed the floor to the chair by Mrs. Maradick’s bed, she turned over on her side and looked at me with the sweetest and saddest smile.

“You are the night nurse,” she said in a gentle voice; and from the moment she spoke I knew that there was nothing hysterical or violent about her mania—or hallucination, as they called it. “They told me your name, but I have forgotten it.”

“Randolph—Margaret Randolph.” I liked her from the start, and I think she must have seen it.

“You look very young, Miss Randolph.”

“I am twenty-two, but I suppose I don’t look quite my age. People usually think I am younger.”

For a minute she was silent, and while I settled myself in the chair by the bed, I thought how strikingly she resembled the little girl I had seen first in the afternoon, and then leaving her room a few moments before. They had the same small, heart-shaped faces, coloured ever so faintly; the same straight, soft hair, between brown and flaxen; and the same large, grave eyes, set very far apart under arched eyebrows. What surprised me most, however, was that they both looked at me with that enigmatical and vaguely wondering expression—only in Mrs. Maradick’s face the vagueness seemed to change now and then to a definite fear—a flash, I had almost said, of startled horror.

I sat quite still in my chair, and until the time came for Mrs. Maradick to take her medicine not a word passed between us. Then, when I bent over her with the glass in my hand, she raised her head from the pillow and said in a whisper of suppressed intensity:

“You look kind. I wonder if you could have seen my little girl?”

As I slipped my arm under the pillow I tried to smile cheerfully down on her. “Yes, I’ve seen her twice. I’d know her anywhere by her likeness to you.”

A glow shone in her eyes, and I thought how pretty she must have been before illness took the life and animation out of her features. “Then I know you’re good.” Her voice was so strained and low that I could barely hear it. “If you weren’t good you couldn’t have seen her.”

I thought this queer enough, but all I answered was, “She looked delicate to be sitting up so late.” A quiver passed over her thin features, and for a minute I thought she was going to burst into tears. As she had taken the medicine, I put the glass back on the candle-stand, and bending over the bed, smoothed the straight brown hair, which was as fine and soft as spun silk, back from her forehead. There was something about her—I don’t know what it was—that made you love her as soon as she looked at you.

“She always had that light and airy way, though she was never sick a day in her life,” she answered calmly after a pause. Then, groping for my hand, she whispered passionately, “You must not tell him—you must not tell any one that you have seen her!”

“I must not tell any one?” Again I had the impression that had come to me first in Doctor Maradick’s study, and afterwards with Miss Peterson on the staircase, that I was seeking a gleam of light in the midst of obscurity.

“Are you sure there isn’t any one listening—that there isn’t any one at the door?” she asked, pushing aside my arm and raising herself on the pillows.

“Quite, quite sure. They have put out the lights in the hall.”

“And you will not tell him? Promise me that you will not tell him.” The startled horror flashed from the vague wonder of her expression. “He doesn’t like her to come back, because he killed her.”

“Because he killed her!” Then it was that light burst on me in a blaze. So this was Mrs. Maradick’s hallucination! She believed that her child was dead—the little girl I had seen with my own eyes leaving her room; and she believed that her husband—the great surgeon we worshipped in the hospital—had murdered her. No wonder they veiled the dreadful obsession in mystery! No wonder that even Miss Peterson had not dared to drag the horrid thing out into the light! It was the kind of hallucination one simply couldn’t stand having to face.

“There is no use telling people things that nobody believes,” she resumed slowly, still holding my hand in a grasp that would have hurt me if her fingers had not been so fragile. “Nobody believes that he killed her. Nobody believes that she comes back every day to the house. Nobody believes—and yet you saw her—”

“Yes, I saw her—but why should your husband have killed her?” I spoke soothingly, as one would speak to a person who was quite mad. Yet she was not mad, I could have sworn this while I looked at her.

For a moment she moaned inarticulately, as if the horror of her thoughts were too great to pass into speech. Then she flung out her thin, bare arm with a wild gesture.

“Because he never loved me!” she said. “He never loved me!”

“But he married you,” I urged gently while I stroked her hair. “If he hadn’t loved you, why should he have married you?”

“He wanted the money—my little girl’s money. It all goes to him when I die.”

“But he is rich himself. He must make a fortune from his profession.”

“It isn’t enough. He wanted millions.” She had grown stern and tragic. “No, he never loved me. He loved someone else from the beginning—before I knew him.”

It was quite useless, I saw, to reason with her. If she wasn’t mad, she was in a state of terror and despondency so black that it had almost crossed the border-line into madness. I thought once that I would go upstairs and bring the child down from her nursery; but, after a moment’s hesitation, I realized that Miss Peterson and Doctor Maradick must have long ago tried all these measures. Clearly, there was nothing to do except soothe and quiet her as much as I could; and this I did until she dropped into a light sleep which lasted well into the morning.

By seven o’clock I was worn out—not from work but from the strain on my sympathy—and I was glad, indeed, when one of the maids came in to bring me an early cup of coffee. Mrs. Maradick was still sleeping—it was a mixture of bromide and chloral I had given her—and she did not wake until Miss Peterson came on duty an hour or two later. Then, when I went downstairs, I found the dining-room deserted except for the old housekeeper, who was looking over the silver. Doctor Maradick, she explained to me presently, had his breakfast served in the morning-room on the other side of the house.

“And the little girl? Does she take her meals in the nursery?”

She threw me a startled glance. Was it, I questioned afterwards, one of distrust or apprehension?

“There isn’t any little girl. Haven’t you heard?”

“Heard? No. Why, I saw her only yesterday.” The look she gave me—I was sure of it now—was full of alarm.

“The little girl—she was the sweetest child I ever saw—died just two months ago of pneumonia.”

“But she couldn’t have died.” I was a fool to let this out, but the shock had completely unnerved me. “I tell you I saw her yesterday.”

The alarm in her face deepened. “That is Mrs. Maradick’s trouble. She believes that she still sees her.”

“But don’t you see her?” I drove the question home bluntly.

“No.” She set her lips tightly. “I never see anything.”

So I had been wrong, after all, and the explanation, when it came, only accentuated the terror. The child was dead—she had died of pneumonia two months ago—and yet I had seen her, with my own eyes, playing ball in the library; I had seen her slipping out of her mother’s room, with her doll in her arms.

“Is there another child in the house? Could there be a child belonging to one of the servants?” A gleam had shot through the fog in which I was groping.

“No, there isn’t any other. The doctors tried bringing one once, but it threw the poor lady into such a state she almost died of it. Besides, there wouldn’t be any other child as quiet and sweet-looking as Dorothea. To see her skipping along in her dress of Scotch plaid used to make me think of a fairy, though they say that fairies wear nothing but white or green.”

“Has any one else seen her—the child, I mean—any of the servants?”

“Only old Gabriel, the coloured butler, who came with Mrs. Maradick’s mother from South Carolina. I’ve heard that negroes often have a kind of second sight—though I don’t know that that is just what you would call it. But they seem to believe in the supernatural by instinct, and Gabriel is so old and dotty—he does no work except answer the door-bell and clean the silver—that nobody pays much attention to anything that he sees—”

“Is the child’s nursery kept as it used to be?”

“Oh, no. The doctor had all the toys sent to the children’s hospital. That was a great grief to Mrs. Maradick; but Doctor Brandon thought, and all the nurses agreed with him, that it was best for her not to be allowed to keep the room as it was when Dorothea was living.”

“Dorothea? Was that the child’s name?”

“Yes, it means the gift of God, doesn’t it? She was named after the mother of Mrs. Maradick’s first husband, Mr. Ballard. He was the grave, quiet kind—not the least like the doctor.”

I wondered if the other dreadful obsession of Mrs. Maradick’s had drifted down through the nurses or the servants to the housekeeper; but she said nothing about it, and since she was, I suspected, a garrulous person, I thought it wiser to assume that the gossip had not reached her.

A little later, when breakfast was over and I had not yet gone upstairs to my room, I had my first interview with Doctor Brandon, the famous alienist who was in charge of the case. I had never seen him before, but from the first moment that I looked at him I took his measure almost by intuition. He was, I suppose, honest enough—I have always granted him that, bitterly as I have felt towards him. It wasn’t his fault that he lacked red blood in his brain, or that he had formed the habit, from long association with abnormal phenomena, of regarding all life as a disease. He was the sort of physician—every nurse will understand what I mean—who deals instinctively with groups instead of with individuals. He was long and solemn and very round in the face; and I hadn’t talked to him ten minutes before I knew he had been educated in Germany, and that he had learned over there to treat every emotion as a pathological manifestation. I used to wonder what he got out of life—what any one got out of life who had analyzed away everything except the bare structure.

When I reached my room at last, I was so tired that I could barely remember either the questions Doctor Brandon had asked or the directions he had given me. I fell asleep, I know, almost as soon as my head touched the pillow; and the maid who came to inquire if I wanted luncheon decided to let me finish my nap. In the afternoon, when she returned with a cup of tea, she found me still heavy and drowsy. Though I was used to night nursing, I felt as if I had danced from sunset to daybreak. It was fortunate, I reflected, while I drank my tea, that every case didn’t wear on one’s sympathies as acutely as Mrs. Maradick’s hallucination had worn on mine.

Through the day I did not see Doctor Maradick; but at seven o’clock when I came up from my early dinner on my way to take the place of Miss Peterson, who had kept on duty an hour later than usual, he met me in the hall and asked me to come into his study. I thought him handsomer than ever in his evening clothes, with a white flower in his buttonhole. He was going to some public dinner, the housekeeper told me, but, then, he was always going somewhere. I believe he didn’t dine at home a single evening that winter.

“Did Mrs. Maradick have a good night?” He had closed the door after us, and turning now with the question, he smiled kindly, as if he wished to put me at ease in the beginning.

“She slept very well after she took the medicine. I gave her that at eleven o’clock.”

For a minute he regarded me silently, and I was aware that his personality—his charm—was focussed upon me. It was almost as if I stood in the centre of converging rays of light, so vivid was my impression of him.

“Did she allude in any way to her—to her hallucination?” he asked.

How the warning reached me—what invisible waves of sense-perception transmitted the message—I have never known; but while I stood there, facing the splendour of the doctor’s presence, every intuition cautioned me that the time had come when I must take sides in the household. While I stayed there I must stand either with Mrs. Maradick or against her.

“She talked quite rationally,” I replied after a moment.

“What did she say?”

“She told me how she was feeling, that she missed her child, and that she walked a little every day about her room.”

His face changed—how I could not at first determine.

“Have you see Doctor Brandon?”

“He came this morning to give me his directions.”

“He thought her less well to-day. He has advised me to send her to Rosedale.”

I have never, even in secret, tried to account for Doctor Maradick. He may have been sincere. I tell only what I know—not what I believe or imagine—and the human is sometimes as inscrutable, as inexplicable, as the supernatural.

While he watched me I was conscious of an inner struggle, as if opposing angels warred somewhere in the depths of my being. When at last I made my decision, I was acting less from reason, I knew, than in obedience to the pressure of some secret current of thought. Heaven knows, even then, the man held me captive while I defied him.

“Doctor Maradick,” I lifted my eyes for the first time frankly to his, “I believe that your wife is as sane as I am—or as you are.”

He started. “Then she did not talk freely to you?”

“She may be mistaken, unstrung, piteously distressed in mind”—I brought this out with emphasis—“but she is not—I am willing to stake my future on it—a fit subject for an asylum. It would be foolish—it would be cruel to send her to Rosedale.”

“Cruel, you say?” A troubled look crossed his face, and his voice grew very gentle. “You do not imagine that I could be cruel to her?”

“No, I do not think that.” My voice also had softened.

“We will let things go on as they are. Perhaps Doctor Brandon may have some other suggestion to make.” He drew out his watch and compared it with the clock—nervously, I observed, as if his action were a screen for his discomfiture or perplexity. “I must be going now. We will speak of this again in the morning.”

But in the morning we did not speak of it, and during the month that I nursed Mrs. Maradick I was not called again into her husband’s study. When I met him in the hall or on the staircase, which was seldom, he was as charming as ever; yet, in spite of his courtesy, I had a persistent feeling that he had taken my measure on that evening, and that he had no further use for me.

As the days went by Mrs. Maradick seemed to grow stronger. Never, after our first night together, had she mentioned the child to me; never had she alluded by so much as a word to her dreadful charge against her husband. She was like any woman recovering from a great sorrow, except that she was sweeter and gentler. It is no wonder that everyone who came near her loved her; for there was a mysterious loveliness about her like the mystery of light, not of darkness. She was, I have always thought, as much of an angel as it is possible for a woman to be on this earth. And yet, angelic as she was, there were times when it seemed to me that she both hated and feared her husband. Though he never entered her room while I was there, and I never heard his name on her lips until an hour before the end, still I could tell by the look of terror in her face whenever his step passed down the hall that her very soul shivered at his approach.

During the whole month I did not see the child again, though one night, when I came suddenly into Mrs. Maradick’s room, I found a little garden, such as children make out of pebbles and bits of box, on the window-sill. I did not mention it to Mrs. Maradick, and a little later, as the maid lowered the shades, I noticed that the garden had vanished. Since then I have often wondered if the child were invisible only to the rest of us, and if her mother still saw her. But there was no way of finding out except by questioning, and Mrs. Maradick was so well and patient that I hadn’t the heart to question. Things couldn’t have been better with her than they were, and I was beginning to tell myself that she might soon go out for an airing, when the end came so suddenly.

It was a mild January day—the kind of day that brings the foretaste of spring in the middle of winter, and when I came downstairs in the afternoon, I stopped a minute by the window at the end of the hall to look down on the box maze in the garden. There was an old fountain, bearing two laughing boys in marble, in the centre of the gravelled walk, and the water, which had been turned on that morning for Mrs. Maradick’s pleasure, sparkled now like silver as the sunlight splashed over it. I had never before felt the air quite so soft and springlike in January; and I thought, as I gazed down on the garden, that it would be a good idea for Mrs. Maradick to go out and bask for an hour or so in the sunshine. It seemed strange to me that she was never allowed to get any fresh air except the air that came through her windows.

When I went into her room, however, I found that she had no wish to go out. She was sitting, wrapped in shawls, by the open window, which looked down on the fountain; and as I entered she glanced up from a little book she was reading. A pot of daffodils stood on the window-sill—she was very fond of flowers and we tried always to keep some growing in her room.

“Do you know what I am reading, Miss Randolph?” she asked in her soft voice; and she read aloud a verse while I went over to the candle-stand to measure out a dose of medicine.

“‘If thou hast two loaves of bread, sell one and buy daffodils, for bread nourisheth the body, but daffodils delight the soul.’ That is very beautiful, don’t you think so?”

I said “Yes,” that it was beautiful; and then I asked her if she wouldn’t go downstairs and walk about in the garden.

“He wouldn’t like it,” she answered; and it was the first time she had mentioned her husband to me since the night I came to her. “He doesn’t want me to go out.”

I tried to laugh her out of the idea; but it was no use, and after a few minutes I gave up and began talking of other things. Even then it did not occur to me that her fear of Doctor Maradick was anything but a fancy. I could see, of course, that she wasn’t out of her head; but sane persons, I knew, sometimes have unaccountable prejudices, and I accepted her dislike as a mere whim or aversion. I did not understand then and—I may as well confess this before the end comes—I do not understand any better to-day. I am writing down the things I actually saw, and I repeat that I have never had the slightest twist in the direction of the miraculous.

The afternoon slipped away while we talked—she talked brightly when any subject came up that interested her—and it was the last hour of day—that grave, still hour when the movement of life seems to droop and falter for a few precious minutes—that brought us the thing I had dreaded silently since my first night in the house. I remember that I had risen to close the window, and was leaning out for a breath of the mild air, when there was the sound of steps, consciously softened, in the hall outside, and Doctor Brandon’s usual knock fell on my ears. Then, before I could cross the room, the door opened, and the doctor entered with Miss Peterson. The day nurse, I knew, was a stupid woman; but she had never appeared to me so stupid, so armoured and encased in her professional manner, as she did at that moment.

“I am glad to see that you are taking the air.” As Doctor Brandon came over to the window, I wondered maliciously what devil of contradictions had made him a distinguished specialist in nervous diseases.

“Who was the other doctor you brought this morning?” asked Mrs. Maradick gravely; and that was all I ever heard about the visit of the second alienist.

“Someone who is anxious to cure you.” He dropped into a chair beside her and patted her hand with his long, pale fingers. “We are so anxious to cure you that we want to send you away to the country for a fortnight or so. Miss Peterson has come to help you to get ready, and I’ve kept my car waiting for you. There couldn’t be a nicer day for a trip, could there?”

The moment had come at last. I knew at once what he meant, and so did Mrs. Maradick. A wave of colour flowed and ebbed in her thin cheeks, and I felt her body quiver when I moved from the window and put my arms on her shoulders. I was aware again, as I had been aware that evening in Doctor Maradick’s study, of a current of thought that beat from the air around into my brain. Though it cost me my career as a nurse and my reputation for sanity, I knew that I must obey that invisible warning.

“You are going to take me to an asylum,” said Mrs. Maradick.

He made some foolish denial or evasion; but before he had finished I turned from Mrs. Maradick and faced him impulsively. In a nurse this was flagrant rebellion, and I realized that the act wrecked my professional future. Yet I did not care—I did not hesitate. Something stronger than I was driving me on.

“Doctor Brandon,” I said, “I beg you—I implore you to wait until to-morrow. There are things I must tell you.”

A queer look came into his face, and I understood, even in my excitement, that he was mentally deciding in which group he should place me—to which class of morbid manifestations I must belong.

“Very well, very well, we will hear everything,” he replied soothingly; but I saw him glance at Miss Peterson, and she went over to the wardrobe for Mrs. Maradick’s fur coat and hat.

Suddenly, without warning, Mrs. Maradick threw the shawls away from her, and stood up. “If you send me away,” she said, “I shall never come back. I shall never live to come back.”

The grey of twilight was just beginning, and while she stood there, in the dusk of the room, her face shone out as pale and flower-like as the daffodils on the window-sill. “I cannot go away!” she cried in a sharper voice. “I cannot, go away from my child!”

I saw her face clearly; I heard her voice; and then—the horror of the scene sweeps back over me!—I saw the door open slowly and the little girl run across the room to her mother. I saw the child lift her little arms, and I saw the mother stoop and gather her to her bosom. So closely locked were they in that passionate embrace that their forms seemed to mingle in the gloom that enveloped them.

“After this can you doubt?” I threw out the words almost savagely—and then, when I turned from the mother and child to Doctor Brandon and Miss Peterson, I knew breathlessly—oh, there was a shock in the discovery!—that they were blind to the child. Their blank faces revealed the consternation of ignorance, not of conviction. They had seen nothing except the vacant arms of the mother and the swift, erratic gesture with which she stooped to embrace some invisible presence. Only my vision—and I have asked myself since if the power of sympathy enabled me to penetrate the web of material fact and see the spiritual form of the child—only my vision was not blinded by the clay through which I looked.

“After this can you doubt?” Doctor Brandon had flung my words back to me. Was it his fault, poor man, if life had granted him only the eyes of flesh? Was it his fault if he could see only half of the thing there before him?

But they couldn’t see, and since they couldn’t see I realized that it was useless to tell them. Within an hour they took Mrs. Maradick to the asylum; and she went quietly, though when the time came for parting from me she showed some faint trace of feeling. I remember that at the last, while we stood on the pavement, she lifted her black veil, which she wore for the child, and said: “Stay with her, Miss Randolph, as long as you can. I shall never come back.”

Then she got into the car and was driven off, while I stood looking after her with a sob in my throat. Dreadful as I felt it to be, I didn’t, of course, realize the full horror of it, or I couldn’t have stood there quietly on the pavement. I didn’t realize it, indeed, until several months afterwards when word came that she had died in the asylum. I never knew what her illness was, though I vaguely recall that something was said about “heart failure”—a loose enough term. My own belief is that she died simply of the terror of life.

To my surprise Doctor Maradick asked me to stay on as his office nurse after his wife went to Rosedale; and when the news of her death came there was no suggestion of my leaving. I don’t know to this day why he wanted me in the house. Perhaps he thought I should have less opportunity to gossip if I stayed under his roof; perhaps he still wished to test the power of his charm over me. His vanity was incredible in so great a man. I have seen him flush with pleasure when people turned to look at him in the street, and I know that he was not above playing on the sentimental weakness of his patients. But he was magnificent, heaven knows! Few men, I imagine, have been the objects of so many foolish infatuations.

The next summer Doctor Maradick went abroad for two months, and while he was away I took my vacation in Virginia. When we came back the work was heavier than ever—his reputation by this time was tremendous—and my days were so crowded with appointments, and hurried flittings to emergency cases, that I had scarcely a minute left in which to remember poor Mrs. Maradick. Since the afternoon when she went to the asylum the child had not been in the house; and at last I was beginning to persuade myself that the little figure had been an optical illusion—the effect of shifting lights in the gloom of the old rooms—not the apparition I had once believed it to be. It does not take long for a phantom to fade from the memory—especially when one leads the active and methodical life I was forced into that winter. Perhaps—who knows?—(I remember telling myself) the doctors may have been right, after all, and the poor lady may have actually been out of her mind. With this view of the past, my judgment of Doctor Maradick insensibly altered. It ended, I think, in my acquitting him altogether. And then, just as he stood clear and splendid in my verdict of him, the reversal came so precipitately that I grow breathless now whenever I try to live it over again. The violence of the next turn in affairs left me, I often fancy, with a perpetual dizziness of the imagination.

It was in May that we heard of Mrs. Maradick’s death, and exactly a year later, on a mild and fragrant afternoon, when the daffodils were blooming in patches around the old fountain in the garden, the housekeeper came into the office, where I lingered over some accounts, to bring me news of the doctor’s approaching marriage.

“It is no more than we might have expected,” she concluded rationally. “The house must be lonely for him—he is such a sociable man. But I can’t help feeling,” she brought out slowly after a pause in which I felt a shiver pass over me, “I can’t help feeling that it is hard for that other woman to have all the money poor Mrs. Maradick’s first husband left her.”

“There is a great deal of money, then?” I asked curiously.

“A great deal.” She waved her hand, as if words were futile to express the sum. “Millions and millions!”

“They will give up this house, of course?”

“That’s done already, my dear. There won’t be a brick left of it by this time next year. It’s to be pulled down and an apartment-house built on the ground.”

Again the shiver passed over me. I couldn’t bear to think of Mrs. Maradick’s old home falling to pieces.

“You didn’t tell me the name of the bride,” I said. “Is she someone he met while he was in Europe?”

“Dear me, no! She is the very lady he was engaged to before he married Mrs. Maradick, only she threw him over, so people said, because he wasn’t rich enough. Then she married some lord or prince from over the water; but there was a divorce, and now she has turned again to her old lover. He is rich enough now, I guess, even for her!”

It was all perfectly true, I suppose; it sounded as plausible as a story out of a newspaper; and yet while she told me I felt, or dreamed that I felt, a sinister, an impalpable hush in the air. I was nervous, no doubt; I was shaken by the suddenness with which the housekeeper had sprung her news on me; but as I sat there I had quite vividly an impression that the old house was listening—that there was a real, if invisible, presence somewhere in the room or the garden. Yet, when an instant afterwards I glanced through the long window which opened down to the brick terrace, I saw only the faint sunshine over the deserted garden, with its maze of box, its marble fountain, and its patches of daffodils.

The housekeeper had gone—one of the servants, I think, came for her—and I was sitting at my desk when the words of Mrs. Maradick on that last evening floated into my mind. The daffodils brought her back to me; for I thought, as I watched them growing, so still and golden in the sunshine, how she would have enjoyed them. Almost unconsciously I repeated the verse she had read to me:

“If thou hast two loaves of bread, sell one and buy daffodils”—and it was at this very instant, while the words were still on my lips, that I turned my eyes to the box maze, and saw the child skipping rope along the gravelled path to the fountain.

Quite distinctly, as clear as day, I saw her come, with what children call the dancing step, between the low box borders to the place where the daffodils bloomed by the fountain. From her straight brown hair to her frock of Scotch plaid and her little feet, which twinkled in white socks and black slippers over the turning rope, she was as real to me as the ground on which she trod or the laughing marble boys under the splashing water. Starting up from my chair, I made a single step to the terrace. If I could only reach her—only speak to her—I felt that I might at last solve the mystery. But with the first flutter of my dress on the terrace, the airy little form melted into the quiet dusk of the maze. Not a breath stirred the daffodils, not a shadow passed over the sparkling flow of the water; yet, weak and shaken in every nerve, I sat down on the brick step of the terrace and burst into tears. I must have known that something terrible would happen before they pulled down Mrs. Maradick’s home.

The doctor dined out that night. He was with the lady he was going to marry, the housekeeper told me; and it must have been almost midnight when I heard him come in and go upstairs to his room. I was downstairs because I had been unable to sleep, and the book I wanted to finish I had left that afternoon in the office. The book—I can’t remember what it was—had seemed to me very exciting when I began it in the morning; but after the visit of the child I found the romantic novel as dull as a treatise on nursing. It was impossible for me to follow the lines, and I was on the point of giving up and going to bed, when Doctor Maradick opened the front door with his latch-key and went up the staircase. “There can’t be a bit of truth in it.” I thought over and over again as I listened to his even step ascending the stairs. “There can’t be a bit of truth in it.” And yet, though I assured myself that “there couldn’t be a bit of truth in it,” I shrank, with a creepy sensation, from going through the house to my room in the third storey. I was tired out after a hard day, and my nerves must have reacted morbidly to the silence and the darkness. For the first time in my life I knew what it was to be afraid of the unknown, of the unseen; and while I bent over my book, in the glare of the electric light, I became conscious presently that I was straining my senses for some sound in the spacious emptiness of the rooms overhead. The noise of a passing motor-car in the street jerked me back from the intense hush of expectancy; and I can recall the wave of relief that swept over me as I turned to my book again and tried to fix my distracted mind on its pages.

I was still sitting there when the telephone on my desk rang, with what seemed to my overwrought nerves a startling abruptness, and the voice of the superintendent told me hurriedly that Doctor Maradick was needed at the hospital. I had become so accustomed to these emergency calls in the night that I felt reassured when I had rung up the doctor in his room and had heard the hearty sound of his response. He had not yet undressed, he said, and would come down immediately while I ordered back his car, which must just have reached the garage.

“I’ll be with you in five minutes!” he called as cheerfully as if I had summoned him to his wedding.

I heard him cross the floor of his room; and before he could reach the head of the staircase, I opened the door and went out into the hall in order that I might turn on the light and have his hat and coat waiting. The electric button was at the end of the hall, and as I moved towards it, guided by the glimmer that fell from the landing above, I lifted my eyes to the staircase, which climbed dimly, with its slender mahogany balustrade, as far as the third storey. Then it was, at the very moment when the doctor, humming gaily, began his quick descent of the steps, that I distinctly saw—I will swear to this on my deathbed—a child’s skipping-rope lying loosely coiled, as if it had dropped from a careless little hand, in the bend of the staircase. With a spring I had reached the electric button, flooding the hall with light; but as I did so, while my arm was still outstretched behind me, I heard the humming voice change to a cry of surprise or terror, and the figure on the staircase tripped heavily and stumbled with groping hands into emptiness. The scream of warning died in my throat while I watched him pitch forward down the long flight of stairs to the floor at my feet. Even before I bent over him, before I wiped the blood from his brow and felt for his silent heart, I knew that he was dead.

Something—it may have been, as the world believes, a misstep in the dimness, or it may have been, as I am ready to bear witness, an invisible judgment—something had killed him at the very moment when he most wanted to live.


Part One

A year has passed, and I am beginning to ask myself if the thing actually happened? The whole episode, seen in clear perspective, is obviously incredible. There are, of course, no haunted houses in this age of science; there are merely hallucinations, neurotic symptoms, and optical illusions. Any one of these practical diagnoses would, no doubt, cover the impossible occurrence, from my first view of that dusky sunset on James River to the erratic behaviour of Mildred during the spring we spent in Virginia. There is—I admit it readily!—a perfectly rational explanation of every mystery. Yet, while I assure myself that the supernatural has been banished, in the evil company of devils, black plagues, and witches, from this sanitary century, a vision of Dare’s Gift, amid its clustering cedars under the shadowy arch of the sunset, rises before me, and my feeble scepticism surrenders to that invincible spirit of darkness. For once in my life—the ordinary life of a corporation lawyer in Washington—the impossible really happened.

It was the year after Mildred’s first nervous breakdown, and Drayton, the great specialist in whose care she had been for some months, advised me to take her away from Washington until she recovered her health. As a busy man I couldn’t spend the whole week out of town; but if we could find a place near enough—somewhere in Virginia! we both exclaimed, I remember—it would be easy for me to run down once a fortnight. The thought was with me when Harrison asked me to join him for a week’s hunting on James River; and it was still in my mind, though less distinctly, on the evening when I stumbled alone, and for the first time, on Dare’s Gift.

I had hunted all day—a divine day in October—and at sunset, with a bag full of partridges, I was returning for the night to Chericoke, where Harrison kept his bachelor’s house. The sunset had been wonderful; and I had paused for a moment with my back to the bronze sweep of the land, when I had a swift impression that the memories of the old river gathered around me. It was at this instant—I recall even the trivial detail that my foot caught in a brier as I wheeled quickly about—that I looked past the sunken wharf on my right, and saw the garden of Dare’s Gift falling gently from its almost obliterated terraces to the scalloped edge of the river. Following the steep road, which ran in curves through a stretch of pines and across an abandoned pasture or two, I came at last to an iron gate and a grassy walk leading, between walls of box, to the open lawn planted in elms. With that first glimpse the Old World charm of the scene held me captive. From the warm red of its brick walls to the pure Colonial lines of its doorway, and its curving wings mantled in roses and ivy, the house stood there, splendid and solitary. The rows of darkened windows sucked in without giving back the last flare of daylight; the heavy cedars crowding thick up the short avenue did not stir as the wind blew from the river; and above the carved pineapple on the roof, a lonely bat was wheeling high against the red disc of the sun. While I had climbed the rough road, and passed more slowly between the marvelous walls of the box, I had told myself that the place must be Mildred’s and mine at any cost. On the upper terrace, before several crude modern additions to the wings, my enthusiasm gradually ebbed, though I still asked myself incredulously, “Why have I never heard of it? To whom does it belong? Has it a name as well known in Virginia as Shirley or Brandon?” The house was of great age, I knew, and yet from obvious signs I discovered that it was not too old to be lived in. Nowhere could I detect a hint of decay or dilapidation. The sound of cattle bells floated up from a pasture somewhere in the distance. Through the long grass on the lawn little twisted paths, like sheep tracks, wound back and forth under the fine old elms, from which a rain of bronze leaves fell slowly and ceaselessly in the wind. Nearer at hand, on the upper terrace, a few roses were blooming; and when I passed between two marble urns on the right of the house, my feet crushed a garden of “simples” such as our grandmothers used to grow.

As I stepped on the porch I heard a child’s voice on the lawn, and a moment afterwards a small boy, driving a cow, appeared under the two cedars at the end of the avenue. At sight of me he flicked the cow with the hickory switch he held, and bawled, “Ma! thar’s a stranger out here, an’ I don’t know what he wants.”

At his call the front door opened, and a woman in a calico dress, with a sunbonnet pushed back from her forehead, came out on the porch.

“Hush yo’ fuss, Eddy!” she remarked authoritatively. “He don’t want nothin’.” Then, turning to me, she added civilly, “Good evenin’, suh. You must be the gentleman who is visitin’ over at Chericoke?”

“Yes, I am staying with Mr. Harrison. You know him, of course?”

“Oh, Lordy, yes. Everybody aroun’ here knows Mr. Harrison. His folks have been here goin’ on mighty near forever. I don’t know what me and my children would come to if it wa’n’t for him. He is gettin’ me my divorce now. It’s been three years and mo’ sence Tom deserted me.”

“Divorce?” I had not expected to find this innovation on James River.

“Of course it ain’t the sort of thing anybody would want to come to. But if a woman in the State ought to have one easy, I reckon it’s me. Tom went off with another woman—and she my own sister—from this very house—”

“From this house—and, by the way, what is the name of it?”

“Name of what? This place? Why, it’s Dare’s Gift. Didn’t you know it? Yes, suh, it happened right here in this very house, and that, too, when we hadn’t been livin’ over here mo’ than three months. After Mr. Duncan got tired and went away he left us as caretakers, Tom and me, and I asked Tilly to come and stay with us and help me look after the children. It came like a lightning stroke to me, for Tom and Tilly had known each other all their lives, and he’d never taken any particular notice of her till they moved over here and began to tend the cows together. She wa’n’t much for beauty, either. I was always the handsome one of the family—though you mightn’t think it now, to look at me—and Tom was the sort that never could abide red hair—”

“And you’ve lived at Dare’s Gift ever since?” I was more interested in the house than in the tenant.

“I didn’t have nowhere else to go, and the house has got to have a caretaker till it is sold. It ain’t likely that anybody will want to rent an out-of-the-way place like this—though now that automobiles have come to stay that don’t make so much difference.”

“Does it still belong to the Dares?”

