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The Pretext

I

MRS. RANSOM, when the front door had closed on her visitor, passed
with a spring from the drawing-room to the narrow hall, and thence
up the narrow stairs to her bedroom.

Though slender, and still light of foot, she did not always move so
quickly: hitherto, in her life, there had not been much to hurry
for, save the recurring domestic tasks that compel haste without
fostering elasticity; but some impetus of youth revived,
communicated to her by her talk with Guy Dawnish, now found
expression in her girlish flight upstairs, her girlish impatience to
bolt herself into her room with her throbs and her blushes.

Her blushes? Was she really blushing?

She approached the cramped eagle-topped mirror above her plain prim
dressing-table: just such a meagre concession to the weakness of the
flesh as every old-fashioned house in Wentworth counted among its
relics. The face reflected in this unflattering surface--for even
the mirrors of Wentworth erred on the side of depreciation--did not
seem, at first sight, a suitable theatre for the display of the
tenderer emotions, and its owner blushed more deeply as the fact was
forced upon her.

Her fair hair had grown too thin--it no longer quite hid the blue
veins in her candid forehead--a forehead that one seemed to see
turned toward professorial desks, in large bare halls where a snowy
winter light fell uncompromisingly on rows of "thoughtful women."
Her mouth was thin, too, and a little strained; her lips were too
pale; and there were lines in the corners of her eyes. It was a face
which had grown middle-aged while it waited for the joys of youth.

Well--but if she could still blush? Instinctively she drew back a
little, so that her scrutiny became less microscopic, and the pretty
lingering pink threw a veil over her pallor, the hollows in her
temples, the faint wrinkles of inexperience about her lips and eyes.
How a little colour helped! It made her eyes so deep and shining.
She saw now why bad women rouged. . . . Her redness deepened at the
thought.

But suddenly she noticed for the first time that the collar of her
dress was cut too low. It showed the shrunken lines of the throat.
She rummaged feverishly in a tidy scentless drawer, and snatching
out a bit of black velvet, bound it about her neck. Yes--that was
better. It gave her the relief she needed. Relief--contrast--that
was it! She had never had any, either in her appearance or in her
setting. She was as flat as the pattern of the wall-paper--and so
was her life. And all the people about her had the same look.
Wentworth was the kind of place where husbands and wives gradually
grew to resemble each other--one or two of her friends, she
remembered, had told her lately that she and Ransom were beginning
to look alike. . . .

But why had she always, so tamely, allowed her aspect to conform to
her situation? Perhaps a gayer exterior would have provoked a
brighter fate. Even now--she turned back to the glass, loosened the
tight strands of hair above her brow, ran the fine end of the comb
under them with a rapid frizzing motion, and then disposed them,
more lightly and amply, above her eager face. Yes--it was really
better; it made a difference. She smiled at herself with a timid
coquetry, and her lips seemed rosier as she smiled. Then she laid
down the comb and the smile faded. It made a difference,
certainly--but was it right to try to make one's hair look thicker
and wavier than it really was? Between that and rouging the ethical
line seemed almost impalpable, and the spectre of her rigid New
England ancestry rose reprovingly before her. She was sure that none
of her grandmothers had ever simulated a curl or encouraged a blush.
A blush, indeed! What had any of them ever had to blush for in all
their frozen lives? And what, in Heaven's name, had she? She sat
down in the stiff mahogany rocking-chair beside her work-table and
tried to collect herself. From childhood she had been taught to
"collect herself"--but never before had her small sensations and
aspirations been so widely scattered, diffused over so vague and
uncharted an expanse. Hitherto they had lain in neatly sorted and
easily accessible bundles on the high shelves of a perfectly ordered
moral consciousness. And now--now that for the first time they
_needed_ collecting--now that the little winged and scattered bits
of self were dancing madly down the vagrant winds of fancy, she knew
no spell to call them to the fold again. The best way, no doubt--if
only her bewilderment permitted--was to go back to the
beginning--the beginning, at least, of to-day's visit--to
recapitulate, word for word and look for look. . . .

She clasped her hands on the arms of the chair, checked its swaying
with a firm thrust of her foot, and fixed her eyes upon the inward
vision. . . .

To begin with, what had made to-day's visit so different from the
others? It became suddenly vivid to her that there had been many,
almost daily, others, since Guy Dawnish's coming to Wentworth. Even
the previous winter--the winter of his arrival from England--his
visits had been numerous enough to make Wentworth aware that--very
naturally--Mrs. Ransom was "looking after" the stray young
Englishman committed to her husband's care by an eminent Q. C. whom
the Ransoms had known on one of their brief London visits, and with
whom Ransom had since maintained professional relations. All this
was in the natural order of things, as sanctioned by the social code
of Wentworth. Every one was kind to Guy Dawnish--some rather
importunately so, as Margaret Ransom had smiled to observe--but it
was recognized as fitting that she should be kindest, since he was
in a sense her property, since his people in England, by profusely
acknowledging her kindness, had given it the domestic sanction
without which, to Wentworth, any social relation between the sexes
remained unhallowed and to be viewed askance. Yes! And even this
second winter, when the visits had become so much more frequent, so
admitted a part of the day's routine, there had not been, from any
one, a hint of surprise or of conjecture. . . .

Mrs. Ransom smiled with a faint bitterness. She was protected by her
age, no doubt--her age and her past, and the image her mirror gave
back to her. . . .

Her door-handle turned suddenly, and the bolt's resistance was met
by an impatient knock.

"Margaret!"

She started up, her brightness fading, and unbolted the door to
admit her husband.

"Why are you locked in? Why, you're not dressed yet!" he exclaimed.

It was possible for Ransom to reach his dressing-room by a slight
circuit through the passage; but it was characteristic of the
relentless domesticity of their relation that he chose, as a matter
of course, the directer way through his wife's bedroom. She had
never before been disturbed by this practice, which she accepted as
inevitable, but had merely adapted her own habits to it, delaying
her hasty toilet till he was safely in his room, or completing it
before she heard his step on the stair; since a scrupulous
traditional prudery had miraculously survived this massacre of all
the privacies.

"Oh, I shan't dress this evening--I shall just have some tea in the
library after you've gone," she answered absently. "Your things are
laid out," she added, rousing herself.

He looked surprised. "The dinner's at seven. I suppose the speeches
will begin at nine. I thought you were coming to hear them."

She wavered. "I don't know. I think not. Mrs. Sperry's ill, and I've
no one else to go with."

He glanced at his watch. "Why not get hold of Dawnish? Wasn't he
here just now? Why didn't you ask him?"

