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The Letters

I

UP the long hill from the station at St.-Cloud, Lizzie West climbed
in the cold spring sunshine. As she breasted the incline, she
noticed the first waves of wistaria over courtyard railings and the
high lights of new foliage against the walls of ivy-matted gardens;
and she thought again, as she had thought a hundred times
before, that she had never seen so beautiful a spring.

She was on her way to the Deerings' house, in a street near the
hilltop; and every step was dear and familiar to her. She went there
five times a week to teach little Juliet Deering, the daughter of
Mr. Vincent Deering, the distinguished American artist. Juliet had
been her pupil for two years, and day after day, during that time,
Lizzie West had mounted the hill in all weathers; sometimes with her
umbrella bent against a driving rain, sometimes with her frail
cotton parasol unfurled beneath a fiery sun, sometimes with the snow
soaking through her patched boots or a bitter wind piercing her thin
jacket, sometimes with the dust whirling about her and bleaching the
flowers of the poor little hat that _had_ to "carry her through"
till next summer.

At first the ascent had seemed tedious enough, as dull as the trudge
to her other lessons. Lizzie was not a heaven-sent teacher; she had
no born zeal for her calling, and though she dealt kindlyand
dutifully with her pupils, she did not fly to them on winged feet.
But one day something had happened to change the face of life, and
since then the climb to the Deering house had seemed like a
dream-flight up a heavenly stairway.

Her heart beat faster as she remembered it--no longer in a tumult of
fright and self-reproach, but softly, peacefully, as ifbrooding over
a possession that none could take from her.

It was on a day of the previous October that she had stopped, after
Juliet's lesson, to ask if she might speak to Juliet's papa. One had
always to apply to Mr. Deering if there was anything to be said
about the lessons. Mrs. Deering lay on her lounge up-stairs, reading
greasy relays of dog-eared novels, the choice of which she left to
the cook and the nurse, who were always fetching them forher from
the _cabinet de lecture;_ and it was understood inthe house that she
was not to be "bothered" about Juliet. Mr. Deering's interest in his
daughter was fitful rather than consecutive; but at least he was
approachable, and listened sympathetically, if a little absently,
stroking his long, fair mustache, while Lizzie stated her difficulty
or put in her plea for maps or copy-books.

"Yes, yes--of course--whatever you think right," he would always
assent, sometimes drawing a five-franc piece from his pocket, and
laying it carelessly on the table, or oftener saying, with his
charming smile: "Get what you please, and just put it onyour
account, you know."

But this time Lizzie had not come to ask for maps or copy-books, or
even to hint, in crimson misery,--as once, poor soul! she had had to
do,--that Mr. Deering had overlooked her last little account had
probably not noticed that she had left it, some two months earlier,
on a corner of his littered writing-table. That hour had been bad
enough, though he had done his best to make it easy to carry it off
gallantly and gaily; but this was infinitely worse. For she had come
to complain of her pupil; to say that, much as she loved little
Juliet, it was useless, unless Mr. Deering could "do something," to
go on with the lessons.

"It wouldn't be honest--I should be robbing you; I'm not sure that I
haven't already," she half laughed, through mounting tears, as she
put her case. Little Juliet would not work, would not obey. Her
poor, little, drifting existence floated aimlessly between the
kitchen and the _lingerie_, and all the groping tendrils ofher
curiosity were fastened about the doings of the backstairs.

It was the same kind of curiosity that Mrs. Deering, overhead in her
drug-scented room, lavished on her dog-eared novels and onthe
"society notes" of the morning paper; but since Juliet's horizon was
not yet wide enough to embrace these loftier objects, her interest
was centered in the anecdotes that Celeste and Suzanne brought back
from the market and the library. That these were not always of an
edifying nature the child's artless prattle too often betrayed; but
unhappily they occupied her fancy to the complete exclusion of such
nourishing items as dates and dynasties, and the sources of the
principal European rivers.