“Naw, suh; they had to sell it at auction right after the war on account of mortgages and debts—old Colonel Dare died the very year Lee surrendered, and Miss Lucy she went off somewhere to strange parts. Sence their day it has belonged to so many different folks that you can’t keep account of it. Right now it’s owned by a Mr. Duncan, who lives out in California. I don’t know that he’ll ever come back here—he couldn’t get on with the neighbours—and he is trying to sell it. No wonder, too, a great big place like this, and he ain’t even a Virginian—”

“I wonder if he would let it for a season?” It was then, while I stood there in the brooding dusk of the doorway, that the idea of the spring at Dare’s Gift first occurred to me.

“If you want it, you can have it for ’most nothing, I reckon. Would you like to step inside and go over the rooms?”

That evening at supper I asked Harrison about Dare’s Gift, and gleaned the salient facts of its history.

“Strange to say, the place, charming as it is, has never been well known in Virginia. There’s historical luck, you know, as well as other kinds, and the Dares—after that first Sir Roderick, who came over in time to take a stirring part in Bacon’s Rebellion, and, tradition says, to betray his leader—have never distinguished themselves in the records of the State. The place itself, by the way, is about a fifth of the original plantation of three thousand acres, which was given—though I imagine there was more in that than appears in history—by some Indian chief of forgotten name to this notorious Sir Roderick. The old chap—Sir Roderick, I mean—seems to have been something of a fascinator in his day. Even Governor Berkeley, who hanged half the colony, relented, I believe, in the case of Sir Roderick, and that unusual clemency gave rise, I suppose, to the legend of the betrayal. But, however that may be. Sir Roderick had more miraculous escapes than John Smith himself, and died at last in his bed at the age of eighty from overeating cherry-pie.”

“And now the place has passed away from the family?”

“Oh, long ago—though not so long, after all, when one comes to think of it. When the old Colonel died the year after the war, it was discovered that he had mortgaged the farm up to the last acre. At that time real estate on James River wasn’t regarded as a particularly profitable investment, and under the hammer Dare’s Gift went for a song.”

“Was the Colonel the last of his name?”

“He left a daughter—a belle, too, in her youth, my mother says—but she died—at least I think she did—only a few months after her father.”

Coffee was served on the veranda, and while I smoked my cigar and sipped my brandy—Harrison had an excellent wine-cellar—I watched the full moon shining like a yellow lantern through the diaphanous mist on the river. Downshore, in the sparkling reach of the water, an immense cloud hung low over the horizon, and between the cloud and the river a band of silver light quivered faintly, as if it would go out in an instant.

“It is over there, isn’t it?”—I pointed to the silver light—“Dare’s Gift, I mean.”

“Yes, it’s somewhere over yonder—five miles away by the river, and nearly seven by the road.”

“It is the dream of a house, Harrison, and there isn’t too much history attached to it—nothing that would make a modern beggar ashamed to live in it.”

“By Jove! so you are thinking of buying it?” Harrison was beaming. “It is downright ridiculous, I declare, the attraction that place has for strangers. I never knew a Virginian who wanted it; but you are the third Yankee of my acquaintance—and I don’t know many—who has fallen in love with it. I searched the title and drew up the deed for John Duncan exactly six years ago—though I’d better not boast of that transaction, I reckon.”

“He still owns it, doesn’t he?”

“He still owns it, and it looks as if he would continue to own it unless you can be persuaded to buy it. It is hard to find purchasers for these old places, especially when the roads are uncertain and they happen to be situated on the James River. We live too rapidly in these days to want to depend on a river, even on a placid old fellow like the James.”

“Duncan never really lived here, did he?”

“At first he did. He began on quite a royal scale; but, somehow, from the very start things appeared to go wrong with him. At the outset he prejudiced the neighbours against him—I never knew exactly why—by putting on airs, I imagine, and boasting about his money. There is something in the Virginia blood that resents boasting about money. However that may be, he hadn’t been here six months before he was at odds with every living thing in the county, white, black, and spotted—for even the dogs snarled at him.

“Then his secretary—a chap he had picked up starving in London, and had trusted absolutely for years—made off with a lot of cash and securities, and that seemed the last straw in poor Duncan’s ill luck. I believe he didn’t mind the loss half so much—he refused to prosecute the fellow—as he minded the betrayal of confidence. He told me, I remember, before he went away, that it had spoiled Dare’s Gift for him. He said he had a feeling that the place had come too high; it had cost him his belief in human nature.”

“Then I imagine he’d be disposed to consider an offer?”

“Oh, there isn’t a doubt of it. But, if I were you, I shouldn’t be too hasty. Why not rent the place for the spring months? It’s beautiful here in the spring, and Duncan has left furniture enough to make the house fairly comfortable.”

“Well, I’ll ask Mildred. Of course Mildred must have the final word in the matter.”

“As if Mildred’s final word would be anything but a repetition of yours!” Harrison laughed slyly—for the perfect harmony in which we lived had been for ten years a pleasant jest among our friends. Harrison had once classified wives as belonging to two distinct groups—the group of those who talked and knew nothing about their husbands’ affairs, and the group of those who knew everything and kept silent. Mildred, he had added politely, had chosen to belong to the latter division.

The next day I went back to Washington, and Mildred’s first words to me in the station were, “Why, Harold, you look as if you had bagged all the game in Virginia!”

“I look as if I had found just the place for you!” When I told her about my discovery, her charming face sparkled with interest. Never once, not even during her illness, had she failed to share a single one of my enthusiasms; never once, in all the years of our marriage, had there been so much as a shadow between us. To understand the story of Dare’s Gift, it is necessary to realize at the beginning all that Mildred meant and means in my life.

Well, to hasten my slow narrative, the negotiations dragged through most of the winter. At first, Harrison wrote me, Duncan couldn’t be found, and a little later that he was found, but that he was opposed, from some inscrutable motive, to the plan of renting Dare’s Gift. He wanted to sell it outright, and he’d be hanged if he’d do anything less than get the place clean off his hands. “As sure as I let it”—Harrison sent me his letter—“there is going to be trouble, and somebody will come down on me for damages. The damned place has cost me already twice as much as I paid for it.”

In the end, however—Harrison has a persuasive way—the arrangements were concluded. “Of course,” Duncan wrote after a long silence, “Dare’s Gift may be as healthy as heaven. I may quite as easily have contracted this confounded rheumatism, which makes life a burden, either in Italy or from too many cocktails. I’ve no reason whatever for my dislike for the place; none, that is, except the incivility of my neighbours—where, by the way, did you Virginians manufacture your reputation for manners?—and my unfortunate episode with Paul Grymes. That, as you remark, might, no doubt, have occurred anywhere else, and if a man is going to steal he could have found all the opportunities he wanted in New York or London. But the fact remains that one can’t help harbouring associations, pleasant or unpleasant, with the house in which one has lived, and from start to finish my associations with Dare’s Gift are frankly unpleasant. If, after all, however, your friend wants the place, and can afford to pay for his whims—let him have it! I hope to Heaven he’ll be ready to buy it when his lease has run out. Since he wants it for a hobby, I suppose one place is as good as another; and I can assure him that by the time he has owned it for a few years—especially if he undertakes to improve the motor road up to Richmond—he will regard a taste for Chinese porcelain as an inexpensive diversion.” Then, as if impelled by a twist of ironic humour, he added, “He will find the shooting good anyhow.”

By early spring Dare’s Gift was turned over to us—Mildred was satisfied, if Duncan wasn’t—and on a showery day in April, when drifting clouds cast faint gauzy shadows over the river, our boat touched at the old wharf, where carpenters were working, and rested a minute before steaming on to Chericoke Landing five miles away. The spring was early that year—or perhaps the spring is always early on James River. I remember the song of birds in the trees; the veil of bright green over the distant forests; the broad reach of the river scalloped with silver; the dappled sunlight on the steep road which climbed from the wharf to the iron gates; the roving fragrance from lilacs on the lower terrace; and, surmounting all, the two giant cedars which rose like black crags against the changeable blue of the sky—I remember these things as distinctly as if I had seen them this morning.

We entered the wall of box through a living door, and strolled up the grassy walk from the lawn to the terraced garden. Within the garden the air was perfumed with a thousand scents—with lilacs, with young box, with flags and violets and lilies, with aromatic odours from the garden of “simples,” and with the sharp sweetness of sheep-mint from the mown grass on the lawn.

“This spring is fine, isn’t it?” As I turned to Mildred with the question, I saw for the first time that she looked pale and tired—or was it merely the green light from the box wall that fell over her features? “The trip has been too much for you. Next time we’ll come by motor.”

“Oh, no, I had a sudden feeling of faintness. It will pass in a minute. What an adorable place, Harold!”

She was smiling again with her usual brightness, and as we passed from the box wall to the clear sunshine on the terrace her face quickly resumed its natural colour. To this day—for Mildred has been strangely reticent about Dare’s Gift—I do not know whether her pallor was due to the shade in which we walked or whether, at the instant when I turned to her, she was visited by some intuitive warning against the house we were approaching. Even after a year the events of Dare’s Gift are not things I can talk over with Mildred; and, for my part, the occurrence remains, like the house in its grove of cedars, wrapped in an impenetrable mystery. I don’t in the least pretend to know how or why the thing happened. I only know that it did happen—that it happened, word for word as I record it. Mildred’s share in it will, I think, never become clear to me. What she felt, what she imagined, what she believed, I have never asked her. Whether the doctor’s explanation is history or fiction, I do not attempt to decide. He is an old man, and old men, since Biblical times, have seen visions. There were places in his story where it seemed to me that he got historical data a little mixed—or it may be that his memory failed him. Yet, in spite of his liking for romance and his French education, he is without constructive imagination—at least he says that he is without it—and the secret of Dare’s Gift, if it is not fact, could have sprung only from the ultimate chaos of imagination.

But I think of these things a year afterwards, and on that April morning the house stood there in the sunlight, presiding over its grassy terraces with an air of gracious and intimate hospitality. From the symbolic pineapple on its sloping roof to the twittering sparrows that flew in and out of its ivied wings, it reaffirmed that first flawless impression. Flaws, of course, there were in the fact, yet the recollection of it to-day—the garnered impression of age, of formal beauty, of clustering memories—is one of exquisite harmony. We found later, as Mildred pointed out, architectural absurdities—wanton excrescences in the modern additions, which had been designed apparently with the purpose of providing space at the least possible cost of material and labour. The rooms, when we passed through the fine old doorway, appeared cramped and poorly lighted; broken pieces of the queer mullioned window, where the tracery was of wood, not stone, had been badly repaired, and much of the original detail work of the mantels and cornices had been blurred by recent disfigurements. But these discoveries came afterwards. The first view of the place worked like a magic spell—like an intoxicating perfume—on our senses.

“It is just as if we had stepped into another world,” said Mildred, looking up at the row of windows, from which the ivy had been carefully clipped. “I feel as if I had ceased to be myself since I left Washington.” Then she turned to meet Harrison, who had ridden over to welcome us.

We spent a charming fortnight together at Dare’s Gift—Mildred happy as a child in her garden, and I satisfied to lie in the shadow of the box wall and watch her bloom back to health. At the end of the fortnight I was summoned to an urgent conference in Washington. Some philanthropic busybody, employed to nose out corruption, had scented legal game in the affairs of the Atlantic & Eastern Railroad, and I had been retained as special counsel by that corporation. The fight would be long, I knew—I had already thought of it as one of my great cases—and the evidence was giving me no little anxiety. “It is my last big battle,” I told Mildred, as I kissed her good-by on the steps. “If I win, Dare’s Gift shall be your share of the spoils; if I lose—well. I’ll be like any other general who has met a better man in the field.”

“Don’t hurry back, and don’t worry about me. I am quite happy here.”

“I shan’t worry, but all the same I don’t like leaving you. Remember, if you need advice or help about anything, Harrison is always at hand.”

“Yes, I’ll remember.”

With this assurance I left her standing in the sunshine, with the windows of the house staring vacantly down on her.

When I try now to recall the next month, I can bring back merely a turmoil of legal wrangles. I contrived in the midst of it all to spend two Sundays with Mildred, but I remember nothing of them except the blessed wave of rest that swept over me as I lay on the grass under the elms. On my second visit I saw that she was looking badly, though when I commented on her pallor and the darkened circles under her eyes, she laughed and put my anxious questions aside.

“Oh, I’ve lost sleep, that’s all,” she answered, vaguely, with a swift glance at the house. “Did you ever think how many sounds there are in the country that keep one awake?”

As the day went on I noticed, too, that she had grown restless, and once or twice while I was going over my case with her—I always talked over my cases with Mildred because it helped to clarify my opinions—she returned with irritation to some obscure legal point I had passed over. The flutter of her movements—so unlike my calm Mildred—disturbed me more than I confessed to her, and I made up my mind before night that I would consult Drayton when I went back to Washington. Though she had always been sensitive and impressionable, I had never seen her until that second Sunday in a condition of feverish excitability.

In the morning she was so much better that by the time I reached Washington I forgot my determination to call on her physician. My work was heavy that week—the case was developing into a a direct attack upon the management of the road—and in seeking evidence to rebut the charges of illegal rebates to the American Steel Company, I stumbled by accident upon a mass of damaging records. It was a clear case of somebody having blundered—or the records would not have been left for me to discover—and with disturbed thoughts I went down for my third visit to Dare’s Gift. It was in my mind to draw out of the case, if an honourable way could be found, and I could barely wait until dinner was over before I unburdened my conscience to Mildred.

“The question has come to one of personal honesty.” I remember that I was emphatic.

“I’ve nosed out something real enough this time. There is material for a dozen investigations in Dowling’s transactions alone.”

The exposure of the Atlantic & Eastern Railroad is public property by this time, and I needn’t resurrect the dry bones of that deplorable scandal. I lost the case, as everyone knows; but all that concerns me in it to-day is the talk I had with Mildred on the darkening terrace at Dare’s Gift. It was a reckless talk, when one comes to think of it. I said, I know, a great deal that I ought to have kept to myself; but, after all, she is my wife; I had learned in ten years that I could trust her discretion, and there was more than a river between us and the Atlantic & Eastern Railroad.

Well, the sum of it is that I talked foolishly, and went to bed feeling justified in my folly. Afterwards I recalled that Mildred had been very quiet, though whenever I paused she questioned me closely, with a flash of irritation as if she were impatient of my slowness or my lack of lucidity. At the end she flared out for a moment into the excitement I had noticed the week before; but at the time I was so engrossed in my own affairs that this scarcely struck me as unnatural. Not until the blow fell did I recall the hectic flush in her face and the quivering sound of her voice, as if she were trying not to break down and weep.

It was long before either of us got to sleep that night, and Mildred moaned a little under her breath as she sank into unconsciousness. She was not well, I knew, and I resolved again that I would see Drayton as soon as I reached Washington. Then, just before falling asleep, I became acutely aware of all the noises of the country which Mildred said had kept her awake—of the chirping of the crickets in the fireplace, of the fluttering of swallows in the chimney, of the sawing of innumerable insects in the night outside, of the croaking of frogs in the marshes, of the distant solitary hooting of an owl, of the whispering sound of wind in the leaves, of the stealthy movement of a myriad creeping lives in the ivy. Through the open window the moonlight fell in a milk-white flood, and in the darkness the old house seemed to speak with a thousand voices. As I dropped off I had a confused sensation—less a perception than an apprehension—that all these voices were urging me to something—somewhere—

The next day I was busy with a mass of evidence—dull stuff, I remember. Harrison rode over for luncheon, and not until late afternoon, when I strolled out, with my hands full of papers, for a cup of tea on the terrace, did I have a chance to see Mildred alone. Then I noticed that she was breathing quickly, as if from a hurried walk. “Did you go to meet the boat, Mildred?”

“No, I’ve been nowhere—nowhere. I’ve been on the lawn all day,” she answered sharply—so sharply that I looked at her in surprise.

In the ten years that I had lived with her I had never before seen her irritated without cause—Mildred’s disposition, I had once said, was as flawless as her profile—and I had for the first time in my life that baffled sensation which comes to men whose perfectly normal wives reveal flashes of abnormal psychology. Mildred wasn’t Mildred, that was the upshot of my conclusions; and, hang it all! I didn’t know any more than Adam what was the matter with her. There were lines around her eyes, and her sweet mouth had taken an edge of bitterness.

“Aren’t you well, dear?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m perfectly well,” she replied, in a shaking voice, “only I wish you would leave me alone!” And then she burst into tears.

While I was trying to comfort her the servant came with the tea things, and she kept him about some trivial orders until the big touring-car of one of our neighbours rushed up the drive and halted under the terrace.

In the morning Harrison motored up to Richmond with me, and on the way he spoke gravely of Mildred.

“Your wife isn’t looking well, Beckwith. I shouldn’t wonder if she were a bit seedy—and if I were you I’d get a doctor to look at her. There is a good man down at Chericoke Landing—old Pelham Lakeby. I don’t care if he did get his training in France half a century ago; he knows more than your half-baked modern scientists.”

“I’ll speak to Drayton this very day,” I answered, ignoring his suggestion of the physician. “You have seen more of Mildred this last month than I have. How long have you noticed that she isn’t herself?”

“A couple of weeks. She is usually so jolly, you know.” Harrison had played with Mildred in his childhood. “Yes, I shouldn’t lose any time over the doctor. Though, of course, it may be only the spring,” he added, reassuringly.

“I’ll drop by Drayton’s office on my way uptown,” I replied, more alarmed by Harrison’s manner than I had been by Mildred’s condition.

But Drayton was not in his office, and his assistant told me that the great specialist would not return to town until the end of the week. It was impossible for me to discuss Mildred with the earnest young man who discoursed so eloquently of the experiments in the Neurological Institute, and I left without mentioning her, after making an appointment for Saturday morning. Even if the consultation delayed my return to Dare’s Gift until the afternoon, I was determined to see Drayton, and, if possible, take him back with me.

Mildred’s last nervous breakdown had been too serious for me to neglect this warning.

I was still worrying over that case—wondering if I could find a way to draw out of it—when the catastrophe overtook me. It was on Saturday morning, I remember, and after a reassuring talk with Drayton, who had promised to run down to Dare’s Gift for the coming week-end, I was hurrying to catch the noon train for Richmond. As I passed through the station, one of the Observer’s sensational “war extras” caught my eye, and I stopped for an instant to buy the paper before I hastened through the gate to the train. Not until we had started, and I had gone back to the dining-car, did I unfold the pink sheets and spread them out on the table before me. Then, while the waiter hung over me for the order, I felt the headlines on the front page slowly burn themselves into my brain—for, instead of the news of the great French drive I was expecting, there flashed back at me, in large type, the name of the opposing counsel in the case against the Atlantic & Eastern. The Observer’s “extra” battened not on the war this time, but on the gross scandal of the railroad; and the front page of the paper was devoted to a personal interview with Herbert Tremaine, the great Tremaine, that philanthropic busybody who had first scented corruption. It was all there, every ugly detail—every secret proof of the illegal transactions on which I had stumbled. It was all there, phrase for phrase, as I alone could have told it—as I alone, in my folly, had told it to Mildred. The Atlantic & Eastern had been betrayed, not privately, not secretly, but in large type in the public print of a sensational newspaper. And not only the road! I also had been betrayed—betrayed so wantonly, so irrationally, that it was like an incident out of melodrama. It was conceivable that the simple facts might have leaked out through other channels, but the phrases, the very words of Tremaine’s interview, were mine.

The train had started; I couldn’t have turned back even if I had wanted to do so. I was bound to go on, and some intuition told me that the mystery lay at the end of my journey. Mildred had talked indiscreetly to someone, but to whom? Not to Harrison, surely! Harrison, I knew, I could count on, and yet whom had she seen except Harrison? After my first shock the absurdity of the thing made me laugh aloud. It was all as ridiculous, I realized, as it was disastrous! It might, so easily not have happened. If only I hadn’t stumbled on those accursed records! If only I had kept my mouth shut about them! If only Mildred had not talked unwisely to someone! But I wonder if there was ever a tragedy so inevitable that the victim, in looking back, could not see a hundred ways, great or small, of avoiding or preventing it?—a hundred trivial incidents which, falling differently, might have transformed the event into pure comedy?

The journey was unmitigated torment. In Richmond the car did not meet me, and I wasted half an hour in looking for a motor to take me to Dare’s Gift. When at last I got off, the road was rougher than ever, plowed into heavy furrows after the recent rains, and filled with mud-holes from which it seemed we should never emerge. By the time we puffed exhaustedly up the rocky road from the river’s edge, and ran into the avenue, I had worked myself into a state of nervous apprehension bordering on panic. I don’t know what I expected, but I think I shouldn’t have been surprised if Dare’s Gift had lain in ruins before me. Had I found the house levelled to ashes by a divine visitation, I believe I should have accepted the occurrence as within the bounds of natural phenomena.

But everything—even the young peacocks on the lawn—was just as I had left it. The sun, setting in a golden ball over the pineapple on the roof, appeared as unchangeable, while it hung there in the glittering sky, as if it were made of metal. From the somber dusk of the wings, where the ivy lay like a black shadow, the clear front of the house, with its formal doorway and its mullioned windows, shone with an intense brightness, the last beams of sunshine lingering there before they faded into the profound gloom of the cedars. The same scents of roses and sage and mown grass and sheepmint hung about me; the same sounds—the croaking of frogs and the sawing of katydids—floated up from the low grounds; the very books I had been reading lay on one of the tables on the terrace, and the front door still stood ajar as if it had not closed since I passed through it.

I dashed up the steps, and in the hall Mildred’s maid met me. “Mrs. Beckwith was so bad that we sent for the doctor—the one Mr. Harrison recommended. I don’t know what it is, sir, but she doesn’t seem like herself. She talks as if she were quite out of her head.”

“What does the doctor say?”

“He didn’t tell me. Mr. Harrison saw him. He—the doctor, I mean—has sent a nurse, and he is coming again in the morning. But she isn’t herself, Mr. Beckwith. She says she doesn’t want you to come to her—”

“Mildred!” I had already sprung past the woman, calling the beloved name aloud as I ran up the stairs.

In her chamber, standing very straight, with hard eyes, Mildred met me. “I had to do it, Harold,” she said coldly—so coldly that my outstretched arms fell to my sides. “I had to tell all I knew.”

“You mean you told Tremaine—you wrote to him—you, Mildred?”

“I wrote to him—I had to write. I couldn’t keep it back any longer. No, don’t touch me. You must not touch me. I had to do it. I would do it again.”

Then it was, while she stood there, straight and hard, and rejoiced because she had betrayed me—then it was that I knew that Mildred’s mind was unhinged.

“I had to do it. I would do it again,” she repeated, pushing me from her.

Part Two

All night I sat by Mildred’s bedside, and in the morning, without having slept, I went downstairs to meet Harrison and the doctor.

“You must get her away, Beckwith,” began Harrison with a curious, suppressed excitement. “Dr. Lakeby says she will be all right again as soon as she gets back to Washington.”

“But I brought her away from Washington because Drayton said it was not good for her.”

“I know, I know.” His tone was sharp, “But it’s different now. Dr. Lakeby wants you to take her back as soon as you can.”

The old doctor was silent while Harrison spoke, and it was only after I had agreed to take Mildred away to-morrow that he murmured something about “bromide and chloral,” and vanished up the staircase. He impressed me then as a very old man—old not so much in years as in experience, as if, living there in that flat and remote country, he had exhausted all human desires. A leg was missing, I saw, and Harrison explained that the doctor had been dangerously wounded in the battle of Seven Pines, and had been obliged after that to leave the army and take up again the practice of medicine.

“You had better get some rest,” Harrison said, as he parted from me. “It is all right about Mildred, and nothing else matters. The doctor will see you in the afternoon, when you have had some sleep, and have a talk with you. He can explain things better than I can.”

Some hours later, after a profound slumber, which lasted well into the afternoon, I waited for the doctor by the tea-table, which had been laid out on the upper terrace. It was a perfect afternoon—a serene and cloudless afternoon in early summer. All the brightness of the day gathered on the white porch and the red walls, while the clustering shadows slipped slowly over the box garden to the lawn and the river.

I was sitting there, with a book I had not even attempted to read, when the doctor joined me; and while I rose to shake hands with him I received again the impression of weariness, of pathos and disappointment, which his face had given me in the morning. He was like sun-dried fruit, I thought, fruit that has ripened and dried under the open sky, not withered in tissue paper.

Declining my offer of tea, he sat down in one of the wicker chairs, selecting, I noticed, the least comfortable among them, and filled his pipe from a worn leather pouch.

“She will sleep all night,” he said; “I am giving her bromide every three hours, and to-morrow you will be able to take her away. In a week she will be herself again. These nervous natures yield quickest to the influence, but they recover quickest also. In a little while this illness, as you choose to call it, will have left no mark upon her. She may even have forgotten it. I have known this to happen.”

“You have known this to happen?” I edged my chair nearer.

“They all succumb to it—the neurotic temperament soonest, the phlegmatic one later—but they all succumb to it in the end. The spirit of the place is too strong for them. They surrender to the thought of the house—to the psychic force of its memories—”

“There are memories, then? Things have happened here?”

“All old houses have memories, I suppose. Did you ever stop to wonder about the thoughts that must have gathered within walls like these?—to wonder about the impressions that must have lodged in the bricks, in the crevices, in the timber and the masonry? Have you ever stopped to think that these multiplied impressions might create a current of thought—a mental atmosphere—an inscrutable power of suggestion?”

“Even when one is ignorant? When one does not know the story?”

“She may have heard scraps of it from the servants—who knows? One can never tell how traditions are kept alive. Many things have been whispered about Dare’s Gift; some of these whispers may have reached her. Even without her knowledge she may have absorbed the suggestion; and some day, with that suggestion in her mind, she may have gazed too long at the sunshine on these marble urns before she turned back into the haunted rooms where she lived. After all, we know so little, so pitifully little about these things. We have only touched, we physicians, the outer edges of psychology. The rest lies in darkness—”

I jerked him up sharply. “The house, then, is haunted?”

For a moment he hesitated. “The house is saturated with a thought. It is haunted by treachery.”

“You mean something happened here?”

“I mean—” He bent forward, groping for the right word, while his gaze sought the river, where a golden web of mist hung midway between sky and water. “I am an old man, and I have lived long enough to see every act merely as the husk of an idea. The act dies; it decays like the body, but the idea is immortal. The thing that happened at Dare’s Gift was over fifty years ago, but the thought of it still lives—still utters its profound and terrible message. The house is a shell, and if one listens long enough one can hear in its heart the low murmur of the past—of that past which is but a single wave of the great sea of human experience—”

“But the story?” I was becoming impatient of his theories. After all, if Mildred was the victim of some phantasmal hypnosis, I was anxious to meet the ghost who had hypnotized her. Even Drayton, I reflected, keen as he was about the fact of mental suggestion, would never have regarded seriously the suggestion of a phantom. And the house looked so peaceful—so hospitable in the afternoon light.

“The story? Oh, I am coming to that—but of late the story has meant so little to me beside the idea. I like to stop by the way. I am getting old, and an amble suits me better than too brisk a trot—particularly in this weather—”

Yes, he was getting old. I lit a fresh cigarette and waited impatiently. After all, this ghost that he rambled about was real enough to destroy me, and my nerves were quivering like harp-strings.

“Well, I came into the story—I was in the very thick of it, by accident, if there is such a thing as accident in this world of incomprehensible laws. The Incomprehensible! That has always seemed to me the supreme fact of life, the one truth overshadowing all others—the truth that we know nothing. We nibble at the edges of the mystery, and the great Reality—the Incomprehensible—is still untouched, undiscovered. It unfolds hour by hour, day by day, creating, enslaving, killing us, while we painfully gnaw off—what? A crumb or two, a grain from that vastness which envelops us, which remains impenetrable—”

Again he broke off, and again I jerked him back from his reverie.

“As I have said, I was placed, by an act of Providence, or of chance, in the very heart of the tragedy. I was with Lucy Dare on the day, the unforgettable day, when she made her choice—her heroic or devilish choice, according to the way one has been educated. In Europe a thousand years ago such an act committed for the sake of religion would have made her a saint; in New England, a few centuries past, it would have entitled her to a respectable position in history—the little history of New England. But Lucy Dare was a Virginian, and in Virginia—except in the brief, exalted Virginia of the Confederacy—the personal loyalties have always been esteemed beyond the impersonal. I cannot imagine us as a people canonizing a woman who sacrificed the human ties for the superhuman—even for the divine. I cannot imagine it, I repeat; and so Lucy Dare—though she rose to greatness in that one instant of sacrifice—has not even a name among us to-day. I doubt if you can find a child in the State who has ever heard of her—or a grown man, outside of this neighbourhood, who could give you a single fact of her history. She is as completely forgotten as Sir Roderick, who betrayed Bacon—she is forgotten because the thing she did, though it might have made a Greek tragedy, was alien to the temperament of the people among whom she lived. Her tremendous sacrifice failed to arrest the imagination of her time. After all, the sublime cannot touch us unless it is akin to our ideal; and though Lucy Dare was sublime, according to the moral code of the Romans, she was a stranger to the racial soul of the South. Her memory died because it was the bloom of an hour—because there was nothing in the soil of her age for it to thrive on. She missed her time; she is one of the mute inglorious heroines of history; and yet, born in another century, she might have stood side by side with Antigone—” For an instant he paused. “But she has always seemed to me diabolical,” he added.

“What she did, then, was so terrible that it has haunted the house ever since?” I asked again, for, wrapped in memories, he had lost the thread of his story.

“What she did was so terrible that the house has never forgotten. The thought in Lucy Dare’s mind during those hours while she made her choice has left an ineffaceable impression on the things that surrounded her. She created in the horror of that hour an unseen environment more real, because more spiritual, than the material fact of the house. You won’t believe this, of course—if people believed in the unseen as in the seen, would life be what it is?”

The afternoon light slept on the river; the birds were mute in the elm-trees; from the garden of herbs at the end of the terrace an aromatic fragrance rose like invisible incense.

“To understand it all, you must remember that the South was dominated, was possessed by an idea—the idea of the Confederacy. It was an exalted idea—supremely vivid, supremely romantic—but, after all, it was only an idea. It existed nowhere within the bounds of the actual unless the souls of its devoted people may be regarded as actual. But it is the dream, not the actuality, that commands the noblest devotion, the completest self-sacrifice. It is the dream, the ideal, that has ruled mankind from the beginning.

“I saw a great deal of the Dares that year. It was a lonely life I led after I lost my leg at Seven Pines, and dropped out of the army, and, as you may imagine, a country doctor’s practice in wartimes was far from lucrative. Our one comfort was that we were all poor, that we were all starving together; and the Dares—there were only two of them, father and daughter—were as poor as the rest of us. They had given their last coin to the government—had poured their last bushel of meal into the sacks of the army. I can imagine the superb gesture with which Lucy Dare flung her dearest heirloom—her one remaining brooch or pin—into the bare coffers of the Confederacy. She was a small woman, pretty rather than beautiful—not the least heroic in build—yet I wager that she was heroic enough on that occasion. She was a strange soul, though I never so much as suspected her strangeness while I knew her—while she moved among us with her small oval face, her gentle blue eyes, her smoothly banded hair, which shone like satin in the sunlight. Beauty she must have had in a way, though I confess a natural preference for queenly women; I dare say I should have preferred Octavia to Cleopatra, who, they tell me, was small and slight. But Lucy Dare wasn’t the sort to blind your eyes when you first looked at her. Her charm was like a fragrance rather than a colour—a subtle fragrance that steals into the senses and is the last thing a man ever forgets. I knew half a dozen men who would have died for her—and yet she gave them nothing, nothing, barely a smile. She appeared cold—she who was destined to flame to life in an act. I can see her distinctly as she looked then, in that last year—grave, still, with the curious, unearthly loveliness that comes to pretty women who are underfed—who are slowly starving for bread and meat, for bodily nourishment. She had the look of one dedicated—as ethereal as a saint, and yet I never saw it at the time; I only remember it now, after fifty years, when I think of her. Starvation, when it is slow, not quick—when it means, not acute hunger, but merely lack of the right food, of the blood-making, nerve-building elements—starvation like this often plays strange pranks with one. The visions of the saints, the glories of martyrdom, come to the underfed, the anaemic. Can you recall one of the saints—the genuine sort—whose regular diet was roast beef and ale?

“Well, I have said that Lucy Dare was a strange soul, and she was, though to this day I don’t know how much of her strangeness was the result of improper nourishment, of too little blood to the brain. Be that as it may, she seems to me when I look back on her to have been one of those women whose characters are shaped entirely by external events—who are the playthings of circumstance. There are many such women. They move among us in obscurity—reserved, passive, commonplace—and we never suspect the spark of fire in their natures until it flares up at the touch of the unexpected. In ordinary circumstances Lucy Dare would have been ordinary, submissive, feminine, domestic; she adored children. That she possessed a stronger will than the average Southern girl, brought up in the conventional manner, none of us—least of all I, myself—ever imagined. She was, of course, intoxicated, obsessed, with the idea of the Confederacy; but, then, so were all of us. There wasn’t anything unusual or abnormal in that exalted illusion. It was the common property of our generation....