She turned toward her dressing-table, and straightened the comb and
brush with a nervous hand. Her husband had given her, that morning,
two tickets for the ladies' gallery in Hamblin Hall, where the great
public dinner of the evening was to take place--a banquet offered by
the faculty of Wentworth to visitors of academic eminence--and she
had meant to ask Dawnish to go with her: it had seemed the most
natural thing to do, till the end of his visit came, and then, after
all, she had not spoken. . . .

"It's too late now," she murmured, bending over her pin cushion.

"Too late? Not if you telephone him."

Her husband came toward her, and she turned quickly to face him,
lest he should suspect her of trying to avoid his eye. To what
duplicity was she already committed!

Ransom laid a friendly hand on her arm: "Come along, Margaret. You
know I speak for the bar." She was aware, in his voice, of a little
note of surprise at his having to remind her of this.

"Oh, yes. I meant to go, of course--"

"Well, then--" He opened his dressing-room door, and caught a
glimpse of the retreating house-maid's skirt. "Here's Maria now.
Maria! Call up Mr. Dawnish--at Mrs. Creswell's, you know. Tell him
Mrs. Ransom wants him to go with her to hear the speeches this
evening--the _speeches_, you understand?--and he's to call for her
at a quarter before nine."

Margaret heard the Irish "Yessir" on the stairs, and stood
motionless, while her husband added loudly: "And bring me some
towels when you come up." Then he turned back into his wife's room.

"Why, it would be a thousand pities for Guy to miss this. He's so
interested in the way we do things over here--and I don't know that
he's ever heard me speak in public." Again the slight note of
fatuity! Was it possible that Ransom was a fatuous man?

He paused in front of her, his short-sighted unobservant glance
concentrating itself unexpectedly on her face.

"You're not going like that, are you?" he asked, with glaring
eye-glasses.

"Like what?" she faltered, lifting a conscious hand to the velvet at
her throat.

"With your hair in such a fearful mess. Have you been shampooing it?
You look like the Brant girl at the end of a tennis-match."

The Brant girl was their horror--the horror of all right-thinking
Wentworth; a laced, whale-boned, frizzle-headed, high-heeled
daughter of iniquity, who came--from New York, of course--on long,
disturbing, tumultuous visits to a Wentworth aunt, working havoc
among the freshmen, and leaving, when she departed, an angry wake of
criticism that ruffled the social waters for weeks. _She_, too, had
tried her hand at Guy--with ludicrous unsuccess. And now, to be
compared to her--to be accused of looking "New Yorky!" Ah, there are
times when husbands are obtuse; and Ransom, as he stood there, thick
and yet juiceless, in his dry legal middle age, with his wiry
dust-coloured beard, and his perpetual _pince-nez_, seemed to his
wife a sudden embodiment of this traditional attribute. Not that she
had ever fancied herself, poor soul, a "_ femme incomprise_." She
had, on the contrary, prided herself on being understood by her
husband, almost as much as on her own complete comprehension of him.
Wentworth laid a good deal of stress on "motives"; and Margaret
Ransom and her husband had dwelt in a complete community of motive.
It had been the proudest day of her life when, without consulting
her, he had refused an offer of partnership in an eminent New York
firm because he preferred the distinction of practising in
Wentworth, of being known as the legal representative of the
University. Wentworth, in fact, had always been the bond between the
two; they were united in their veneration for that estimable seat of
learning, and in their modest yet vivid consciousness of possessing
its tone. The Wentworth "tone" is unmistakable: it permeates every
part of the social economy, from the _coiffure_ of the ladies to the
preparation of the food. It has its sumptuary laws as well as its
curriculum of learning. It sits in judgment not only on its own
townsmen but on the rest of the world--enlightening, criticising,
ostracizing a heedless universe--and non-conformity to Wentworth
standards involves obliteration from Wentworth's consciousness.

In a world without traditions, without reverence, without stability,
such little expiring centres of prejudice and precedent make an
irresistible appeal to those instincts for which a democracy has
neglected to provide. Wentworth, with its "tone," its backward
references, its inflexible aversions and condemnations, its hard
moral outline preserved intact against a whirling background of
experiment, had been all the poetry and history of Margaret Ransom's
life. Yes, what she had really esteemed in her husband was the fact
of his being so intense an embodiment of Wentworth; so long and
closely identified, for instance, with its legal affairs, that he
was almost a part of its university existence, that of course, at a
college banquet, he would inevitably speak for the bar!

It was wonderful of how much consequence all this had seemed till
now. . . .


II

WHEN, punctually at ten minutes to seven, her husband had emerged
from the house, Margaret Ransom remained seated in her bedroom,
addressing herself anew to the difficult process of self-collection.
As an aid to this endeavour, she bent forward and looked out of the
window, following Ransom's figure as it receded down the elm-shaded
street. He moved almost alone between the prim flowerless
grass-plots, the white porches, the protrusion of irrelevant
shingled gables, which stamped the empty street as part of an
American college town. She had always been proud of living in Hill
Street, where the university people congregated, proud to associate
her husband's retreating back, as he walked daily to his office,
with backs literary and pedagogic, backs of which it was whispered,
for the edification of duly-impressed visitors: "Wait till that old
boy turns--that's so-and-so."

This had been her world, a world destitute of personal experience,
but filled with a rich sense of privilege and distinction, of being
not as those millions were who, denied the inestimable advantage of
living at Wentworth, pursued elsewhere careers foredoomed to
futility by that very fact.

And now--!

She rose and turned to her work-table where she had dropped, on
entering, the handful of photographs that Guy Dawnish had left with
her. While he sat so close, pointing out and explaining, she had
hardly taken in the details; but now, on the full tones of his low
young voice, they came back with redoubled distinctness. This was
Guise Abbey, his uncle's place in Wiltshire, where, under his
grandfather's rule, Guy's own boyhood had been spent: a long gabled
Jacobean facade, many-chimneyed, ivy-draped, overhung (she felt
sure) by the boughs of a venerable rookery. And in this other
picture--the walled garden at Guise--that was his uncle, Lord
Askern, a hale gouty-looking figure, planted robustly on the
terrace, a gun on his shoulder and a couple of setters at his feet.
And here was the river below the park, with Guy "punting" a girl in
a flapping hat--how Margaret hated the flap that hid the girl's
face! And here was the tennis-court, with Guy among a jolly
cross-legged group of youths in flannels, and pretty girls about the
tea-table under the big lime: in the centre the curate handing bread
and butter, and in the middle distance a footman approaching with
more cups.