At length the crisis became so acute that poor Lizzie felt herself
bound to resign her charge or ask Mr. Deering's intervention; and
for Juliet's sake she chose the harder alternative. It _was_ hard to
speak to him not onlybecause one hated still more to ascribe it to
such vulgar causes, but becauseone blushed to bring them to the
notice of a spirit engaged with higher things. Mr. Deering was very
busy at that moment: he had a new picture "on." And Lizzie entered
the studio with the flutterof one profanely intruding on some sacred
rite; she almost heard the rustle of retreating wings as she
approached.

And then--and then--how differently it had all turned out! Perhaps
it wouldn't have, if she hadn't been such a goose--she who so seldom
cried, so prided herself on a stoic control of her little twittering
cageful of "feelings." But if she had cried, it was because he had
looked at her so kindly, so softly, and because she had nevertheless
felt him so pained and shamed by what she said. The pain, of course,
lay for both in the implication behind her words--in the one word
they left unspoken. If little Juliet was as she was, it was because
of the mother up-stairs--the mother who had given her child her
futile impulses, and grudged her the care that might have guided
them. The wretched case so obviously revolved in its own vicious
circle that when Mr. Deering had murmured, "Of course if my wife
were not an invalid," they both turned with a simultaneous spring to
the flagrant "bad example" of Celeste and Suzanne, fastening on that
with a mutual insistence that ended inhis crying out, "All the more,
then, how can you leave her to them?"

"But if I do her no good?" Lizzie wailed; and it was then
that,--when he took her hand and assured her gently, "But you do, you
do!"--it was then that, in the traditional phrase, she "brokedown,"
and her conventional protest quivered off into tears.

"You do _me_ good, at any rate--you make the houseseem less like a
desert," she heard him say; and the next moment she felt herself
drawn to him, and they kissed each other through her weeping.

They kissed each other--there was the new fact. One does not, if one
is a poor little teacher living in Mme. Clopin's Pension Suisse at
Passy, and if one has pretty brown hair and eyes that reach out
trustfully to other eyes--one does not, under these common but
defenseless conditions, arrive at the age of twenty-five without
being now and then kissed,--waylaid once by a noisy student between
two doors, surprised once by one's gray-bearded professoras one bent
over the "theme" he was correcting,--but these episodes, if they
tarnish the surface, do not reach the heart: itis not the kiss
endured, but the kiss returned, that lives. And Lizzie West's first
kiss was for Vincent Deering.

As she drew back from it, something new awoke in her--something
deeper than the fright and the shame, and the penitent thought of
Mrs. Deering. A sleeping germ of life thrilled and unfolded, and
started out blindly to seek the sun.

She might have felt differently, perhaps,--the shame and penitence
might have prevailed,--had she not known him so kind and tender, and
guessed him so baffled, poor, and disappointed. She knew the failure
of his married life, and she divined a corresponding failure in his
artistic career. Lizzie, who had made her own faltering snatch at
the same laurels, brought her thwarted proficiency to bear on the
question of his pictures, which she judged to be extremely
brilliant, but suspected of having somehowfailed to affirm their
merit publicly. She understood that he had tasted an earlier moment
of success: a mention, a medal, something official and tangible;
then the tide of publicity had somehow setthe other way, and left
him stranded in a noble isolation. It was extraordinary and
unbelievable that any one so naturally eminent and exceptional
should have been subject to the same vulgar necessities that
governed her own life, should have known povertyand obscurity and
indifference. But she gathered that this had been the case, and felt
that it formed the miraculous link between them. For through what
medium less revealing than that of sharedmisfortune would he ever
have perceived so inconspicuous an object as herself? And she
recalled now how gently his eyes had rested on her from the
first--the gray eyes that might have seemed mocking if they had not
been so gentle.

