It was on a May day, and I saw Mary accompany her husband as far
as the first crossing, whence she waved him out of sight as if he
had boarded an Atlantic-liner. All this time she wore the face
of a woman happily married who meant to go straight home, there
to await her lord's glorious return; and the military-looking
gentleman watching her with a bored smile saw nothing better
before him than a chapter on the Domestic Felicities. Oh, Mary,
can you not provide me with the tiniest little plot?
No sooner was she hid from him than she changed into another
woman; she was now become a calculating purposeful madam, who
looked around her covertly and, having shrunk in size in order to
appear less noticeable, set off nervously on some mysterious
"The deuce!" thought I, and followed her.
Like one anxious to keep an appointment, she frequently consulted
her watch, looking long at it, as if it were one of those watches
that do not give up their secret until you have made a mental
calculation. Once she kissed it. I had always known that she
was fond of her cheap little watch, which he gave her, I think,
on the day I dropped the letter, but why kiss it in the street?
Ah, and why then replace it so hurriedly in your leather-belt,
Mary, as if it were guilt to you to kiss to-day, or any day, the
watch your husband gave you?
It will be seen that I had made a very rapid journey from light
thoughts to uneasiness. I wanted no plot by the time she reached
her destination, a street of tawdry shops. She entered none of
them, but paced slowly and shrinking from observation up and down
the street, a very figure of shame; and never had I thought to
read shame in the sweet face of Mary A----. Had I crossed to her
and pronounced her name I think it would have felled her, and yet
she remained there, waiting. I, too, was waiting for him,
wondering if this was the man, or this, or this, and I believe I
clutched my stick.
Did I suspect Mary? Oh, surely not for a moment of time. But
there was some foolishness here; she was come without the
knowledge of her husband, as her furtive manner indicated, to a
meeting she dreaded and was ashamed to tell him of; she was come
into danger; then it must be to save, not herself but him; the
folly to be concealed could never have been Mary's. Yet what
could have happened in the past of that honest boy from the
consequences of which she might shield him by skulking here?
Could that laugh of his have survived a dishonour? The open
forehead, the curly locks, the pleasant smile, the hundred
ingratiating ways which we carry with us out of childhood, they
may all remain when the innocence has fled, but surely the laugh
of the morning of life must go. I have never known the devil
retain his grip on that.
But Mary was still waiting. She was no longer beautiful; shame
had possession of her face, she was an ugly woman. Then the
entanglement was her husband's, and I cursed him for it. But
without conviction, for, after all, what did I know of women? I
have some distant memories of them, some vain inventions. But of
men--I have known one man indifferent well for over forty years,
have exulted in him (odd to think of it), shuddered at him,
wearied of him, been willing (God forgive me) to jog along with
him tolerantly long after I have found him out; I know something
of men, and, on my soul, boy, I believe I am wronging you.
Then Mary is here for some innocent purpose, to do a good deed
that were better undone, as it so scares her. Turn back, you
foolish, soft heart, and I shall say no more about it. Obstinate
one, you saw the look on your husband's face as he left you. It
is the studio light by which he paints and still sees to hope,
despite all the disappointments of his not ignoble ambitions.
That light is the dower you brought him, and he is a wealthy man
if it does not flicker.
So anxious to be gone, and yet she would not go. Several times
she made little darts, as if at last resolved to escape from that
detestable street, and faltered and returned like a bird to the
weasel. Again she looked at her watch and kissed it.
Oh, Mary, take flight. What madness is this? Woman, be gone.
Suddenly she was gone. With one mighty effort and a last
terrified look round, she popped into a pawnshop.
Long before she emerged I understood it all, I think even as the
door rang and closed on her; why the timid soul had sought a
street where she was unknown, why she crept so many times past
that abhorred shop before desperately venturing in, why she
looked so often at the watch she might never see again. So
desperately cumbered was Mary to keep her little house over her
head, and yet the brave heart was retaining a smiling face for
her husband, who must not even know where her little treasures
It must seem monstrously cruel of me, but I was now quite light-
hearted again. Even when Mary fled from the shop where she had
left her watch, and I had peace of mind to note how thin and worn
she had become, as if her baby was grown too big for her slight
arms, even then I was light-hearted. Without attempting to
follow her, I sauntered homeward humming a snatch of song with a
great deal of fal-de-lal-de-riddle-o in it, for I can never
remember words. I saw her enter another shop, baby linen shop or
some nonsense of that sort, so it was plain for what she had
popped her watch; but what cared I? I continued to sing most
beautifully. I lunged gayly with my stick at a lamp-post and
missed it, whereat a street-urchin grinned, and I winked at him
and slipped twopence down his back.
I presume I would have chosen the easy way had time been given
me, but fate willed that I should meet the husband on his
homeward journey, and his first remark inspired me to a folly.
"How is Timothy?" he asked; and the question opened a way so
attractive that I think no one whose dull life craves for colour
could have resisted it.
"He is no more," I replied impulsively.
The painter was so startled that he gave utterance to a very oath
of pity, and I felt a sinking myself, for in these hasty words my
little boy was gone, indeed; all my bright dreams of Timothy, all
my efforts to shelter him from Mary's scorn, went whistling down