Margaret raised this picture closer to her eyes, puzzling, in the
diminished light, over the face of the girl nearest to Guy
Dawnish--bent above him in profile, while he laughingly lifted his
head. No hat hid this profile, which stood out clearly against the
foliage behind it.

"And who is that handsome girl?" Margaret had said, detaining the
photograph as he pushed it aside, and struck by the fact that, of
the whole group, he had left only this member unnamed.

"Oh, only Gwendolen Matcher--I've always known her--. Look at this:
the almshouses at Guise. Aren't they jolly?"

And then--without her having had the courage to ask if the girl in
the punt were also Gwendolen Matcher--they passed on to photographs
of his rooms at Oxford, of a cousin's studio in London--one of Lord
Askern's grandsons was "artistic"--of the rose-hung cottage in Wales
to which, on the old Earl's death, his daughter-in-law, Guy's
mother, had retired.

Every one of the photographs opened a window on the life Margaret
had been trying to picture since she had known him--a life so rich,
so romantic, so packed--in the mere casual vocabulary of daily
life--with historic reference and poetic allusion, that she felt
almost oppressed by this distant whiff of its air. The very words he
used fascinated and bewildered her. He seemed to have been born into
all sorts of connections, political, historical, official, that made
the Ransom situation at Wentworth as featureless as the top shelf of
a dark closet. Some one in the family had "asked for the Chiltern
Hundreds"--one uncle was an Elder Brother of the Trinity House--some
one else was the Master of a College--some one was in command at
Devonport--the Army, the Navy, the House of Commons, the House of
Lords, the most venerable seats of learning, were all woven into the
dense background of this young man's light unconscious talk. For the
unconsciousness was unmistakable. Margaret was not without
experience of the transatlantic visitor who sounds loud names and
evokes reverberating connections. The poetry of Guy Dawnish's
situation lay in the fact that it was so completely a part of early
associations and accepted facts. Life was like that in England--in
Wentworth of course (where he had been sent, through his uncle's
influence, for two years' training in the neighbouring electrical
works at Smedden)--in Wentworth, though "immensely jolly," it was
different. The fact that he was qualifying to be an electrical
engineer--with the hope of a secretaryship at the London end of the
great Smedden Company--that, at best, he was returning home to a
life of industrial "grind," this fact, though avowedly a bore, did
not disconnect him from that brilliant pinnacled past, that
many-faceted life in which the brightest episodes of the whole body
of English fiction seemed collectively reflected. Of course he would
have to work--younger sons' sons almost always had to--but his uncle
Askern (like Wentworth) was "immensely jolly," and Guise always open
to him, and his other uncle, the Master, a capital old boy too--and
in town he could always put up with his clever aunt, Lady Caroline
Duckett, who had made a "beastly marriage" and was horribly poor,
but who knew everybody jolly and amusing, and had always been
particularly kind to him.

It was not--and Margaret had not, even in her own thoughts, to
defend herself from the imputation--it was not what Wentworth would
have called the "material side" of her friend's situation that
captivated her. She was austerely proof against such appeals: her
enthusiasms were all of the imaginative order. What subjugated her
was the unexampled prodigality with which he poured for her the same
draught of tradition of which Wentworth held out its little
teacupful. He besieged her with a million Wentworths in one--saying,
as it were: "All these are mine for the asking--and I choose you
instead!"

For this, she told herself somewhat dizzily, was what it came
to--the summing-up toward which her conscientious efforts at
self-collection had been gradually pushing her: with all this in
reach, Guy Dawnish was leaving Wentworth reluctantly.

"I _was_ a bit lonely here at first--but _now!_" And again: "It will
be jolly, of course, to see them all again--but there are some
things one doesn't easily give up. . . ."

If he had known only Wentworth, it would have been wonderful enough
that he should have chosen her out of all Wentworth--but to have
known that other life, and to set her in the balance against
it--poor Margaret Ransom, in whom, at the moment, nothing seemed of
weight but her years! Ah, it might well produce, in nerves and
brain, and poor unpractised pulses, a flushed tumult of sensation,
the rush of a great wave of life, under which memory struggled in
vain to reassert itself, to particularize again just what his last
words--the very last--had been. . . .

When consciousness emerged, quivering, from this retrospective
assault, it pushed Margaret Ransom--feeling herself a mere leaf in
the blast--toward the writing-table from which her innocent and
voluminous correspondence habitually flowed. She had a letter to
write now--much shorter but more difficult than any she had ever
been called on to indite.

"Dear Mr. Dawnish," she began, "since telephoning you just now I
have decided not--"

Maria's voice, at the door, announced that tea was in the library:
"And I s'pose it's the brown silk you'll wear to the speaking?"

In the usual order of the Ransom existence, its mistress's toilet
was performed unassisted; and the mere enquiry--at once friendly and
deferential--projected, for Margaret, a strong light on the
importance of the occasion. That she should answer: "But I am not
going," when the going was so manifestly part of a household
solemnity about which the thoughts below stairs fluttered in proud
participation; that in face of such participation she should utter a
word implying indifference or hesitation--nay, revealing herself the
transposed, uprooted thing she had been on the verge of becoming; to
do this was--well! infinitely harder than to perform the alternative
act of tearing up the sheet of note-paper under her reluctant pen.

Yes, she said, she would wear the brown silk. . . .


III

ALL the heat and glare from the long illuminated table, about which
the fumes of many courses still hung in a savoury fog, seemed to
surge up to the ladies' gallery, and concentrate themselves in the
burning cheeks of a slender figure withdrawn behind the projection
of a pillar.

It never occurred to Margaret Ransom that she was sitting in the
shade. She supposed that the full light of the chandeliers was
beating on her face--and there were moments when it seemed as though
all the heads about the great horse-shoe below, bald, shaggy, sleek,
close-thatched, or thinly latticed, were equipped with an additional
pair of eyes, set at an angle which enabled them to rake her face as
relentlessly as the electric burners.

In the lull after a speech, the gallery was fluttering with the
rustle of programmes consulted, and Mrs. Sheff (the Brant girl's
aunt) leaned forward to say enthusiastically: "And now we're to hear
Mr. Ransom!"

A louder buzz rose from the table, and the heads (without relaxing
their upward vigilance) seemed to merge, and flow together, like an
attentive flood, toward the upper end of the horse-shoe, where all
the threads of Margaret Ransom's consciousness were suddenly drawn
into what seemed a small speck, no more--a black speck that rose,
hung in air, dissolved into gyrating gestures, became distended,
enormous, preponderant--became her husband "speaking."