She remembered how he had met her the first day, when Mrs. Deering's
inevitable headache had prevented her from receiving the new
teacher, and how his few questions had at once revealed his interest
in the little stranded, compatriot, doomed to earn a precarious
living so far from her native shore. Sweet as the moment of
unburdening had been, she wondered afterward what had determined it:
how she, so shy and sequestered, had found herselfletting slip her
whole poverty-stricken story, even to the avowalof the ineffectual
"artistic" tendencies that had drawn her to Paris, and had then left
her there to the dry task of tuition. She wondered at first, but she
understood now; she understood everything after he had kissed her.
It was simply because he wasas kind as he was great.

She thought of this now as she mounted the hill in the spring
sunshine, and she thought of all that had happened since. The
intervening months, as she looked back at them, were merged in a
vast golden haze, through which here and there rose the outline of a
shining island. The haze was the general enveloping sense of his
love, and the shining islands were the days they had spent together.
They had never kissed again under his own roof. Lizzie's
professional honor had a keen edge, but she had been spared the
vulgar necessity of making him feel it. It was of theessence of her
fatality that he always "understood" when his failing to do so might
have imperiled his hold on her.

But her Thursdays and Sundays were free, and it soon became a habit
to give them to him. She knew, for her peace of mind, onlytoo much
about pictures, and galleries and churches had been the one bright
outlet from the grayness of her personal atmosphere. For poetry,
too, and the other imaginative forms of literature, she had always
felt more than she had hitherto had occasion to betray; and now all
these folded sympathies shot out their tendrils to the light. Mr.
Deering knew how to express with unmatched clearness and competence
the thoughts that trembled in her mind: to talk with him was to soar
up into the azure on the outspread wings of his intelligence, and
look down dizzily yet distinctly, on all the wonders and glories of
the world. She was a little ashamed, sometimes, to find how few
definite impressions she brought back from these flights; but that
was doubtless because her heart beatso fast when he was near, and
his smile made his words like a long quiver of light. Afterward, in
quieter hours, fragments of theirtalk emerged in her memory with
wondrous precision, every syllable as minutely chiseled as some of
the delicate objects in crystal or ivory that he pointed out in the
museums they frequented. It wasalways a puzzle to Lizzie that some
of their hours should be so blurred and others so vivid.

On the morning in question she was reliving all these memories with
unusual distinctness, for it was a fortnight since she had seen her
friend. Mrs. Deering, some six weeks previously, had gone to visit a
relation at St.-Raphael; and, after she had been a month absent, her
husband and the little girl had joined her. Lizzie'sadieux to
Deering had been made on a rainy afternoon in the damp corridors of
the Aquarium at the Trocadero. She could not receive him at her own
_pension_. That a teacher should bevisited by the father of a pupil,
especially when that father wasstill, as Madame Clopin said, _si
bien_, was against that lady's austere Helvetian code. From
Deering's first tentative hint of another solution Lizzie had
recoiled in a wild unreasoned flurry of all her scruples, he took
her "No, no, _no!_" as he tookall her twists and turns of
conscience, with eyes half-tender and half-mocking, and an instant
acquiescence which was the finest homage to the "lady" she felt he
divined and honored in her.

So they continued to meet in museums and galleries, or to extend, on
fine days, their explorations to the suburbs, where now and then, in
the solitude of grove or garden, the kiss renewed itself, fleeting,
isolated, or prolonged in a shy, silent pressure of the hand. But on
the day of his leave-taking the rain kept them under cover; and as
they threaded the subterranean windings of the Aquarium, and Lizzie
looked unseeingly at the monstrous faces glaring at her through
walls of glass, she felt like a poor drowned wretch at the bottom of
the sea, with all her glancing, sunlit memories rolling over her
like the waves of its surface.

"You'll never see him again--never see him again," the wavesboomed
in her ears through his last words; and when she had said good-by to
him at the corner, and had scrambled, wet and shivering, into the
Passy omnibus, its great, grinding wheels took up the derisive
burden--"Never see him, never see him again."