“Like most non-combatants, the Dares were extremists, and I, who had got rid of a little of my bad blood when I lost my leg, used to regret sometimes that the Colonel—I never knew where he got his title—was too old to do a share of the actual fighting. There is nothing that takes the fever out of one so quickly as a fight; and in the army I had never met a hint of this concentrated, vitriolic bitterness towards the enemy. Why, I’ve seen the Colonel, sitting here on this terrace, and crippled to the knees with gout, grow purple in the face if I spoke so much as a good word for the climate of the North. For him, and for the girl, too, the Lord had drawn a divine circle round the Confederacy. Everything inside of that circle was perfection; everything outside of it was evil. Well, that was fifty years ago, and his hate is all dust now; yet I can sit here, where he used to brood on this terrace, sipping his blackberry wine—I can sit here and remember it all as if it were yesterday. The place has changed so little, except for Duncan’s grotesque additions to the wings, that one can scarcely believe all these years have passed over it. Many an afternoon just like this I’ve sat here, while the Colonel nodded and Lucy knitted for the soldiers, and watched these same shadows creep down the terrace and that mist of light—it looks just as it used to—hang there over the James. Even the smell from those herbs hasn’t changed. Lucy used to keep her little garden at the end of the terrace, for she was fond of making essences and beauty lotions. I used to give her all the prescriptions I could find in old books I read—and I’ve heard people say that she owed her wonderful white skin to the concoctions she brewed from shrubs and herbs. I couldn’t convince them that lack of meat, not lotions, was responsible for the pallor—pallor was all the fashion then—that they admired and envied.”

He stopped a minute, just long enough to refill his pipe, while I glanced with fresh interest at the garden of herbs.

“It was a March day when it happened,” he went on presently; “cloudless, mild, with the taste and smell of spring in the air. I had been at Dare’s Gift almost every day for a year. We had suffered together, hoped, feared, and wept together, hungered and sacrificed together. We had felt together the divine, invincible sway of an idea.

“Stop for a minute and picture to yourself what it is to be of a war and yet not in it; to live in imagination until the mind becomes inflamed with the vision; to have no outlet for the passion that consumes one except the outlet of thought. Add to this the fact that we really knew nothing. We were as far away from the truth, stranded here on our river, as if we had been anchored in a canal on Mars. Two men—one crippled, one too old to fight—and a girl—and the three living for a country which in a few weeks would be nothing—would be nowhere—not on any map of the world....

“When I look back now it seems to me incredible that at that time any persons in the Confederacy should have been ignorant of its want of resources. Yet remember we lived apart, remote, unvisited, out of touch with realities, thinking the one thought. We believed in the ultimate triumph of the South with that indomitable belief which is rooted not in reason, but in emotion. To believe had become an act of religion; to doubt was rank infidelity. So we sat there in our little world, the world of unrealities, bounded by the river and the garden, and talked from noon till sunset about our illusion—not daring to look a single naked fact in the face—talking of plenty when there were no crops in the ground and no flour in the storeroom, prophesying victory while the Confederacy was in her death-struggle. Folly! All folly, and yet I am sure even now that we were sincere, that we believed the nonsense we were uttering. We believed, I have said, because to doubt would have been far too horrible. Hemmed in by the river and the garden, there wasn’t anything left for us to do—since we couldn’t fight—but believe. Someone has said, or ought to have said, that faith is the last refuge of the inefficient. The twin devils of famine and despair were at work in the country, and we sat there—we three, on this damned terrace—and prophesied about the second president of the Confederacy. We agreed, I remember, that Lee would be the next president. And all the time, a few miles away, the demoralization of defeat was abroad, was around us, was in the air....

“It was a March afternoon when Lucy sent for me, and while I walked up the drive—there was not a horse left among us, and I made all my rounds on foot—I noticed that patches of spring flowers were blooming in the long grass on the lawn. The air was as soft as May, and in the woods at the back of the house buds of maple-trees ran like a flame. There were, I remember, leaves—dead leaves, last year’s leaves—everywhere, as if, in the demoralization of panic, the place had been forgotten, had been untouched since autumn. I remember rotting leaves that gave like moss underfoot; dried leaves that stirred and murmured as one walked over them; black leaves, brown leaves, wine-coloured leaves, and the still glossy leaves of the evergreens. But they were everywhere—in the road, over the grass on the lawn, beside the steps, piled in wind-drifts against the walls of the house.

“On the terrace, wrapped in shawls, the old Colonel was sitting; and he called out excitedly, ‘Are you bringing news of a victory?’ Victory! when the whole country had been scraped with a fine-tooth comb for provisions.

“‘No, I bring no news except that Mrs. Morson has just heard of the death of her youngest son in Petersburg. Gangrene, they say. The truth is the men are so ill-nourished that the smallest scratch turns to gangrene—’

“‘Well, it won’t be for long—not for long. Let Lee and Johnston get together and things will go our way with a rush. A victory or two, and the enemy will be asking for terms of peace before the summer is over.’

“A lock of his silver-white hair had fallen over his forehead, and pushing it back with his clawlike hand, he peered up at me with his little nearsighted eyes, which were of a peculiar burning blackness, like the eyes of some small enraged animal. I can see him now as vividly as if I had left him only an hour ago, and yet it is fifty years since then—fifty years filled with memories and with forgetfulness. Behind him the warm red of the bricks glowed as the sunshine fell, sprinkled with shadows, through the elm boughs. Even the soft wind was too much for him, for he shivered occasionally in his blanket shawls, and coughed the dry, hacking cough which had troubled him for a year. He was a shell of a man—a shell vitalized and animated by an immense, an indestructible illusion. While he sat there, sipping his blackberry wine, with his little fiery dark eyes searching the river in hope of something that would end his interminable expectancy, there was about him a fitful sombre gleam of romance. For him the external world, the actual truth of things, had vanished—all of it, that is, except the shawl that wrapped him and the glass of blackberry wine he sipped. He had died already to the material fact, but he lived intensely, vividly, profoundly, in the idea. It was the idea that nourished him, that gave him his one hold on reality.

“‘It was Lucy who sent for you,’ said the old man presently. ‘She has been on the upper veranda all day overlooking something—the sunning of winter clothes, I think. She wants to see you about one of the servants—a sick child, Nancy’s child, in the quarters.’

“‘Then I’ll find her,’ I answered readily, for I had, I confess, a mild curiosity to find out why Lucy had sent for me.

“She was alone on the upper veranda, and I noticed that she closed her Bible and laid it aside as I stepped through the long window that opened from the end of the hall. Her face, usually so pale, glowed now with a wan illumination, like ivory before the flame of a lamp. In this illumination her eyes, beneath delicately pencilled eyebrows, looked unnaturally large and brilliant, and so deeply, so angelically blue that they made me think of the Biblical heaven of my childhood. Her beauty, which had never struck me sharply before, pierced through me. But it was her fate—her misfortune perhaps—to appear commonplace, to pass unrecognized, until the fire shot from her soul.

“‘No, I want to see you about myself, not about one of the servants.’

“At my first question she had risen and held out her hand—a white, thin hand, small and frail as a child’s.

“‘You are not well, then?’ I had known from the first that her starved look meant something.

“‘It isn’t that; I am quite well.’ She paused a moment, and then looked at me with a clear shining gaze. ‘I have had a letter,’ she said.

“‘A letter?’ I have realized since how dull I must have seemed to her in that moment of excitement, of exaltation.

“‘You didn’t know. I forgot that you didn’t know that I was once engaged—long ago—before the beginning of the war. I cared a great deal—we both cared a great deal, but he was not one of us; he was on the other side—and when the war came, of course there was no question. We broke it off; we had to break it off. How could it have been possible to do otherwise?’

“‘How, indeed!’ I murmured; and I had a vision of the old man downstairs on the terrace, of the intrepid and absurd old man.

“‘My first duty is to my country,’ she went on after a minute, and the words might have been spoken by her father. ‘There has been no thought of anything else in my mind since the beginning of the war. Even if peace comes I can never feel the same again—I can never forget that he has been a part of all we have suffered—of the thing that has made us suffer. I could never forget—I can never forgive.’

“Her words sound strange now, you think, after fifty years; but on that day, in this house surrounded by dead leaves, inhabited by an inextinguishable ideal—in this county, where the spirit had fed on the body until the impoverished brain reacted to transcendent visions—in this place, at that time, they were natural enough. Scarcely a woman of the South but would have uttered them from her soul. In every age one ideal enthralls the imagination of mankind; it is in the air; it subjugates the will; it enchants the emotions. Well, in the South fifty years ago this ideal was patriotism; and the passion of patriotism, which bloomed like some red flower, the flower of carnage, over the land, had grown in Lucy Dare’s soul into an exotic blossom.

“Yet even to-day, after fifty years, I cannot get over the impression she made upon me of a woman who was, in the essence of her nature, thin and colourless. I may have been wrong. Perhaps I never knew her. It is not easy to judge people, especially women, who wear a mask by instinct. What I thought lack of character, of personality, may have been merely reticence; but again and again there comes back to me the thought that she never said or did a thing—except the one terrible thing—that one could remember. There was nothing remarkable that one could point to about her. I cannot recall either her smile or her voice, though both were sweet, no doubt, as the smile and the voice of a Southern woman would be. Until that morning on the upper veranda I had not noticed that her eyes were wonderful. She was like a shadow, a phantom, that attains in one supreme instant, by one immortal gesture, union with reality. Even I remember her only by that one lurid flash.

“‘And you say you have had a letter?’

“‘It was brought by one of the old servants—Jacob, the one who used to wait on him when he stayed here. He was a prisoner. A few days ago he escaped. He asked me to see him—and I told him to come. He wishes to see me once again before he goes North—for ever—’ She spoke in gasps in a dry voice. Never once did she mention his name. Long afterwards I remembered that I had never heard his name spoken. Even to-day I do not know it. He also was a shadow, a phantom—a part of the encompassing unreality.

“‘And he will come here?’

“For a moment she hesitated; then she spoke quite simply, knowing that she could trust me.

“‘He is here. He is in the chamber beyond.’ She pointed to one of the long windows that gave on the veranda. ‘The blue chamber at the front.’

“I remember that I made a step towards the window when her voice arrested me. ‘Don’t go in. He is resting. He is very tired and hungry.’

“‘You didn’t send for me, then, to see him?’

“‘I sent for you to be with father. I knew you would help me—that you would keep him from suspecting. He must not know, of course. He must be kept quiet.’

“‘I will stay with him,’ I answered, and then, ‘Is that all you wish to say to me?’

“‘That is all. It is only for a day or two. He will go on in a little while, and I can never see him again. I do not wish to see him again.’

“I turned away, crossed the veranda, entered the hall, walked the length of it, and descended the staircase. The sun was going down in a ball—just as it will begin to go down in a few minutes—and as I descended the stairs I saw it through the mullioned window over the door—huge and red and round above the black cloud of the cedars.

“The old man was still on the terrace. I wondered vaguely why the servants had not brought him indoors; and then, as I stepped over the threshold, I saw that a company of soldiers—Confederates—had crossed the lawn and were already gathering about the house. The commanding officer—I was shaking hands with him presently—was a Dare, a distant cousin of the Colonel’s, one of those excitable, nervous, and slightly theatrical natures who become utterly demoralized under the spell of any violent emotion. He had been wounded at least a dozen times, and his lean, sallow, still handsome features had the greenish look which I had learned to associate with chronic malaria.

“When I look back now I can see it all as a part of the general disorganization—of the fever, the malnutrition, the complete demoralization of panic. I know now that each man of us was facing in his soul defeat and despair; and that we—each one of us—had gone mad with the thought of it. In a little while, after the certainty of failure had come to us, we met it quietly—we braced our souls for the issue; but in those last weeks defeat had all the horror, all the insane terror of a nightmare, and all the vividness. The thought was like a delusion from which we fled, and which no flight could put farther away from us.

“Have you ever lived, I wonder, from day to day in that ever-present and unchanging sense of unreality, as if the moment before you were but an imaginary experience which must dissolve and evaporate before the touch of an actual event? Well, that was the sensation I had felt for days, weeks, months, and it swept over me again while I stood there, shaking hands with the Colonel’s cousin, on the terrace. The soldiers, in their ragged uniforms, appeared as visionary as the world in which we had been living. I think now that they were as ignorant as we were of the things that had happened—that were happening day by day to the army. The truth is that it was impossible for a single one of us to believe that our heroic army could be beaten even by unseen powers—even by hunger and death.

“‘And you say he was a prisoner?’ It was the old man’s quavering voice, and it sounded avid for news, for certainty.

“‘Caught in disguise. Then he slipped through our fingers.’ The cousin’s tone was querulous, as if he were irritated by loss of sleep or of food. ‘Nobody knows how it happened. Nobody ever knows. But he has found out things that will ruin us. He has plans. He has learned things that mean the fall of Richmond if he escapes.’

“Since then I have wondered how much they sincerely believed—how much was simply the hallucination of fever, of desperation? Were they trying to bully themselves by violence into hoping? Or had they honestly convinced themselves that victory was still possible? If one only repeats a phrase often and emphatically enough one comes in time to believe it; and they had talked so long of that coming triumph, of the established Confederacy, that it had ceased to be, for them at least, merely a phrase. It wasn’t the first occasion in life when I had seen words bullied—yes, literally bullied into beliefs.

“Well, looking back now after fifty years, you see, of course, the weakness of it all, the futility. At that instant, when all was lost, how could any plans, any plotting have ruined us? It seems irrational enough now—a dream, a shadow, that belief—and yet not one of us but would have given our lives for it. In order to understand you must remember that we were, one and all, victims of an idea—of a divine frenzy.

“‘And we are lost—the Confederacy is lost, you say, if he escapes?’

“It was Lucy’s voice; and turning quickly, I saw that she was standing in the doorway. She must have followed me closely. It was possible that she had overheard every word of the conversation.

“‘If Lucy knows anything, she will tell you. There is no need to search the house,’ quavered the old man, ‘she is my daughter.’

“‘Of course we wouldn’t search the house—not Dare’s Gift,’ said the cousin. He was excited, famished, malarial, but he was a gentleman, every inch of him.

“He talked on rapidly, giving details of the capture, the escape, the pursuit. It was all rather confused. I think he must have frightfully exaggerated the incident. Nothing could have been more unreal than it sounded. And he was just out of a hospital—was suffering still, I could see, from malaria. While he drank his blackberry wine—the best the house had to offer—I remember wishing that I had a good dose of quinine and whiskey to give him.

“The narrative lasted a long time; I think he was glad of a rest and of the blackberry wine and biscuits. Lucy had gone to fetch food for the soldiers; but after she had brought it she sat down in her accustomed chair by the old man’s side and bent her head over her knitting. She was a wonderful knitter. During all the years of the war I seldom saw her without her ball of yam and her needles—the long wooden kind that the women used at that time. Even after the dusk fell in the evenings the click of her needles sounded in the darkness.

“‘And if he escapes it will mean the capture of Richmond?’ she asked once again when the story was finished. There was no hint of excitement in her manner. Her voice was perfectly toneless. To this day I have no idea what she felt—what she was thinking.

“‘If he gets away it is the ruin of us—but he won’t get away. We’ll find him before morning.’

“Rising from his chair, he turned to shake hands with the old man before descending the steps. ‘We’ve got to go on now. I shouldn’t have stopped if we hadn’t been half starved. You’ve done us a world of good, Cousin Lucy. I reckon you’d give your last crust to the soldiers?’

“‘She’d give more than that,’ quavered the old man. ‘You’d give more than that, wouldn’t you, Lucy?’

“‘Yes, I’d give more than that,’ repeated the girl quietly, so quietly that it came as a shock to me—like a throb of actual pain in the midst of a nightmare—when she rose to her feet and added, without a movement, without a gesture, ‘You must not go, Cousin George. He is upstairs in the blue chamber at the front of the house.’

“For an instant surprise held me speechless, transfixed, incredulous; and in that instant I saw a face—a white face of horror and disbelief—look down on us from one of the side-windows of the blue chamber. Then, in a rush it seemed to me the soldiers were everywhere, swarming over the terrace, into the hall, surrounding the house. I had never imagined that a small body of men in uniforms, even ragged uniforms, could so possess and obscure one’s surroundings. The three of us waited there—Lucy had sat down again and taken up her knitting—for what seemed hours, or an eternity. We were still waiting—though, for once, I noticed, the needles did not click in her fingers—when a single shot, followed by a volley, rang out from the rear of the house, from the veranda that looked down on the grove of oaks and the kitchen.

“Rising, I left them—the old man and the girl—and passed from the terrace down the little walk which led to the back. As I reached the lower veranda one of the soldiers ran into me.

“‘I was coming after you,’ he said, and I observed that his excitement had left him. ‘We brought him down while he was trying to jump from the veranda. He is there now on the grass.’

“The man on the grass was quite dead, shot through the heart; and while I bent over to wipe the blood from his lips, I saw him for the first time distinctly. A young face, hardly more than a boy—twenty-five at the most. Handsome, too, in a poetic and dreamy way; just the face, I thought, that a woman might have fallen in love with. He had dark hair, I remember, though his features have long ago faded from my memory. What will never fade, what I shall never forget, is the look he wore—the look he was still wearing when we laid him in the old graveyard next day—a look of mingled surprise, disbelief, terror, and indignation.

“I had done all that I could, which was nothing, and rising to my feet, I saw for the first time that Lucy had joined me. She was standing perfectly motionless. Her knitting was still in her hands, but the light had gone from her face, and she looked old—old and gray—beside the glowing youth of her lover. For a moment her eyes held me while she spoke as quietly as she had spoken to the soldiers on the terrace.

“‘I had to do it,’ she said. ‘I would do it again.’”

Suddenly, like the cessation of running water, or of wind in the tree-tops, the doctor’s voice ceased. For a long pause we stared in silence at the sunset; then, without looking at me, he added slowly:

“Three weeks later Lee surrendered and the Confederacy was over.”

The sun had slipped, as if by magic, behind the tops of the cedars, and dusk fell quickly, like a heavy shadow, over the terrace. In the dimness a piercing sweetness floated up from the garden of herbs, and it seemed to me that in a minute the twilight was saturated with fragrance. Then I heard the cry of a solitary whippoorwill in the graveyard, and it sounded so near that I started.

“So she died of the futility, and her unhappy ghost haunts the house?”

“No, she is not dead. It is not her ghost; it is the memory of her act that has haunted the house. Lucy Dare is still living. I saw her a few months ago.”

“You saw her? You spoke to her after all these years?”

He had refilled his pipe, and the smell of it gave me a comfortable assurance that I was living here, now, in the present. A moment ago I had shivered as if the hand of the past, reaching from the open door at my back, had touched my shoulder.

“I was in Richmond. My friend Beverly, an old classmate, had asked me up for a week-end, and on Saturday afternoon, before motoring into the country for supper, we started out to make a few calls which had been left over from the morning. For a doctor, a busy doctor, he had always seemed to me to possess unlimited leisure, so I was not surprised when a single visit sometimes stretched over twenty-five minutes. We had stopped several times, and I confess that I was getting a little impatient when he remarked abruptly while he turned his car into a shady street,

“‘There is only one more. If you don’t mind, I’d like you to see her. She is a friend of yours, I believe.’

“Before us, as the car stopped, I saw a red-brick house, very large, with green shutters, and over the wide door, which stood open, a sign reading ‘St. Luke’s Church Home.’ Several old ladies sat, half asleep, on the long veranda; a clergyman, with a prayer-book in his hand, was just leaving; a few pots of red geraniums stood on little green-wicker stands; and from the hall, through which floated the smell of freshly baked bread, there came the music of a victrola—sacred music, I remember. Not one of these details escaped me. It was as if every trivial impression was stamped indelibly in my memory by the shock of the next instant.

“In the centre of the large, smoothly shaven lawn an old woman was sitting on a wooden bench under an ailantus-tree which was in blossom. As we approached her, I saw that her figure was shapeless, and that her eyes, of a faded blue, had the vacant and listless expression of the old who have ceased to think, who have ceased even to wonder or regret. So unlike was she to anything I had ever imagined Lucy Dare could become, that not until my friend called her name and she glanced up from the muffler she was knitting—the omnipresent dun-coloured muffler for the war relief associations—not until then did I recognize her.

“‘I have brought an old friend to see you, Miss Lucy.’

“She looked up, smiled slightly, and after greeting me pleasantly, relapsed into silence. I remembered that the Lucy Dare I had known was never much of a talker.

“Dropping on the bench at her side, my friend began asking her about her sciatica, and, to my surprise, she became almost animated. Yes, the pain in her hip was better—far better than it had been for weeks. The new medicine had done her a great deal of good; but her fingers were getting rheumatic. She found trouble holding her needles. She couldn’t knit as fast as she used to.

“Unfolding the end of the muffler, she held it out to us. ‘I have managed to do twenty of these since Christmas. I’ve promised fifty to the War Relief Association by autumn, and if my fingers don’t get stiff I can easily do them.’

“The sunshine falling through the ailantus-tree powdered with dusty gold her shapeless, relaxed figure and the dun-coloured wool of the muffler. While she talked her fingers flew with the click of the needles—older fingers than they had been at Dare’s Gift, heavier, stiffer, a little knotted in the joints. As I watched her the old familiar sense of strangeness, of encompassing and hostile mystery, stole over me.

“When we rose to go she looked up, and, without pausing for an instant in her knitting, said, gravely, ‘It gives me something to do, this work for the Allies. It helps to pass the time, and in an Old Ladies’ Home one has so much time on one’s hands.’

“Then, as we parted from her, she dropped her eyes again to her needles. Looking back at the gate, I saw that she still sat there in the faint sunshine knitting—knitting—”

“And you think she has forgotten?”

He hesitated, as if gathering his thoughts. “I was with her when she came back from the shock—from the illness that followed—and she had forgotten. Yes, she has forgotten, but the house has remembered.”

Pushing back his chair, he rose unsteadily on his crutch, and stood staring across the twilight which was spangled with fireflies. While I waited I heard again the loud cry of the whippoorwill.

“Well, what could one expect?” he asked, presently. “She had drained the whole of experience in an instant, and there was left to her only the empty and withered husks of the hours. She had felt too much ever to feel again. After all,” he added slowly, “it is the high moments that make a life, and the flat ones that fill the years.”


I had no sooner entered the house than I knew something was wrong. Though I had never been in so splendid a place before—it was one of those big houses just off Fifth Avenue—I had a suspicion from the first that the magnificence covered a secret disturbance. I was always quick to receive impressions, and when the black iron doors swung together behind me, I felt as if I were shut inside a prison.

When I gave my name and explained that I was the new secretary, I was delivered into the charge of an elderly lady’s-maid, who looked as if she had been crying. Without speaking a word, though she nodded kindly enough, she led me down the hall, and then up a flight of stairs at the back of the house to a pleasant bedroom in the third storey. There was a great deal of sunshine, and the walls, which were painted a soft yellow, made the room very cheerful. It would be a comfortable place to sit in when I was not working, I thought, while the sad-faced maid stood watching me remove my wraps and hat.

“If you are not tired, Mrs. Vanderbridge would like to dictate a few letters,” she said presently, and they were the first words she had spoken.

“I am not a bit tired. Will you take me to her?” One of the reasons, I knew, which had decided Mrs. Vanderbridge to engage me was the remarkable similarity of our handwriting. We were both Southerners, and though she was now famous on two continents for her beauty, I couldn’t forget that she had got her early education at the little academy for young ladies in Fredericksburg. This was a bond of sympathy in my thoughts at least, and, heaven knows, I needed to remember it while I followed the maid down the narrow stairs and along the wide hall to the front of the house.

In looking back after a year, I can recall every detail of that first meeting. Though it was barely four o’clock, the electric lamps were turned on in the hall, and I can still see the mellow light that shone over the staircase and lay in pools on the old pink rugs, which were so soft and fine that I felt as if I were walking on flowers. I remember the sound of music from a room somewhere on the first floor, and the scent of lilies and hyacinths that drifted from the conservatory. I remember it all, every note of music, every whiff of fragrance; but most vividly I remember Mrs. Vanderbridge as she looked round, when the door opened, from the wood fire into which she had been gazing.

Her eyes caught me first. They were so wonderful that for a moment I couldn’t see anything else; then I took in slowly the dark red of her hair, the clear pallor of her skin, and the long, flowing lines of her figure in a tea-gown of blue silk. There was a white bearskin rug under her feet, and while she stood there before the wood fire, she looked as if she had absorbed the beauty and colour of the house as a crystal vase absorbs the light. Only when she spoke to me, and I went nearer, did I detect the heaviness beneath her eyes and the nervous quiver of her mouth, which drooped a little at the corners. Tired and worn as she was, I never saw her afterwards—not even when she was dressed for the opera—look quite so lovely, so much like an exquisite flower, as she did on that first afternoon. When I knew her better, I discovered that she was a changeable beauty; there were days when all the colour seemed to go out of her, and she looked dull and haggard; but at her best no one I’ve ever seen could compare with her.

She asked me a few questions, and though she was pleasant and kind, I knew that she scarcely listened to my responses. While I sat down at the desk and dipped my pen into the ink, she flung herself on the couch before the fire with a movement which struck me as hopeless. I saw her feet tap the white fur rug, while she plucked nervously at the lace on the end of one of the gold-coloured sofa pillows. For an instant the thought flashed through my mind that she had been taking something—a drug of some sort—and that she was suffering now from the effects of it. Then she looked at me steadily, almost as if she were reading my thoughts, and I knew that I was wrong. Her large radiant eyes were as innocent as a child’s.

She dictated a few notes—all declining invitations—and then, while I still waited pen in hand, she sat up on the couch with one of her quick movements, and said in a low voice, “I am not dining out to-night, Miss Wrenn. I am not well enough.”

“I am sorry for that.” It was all I could think of to say, for I did not understand why she should have told me.

“If you don’t mind, I should like you to come down to dinner. There will be only Mr. Vanderbridge and myself.”

“Of course I will come if you wish it.” I couldn’t very well refuse to do what she asked me, yet I told myself, while I answered, that if I had known she expected me to make one of the family, I should never, not even at twice the salary, have taken the place. It didn’t take me a minute to go over my slender wardrobe in my mind and realize that I had nothing to wear that would look well enough.

“I can see you don’t like it,” she added after a moment, almost wistfully, “but it won’t be often. It is only when we are dining alone.”

This, I thought, was even queerer than the request—or command—for I knew from her tone, just as plainly as if she had told me in words, that she did not wish to dine alone with her husband.

“I am ready to help you in any way—in any way that I can,” I replied, and I was so deeply moved by her appeal that my voice broke in spite of my effort to control it. After my lonely life I dare say I should have loved any one who really needed me, and from the first moment that I read the appeal in Mrs. Vanderbridge’s face I felt that I was willing to work my fingers to the bone for her. Nothing that she asked of me was too much when she asked it in that voice, with that look.

“I am glad you are nice,” she said, and for the first time she smiled—a charming, girlish smile with a hint of archness. “We shall get on beautifully, I know, because I can talk to you. My last secretary was English, and I frightened her almost to death whenever I tried to talk to her.” Then her tone grew serious. “You won’t mind dining with us. Roger—Mr. Vanderbridge—is the most charming man in the world.”

“Is that his picture?”

“Yes, the one in the Florentine frame. The other is my brother. Do you think we are alike?”

“Since you’ve told me, I notice a likeness.”

Already I had picked up the Florentine frame from the desk, and was eagerly searching the features of Mr. Vanderbridge. It was an arresting face, dark, thoughtful, strangely appealing, and picturesque—though this may have been due, of course, to the photographer. The more I looked at it, the more there grew upon me an uncanny feeling of familiarity; but not until the next day, while I was still trying to account for the impression that I had seen the picture before, did there flash into my mind the memory of an old portrait of a Florentine nobleman in a loan collection last winter. I can’t remember the name of the painter—I am not sure that it was known—but this photograph might have been taken from the painting. There was the same imaginative sadness in both faces, the same haunting beauty of feature, and one surmised that there must be the same rich darkness of colouring. The only striking difference was that the man in the photograph looked much older than the original of the portrait, and I remembered that the lady who had engaged me was the second wife of Mr. Vanderbridge and some ten or fifteen years younger, I had heard, than her husband.

“Have you ever seen a more wonderful face?” asked Mrs. Vanderbridge. “Doesn’t he look as if he might have been painted by Titian?”

“Is he really so handsome as that?”

“He is a little older and sadder, that is all. When we were married it was exactly like him.” For an instant she hesitated and then broke out almost bitterly, “Isn’t that a face any woman might fall in love with, a face any woman—living or dead—would not be willing to give up?”

Poor child, I could see that she was overwrought and needed someone to talk to, but it seemed queer to me that she should speak so frankly to a stranger. I wondered why any one so rich and so beautiful should ever be unhappy—for I had been schooled by poverty to believe that money is the first essential of happiness—and yet her unhappiness was as evident as her beauty, or the luxury that enveloped her. At that instant I felt that I hated Mr. Vanderbridge, for whatever the secret tragedy of their marriage might be, I instinctively knew that the fault was not on the side of the wife. She was as sweet and winning as if she were still the reigning beauty in the academy for young ladies. I knew with a knowledge deeper than any conviction that she was not to blame, and if she wasn’t to blame, then who under heaven could be at fault except her husband?

In a few minutes a friend came in to tea, and I went upstairs to my room, and unpacked the blue taffeta dress I had bought for my sister’s wedding. I was still doubtfully regarding it when there was a knock at my door, and the maid with the sad face came in to bring me a pot of tea. After she had placed the tray on the table, she stood nervously twisting a napkin in her hands while she waited for me to leave my unpacking and sit down in the easy chair she had drawn up under the lamp.

“How do you think Mrs. Vanderbridge is looking?” she asked abruptly in a voice that held a breathless note of suspense. Her nervousness and the queer look in her face made me stare at her sharply. This was a house, I was beginning to feel, where everybody, from the mistress down, wanted to question me. Even the silent maid had found voice for interrogation.

“I think her the loveliest person I’ve ever seen,” I answered after a moment’s hesitation. There couldn’t be any harm in telling her how much I admired her mistress.

“Yes, she is lovely—everyone thinks so—and her nature is as sweet as her face.” She was becoming loquacious. “I have never had a lady who was so sweet and kind. She hasn’t always been rich, and that may be the reason she never seems to grow hard and selfish, the reason she spends so much of her life thinking of other people. It’s been six years now, ever since her marriage, that I’ve lived with her, and in all that time I’ve never had a cross word from her.”

“One can see that. With everything she has she ought to be as happy as the day is long.”

“She ought to be.” Her voice dropped, and I saw her glance suspiciously at the door, which she had closed when she entered. “She ought to be, but she isn’t. I have never seen any one so unhappy as she has been of late—ever since last summer. I suppose I oughtn’t to talk about it, but I’ve kept it to myself so long that I feel as if it was killing me. If she was my own sister, I couldn’t be any fonder of her, and yet I have to see her suffer day after day, and not say a word—not even to her. She isn’t the sort of lady you could speak to about a thing like that.”

She broke down, and dropping on the rug at my feet, hid her face in her hands. It was plain that she was suffering acutely, and while I patted her shoulder, I thought what a wonderful mistress Mrs. Vanderbridge must be to have attached a servant to her so strongly.

“You must remember that I am a stranger in the house, that I scarcely know her, that I’ve never so much as laid eyes on her husband,” I said wamingly, for I’ve always avoided, as far as possible, the confidences of servants.

“But you look as if you could be trusted.” The maid’s nerves, as well as the mistress’s, were on edge, I could see. “And she needs somebody who can help her. She needs a real friend—somebody who will stand by her no matter what happens.” Again, as in the room downstairs, there flashed through my mind the suspicion that I had got into a place where people took drugs or drink—or were all out of their minds. I had heard of such houses.

“How can I help her? She won’t confide in me, and even if she did, what could I do for her?”

“You can stand by and watch. You can come between her and harm—if you see it.” She had risen from the floor and stood wiping her reddened eyes on the napkin. “I don’t know what it is, but I know it is there. I feel it even when I can’t see it.”

Yes, they were all out of their minds; there couldn’t be any other explanation. The whole episode was incredible. It was the kind of thing, I kept telling myself, that did not happen. Even in a book nobody could believe it.

“But her husband? He is the one who must protect her.”

She gave me a blighting look. “He would if he could. He isn’t to blame—you mustn’t think that. He is one of the best men in the world, but he can’t help her. He can’t help her because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t see it.”

A bell rang somewhere, and catching up the tea-tray, she paused just long enough to throw me a pleading word, “Stand between her and harm, if you see it.”

When she had gone I locked the door after her, and turned on all the lights in the room. Was there really a tragic mystery in the house, or were they all mad, as I had first imagined? The feeling of apprehension, of vague uneasiness, which had come to me when I entered the iron doors, swept over me in a wave while I sat there in the soft glow of the shaded electric light. Something was wrong. Somebody was making that lovely woman unhappy, and who, in the name of reason, could this somebody be except her husband? Yet the maid had spoken of him as “one of the best men in the world,” and it was impossible to doubt the tearful sincerity of her voice. Well, the riddle was too much for me. I gave it up at last with a sigh—dreading the hour that would call me downstairs to meet Mr. Vanderbridge. I felt in every nerve and fibre of my body that I should hate him the moment I looked at him.

But at eight o’clock, when I went reluctantly downstairs, I had a surprise. Nothing could have been kinder than the way Mr. Vanderbridge greeted me, and I could tell as soon as I met his eyes that there wasn’t anything vicious or violent in his nature. He reminded me more than ever of the portrait in the loan collection, and though he was so much older than the Florentine nobleman, he had the same thoughtful look. Of course I am not an artist, but I have always tried, in my way, to be a reader of personality; and it didn’t take a particularly keen observer to discern the character and intellect in Mr. Vanderbridge’s face. Even now I remember it as the noblest face I have ever seen; and unless I had possessed at least a shade of penetration, I doubt if I should have detected the melancholy. For it was only when he was thinking deeply that this sadness seemed to spread like a veil over his features. At other times he was cheerful and even gay in his manner; and his rich dark eyes would light up now and then with irrepressible humour. From the way he looked at his wife I could tell that there was no lack of love or tenderness on his side any more than there was on hers. It was obvious that he was still as much in love with her as he had been before his marriage, and my immediate perception of this only deepened the mystery that enveloped them. If the fault wasn’t his and wasn’t hers, then who was responsible for the shadow that hung over the house?

