There was a rough stone age and a smooth stone age and a bronze
age, and many years afterward a cut-glass age. In the cut-glass
age, when young ladies had persuaded young men with long, curly
mustaches to marry them, they sat down several months afterward
and wrote thank-you notes for all sorts of cut-glass
presents--punch-bowls, finger-bowls, dinner-glasses,
wine-glasses, ice-cream dishes, bonbon dishes, decanters, and
vases--for, though cut glass was nothing new in the nineties, it
was then especially busy reflecting the dazzling light of fashion
from the Back Bay to the fastnesses of the Middle West.
After the wedding the punch-bowls were arranged in the sideboard
with the big bowl in the centre; the glasses were set up in the
china-closet; the candlesticks were put at both ends of
things--and then the struggle for existence began. The bonbon
dish lost its little handle and became a pin-tray upstairs; a
promenading cat knocked the little bowl off the sideboard, and
the hired girl chipped the middle-sized one with the sugar-dish;
then the wine-glasses succumbed to leg fractures, and even the
dinner-glasses disappeared one by one like the ten little
niggers, the last one ending up, scarred and maimed as a
tooth-brush holder among other shabby genteels on the bathroom
shelf. But by the time all this had happened the cut-glass age
was over, anyway.
It was well past its first glory on the day the curious Mrs.
Roger Fairboalt came to see the beautiful Mrs. Harold Piper.
"My dear," said the curious Mrs. Roger Fairboalt, "I LOVE your
house. I think it's QUITE artistic."
"I'm SO glad," said the beautiful Mrs. Harold Piper, lights
appearing in her young, dark eyes; "and you MUST come often. I'm
almost ALWAYS alone in the afternoon."
Mrs. Fairboalt would have liked to remark that she didn't believe
this at all and couldn't see how she'd be expected to--it was
all over town that Mr. Freddy Gedney had been dropping in on Mrs.
Piper five afternoons a week for the past six months. Mrs.
Fairboalt was at that ripe age where she distrusted all beautiful
"I love the dining-room MOST," she said, "all that MARVELLOUS
china, and that HUGE cut-glass bowl."
Mrs. Piper laughed, so prettily that Mrs. Fairboalt's lingering
reservations about the Freddy Gedney story quite vanished.
"Oh, that big bowl!" Mrs. Piper's mouth forming the words was a
vivid rose petal. "There's a story about that bowl---"
"You remember young Carleton Canby? Well, he was very attentive
at one time, and the night I told him I was going to marry
Harold, seven years ago in ninety-two, he drew himself way up and
said: 'Evylyn, I'm going to give a present that's as hard as you
are and as beautiful and as empty and as easy to see through.'
He frightened me a little--his eyes were so black. I thought he
was going to deed me a haunted house or something that would
explode when you opened it. That bowl came, and of course it's
beautiful. Its diameter or circumference or something is two and
a half feet--or perhaps it's three and a half. Anyway, the
sideboard is really too small for it; it sticks way out."
"My DEAR, wasn't that ODD! And he left town about then didn't
he?" Mrs. Fairboalt was scribbling italicized notes on her
memory--"hard, beautiful, empty, and easy to see through."
"Yes, he went West--or South--or somewhere," answered Mrs. Piper,
radiating that divine vagueness that helps to lift beauty out of
Mrs. Fairboalt drew on her gloves, approving the effect of
largeness given by the open sweep from the spacious music-room
through the library, disclosing a part of the dining-room beyond.
It was really the nicest smaller house in town, and Mrs. Piper
had talked of moving to a larger one on Devereaux Avenue. Harold
Piper must be COINING money.
As she turned into the sidewalk under the gathering autumn dusk
she assumed that disapproving, faintly unpleasant expression that
almost all successful women of forty wear on the street.
If _I_ were Harold Piper, she thought, I'd spend a LITTLE less
time on business and a little more time at home. Some FRIEND
should speak to him.
But if Mrs. Fairboalt had considered it a successful afternoon
she would have named it a triumph had she waited two minutes
longer. For while she was still a black receding figure a hundred
yards down the street, a very good-looking distraught young man
turned up the walk to the Piper house. Mrs. Piper answered the
door-bell herself, and with a rather dismayed expression led him
quickly into the library.
"I had to see you," he began wildly; "your note played the devil
with me. Did Harold frighten you into this?"
She shook her head.
"I'm through, Fred," she said slowly, and her lips had never
looked to him so much like tearings from a rose. "He came home
last night sick with it. Jessie Piper's sense of duty was to much
for her, so she went down to his office and told him. He was hurt
and--oh, I can't help seeing it his way, Fred. He says we've been
club gossip all summer and he didn't know it, and now he
understands snatches of conversation he's caught and veiled hints
people have dropped about me. He's mighty angry, Fred, and he
loves me and I love him-- rather."