All that was only two weeks ago, and here she was, as happy as a
lark, mounting the hill to his door in the spring sunshine. Soweak a
heart did not deserve such a radiant fate; and Lizzie saidto herself
that she would never again distrust her star.


II

THE cracked bell tinkled sweetly through her heart as she stood
listening for the scamper of Juliet's feet. Juliet, anticipatingthe
laggard Suzanne, almost always opened the door for her governess,
not from any unnatural zeal to hasten the hour of her studies, but
from the irrepressible desire to see what was going on in the
street. But on this occasion Lizzie listened vainly for astep, and
at length gave the bell another twitch. Doubtless someunusually
absorbing incident had detained the child below-stairs; thus only
could her absence be explained.

A third ring produced no response, and Lizzie, full of dawning
fears, drew back to look up at the shabby, blistered house. She saw
that the studio shutters stood wide, and then noticed, without
surprise, that Mrs. Deering's were still unopened. No doubt
Mrs. Deering was resting after the fatigue of the journey.
Instinctively Lizzie's eyes turned again to the studio; and as she
looked, she saw Deering at the window. He caught sight of her, and
an instant later came to the door. He looked paler than usual, and
she noticed that he wore a black coat.

"I rang and rang--where is Juliet?"

He looked at her gravely, almost solemnly; then, without answering,
he led her down the passage to the studio, and closed the door when
she had entered.

"My wife is dead--she died suddenly ten days ago. Didn't you see it
in the papers?"

Lizzie, with a little cry, sank down on the rickety divan. She
seldom saw a newspaper, since she could not afford one for her own
perusal, and those supplied to the Pension Clopin were usually in
the hands of its more privileged lodgers till long after the hour
when she set out on her morning round.

"No; I didn't see it," she stammered.

Deering was silent. He stood a little way off, twisting an unlit
cigarette in his hand, and looking down at her with a gaze that was
both hesitating and constrained.

She, too, felt the constraint of the situation, the impossibility of
finding words that, after what had passed between them, should seem
neither false nor heartless; and at last she exclaimed, standing up:
"Poor little Juliet! Can't I go to her?"

"Juliet is not here. I left her at St.-Raphael with the relations
with whom my wife was staying."

"Oh," Lizzie murmured, feeling vaguely that this added to the
difficulty of the moment. How differently she had pictured
theirmeeting!

"I'm so--so sorry for her!" she faltered out.

Deering made no reply, but, turning on his heel, walked the length
of the studio, and then halted vaguely before the picture on the
easel. It was the landscape he had begun the previous autumn, with
the intention of sending it to the Salon that spring. But it was
still unfinished--seemed, indeed, hardly moreadvanced than on the
fateful October day when Lizzie, standing before it for the first
time, had confessed her inability to dealwith Juliet. Perhaps the
same thought struck its creator, for hebroke into a dry laugh, and
turned from the easel with a shrug.

Under his protracted silence Lizzie roused herself to the fact that,
since her pupil was absent, there was no reason for her remaining
any longer; and as Deering again moved toward her she said with an
effort: "I'll go, then. You'll send for me when shecomes back?"

Deering still hesitated, tormenting the cigarette between his
fingers.

"She's not coming back--not at present."

Lizzie heard him with a drop of the heart. Was everything to be
changed in their lives? But of course; how could she have dreamed it
would be otherwise? She could only stupidly repeat: "Not coming
back? Not this spring?"

"Probably not, since are friends are so good as to keep her. The
fact is, I've got to go to America. My wife left a little property,
a few pennies, that I must go and see to--for the child."

Lizzie stood before him, a cold knife in her breast. "I see--I see,"
she reiterated, feeling all the while that she strained her eyes
into impenetrable blackness.

"It's a nuisance, having to pull up stakes," he went on, with a
fretful glance about the studio.

She lifted her eyes slowly to his face. "Shall you be gone long?"
she took courage to ask.

"There again--I can't tell. It's all so frightfully mixed up." He
met her look for an incredibly long, strange moment. "Ihate to go!"
he murmured as if to himself.