"It's the heat--" Margaret gasped, pressing her handkerchief to her
whitening lips, and finding just strength enough left to push back
farther into the shadow.

She felt a touch on her arm. "It _is_ horrible--shall we go?" a
voice suggested; and, "Yes, yes, let us go," she whispered, feeling,
with a great throb of relief, _that_ to be the only possible, the
only conceivable, solution. To sit and listen to her husband
_now_--how could she ever have thought she could survive it?
Luckily, under the lingering hubbub from below, his opening words
were inaudible, and she had only to run the gauntlet of sympathetic
feminine glances, shot after her between waving fans and programmes,
as, guided by Guy Dawnish, she managed to reach the door. It was
really so hot that even Mrs. Sheff was not much surprised--till long
afterward. . . .

The winding staircase was empty, half dark and blessedly silent. In
a committee room below Dawnish found the inevitable water jug, and
filled a glass for her, while she leaned back, confronted only by a
frowning college President in an emblazoned frame. The academic
frown descended on her like an anathema when she rose and followed
her companion out of the building.

Hamblin Hall stands at the end of the long green "Campus" with its
sextuple line of elms--the boast and the singularity of Wentworth. A
pale spring moon, rising above the dome of the University library at
the opposite end of the elm-walk, diffused a pearly mildness in the
sky, melted to thin haze the shadows of the trees, and turned to
golden yellow the lights of the college windows. Against this soft
suffusion of light the Library cupola assumed a Bramantesque grace,
the white steeple of the congregational church became a campanile
topped by a winged spirit, and the scant porticoes of the older
halls the colonnades of classic temples.

"This is better--" Dawnish said, as they passed down the steps and
under the shadow of the elms.

They moved on a little way in silence before he began again: "You're
too tired to walk. Let us sit down a few minutes."

Her feet, in truth, were leaden, and not far off a group of park
benches, encircling the pedestal of a patriot in bronze, invited
them to rest. But Dawnish was guiding her toward a lateral path
which bent, through shrubberies, toward a strip of turf between two
of the buildings.

"It will be cooler by the river," he said, moving on without waiting
for a possible protest. None came: it seemed easier, for the moment,
to let herself be led without any conventional feint of resistance.
And besides, there was nothing wrong about _this_--the wrong would
have been in sitting up there in the glare, pretending to listen to
her husband, a dutiful wife among her kind. . . .

The path descended, as both knew, to the chosen, the inimitable spot
of Wentworth: that fugitive curve of the river, where, before
hurrying on to glut the brutal industries of South Wentworth and
Smedden, it simulated for a few hundred yards the leisurely pace of
an ancient university stream, with willows on its banks and a
stretch of turf extending from the grounds of Hamblin Hall to the
boat houses at the farther bend. Here too were benches, beneath the
willows, and so close to the river that the voice of its gliding
softened and filled out the reverberating silence between Margaret
and her companion, and made her feel that she knew why he had
brought her there.

"Do you feel better?" he asked gently as he sat down beside her.

"Oh, yes. I only needed a little air."

"I'm so glad you did. Of course the speeches were tremendously
interesting--but I prefer this. What a good night!"

"Yes."

There was a pause, which now, after all, the soothing accompaniment
of the river seemed hardly sufficient to fill.

"I wonder what time it is. I ought to be going home," Margaret began
at length.

"Oh, it's not late. They'll be at it for hours in there--yet."

She made a faint inarticulate sound. She wanted to say:
"No--Robert's speech was to be the last--" but she could not bring
herself to pronounce Ransom's name, and at the moment no other way
of refuting her companion's statement occurred to her.

The young man leaned back luxuriously, reassured by her silence.

"You see it's my last chance--and I want to make the most of it."

"Your last chance?" How stupid of her to repeat his words on that
cooing note of interrogation! It was just such a lead as the Brant
girl might have given him.

"To be with you--like this. I haven't had so many. And there's less
than a week left."

She attempted to laugh. "Perhaps it will sound longer if you call it
five days."

The flatness of that, again! And she knew there were people who
called her intelligent. Fortunately he did not seem to notice it;
but her laugh continued to sound in her own ears--the coquettish
chirp of middle age! She decided that if he spoke again--if he _said
anything_--she would make no farther effort at evasion: she would
take it directly, seriously, frankly--she would not be doubly
disloyal.

"Besides," he continued, throwing his arm along the back of the
bench, and turning toward her so that his face was like a dusky
bas-relief with a silver rim--"besides, there's something I've been
wanting to tell you."

The sound of the river seemed to cease altogether: the whole world
became silent.

Margaret had trusted her inspiration farther than it appeared likely
to carry her. Again she could think of nothing happier than to
repeat, on the same witless note of interrogation: "To tell me?"

"You only."

The constraint, the difficulty, seemed to be on his side now: she
divined it by the renewed shifting of his attitude--he was capable,
usually, of such fine intervals of immobility--and by a confusion in
his utterance that set her own voice throbbing in her throat.

"You've been so perfect to me," he began again. "It's not my fault
if you've made me feel that you would understand everything--make
allowances for everything--see just how a man may have held out, and
fought against a thing--as long as he had the strength. . . . This
may be my only chance; and I can't go away without telling you."

He had turned from her now, and was staring at the river, so that
his profile was projected against the moonlight in all its beautiful
young dejection.

There was a slight pause, as though he waited for her to speak; then
she leaned forward and laid her hand on his.

"If I have really been--if I have done for you even the least part
of what you say . . . what you imagine . . . will you do for me,
now, just one thing in return?"

He sat motionless, as if fearing to frighten away the shy touch on
his hand, and she left it there, conscious of her gesture only as
part of the high ritual of their farewell.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked in a low tone.

"_ Not_ to tell me!" she breathed on a deep note of entreaty.

"_ Not_ to tell you--?"

"Anything--_anything_--just to leave our . . . our friendship . . .
as it has been--as--as a painter, if a friend asked him, might leave
a picture--not quite finished, perhaps . . . but all the more
exquisite. . . ."

She felt the hand under hers slip away, recover itself, and seek her
own, which had flashed out of reach in the same instant--felt the
start that swept him round on her as if he had been caught and
turned about by the shoulders.

"You--_you_--?" he stammered, in a strange voice full of fear and
tenderness; but she held fast, so centred in her inexorable resolve
that she was hardly conscious of the effect her words might be
producing.