Gedney nodded slowly and half closed his eyes.
"Yes," he said "yes, my trouble's like yours. I can see other
people's points of view too plainly." His gray eyes met her dark
ones frankly. "The blessed thing's over. My God, Evylyn, I've
been sitting down at the office all day looking at the outside of
your letter, and looking at it and looking at it---"
"You've got to go, Fred," she said steadily, and the slight
emphasis of hurry in her voice was a new thrust for him. "I gave
him my word of honor I wouldn't see you. I know just how far I
can go with Harold, and being here with you this evening is one
of the things I can't do."
They were still standing, and as she spoke she made a little
movement toward the door. Gedney looked at her miserably, trying,
here at the end, to treasure up a last picture of her--and then
suddenly both of them were stiffened into marble at the sound of
steps on the walk outside. Instantly her arm reached out grasping
the lapel of his coat --half urged, half swung him through the
big door into the dark dining-room.
"I'll make him go up-stairs," she whispered close to his ear;
"don't move till you hear him on the stairs. Then go out the
Then he was alone listening as she greeted her husband in the
Harold Piper was thirty-six, nine years older than his wife. He
was handsome--with marginal notes: these being eyes that were too
close together, and a certain woodenness when his face was in
repose. His attitude toward this Gedney matter was typical of all
his attitudes. He had told Evylyn that he considered the subject
closed and would never reproach her nor allude to it in any
form; and he told himself that this was rather a big way of
looking at it--that she was not a little impressed. Yet, like all
men who are preoccupied with their own broadness, he was
He greeted Evylyn with emphasized cordiality this evening.
"You'll have to hurry and dress, Harold," she said eagerly;
"we're going to the Bronsons'."
"It doesn't take me long to dress, dear," and, his words trailing
off, he walked on into the library. Evylyn's heart clattered
"Harold---" she began, with a little catch in her voice, and
followed him in. He was lighting a cigarette. "You'll have to
hurry, Harold," she finished, standing in the doorway.
"Why?" he asked a trifle impatiently; "you're not dressed
yourself yet, Evie."
He stretched out in a Morris chair and unfolded a newspaper. With
a sinking sensation Evylyn saw that this meant at least ten
minutes--and Gedney was standing breathless in the next room.
Supposing Harold decided that before be went upstairs he wanted a
drink from the decanter on the sideboard. Then it occurred to
her to forestall this contingency by bringing him the decanter
and a glass. She dreaded calling his attention to the dining-room
in any way, but she couldn't risk the other chance.
But at the same moment Harold rose and, throwing his paper down,
came toward her.
"Evie, dear," he said, bending and putting his arms about her, "I
hope you're not thinking about last night---" She moved close to
him, trembling. "I know," he continued, "it was just an
imprudent friendship on your part. We all make mistakes."
Evylyn hardly heard him. She was wondering if by sheer clinging
to him she could draw him out and up the stairs. She thought of
playing sick, asking to be carried up--unfortunately she knew he
would lay her on the couch and bring her whiskey.
Suddenly her nervous tension moved up a last impossible notch.
She had heard a very faint but quite unmistakable creak from the
floor of the dining room. Fred was trying to get out the back
Then her heart took a flying leap as a hollow ringing note like a
gong echoed and re-echoed through the house. Gedney's arm had
struck the big cut-glass bowl.
"What's that!" cried Harold. "Who's there?"
She clung to him but he broke away, and the room seemed to crash
about her ears. She heard the pantry-door swing open, a scuffle,
the rattle of a tin pan, and in wild despair she rushed into the
kitchen and pulled up the gas. Her husband's arm slowly unwound
from Gedney's neck, and he stood there very still, first in
amazement, then with pain dawning in his face.
"My golly!" he said in bewilderment, and then repeated: "My
He turned as if to jump again at Gedney, stopped, his muscles
visibly relaxed, and he gave a bitter little laugh.
"You people--you people---" Evylyn's arms were around him and her
eyes were pleading with him frantically, but he pushed her away
and sank dazed into a kitchen chair, his face like porcelain.
"You've been doing things to me, Evylyn. Why, you little devil!
You little DEVIL!"
She had never felt so sorry for him; she had never loved him so
"It wasn't her fault," said Gedney rather humbly. "I just came."
But Piper shook his head, and his expression when he stared up
was as if some physical accident had jarred his mind into a
temporary inability to function. His eyes, grown suddenly
pitiful, struck a deep, unsounded chord in Evylyn--and
simultaneously a furious anger surged in her. She felt her
eyelids burning; she stamped her foot violently; her hands
scurried nervously over the table as if searching for a weapon,
and then she flung herself wildly at Gedney.