For the shadow was there. I could feel it, vague and dark, while we talked about the war and the remote possibilities of peace in the spring. Mrs. Vanderbridge looked young and lovely in her gown of white satin with pearls on her bosom, but her violet eyes were almost black in the candlelight, and I had a curious feeling that this blackness was the colour of thought. Something troubled her to despair, yet I was as positive as I could be of anything I had ever been told that she had breathed no word of this anxiety or distress to her husband. Devoted as they were, a nameless dread, fear, or apprehension divided them. It was the thing I had felt from the moment I entered the house; the thing I had heard in the tearful voice of the maid. One could scarcely call it horror, because it was too vague, too impalpable, for so vivid a name; yet, after all these quiet months, horror is the only word I can think of that in any way expresses the emotion which pervaded the house.

I had never seen so beautiful a dinner table, and I was gazing with pleasure at the damask and glass and silver—there was a silver basket of chrysanthemums, I remember, in the centre of the table—when I noticed a nervous movement of Mrs. Vanderbridge’s head, and saw her glance hastily towards the door and the staircase beyond. We had been talking animatedly, and as Mrs. Vanderbridge turned away, I had just made a remark to her husband, who appeared to have fallen into a sudden fit of abstraction, and was gazing thoughtfully over his soup-plate at the white and yellow chrysanthemums. It occurred to me, while I watched him, that he was probably absorbed in some financial problem, and I regretted that I had been so careless as to speak to him. To my surprise, however, he replied immediately in a natural tone, and I saw, or imagined that I saw, Mrs. Vanderbridge throw me a glance of gratitude and relief. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but I recall perfectly that the conversation kept up pleasantly, without a break, until dinner was almost half over. The roast had been served, and I was in the act of helping myself to potatoes, when I became aware that Mr. Vanderbridge had again fallen into his reverie. This time he scarcely seemed to hear his wife’s voice when she spoke to him, and I watched the sadness cloud his face while he continued to stare straight ahead of him with a look that was almost yearning in its intensity.

Again I saw Mrs. Vanderbridge, with her nervous gesture, glance in the direction of the hall, and to my amazement, as she did so, a woman’s figure glided noiselessly over the old Persian rug at the door, and entered the dining-room. I was wondering why no one spoke to her, why she spoke to no one, when I saw her sink into a chair on the other side of Mr. Vanderbridge and unfold her napkin. She was quite young, younger even than Mrs. Vanderbridge, and though she was not really beautiful, she was the most graceful creature I had ever imagined. Her dress was of grey stuff, softer and more clinging than silk, and of a peculiar misty texture and colour, and her parted hair lay like twilight on either side of her forehead. She was not like any one I had ever seen before—she appeared so much frailer, so much more elusive, as if she would vanish if you touched her. I can’t describe, even months afterwards, the singular way in which she attracted and repelled me.

At first I glanced inquiringly at Mrs. Vanderbridge, hoping that she would introduce me, but she went on talking rapidly in an intense, quivering voice, without noticing the presence of her guest by so much as the lifting of her eyelashes. Mr. Vanderbridge still sat there, silent and detached, and all the time the eyes of the stranger—starry eyes with a mist over them—looked straight through me at the tapestried wall at my back. I knew she didn’t see me and that it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference to her if she had seen me. In spite of her grace and her girlishness I did not like her, and I felt that this aversion was not on my side alone. I do not know how I received the impression that she hated Mrs. Vanderbridge—never once had she glanced in her direction—yet I was aware, from the moment of her entrance, that she was bristling with animosity, though animosity is too strong a word for the resentful spite, like the jealous rage of a spoiled child, which gleamed now and then in her eyes. I couldn’t think of her as wicked any more than I could think of a bad child as wicked. She was merely wilful and undisciplined and—I hardly know how to convey what I mean—elfish.

After her entrance the dinner dragged on heavily.

Mrs. Vanderbridge still kept up her nervous chatter, but nobody listened, for I was too embarrassed to pay any attention to what she said, and Mr. Vanderbridge had never recovered from his abstraction. He was like a man in a dream, not observing a thing that happened before him, while the strange woman sat there in the candlelight with her curious look of vagueness and unreality. To my astonishment not even the servants appeared to notice her, and though she had unfolded her napkin when she sat down, she wasn’t served with either the roast or the salad. Once or twice, particularly when a new course was served, I glanced at Mrs. Vanderbridge to see if she would rectify the mistake, but she kept her gaze fixed on her plate. It was just as if there were a conspiracy to ignore the presence of the stranger, though she had been, from the moment of her entrance, the dominant figure at the table. You tried to pretend she wasn’t there, and yet you knew—you knew vividly that she was gazing insolently straight through you.

The dinner lasted, it seemed, for hours, and you may imagine my relief when at last Mrs. Vanderbridge rose and led the way back into the drawing-room. At first I thought the stranger would follow us, but when I glanced round from the hall she was still sitting there beside Mr. Vanderbridge, who was smoking a cigar with his coffee.

“Usually he takes his coffee with me,” said Mrs. Vanderbridge, “but to-night he has things to think over.”

“I thought he seemed absent-minded.”

“You noticed it, then?” She turned to me with her straightforward glance. “I always wonder how much strangers notice. He hasn’t been well of late, and he has these spells of depression. Nerves are dreadful things, aren’t they?”

I laughed. “So I’ve heard, but I’ve never been able to afford them.”

“Well, they do cost a great deal, don’t they?” She had a trick of ending her sentences with a question. “I hope your room is comfortable, and that you don’t feel timid about being alone on that floor. If you haven’t nerves, you can’t get nervous, can you?”

“No, I can’t get nervous.” Yet while I spoke, I was conscious of a shiver deep down in me, as if my senses reacted again to the dread that permeated the atmosphere.

As soon as I could, I escaped to my room, and I was sitting there over a book, when the maid—her name was Hopkins, I had discovered—came in on the pretext of inquiring if I had everything I needed. One of the innumerable servants had already turned down my bed, so when Hopkins appeared at the door, I suspected at once that there was a hidden motive underlying her ostensible purpose.

“Mrs. Vanderbridge told me to look after you,” she began. “She is afraid you will be lonely until you learn the way of things.”

“No, I’m not lonely,” I answered. “I’ve never had time to be lonely.”

“I used to be like that; but time hangs heavy on my hands now. That’s why I’ve taken to knitting.” She held out a grey yarn muffler. “I had an operation a year ago, and since then Mrs. Vanderbridge has had another maid—a French one—to sit up for her at night and undress her. She is always so fearful of overtaxing us, though there isn’t really enough work for two lady’s-maids, because she is so thoughtful that she never gives any trouble if she can help it.”

“It must be nice to be rich,” I said idly, as I turned a page of my book. Then I added almost before I realized what I was saying, “The other lady doesn’t look as if she had so much money.”

Her face turned paler if that were possible, and for a minute I thought she was going to faint. “The other lady?”

“I mean the one who came down late to dinner—the one in the grey dress. She wore no jewels, and her dress wasn’t low in the neck.”

“Then you saw her?” There was a curious flicker in her face as if her pallor came and went. “We were at the table when she came in. Has Mr. Vanderbridge a secretary who lives in the house?”

“No, he hasn’t a secretary except at his office. When he wants one at the house, he telephones to his office.”

“I wondered why she came, for she didn’t eat any dinner, and nobody spoke to her—not even Mr. Vanderbridge.”

“Oh, he never speaks to her. Thank God, it hasn’t come to that yet.”

“Then why does she come? It must be dreadful to be treated like that, and before the servants, too. Does she come often?”

“There are months and months when she doesn’t. I can always tell by the way Mrs. Vanderbridge picks up. You wouldn’t know her, she is so full of life—the very picture of happiness. Then one evening she—the Other One, I mean—comes back again, just as she did to-night, just as she did last summer, and it all begins over from the beginning.”

“But can’t they keep her out—the Other One? Why do they let her in?”

“Mrs. Vanderbridge tries hard. She tries all she can every minute. You saw her to-night?”

“And Mr. Vanderbridge? Can’t he help her?”

She shook her head with an ominous gesture. “He doesn’t know.”

“He doesn’t know she is there? Why, she was close by him. She never took her eyes off him except when she was staring through me at the wall.”

“Oh, he knows she is there, but not in that way. He doesn’t know that any one else knows.”

I gave it up, and after a minute she said in a suppressed voice, “It seems strange that you should have seen her. I never have.”

“But you know all about her.”

“I know and I don’t know. Mrs. Vanderbridge lets things drop sometimes—she gets ill and feverish very easily—but she never tells me anything outright. She isn’t that sort.”

“Haven’t the servants told you about her—the Other One?”

At this, I thought, she seemed startled. “Oh, they don’t know anything to tell. They feel that something is wrong; that is why they never stay longer than a week or two—we’ve had eight butlers since autumn—but they never see what it is.”

She stooped to pick up the ball of yarn which had rolled under my chair. “If the time ever comes when you can stand between them, you will do it?” she asked.

“Between Mrs. Vanderbridge and the Other One?”

Her look answered me.

“You think, then, that she means harm to her?”

“I don’t know. Nobody knows—but she is lulling her.”

The clock struck ten, and I returned to my book with a yawn, while Hopkins gathered up her work and went out, after wishing me a formal goodnight. The odd part about our secret conferences was that as soon as they were over, we began to pretend so elaborately to each other that they had never been.

“I’ll tell Mrs. Vanderbridge that you are very comfortable,” was the last remark Hopkins made before she sidled out of the door and left me alone with the mystery. It was one of those situations—I am obliged to repeat this over and over—that was too preposterous for me to believe in even while I was surrounded and overwhelmed by its reality. I didn’t dare face what I thought, I didn’t dare face even what I felt; but I went to bed shivering in a warm room, while I resolved passionately that if the chance ever came to me I would stand between Mrs. Vanderbridge and this unknown evil that threatened her.

In the morning Mrs. Vanderbridge went out shopping, and I did not see her until the evening, when she passed me on the staircase as she was going out to dinner and the opera. She was radiant in blue velvet, with diamonds in her hair and at her throat, and I wondered again how any one so lovely could ever be troubled.

“I hope you had a pleasant day, Miss Wrenn,” she said kindly. “I have been too busy to get off any letters, but to-morrow we shall begin early.” Then, as if from an afterthought, she looked back and added, “There are some new novels in my sitting-room. You might care to look over them.”

When she had gone, I went upstairs to the sitting-room and turned over the books, but I couldn’t, to save my life, force an interest in printed romances after meeting Mrs. Vanderbridge and remembering the mystery that surrounded her. I wondered if “the Other One,” as Hopkins called her, lived in the house, and I was still wondering this when the maid came in and began putting the table to rights.

“Do they dine out often?” I asked.

“They used to, but since Mr. Vanderbridge hasn’t been so well, Mrs. Vanderbridge doesn’t like to go without him. She only went to-night because he begged her to.”

She had barely finished speaking when the door opened, and Mr. Vanderbridge came in and sat down in one of the big velvet chairs before the wood fire. He had not noticed us, for one of his moods was upon him, and I was about to slip out as noiselessly as I could when I saw that the Other One was standing in the patch of firelight on the hearthrug. I had not seen her come in, and Hopkins evidently was still unaware of her presence, for while I was watching, I saw the maid turn towards her with a fresh log for the fire. At the moment it occurred to me that Hopkins must be either blind or drunk, for without hesitating in her advance, she moved on the stranger, holding the huge hickory log out in front of her. Then, before I could utter a sound or stretch out a hand to stop her, I saw her walk straight through the grey figure and carefully place the log on the andirons.

So she isn’t real, after all, she is merely a phantom, I found myself thinking, as I fled from the room, and hurried along the hall to the staircase. She is only a ghost, and nobody believes in ghosts any longer. She is something that I know doesn’t exist, yet even, though she can’t possibly be, I can swear that I have seen her. My nerves were so shaken by the discovery that as soon as I reached my room I sank in a heap on the rug, and it was here that Hopkins found me a little later when she came to bring me an extra blanket.

“You looked so upset I thought you might have seen something,” she said. “Did anything happen while you were in the room?”

“She was there all the time—every blessed minute. You walked right through her when you put the log on the fire. Is it possible that you didn’t see her?”

“No, I didn’t see anything out of the way.” She was plainly frightened. “Where was she standing?”

“On the hearthrug in front of Mr. Vanderbridge. To reach the fire you had to walk straight through her, for she didn’t move. She didn’t give way an inch.”

“Oh, she never gives way. She never gives way living or dead.”

This was more than human nature could stand. “In heaven’s name,” I cried irritably, “who is she?”

“Don’t you know?” She appeared genuinely surprised. “Why, she is the other Mrs. Vanderbridge. She died fifteen years ago, just a year after they were married, and people say a scandal was hushed up about her, which he never knew. She isn’t a good sort, that’s what I think of her, though they say he almost worshipped her.”

“And she still has this hold on him?”

“He can’t shake it off, that’s what’s the matter with him, and if it goes on, he will end his days in an asylum. You see, she was very young, scarcely more than a girl, and he got the idea in his head that it was marrying him that killed her. If you want to know what I think, I believe she puts it there for a purpose.”

“You mean—?” I was so completely at sea that I couldn’t frame a rational question.

“I mean she haunts him purposely in order to drive him out of his mind. She was always that sort, jealous and exacting, the kind that clutches and strangles a man, and I’ve often thought, though I’ve no head for speculation, that we carry into the next world the traits and feelings that have got the better of us in this one. It seems to me only common sense to believe that we’re obliged to work them off somewhere until we are free of them. That is the way my first lady used to talk, anyhow, and I’ve never found anybody that could give me a more sensible idea.”

“And isn’t there any way to stop it? What has Mrs. Vanderbridge done?”

“Oh, she can’t do anything now. It has got beyond her, though she has had doctor after doctor, and tried everything she could think of. But, you see, she is handicapped because she can’t mention it to her husband. He doesn’t know that she knows.”

“And she won’t tell him?”

“She is the sort that would die first—just the opposite from the Other One—for she leaves him free, she never clutches and strangles. It isn’t her way.” For a moment she hesitated, and then added grimly—“I’ve wondered if you could do anything?”

“If I could? Why, I am a perfect stranger to them all.”

“That’s why I’ve been thinking it. Now, if you could corner her some day—the Other One—and tell her up and down to her face what you think of her.”

The idea was so ludicrous that it made me laugh in spite of my shaken nerves. “They would fancy me out of my wits! Imagine stopping an apparition and telling it what you think of it!”

“Then you might try talking it over with Mrs. Vanderbridge. It would help her to know that you see her also.”

But the next morning, when I went down to Mrs. Vanderbridge’s room, I found that she was too ill to see me. At noon a trained nurse came on the case, and for a week we took our meals together in the morning-room upstairs. She appeared competent enough, but I am sure that she didn’t so much as suspect that there was anything wrong in the house except the influenza which had attacked Mrs. Vanderbridge the night of the opera. Never once during that week did I catch a glimpse of the Other One, though I felt her presence whenever I left my room and passed through the hall below. I knew all the time as well as if I had seen her that she was hidden there, watching, watching—

At the end of the week Mrs. Vanderbridge sent for me to write some letters, and when I went into her room, I found her lying on the couch with a tea-table in front of her. She asked me to make the tea because she was still so weak, and I saw that she looked flushed and feverish, and that her eyes were unnaturally large and bright. I hoped she wouldn’t talk to me, because people in that state are apt to talk too much and then to blame the listener; but I had hardly taken my seat at the tea-table before she said in a hoarse voice—the cold had settled on her chest:

“Miss Wrenn, I have wanted to ask you ever since the other evening—did you—did you see anything unusual at dinner? From your face when you came out I thought—I thought—”

I met this squarely. “That I might have? Yes, I did see something.”

“You saw her?”

“I saw a woman come in and sit down at the table, and I wondered why no one served her. I saw her quite distinctly.”

“A small woman, thin and pale, in a grey dress?”

“She was so vague and—and misty, you know what I mean, that it is hard to describe her; but I should know her again anywhere. She wore her hair parted and drawn down over her ears. It was very dark and fine—as fine as spun silk.”

We were speaking in low voices, and unconsciously we had moved closer together while my idle hands left the tea things.

“Then you know,” she said earnestly, “that she really comes—that I am not out of my mind—that it is not an hallucination?”

“I know that I saw her. I would swear to it. But doesn’t Mr. Vanderbridge see her also?”

“Not as we see her. He thinks that she is in his mind only.” Then, after an uncomfortable silence, she added suddenly, “She is really a thought, you know. She is his thought of her—but he doesn’t know that she is visible to the rest of us.”

“And he brings her back by thinking of her?” She leaned nearer while a quiver passed over her features and the flush deepened in her cheeks. “That is the only way she comes back—the only way she has the power to come back—as a thought. There are months and months when she leaves us in peace because he is thinking of other things, but of late, since his illness, she has been with him almost constantly.” A sob broke from her, and she buried her face in her hands. “I suppose she is always trying to come—only she is too vague—and hasn’t any form that we can see except when he thinks of her as she used to look when she was alive. His thought of her is like that, hurt and tragic and revengeful. You see, he feels that he ruined her life because she died when the child was coming—a month before it would have been born.”

“And if he were to see her differently, would she change? Would she cease to be revengeful if he stopped thinking her so?”

“God only knows. I’ve wondered and wondered how I might move her to pity.”

“Then you feel that she is really there? That she exists outside of his mind?”

“How can I tell? What do any of us know of the world beyond? She exists as much as I exist to you or you to me. Isn’t thought all that there is—all that we know?”

This was deeper than I could follow; but in order not to appear stupid, I murmured sympathetically, “And does she make him unhappy when she comes?”

“She is killing him—and me. I believe that is why she does it.”

“Are you sure that she could stay away? When he thinks of her isn’t she obliged to come back?”

“Oh, I’ve asked that question over and over! In spite of his calling her so unconsciously, I believe she comes of her own will. I have always the feeling—it has never left me for an instant—that she could appear differently if she would. I have studied her for years until I know her like a book, and though she is only an apparition, I am perfectly positive that she wills evil to us both. Don’t you think he would change that if he could? Don’t you think he would make her kind instead of vindictive if he had the power?”

“But if he could remember her as loving and tender?”

“I don’t know. I give it up—but it is killing me.”

It was killing her. As the days passed I began to realize that she had spoken the truth. I watched her bloom fade slowly and her lovely features grow pinched and thin like the features of a starved person. The harder she fought the apparition, the more I saw that the battle was a losing one, and that she was only wasting her strength. So impalpable yet so pervasive was the enemy that it was like fighting a poisonous odour. There was nothing to wrestle with, and yet there was everything. The struggle was wearing her out—was, as she had said, actually “killing her”; but the physician who dosed her daily with drugs—there was need now of a physician—had not the faintest idea of the malady he was treating. In those dreadful days I think that even Mr. Vanderbridge hadn’t a suspicion of the truth. The past was with him so constantly—he was so steeped in the memories of it—that the present was scarcely more than a dream to him. It was, you see, a reversal of the natural order of things; the thought had become more vivid to his perceptions than any object. The phantom had been victorious so far, and he was like a man recovering from the effects of a narcotic. He was only half awake, only half alive to the events through which he lived and the people who surrounded him. Oh, I realize that I am telling my story badly!—that I am slurring over the significant interludes! My mind has dealt so long with external details that I have almost forgotten the words that express invisible things. Though the phantom in the house was more real to me than the bread I ate or the floor on which I trod, I can give you no impression of the atmosphere in which we lived day after day—of the suspense, of the dread of something we could not define, of the brooding horror that seemed to lurk in the shadows of the firelight, of the feeling always, day and night, that some unseen person was watching us. How Mrs. Vanderbridge stood it without losing her mind, I have never known; and even now I am not sure that she could have kept her reason if the end had not come when it did. That I accidentally brought it about is one of the things in my life I am most thankful to remember.

It was an afternoon in late winter, and I had just come up from luncheon, when Mrs. Vanderbridge asked me to empty an old desk in one of the upstairs rooms. “I am sending all the furniture in that room away,” she said; “it was bought in a bad period, and I want to clear it out and make room for the lovely things we picked up in Italy. There is nothing in the desk worth saving except some old letters from Mr. Vanderbridge’s mother before her marriage.”

I was glad that she could think of anything so practical as furniture, and it was with relief that I followed her into the dim, rather musty room over the library, where the windows were all tightly closed. Years ago, Hopkins had once told me, the first Mrs. Vanderbridge had used this room for a while, and after her death her husband had been in the habit of shutting himself up alone here in the evenings. This, I inferred, was the secret reason why my employer was sending the furniture away. She had resolved to clear the house of every association with the past.

For a few minutes we sorted the letters in the drawers of the desk, and then, as I expected, Mrs. Vanderbridge became suddenly bored by the task she had undertaken. She was subject to these nervous reactions, and I was prepared for them even when they seized her so spasmodically. I remember that she was in the very act of glancing over an old letter when she rose impatiently, tossed it into the fire unread, and picked up a magazine she had thrown down on a chair.

“Go over them by yourself, Miss Wrenn,” she said, and it was characteristic of her nature that she should assume my trustworthiness. “If anything seems worth saving you can file it—but I’d rather die than have to wade through all this.”

They were mostly personal letters, and while I went on, carefully filing them, I thought how absurd it was of people to preserve so many papers that were entirely without value. Mr. Vanderbridge I had imagined to be a methodical man, and yet the disorder of the desk produced a painful effect on my systematic temperament. The drawers were filled with letters evidently unsorted, for now and then I came upon a mass of business receipts and acknowledgments crammed in among wedding invitations or letters from some elderly lady, who wrote interminable pale epistles in the finest and most feminine of Italian hands. That a man of Mr. Vanderbridge’s wealth and position should have been so careless about his correspondence amazed me until I recalled the dark hints Hopkins had dropped in some of her midnight conversations. Was it possible that he had actually lost his reason for months after the death of his first wife, during that year when he had shut himself alone with her memory? The question was still in my mind when my eyes fell on the envelope in my hand, and I saw that it was addressed to Mrs. Roger Vanderbridge. So this explained, in a measure at least, the carelessness and the disorder! The desk was not his, but hers, and after her death he had used it only during those desperate months when he barely opened a letter. What he had done in those long evenings when he sat alone here it was beyond me to imagine. Was it any wonder that the brooding should have permanently unbalanced his mind?

At the end of an hour I had sorted and filed the papers, with the intention of asking Mrs. Vanderbridge if she wished me to destroy the ones that seemed to be unimportant. The letters she had instructed me to keep had not come to my hand, and I was about to give up the search for them, when, in shaking the lock of one of the drawers, the door of a secret compartment fell open, and I discovered a dark object, which crumbled and dropped apart when I touched it. Bending nearer, I saw that the crumbled mass had once been a bunch of flowers, and that a streamer of purple ribbon still held together the frail structure of wire and stems. In this drawer someone had hidden a sacred treasure, and moved by a sense of romance and adventure, I gathered the dust tenderly in tissue paper, and prepared to take it downstairs to Mrs. Vanderbridge. It was not until then that some letters tied loosely together with a silver cord caught my eye, and while I picked them up, I remember thinking that they must be the ones for which I had been looking so long. Then, as the cord broke in my grasp and I gathered the letters from the lid of the desk, a word or two flashed back at me through the torn edges of the envelopes, and I realized that they were love letters written, I surmised, some fifteen years ago, by Mr. Vanderbridge to his first wife.

“It may hurt her to see them,” I thought, “but I don’t dare destroy them. There is nothing I can do except give them to her.”

As I left the room, carrying the letters and the ashes of the flowers, the idea of taking them to the husband instead of to the wife flashed through my mind. Then—I think it was some jealous feeling about the phantom that decided me—I quickened my steps to a run down the staircase.

“They would bring her back. He would think of her more than ever,” I told myself, “so he shall never see them. He shall never see them if I can prevent it.” I believe it occurred to me that Mrs. Vanderbridge would be generous enough to give them to him—she was capable of rising above her jealousy, I knew—but I determined that she shouldn’t do it until I had reasoned it out with her. “If anything on earth would bring back the Other One for good, it would be his seeing these old letters,” I repeated as I hastened down the hall.

Mrs. Vanderbridge was lying on the couch before the fire, and I noticed at once that she had been crying. The drawn look in her sweet face went to my heart, and I felt that I would do anything in the world to comfort her. Though she had a book in her hand, I could see that she had not been reading. The electric lamp on the table by her side was already lighted, leaving the rest of the room in shadow, for it was a grey day with a biting edge of snow in the air. It was all very charming in the soft light; but as soon as I entered I had a feeling of oppression that made me want to run out into the wind. If you have ever lived in a haunted house—a house pervaded by an unforgettable past—you will understand the sensation of melancholy that crept over me the minute the shadows began to fall. It was not in myself—of this I am sure, for I have naturally a cheerful temperament—it was in the space that surrounded us and the air we breathed.

I explained to her about the letters, and then, kneeling on the rug in front of her, I emptied the dust of the flowers into the fire. There was, though I hate to confess it, a vindictive pleasure in watching it melt into the flames; and at the moment I believe I could have burned the apparition as thankfully. The more I saw of the Other One, the more I found myself accepting Hopkins’s judgment of her. Yes, her behaviour, living and dead, proved that she was not “a good sort.”

My eyes were still on the flames when a sound from Mrs. Vanderbridge—half a sigh, half a sob—made me turn quickly and look up at her.

“But this isn’t his handwriting,” she said in a puzzled tone. “They are love letters, and they are to her—but they are not from him.” For a moment or two she was silent, and I heard the pages rustle in her hands as she turned them impatiently. “They are not from him,” she repeated presently, with an exultant ring in her voice. “They are written after her marriage, but they are from another man.” She was as sternly tragic as an avenging fate. “She wasn’t faithful to him while she lived. She wasn’t faithful to him even while he was hers—”

With a spring I had risen from my knees and was bending over her.

“Then you can save him from her. You can win him back! You have only to show him the letters, and he will believe.”

“Yes, I have only to show him the letters.” She was looking beyond me into the dusky shadows of the firelight, as if she saw the Other One standing there before her. “I have only to show him the letters,” I knew now that she was not speaking to me, “and he will believe.”

“Her power over him will be broken,” I cried out. “He will think of her differently. Oh, don’t you see? Can’t you see? It is the only way to make him think of her differently. It is the only way to break for ever the thought that draws her back to him.”

“Yes, I see, it is the only way,” she said slowly; and the words were still on her lips when the door opened and Mr. Vanderbridge entered.

“I came for a cup of tea,” he began, and added with playful tenderness, “What is the only way?” It was the crucial moment, I realized—it was the hour of destiny for these two—and while he sank wearily into a chair, I looked imploringly at his wife and then at the letters lying scattered loosely about her. If I had had my will I should have flung them at him with a violence which would have startled him out of his lethargy. Violence, I felt, was what he needed—violence, a storm, tears, reproaches—all the things he would never get from his wife.

For a minute or two she sat there, with the letters before her, and watched him with her thoughtful and tender gaze. I knew from her face, so lovely and yet so sad, that she was looking again at invisible things—at the soul of the man she loved, not at the body. She saw him, detached and spiritualized, and she saw also the Other One—for while we waited I became slowly aware of the apparition in the firelight—of the white face and the cloudy hair and the look of animosity and bitterness in the eyes. Never before had I been so profoundly convinced of the malignant will veiled by that thin figure. It was as if the visible form were only a spiral of grey smoke covering a sinister purpose.

“The only way,” said Mrs. Vanderbridge, “is to fight fairly even when one fights evil.” Her voice was like a bell, and as she spoke, she rose from the couch and stood there in her glowing beauty confronting the pale ghost of the past. There was a light about her that was almost unearthly—the light of triumph. The radiance of it blinded me for an instant. It was like a flame, clearing the atmosphere of all that was evil, of all that was poisonous and deadly. She was looking directly at the phantom, and there was no hate in her voice—there was only a great pity, a great sorrow and sweetness.

“I can’t fight you that way,” she said, and I knew that for the first time she had swept aside subterfuge and evasion, and was speaking straight to the presence before her. “After all, you are dead and I am living, and I cannot fight you that way. I give up everything. I give him back to you. Nothing is mine that I cannot win and keep fairly. Nothing is mine that belongs really to you.”

Then, while Mr. Vanderbridge rose, with a start of fear, and came towards her, she bent quickly, and flung the letters into the fire. When he would have stooped to gather the unburned pages, her lovely flowing body curved between his hands and the flames; and so transparent, so ethereal she looked, that I saw—or imagined that I saw—the firelight shine through her. “The only way, my dear, is the right way,” she said softly.

The next instant—I don’t know to this day how or when it began—I was aware that the apparition had drawn nearer, and that the dread and fear, the evil purpose, were no longer a part of her. I saw her clearly for a moment—saw her as I had never seen her before—young and gentle and—yes, this is the only word for it—loving. It was just as if a curse had turned into a blessing, for, while she stood there, I had a curious sensation of being enfolded in a kind of spiritual glow and comfort—only words are useless to describe the feeling because it wasn’t in the least like anything else I had ever known in my life. It was light without heat, glow without light—and yet it was none of these things. The nearest I can come to it is to call it a sense of blessedness—of blessedness that made you at peace with everything you had once hated.

Not until afterwards did I realize that it was the victory of good over evil. Not until afterwards did I discover that Mrs. Vanderbridge had triumphed over the past in the only way that she could triumph. She had won, not by resisting, but by accepting; not by violence, but by gentleness; not by grasping, but by renouncing. Oh, long, long afterwards, I knew that she had robbed the phantom of power over her by robbing it of hatred. She had changed the thought of the past, in that lay her victory.

At the moment I did not understand this. I did not understand it even when I looked again for the apparition in the firelight, and saw that it had vanished. There was nothing there—nothing except the pleasant flicker of light and shadow on the old Persian rug.



It was fifteen years ago to-day; yet I can still see that road stretching through vine-like shadows into the spring landscape.

Though I was never in Virginia before, I had been brought up on the traditions of my mother’s old home on the Rappahannock; and when the invitation came to spend a week with my unknown cousins, the Blantons, at Whispering Leaves, I was filled with a delightful sense of expectancy and adventure. None of my family had ever seen the present owner of the place—one Pelham Blanton, a man of middle age, who was, as far as we were aware, without a history. All I knew of him was that his first wife had died at the birth of a child about seven years before, and that immediately afterward he had married one of his neighbours, a common person, my mother insisted, though she had heard nothing of the second wife except that her name before her marriage was Twine. Whether the child of the first wife had lived or not we did not know, for the letters from the family had stopped, and we had no further news of the place until I wrote from Richmond asking permission to visit the house in which my mother and so many of my grandmothers were born.

The spring came early that year. When I descended from the train into the green and gold of the afternoon, I felt almost as if I were stepping back into some old summer. An ancient family carriage, drawn by two drowsy black horses with flowing tails, was waiting for me under a blossoming locust tree; and as soon as my foot touched the ground I was greeted affectionately by the coloured driver, who still called my mother “Miss Effie.” He was an imposing, ceremonious old man, very nearly as black as the horses, with a mass of white hair, which is unusual in a negro, and a gay bandanna handkerchief crossed over his chest. After an unconscionable wait for the mail, he brought the dilapidated leather pouch from the office, and tossed it on the floor of the carriage. A minute later, as he mounted over the wheel to his seat, he glanced back at me and remarked in an encouraging tone, “dar ain’ nuttin’ to hinder us now.”

“How far is it to Whispering Leaves, Uncle Moab?”

The old negro pondered the question while he flicked the reins over the broad swaying backs of the horses. He was so long in replying that, thinking he had forgotten to answer, I repeated the words more distinctly.

“Can you tell me how far it is to Whispering Leaves?”

At this he turned and looked back at me over his shoulder. “I reckon hit’s sum un like ten miles, or mebbe hit’s gwine on twelve,” he responded.

“When did you leave there?”

Again there was a long silence while we jogged sleepily out of the deeply shaded streets of the little village. “I ain’ been dar dis mawnin’, Miss Effie,” he answered at last.

“Why, I thought you lived there?”

I was so accustomed by this time to the slowness of his responses that I waited patiently until he brought out with hesitation, “I use’ ter.”

“Then you are no longer the family coachman?”

He shook his head above the bandanna handkerchief, and I could see his deep perplexity written in the brown creases of his neck. “Yas’m. I’se still de driver.”

“But how can you be if you don’t live on the place?”

“One er dem w’ite sarvants brungs de car’ige down ter de creek, en I tecks en drives hit along de road,” he replied. “I goes dar in de daytime,” he added impressively after a minute. “Dar’s some un um ain’ never set foot dar sence we all moved off, but I ain’ skeered er nuttin’, sweet Jesus, in de daytime.”

“Do you mean that all the old servants moved off together?”

“Yas’m. Ev’y last one un um. Dey’s all w’ite folks dar now.”

“When did that happen?”