"Don't you see," she hurried on, "don't you _feel_ how much safer it
is--yes, I'm willing to put it so!--how much safer to leave
everything undisturbed . . . just as . . . as it has grown of itself
. . . without trying to say: 'It's this or that' . . . ? It's what
we each choose to call it to ourselves, after all, isn't it? Don't
let us try to find a name that . . . that we should both agree upon
. . . we probably shouldn't succeed." She laughed abruptly. "And
ghosts vanish when one names them!" she ended with a break in her
voice.

When she ceased her heart was beating so violently that there was a
rush in her ears like the noise of the river after rain, and she did
not immediately make out what he was answering. But as she recovered
her lucidity she said to herself that, whatever he was saying, she
must not hear it; and she began to speak again, half playfully, half
appealingly, with an eloquence of entreaty, an ingenuity in
argument, of which she had never dreamed herself capable. And then,
suddenly, strangling hands seemed to reach up from her heart to her
throat, and she had to stop.

Her companion remained motionless. He had not tried to regain her
hand, and his eyes were away from her, on the river. But his
nearness had become something formidable and exquisite--something
she had never before imagined. A flush of guilt swept over
her--vague reminiscences of French novels and of opera plots. This
was what such women felt, then . . . this was "shame." . . . Phrases
of the newspaper and the pulpit danced before her. . . . She dared
not speak, and his silence began to frighten her. Had ever a heart
beat so wildly before in Wentworth?

He turned at last, and taking her two hands, quite simply, kissed
them one after the other.

"I shall never forget--" he said in a confused voice, unlike his
own.

A return of strength enabled her to rise, and even to let her eyes
meet his for a moment.

"Thank you," she said, simply also.

She turned away from the bench, regaining the path that led back to
the college buildings, and he walked beside her in silence. When
they reached the elm walk it was dotted with dispersing groups. The
"speaking" was over, and Hamblin Hall had poured its audience out
into the moonlight. Margaret felt a rush of relief, followed by a
receding wave of regret. She had the distinct sensation that her
hour--her one hour--was over.

One of the groups just ahead broke up as they approached, and
projected Ransom's solid bulk against the moonlight.

"My husband," she said, hastening forward; and she never afterward
forgot the look of his back--heavy, round-shouldered, yet a little
pompous--in a badly fitting overcoat that stood out at the neck and
hid his collar. She had never before noticed how he dressed.


IV

THEY met again, inevitably, before Dawnish left; but the thing she
feared did not happen--he did not try to see her alone.

It even became clear to her, in looking back, that he had
deliberately avoided doing so; and this seemed merely an added proof
of his "understanding," of that deep undefinable communion that set
them alone in an empty world, as if on a peak above the clouds.

The five days passed in a flash; and when the last one came, it
brought to Margaret Ransom an hour of weakness, of profound
disorganization, when old barriers fell, old convictions faded--when
to be alone with him for a moment became, after all, the one craving
of her heart. She knew he was coming that afternoon to say
"good-by"--and she knew also that Ransom was to be away at South
Wentworth. She waited alone in her pale little drawing- room, with
its scant kakemonos, its one or two chilly reproductions from the
antique, its slippery Chippendale chairs. At length the bell rang,
and her world became a rosy blur--through which she presently
discerned the austere form of Mrs. Sperry, wife of the Professor of
palaeontology, who had come to talk over with her the next winter's
programme for the Higher Thought Club. They debated the question for
an hour, and when Mrs. Sperry departed Margaret had a confused
impression that the course was to deal with the influence of the
First Crusade on the development of European architecture--but the
sentient part of her knew only that Dawnish had not come.

He "bobbed in," as he would have put it, after dinner--having, it
appeared, run across Ransom early in the day, and learned that the
latter would be absent till evening. Margaret was in the study with
her husband when the door opened and Dawnish stood there.
Ransom--who had not had time to dress--was seated at his desk, a
pile of shabby law books at his elbow, the light from a hanging lamp
falling on his grayish stubble of hair, his sallow forehead and
spectacled eyes. Dawnish, towering higher than usual against the
shadows of the room, and refined by his unusual pallor, hung a
moment on the threshold, then came in, explaining himself
profusely--laughing, accepting a cigar, letting Ransom push an
arm-chair forward--a Dawnish she had never seen, ill at ease,
ejaculatory, yet somehow more mature, more obscurely in command of
himself.

Margaret drew back, seating herself in the shade, in such a way that
she saw her husband's head first, and beyond it their visitor's,
relieved against the dusk of the book shelves. Her heart was
still--she felt no throbbing in her throat or temples: all her life
seemed concentrated in the hand that lay on her knee, the hand he
would touch when they said good-by.

Afterward her heart rang all the changes, and there was a mood in
which she reproached herself for cowardice--for having deliberately
missed her one moment with him, the moment in which she might have
sounded the depths of life, for joy or anguish. But that mood was
fleeting and infrequent. In quieter hours she blushed for it--she
even trembled to think that he might have guessed such a regret in
her. It seemed to convict her of a lack of fineness that he should
have had, in his youth and his power, a tenderer, surer sense of the
peril of a rash touch--should have handled the case so much more
delicately.

At first her days were fire and the nights long solemn vigils. Her
thoughts were no longer vulgarized and defaced by any notion of
"guilt," of mental disloyalty. She was ashamed now of her shame.
What had happened was as much outside the sphere of her marriage as
some transaction in a star. It had simply given her a secret life of
incommunicable joys, as if all the wasted springs of her youth had
been stored in some hidden pool, and she could return there now to
bathe in them.

After that there came a phase of loneliness, through which the life
about her loomed phantasmal and remote. She thought the dead must
feel thus, repeating the vain gestures of the living beside some
Stygian shore. She wondered if any other woman had lived to whom
_nothing had ever happened?_ And then his first letter came. . . .

It was a charming letter--a perfect letter. The little touch of
awkwardness and constraint under its boyish spontaneity told her
more than whole pages of eloquence. He spoke of their friendship--of
their good days together. . . . Ransom, chancing to come in while
she read, noticed the foreign stamps; and she was able to hand him
the letter, saying gaily: "There's a message for you," and knowing
all the while that _her_ message was safe in her heart.

On the days when the letters came the outlines of things grew
indistinct, and she could never afterward remember what she had done
or how the business of life had been carried on. It was always a
surprise when she found dinner on the table as usual, and Ransom
seated opposite to her, running over the evening paper.