"Get out!" she screamed, dark eves blazing, little fists beating
helplessly on his outstretched arm. "You did this! Get out of
here--get out--get OUT! GET OUT!"
Concerning Mrs. Harold Piper at thirty-five, opinion was
divided--women said she was still handsome; men said she was
pretty no longer. And this was probably because the qualities in
her beauty that women had feared and men had followed had
vanished. Her eyes were still as large and as dark and as sad,
but the mystery had departed; their sadness was no longer
eternal, only human, and she had developed a habit, when she was
startled or annoyed, of twitching her brows together and blinking
several times. Her mouth also had lost: the red had receded and
the faint down-turning of its corners when she smiled, that had
added to the sadness of the eyes and been vaguely mocking and
beautiful, was quite gone. When she smiled now the corners of her
lips turned up. Back in the days when she revelled in her own
beauty Evylyn had enjoyed that smile of hers--she had accentuated
it. When she stopped accentuating it, it faded out and the last
of her mystery with it.
Evylyn had ceased accentuating her smile within a month after the
Freddy Gedney affair. Externally things had gone an very much as
they had before. But in those few minutes during which she had
discovered how much she loved her husband, Evylyn had realized how
indelibly she had hurt him. For a month she struggled against
aching silences, wild reproaches and accusations--she pled with
him, made quiet, pitiful little love to him, and he laughed at
her bitterly--and then she, too, slipped gradually into silence
and a shadowy, impenetrable barrier dropped between them. The
surge of love that had risen in her she lavished on Donald, her
little boy, realizing him almost wonderingly as a part of her
The next year a piling up of mutual interests and
responsibilities and some stray flicker from the past brought
husband and wife together again--but after a rather pathetic
flood of passion Evylyn realized that her great opportunity was
gone. There simply wasn't anything left. She might have been
youth and love for both--but that time of silence had slowly
dried up the springs of affection and her own desire to drink
again of them was dead.
She began for the first time to seek women friends, to prefer
books she had read before, to sew a little where she could watch
her two children to whom she was devoted. She worried about
little things--if she saw crumbs on the dinner-table her mind
drifted off the conversation: she was receding gradually into
Her thirty-fifth birthday had been an exceptionally busy one, for
they were entertaining on short notice that night, as she stood
in her bedroom window in the late afternoon she discovered that
she was quite tired. Ten years before she would have lain down
and slept, but now she had a feeling that things needed watching:
maids were cleaning down-stairs, bric-a-brac was all over the
floor, and there were sure to be grocery-men that had to be
talked to imperatively--and then there was a letter to write
Donald, who was fourteen and in his first year away at school.
She had nearly decided to lie down, nevertheless, when she heard
a sudden familiar signal from little Julie down-stairs. She
compressed her lips, her brows twitched together, and she
"Julie!" she called.
"Ah-h-h-ow!" prolonged Julie plaintively. Then the voice of
Hilda, the second maid, floated up the stairs.
"She cut herself a little, Mis' Piper."
Evylyn flew to her sewing-basket, rummaged until she found a torn
handkerchief, and hurried downstairs. In a moment Julie was
crying in her arms as she searched for the cut, faint,
disparaging evidences of which appeared on Julie's dress.
"My THU-umb!" explained Julie. "Oh-h-h-h, t'urts."
"It was the bowl here, the he one," said Hilda apologetically.
"It was waitin' on the floor while I polished the sideboard, and
Julie come along an' went to foolin' with it. She yust scratch
Evylyn frowned heavily at Hilda, and twisting Julie decisively in
her lap, began tearing strips of the handkerchief.
"Now--let's see it, dear."
Julie held it up and Evelyn pounced.
Julie surveyed her swathed thumb doubtfully. She crooked it; it
waggled. A pleased, interested look appeared in her tear-stained
face. She sniffled and waggled it again.
"You PRECIOUS!" cried Evylyn and kissed her, but before she left
the room she levelled another frown at Hilda. Careless! Servants
all that way nowadays. If she could get a good Irishwoman-- but
you couldn't any more--and these Swedes---
At five o'clock Harold arrived and, coming up to her room,
threatened in a suspiciously jovial tone to kiss her thirty-five
times for her birthday. Evylyn resisted.
"You've been drinking," she said shortly, and then added
qualitatively, "a little. You know I loathe the smell of it."
"Evie," he said after a pause, seating himself in a chair by the
window, "I can tell you something now. I guess you've known
things haven't beep going quite right down-town."
She was standing at the window combing her hair, but at these
words she turned and looked at him.