But, as I was beginning to discover, time and space are the flimsiest abstractions in the imagination of the negro. “Hit wuz a long time ago. Miss Effie,” replied Uncle Moab. “Pell, he wa’n much mo’n a baby den. He wuz jes’ in dresses, en he’s done been in breeches now fur a pa’cel er Christmas times.”

“Pell? Is that the child of the first Mrs. Blanton?”

“Yas’m. He’s Miss Clarissa’s chile. Miss Hannah Twine, she’s got a heap er chillun; dar’s two pa’cel er twins en den de baby dat wuz bo’n las’ winter. But Pell, he ain’t ’er chile.”

I was beginning to see light. “Then Pell must be about seven years old, and you moved off the place while he was still in short dresses. That must have been just four or five years ago.”

“Dat’s hit, honey, dat’s hit.”

“And all the coloured servants moved away at the same time?”

“De same day. Dar wa’nt er one un um lef dar by sundown.”

“And they’ve had to have white servants ever since?”

“Dey’s all w’ite ones dat stays on atter sundown. De coloured folks dey goes back in de daytime, but dey don’t stay on twell supper. Naw’m, dar ain’ noner dem but de w’ite folks dat stays on ter git supper.”

While I questioned him the drowsy horses trotted slowly through the sun and shadow on the dun-coloured road. The air was fragrant with mingled wood scents and honeysuckle. A sky of flowerlike blue shone overhead. Now and then a redbird, flying low, darted across the road, and far off in the trees there was the sound of a joyous chorus.

“I never saw so many redbirds, Uncle Moab.”

“Yas’m. Dar sutney is er plenty er dem dis yeah. Hit’s a bird yeah, sho nuff. Hit pears ter me like I cyarn’ put my foot outside er my do’ dat I don’t moughty near step on er robin, en I ain’ never hearn tell er sech er number uv blue jays. De blue jay he’s de meanest bird dat ever wuz, but he sutney is got er heap er sense. He knows jes ez well on w’ich side his bread is buttered ez ef’n he wuz sho nuff folks. Hi! Don’ you begin ter study ’bout birds twel you git to W’is-perin’ Leaves. Hit seems dat ar place wuz jes made ter drive folks bird crazy. Dey’s ev’ry-whar’ dose birds. De wrens en de phœbes dey’s in de po’ch, en de swallows dey’s in de chimleys, en de res’ un um is calling ter you en pesterin’ de life outer you in de trees.”

Well, I liked birds! If there were nothing more dangerous than birds at Whispering Leaves, I could be happy there.

While we jogged on there crept over me the feeling of restlessness, of wistful yet indefinable desire, which is the very essence of spring. My thoughts had been brushed for an instant by that magic spirit of beauty; and I saw the wide landscape, with its flushed meadows sinking into the grapelike bloom of the distance, as if it were a part, not of the actual world, but of a universe painted on air, as transparent as the faintly coloured shadows across the road. In the thick woods on the left delicate green appeared to rise and fall like the foam of the sea. Accustomed as I was to the late northern season, there was an intoxication in this spring which was as flowery as June. A bird year, the old coachman had called it; but a miraculous spring it seemed to me, with its bright soft winds, as sweet as honey, and its far, serene sky. And from the fragrant woods and rosy meadows there floated always the joyous piping of invisible birds; of birds hidden in low thickets; of birds high in the misty woods; of birds by the silver stream in the pasture; of birds flying swiftly into the impalpable shadows.

“I thought birds were quiet in the afternoon, Uncle Moab?”

“Dey ain’ never quiet heah, honey. Dey chatters even in de night time. Dey don’ hoi’ dere tongues fur nuttin’, not even w’en de snow is on de groun’.”

Gradually, after what seemed to me to be hours of that monotonous pace, the light on the road faded slowly to a delicate primrose. The sun was setting beyond the rich woods on the horizon, and a thin clear veil, like silver tissue, was dropping over the spring landscape. Presently, as we came under the gloom of arching boughs, the old negro turned the heads of the horses and scrambled down from the coachman’s seat.

“I ain’ gwine no furder den dis, Miss Effie,” he explained; and then, as the gate swung open, I saw that a young white man had run forward to unfasten it. When the old negro, with a pull at his front lock, had shuffled off in the direction of the sunset, the young man made a bound into the driver’s seat and jerked up the reins.

“Does Uncle Moab live near here?” I inquired. “About a mile up the road, miss. Mr. Blanton gave him the cabin at the fork when he moved away.”

“I wonder why he moved?”

The young man broke into a cheery laugh. “When a darkey once gets a notion in his head, the only way to get it out is with an ax,” he retorted; and a minute later he added: “I reckon you don’t know much about the darkeys up North?”

“Very little,” I conceded, and we drove on in silence.

The road into which we had turned was a narrow private way, very steep and rocky, which led between rotting “worm” fences and neglected fields to a dense avenue of cedars on the brow of the hill. As we went on, I wondered why the fields so near the house should be abandoned. The remains of last year’s harvest still strewed the ragged furrows, and against the skyline on the top of the hill there was a desolate row of corn stubble. Presently, as the carriage jolted over the rocky road, I heard the sound of barking, or, as it seemed to me at that sombre hour, the kind of baying to which hounds give voice on moonlit nights. Then, when we reached the high ground at last, I found that two black and yellow hounds were sitting amid the naked cornstalks and barking at our approach.

“Won’t these fields be planted this year?” I asked in surprise.

“We can’t get any of the darkeys to work here,” replied the driver. “They are too near the house.”

As we came to the brow of the hill the dogs ran to meet us, and then, after a few barks of welcome, turned and padded on noiselessly beside the horses. Between us and the beginning of the cedar avenue there was a clear space of road, and when we reached this the veil over the sunset parted suddenly like a curtain, and a glow, which I can compare to nothing except clouded amber, suffused the horizon and the abandoned cornfields. In this glow I discerned the gigantic shape of an old mulberry tree near the avenue; and the next instant I made out, amid the foliage on the high boughs, the lightly poised figure of a little boy in a blue cotton suit, with a mass of streaming ruddy curls.

“Why, he might slip and fall,” I thought; and the words had scarcely formed themselves in my mind, when the little figure turned sharply, as if in terror, and uttered a cry of alarm.

“Mammy, I am falling!” he called out, as his feet slipped from the bough.

I had already made a spring from the carriage, with the sunset dazzling my eyes, when an old negro woman emerged swiftly from the underbrush by the fence, and caught the child in her arms. In that instant of terror, while my eyes were still filled with the sunset, I observed only that the woman was tall and straight like an Indian, and that her face, framed in a red turban, was as brown and wrinkled as a November leaf. Then, as she placed the child on his feet, I saw that her features were irradiated, by a passion of tenderness which gave it a strange glow like the burning light of the sunset.

“You saved his life!” I started to cry; but before I could utter the words she vanished into the shadow of the mulberry tree, and left the boy standing alone in the road.

“You might have been killed,”! said sternly as I reached him, for I was still trembling from the fright he had given me.

The boy looked up with a strange elfin glee—there is no other word for it—in his face. “I knew Mammy would catch me,” he responded defiantly.

“Suppose she hadn’t been here?” As I spoke I looked about me for the old negress.

At this the child laughed shrilly, with a sound that was like the ironic mirth of an old man. “She is always where I am,” he replied.

He was a queer child, I thought as I gazed at him, ugly and pinched, and yet with a charm which I felt from the first moment my eyes fell on him. There was a defiant shyness in his manner, and his little face, under the flaming curls, was too thin and pale for healthy childhood. But, in spite of his strangeness, I had never in my life been so strongly attracted, so completely drawn, to a child.

“You must be Pell!” I exclaimed, after a pause in which I had watched him in silence.

He stared at me critically. “Yes, I am Pell. How did you know?”

“Oh, I’ve heard about you. Uncle Moab told me on the way over.”

At the name of Uncle Moab his face grew less blank and hard. “Where is he?” he asked, turning to the driver. “I was going down to the gate to meet him. I want him to mend my kite.”

“Uncle Moab went on to his cabin,” answered the young man, and I noticed that he subdued his tone as he might have done to an ill person or a startled colt.

“Then I’ll go after him,” replied the child. “I am not afraid.”

With a bound he started down the steep road, running in restless leaps, with his bright curls blown out like an aureole round his head. The two black and yellow hounds, jumping up from the stubble, followed, as noiseless as shadows, on his trail; and in a few minutes the three shapes melted into the obscurity of the fields.

When I was in the carriage again I remarked inquiringly to the driver: “For a delicate child he does not appear to be timid.”

“Not out of doors. He is never afraid out of doors. In the house they have a good deal of trouble with him.”

“Do the other children look so thin and pale?”

“Oh, no, ma’am. The other children are healthy enough. They don’t get on well with this one, and that’s why he stays out of the house whenever they’ll let him, even when it is raining. Pell is the child of the first Mrs. Blanton.”

“Yes, I know. Were you here in her time?”

“No, I came afterward. The year the darkeys moved away. But anybody can see how different she must have been from this one, who is the daughter of old Mr. Twine, the miller. She kept house for Mr. Blanton after his first wife died.” This was news to me, for I was absolutely ignorant of the family circumstances. I was eager to learn more of the story; but I could not gossip about my relatives with a stranger, so I said merely,

“Then she brought up the child—Pell, I mean?” Though the driver’s back was turned to me, I could see by the stubborn shake of his head that my question had aroused an unpleasant train of reflections. “No, Pell’s mammy took care of him until he was five years old. She had nursed his mother before him. I reckon she belonged to the family of the first Mrs. Blanton and came to Whispering Leaves with the bride. I never saw her. She died before my time here; but they say that as long as the old woman lived Pell never knew what it was to miss his mother. Mammy Rhody—that was her name—had promised the first Mrs. Blanton when she was dying that she would never let the child out of her sight; and they say she kept her promise to the dead as long as she lived. Whenever you saw Pell there was Mammy Rhody, sure enough, with her eyes on him. She slept in the room with him, and she always stood behind his high chair when they had him down to the table. Darkeys are like that, I reckon. A vow’s a vow. When she swore she’d never take her eyes off him, she meant just what she said.”

“The child must miss her terribly?”

Again I saw that stubborn shake of his head. “The queer part is that the boy insists she ain’t dead. Nothing they can do to him—Mrs. Blanton has talked to him by the hour—will make him admit that Mammy Rhody is dead. He says she plays with him just as she used to, and that all these birds you hear about Whispering Leaves are the ones that she tamed for him. Birds! Well, there never was, they say, such a hand with birds as Mammy Rhody. She could tame anything going from an eagle to a wren, I’ve heard, and some of the darkeys have got the notion that the woods about here are still full of the ghosts of Mammy Rhody’s pets. They say it ain’t natural for birds to call in and out of season as they do around Whispering Leaves.”

“And does Pell believe this also?”

“Nobody knows, ma’am, just how much Pell believes. They’ve tried to stop all that foolishness because it turns the heads of the darkeys.

“You can’t get one of them to stay on the place after sunset, not for love or money. It all started with the way Pell goes about talking to himself. Holy Moses! I ain’t skeery myself, ma’am, for a big fellow like me, but it gives me the creeps sometimes when I watch that child playing by himself in the shrubbery and hear him talking to somebody that ain’t there. He does the queerest things, too, just like climbing out on that high limb and calling out to his mammy that he was going to fall.”

“He might have been badly hurt if somebody hadn’t caught him,” I said.

The driver laughed politely, as if I had made a poor joke which he accepted on faith though he missed the humour. “He goes on pretending like that all the time,” he returned.

“But the old coloured woman, the one who caught him? Who is she?” I asked.

At this the man turned sharply, letting the reins fall on the backs of the horses. “The old coloured woman?” he repeated inquiringly.

“I mean the tall one in the black dress, with the white apron and the red turban on her head.” There was a slight asperity in my tone, for it seemed to me the man was incredibly stupid.

The blankness—or was it suspicion?—in his face deepened. “I don’t know. I didn’t see anybody,” he answered presently.

Turning his head away from me again, he gathered up the reins and urged the horses with a clucking noise into the long avenue of cedars.

Dusk, dusk, dusk. As we drove on rapidly beneath the high, closely woven arch of the cedars, I was conscious again of a deep intuitive feeling that the world in which I moved was as unreal as the surroundings in a dream. Dreamlike, too, were my own sensations as I passed into that greenish twilight which shut out the light of the afterglow. Feathery branches edged with brighter green brushed my cheeks like the wings of a bird; and though I knew it must be only my fancy, I seemed to hear a hundred jubilant notes in the enchanted gloom of the trees.

Presently, as if the thought were suggested by that imaginary music, I found myself returning to the old negress. Surely, if she had merely hastened on in front of us, we must overtake her before we reached the end of the avenue. Wherever the shadows crowded more thickly, wherever there was a sudden stir in the underbrush, I peered eagerly into the obscurity, hoping that we had at last come up with the old woman, and that I might offer her a place in the carriage. Though I had had only the briefest glimpse of her, I had found her serene leaf-brown face strangely attractive, almost, I thought oddly enough, as if her mysterious black eyes, under the heavy brows, had penetrated to some secret chamber of my memory. I had never seen her before, and yet I felt as if I had known her all my life, particularly in some half-forgotten childhood which haunted me like a dream. Could it be that she had nursed my mother and my grandmother, and that she saw a resemblance to the children she had trained in her youth? Stranger still, I felt not only that she recognized me, but that she possessed some secret which she wished to confide to me, that she was charged with a profoundly significant message which, sooner or later, she would find an opportunity to deliver.

As we went on, the hope that we should overtake her increased with every foot of the road. I stared into the mass of shadows. I started at every rustle on the scented ground. But still I caught no further glimpse of her; and at last, while I was gazing breathlessly beneath the cedars, we came out of the avenue on the edge of an open lawn, which was sown with small star-shaped flowers of palest blue. In front of me there were other ancient cedars, seven in number; and farther off, beyond the row of cedars, there was a long white house standing against the pomegranate-coloured afterglow, where a little horned moon was sailing.

I can shut my eyes now, after all these years, and summon back the scene as vividly as I saw it when we emerged from the long stretch of twilight. I can still see the blue glimmer of the flowers in the grass; the low house, with deep wings, where the stucco was peeling from the red brick beneath a delicate tracery of Virginia creeper; the seven pyramidal cedars guarding the hooded roof of gray shingles; and the clear afterglow in which the little moon sailed like a ship. Fifteen years ago! And I have not forgotten so much as the spiral pattern the Virginia creeper made on the pinkish white of the wall.

“Are there no trees,” I asked, “except cedars?” The driver lifted his whip and pointed over the roof. “You never saw such elms. I reckon there ain’t any finer trees in the country, but they’re all at the back, every last one of ’em. Mr. Blanton’s grandfather had a notion that cedars didn’t mix, and he wouldn’t have any other trees planted in front.”

I understood as I looked, in the flushed evening air, at the dark trees presiding over the approach to the house, with its Ionic columns and its quaint wings, added, one could see, long after the original walls were built. The drooping eaves, I knew, sheltered a multitude of wrens and phoebes, and the whole place was alive with swallows, which dipped and wheeled under the glowing sky.

We turned briskly into the circular drive, and a few minutes later, when we stopped before the walk of sunken flagstones, the driver jumped down and assisted me to descend. As I reached the porch, the door opened in a leisurely manner, and my cousin Pelham, a tall, relaxed, indolent-looking man of middle age, with gray hair, brilliant dark eyes and an air of pensive resignation, came out to receive me. I had heard, or had formed some vague idea, that the family had “run to seed,” as they say in the South, and my first view of Cousin Pelham helped to fix this impression more firmly in my mind. He looked, I thought, a man who had ceased to desire anything intensely except physical comfort.

“So this is Cousin Effie’s daughter,” he remarked by way of greeting, as he stooped and placed a perfunctory kiss on my cheek.

Beyond him I saw a large angular woman, with massive features and hair of ambiguous brown, and I inferred, from the baby in her arms and four sturdy children at her skirts, that she was the “Miss Hannah,” for whom Uncle Moab had prepared me. She appeared to me then and afterward to be a woman who was proficient in the art of making a man comfortable, and who hadn’t, as the phrase goes, “a nerve in her body.”

After greeting me cordially enough in her dry fashion, she directed the driver to take my bag upstairs to “the red room.”

“I hope you can do without your trunk until to-morrow,” she added. “All the teams have been ploughing to-day, and we couldn’t send over to the station.”

I replied that I could do very well without it since I had brought my travelling bag. Then, after a few questions from Cousin Pelham about my mother, whom he had not seen since they were both children at Whispering Leaves, Mrs. Blanton led me into the wide hall, where I saw a picture, framed in the open back door, of clustering elms and a flagged walk which ran down into a sunken garden. A minute later, while we ascended the circular staircase, with its beautifully carved balustrade, I found my eyes turning toward that vision of spring which I had seen through the open door.

“How white it looks out there in the garden,” I said. “It seems carpeted with moonlight.”

She bent her head indifferently to glance over the balustrade. “That’s narcissus. It’s in full bloom now,” she answered. “The first Mrs. Blanton” (she might have been speaking of some one she had just left on the porch) “planted the whole garden in those flowers, and we have never got rid of them. The poet’s narcissus, Mr. Blanton calls it.”

“There are lilacs, too,” I responded, for the cool dim hall was filled with the fragrance which seemed to me to be the secret of spring.

“Oh, yes, there are a great many lilacs about the wings, but they are thickest out by the kitchen.”

The upstairs hall, like the one below, was large and dim, and while we crossed it, my companion called my attention to a loosened board or two in the floor. “The rats are bad,” she observed. “I hope they won’t bother you. They make a good deal of noise at night.” And then almost immediately: “I don’t know how you’ll manage without a bathroom, but Mr. Blanton would never have water put in the house.”

As she spoke, she opened a door at the front and ushered me into an immense bedroom, which was hung in a last-century fashion with faded calico. So far as I could distinguish in the dim light, there was not so much as a touch of red in the room. The furniture was all of rich old mahogany, made in too heavy a style for the taste that has been formed on Chippendale or Sheraton, and much of it looked as if it were dropping to pieces for lack of proper care. There was a high-tester bed, hung with the dingy calico; there was an elaborately carved bureau, with a greenish mirror which reflected my features in a fog; and there was a huge screen, papered in a design of castles and peacocks, which concealed an old-fashioned washstand. Yes, it was primitive. The touch about the water belonged to the dark ages; and yet the place possessed, for me at least, an inexpressible charm.

When Mrs. Blanton had left me alone, after telling me that supper would be served in half an hour, I made a few hurried preparations, while I tried in vain to get a glimpse of myself in the mirror, where my reflection floated like a leaf in a lily pond. Then, stealing cautiously from the room and across the deserted hall, with its musty smell of old spices, I crept down the staircase and out of the open back door. Here that provocative fragrance, the aroma of vanished springs, seized me again; and running down the worn steps of the porch, I passed the bower of lilacs beside the whitewashed kitchen wall, and followed the flagged walk to the sunken garden.

At the end of the walk a primitive wooden stile, like an illustration in Mother Goose, led into the garden; and when I passed it, I found myself in a flowery space, which was surrounded by banks of honeysuckle instead of a wall. A few old fruit trees, now well past blooming, stood in the centre; and edging the grassy paths, there were all the shrubs with quaint-sounding names of which I had dreamed in my childhood—guelder rose, bridal wreath, mock orange, flowering quince, and caly-canthus. Over all there hung a mist which had floated up from the low ground by the river; and it seemed to me that this moisture released the scents of a hundred springs. Never until that moment had I known what the rapture of smell could be.

And the starry profusion of the narcissi! From bank to bank of honeysuckle the garden looked as if the Milky Way had fallen over it and been caught in the high grass.

Suddenly, in that enchanted silence, I heard the sound of a bell. In a house where there were no bathrooms, I surmised that bells were probably still rung for meals; and turning reluctantly, I started back to the stile. I had gone but a step or two when a light flashing through the windows of the house arrested my gaze; and the next instant, when I glanced round again, I saw the figure of the old negress, in her white apron and red turban, standing motionless under the boughs of a pear-tree. In the twilight I saw her eyes fixed upon me, as I had seen them at sunset, with a look of entreaty like the inarticulate appeal in the eyes of the dumb. While I returned her gaze I felt, as I had felt at our first meeting, that she was speaking to me in some inaudible language which I did not yet understand, that she bore a message to me which, sooner or later, she would find a way to deliver. What could she mean? Why had she sought out me, a stranger, when she appeared to avoid the family and even the servants? Quickening my steps, I hastened toward her with a question on my lips; but before I reached her the bell rang again with a chiming sound, and when I withdrew my eyes from the old woman’s face, I noticed that the little boy was running down the flagged walk to the stile. Bitterly I regretted the moment’s inadvertence, for when I looked back, the negress had slipped beyond some of the flowering shrubs, and the garden appeared to be deserted. Well, next time I would be more careful, I resolved. And with this resolution in my mind, I hurried to meet Pell at the stile.

“She says you must come to supper,” began the boy as soon as I came within reach of his voice. It was the first time I had heard him allude to his stepmother, and never, during the week I spent at Whispering Leaves, did he speak of her, in my presence, by any more intimate name.

I held out my arms, and he came to me shyly but trustingly. Though I could see that he was a nervous and sensitive child, the victim, I fancied, of an excitable imagination, I felt that it would not be difficult to win his confidence, if only one started about it in the right way. For the first time in my life I was drawn to a child, and I knew that the boy returned my liking in spite of his reserved manner.

“It is so beautiful I hate to go in,” I said, with my arm about him.

“I wish I could never go in,” he answered, turning back to the garden. “It is so lonely inside the house.”

“Lonely?” I repeated, for the word struck me as a queer one for a child to use. “Aren’t your little brothers and sisters there to play with you?” He shook his head impatiently. “But they don’t like Mammy to come in.”

As I glanced down at his grave little face I wondered if he could be not quite right in his mind? Beneath his vivid hair, his wide-set greenish-blue eyes held a burning ardour that was unusual in so young a child. I could see that he was delicate in frame, and I inferred that his intelligence was dangerously advanced for his years.

“Do you come to the table?” I asked.

He nodded with uncanny glee. “Ever since I was four years old. I had a high chair then. Bobbie uses it now.”

“Is Bobbie one of the twins?”

“One of the littlest twins. Janie is the other. Jack and Gerty, they are the big ones.” Then he laughed slyly. “I’m glad I’m not a twin! I’d hate to have a girl tagging round after me.”

We had reached the back steps, and I turned, before going in, to have a last look at the garden.

The twilight was the colour of white grapes, and the wisp of moon was scarcely more than a thread in the paling sky. Above the kitchen roof there was a flight of bats. An instant later I asked myself if I were dreaming, or if I actually saw the glimmer of the old negress’s apron by the stile. Then the boy waved his arm in an affectionate good-night, and I knew that my imagination had not played a trick on me.

“Who is it, Pell?” I asked.

He glanced at me with his unchildish mirth. “Don’t you see her at the stile over yonder?”

“The old coloured woman? Yes. I’ve seen her twice before. Who is she?”

Again he laughed. For some indefinable reason the laugh grated on my nerves. “If I tell you, will you promise not to let them know?”

I pressed his thin little body to my heart. “I’ll never repeat anything you ask me not to, Pell.” His hand, so like a bird’s claw, went up to my cheek with a caress; and he was on the point of replying when a step sounded in the hall, and one of the white servants came out on the porch to remind us that Mr. Blanton was waiting. To keep Cousin Pelham waiting for his meals was, I soon discovered, an unforgivable offence.


In the dining room, which was lighted by tallow candles, I found an obviously exasperated host and hostess. When I entered Cousin Pelham was fussing about a mahogany cellaret, while Mrs. Blanton was pinning a bib of checked gingham round the neck of a little girl in a high chair. With my English ideas of bringing up children, I thought it an odd custom to have the row of high chairs and trays at the table, and to allow such mere babies to appear at the evening meal.

“This is Gertrude,” said Mrs. Blanton, after my apologies had been contritely offered and graciously accepted by Cousin Pelham, “and that,” nodding to a little boy of the same age, “is John. The other two are Robert and Jane.” They were robust, healthy-looking children, with dark hair and high colour, as unlike their delicate half-brother as one could well imagine.

At supper there was little conversation, for Cousin Pelham, who, I surmised, could talk delightfully when he made the effort, appeared to be absorbed in the food that was placed before him. This was of excellent quality. Evidently, I decided, the second Mrs. Blanton was the right wife for him. Vain, spoiled, selfish, amiable as long as he was given everything that he wanted, and still good-looking in an obvious and somewhat flashing style, he had long ago passed into that tranquil state of mind which follows a complete surrender to the habits of life. I wondered how that first wife, Clarissa of the romantic name and the flaming hair, had endured existence in this lonely neighbourhood with the companionship of a man who thought of nothing but food and drink. Perhaps he was different then; and yet was it possible for such abnormal egoism to develop in the years since her death? He ate immoderately, I observed, and even before he left the table I could see that the drowsiness which afflicts the overfed was descending upon him.

“The garden is charming,” I said. “I have never seen one like it, so irregular and apparently neglected, and yet with a formal soul of its own.” Cousin Pelham stared at me over the dish of fried chicken from which he was carefully selecting the brownest and tenderest piece. “The garden? Oh, yes, we’ve had to let that go. It was kept up as long as Clarissa lived. She had a passion for flowers; but we can’t get any of the darkeys to work it now.” Then he appealed directly to his wife, who was engaged in teaching Gertrude how to hold her fork properly. “There hasn’t been a spade stuck in the garden this spring, has there, Hannah?”

Mrs. Blanton shook her head, without removing her eyes from the little girl. “Nor last spring, nor the one before that,” she rejoined. “Nobody sets foot in it now except Pell, and he oughtn’t to go there. I tell him there might be snakes in the long grass; but he won’t mind what I say. It takes as much work as we can manage to plough the fields and the kitchen beds. We can’t spare any for that old garden you have to spade.”

“Perhaps that’s a part of the charm,” I responded. “It expresses itself, not some human being’s idea of planting.”

She looked at me as if she did not know what I meant, and on my other side Cousin Pelham chuckled softly. “That sounds like Clarissa,” he said, and there was no trace of sadness in his voice.

Across the table little Pell was eating delicately, pretending to be a bird. Now and then his stepmother turned away from the younger children to scold him about his fastidious appetite, or his odd manner of using his knife and fork, as if they were a superior kind of chopsticks. Her tone was not harsh. It was no sharper indeed than the one she used to her own children; yet, whenever she spoke to him, I felt rather than saw that he winced and shrank away from her. The child’s nerves were overstrung, I could tell that just by watching him with his stepmother; and to her, who could see nothing that was not directly before her eyes, his sensitiveness appeared deliberate perversity. Yet he was an attractive child in spite of his elfin ways. If he could only find the sympathy and understanding he needed so desperately, I felt that he might become very lovable.

Though I was sorry for the child then, I had barely touched the edge of the passion which presently filled my heart. The hardest hour of all, and one of the most trying moments in my life, came when we passed into the library, and Mrs. Blanton summoned the children to bed. The younger children, already nodding, obeyed without protest; but when it came to Pell’s turn to kiss his father good-night, he began to shake and whimper with terror. For a minute I did not understand; then turning to Cousin Pelham, I asked, with a sympathy so acute that it stabbed like a knife,

“Is Pell afraid of the dark?”

Cousin Pelham, sunk in the softest old leather chair, was beyond the sound of my voice; but his wife answered immediately in her firm and competent tone.

“We are trying to break him of it. It would be dreadful for his father’s son to be a coward.”

“Does he sleep in the nursery?”

“He used to, but we had to move his bed across the hall because he kept the other children awake. He gets, or pretends to get, the most ridiculous notions into his head, and he carries on so that the other children don’t get any sleep when they are in the room with him.”

“Where does he stay now?”

“In the spare room next to yours. We moved him there a few weeks ago, and you would think from the way he behaved that we were sending him to his grave.”

“But doesn’t that seem the wrong way, to frighten a nervous child into hysterics?”

At this she turned on me the most exasperating force in the universe, impregnable common sense.

“We’ve got to break him of it,” she retorted, “or he will be a baby all his life.”

“I think you’re wrong,” was all I could say feebly in denial; and my words had as little effect as the dash of hail on a window-pane. But, while I answered, I was telling myself that I had found out where the boy slept, and that I would go to his room as soon as I had bidden the family goodnight. Cousin Pelham and his wife stayed downstairs, I knew, in what they called “the chamber” behind the drawing room, so I should have to guard against only the stupid-looking nurse who had a room, I supposed, near the children.

Bending over, I pressed the boy to my heart. “I am near you, and I will take care of you,” I whispered. Then, releasing him, I stood back and watched him walk, wincing and trembling, after the sturdy children of his stepmother.

It seemed to me that the evening would never end. Every minute I was straining my ears for a sound from the floor above, while Cousin Pelham dozed through the processes of digestion, and Mrs. Blanton and I discussed such concrete facts as wood and stones and preserves and the best way to build a road or to cut down a tree. At last, when I was exhausted beyond belief, though it was only a little after nine o’clock, she laid down her mending, rose from her chair, and, with her hand on her husband’s shoulder, wished me good-night.

“You will find a candle in the hall,” she said. “We never use lamps in the chambers.” Her use of the archaic word struck me at the time as poetic. It was the only poetic touch I ever observed about her.

On a table in the hall I found a row of tallow dips in old brass candlesticks; and after lighting one, I took it in my hand and ascended the circular staircase. Ahead of me the light flitted like a moth up the worn steps, which the feet of generations had hollowed out in the centre as water hollows out a stairway of rock. The hall above was empty—it occurred to me at the moment that I had never seen such empty-looking halls—and was quite dark except for the flickering light of my candle. As I crossed the floor the green mist which I had left in the garden floated in and enveloped me, and that wistful fragrance became intolerably sweet. I had suddenly the feeling that the dim corners and winding recesses of the hall were crowded with intangible shapes.

After glancing through my open door to assure myself that I had not made a mistake, I stole across the hall and hesitated before the threshold of what Mrs. Blanton had pointed out to me as “the spare room.” If the child were sleeping, I did not wish to arouse him, but all idea that he slept was banished as I pushed the door wider and heard him talking aloud to himself. Then, while the pointed flame of my candle pierced the obscurity, I saw that he was not, as I had first thought, alone. The old coloured woman in the black alpaca dress, with the white apron and the red turban, was bending over him. When I approached she turned slowly and looked at me; and I felt that her dark, compassionate face was love made manifest to my eyes. So she had looked down on the child, and so, for one miraculous instant, she gazed directly into my heart. For one miraculous instant! Then, while I stood there, transfixed as by an arrow, she passed, with that slow movement, across the room to the door which I had left open. Before I could stir, before I could utter a word to detain her, she had disappeared; and the boy, sitting up in the heavily draped bed, was staring at me with wondering eyes. “Mammy was telling me a story,” he said.

“I didn’t know that you had a mammy now.” This was the best that I could do at the moment.

“Oh, yes, I have!” He smiled with charming archness, and I noticed that the fear had passed out of his voice.

“When did she come?” I asked.

“She has been here always, ever since,” he hesitated, “since before I was.”

“Does she look after the other children too?”

He laughed, cuddling down into the middle of the feather bed. “They don’t know about her. They have never seen her.”

“But how can she come and go in the house without anybody seeing her?”

At this the laughter stopped. “She has a way,” he answered enigmatically. “She never comes into the house except when I’m afraid.”

I bent over and kissed him. “Well, you’re not frightened any longer?”

“Oh, no. I’m all right now,” he replied, stroking my hand. “The next time it gets dark Mammy says she will come back and finish her story.”

“And I am next door,” I said. “Whenever you begin to feel frightened you can come and sleep on the big couch by the window.”

“By the window,” he repeated eagerly, “where Mammy’s wrens are under the eaves. That would be fun.”

Then, as I arranged the bedclothes over him, he turned his cheek to the pillow, and settled himself for the night. A moment later, when I went out of the room, I began wondering again about the old negress. Was she a faithful servant who had sacrificed her superstition to her affection for Clarissa’s child, and had stayed on at Whispering Leaves when the other negroes had gone away? In the morning I would make some inquiries. Meanwhile I liked to remember the glory—there is no other word to describe it—that I had seen in her dark face when she bent over the boy.

In the morning, when I came out of doors, it was into a world of maize-coloured sunshine. There was new green on the cedars, and the little blue flowers in the grass looked as formal as the blossoms in a Gothic tapestry. Suddenly a harsh scream sounded a little way to the right, and a peacock, with flaunting plumage, marched across the lawn, through the sunlight and shadow. As I stood there, entranced by the colour of the morning, it seemed to me that this circle of sunlight and shadow became alive with the quiver of innumerable gauzy wings, the bright ghosts of all the birds that had ever sung in this place.

When, presently, I turned in the direction of the garden, I saw that Pell was playing in a row of flowering quince near the stile. He was on his knees, building a castle of rocks, which he had brought in a little wagon from the road in the pasture; and while I approached, I observed that he was talking aloud to himself as children talk in their play. Then, before I reached him, I found my gaze arrested by a glimmer of red amid the smoke-gray boughs of a crêpe myrtle tree; and it seemed to my startled fancy that I made out the figure of the old negress. But the next minute a scarlet tanager flashed out of the branches, and the image proved to be one of those grotesque shapes which crêpe myrtle bushes, like ancient olive trees, frequently assume.

The child was playing happily by himself.