Lizzie felt a rush of moisture to her lashes, and the old, familiar
wave of weakness at her heart. She raised her hand to her face with
an instinctive gesture, and as she did so he held out his arms.

"Come here, Lizzie!" he said.

And she went--went with a sweet, wild throb of liberation, with the
sense that at last the house was his, that _she_ was his, if he
wanted her; that never again would that silent, rebuking presence in
the room above constrain and shame her rapture.

He pushed back her veil and covered her face with kisses. "Don't
cry, you little goose!" he said.


III

THAT they must see each other again before his departure, in
someplace less exposed than their usual haunts, was as clear to
Lizzie as it appeared to be to Deering. His expressing the wish
seemed, indeed, the sweetest testimony to the quality of his feeling,
since, in the first weeks of the most perfunctory widowerhood, a man
of his stamp is presumed to abstain from light adventures. If, then,
at such a moment, he wished so much to be quietly and gravely with
her, it could be only for reasons she did not call by name, but of
which she felt the sacred tremor in her heart; and it would have
seemed incredibly vain and vulgar to put forward, at such a crisis,
the conventional objections by means of which such littleexposed
existences defend the treasure of their freshness.

In such a mood as this one may descend from the Passy omnibus at the
corner of the Pont de la Concorde (she had not let him fetch her in
a cab) with a sense of dedication almost solemn, and may advance to
meet one's fate, in the shape of a gentleman of melancholy elegance,
with an auto-taxi at his call, as one has advanced to the
altar-steps in some girlish bridal vision.

Even the experienced waiter ushering them into an upper roomof the
quiet restaurant on the Seine could hardly have supposed their quest
for seclusion to be based on sentimental motives, so soberly did
Deering give his orders, while his companion sat small and grave at
his side. She did not, indeed, mean to let her private pang obscure
their hour together: she was already learning that Deering shrank
from sadness. He should see that she had courage and gaiety to face
their coming separation, and yet give herself meanwhile to this
completer nearness; but she waited, as always, for him to strike the
opening note.

Looking back at it later, she wondered at the mild suavity of the
hour. Her heart was unversed inhappiness, but he had found the tone
to lull her apprehensions, and make her trust her fate for any
golden wonder. Deepest of all, he gave her the sense of something
tacit and confirmed between them, as if his tenderness were a habit
of the heart hardly needing the support of outward proof.

Such proof as he offered came, therefore, as a kind of crowning
luxury, the flower of a profoundly rooted sentiment; andhere again
the instinctive reserves and defenses would have seemed to vulgarize
what his trust ennobled. But if all the tender casuistries of her
heart were at his service, he took no grave advantage of them. Even
when they sat alone after dinner, with the lights of the river
trembling through their one low window, and the vast rumor of Paris
inclosing them in a heart of silence, he seemed, as much as herself,
under the spell of hallowing influences. She felt it most of all as
she yielded to the arm hepresently put about her, to the long caress
he laid on her lips and eyes: not a word or gesture missed the note
of quiet union, or cast a doubt, in retrospect, on the pact they
sealed with their last look.

That pact, as she reviewed it through a sleepless night, seemed to
have consisted mainly, on his part, in pleadings for full and
frequent news of her, on hers in the assurance that it shouldbe
given as often as he asked it. She had felt an intense desirenot to
betray any undue eagerness, any crude desire to affirm anddefine her
hold on him. Her life had given her a certain acquaintance with the
arts of defense: girls in her situation were commonly supposed to
know them all, and to use them as occasion called. But Lizzie's very
need of them had intensified her disdain. Just because she was so
poor, and had always, materially, so to count her change and
calculate her margin, she would at least know the joy of emotional
prodigality, would give her heart as recklessly as the rich their
millions. She was sure now that Deering loved her, and if he had
seized the occasion of their farewell to give her some definitely
worded sign of his feeling--if, more plainly, he had asked her to
marry him,--his doing so would have seemed less like a proof of his
sincerity than of his suspecting in her the need of a verbal
warrant. That he had abstained seemed to show that he trusted her as
she trusted him, and that they were one most of all in this deep
security of understanding.