"How do you mean? You've always said there was room for more than
one wholesale hardware house in town." Her voice expressed some
"There WAS," said Harold significantly, "but this Clarence Ahearn
is a smart man."
"I was surprised when you said he was coming to dinner."
"Evie," he went on, with another slap at his knee, "after January
first 'The Clarence Ahearn Company' becomes 'The Ahearn, Piper
Company'--and 'Piper Brothers' as a company ceases to
Evylyn was startled. The sound of his name in second place was
somehow hostile to her; still he appeared jubilant.
"I don't understand, Harold."
"Well, Evie, Ahearn has been fooling around with Marx. If those
two had combined we'd have been the little fellow, struggling
along, picking up smaller orders, hanging back on risks. It's a
question of capital, Evie, and 'Ahearn and Marx' would have had
the business just like 'Ahearn and Piper' is going to now." He
paused and coughed and a little cloud of whiskey floated up to
her nostrils. "Tell you the truth, Evie, I've suspected that
Ahearn's wife had something to do with it. Ambitious little lady,
I'm told. Guess she knew the Marxes couldn't help her much
"Is she--common?" asked Evie.
"Never met her, I'm sure--but I don't doubt it. Clarence Ahearn's
name's been up at the Country Club five months--no action
taken." He waved his hand disparagingly. "Ahearn and I had lunch
together to-day and just about clinched it, so I thought it'd be
nice to have him and his wife up to-night--just have nine, mostly
family. After all, it's a big thing for me, and of course we'll
have to see something of them, Evie."
"Yes," said Evie thoughtfully, "I suppose we will."
Evylyn was not disturbed over the social end of it--but the idea
of "Piper Brothers" becoming "The Ahearn, Piper Company" startled
her. It seemed like going down in the world.
Half an hour later, as she began to dress for dinner, she heard
his voice from down-stairs.
"Oh, Evie, come down!"
She went out into the hall and called over the banister:
"What is it?"
"I want you to help me make some of that punch before dinner. "
Hurriedly rehooking her dress, she descended the stairs and found
him grouping the essentials on the dining-room table. She went
to the sideboard and, lifting one of the bowls, carried it
"Oh, no," he protested, "let's use the big one. There'll be
Ahearn and his wife and you and I and Milton, that's five, and
Tom and Jessie, that's seven: and your sister and Joe Ambler,
that's nine. You don't know how quick that stuff goes when YOU
"We'll use this bowl," she insisted. "It'll hold plenty. You know
how Tom is."
Tom Lowrie, husband to Jessie, Harold's first cousin, was rather
inclined to finish anything in a liquid way that he began.
Harold shook his head.
"Don't be foolish. That one holds only about three quarts and
there's nine of us, and the servants'll want some--and it isn't
strong punch. It's so much more cheerful to have a lot, Evie; we
don't have to drink all of it."
"I say the small one."
Again he shook his head obstinately.
"No; be reasonable."
"I AM reasonable," she said shortly. "I don't want any drunken
men in the house."
"Who said you did?"
"Then use the small bowl."
He grasped the smaller bowl to lift it back. Instantly her hands
were on it, holding it down. There was a momentary struggle, and
then, with a little exasperated grunt, he raised his side,
slipped it from her fingers, and carried it to the sideboard.
She looked at him and tried to make her expression contemptuous,
but he only laughed. Acknowledging her defeat but disclaiming all
future interest in the punch, she left the room.
At seven-thirty, her cheeks glowing and her high-piled hair
gleaming with a suspicion of brilliantine, Evylyn descended the
stairs. Mrs. Ahearn, a little woman concealing a slight
nervousness under red hair and an extreme Empire gown, greeted
her volubly. Evelyn disliked her on the spot, but the husband she
rather approved of. He had keen blue eyes and a natural gift of
pleasing people that might have made him, socially, had he not so
obviously committed the blunder of marrying too early in his
"I'm glad to know Piper's wife," he said simply. "It looks as
though your husband and I are going to see a lot of each other in
She bowed, smiled graciously, and turned to greet the others:
Milton Piper, Harold's quiet, unassertive younger brother; the
two Lowries, Jessie and Tom; Irene, her own unmarried sister; and
finally Joe Ambler, a confirmed bachelor and Irene's perennial
Harold led the way into dinner.
"We're having a punch evening," he announced jovially--Evylyn saw
that he had already sampled his concoction--"so there won't be
any cocktails except the punch. It's m' wife's greatest
achievement, Mrs. Ahearn; she'll give you the recipe if you want
it; but owing to a slight"--he caught his wife's eye and paused
--"to a slight indisposition; I'm responsible for this batch.