When my shadow fell over him, he looked up with his expression of secret wisdom. Kneeling there, with his red curls and his blue-green eyes enkindled by the sunshine, he reminded me of some unearthly flower of light.

“It will be a fine castle,” I said.

He glanced hastily over his shoulder; and I noticed that his manner was shy and furtive, though it expressed also a childish pleasure that was very appealing.

“I’ve got something better than a castle,” he answered. “I found it yesterday down by the ice pond. Will you promise not to tell if I let you look?”

“I promise,” I assured him gravely; and, with another suspicious glance in the direction of the house, he sprang to his feet and caught me by the hand. Leading me round the shrubbery and over the stile, he showed me a hollow he had made in the tall grasses beneath a cluster of lilac bushes. Lying there on a bed of dry fern I saw a black and white mongrel puppy, a delightful, audacious, independent puppy, half terrier and half unknown, with an engaging personality and a waggish black ear that dropped over one sparkling eye. Fastened securely by a strip of red cotton to the shrub, beside a partly gnawed bone and a saucer of water, he sat surveying me with an expectant, inquisitive look.

“Isn’t he a beauty?” asked Pell, enraptured, as he went down on his knees and flung his arms about the puppy.

“A beauty,” I repeated; and I also went down on my knees to embrace boy and dog.

“He hadn’t had anything to eat for ever so long when I found him. Martha gives me scraps for him, and William lets him sleep in the stable.” Then he looked straight into my eyes. “You won’t tell?” he pleaded. “She wouldn’t let him stay if she knew. She doesn’t like dogs.”

Of course she didn’t like dogs. Hadn’t I felt from the first that she wouldn’t? Why, there wasn’t a dog on the place, except the two black and yellow hounds I had seen half a mile away in the cornfield, and they belonged doubtless to one of the negroes.

“No, I won’t tell,” I promised. “I’ll help you take care of him.”

His eyes shone. “Can you teach him to do tricks? He knows how to beg already. Mammy taught him.”

I released the child quickly and rose to my feet. “Where is your Mammy, Pell?”

His rapid glance flew down the garden walk, and across the narcissi, to the twisted pear tree. “She’s just gone,” he answered. “She went when she saw you coming.”

“Where does she live?”

At this he broke into a laugh. “Oh, she lives away, way over yonder,” he responded, with a sweep of his hand.

For the next week Pell and I were cheerful conspirators. When I look back on it now, after so many years, I can still recall those cautious trips to the barn or the little bed of ferns under the lilacs. We fed Wop, that was the name we chose at last, until he grew as round as a ball; and he was just passing into the second stage of his education when Mrs. Blanton discovered his presence, as I was sure that she would be obliged to do sooner or later.

I had been away for the afternoon to visit some relatives at a distance; and as we drove home about sunset, we passed on the road the old coloured woman whom Pell had called Mammy. I could not be mistaken, I told myself. I should have recognized her anywhere, not only by the quaint turban she wore bound about her head, but by that indescribable light which shone in her face.

At the time we were driving through a stretch of burned pines, and when I first noticed her she had stopped to rest and was sitting on a charred stump by the roadside, with the red disc of the sun at her back. The light was in my eyes; but, as I leaned out and smiled at her, she gave me again that long deep look so filled with inarticulate yearning. I knew then, as I had known the first afternoon, that she was trying to make me understand, that she was charged with some message she could not utter. While her eyes met mine I was smitten—that is the only word for the sensation—into silence; but after we had driven on, I recovered myself sufficiently to say to the cousin who was taking me home:

“If she is going a long way, don’t you think we might give her a lift?”

My cousin, an obtuse young man, gazed at me vacantly. “If who is going a long way?”

“The old coloured woman by the roadside. Didn’t you see her?”

He shook his head. “No, I wasn’t looking. I didn’t see anybody.”

While he was still speaking, I leaned out with an exclamation of surprise. “Why, there she is now in front of us! She must have run ahead of us through the pines. She is waiting by the dead tree at the fork of the road.”

My cousin was laughing now. “The sunset makes you see double. There isn’t anybody there. Can you see anything except the blasted oak at the fork of the road, Jacob?”

A few minutes later, when we reached the place where the road branched, I saw that it was deserted. The red blaze of the sun could play tricks with one’s vision, I knew; but it was odd that on both occasions, at precisely the same hour, I should be visited by this hallucination. That it was an hallucination, I no longer doubted when, looking up a short while afterward, I saw again the old woman’s figure ahead of me. This time, however, I kept silent, for the first thing one learns from such visitations is the danger of talking to people of things which they cannot understand. But I drove on with my heart in my throat. In front of me in the blue air was that vision; and in my mind there was a voiceless apprehension. Then, as we reached the lawn, the old woman vanished, and a moment later the sound of a child’s crying fell on my ears.

Alone on the front steps. Pell sat weeping inconsolably, with his face hidden in his thin little hands. When I sprang from the carriage, he rushed into my arms.

“She has sent him away! She has sent him away to be drowned!” he cried in a heartbreaking voice.

As I drew him close, the door opened, and Mrs. Blanton looked out.

“Come in, Pell,” she called, not unkindly, but unseeingly. “You will fret yourself into a fever. The circus is coming next week, and if you make yourself sick, you won’t be able to go to it.”

At this Pell turned on her a white and quivering face. “I don’t want to go to the circus,” he said. “I don’t want any supper. I want Wop, and I wish you were dead!”

“Pell, dear!” I cried, but Mrs. Blanton only laughed good-naturedly, a laugh that was as common as her features.

“He’s got his mother’s temper all right,” she remarked to me over the child’s head. “If you don’t want any supper,” she added, dragging him indoors, while he struggled to free himself from the grasp of her large firm hand which seemed as inexorable as her purpose, “you must go straight upstairs to bed.”

When we had entered the house the boy broke away from her, and marched, without a tremor of hesitation, across the hall and into the thick dusk of the staircase.

“Let me go after him,” I said. “He is so afraid of the dark, and the candles are not lighted upstairs.”

Mrs. Blanton detained me by a gesture. “He is the sort of child you have to be firm with,” she returned, and then immediately, “Mr. Blanton”—she always addressed her husband as “Mr. Blanton”—“is waiting for us in the dining room. It frets him to be kept waiting.”

After this there was nothing to do but follow her, with a heavy heart, into the room, where Cousin Pelham stood, ponderously frowning at the door. I could not this evening meet his annoyance with my usual playful apology; and a little later, when the excellent supper was served, I found that I was unable to swallow a morsel. The fact that I was leaving the next day, that I should, perhaps, not see Pell again for years, had turned my heart to lead.

When supper was over I escaped as soon as I could and ran upstairs to the room where Pell slept. A candle was burning by his bed, and to my amazement the child was sleeping peacefully, with a smile on his face where the traces of tears were scarcely dried. While I looked down on him, he stirred and opened his eyes.

“I thought you were Mammy,” he murmured, with a drowsy laugh.

“Has Mammy been here?” I asked.

He was so sleepy that he could barely answer; but, as he nestled down into the middle of the feather bed, he replied without the faintest sign of his recent distress:

“She was here when I came up. She told me it was all right about Wop. Uncle Moab is keeping him for me.”

“Uncle Moab is keeping him?” I pressed my hand on his forehead under the vivid hair; but there was no hint of fever.

“She says she gave Wop to Uncle Moab. Mammy wouldn’t let anybody hurt him.”

Then his eyes closed while the smile quivered on his lips. “Mammy says you must take me with you when you go away,” he murmured. His face changed to an almost unearthly loveliness, and before I could answer, before I could even take in the words he had spoken, he had fallen asleep.

For a minute I stood looking down on him. Then leaving the candle still burning, I went out, closing the door softly, and ran against the maid, a young Irish woman, whose face I liked.

“I was just going to see if Pell had fallen asleep,” she explained a little nervously. “I have a message for him. You won’t tell Mrs. Blanton I brought it?”

“No. I won’t tell Mrs. Blanton.”

For an instant the girl hesitated. “She is so strict,” she blurted out, and then more guardedly, “William wouldn’t have drowned the child’s puppy. He just took it away and gave it to Uncle Moab who was going along the road.”

“I am glad,” I said eagerly. “Uncle Moab will look after it?”

“He sent Pell a message not to worry. I was going in to tell him.”

“But he knows it already,” I replied indiscreetly. “Somebody told him.”

A puzzled look came into her face. “But nobody knew. William just came back a minute ago, and there hasn’t been another soul on the place this afternoon.”

I saw my slip at once and hastened to remedy it. “Then I was mistaken of course. The child must have imagined it.”

“Yes, he does imagine things,” she responded readily; and after a word of good-night, she turned back to the stairs while I crossed the hall to my room.

There, as soon as I had closed the door, I put down my candle, and turned to the open window to think over what I had heard. There was nothing really strange, I told myself, in the incident of the puppy and Uncle Moab. It was natural enough that William should have refused to obey an order he thought cruel; it was natural enough also that Uncle Moab should have been going by in the road at that hour. Everything was easily explained except the singular change in the child, and the happy smile on his little tear-stained face when he murmured, “Mammy says you must take me with you when you go away.” Over and over again I heard those words as I sat there by the window. So insistent was the repetition that I might have deluded myself into the belief that they were spoken aloud in the darkness outside. How could I take the child away with me? I asked at last, as if I were disputing with some invisible presence at my side. What room was there for a child in my active life? I loved Pell; I hated to leave him; but how could I possibly take him with me when I went away in the morning? Yet, even after I had undressed, climbed into the canopied bed, and blown out my candle, I still heard that phrase again and again in my mind. I was still hearing it hours afterward when I fell asleep and dreamed of the old coloured woman sitting on the charred stump by the roadside.

Dreams. The old coloured woman by the roadside. The song of far-off birds coming nearer. The jade-green mist of the twilight changing suddenly to opal. Light growing out of darkness. Light turning from clear gold to flame colour. Still the song of birds that became so loud it was like the torrent of waters—or of fire. Dreams. Dreams. Nothing more....

Starting awake, I was aware first of that opal-coloured light; then of the fact that I was stifling, that a gray cloud had swept in from the open window, or the open door, and enveloped me. The next instant, with a cry, I sprang up and caught at the dressing-gown on a chair by my bed. From outside, mingled with that dream of singing birds and rushing torrents, the sound of voices was reaching me. The words I could not hear, but I needed no words to tell me that these were voices of warning. Whispering Leaves was burning while I dreamed. Whispering Leaves was burning, and I must fight my way to safety through the smoke that rushed in at my open door!

“Pell!” I called in terror, as I ran out into the hall. But there was no answer to my cry, and the next minute, when I looked into the child’s room, I saw that the bed was empty. They had saved him and forgotten me. Well, at least they had saved him!

Of the next few minutes, which seemed an eternity of terror, I can recall nothing now except a struggle for air. I must have fought my way through the smoke upstairs. I must have passed that savage light so close that it scorched my face, which was blistered afterward, though I felt no pain at the moment. I must have heard that rush of flames so near that it deafened me; but of this I can remember nothing to-day. Yet I can still feel the air blowing in my face on the lawn outside. I can still see the little green leaves on the cedars standing out illuminated in that terrible glow. I can still hear the cry that rang out:

“Pell! Where is Pell? Didn’t you bring Pell with you?”

Fifteen years ago. Fire and ashes, pain and happiness, have passed and are forgotten; but that question, as I heard it then, still sounds in my ears.

“Where is Pell? Didn’t you bring Pell with you?”

“I thought he was safe,” my voice was so thick that the words were scarcely articulate. “His room was empty.”

“He isn’t with the other children. We thought he had gone to you.” The speaker I have forgotten—Cousin Pelham or his wife, or the nurse, it is no matter—but the words are still living.

“I will go back.” This was Cousin Pelham, I knew, for he had turned to enter the burning house.

“It is too late now.” This was not one, but several voices together. As they spoke the windows of the house shone like the sunrise while a torrent of flame swept through the hall.

“Oh, Pell! Pell!” I cried out in agony. “Cannot you come to me?”

For a minute—it was scarcely longer—after I called, there was no answer. We stood in that red glare, and round us and beyond us closed the mysterious penumbra of the darkness. Without the circle, where we clung together in our horror, there was the freshness and the sweetness of the spring, and all the little quiet stirs that birds make when they nest at night. And it was out of this bird-haunted darkness that a shape moved suddenly past me into the flames, a shape which as the light edged it round I saw to be that of the old negress.

“She is looking for him,” I cried now. “Oh, don’t you see her?”

They gathered anxiously round me. “The fire has blinded her,” I heard them say. “She is looking straight at the flames.”

Yes, I was looking straight at the flames, for beyond the flames, past the unburned wing of the house, from the window of an old storeroom, which was never opened, they had told me, I saw the shape of the old negress pass again like a shadow. The next instant my heart melted with joy, for I saw that she was bringing the child in her arms. The little face was pale as death; the red curls were singed to black; but it was the child that she held. Even the unperceiving eyes about me, though they could see only material things, knew that Pell had come unharmed out of the fire. To them it was merely a shadow, a veil of smoke, which surrounded him. I alone saw the dark arms that enfolded him. I alone, among all those standing there in that awful light, recognized that dark compassionate face.

Her eyes found me at last, and I knew, in that moment of vision, what the message was that she had for me. Without a word I stepped forward, and held out my arms. As I did so, I saw a glory break in the dim features. Then, even while I gave my voiceless answer, the face melted from me into spirals of smoke. Was it a dream, after all? Was the only reality the fact that I held the child safe and unharmed in my arms?


“The question seems to be—” began the Englishman. He looked up and bowed to a girl in black who had just come in from deck and was taking the seat beside him. “The question seems to be—” The girl was having some difficulty in removing her coat, and he turned to assist her.

“In my opinion,” remarked the distinguished alienist, who was returning from a vacation in Vienna, “the question is whether or not civilization is defeating its own aims in placing an exorbitant value on human life.” As he spoke he leaned forward authoritatively and accented his words with foreign precision.

“You mean that the survival of the fittest is checkmated,” remarked a young journalist travelling in the interest of a New York daily, “that civilization should practise artificial selection, as it were?”

The alienist shrugged his shoulders deprecatingly. “My dear sir,” he protested, “I mean nothing. It is the question that means something.”

“Well, as I was saying,” began the Englishman again, reaching for the salt and upsetting a spoonful, “the question seems to be whether or not, in any circumstances, the saving of a human life may become positively immoral.”

“Upon that point—” began the alienist; but a young woman, in a white dress, who was seated on the Captain’s right interrupted him.

“How could it?” she asked. “At least I don’t see how it could. Do you, Captain?”

“There is no doubt,” remarked the journalist, looking up from a conversation he had drifted into with a lawyer from one of the Western States, “that the more humane spirit pervading modern civilization has not worked wholly for good in the development of the species. Probably, for instance, if we had followed the Spartan practice of exposing unhealthy infants, we should have retained something of the Spartan hardihood. Certainly if we had been content to remain barbarians both our digestions and our nerves would have been the better for it, and melancholia would perhaps have been unknown. But, at the same time, the loss of a number of the more heroic virtues is overbalanced by an increase of the softer ones. Notably, human life has never before been regarded so sacredly.”

“On the other side,” observed the lawyer, lifting his hand to adjust his eyeglasses, and pausing to brush a crumb from his coat, “though it is all very well to be philanthropic to the point of pauperizing half a community and of growing squeamish about capital punishment, the whole thing sometimes takes a disgustingly morbid turn. Why, it seems as if criminals were the real American heroes! Only last week I visited a man sentenced to death for the murder of his two wives, and, by Jove, the place was literally besieged by women sympathizers. I counted six bunches of roses in his cell, and at least fifty notes.”

“Oh, but that is a form of nervous hysteria!” said the girl in black, “and must be considered separately. Every sentiment has its fanatics, philanthropy as well as religion. But we can’t judge a movement by a few over-wrought disciples.”

“Why not?” asked the Englishman, quietly. He was a middle-aged man, with an optimistic expression and a build of comfortable solidity. “But to return to the original proposition. I suppose we all accept as a self-evident truth the axiom that the highest civilization is the one in which the highest value is placed upon individual life.”

“And happiness,” added the girl in black.

“And happiness,” assented the Englishman.

“And yet,” commented the lawyer, “I think that most of us will admit that such a society, where life is regarded as sacred because it is valuable to the individual, not because it is valuable to the state, tends to the non-production of heroes.”

“That the average will be higher and the exception lower,” observed the journalist. “In other words, that there will be a general elevation of the mass, accompanied by a corresponding lowering of the few.”

“On the whole, I think our system does very well,” said the Englishman, carefully measuring the horseradish. “A mean between two extremes is apt to be satisfactory in results. If we don’t produce a Marcus Aurelius or a Seneca, neither do we produce a Nero or a Phocas. We may have lost patriotism, but we have gained humanity, which is better. If we have lost chivalry, we have acquired decency; and if we have ceased to be picturesque, we have become cleanly, which is considerably more to be desired.”

“I have never felt the romanticism of the Middle Ages,” remarked the girl in black. “When I read of the glories of the Crusaders, I can’t help remembering that a knight wore a single garment for a lifetime, and hacked his horse to pieces for a whim. Just as I never think of that chivalrous brute, Richard the Lion-Hearted, that I don’t see him chopping off the heads of his prisoners.”

“Oh, I don’t think that any of us are sighing for a revival of the Middle Ages,” returned the journalist. “The worship of the past has for its devotees people who have known only the present.”

“Which is as it should be,” commented the lawyer. “If man were confined to the worship of the knowable, all the world would lapse into atheism.”

“Just as the great lovers of humanity were generally hermits,” added the girl in black. “I had an uncle who used to say that he never really loved mankind until he went to live in the wilderness.”

“I think we are drifting from the point,” said the alienist. “Was it not: Can the saving of a human life ever prove to be an immoral act? I once held that it could.”

“Did you act upon the theory?” asked the lawyer, with rising interest. “I maintain that no proposition can be said to exist until it is translated into action. Otherwise it is in an embryonic state merely.”

The alienist laid down his fork and leaned forward. He was a notable-looking man of some thirty-odd years, who had made a sudden leap into popularity through several successful cases. He had a nervous, muscular face, with singularly penetrating eyes and hair of a light sandy colour. His hands were white and well shaped.

“It was some years ago,” he said, bending a scintillant glance round the table. “If you will listen—”

There followed a stir of assent, accompanied by a nod from the young woman on the Captain’s right. “I feel as if it would be a ghost story,” she declared.

“It is not a story at all,” returned the alienist, lifting his wineglass and holding it against the light. “It is merely a fact.”

Then he glanced swiftly round the table as if challenging attention.

“As I said,” he began, slowly, “it was some few years ago. Just what year it was does not matter; but at that time I had completed a course at Heidelberg, and expected shortly to set out with an exploring party for South Africa. It turned out afterward that I did not go, but for the purpose of the present story it is sufficient that I intended to do so, and had made my preparations accordingly. At Heidelberg I had lived among a set of German students who were permeated with the metaphysics of Schopenhauer, Von Hartmann, and the rest, and I was pretty well saturated myself. At that age I was an ardent disciple of pessimism. I am still a disciple, but my ardour has abated, which is not the fault of pessimism, but the virtue of middle age—”

“A man is called conservative when he grows less radical,” interrupted the journalist.

“Or when he grows less in every direction,” added the Englishman, “except in physical bulk.” The alienist accepted the suggestions with an inclination, and continued. “One of my most cherished convictions,” he said, “was to the effect that every man is the sole arbiter of his fate. As Schopenhauer has put it, ‘that there is nothing to which a man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.’ Indeed, that particular sentence had become a kind of motto with our set, and some of my companions even went so far as to preach the proper ending of life with the ending of the power of individual usefulness.”

He paused to help himself to salad.

“I was in Scotland at the time, where I had spent a fortnight with my parents, in a small village on the Kyles of Bute. While there I had been treating an invalid cousin who had acquired the morphine habit, and who, under my care, had determined to uproot it. Before leaving I had secured from her the amount of the drug which she had in her possession—some thirty grains—done up in a sealed package, and labelled by a London chemist. As I was in haste, I put it in my bag, thinking that I would add it to my case of medicines when I reached Leicester, where I was to spend the night with an old schoolmate. I took the boat at Tighnabruaich, the small village, found a local train at Gourock, to reach Glasgow, with one minute in which to catch the first express to London. I made the change, and secured a first-class smoking-compartment, which I at first thought to be vacant; but when the train had started a man came from the dressing-room and took the seat across from me. At first I paid no heed to him, but upon looking up once or twice and finding his eyes upon me, I became unpleasantly conscious of his presence. He was thin almost to emaciation, and yet there was a suggestion of physical force about him which it was difficult to account for, since he was both short and slight. His clothes were shabby, though well made, and his tie had the appearance of having been tied in haste, or by nervous fingers. There was a trace of sensuality about his mouth, over which he wore a drooping yellow moustache tinged with gray, and he was somewhat bald on the crown of his head, which lent a deceptive hint of intellectuality to his uncovered forehead. As he crossed his legs, I saw that his boots were carefully blacked, and that they were long and slender, tapering to a decided point.”

“I have always held,” interpolated the lawyer, “that to judge a man’s character you must look at his feet.”

The alienist sipped his claret and took up his words:

“After passing the first stop, I remembered a book at the bottom of my bag, and unfastening the strap in my search for the book, I laid a number of small articles on the seat beside me, among them the sealed package bearing the morphine label and the name of the London chemist. Having found the book, I turned to replace the articles, when I noticed that the man across from me was gazing attentively at the labelled package. For a moment his expression startled me, and I stared back at him from across my open bag, into which I had dropped the articles. There was in his eyes a curious mixture of passion and repulsion, and, beyond it all, the look of a hungry hound when he sees food. Thinking that I had chanced upon a victim of the opium craving, I closed the bag, placed it in the net above my head, and opened my book.

“For a while we rode in silence. Nothing was heard except the noise of the train and the clicking of our bags as they jostled each other in the receptacle above. I remember these details very vividly, because since then I have recalled the slightest fact in connection with the incident. I knew that the man across from me drew a cigar from his case, felt in his pocket for an instant, and then turned to me for a match. At the same time I experienced the feeling that the request veiled a larger purpose, and that there were matches in the pocket into which he had thrust his fingers.

“But, as I complied with his request, he glanced indifferently out of the window, and following his gaze, I saw that we were passing a group of low lying hills sprinkled with stray patches of heather, and that across the hills a flock of sheep were filing, followed by a peasant girl in a short skirt. It was the last faint reminder of the Highlands.

“The man across from me leaned out, looking back upon the neutral sky, the sparse patches of heather, and the flock of sheep.

“‘What a tone the heather gives to a landscape!’ he remarked, and his voice sounded forced and affected.

“I bowed without replying, and as he turned from the window, and a draught of cinders blew in, I bent forward to lower the sash. In a moment he spoke again:

“‘Do you go to London?’

“‘To Leicester,’ I answered, laying the book aside, impelled by a sudden interest. ‘Why do you ask?’

“He flushed nervously.

“‘I—oh, nothing,’ he answered, and drew away from me.

“Then, as if with swift determination, he reached forward and lifted the book I had laid on the seat. It was a treatise of Von Hartmann’s in German.

“‘I had judged that you were a physician,’ he said, ‘a student, perhaps, from a German university?’

“‘I am.’

“He paused for an instant, and then spoke in absent-minded reiteration, ‘So you don’t go on to London?’

“‘No,’ I returned, impatiently. ‘Can I do anything for you?’

“He handed me the book, regarding me resolutely as he did so.

“‘Are you a sensible man?’

“I bowed.

“‘And a philosopher?’

“‘In amateur fashion.’

“With feverish energy he went on more quickly, ‘You have in your possession,’ he said, ‘something for which I would give my whole fortune.’ He laid two half-sovereigns and some odd silver in the palm of his hand. ‘This is all I possess,’ he continued, ‘but I would give it gladly.’

“I looked at him curiously.

“‘You mean the morphine?’ I demanded.

“He nodded. ‘I don’t ask you to give it to me, I only ask—’

“I interrupted him. ‘Are you in pain?’

“He laughed softly, and I really believe he felt a tinge of amusement. ‘It is a question of expediency,’ he explained. If you happen to be a moralist—’ He broke off.

“‘What of it?’ I inquired.

“He settled himself in his corner, resting his head against the cushions.

“‘You get out at Leicester,’ he said, recklessly. ‘I go on to London, where Providence, represented by Scotland Yard, is awaiting me.’

“I started. ‘For what?’

“‘They call it murder, I believe,’ he returned; but what they call it matters very little. I call it divine justice—that also matters very little. The point is—I shall arrive, they will be there before me. That is settled. Every station along the road is watched.’

“I glanced out of the window.

“‘But you came from Glasgow,’ I suggested.

“‘Worse luck! I waited in the dressing-room until the train started. I hoped to have the compartment alone, but—’ He leaned forward and lowered the window-shade. ‘If you don’t object,’ he said, apologetically; ‘I find the glare trying. It is a question for a moralist,’ he repeated. ‘Indeed, I may call myself a question for a moralist,’ and he smiled again with that ugly humour. ‘To begin with the beginning, the question is bred in the bone and it’s out in the blood.’ He nodded at my look of surprise. ‘You are an American,’ he continued, ‘so am I. I was born in Washington some thirty years ago. My father was a politician, whose honour was held to be unimpeachable—which was a mistake. His name doesn’t matter, but he became very wealthy through judicious speculations in votes and other things. My mother has always suffered from an incipient hysteria, which developed shortly before my birth.’ He wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, and knocked the ashes from his cigar with a flick of his finger. ‘The motive for this is not far to seek,’ he said, with a glance at my travelling-bag. He had the coolest bravado I have ever met. ‘As a child,’ he went on, ‘I gave great promise. Indeed, we moved to England that I might be educated at Oxford. My father considered the ecclesiastical atmosphere to be beneficial. But while at college I got into trouble with a woman, and I left. My father died, his fortune burst like a bubble, and my mother moved to the country. I was put into a banking office, but I got into more trouble with women, this time two of them. One was a variety actress, and I married her. I didn’t want to do it. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help it, and I did it. A month later I left her. I changed my name and went to Belfast where I resolved to become an honest man. It was a tough job, but I laboured and I succeeded for a time. The variety actress began looking for me, but I escaped her, and have escaped her so far. That was eight years ago. And several years after reaching Belfast I met another woman. She was different. I fell ill of fever in Ireland, and she nursed me. She was a good woman, with a broad Irish face, strong hands, and motherly shoulders. I was weak and she was strong, and I fell in love with her. I tried to tell her about the variety actress, but somehow I couldn’t, and I married her.’ He shot the stump of his cigar through the opposite window and lighted another, this time drawing the match from his pocket. ‘She is an honest woman,’ he said, ‘as honest as the day. She believes in me. It would kill her to know about the variety actress and all the others. There is one child, a girl, a freckle-faced mite just like her mother, and another is coming.’

“‘She knows nothing of this affair?’

“‘Not a blamed thing. She is the kind of woman who is good because she can’t help herself. She enjoys it. I never did. My mother is different too. She would die if other people knew of this; my wife would die if she knew of it herself. Well, I got tired, and I wanted money, so I left her and went to Dublin. I changed my name and got a clerkship in a shipping-office. My wife thinks I went to America to get work, and if she never hears of me she’ll probably think no worse. I did intend going to America, but somehow I didn’t. I got in with a man who signed somebody’s name to a cheque and got me to present it. Then we quarrelled about the money; the man threw the job on me, and the affair came out. But before they arrested me, I ran him down and shot him. I was ridding the world of a damned traitor.’

“He raised the shade with a nervous hand; but the sun flashed into his eyes, and he lowered it.

“‘I suppose I’d hang for it,’ he said. ‘There isn’t much doubt of that. If I waited, I’d hang for it, but I am not going to wait. I am going to die.’

“‘And how?’

“‘Before this train reaches London,’ he replied. ‘I am a dead man. There are two ways. I might say three, except that a pitch from the carriage might mean only a broken leg. But there is this—’ He drew a vial from his pocket and held it to the light. It contained an ounce or so of carbolic acid.

“‘One of the most corrosive of irritants,’ I observed.

“‘And there is—your package.’

“My first impulse was to force the vial from him. He was a slight man, and I could have overcome him with but little exertion. But the exertion I did not make. I should as soon have thought, when my rational humour reasserted itself, of knocking a man down and robbing him of his watch. The acid was as exclusively his property as the clothes he wore, and equally his life was his own. Had he declared his intention to hurl himself from the window, I might not have made way for him, but I should certainly not have obstructed his passage.

“But the morphine was mine, and that I should assist him was another matter, so I said:

“‘The package belongs to me.’

“‘And you will not exchange?’

“‘Certainly not.’

“He answered, almost angrily:

“‘Why not be reasonable? You admit that I am in a mess of it?’


“‘You also admit that my life is morally my own?’


“‘That its continuance could in no wise prove to be of benefit to society?’

“‘I do.’

“‘That for all connected with me it is better that I should die unknown and under an assumed name?’


“‘Then you admit also that the best I can do is to kill myself before reaching London?’


“‘So you will leave me the morphine when you get off at Leicester?’


“He struck the window-sill impatiently with the palm of his hand.

“‘And why not?’

“I hesitated an instant.

“‘Because, upon the whole, I do not care to be the instrument of your self-destruction.’

“‘Don’t be a fool!’ he retorted. ‘Speak honestly, and say that because of a little moral shrinking on your part, you prefer to leave a human being to a death of agony. I don’t like physical pain. I am like a woman about it, but it is better than hanging, or life-imprisonment, or any jury finding.’

“I became exhortatory.

“‘Why not face it like a man and take your chances? Who knows—’

“‘I have had my chances,’ he returned. ‘I have squandered more chances than most men ever lay eyes on, and I don’t care. If I had the opportunity, I’d squander them again. It is the only thing chances are made for.’

“‘What, a scoundrel you are!’ I exclaimed.

“‘Well, I don’t know,’ he answered; ‘there have been worse men. I never said a harsh word to a woman, and I never hit a man when he was down—’

“I blushed. ‘Oh, I didn’t mean to hit you,’ I responded.

“He took no notice.

“‘I like my wife,’ he said. ‘She is a good woman, and I’d do a good deal to keep her and the children from knowing the truth. Perhaps I’d kill myself even if I didn’t want to. I don’t know, but I am tired—damned tired.’

“‘And yet you deserted her.’

“‘I did. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help it. If I were free to go back to her to-morrow, unless I was ill and wanted nursing, I’d see that she had grown shapeless, and that her hands were coarse.’ He stretched out his own, which were singularly white and delicate. ‘I believe I’d leave her in a week,’ he said.

“Then with an eager movement he pointed to my bag.

“‘That is the ending of the difficulty,’ he added. ‘Otherwise I swear that before the train gets to London, I will swallow this stuff and die like a rat.’

“‘I admit your right to die in any manner you choose; but I don’t see that it is my place to assist you. It is an ugly job.”

“‘So am I,’ he retorted, grimly. ‘At any rate, if you leave the train with that package in your bag it will be cowardice—sheer cowardice. And for the sake of your cowardice you will damn me to this.’ He touched the vial.

“‘It won’t be pleasant,’ I said, and we were silent.

“I knew that the man had spoken the truth. I was accustomed to lies, and had learned to detect them. I knew, also, that the world would be well rid of him and his kind. Why I should preserve him for death upon the gallows I did not see. The majesty of the law would be in no way ruffled by his premature departure; and if I could trust that part of his story, the lives of innocent women and children would, in the other case, suffer considerably. And, even if I and my unopened bag alighted at Leicester, I was sure that he would never reach London alive. He was a desperate man, this I read in his set face, his dazed eyes, his nervous hands. He was a poor devil, and I was sorry for him. Why, then, should I contribute, by my refusal to comply with his request, an additional hour of agony to his existence? Could I, with my pretence of philosophic freedom, alight at my station, leaving him to swallow the acid and die like a rat in a cage before the journey was over? I remembered that I had once seen a guinea-pig die from the effects of carbolic acid, and the remembrance sickened me.

“As I sat there listening to the noise of the slackening train, which was nearing Leicester, I thought of a hundred things. I thought of Schopenhauer and Von Hartmann. I thought of the dying guinea-pig. I thought of the broad-faced Irish wife and the two children.

“Then ‘Leicester’ flashed before me, and the train stopped. I rose, gathered my coat and rug, and lifted the volume of Von Hartmann from the seat. The man remained motionless in the corner of the compartment, but his eyes followed me.

“I stooped, opened my bag, and laid the chemist’s package on the seat. Then I stepped out, closing the door after me.”

As the speaker finished, he reached forward, selected an almond from the stand of nuts, fitted it carefully between the crackers, and cracked it slowly.

The young woman in the white dress started up with a shudder.

“What a horrible story!” she exclaimed; “for it is a story, after all, and not a fact.”

“A point, rather,” suggested the Englishman; “but is that all?”

“All of the point,” returned the alienist. “The next day I saw in the Times that a man, supposed to be James Morganson, who was wanted for murder, was found dead in a first-class smoking-compartment of the Midland Railway. Coroner’s verdict, ‘Death resulting from an overdose of opium, taken with suicidal intent.’”

The journalist dropped a lump of sugar in his cup and watched it attentively.

“I don’t think I could have done it,” he said. “I might have left him with his carbolic. But I couldn’t have deliberately given him his death-potion.”

“But as long as he was going to die,” responded the girl in black, “it was better to let him die painlessly.”