But though Dawnish continued to write, with all the English loyalty
to the outward observances of friendship, his communications came
only at intervals of several weeks, and between them she had time to
repossess herself, to regain some sort of normal contact with life.
And the customary, the recurring, gradually reclaimed her, the net
of habit tightened again--her daily life became real, and her one
momentary escape from it an exquisite illusion. Not that she ceased
to believe in the miracle that had befallen her: she still treasured
the reality of her one moment beside the river. What reason was
there for doubting it? She could hear the ring of truth in young
Dawnish's voice: "It's not my fault if you've made me feel that you
would understand everything. . . ." No! she believed in her miracle,
and the belief sweetened and illumined her life; but she came to see
that what was for her the transformation of her whole being might
well have been, for her companion, a mere passing explosion of
gratitude, of boyish good-fellowship touched with the pang of
leave-taking. She even reached the point of telling herself that it
was "better so": this view of the episode so defended it from the
alternating extremes of self-reproach and derision, so enshrined it
in a pale immortality to which she could make her secret pilgrimages
without reproach.

For a long time she had not been able to pass by the bench under the
willows--she even avoided the elm walk till autumn had stripped its
branches. But every day, now, she noted a step toward recovery; and
at last a day came when, walking along the river, she said to
herself, as she approached the bench: "I used not to be able to pass
here without thinking of him; _and now I am not thinking of him at
all!_"

This seemed such convincing proof of her recovery that she began, as
spring returned, to permit herself, now and then, a quiet session on
the bench--a dedicated hour from which she went back fortified to
her task.

She had not heard from her friend for six weeks or more--the
intervals between his letters were growing longer. But that was
"best" too, and she was not anxious, for she knew he had obtained
the post he had been preparing for, and that his active life in
London had begun. The thought reminded her, one mild March day, that
in leaving the house she had thrust in her reticule a letter from a
Wentworth friend who was abroad on a holiday. The envelope bore the
London post mark, a fact showing that the lady's face was turned
toward home. Margaret seated herself on her bench, and drawing out
the letter began to read it.

The London described was that of shops and museums--as remote as
possible from the setting of Guy Dawnish's existence. But suddenly
Margaret's eye fell on his name, and the page began to tremble in
her hands.

"I heard such a funny thing yesterday about your friend Mr. Dawnish.
We went to a tea at Professor Bunce's (I do wish you knew the
Bunces--their atmosphere is so _uplifting_), and there I met that
Miss Bruce-Pringle who came out last year to take a course in
histology at the Annex. Of course she asked about you and Mr.
Ransom, and then she told me she had just seen Mr. Dawnish's
aunt--the clever one he was always talking about, Lady Caroline
something--and that they were all in a dreadful state about him. I
wonder if you knew he was engaged when he went to America? He never
mentioned it to _us_. She said it was not a positive engagement, but
an understanding with a girl he has always been devoted to, who
lives near their place in Wiltshire; and both families expected the
marriage to take place as soon as he got back. It seems the girl is
an heiress (you know _how low_ the English ideals are compared with
ours), and Miss Bruce-Pringle said his relations were perfectly
delighted at his 'being provided for,' as she called it. Well, when
he got back he asked the girl to release him; and she and her family
were furious, and so were his people; but he holds out, and won't
marry her, and won't give a reason, except that he has 'formed an
unfortunate attachment.' Did you ever hear anything so peculiar? His
aunt, who is quite wild about it, says it must have happened at
Wentworth, because he didn't go anywhere else in America. Do you
suppose it _could_ have been the Brant girl? But why 'unfortunate'
when everybody knows she would have jumped at him?"

Margaret folded the letter and looked out across the river. It was
not the same river, but a mystic current shot with moonlight. The
bare willows wove a leafy veil above her head, and beside her she
felt the nearness of youth and tempestuous tenderness. It had all
happened just here, on this very seat by the river--it had come to
her, and passed her by, and she had not held out a hand to detain
it. . . .

Well! Was it not, by that very abstention, made more deeply and
ineffaceably hers? She could argue thus while she had thought the
episode, on his side, a mere transient effect of propinquity; but
now that she knew it had altered the whole course of his life, now
that it took on substance and reality, asserted a separate existence
outside of her own troubled consciousness--now it seemed almost
cowardly to have missed her share in it.

She walked home in a dream. Now and then, when she passed an
acquaintance, she wondered if the pain and glory were written on her
face. But Mrs. Sperry, who stopped her at the corner of Maverick
Street to say a word about the next meeting of the Higher Thought
Club, seemed to remark no change in her.

When she reached home Ransom had not yet returned from the office,
and she went straight to the library to tidy his writing-table. It
was part of her daily duty to bring order out of the chaos of his
papers, and of late she had fastened on such small recurring tasks
as some one falling over a precipice might snatch at the weak bushes
in its clefts.

When she had sorted the letters she took up some pamphlets and
newspapers, glancing over them to see if they were to be kept. Among
the papers was a page torn from a London _Times_ of the previous
month. Her eye ran down its columns and suddenly a paragraph flamed
out.

"We are requested to state that the marriage arranged between Mr.
Guy Dawnish, son of the late Colonel the Hon. Roderick Dawnish, of
Malby, Wilts, and Gwendolen, daughter of Samuel Matcher, Esq. of
Armingham Towers, Wilts, will not take place."

Margaret dropped the paper and sat down, hiding her face against the
stained baize of the desk. She remembered the photograph of the
tennis-court at Guise--she remembered the handsome girl at whom Guy
Dawnish looked up, laughing. A gust of tears shook her, loosening
the dry surface of conventional feeling, welling up from unsuspected
depths. She was sorry--very sorry, yet so glad--so ineffably,
impenitently glad.


V

THERE came a reaction in which she decided to write to him. She even
sketched out a letter of sisterly, almost motherly, remonstrance, in
which she reminded him that he "still had all his life before him."
But she reflected that so, after all, had she; and that seemed to
weaken the argument.

In the end she decided not to send the letter. He had never spoken
to her of his engagement to Gwendolen Matcher, and his letters had
contained no allusion to any sentimental disturbance in his life.
She had only his few broken words, that night by the river, on which
to build her theory of the case. But illuminated by the phrase "an
unfortunate attachment" the theory towered up, distinct and
immovable, like some high landmark by which travellers shape their
course. She had been loved--extraordinarily loved. But he had chosen
that she should know of it by his silence rather than by his speech.
He had understood that only on those terms could their transcendant
communion continue--that he must lose her to keep her. To break that
silence would be like spilling a cup of water in a waste of sand.
There would be nothing left for her thirst.