All through dinner there was punch, and Evylyn, noticing that
Ahearn and Milton Piper and all the women were shaking their
heads negatively at the maid, knew she bad been right about the
bowl; it was still half full. She resolved to caution Harold
directly afterward, but when the women left the table Mrs. Ahearn
cornered her, and she found herself talking cities and
dressmakers with a polite show of interest.
"We've moved around a lot," chattered Mrs. Ahearn, her red head
nodding violently. "Oh, yes, we've never stayed so long in a town
before--but I do hope we're here for good. I like it here; don't
"Well, you see, I've always lived here, so, naturally---"
"Oh, that's true," said Mrs. Ahearn and laughed. Clarence always
used to tell me he had to have a wife he could come home to and
say: "Well, we're going to Chicago to-morrow to live, so pack
I got so I never expected to live ANYwhere." She laughed her
little laugh again; Evylyn suspected that it was her society
"Your husband is a very able man, I imagine."
"Oh, yes," Mrs. Ahearn assured her eagerly. "He's brainy,
Clarence is. Ideas and enthusiasm, you know. Finds out what he
wants and then goes and gets it."
Evylyn nodded. She was wondering if the men were still drinking
punch back in the dining-room. Mrs. Ahearn's history kept
unfolding jerkily, but Evylyn had ceased to listen. The first
odor of massed cigars began to drift in. It wasn't really a large
house, she reflected; on an evening like this the library
sometimes grew blue with smoke, and next day one had to leave the
windows open for hours to air the heavy staleness out of the
curtains. Perhaps this partnership might . . . she began to
speculate on a new house . . .
Mrs. Ahearn's voice drifted in on her:
"I really would like the recipe if you have it written down
Then there was a sound of chairs in the dining-room and the men
strolled in. Evylyn saw at once that her worst fears were
realized. Harold's face was flushed and his words ran together at
the ends of sentences, while Tom Lowrie lurched when he walked
and narrowly missed Irene's lap when he tried to sink onto the
couch beside her. He sat there blinking dazedly at the company.
Evylyn found herself blinking back at him, but she saw no humor in
it. Joe Ambler was smiling contentedly and purring on his cigar.
Only Ahearn and Milton Piper seemed unaffected.
"It's a pretty fine town, Ahearn," said Ambler, "you'll find
"I've found it so," said Ahearn pleasantly.
"You find it more, Ahearn," said Harold, nodding emphatically "'f
I've an'thin' do 'th it."
He soared into a eulogy of the city, and Evylyn wondered
uncomfortably if it bored every one as it bored her. Apparently
not. They were all listening attentively. Evylyn broke in at the
"Where've you been living, Mr. Ahearn?" she asked interestedly.
Then she remembered that Mrs. Ahearn had told her, but it didn't
matter. Harold mustn't talk so much. He was such an ASS when he'd
been drinking. But he plopped directly back in.
"Tell you, Ahearn. Firs' you wanna get a house up here on the
hill. Get Stearne house or Ridgeway house. Wanna have it so
people say: 'There's Ahearn house.' Solid, you know, tha's effec'
Evylyn flushed. This didn't sound right at all. Still Ahearn
didn't seem to notice anything amiss, only nodded gravely.
"Have you been looking---" But her words trailed off unheard as
Harold's voice boomed on.
"Get house--tha's start. Then you get know people. Snobbish town
first toward outsider, but not long--after know you. People like
you"--he indicated Ahearn and his wife with a sweeping
gesture--"all right. Cordial as an'thin' once get by first
barrer-bar- barrer--" He swallowed, and then said "barrier,"
repeated it masterfully.
Evylyn looked appealingly at her brother-in-law, but before he
could intercede a thick mumble had come crowding out of Tom
Lowrie, hindered by the dead cigar which he gripped firmly with
"Huma uma ho huma ahdy um---"
"What?" demanded Harold earnestly.
Resignedly and with difficulty Tom removed the cigar--that is, he
removed part of it, and then blew the remainder with a WHUT
sound across the room, where it landed liquidly and limply in
Mrs. Ahearn's lap.
"Beg pardon," he mumbled, and rose with the vague intention of
going after it. Milton's hand on his coat collapsed him in time,
and Mrs. Ahearn not ungracefully flounced the tobacco from her
skirt to the floor, never once looking at it.
"I was sayin'," continued Tom thickly, "'fore 'at happened,"--he
waved his hand apologetically toward Mrs. Ahearn--"I was sayin' I
heard all truth that Country Club matter."
Milton leaned and whispered something to him.
"Lemme 'lone," he said petulantly; "know what I'm doin'. 'Ats
what they came for."
Evylyn sat there in a panic, trying to make her mouth form words.