The Englishman smiled. “Can a woman ever consider the ethical side of a question when the sympathetic one is visible?” he asked.

The alienist cracked another almond. “I was sincere,” he said. “Of that there is no doubt. I thought I did right. The question is—did I do right?”

“It would have been wiser,” began the lawyer, argumentatively, “since you were the stronger, to take the vial from him and leave him to the care of the law.”

“But the wife and children,” replied the girl in black. “And hanging is so horrible!”

“So is murder,” responded the lawyer, dryly.

The young woman on the Captain’s right laid her napkin on the table and rose. “I don’t know what was right,” she said, “but I do know that in your place I should have felt like a murderer.”

The alienist smiled half cynically. “So I did,” he answered; “but there is such a thing, my dear young lady, as a conscientious murderer.”


Outside, in the autumn rain, the leaves were falling.

For twenty years, every autumn since her marriage, Margaret Fleming had watched the leaves from this window; and always it had seemed to her that they were a part of her life which she held precious. As they fell she had known that they carried away something she could never recover—youth, beauty, pleasure, or only memories that she wanted to keep. Something gracious, desirable and fleeting; but never until this afternoon had she felt that the wind was sweeping away the illusion of happiness by which she lived. Beyond the panes, against which the rain was beating in gray sheets, she looked out on the naked outlines of the city: bleak houses, drenched grass in squares, and boughs of trees where a few brown or yellow leaves were clinging.

On the hearth rug the letter lay where it had fallen a few minutes—or was it a few hours ago? The flames from the wood fire cast a glow on the white pages; and she imagined that the ugly words leaped out to sting her like scorpions as she moved by them. Not for worlds, she told herself, would she stoop and touch them again. Yet what need had she to touch them when each slanting black line was etched in her memory with acid? Never, though she lived a hundred years, could she forget the way the letters fell on the white paper!

Once, twice, three times, she walked from window to door and back again from door to window. The wood fire burned cheerfully with a whispering sound. As the lights and shadows stirred over the familiar objects she had once loved, her gaze followed them hungrily. She had called this upstairs library George’s room, and she realized now that every piece of furniture, every book it contained, had been chosen to please him. He liked the golden brown of the walls, the warm colours in the Persian rugs, the soft depth of the cushioned chairs. He liked, too, the flamboyant red lilies beneath the little Chippendale mirror.

After twenty years of happiness, of comradeship, of mutual dependence, after all that marriage could mean to two equal spirits, was there nothing left except ashes? Could twenty years of happiness be destroyed in an afternoon, in an hour? Stopping abruptly, with a jerk which ran like a spasm through her slender figure, she gazed with hard searching eyes over the red lilies into the mirror. The grave beauty of her face, a beauty less of flesh than of spirit, floated there in the shadows like a flower in a pond.

“I am younger than he is by a year,” she thought, “and yet he can begin over again to love, while a new love for me would be desecration.”

There was the sound of his step on the stair. An instant later his hand fell on the door, and he entered the room.

Stooping swiftly, she picked up the letter from the rug and hid it in her bosom. Then turning toward him, she received his kiss with a smile. “I didn’t wait lunch for you,” she said.

“I got it at the club.” After kissing her cheek, he moved to the fire and stood warming his hands. “Beastly day. No chance of golf, so I’ve arranged to see that man from Washington. You won’t get out, I suppose?”

She shook her head. “No, I sha’n’t get out.”

Did he know, she wondered, that this woman had written to her? Did he suspect that the letter lay now in her bosom? He had brought the smell of rain, the taste of dampness, with him into the room; and this air of the outer world enveloped him while he stood there, genial, robust, superbly vital, clothed in his sanguine temperament as in the healthy red and white of his flesh. Still boyish at forty-five, he had that look of perennial innocence which some men carry untarnished through the most enlightening experiences. Even his moustache and his sharply jutting chin could not disguise the softness that hovered always about his mouth, where she noticed now, with her piercing scrutiny, the muscles were growing lax. Strange that she had never seen this until she discovered that George loved another woman! The thought dashed into her mind that she knew him in reality no better than if she had lived with a stranger for twenty years. Yet, until a few hours ago, she would have said, had any one asked her, that their marriage was as perfect as any mating between a man and a woman could be in this imperfect world.

“You’re wise. The wind’s still in the east, and there is no chance, I’m afraid, of a change.” He hesitated an instant, stared approvingly at the red lilies, and remarked abruptly, “Nice colour.”

“You always liked red.” Her mouth lost its softness. “And I was pale even as a girl.”

His genial gaze swept her face. “Oh, well, there’s red and red, you know. Some cheeks look best pale.”

Without replying to his words, she sat looking up at him while her thoughts, escaping her control, flew from the warm room out into the rough autumn weather. It was as if she felt the beating of the rain in her soul, as if she were torn from her security and whirled downward and onward in the violence of the storm. On the surface of her life nothing had changed. The fire still burned; the lights and shadows still flickered over the Persian rugs; her husband still stood there, looking down on her through the cloudless blue of his eyes. But the real Margaret, the vital part of her, was hidden far away in that deep place where the seeds of mysterious impulses and formless desires lie buried. She knew that there were secrets within herself which she had never acknowledged in her own thoughts; that there were unexpressed longings which had never taken shape even in her imagination. Somewhere beneath the civilization of the ages there was the skeleton of the savage.

The letter in her bosom scorched her as if it were fire. “That was why you used to call me magnolia blossom,” she said in a colourless voice, and knew it was only the superficial self that was speaking.

His face softened; yet so perfectly had the note of sentiment come to be understood rather than expressed in their lives that she could feel his embarrassment. The glow lingered in his eyes, but he answered only, “Yes, you were always like that.”

An irrepressible laugh broke from her. Oh, the irony, the bitterness! “Perhaps you like them pale!” she tossed back mockingly, and wondered if this Rose Morrison who had written to her was coloured like her name?

He looked puzzled but solicitous. “I’m afraid I must be off. If you are not tired, could you manage to go over these galleys this afternoon? I’d like to read the last chapter aloud to you after the corrections are made.” He had written a book on the history of law; and while he drew the roll of proof sheets from his pocket, she remembered, with a pang as sharp as the stab of a knife, all the work of last summer when they had gathered material together. He needed her for his work, she realized, if not for his pleasure. She stood, as she had always done, for the serious things of his life. This book could not have been written without her. Even his success in his profession had been the result of her efforts as well as his own.

“I’m never too tired for that,” she responded, and though she smiled up at him, it was a smile that hurt her with its irony.

“Well, my time’s up,” he said. “By the way. I’ll need my heavier golf things if it is fine to-morrow.” To-morrow was Sunday, and he played golf with a group of men at the Country Club every Sunday morning.

“They are in the cedar closet. I’ll get them out.”

“The medium ones, you know. That English tweed.”

“Yes, I know. I’ll have them ready,” Did Rose Morrison play golf, she wondered.

“I’ll try to get back early to dinner. There was a button loose on the waistcoat I wore last evening. I forgot to mention it this morning.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I left it to the servants, but I’ll look after it myself.” Again this perverse humour seized her. Had he ever asked Rose Morrison to sew on a button?

At the door he turned back. “And I forgot to ask you this morning to order flowers for Morton’s funeral. It is to be Monday.”

The expression on her face felt as stiff as a wax mask, and though she struggled to relax her muscles, they persisted in that smile of inane cheerfulness. “I’ll order them at once, before I begin the galleys,” she answered.

Rising from the couch on which she had thrown herself at his entrance, she began again her restless pacing from door to window. The library was quiet except for the whispering flames. Outside in the rain the leaves were falling thickly, driven hither and thither by the wind which rocked the dappled boughs of the sycamores. In the gloom of the room the red lilies blazed.

The terror, which had clutched her like a living thing, had its fangs in her heart. Terror of loss, of futility. Terror of the past because it tortured her. Terror of the future because it might be empty even of torture. “He is mine, and I will never give him up,” she thought wildly. “I will fight to the end for what is mine.”

There was a sound at the door and Winters, the butler, entered. “Mrs. Chambers, Madam. She was quite sure you would be at home.”

“Yes, I am at home.” She was always at home, even in illness, to Dorothy Chambers. Though they were so different in temperament, they had been friends from girlhood; and much of the gaiety of Margaret’s life had been supplied by Dorothy. Now, as her friend entered, she held out her arms. “You come whenever it rains, dear,” she said. “It is so good of you.” Yet her welcome was hollow, and at the very instant when she returned her friend’s kiss she was wishing that she could send her away. That was one of the worst things about suffering; it made one indifferent and insincere.

Dorothy drew off her gloves, unfastened her furs, and after raising her veil over the tip of her small inquisitive nose, held out her hand with a beseeching gesture.

“I’ve come straight from a committee luncheon. Give me a cigarette.”

Reaching for the Florentine box on the desk, Margaret handed it to her. A minute later, while the thin blue flame shot up between them, she asked herself if Dorothy could look into her face and not see the difference?

Small, plain, vivacious, with hair of ashen gold, thin intelligent features, and a smile of mocking brilliance, Dorothy was the kind of woman whom men admire without loving and women love without admiring. As a girl she had been a social success without possessing a single one of the qualities upon which social success is supposed to depend.

Sinking back in her chair, she blew several rings of smoke from her lips and watched them float slowly upward.

“We have decided to give a bridge party. There’s simply no other way to raise money. Will you take a table?”

Margaret nodded. “Of course.” Suffering outside of herself made no difference to her. Her throbbing wound was the only reality.

“Janet is going to lend us her house.” A new note had come into Dorothy’s voice. “I haven’t seen her since last spring. She had on a new hat, and was looking awfully well. You know Herbert has come back.”

Margaret started. At last her wandering attention was fixed on her visitor. “Herbert? And she let him?” There was deep disgust in her tone.

Dorothy paused to inhale placidly before she answered. “Well, what else could she do? He tried to make her get a divorce, and she wouldn’t.”

A flush stained Margaret’s delicate features. “I never understood why she didn’t. He made no secret of what he wanted. He showed her plainly that he loved the other woman.”

Dorothy’s only reply was a shrug; but after a moment, in which she smoked with a luxurious air, she commented briefly, “But man’s love isn’t one of the eternal verities.”

“Well, indifference is, and he proved that he was indifferent to Janet. Yet she has let him come back to her. I can’t see what she is to get out of it.”

Dorothy laughed cynically. “Oh, she enjoys immensely the attitude of forgiveness, and at last he has permitted her to forgive him. There is a spiritual vanity as well as a physical one, you know, and Janet’s weakness is spiritual.”

“But to live with a man who doesn’t love her? To remember every minute of the day and night that it is another woman he loves?”

“And every time that she remembers it she has the luxury of forgiving again.” Keenness flickered like a blade in Dorothy’s gray eyes. “You are very lovely, Margaret,” she said abruptly. “The years seem only to leave you rarer and finer, but you know nothing about life.”

A smile quivered and died on Margaret’s lips. “I might retort that you know nothing about love.”

With an impatient birdlike gesture Dorothy tossed her burned-out cigarette into the fire. “Whose love?” she inquired as she opened the Florentine box, “Herbert’s or yours?”

“It’s all the same, isn’t it?”

By the flame of the match she had struck Dorothy’s expression appeared almost malign. “There, my dear, is where you are wrong,” she replied. “When a man and a woman talk of love they speak two different languages. They can never understand each other because women love with their imagination and men with their senses. To you love is a thing in itself, a kind of abstract power like religion; to Herbert it is simply the way he feels.”

“But if he loves the other woman, he doesn’t love Janet; and yet he wants to return to her.” Leaning back in her chair, Dorothy surveyed her with a look which was at once sympathetic and mocking. Her gaze swept the pure grave features; the shining dusk of the hair; the narrow nose with its slight arch in the middle; the straight red lips with their resolute pressure; the skin so like a fading rose-leaf. Yes, there was beauty in Margaret’s face if one were only artist or saint enough to perceive it.

“There is so much more in marriage than either love or indifference,” she remarked casually. “There is, for instance, comfort.”

“Comfort?” repeated Margaret scornfully. She rose, in her clinging draperies of chiff on, to place a fresh log on the fire. “If he really loves the other woman, Janet ought to give him up,” she said.

At this Dorothy turned on her. “Would you, if it were George?” she demanded.

For an instant, while she stood there in front of the fire, it seemed to Margaret that the room whirled before her gaze like the changing colours in a kaleidoscope. Then a gray cloud fell over the brightness, and out of this cloud there emerged only the blaze of the red lilies. A pain struck her in the breast, and she remembered the letter she had hidden there.

“Yes,” she answered presently. “I should do it if it were George.”

A minute afterward she became conscious that while she spoke, a miracle occurred within her soul.

The tumult of sorrow, of anger, of bitterness, of despair, was drifting farther and farther away. Even the terror, which was worse than any tumult, had vanished. In that instant of renunciation she had reached some spiritual haven. What she had found, she understood presently, was the knowledge that there is no support so strong as the strength that enables one to stand alone.

“I should do it if it were George,” she said again, very slowly.

“Well, I think you would be very foolish.” Dorothy had risen and was lowering her veil. “For when George ceases to be desirable for sentimental reasons, he will still have his value as a good provider.” Her mocking laugh grated on Margaret’s ears. “Now, I must run away. I only looked in for an instant. I’ve a tea on hand, and I must go home and dress.”

When she had gone, Margaret stood for a minute, thinking deeply. For a minute only, but in that space of time her decision was made. Crossing to the desk, she telephoned for the flowers. Then she left the library and went into the cedar closet at the end of the hall. When she had found the golf clothes George wanted, she looked over them carefully and hung them in his dressing room. Her next task was to lay out his dinner clothes and to sew the loose button on the waistcoat he had worn last evening. She did these things deliberately, automatically, repeating as if it were a forumla, “I must forget nothing”; and when at last she had finished, she stood upright, with a sigh of relief, as if a burden had rolled from her shoulders. Now that she had attended to the details of existence, she would have time for the problem of living.

Slipping out of her gray dress, she changed into a walking suit of blue homespun. Then, searching among the shoes in her closet, she selected a pair of heavy boots she had worn in Maine last summer. As she put on a close little hat and tied a veil of blue chiffon over her face, she reflected, with bitter mirth, that only in novels could one hide one’s identity behind a veil.

In the hall downstairs she met Winters, who stared at her discreetly but disapprovingly.

“Shall I order the car, madam?”

She shook her head, reading his thoughts as plainly as if he had uttered them. “No, it has stopped raining. I want to walk.”

The door closed sharply on her life of happiness, and she passed out into the rain-soaked world where the mist caught her like damp smoke. So this was what it meant to be deserted, to be alone on the earth! The smell of rain, the smell that George had brought with him into the warm room upstairs, oppressed her as if it were the odour of melancholy.

As the chill pierced her coat, she drew her furs closely about her neck, and walked briskly in the direction of the street car. The address on the letter she carried was burned into her memory not in numbers, but in the thought that it was a villa George owned in an unfashionable suburb named Locust Park. Though she had never been there, she knew that, with the uncertain trolley service she must expect, it would take at least two hours to make the trip and return. Half an hour for Rose Morrison; and even then it would be night, and Winters at least would be anxious, before she reached home. Well, that was the best she could do.

The street car came, and she got in and found a seat behind a man who had been shooting and carried a string of partridges. All the other seats were filled with the usual afternoon crowd for the suburbs—women holding bundles or baskets and workmen returning from the factories. A sense of isolation like spiritual darkness descended upon her; and she closed her eyes and tried to bring back the serenity she had felt in the thought of relinquishment. But she could remember only a phrase of Dorothy’s which floated like a wisp of thistledown through her thoughts, “Spiritual vanity. With some women it is stronger than physical vanity.” Was that her weakness, vanity, not of the body, but of the spirit?

Thoughts blew in and out of her mind like dead leaves, now whirling, now drifting, now stirring faintly in her consciousness with a moaning sound. Twenty years. Nothing but that. Love and nothing else in her whole life.... The summer of their engagement. A rose garden in bloom. The way he looked. The smell of roses. Or was it only the smell of dead leaves rotting to earth?... All the long, long years of their marriage. Little things that one never forgot. The way he laughed. The way he smiled. The look of his hair when it was damp on his forehead. The smell of cigars in his clothes. The three lumps of sugar in his coffee. The sleepy look in his face when he stood ready to put out the lights while she went up the stairs. Oh, the little things that tore at one’s heart!

The street car stopped with a jerk, and she got out and walked through the drenched grass in the direction one of the women had pointed out to her.

“The Laurels? That low yellow house at the end of this lane, farther on where the piles of dead leaves are. You can’t see the house now, the lane turns, but it’s just a stone’s throw farther on.”

Thanking her, Margaret walked on steadily toward the turn in the lane. Outside of the city the wind blew stronger, and the coloured leaves, bronze, yellow, crimson, lay in a thick carpet over the muddy road. In the west a thin line of gold shone beneath a range of heavy, smoke-coloured clouds. From the trees rain still dripped slowly; and between the road and the line of gold in the west there stretched the desolate autumn landscape.

“Oh, the little things!” her heart cried in despair. “The little things that make happiness!”

Entering the sagging gate of The Laurels, she passed among mounds of sodden leaves which reminded her of graves, and followed the neglected walk between rows of leafless shrubs which must have looked gay in summer. The house was one of many cheap suburban villas (George had bought it, she remembered, at an auction) and she surmised that, until this newest tenant came, it must have stood long unoccupied. The whole place wore, she reflected as she rang the loosened bell, a furtive and insecure appearance.

After the third ring the door was hurriedly opened by a dishevelled maid, who replied that her mistress was not at home.

“Then I shall wait,” said Margaret firmly. “Tell your mistress, when she comes in, that Mrs. Fleming is waiting to see her.” With a step as resolute as her words, she entered the house and crossed the hall to the living room where a bright coal fire was burning.

The room was empty, but a canary in a gilded cage at the window broke into song as she entered. On a table stood a tray containing the remains of tea; and beside it there was a half-burned cigarette in a bronze Turkish bowl. A book—she saw instantly that it was a volume of the newest plays—lay face downward beneath a pair of eyeglasses, and a rug, which had fallen from the couch, was in a crumpled pile on the floor.

“So she isn’t out,” Margaret reflected; and turning at a sound, she confronted Rose Morrison.

For an instant it seemed to the older woman that beauty like a lamp blinded her eyes. Then, as the cloud passed, she realized that it was only a blaze, that it was the loveliness of dead leaves when they are burning.

“So you came?” said Rose Morrison, while she gazed at her with the clear and competent eyes of youth. Her voice, though it was low and clear, had no softness; it rang like a bell. Yes, she had youth, she had her flamboyant loveliness; but stronger than youth and loveliness, it seemed to Margaret, surveying her over the reserves and discriminations of the centuries, was the security of one who had never doubted her own judgment. Her power lay where power usually lies in an infallible self-esteem.

“I came to talk it over with you,” began Margaret quietly; and though she tried to make her voice insolent, the deep instinct of good manners was greater than her effort. “You tell me that my husband loves you.”

The glow, the flame, in Rose Morrison’s face made Margaret think again of leaves burning. There was no embarrassment, there was no evasion even, in the girl’s look. Candid and unashamed, she appeared to glory in this infatuation, which Margaret regarded as worse than sinful, since it was vulgar.

“Oh, I am so glad that you did,” Rose Morrison’s sincerity was disarming. “I hated to hurt you. You can never know what it cost me to write that letter; but I felt that I owed it to you to tell you the truth. I believe that we always owe people the truth.”

“And did George feel this way also?”

“George?” The flame mounted until it enveloped her. “Oh, he doesn’t know. I tried to spare him. He would rather do anything than hurt you, and I thought it would be so much better if we could talk it over and find a solution just between ourselves. I knew if you cared for George, you would feel as I do about sparing him.”

About sparing him! As if she had done anything for the last twenty years, Margaret reflected, except think out new and different ways of sparing George!

“I don’t know,” she answered, as she sat down in obedience to the other’s persuasive gesture. “I shall have to think a minute. You see this has been—well, rather—sudden.”

“I know, I know.” The girl looked as if she did. “May I give you a cup of tea? You must be chilled.”

“No, thank you. I am quite comfortable.”

“Not even a cigarette? Oh, I wonder what you Victorian women did for a solace when you weren’t allowed even a cigarette!”

You Victorian women! In spite of her tragic mood, a smile hovered on Margaret’s lips. So that was how this girl classified her. Yet Rose Morrison had fallen in love with a Victorian man.

“Then I may?” said the younger woman with her full-throated laugh. From her bright red hair, which was brushed straight back from her forehead, to her splendid figure, where her hips swung free like a boy’s, she was a picture of barbaric beauty. There was a glittering hardness about her, as if she had been washed in some indestructible glaze; but it was the glaze of youth, not of experience. She reminded Margaret of a gilded statue she had seen once in a museum; and the girl’s eyes, like the eyes of the statue, were gleaming, remote and impassive—eyes that had never looked on reality. The dress she wore was made of some strange “art cloth,” dyed in brilliant hues, fashioned like a kimono, and girdled at the hips with what Margaret mistook for a queer piece of rope. Nothing, not even her crude and confident youth, revealed Rose Morrison to her visitor so completely as this end of rope.

“You are an artist?” she asked, for she was sure of her ground. Only an artist, she decided, could be at once so arrogant with destiny and so ignorant of life.

“How did you know? Has George spoken of me?”

Margaret shook her head. “Oh, I knew without any one’s telling me.”

“I have a studio in Greenwich Village, but George and I met last summer at Ogunquit. I go there every summer to paint.”

“I didn’t know.” How easily, how possessively, this other woman spoke her husband’s name.

“It began at once.” To Margaret, with her inherited delicacy and reticence, there was something repellent in this barbaric simplicity of emotion.

“But you must have known that he was married,” she observed coldly.

“Yes, I knew, but I could see, of course, that you did not understand him.”

“And you think that you do?” If it were not tragic, how amusing it would be to think of her simple George as a problem!

“Oh, I realize that it appears very sudden to you; but in the emotions time counts for so little. Just living with a person for twenty years doesn’t enable one to understand him, do you think?”

“I suppose not. But do you really imagine,” she asked in what struck her as a singularly impersonal tone for so intimate a question, “that George is complex?”

The flame, which was revealed now as the illumination of some secret happiness, flooded Rose Morrison’s features. As she leaned forward, with clasped hands, Margaret noticed that the girl was careless about those feminine details by which George declared so often that he judged a woman. Her hair was carelessly arranged; her finger nails needed attention; and beneath the kimonolike garment, a frayed place showed at the back of her stocking. Even her red morocco slippers were run down at the heels; and it seemed to Margaret that this physical negligence had extended to the girl’s habit of thought.

“He is so big, so strong and silent, that it would take an artist to understand him,” answered Rose Morrison passionately. Was this really, Margaret wondered, the way George appeared to the romantic vision?

“Yes, he is not a great talker,” she admitted. “Perhaps if he talked more, you might find him less difficult.” Then before the other could reply, she inquired sharply, “Did George tell you that he was misunderstood?”

“How you misjudge him!” The girl had flown to his defense; and though Margaret had been, as she would have said “a devoted wife,” she felt that all this vehemence was wasted. After all, George, with his easy, prosaic temperament, was only made uncomfortable by vehemence. “He never speaks of you except in the most beautiful way,” Rose Morrison was insisting “He realizes perfectly what you have been to him, and he would rather suffer in silence all his life than make you unhappy.”

“Then what is all this about?” Though she felt that it was unfair, Margaret could not help putting the question.

Actually there were tears in Rose Morrison’s eyes. “I could not bear to see his life ruined,” she answered. “I hated to write to you; but how else could I make you realize that you were standing in the way of his happiness? If it were just myself, I could have borne it in silence. I would never have hurt you just for my own sake; but, the subterfuge, the dishonesty, is spoiling his life. He does not say so, but, oh, I see it every day because I love him!” As she bent over, the firelight caught her hair, and it blazed out triumphantly like the red lilies in Margaret’s library.

“What is it that you want me to do?” asked Margaret in her dispassionate voice.

“I felt that we owed you the truth,” responded the girl, “and I hoped that you would take what I wrote you in the right spirit.”

“You are sure that my husband loves you?”

“Shall I show you his letters?” The girl smiled as she answered, and her full red lips reminded Margaret suddenly of raw flesh. Was raw flesh, after all, what men wanted?

“No!” The single word was spoken indignantly.

“I thought perhaps they would make you see what it means,” explained Rose Morrison simply. “Oh, I wish I could do this without causing you pain!”

“Pain doesn’t matter. I can stand pain.”

“Well, I’m glad you aren’t resentful. After all, why should we be enemies? George’s happiness means more than anything else to us both.”

“And you are sure you know best what is for George’s happiness?”

“I know that subterfuge and lies and dishonesty cannot bring happiness.” Rose Morrison flung out her arms with a superb gesture. “Oh, I realize that it is a big thing, a great thing, I am asking of you. But in your place, if I stood in his way, I should so gladly sacrifice myself for his sake I should give him his freedom. I should acknowledge his right to happiness, to self-development.”

A bitter laugh broke from Margaret’s lips. What a jumble of sounds these catchwords of the new freedom made! What was this self-development which could develop only through the sacrifice of others? How would these immature theories survive the compromises and concessions and adjustments which made marriage permanent?

“I cannot feel that our marriage has interfered with his development,” she rejoined presently.

“You may be right,” Rose Morrison conceded the point. “But to-day he needs new inspiration, new opportunities. He needs the companionship of a modern mind.”

“Yes, he has kept young at my cost,” thought the older woman. “I have helped by a thousand little sacrifices, by a thousand little cares and worries, to preserve this unnatural youth which is destroying me. I have taken over the burden of details in order that he might be free for the larger interests of life. If he is young to-day, it is at the cost of my youth.”

For the second time that day, as she sat there in silence, with her eyes on the blooming face of Rose Morrison, a wave of peace, the peace of one who has been shipwrecked and then swept far off into some serene haven, enveloped her. Something to hold by, that at least she had found. The law of sacrifice, the ideal of self-surrender, which she had learned in the past. For twenty years she had given freely, abundantly, of her best; and to-day she could still prove to him that she was not beggared. She could still give the supreme gift of her happiness. “How he must love you!” she exclaimed. “How he must love you to have hurt me so much for your sake! Nothing but a great love could make him so cruel.”

“He does love me,” answered Rose Morrison, and her voice was like the song of a bird.

“He must.” Margaret’s eyes were burning, but no tears came. Her lips felt cracked with the effort she made to keep them from trembling. “I think if he had done this thing with any other motive than a great love, I should hate him until I died.” Then she rose and held out her hand. “I shall not stand in your way,” she added.

Joy flashed into the girl’s eyes. “You are very noble,” she answered. “I am sorry if I have hurt you. I am sorry, too, that I called you old-fashioned.”

Margaret laughed. “Oh, I am old-fashioned. I am so old-fashioned that I should have died rather than ruin the happiness of another woman.” The joy faded from Rose Morrison’s face. “It was not I,” she answered. “It was life. We cannot stand in the way of life.”

“Life to-day, God yesterday, what does it matter? It is a generation that has grasped everything except personal responsibility.” Oh, if one could only keep the humour! A thought struck her, and she asked abruptly, “When your turn comes, if it ever does, will you give way as I do?”

“That will be understood. We shall not hold each other back.”

“But you are young. You will tire first. Then he must give way?” Why, in twenty years George would be sixty-five and Rose Morrison still a young woman!

Calm, resolute, uncompromising. Rose Morrison held open the door. “Whatever happens, he would never wish to hold me back.”

Then Margaret passed out, the door closed behind her, and she stood breathing deep draughts of the chill, invigorating air. Well, that was over.

The lawn, with its grave-like mounds of leaves, looked as mournful as a cemetery. Beyond the bare shrubs the road glimmered; the wind still blew in gusts, now rising, now dying away with a plaintive sound; in the west the thread of gold had faded to a pale greenish light. Veiled in the monotonous fall of the leaves, it seemed to Margaret that the desolate evening awaited her.

“How he must love her,” she thought, not resentfully, but with tragic resignation. “How he must love her to have sacrificed me as he has done.”

This idea, she found as she walked on presently in the direction of the street car, had taken complete possession of her point of view. Through its crystal lucidity she was able to attain some sympathy with her husband’s suffering. What agony of mind he must have endured in these past months, these months when they had worked so quietly side by side on his book! What days of gnawing remorse! What nights of devastating anguish! How this newer love must have rent his heart asunder before he could stoop to the baseness of such a betrayal! Tears, which had not come for her own pain, stung her eyelids. She knew that he must have fought it hour by hour, day by day, night by night. Conventional as he was, how violent this emotion must have been to have conquered him so completely. “Terrible as an army with banners,” she repeated softly, while a pang of jealousy shot through her heart. Was there in George, she asked now, profounder depths of feeling than she had ever reached; was there some secret garden of romance where she had never entered? Was George larger, wilder, more adventurous in imagination, than she had dreamed? Had the perfect lover lain hidden in his nature, awaiting only the call of youth?

The street car returned almost empty; and she found restfulness in the monotonous jolting, as if it were swinging her into some world beyond space and time, where mental pain yielded to the sense of physical discomfort. After the agony of mind, the aching of body was strangely soothing.

Here and there, the lights of a house flashed among the trees, and she thought, with an impersonal interest, of the neglected villa, surrounded by mounds of rotting leaves, where that girl waited alone for happiness. Other standards. This was how the newer generation appeared to Margaret—other standards, other morals. Facing life stripped bare of every safeguard, of every restraining tradition, with only the courage of ignorance, of defiant inexperience, to protect one. That girl was not wilfully cruel. She was simply greedy for emotion; she was gasping at the pretense of happiness like all the rest of her undisciplined generation. She was caught by life because she had never learned to give up, to do without, to stand alone.

Her corner had come, and she stepped with a sensation of relief on the wet pavement. The rain was dripping steadily in a monotonous drizzle. While she walked the few blocks to her door, she forced herself by an effort of will to go on, step by step, not to drop down in the street and lose consciousness.

The tinkle of the bell and the sight of Winters’s face restored her to her senses.

“Shall I bring you tea, madam?”

“No, it is too late.”

Going upstairs to her bedroom, she took off her wet clothes and slipped into her prettiest tea gown, a trailing thing of blue satin and chiffon. While she ran the comb through her damp hair and touched her pale lips with colour, she reflected that even renunciation was easier when one looked desirable. “But it is like painting the cheeks of the dead,” she thought, as she turned away from the mirror and walked with a dragging step to the library. Never, she realized suddenly, had she loved George so much as in this hour when she had discovered him only to lose him.

As she entered, George hurried to meet her with an anxious air. “I didn’t hear you come in, Margaret. I have been very uneasy. Has anything happened?”

By artificial light he looked younger even than he had seemed in the afternoon; and this boyishness of aspect struck her as strangely pathetic. It was all a part, she told herself, of that fulfilment which had come too late, of that perilous second blooming, not of youth, but of Indian Summer. The longing to spare him, to save him from the suffering she had endured, pervaded her heart.

“Yes, something has happened,” she answered gently. “I have been to see Rose Morrison.”

As she spoke the name, she turned away from him, and walking with unsteady steps across the room, stood looking down into the fire. The knowledge of all that she must see when she turned, of the humiliation, the anguish, the remorse in his eyes, oppressed her heart with a passion of shame and pity. How could she turn and look on his wounded soul which she had stripped bare?

“Rose Morrison?” he repeated in an expressionless voice. “What do you know of Rose Morrison?”

At his question she turned quickly, and faced not anguish, not humiliation, but emptiness. There was nothing in his look except the blankness of complete surprise. For an instant the shock made her dizzy; and in the midst of the dizziness there flashed through her mind the memory of an evening in her childhood, when she had run bravely into a dark room where they told her an ogre was hiding, and had found that it was empty.

“She wrote to me.” Her legs gave way as she replied, and, sinking into the nearest chair, she sat gazing up at him with an immobile face.

A frown gathered his eyebrows, and a purplish flush (he flushed so easily of late) mounted slowly to the smooth line of his hair. She watched the quiver that ran through his under lip (strange that she had not noticed how it had thickened) while his teeth pressed it sharply. Everything about him was acutely vivid to her, as if she were looking at him closely for the first time. She saw the furrow between his eyebrows, the bloodshot stain on one eyeball, the folds of flesh beneath his jutting chin, the crease in his black tie, the place where his shirt gave a little because it had grown too tight—all these insignificant details would exist indelibly in her brain.

“She wrote to you?” His voice sounded strained and husky, and he coughed abruptly as if he were trying to hide his embarrassment. “What the devil! But you don’t know her.”

“I saw her this afternoon. She told me everything.”

“Everything?” Never had she imagined that he could appear so helpless, so lacking in the support of any conventional theory. A hysterical laugh broke from her, a laugh as utterly beyond her control as a spasm, and at the sound he flushed as if she had struck him. While she sat there she realized that she had no part or place in the scene before her. Never could she speak the words that she longed to utter. Never could she make him understand the real self behind the marionette at which he was looking. She longed with all her heart to say: “There were possibilities in me that you never suspected. I also am capable of a great love. In my heart I also am a creature of romance, of adventure. If you had only known it, you might have found in marriage all that you have sought elsewhere....” This was what she longed to cry out, but instead she said merely,

“She told me of your love. She asked me to give you up.”