Her life, thenceforward, was bathed in a tranquil beauty. The days
flowed by like a river beneath the moon--each ripple caught the
brightness and passed it on. She began to take a renewed interest in
her familiar round of duties. The tasks which had once seemed
colourless and irksome had now a kind of sacrificial sweetness, a
symbolic meaning into which she alone was initiated. She had been
restless--had longed to travel; now she felt that she should never
again care to leave Wentworth. But if her desire to wander had
ceased, she travelled in spirit, performing invisible pilgrimages in
the footsteps of her friend. She regretted that her one short visit
to England had taken her so little out of London--that her
acquaintance with the landscape had been formed chiefly through the
windows of a railway carriage. She threw herself into the
architectural studies of the Higher Thought Club, and distinguished
herself, at the spring meetings, by her fluency, her competence, her
inexhaustible curiosity on the subject of the growth of English
Gothic. She ransacked the shelves of the college library, she
borrowed photographs of the cathedrals, she pored over the folio
pages of "The Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen." She was like some
banished princess who learns that she has inherited a domain in her
own country, who knows that she will never see it, yet feels,
wherever she walks, its soil beneath her feet.

May was half over, and the Higher Thought Club was to hold its last
meeting, previous to the college festivities which, in early June,
agreeably disorganized the social routine of Wentworth. The meeting
was to take place in Margaret Ransom's drawing-room, and on the day
before she sat upstairs preparing for her dual duties as hostess and
orator--for she had been invited to read the final paper of the
course. In order to sum up with precision her conclusions on the
subject of English Gothic she had been rereading an analysis of the
structural features of the principal English cathedrals; and she was
murmuring over to herself the phrase: "The longitudinal arches of
Lincoln have an approximately elliptical form," when there came a
knock on the door, and Maria's voice announced: "There's a lady down
in the parlour."

Margaret's soul dropped from the heights of the shadowy vaulting to
the dead level of an afternoon call at Wentworth.

"A lady? Did she give no name?"

Maria became confused. "She only said she was a lady--" and in reply
to her mistress's look of mild surprise: "Well, ma'am, she told me
so three or four times over."

Margaret laid her book down, leaving it open at the description of
Lincoln, and slowly descended the stairs. As she did so, she
repeated to herself: "The longitudinal arches are elliptical."

On the threshold below, she had the odd impression that her bare and
inanimate drawing-room was brimming with life and noise--an
impression produced, as she presently perceived, by the resolute
forward dash--it was almost a pounce--of the one small figure
restlessly measuring its length.

The dash checked itself within a yard of Margaret, and the lady--a
stranger--held back long enough to stamp on her hostess a sharp
impression of sallowness, leanness, keenness, before she said, in a
voice that might have been addressing an unruly committee meeting:
"I am Lady Caroline Duckett--a fact I found it impossible to make
clear to the young woman who let me in."

A warm wave rushed up from Margaret's heart to her throat and
forehead. She held out both hands impulsively. "Oh, I'm so glad--I'd
no idea--"

Her voice sank under her visitor's impartial scrutiny.

"I don't wonder," said the latter drily. "I suppose she didn't
mention, either, that my object in calling here was to see Mrs.
Ransom?"

"Oh, yes--won't you sit down?" Margaret pushed a chair forward. She
seated herself at a little distance, brain and heart humming with a
confused interchange of signals. This dark sharp woman was his
aunt--the "clever aunt" who had had such a hard life, but had always
managed to keep her head above water. Margaret remembered that Guy
had spoken of her kindness--perhaps she would seem kinder when they
had talked together a little. Meanwhile the first impression she
produced was of an amplitude out of all proportion to her somewhat
scant exterior. With her small flat figure, her shabby heterogeneous
dress, she was as dowdy as any Professor's wife at Wentworth; but
her dowdiness (Margaret borrowed a literary analogy to define it),
her dowdiness was somehow "of the centre." Like the insignificant
emissary of a great power, she was to be judged rather by her
passports than her person.

While Margaret was receiving these impressions, Lady Caroline, with
quick bird-like twists of her head, was gathering others from the
pale void spaces of the drawing-room. Her eyes, divided by a sharp
nose like a bill, seemed to be set far enough apart to see at
separate angles; but suddenly she bent both of them on Margaret.

"This _is_ Mrs. Ransom's house?" she asked, with an emphasis on the
verb that gave a distinct hint of unfulfilled expectations.

Margaret assented.

"Because your American houses, especially in the provincial towns,
all look so remarkably alike, that I thought I might have been
mistaken; and as my time is extremely limited--in fact I'm sailing
on Wednesday--"

She paused long enough to let Margaret say: "I had no idea you were
in this country."

Lady Caroline made no attempt to take this up. "And so much of it,"
she carried on her sentence, "has been wasted in talking to people I
really hadn't the slightest desire to see, that you must excuse me
if I go straight to the point."

Margaret felt a sudden tension of the heart. "Of course," she said
while a voice within her cried: "He is dead--he has left me a
message."

There was another pause; then Lady Caroline went on, with increasing
asperity: "So that--in short--if I _could_ see Mrs. Ransom at
once--"

Margaret looked up in surprise. "I am Mrs. Ransom," she said.

The other stared a moment, with much the same look of cautious
incredulity that had marked her inspection of the drawing-room. Then
light came to her.

"Oh, I beg your pardon. I should have said that I wished to see Mrs.
_Robert_ Ransom, not Mrs. Ransom. But I understood that in the
States you don't make those distinctions." She paused a moment, and
then went on, before Margaret could answer: "Perhaps, after all,
it's as well that I should see you instead, since you're evidently
one of the household--your son and his wife live with you, I
suppose? Yes, on the whole, then, it's better--I shall be able to
talk so much more frankly." She spoke as if, as a rule,
circumstances prevented her giving rein to this propensity. "And
frankness, of course, is the only way out of this--this extremely
tiresome complication. You know, I suppose, that my nephew thinks
he's in love with your daughter-in-law?"

Margaret made a slight movement, but her visitor pressed on without
heeding it. "Oh, don't fancy, please, that I'm pretending to take a
high moral ground--though his mother does, poor dear! I can
perfectly imagine that in a place like this--I've just been driving
about it for two hours--a young man of Guy's age would _have_ to
provide himself with some sort of distraction, and he's not the kind
to go in for anything objectionable. Oh, we quite allow for that--we
should allow for the whole affair, if it hadn't so preposterously
ended in his throwing over the girl he was engaged to, and upsetting
an arrangement that affected a number of people besides himself. I
understand that in the States it's different--the young people have
only themselves to consider. In England--in our class, I mean--a
great deal may depend on a young man's making a good match; and in
Guy's case I may say that his mother and sisters (I won't include
myself, though I might) have been simply stranded--thrown
overboard--by his freak. You can understand how serious it is when I
tell you that it's that and nothing else that has brought me all the
way to America. And my first idea was to go straight to your
daughter-in-law, since her influence is the only thing we can count
on now, and put it to her fairly, as I'm putting it to you. But, on
the whole, I dare say it's better to see you first--you might give
me an idea of the line to take with her. I'm prepared to throw
myself on her mercy!"