She saw her sister's sardonic expression and Mrs. Ahearn's face
turning a vivid red. Ahearn was looking down at his watch-chain,
"I heard who's been keepin' y' out, an' he's not a bit better'n
you. I can fix whole damn thing up. Would've before, but I didn't
know you. Harol' tol' me you felt bad about the thing---"
Milton Piper rose suddenly and awkwardly to his feet. In a second
every one was standing tensely and Milton was saying something
very hurriedly about having to go early, and the Ahearns were
listening with eager intentness. Then Mrs. Ahearn swallowed and
turned with a forced smile toward Jessie. Evylyn saw Tom lurch
forward and put his hand on Ahearns shoulder--and suddenly she
was listening to a new, anxious voice at her elbow, and, turning,
found Hilda, the second maid.
"Please, Mis' Piper, I tank Yulie got her hand poisoned. It's all
swole up and her cheeks is hot and she's moanin' an'
"Julie is?" Evylyn asked sharply. The party suddenly receded. She
turned quickly, sought with her eyes for Mrs. Ahearn, slipped
"If you'll excuse me, Mrs.--" She had momentarily forgotten the
name, but she went right on: "My little girl's been taken sick.
I'll be down when I can." She turned and ran quickly up the
stairs, retaining a confused picture of rays of cigar smoke and a
loud discussion in the centre of the room that seemed to be
developing into an argument.
Switching on the light in the nursery, she found Julie tossing
feverishly and giving out odd little cries. She put her hand
against the cheeks. They were burning. With an exclamation she
followed the arm down under the cover until she found the hand.
Hilda was right. The whole thumb was swollen to the wrist and in
the centre was a little inflamed sore. Blood-poisoning! her mind
cried in terror. The bandage had come off the cut and she'd
gotten something in it. She'd cut it at three o'clock--it was now
nearly eleven. Eight hours. Blood-poisoning couldn't possibly
develop so soon.
She rushed to the 'phone.
Doctor Martin across the street was out. Doctor Foulke, their
family physician, didn't answer. She racked her brains and in
desperation called her throat specialist, and bit her lip
furiously while he looked up the numbers of two physicians.
During that interminable moment she thought she heard loud voices
down-stairs--but she seemed to be in another world now. After
fifteen minutes she located a physician who sounded angry and
sulky at being called out of bed. She ran back to the nursery
and, looking at the hand, found it was somewhat more
"Oh, God!" she cried, and kneeling beside the bed began smoothing
back Julie's hair over and over. With a vague idea of getting
some hot water, she rose and stared toward the door, but the lace
of her dress caught in the bed-rail and she fell forward on her
hands and knees. She struggled up and jerked frantically at the
lace. The bed moved and Julie groaned. Then more quietly but with
suddenly fumbling fingers she found the pleat in front, tore the
whole pannier completely off, and
rushed from the room.
Out in the hall she heard a single loud, insistent voice, but as
she reached the head of the stairs it ceased and an outer door
The music-room came into view. Only Harold and Milton were there,
the former leaning against a chair, his face very pale, his
collar open, and his mouth moving loosely.
"What's the matter?"
Milton looked at her anxiously.
"There was a little trouble---"
Then Harold saw her and, straightening up with an effort, began
"Sult m'own cousin m'own house. God damn common nouveau rish.
'Sult m'own cousin---"
"Tom had trouble with Ahearn and Harold interfered," said Milton.
"My Lord Milton," cried Evylyn, "couldn't you have done
"I tried; I---"
"Julie's sick," she interrupted; "she's poisoned herself. Get him
to bed if you can."
Harold looked up.
Paying no attention, Evylyn brushed by through the dining-room,
catching sight, with a burst of horror, of the big punch-bowl
still on the table, the liquid from melted ice in its bottom. She
heard steps on the front stairs--it was Milton helping Harold
up--and then a mumble: "Why, Julie's a'righ'."
"Don't let him go into the nursery!" she shouted.
The hours blurred into a nightmare. The doctor arrived just
before midnight and within a half-hour had lanced the wound. He
left at two after giving her the addresses of two nurses to call
up and promising to return at half past six. It was
At four, leaving Hilda by the bedside, she went to her room, and
slipping with a shudder out of her evening dress, kicked it into a
corner. She put on a house dress and returned to the nursery
while Hilda went to make coffee.
Not until noon could she bring herself to look into Harold's
room, but when she did it was to find him awake and staring very
miserably at the ceiling. He turned blood-shot hollow eyes upon
her. For a minute she hated him, couldn't speak. A husky voice
came from the bed.
"What time is it?"