“She asked you to give me up?” His mouth fell open as he finished, and while he stared at her he forgot to shut it. It occurred to her that he had lost the power of inventing a phrase, that he could only echo the ones she had spoken. How like a foolish boy he looked as he stood there, in front of the sinking fire, trying to hide behind that hollow echo!

“She said that I stood in your way.” The phrase sounded so grotesque as she uttered it that she found herself laughing again. She had not wished to speak these ugly things. Her heart was filled with noble words, with beautiful sentiments, but she could not make her lips pronounce them in spite of all the efforts she made. And she recalled suddenly the princess in the fairy tale who, when she opened her mouth, found that toads and lizards escaped from it instead of pearls and rubies.

At first he did not reply, and it seemed to her that only mechanical force could jerk his jaw back into place and close the eyelids over his vacant blue eyes. When at last he made a sound it was only the empty echo again, “stood in my way!”

“She is desperately in earnest.” Justice wrung this admission from her. “She feels that this subterfuge is unfair to us all. Your happiness, she thinks, is what we should consider first, and she is convinced that I should be sacrificed to your future. She was perfectly frank. She suppressed nothing.”

For the first time George Fleming uttered an original sound. “O Lord!” he exclaimed devoutly.

“I told her that I did not wish to stand in your way,” resumed Margaret, as if the exclamation had not interrupted the flow of her thoughts. “I told her I would give you up.”

Suddenly, without warning, he exploded. “What, in the name of heaven, has it got to do with you?” he demanded.

“To do with me?” It was her turn to echo. “But isn’t that girl—” she corrected herself painfully—“isn’t she living in your house at this minute?”

He cast about helplessly for an argument. When at last he discovered one, he advanced it with a sheepish air, as if he recognized its weakness. “Well, nobody else would take it, would they?”

“She says that you love her.”

He shifted his ground nervously. “I can’t help what she says, can I?”

“She offered to show me your letters.”

“Compliments, nothing more.”

“But you must love her, or you couldn’t—you wouldn’t—” A burning flush scorched Margaret’s body.

“I never said that I....” Even with her he had always treated the word love as if it were a dangerous explosive, and he avoided touching it now, “that I cared for her in that way.”

“Then you do in another way?”

He glanced about like a trapped animal. “I am not a fool, am I? Why, I am old enough to be her father! Besides, I am not the only one anyway. She was living with a man when I met her, and he wasn’t the first. She isn’t bad, you know. It’s a kind of philosophy with her. She calls it self....”

“I know.” Margaret cut the phrase short. “I have heard what she calls it.” So it was all wasted! Nothing that she could do could lift the situation above the level of the commonplace, the merely vulgar. She was defrauded not only of happiness, but even of the opportunity to be generous. Her sacrifice was as futile as that girl’s passion. “But she is in love with you now,” she said.

“I suppose she is.” His tone had grown stubborn. “But how long would it last? In six months she would be leaving me for somebody else. Of course, I won’t see her again,” he added, with the manner of one who is conceding a reasonable point. Then, after a pause in which she made no response, his stubbornness changed into resentment. “Anybody would think that you are angry because I am not in love with her!” he exclaimed. “Anybody would think—but I don’t understand women!”

“Then you will not—you do not mean to leave me?” she asked; and her manner was as impersonal, she was aware, as if Winters had just given her notice.

“Leave you?” He glanced appreciatively round the room. “Where on earth could I go?”

For an instant Margaret looked at him in silence. Then she insisted coldly, “To her, perhaps. She thinks that you are in love with her.”

“Well, I suppose I’ve been a fool,” he confessed, after a struggle, “but you are making too much of it.”

Yes, she was making too much of it; she realized this more poignantly than he would ever be able to do. She felt like an actress who has endowed a comic part with the gesture of high tragedy. It was not, she saw clearly now, that she had misunderstood George, but that she had overplayed life.

“We met last summer at Ogunquit.” She became aware presently that he was still making excuses and explanations about nothing. “You couldn’t go about much, you know, and we went swimming and played golf together. I liked her, and I could see that she liked me. When we came away I thought we’d break it off, but somehow we didn’t. I saw her several times in New York. Then she came here unexpectedly, and I offered her that old villa nobody would rent. You don’t understand such things, Margaret. It hadn’t any more to do with you than—than—” He hesitated, fished in the stagnant waters of his mind, and flung out abruptly, “than golf has. It was just a sort of—well, sort of—recreation.”

Recreation! The memory of Rose Morrison’s extravagant passion smote her sharply. How glorified the incident had appeared in the girl’s imagination, how cheap and tawdry it was in reality. A continual compromise with the second best, an inevitable surrender to the average, was this the history of all romantic emotion? For an instant, such is the perversity of fate, it seemed to the wife that she and this strange girl were united by some secret bond which George could not share—by the bond of woman’s immemorial disillusionment.

“I wouldn’t have had you hurt for worlds, Margaret,” said George, bending over her. The old gentle voice, the old possessive and complacent look in his sleepy blue eyes, recalled her wandering senses. “If I could only make you see that there wasn’t anything in it.”

She gazed up at him wearily. The excitement of discovery, the exaltation, the anguish, had ebbed away, leaving only gray emptiness. She had lost more than love, more than happiness, for she had lost her belief in life.

“If there had been anything in it, I might be able to understand,” she replied.

He surveyed her with gloomy severity. “Hang it all! You act as if you wanted me to be in love with her.” Then his face cleared as if by magic. “You’re tired out, Margaret and you’re nervous. There’s Winters now. You must try to eat a good dinner.”

Anxious, caressing, impatient to have the discussion end and dinner begin, he stooped and lifted her in his arms. For an instant she lay there without moving, and in that instant her gaze passed from his face to the red lilies and the uncurtained window beyond.

Outside the leaves were falling.


At the fork of the road there was the dead tree where buzzards were roosting, and through its boughs I saw the last flare of the sunset. On either side the November woods were flung in broken masses against the sky. When I stopped they appeared to move closer and surround me with vague, glimmering shapes. It seemed to me that I had been driving for hours; yet the ancient negro who brought the message had told me to follow the Old Stage Road till I came to Buzzard’s Tree at the fork. “F’om dar on hit’s moughty nigh ter Marse Jur’dn’s place,” the old man had assured me, adding tremulously, “en young Miss she sez you mus’ come jes’ ez quick ez you kin.” I was young then (that was more than thirty years ago), and I was just beginning the practice of medicine in one of the more remote counties of Virginia.

My mare stopped, and leaning out, I gazed down each winding road, where it branched off, under half bared boughs, into the autumnal haze of the distance. In a little while the red would fade from the sky, and the chill night would find me still hesitating between those dubious ways which seemed to stretch into an immense solitude. While I waited uncertainly there was a stir in the boughs overhead, and a buzzard’s feather floated down and settled slowly on the robe over my knees. In the effort to drive off depression, I laughed aloud and addressed my mare in a jocular tone:

“We’ll choose the most God-forsaken of the two, and see where it leads us.”

To my surprise the words brought an answer from the trees at my back. “If you’re goin’ to Isham’s store, keep on the Old Stage Road,” piped a voice from the underbrush.

Turning quickly, I saw the dwarfed figure of a very old man, with a hunched back, who was dragging a load of pine knots out of the woods. Though he was so stooped that his head reached scarcely higher than my wheel, he appeared to possess unusual vigour for one of his age and infirmities. He was dressed in a rough overcoat of some wood brown shade, beneath which I could see his overalls of blue jeans. Under a thatch of grizzled hair his shrewd little eyes twinkled cunningly, and his bristly chin jutted so far forward that it barely escaped the descending curve of his nose. I remember thinking that he could not be far from a hundred; his skin was so wrinkled and weather-beaten that, at a distance, I had mistaken him for a negro.

I bowed politely. “Thank you, but I am going to Jordan’s End,” I replied.

He cackled softly. “Then you take the bad road. Thar’s Jur’dn’s turnout.” He pointed to the sunken trail, deep in mud, on the right. “An’ if you ain’t objectin’ to a little comp’ny, I’d be obleeged if you’d give me a lift. I’m bound thar on my own o’ count, an’ it’s a long ways to tote these here lightwood knots.”

While I drew back my robe and made room for him, I watched him heave the load of resinous pine into the buggy, and then scramble with agility to his place at my side.

“My name is Peterkin,” he remarked by way of introduction. “They call me Father Peterkin along o’ the gran’child’en.” He was a garrulous soul, I suspected, and would not be averse to imparting the information I wanted.

“There’s not much travel this way,” I began, as we turned out of the cleared space into the deep tunnel of the trees. Immediately the twilight enveloped us, though now and then the dusky glow in the sky was still visible. The air was sharp with the tang of autumn; with the effluvium of rotting leaves, the drift of wood smoke, the ripe flavour of crushed apples.

“Thar’s nary a stranger, thoughten he was a doctor, been to Jur’dn’s End as fur back as I kin recollect. Ain’t you the new doctor?”

“Yes, I am the doctor.” I glanced down at the gnomelike shape in the wood brown overcoat. “Is it much farther?”

“Naw, suh, we’re all but thar jest as soon as we come out of Whitten woods.”

“If the road is so little travelled, how do you happen to be going there?”

Without turning his head, the old man wagged his crescent shaped profile. “Oh, I live on the place. My son Tony works a slice of the farm on shares, and I manage to lend a hand at the harvest or corn shuckin’, and, now-and-agen, with the cider. The old gentleman used to run the place that away afore he went deranged, an’ now that the young one is laid up, thar ain’t nobody to look arter the farm but Miss Judith. Them old ladies don’t count. Thar’s three of ’em, but they’re all addle-brained an’ look as if the buzzards had picked ’em. I reckon that comes from bein’ shut up with crazy folks in that thar old tumbledown house. The roof ain’t been patched fur so long that the shingles have most rotted away, an’ thar’s times, Tony says, when you kin skearcely hear yo’ years fur the rumpus the wrens an’ rats are makin’ overhead.”

“What is the trouble with them—the Jordans, I mean?”

“Jest run to seed, suh, I reckon.”

“Is there no man of the family left?”

For a minute Father Peterkin made no reply. Then he shifted the bundle of pine knots, and responded warily. “Young Alan, he’s still livin’ on the old place, but I hear he’s been took now, an’ is goin’ the way of all the rest of ’em. ’Tis a hard trial for Miss Judith, po’ young thing, an’ with a boy nine year old that’s the very spit an’ image of his pa. Wall, wall, I kin recollect away back yonder when old Mr. Timothy Jur’dn was the proudest man anywhar aroun’ in these parts; but arter the War things sorter begun to go down hill with him, and he was obleeged to draw in his horns.”

“Is he still living?”

The old man shook his head. “Mebbe he is, an’ mebbe he ain’t. Nobody knows but the Jur’dn’s, an’ they ain’t tellin’ fur the axin’.”

“I suppose it was this Miss Judith who sent for me?”

“’T would most likely be she, suh. She was one of the Yardlys that lived over yonder at Yardly’s Field; an’ when young Mr. Alan begun to take notice of her, ’twas the first time sence way back that one of the Jur’dn’s had gone courtin’ outside the family. That’s the reason the blood went bad like it did, I reckon. Thar’s a sayin’ down aroun’ here that Jur’dn an’ Jur’dn won’t mix.” The name was invariably called Jurdin by all classes; but I had already discovered that names are rarely pronounced as they are spelled in Virginia.

“Have they been married long?”

“Ten year or so, suh. I remember as well as if ’twas yestiddy the day young Alan brought her home as a bride, an’ thar warn’t a soul besides the three daft old ladies to welcome her. They drove over in my son Tony’s old buggy, though ’twas spick an’ span then. I was goin’ to the house on an arrant, an’ I was standin’ right down thar at the ice pond when they come by. She hadn’t been much in these parts, an’ none of us had ever seed her afore. When she looked up at young Alan her face was pink all over and her eyes war shinin’ bright as the moon. Then the front do’ opened an’ them old ladies, as black as crows, flocked out on the po’ch. Thar never was anybody as peart-lookin’ as Miss Judith was when she come here; but soon arterwards she begun to peak an’ pine, though she never lost her sperits an’ went mopin’ roun’ like all the other women folks at Jur’dn’s End. They married sudden, an’ folks do say she didn’t know nothin’ about the family, an’ young Alan didn’t know much mo’ than she did. The old ladies had kep’ the secret away from him, sorter believin’ that what you don’t know cyarn’ hurt you. Anyways they never let it leak out tell arter his chile was born. Thar ain’t never been but that one, an’ old Aunt Jerusly declars he was born with a caul over his face, so mebbe things will be all right fur him in the long run.”

“But who are the old ladies? Are their husbands living?”

When Father Peterkin answered the question he had dropped his voice to a hoarse murmur. “Deranged. All gone deranged,” he replied.

I shivered, for a chill depression seemed to emanate from the November woods. As we drove on, I remembered grim tales of enchanted forests filled with evil faces and whispering voices. The scents of wood earth and rotting leaves invaded my brain like a magic spell. On either side the forest was as still as death. Not a leaf quivered, not a bird moved, not a small wild creature stirred in the underbrush. Only the glossy leaves and the scarlet berries of the holly appeared alive amid the bare interlacing branches of the trees. I began to long for an autumn clearing and the red light of the afterglow.

“Are they living or dead?” I asked presently.

“I’ve hearn strange tattle,” answered the old man nervously, “but nobody kin tell. Folks do say as young Alan’s pa is shut up in a padded place, and that his gran’pa died thar arter thirty years. His uncles went crazy too, an’ the daftness is beginnin’ to crop out in the women. Up tell now it has been mostly the men. One time I remember old Mr. Peter Jur’dn tryin’ to burn down the place in the dead of the night. Thar’s the end of the wood, suh. If you’ll jest let me down here. I’ll be gittin’ along home across the old-field, an’ thanky too.”

At last the woods ended abruptly on the edge of an abandoned field which was thickly sown with scrub pine and broomsedge. The glow in the sky had faded now to a thin yellow-green, and a melancholy twilight pervaded the landscape. In this twilight I looked over the few sheep huddled together on the ragged lawn, and saw the old brick house crumbling beneath its rank growth of ivy. As I drew nearer I had the feeling that the surrounding desolation brooded there like some sinister influence.

Forlorn as it appeared at this first approach, I surmised that Jordan’s End must have possessed once charm as well as distinction. The proportions of the Georgian front were impressive, and there was beauty of design in the quaint doorway, and in the steps of rounded stone which were brocaded now with a pattern of emerald moss. But the whole place was badly in need of repair. Looking up, as I stopped, I saw that the eaves were falling away, that crumbled shutters were sagging from loosened hinges, that odd scraps of hemp sacking or oil cloth were stuffed into windows where panes were missing. When I stepped on the floor of the porch, I felt the rotting boards give way under my feet.

After thundering vainly on the door, I descended the steps, and followed the beaten path that led round the west wing of the house. When I had passed an old boxwood tree at the corner, I saw a woman and a boy of nine years or so come out of a shed, which I took to be the smokehouse, and begin to gather chips from the woodpile. The woman carried a basket made of splits on her arm, and while she stooped to fill this, she talked to the child in a soft musical voice. Then, at a sound that I made, she put the basket aside, and rising to her feet, faced me in the pallid light from the sky. Her head was thrown back, and over her dress of some dark calico, a tattered gray shawl clung to her figure. That was thirty years ago; I am not young any longer; I have been in many countries since then, and looked on many women; but her face, with that wan light on it, is the last one I shall forget in my life. Beauty! Why, that woman will be beautiful when she is a skeleton, was the thought that flashed into my mind.

She was very tall, and so thin that her flesh seemed faintly luminous, as if an inward light pierced the transparent substance. It was the beauty, not of earth, but of triumphant spirit. Perfection, I suppose, is the rarest thing we achieve in this world of incessant compromise with inferior forms; yet the woman who stood there in that ruined place appeared to me to have stepped straight out of legend or allegory. The contour of her face was Italian in its pure oval; her hair swept in wings of dusk above her clear forehead; and, from the faintly shadowed hollows beneath her brows, the eyes that looked at me were purple-black, like dark pansies.

“I had given you up,” she began in a low voice, as if she were afraid of being overheard. “You are the doctor?”

“Yes, I am the doctor. I took the wrong road and lost my way. Are you Mrs. Jordan?”

She bowed her head. “Mrs. Alan Jordan. There are three Mrs. Jordans besides myself. My husband’s grandmother and the wives of his two uncles.”

“And it is your husband who is ill?”

“My husband, yes. I wrote a few days ago to Doctor Carstairs.” (Thirty years ago Carstairs, of Baltimore, was the leading alienist in the country.) “He is coming to-morrow morning; but last night my husband was so restless that I sent for you to-day.” Her rich voice, vibrating with suppressed feeling, made me think of stained glass windows and low organ music.

“Before we go in,” I asked, “will you tell me as much as you can?”

Instead of replying to my request, she turned and laid her hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Take the chips to Aunt Agatha, Benjamin,” she said, “and tell her that the doctor has come.”

While the child picked up the basket and ran up the sunken steps to the door, she watched him with breathless anxiety. Not until he had disappeared into the hall did she lift her eyes to my face again. Then, without answering my question, she murmured, with a sigh which was like the voice of that autumn evening, “We were once happy here.” She was trying, I realized, to steel her heart against the despair that threatened it.

My gaze swept the obscure horizon, and returned to the mouldering woodpile where we were standing. The yellow-green had faded from the sky, and the only light came from the house where a few scattered lamps were burning. Through the open door I could see the hall, as bare as if the house were empty, and the spiral staircase which crawled to the upper story. A fine old place once, but repulsive now in its abject decay, like some young blood of former days who has grown senile.

“Have you managed to wring a living out of the land?” I asked, because I could think of no words that were less compassionate.

“At first a poor one,” she answered slowly. “We worked hard, harder than any negro in the fields, to keep things together, but we were happy. Then three years ago this illness came, and after that everything went against us. In the beginning it was simply brooding, a kind of melancholy, and we tried to ward it off by pretending that it was not real, that we imagined it. Only of late, when it became so much worse, have we admitted the truth, have we faced the reality—”

This passionate murmur, which had almost the effect of a chant rising out of the loneliness, was addressed, not to me, but to some abstract and implacable power. While she uttered it her composure was like the tranquillity of the dead. She did not lift her hand to hold her shawl, which was slipping unnoticed from her shoulders, and her eyes, so like dark flowers in their softness, did not leave my face.

“If you will tell me all, perhaps I may be able to help you,” I said.

“But you know our story,” she responded. “You must have heard it.”

“Then it is true? Heredity, intermarriage, insanity?”

She did not wince at the bluntness of my speech. “My husband’s grandfather is in an asylum, still living after almost thirty years. His father—my husband’s, I mean—died there a few years ago. Two of his uncles are there. When it began I don’t know, or how far back it reaches. We have never talked of it. We have tried always to forget it- Even now I cannot put the thing into words— My husband’s mother died of a broken heart, but the grandmother and the two others are still living. You will see them when you go into the house. They are old women now, and they feel nothing.”

“And there have been other cases?”

“I do not know. Are not four enough?”

“Do you know if it has assumed always the same form?” I was trying to be as brief as I could.

She flinched, and I saw that her unnatural calm was shaken at last. “The same, I believe. In the beginning there is melancholy, moping. Grandmother calls it, and then—” She flung out her arms with a despairing gesture, and I was reminded again of some tragic figure of legend.

“I know, I know,” I was young, and in spite of my pride, my voice trembled. “Has there been in any case partial recovery, recurring at intervals?”

“In his grandfather’s case, yes. In the others none. With them it has been hopeless from the beginning.”

“And Carstairs is coming?”

“In the morning. I should have waited, but last night—” Her voice broke, and she drew the tattered shawl about her with a shiver. “Last night something happened. Something happened,” she repeated, and could not go on. Then, collecting her strength with an effort which made her tremble like a blade of grass in the wind, she continued more quietly, “To-day he has been better. For the first time he has slept, and I have been able to leave him. Two of the hands from the fields are in the room.” Her tone changed suddenly, and a note of energy passed into it. Some obscure resolution brought a tinge of colour to her pale cheek. “I must know,” she added, “if this is as hopeless as all the others.”

I took a step toward the house. “Carstairs’s opinion is worth as much as that of any man living,” I answered.

“But will he tell me the truth?”

I shook my head. “He will tell you what he thinks. No man’s judgment is infallible.”

Turning away from me, she moved with an energetic step to the house. As I followed her into the hall the threshold creaked under my tread, and I was visited by an apprehension, or, if you prefer, by a superstitious dread of the floor above. Oh, I got over that kind of thing before I was many years older; though in the end I gave up medicine, you know, and turned to literature as a safer outlet for a suppressed imagination.

But the dread was there at that moment, and it was not lessened by the glimpse I caught, at the foot of the spiral staircase, of a scantily furnished room, where three lean black-robed figures, as impassive as the Fates, were grouped in front of a wood fire. They were doing something with their hands. Knitting, crocheting, or plaiting straw?

At the head of the stairs the woman stopped and looked back at me. The light from the kerosene lamp on the wall fell over her, and I was struck afresh not only by the alien splendour of her beauty, but even more by the look of consecration, of impassioned fidelity that illumined her face.

“He is very strong,” she said in a whisper. “Until this trouble came on him he had never had a day’s illness in his life. We hoped that hard work, not having time to brood, might save us; but it has only brought the thing we feared sooner.”

There was a question in her eyes, and I responded in the same subdued tone. “His health, you say, is good?” What else was there for me to ask when I understood everything?

A shudder ran through her frame. “We used to think that a blessing, but now—” She broke off and then added in a lifeless voice, “We keep two field hands in the room day and night, lest one should forget to watch the fire, or fall asleep.”

A sound came from a room at the end of the hall, and, without finishing her sentence, she moved swiftly toward the closed door. The apprehension, the dread, or whatever you choose to call it, was so strong upon me, that I was seized by an impulse to turn and retreat down the spiral staircase. Yes, I know why some men turn cowards in battle.

“I have come back, Alan,” she said in a voice that wrung my heartstrings.

The room was dimly lighted; and for a minute after I entered, I could see nothing clearly except the ruddy glow of the wood fire in front of which two negroes were seated on low wooden stools. They had kindly faces, these men; there was a primitive humanity in their features, which might have been modelled out of the dark earth of the fields.

Looking round the next minute, I saw that a young man was sitting away from the fire, huddled over in a cretonne-covered chair with a high back and deep wings. At our entrance the negroes glanced up with surprise; but the man in the winged chair neither lifted his head nor turned his eyes in our direction. He sat there, lost within the impenetrable wilderness of the insane, as remote from us and from the sound of our voices as if he were the inhabitant of an invisible world. His head was sunk forward; his eyes were staring fixedly at some image we could not see; his fingers, moving restlessly, were plaiting and unplaiting the fringe of a plaid shawl. Distraught as he was, he still possessed the dignity of mere physical perfection. At his full height he must have measured not under six feet three; his hair was the colour of ripe wheat, and his eyes, in spite of their fixed gaze, were as blue as the sky after rain. And this was only the beginning, I realized. With that constitution, that physical frame, he might live to be ninety.

“Alan!” breathed his wife again in her pleading murmur.

If he heard her voice, he gave no sign of it. Only when she crossed the room and bent over his chair, he put out his hand, with a gesture of irritation, and pushed her away, as if she were a veil of smoke which came between him and the object at which he was looking. Then his hand fell back to its old place, and he resumed his mechanical plaiting of the fringe.

The woman lifted her eyes to mine. “His father did that for twenty years,” she said in a whisper that was scarcely more than a sigh of anguish.

When I had made my brief examination, we left the room as we had come, and descended the stairs together. The three old women were still sitting in front of the wood fire. I do not think they had moved since we went upstairs; but, as we reached the hall below, one of them, the youngest, I imagine, rose from her chair, and came out to join us. She was crocheting something soft and small, an infant’s sacque, I perceived as she approached, of pink wool. The ball had rolled from her lap as she stood up, and it trailed after her now, like a woollen rose, on the bare floor. When the skein pulled at her, she turned back and stooped to pick up the ball, which she rewound with caressing fingers. Good God, an infant’s sacque in that house!

“Is it the same thing?” she asked.

“Hush!” responded the younger woman kindly. Turning to me she added, “We cannot talk here,” and opening the door, passed out on the porch. Not until we had reached the lawn, and walked in silence to where my buggy stood beneath an old locust tree, did she speak again.

Then she said only, “You know now?”

“Yes, I know,” I replied, averting my eyes from her face while I gave my directions as briefly as I could. “I will leave an opiate,” I said. “To-morrow, if Carstairs should not come, send for me again. If he does come,” I added, “I will talk to him and see you afterward.”

“Thank you,” she answered gently; and taking the bottle from my hand, she turned away and walked quickly back to the house.

I watched her as long as I could; and then getting into my buggy, I turned my mare’s head toward the woods, and drove by moonlight, past Buzzard’s Tree and over the Old Stage Road, to my home. “I will see Carstairs to-morrow,” was my last thought that night before I slept.

But, after all, I saw Carstairs only for a minute as he was taking the train. Life at its beginning and its end had filled my morning; and when at last I reached the little station, Carstairs had paid his visit, and was waiting on the platform for the approaching express. At first he showed a disposition to question me about the shooting, but as soon as I was able to make my errand clear, his jovial face clouded.

“So you’ve been there?” he said. “They didn’t tell me. An interesting case, if it were not for that poor woman. Incurable, I’m afraid, when you consider the predisposing causes. The race is pretty well deteriorated, I suppose. God! what isolation! I’ve advised her to send him away. There are three others, they tell me, at Staunton.”

The train came; he jumped on it, and was whisked away while I gazed after him. After all, I was none the wiser because of the great reputation of Carstairs.

All that day I heard nothing more from Jordan’s End; and then, early next morning, the same decrepit negro brought me a message.

“Young Miss, she tole me ter ax you ter come along wid me jes’ ez soon ez you kin git ready.”

“I’ll start at once, Uncle, and I’ll take you with me.”

My mare and buggy stood at the door. All I needed to do was to put on my overcoat, pick up my hat, and leave word, for a possible patient, that I should return before noon. I knew the road now, and I told myself, as I set out, that I would make as quick a trip as I could. For two nights I had been haunted by the memory of that man in the armchair, plaiting and unplaiting the fringe of the plaid shawl. And his father had done that, the woman had told me, for twenty years!

It was a brown autumn morning, raw, windless, with an overcast sky and a peculiar illusion of nearness about the distance. A high wind had blown all night, but at dawn it had dropped suddenly, and now there was not so much as a ripple in the broomsedge. Over the fields, when we came out of the woods, the thin trails of blue smoke were as motionless as cobwebs. The lawn surrounding the house looked smaller than it had appeared to me in the twilight, as if the barren fields had drawn closer since my last visit. Under the trees, where the few sheep were browsing, the piles of leaves lay in windrifts along the sunken walk and against the wings of the house.

When I knocked the door was opened immediately by one of the old women, who held a streamer of black cloth or rusty crape in her hands.

“You may go straight upstairs,” she croaked; and, without waiting for an explanation, I entered the hall quickly, and ran up the stairs.

The door of the room was closed, and I opened it noiselessly, and stepped over the threshold. My first sensation, as I entered, was one of cold. Then I saw that the windows were wide open, and that the room seemed to be full of people, though, as I made out presently, there was no one there except Alan Jordan’s wife, her little son, the two old aunts, and an aged crone of a negress. On the bed there was something under a yellowed sheet of fine linen (what the negroes call “a burial sheet,” I suppose), which had been handed down from some more affluent generation.

When I went over, after a minute, and turned down one corner of the covering, I saw that my patient of the other evening was dead. Not a line of pain marred his features, not a thread of gray dimmed the wheaten gold of his hair. So he must have looked, I thought, when she first loved him. He had gone from life, not old, enfeebled and repulsive, but enveloped still in the romantic illusion of their passion.

As I entered, the two old women, who had been fussing about the bed, drew back to make way for me, but the witch of a negress did not pause in the weird chant, an incantation of some sort, which she was mumbling. From the rag carpet in front of the empty fireplace, the boy, with his father’s hair and his mother’s eyes, gazed at me silently, broodingly, as if I were trespassing; and by the open window, with her eyes on the ashen November day, the young wife stood as motionless as a statue. While I looked at her a redbird flew out of the boughs of a cedar, and she followed it with her eyes.

“You sent for me?” I said to her.

She did not turn. She was beyond the reach of my voice, of any voice, I imagine; but one of the palsied old women answered my question.

“He was like this when we found him this morning,” she said. “He had a bad night, and Judith and the two hands were up with him until daybreak. Then he seemed to fall asleep, and Judith sent the hands, turn about, to get their breakfast.”

While she spoke my eyes were on the bottle I had left there. Two nights ago it had been full, and now it stood empty, without a cork, on the mantelpiece. They had not even thrown it away. It was typical of the pervading inertia of the place that the bottle should still be standing there awaiting my visit.

For an instant the shock held me speechless; when at last I found my voice it was to ask mechanically.

“When did it happen?”

The old woman who had spoken took up the story. “Nobody knows. We have not touched him. No one but Judith has gone near him.” Her words trailed off into unintelligible muttering. If she had ever had her wits about her, I dare-say fifty years at Jordan’s End had unsettled them completely.

I turned to the woman at the window. Against the gray sky and the black intersecting branches of the cedar, her head, with its austere perfection, was surrounded by that visionary air of legend. So Antigone might have looked on the day of her sacrifice, I reflected. I had never seen a creature who appeared so withdrawn, so detached, from all human associations. It was as if some spiritual isolation divided her from her kind.

“I can do nothing,” I said.

For the first time she looked at me, and her eyes were unfathomable. “No, you can do nothing,” she answered. “He is safely dead.”

The negress was still crooning on; the other old women were fussing helplessly. It was impossible in their presence, I felt, to put in words the thing I had to say.

“Will you come downstairs with me?” I asked. “Outside of this house?”

Turning quietly, she spoke to the boy. “Run out and play, dear. He would have wished it.” Then, without a glance toward the bed, or the old women gathered about it, she followed me over the threshold, down the stairs, and out on the deserted lawn. The ashen day could not touch her, I saw then. She was either so remote from it, or so completely a part of it, that she was impervious to its sadness. Her white face did not become more pallid as the light struck it; her tragic eyes did not grow deeper; her frail figure under the thin shawl did not shiver in the raw air. She felt nothing, I realized suddenly.

Wrapped in that silence as in a cloak, she walked across the windrifts of leaves to where my mare was waiting. Her step was so slow, so unhurried, that I remember thinking she moved like one who had all eternity before her. Oh, one has strange impressions, you know, at such moments!

In the middle of the lawn, where the trees had been stripped bare in the night, and the leaves were piled in long mounds like double graves, she stopped and looked in my face. The air was so still that the whole place might have been in a trance or asleep. Not a branch moved, not a leaf rustled on the ground, not a sparrow twittered in the ivy; and even the few sheep stood motionless, as if they were under a spell. Farther away, beyond the sea of broomsedge, where no wind stirred, I saw the flat desolation of the landscape. Nothing moved on the earth, but high above, under the leaden clouds, a buzzard was sailing.

I moistened my lips before I spoke. “God knows I want to help you!” At the back of my brain a hideous question was drumming. How had it happened? Could she have killed him? Had that delicate creatine nerved her will to the unspeakable act? It was incredible. It was inconceivable. And yet.....

“The worst is over,” she answered quietly, with that tearless agony which is so much more terrible than any outburst of grief. “Whatever happens, I can never go through the worst again. Once in the beginning he wanted to die. His great fear was that he might live too long, until it was too late to save himself. I made him wait then. I held him back by a promise.”

So she had killed him, I thought. Then she went on steadily, after a minute, and I doubted again.

“Thank God, it was easier for him than he feared it would be,” she murmured.

No, it was not conceivable. He must have bribed one of the negroes. But who had stood by and watched without intercepting? Who had been in the room? Well, either way! “I will do all I can to help you,” I said.

Her gaze did not waver. “There is so little that any one can do now,” she responded, as if she had not understood what I meant. Suddenly, without the warning of a sob, a cry of despair went out of her, as if it were torn from her breast. “He was my life,” she cried, “and I must go on!”

So full of agony was the sound that it seemed to pass like a gust of wind over the broomsedge. I waited until the emptiness had opened and closed over it. Then I asked as quietly as I could: “What will you do now?”

She collected herself with a shudder of pain. “As long as the old people live, I am tied here. I must bear it out to the end. When they die, I shall go away and find work. I am sending my boy to school. Doctor Carstairs will look after him, and he will help me when the time comes. While my boy needs me, there is no release.” While I listened to her, I knew that the question on my lips would never be uttered. I should always remain ignorant of the truth. The thing I feared most, standing there alone with her, was that some accident might solve the mystery before I could escape. My eyes left her face and wandered over the dead leaves at our feet. No, I had nothing to ask her.

“Shall I come again?” That was all.

She shook her head. “Not unless I send for you. If I need you, I will send for you,” she answered; but in my heart I knew that she would never send for me.

I held out my hand, but she did not take it; and I felt that she meant me to understand, by her refusal, that she was beyond all consolation and all companionship. She was nearer to the bleak sky and the deserted fields than she was to her kind.

As she turned away, the shawl slipped from her shoulders to the dead leaves over which she was walking; but she did not stoop to recover it, nor did I make a movement to follow her. Long after she had entered the house I stood there, gazing down on the garment that she had dropped. Then climbing into my buggy, I drove slowly across the field and into the woods.


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