She had tried to make him divine all this in the chariness of her
promise to write. She would write; of course she would. Buthe would
be busy, preoccupied, on the move: it was for him to lether know
when he wished a word, to spare her the embarrassment ofill-timed
intrusions.

"Intrusions?" He had smiled the word away. "You can't wellintrude,
my darling, on a heart where you're already established, to the
complete exclusion of other lodgers." And then, taking her hands,
and looking up from them into her happy, dizzy eyes: "You don't know
much about being in love, do you, Lizzie?" he laughingly ended.

It seemed easy enough to reject this imputation in a kiss; but she
wondered afterward if she had not deserved it. Was she really cold
and conventional, and did other women give more richly and
recklessly? She found that it was possible to turn about every one
of her reserves and delicacies so that they looked like selfish
scruples and petty pruderies, and at this game she came in time to
exhaust all the resources of an over-abundant casuistry.

Meanwhile the first days after Deering's departure wore a soft,
refracted light like the radiance lingering after sunset. _He_, at
any rate, was taxable with no reserves, nocalculations, and his
letters of farewell, from train and steamer, filled her with long
murmurs and echoes of his presence. How he loved her, how he loved
her--and how he knew how to tell her so!

She was not sure of possessing the same aptitude. Unused tothe
expression of personal emotion, she fluctuated between the impulse
to pour out all she felt and the fear lest her extravagance should
amuse or even bore him. She never lost the sense that what was to
her the central crisis of experience must be a mere episode in a
life so predestined as his to romantic accidents. All that she felt
and said would be subjected to the test of comparison with what
others had already given him: from all quarters of the globeshe saw
passionate missives winging their way toward Deering, forwhom her
poor little swallow-flight ofdevotion could certainly not make a
summer. But such moments were succeeded by others in which she
raised her head and dared inwardly to affirm her conviction that no
woman had ever loved him just as she had, and that none, therefore,
had probably found just such things to say to him. And this
conviction strengthened the other less solidly based belief that
_he_ also, for the same reason, had found new accents to express his
tenderness, and that the three letters she wore all day in her
shabby blouse, and hid all night beneath her pillow, surpassed not
only in beauty, but in quality, all he had ever penned for other
eyes.

They gave her, at any rate, during the weeks that she wore them on
her heart, sensations even more complex and delicate than Deering's
actual presence had ever occasioned. To be with him was always like
breasting a bright, rough sea, that blinded while it buoyed her: but
his letters formed a still pool of contemplation, above which she
could bend, and see the reflection of the sky, and the myriad
movements of life that flitted and gleamed below the surface. The
wealth of his hidden life--that was what most surprised her! It was
incredible to her now that she had had no inkling of it, but had
kept on blindly along the narrow track of habit, like a traveler
climbing a road in a fog, who suddenly finds himself on a sunlit
crag between blue leagues of sky and dizzy depths of valley. And the
odd thing was that all the people about her--the whole world of the
Passy pension--were still plodding along the same dull path,
preoccupied with the pebbles underfoot, and unconscious of the glory
beyond the fog!

There were wild hours when she longed to cry out to them what one
saw from the summit--and hours of tremulous abasement when she asked
herself why _her_ happy feet had been guided there, while others, no
doubt as worthy, stumbled and blundered in obscurity. She felt, in
particular, a sudden urgent pity for the two or three other girls at
Mme. Clopin's--girls older, duller, less alive than she, and by that
very token more appealingly flung upon her sympathy. Would they ever
know? Had they ever known?--those were the questions that haunted
her as she crossed her companions on the stairs, faced them at the
dinner-table, and listened to their poor, pining talk in the dim-lit
slippery-seated _salon_. One ofthe girls was Swiss, the other
English; the third, Andora Macy, was ayoung lady from the Southern
States who was studying French with the ultimate object of imparting
it to the inmates of a girls' school at Macon, Georgia.