"I made a damn fool---"
"It doesn't matter," she said sharply. "Julie's got
blood-poisoning. They may"--she choked over the words--"they
think she'll have to lose her hand."
"She cut herself on that--that bowl."
"Oh, what does it matter?" see cried; "she's got blood-poisoning.
Can't you hear?" He looked at her bewildered--sat half-way up
"I'll get dressed," he said.
Her anger subsided and a great wave of weariness and pity for him
rolled over her. After all, it was his trouble, too."
"Yes," she answered listlessly, "I suppose you'd better."
If Evylyn's beauty had hesitated an her early thirties it came to
an abrupt decision just afterward and completely left her. A
tentative outlay of wrinkles on her face suddenly deepened and
flesh collected rapidly on her legs and hips and arms. Her
mannerism of drawing her brows together had become an
expression--it was habitual when she was reading or speaking and
even while she slept. She was forty-six.
As in most families whose fortunes have gone down rather than up,
she and Harold had drifted into a colorless antagonism. In
repose they looked at each other with the toleration they might
have felt for broken old chairs; Evylyn worried a little when he
was sick and did her best to be cheerful under the wearying
depression of living with a disappointed man.
Family bridge was over for the evening and she sighed with
relief. She had made more mistakes than usual this evening and
she didn't care. Irene shouldn't have made that remark about the
infantry being particularly dangerous. There had been no letter
for three weeks now, and, while this was nothing out of the
ordinary, it never failed to make her nervous; naturally she
hadn't known how many clubs were out.
Harold had gone up-stairs, so she stepped out on the porch for a
breath of fresh air. There was a bright glamour of moonlight
diffusing on the sidewalks and lawns, and with a little half
yawn, half laugh, she remembered one long moonlight affair of her
youth. It was astonishing to think that life had once been the
sum of her current love-affairs. It was now the sum of her
There was the problem of Julie--Julie was thirteen, and lately
she was growing more and more sensitive about her deformity and
preferred to stay always in her room reading. A few years before
she had been frightened at the idea of going to school, and
Evylyn could not bring herself to send her, so she grew up in her
mother's shadow, a pitiful little figure with the artificial
hand that she made no attempt to use but kept forlornly in her
pocket. Lately she had been taking lessons in using it because
Evylyn had feared she would cease to lift the arm altogether, but
after the lessons, unless she made a move with it in listless
obedience to her mother, the little hand would creep back to the
pocket of her dress. For a while her dresses were made without
pockets, but Julie had moped around the house so miserably at a
loss all one month that Evylyn weakened and never tried the
The problem of Donald had been different from the start. She had
attempted vainly to keep him near her as she had tried to teach
Julie to lean less on her--lately the problem of Donald had been
snatched out of her hands; his division had been abroad for three
She yawned again--life was a thing for youth. What a happy youth
she must have had! She remembered her pony, Bijou, and the trip
to Europe with her mother when she was eighteen---
"Very, very complicated," she said aloud and severely to the
moon, and, stepping inside, was about to close the door when she
heard a noise in the library and started.
It was Martha, the middle-aged servant: they kept only one now.
"Why, Martha!" she said in surprise.
Martha turned quickly.
"Oh, I thought you was up-stairs. I was jist---"
"Is anything the matter?"
"No; I---" She stood there fidgeting. "It was a letter, Mrs.
Piper, that I put somewhere.
"A letter? Your own letter?" asked Evylyn.
"No, it was to you. 'Twas this afternoon, Mrs. Piper, in the last
mail. The postman give it to me and then the back door-bell
rang. I had it in my hand, so I must have stuck it somewhere. I
thought I'd just slip in now and find it."
"What sort of a letter? From Mr. Donald?"
"No, it was an advertisement, maybe, or a business letter. It was
a long narrow one, I remember."
They began a search through the music-room, looking on trays and
mantelpieces, and then through the library, feeling on the tops
of rows of books. Martha paused in despair.
"I can't think where. I went straight to the kitchen. The
dining-room, maybe." She started hopefully for the dining-room,
but turned suddenly at the sound of a gasp behind her. Evylyn had
sat down heavily in a Morris chair, her brows drawn very close
together eyes blanking furiously.
"Are you sick?"
For a minute there was no answer. Evylyn sat there very still and
Martha could see the very quick rise and fall of her bosom.
"Are you sick?" she repeated.
"No," said Evylyn slowly, "but I know where the letter is. Go
'way, Martha. I know."
Wonderingly, Martha withdrew, and still Evylyn sat there, only
the muscles around her eyes moving --contracting and relaxing and
contracting again. She knew now where the letter was--she knew
as well as if she had put it there herself. And she felt
instinctively and unquestionably what the letter was. It was long
and narrow like an advertisement, but up in the corner in large
letters it said "War Department" and, in smaller letters below,
"Official Business." She knew it lay there in the big bowl with
her name in ink on the outside and her soul's death within.