Margaret rose from her chair, outwardly rigid in proportion to her
inward tremor.

"You don't understand--" she began.

Lady Caroline brushed the interruption aside. "Oh, but I
do--completely! I cast no reflection on your daughter-in-law. Guy
has made it quite clear to us that his attachment is--has, in short,
not been rewarded. But don't you see that that's the worst part of
it? There'd be much more hope of his recovering if Mrs. Robert
Ransom had--had--"

Margaret's voice broke from her in a cry. "I am Mrs. Robert Ransom,"
she said.

If Lady Caroline Duckett had hitherto given her hostess the
impression of a person not easily silenced, this fact added sensibly
to the effect produced by the intense stillness which now fell on
her.

She sat quite motionless, her large bangled hands clasped about the
meagre fur boa she had unwound from her neck on entering, her rusty
black veil pushed up to the edge of a "fringe" of doubtful
authenticity, her thin lips parted on a gasp that seemed to sharpen
itself on the edges of her teeth. So overwhelming and helpless was
her silence that Margaret began to feel a motion of pity beneath her
indignation--a desire at least to facilitate the excuses which must
terminate their disastrous colloquy. But when Lady Caroline found
voice she did not use it to excuse herself.

"You _can't_ be," she said, quite simply.

"Can't be?" Margaret stammered, with a flushing cheek.

"I mean, it's some mistake. Are there _two_ Mrs. Robert Ransoms in
the same town? Your family arrangements are so extremely puzzling."
She had a farther rush of enlightenment. "Oh, I _see!_ I ought of
course to have asked for Mrs. Robert Ransom 'Junior'!"

The idea sent her to her feet with a haste which showed her
impatience to make up for lost time.

"There is no other Mrs. Robert Ransom at Wentworth," said Margaret.

"No other--no 'Junior'? Are you _sure?_" Lady Caroline fell back
into her seat again. "Then I simply don't see," she murmured
helplessly.

Margaret's blush had fixed itself on her throbbing forehead. She
remained standing, while her strange visitor continued to gaze at
her with a perturbation in which the consciousness of indiscretion
had evidently as yet no part.

"I simply don't see," she repeated.

Suddenly she sprang up, and advancing to Margaret laid an inspired
hand on her arm. "But, my dear woman, you can help us out all the
same; you can help us to find out _who it is_--and you will, won't
you? Because, as it's not you, you can't in the least mind what I've
been saying--"

Margaret, freeing her arm from her visitor's hold, drew back a step;
but Lady Caroline instantly rejoined her.

"Of course, I can see that if it _had_ been, you might have been
annoyed: I dare say I put the case stupidly--but I'm so bewildered
by this new development--by his using you all this time as a
pretext--that I really don't know where to turn for light on the
mystery--"

She had Margaret in her imperious grasp again, but the latter broke
from her with a more resolute gesture.

"I'm afraid I have no light to give you," she began; but once more
Lady Caroline caught her up.

"Oh, but do please understand me! I condemn Guy most strongly for
using your name--when we all know you'd been so amazingly kind to
him! I haven't a word to say in his defence--but of course the
important thing now is: _who is the woman, since you're not?_"

The question rang out loudly, as if all the pale puritan corners of
the room flung it back with a shudder at the speaker. In the silence
that ensued Margaret felt the blood ebbing back to her heart; then
she said, in a distinct and level voice: "I know nothing of the
history of Mr. Dawnish."

Lady Caroline gave a stare and a gasp. Her distracted hand groped
for her boa and she began to wind it mechanically about her long
neck.

"It would really be an enormous help to us--and to poor Gwendolen
Matcher," she persisted pleadingly. "And you'd be doing Guy himself
a good turn."

Margaret remained silent and motionless while her visitor drew on
one of the worn gloves she had pulled off to adjust her veil. Lady
Caroline gave the veil a final twitch.

"I've come a tremendously long way," she said, "and, since it isn't
you, I can't think why you won't help me. . . ."

When the door had closed on her visitor Margaret Ransom went slowly
up the stairs to her room. As she dragged her feet from one step to
another, she remembered how she had sprung up the same steep flight
after that visit of Guy Dawnish's when she had looked in the glass
and seen on her face the blush of youth.

When she reached her room she bolted the door as she had done that
day, and again looked at herself in the narrow mirror above her
dressing-table. It was just a year since then--the elms were budding
again, the willows hanging their green veil above the bench by the
river. But there was no trace of youth left in her face--she saw it
now as others had doubtless always seen it. If it seemed as it did
to Lady Caroline Duckett, what look must it have worn to the fresh
gaze of young Guy Dawnish?

A pretext--she had been a pretext. He had used her name to screen
some one else--or perhaps merely to escape from a situation of which
he was weary. She did not care to conjecture what his motive had
been--everything connected with him had grown so remote and alien.
She felt no anger--only an unspeakable sadness, a sadness which she
knew would never be appeased.

She looked at herself long and steadily; she wished to clear her
eyes of all illusions. Then she turned away and took her usual seat
beside her work-table. From where she sat she could look down the
empty elm-shaded street, up which, at this hour every day, she was
sure to see her husband's figure advancing. She would see it
presently--she would see it for many years to come. She had a sudden
aching sense of the length of the years that stretched before her.
Strange that one who was not young should still, in all likelihood,
have so long to live!

Nothing was changed in the setting of her life, perhaps nothing
would ever change in it. She would certainly live and die in
Wentworth. And meanwhile the days would go on as usual, bringing the
usual obligations. As the word flitted through her brain she
remembered that she had still to put the finishing touches to the
paper she was to read the next afternoon at the meeting of the
Higher Thought Club.

The book she had been reading lay face downward beside her, where
she had left it an hour ago. She took it up, and slowly and
painfully, like a child laboriously spelling out the syllables, she
went on with the rest of the sentence:

--"and they spring from a level not much above that of the springing
of the transverse and diagonal ribs, which are so arranged as to
give a convex curve to the surface of the vaulting conoid."

Edith Wharton


Poetry Books