Rising uncertainly, she walked toward the dining-room, feeling
her way along the bookcases and through the doorway. After a
moment she found the light and switched it on.
There was the bowl, reflecting the electric light in crimson
squares edged with black and yellow squares edged with blue,
ponderous and glittering, grotesquely and triumphantly ominous.
She took a step forward and paused again; another step and she
would see over the top and into the inside--another step and she
would see an edge of white--another step--her hands fell on the
rough, cold surface--
In a moment she was tearing it open, fumbling with an obstinate
fold, holding it before her while the typewritten page glared out
and struck at her. Then it fluttered like a bird to the floor.
The house that had seemed whirring, buzzing a moment since, was
suddenly very quiet; a breath of air crept in through the open
front door carrying the noise of a passing motor; she heard faint
sounds from upstairs and then a grinding racket in the pipe
behind the bookcases-her husband turning of a water-
And in that instant it was as if this were not, after all,
Donald's hour except in so far as he was a marker in the
insidious contest that had gone on in sudden surges and long,
listless interludes between Evylyn and this cold, malignant thing
of beauty, a gift of enmity from a man whose face she had long
since forgotten. With its massive, brooding passivity it lay
there in the centre of her house as it had lain for years,
throwing out the ice-like beams of a thousand eyes, perverse
glitterings merging each into each, never aging, never changing.
Evylyn sat down on the edge of the table and stared at it
fascinated. It seemed to be smiling now, a very cruel smile, as
if to say:
"You see, this time I didn't have to hurt you directly. I didn't
bother. You know it was I who took your son away. You know how
cold I am and how hard and how beautiful, because once you were
just as cold and hard and beautiful."
The bowl seemed suddenly to turn itself over and then to distend
and swell until it became a great canopy that glittered and
trembled over the room, over the house, and, as the walls melted
slowly into mist, Evylyn saw that it was still moving out, out
and far away from her, shutting off far horizons and suns and
moons and stars except as inky blots seen faintly through it. And
under it walked all the people, and the light that came through
to them was refracted and twisted until shadow seamed light and
light seemed shadow--until the whole panoply of the world became
changed and distorted under the twinkling heaven of
Then there came a far-away, booming voice like a low, clear bell.
It came from the centre of the bowl and down the great sides to
the ground and then bounced toward her eagerly.
"You see, I am fate," it shouted, "and stronger than your puny
plans; and I am how-things-turn-out and I am different from your
little dreams, and I am the flight of time and the end of beauty
and unfulfilled desire; all the accidents and imperceptions and
the little minutes that shape the crucial hours are mine. I am
the exception that proves no rules, the limits of your control,
the condiment in the dish of life."
The booming sound stopped; the echoes rolled away over the wide
land to the edge of the bowl that bounded the world and up the
great sides and back to the centre where they hummed for a moment
and died. Then the great walls began slowly to bear down upon
her, growing smaller and smaller, coming closer and closer as if
to crush her; and as she clinched her hands and waited for the
swift bruise of the cold glass, the bowl gave a sudden wrench and
turned over--and lay there on the side-board, shining and
inscrutable, reflecting in a hundred prisms, myriad, many-colored
glints and gleams and crossings and interlaces of light.
The cold wind blew in again through to front door, and with a
desperate, frantic energy Evylyn stretched both her arms around
the bowl. She must be quick--she must be strong. She tightened
her arms until they ached, tauted the thin strips of muscle under
her soft flesh, and with a mighty effort raised it and held it.
She felt the wind blow cold on her back where her dress had come
apart from the strain of her effort, and as she felt it she
turned toward it and staggered under the great weight out through
the library and on toward the front door. She must be
quick--she must be strong. The blood in her arms throbbed dully
and her knees kept giving way under her, but the feel of the cool
glass was good.
Out the front door she tottered and over to the stone steps, and
there, summoning every fibre of her soul and body for a last
effort, swung herself half around--for a second, as she tried to
loose her hold, her numb fingers clung to the rough surface, and
in that second she slipped and, losing balance, toppled forward
with a despairing cry, her arms still around the bowl . . . down
. . .
Over the way lights went on; far down the block the crash was
heard, and pedestrians rushed up wonderingly; up-stairs a tired
man awoke from the edge of sleep and a little girl whimpered in a
haunted doze. And all over the moonlit sidewalk around the
still, black form, hundreds of prisms and cubes and splinters of
glass reflected the light in little gleams of blue, and black
edged with yellow, and yellow, and crimson edged with black.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.