Andora Macy was pale, faded, immature. She had a drooping Southern
accent, and a manner which fluctuated between arch audacity and fits
of panicky hauteur. She yearned to be admired, and feared to be
insulted; and yet seemed tragically conscious that she was destined
to miss both these extremes of sensation, or to enjoy them only at
second hand in the experiences of her more privileged friends.

It was perhaps for this reason that she took a wistful interest in
Lizzie, who had shrunk from her at first, as the depressing image of
her own probable future, but to whom she had now suddenly become an
object of sentimental pity.


IV

MISS MACY's room was next to Miss West's, and the Southerner's knock
often appealed to Lizzie's hospitality when Mme. Clopin's early
curfew had driven her boarders from the _salon_. It sounded thus one
evening just as Lizzie, tired from an unusually long day of tuition,
was in the act of removing her dress. She was in too indulgent a
mood to withhold her "Come in," and as Miss Macy crossed the
threshold, Lizzie felt that Vincent Deering's first letter--the
letter from the train--had slipped from her loosened bodice to the
floor.

Miss Macy, as promptly noting the fact, darted forward to recover
the letter. Lizzie stooped also, fiercely jealous of her touch; but
the other reached the precious paper first, andas she seized it,
Lizzie knew that she had seen whence it fell, and was weaving round
the incident a rapid web of romance.

Lizzie blushed with annoyance. "It's too stupid, having no pockets!
If one gets a letter as she is going out in the morning, she has to
carry it in her blouse all day."

Miss Macy looked at her with swimming eyes. "It's warm fromyour
heart!" she breathed, reluctantly yielding up the missive.

Lizzie laughed, for she knew better: she knew it was the letter that
had warmed her heart. Poor Andora Macy! _She_ would never know. Her
bleak bosom would never take fire from such a contact. Lizzie looked
at her with kind eyes, secretly chafing at the injustice of fate.

The next evening, on her return home, she found Andora hovering in
the entrance hall.

"I thought you'd like me to put this in your own hand," Miss Macy
whispered significantly, pressing a letter upon Lizzie. "I couldn't
_bear_ to see it lying on the table with theothers."

It was Deering's letter from the steamer. Lizzie blushed tothe
forehead, but without resenting Andora's divination. She could not
have breathed a word of her bliss, but she was not altogethersorry
to have it guessed, and pity for Andora's destitution yielded to the
pleasure of using it as a mirror for her own abundance. DEERING
wrote again on reaching New York, a long, fond, dissatisfied letter,
vague in its indication of his own projects, specific in the
expression of his love. Lizzie brooded over every syllable of it
till they formed the undercurrent of all her waking thoughts, and
murmured through her midnight dreams; but she wouldhave been happier
if they had shed some definite light on the future.

That would come, no doubt, when he had had time to look about and
get his bearings. She counted up the days that must elapse before
she received his next letter, and stole down early to peepat the
papers, and learn when the next American mail was due. Atlength the
happy date arrived, and she hurried distractedly through the day's
work, trying to conceal her impatience by the endearments she
bestowed upon her pupils. It was easier, in her present mood, to
kiss them than to keep them at their grammars.

That evening, on Mme. Clopin's threshold, her heart beat so wildly
that she had to lean a moment against the door-post beforeentering.
But on the hall table, where the letters lay, there was none for
her.

She went over them with a feverish hand, her heart dropping down and
down, as she had sometimes fallen down an endless stairway in a
dream--the very same stairway up which she had seemed to flywhen she
climbed the long hill to Deering's door. Then it suddenly struck her
that Andora might have found and secreted her letter, and with a
spring she was on the actual stairs and rattling Miss Macy's
door-handle.

"You've a letter for me, haven't you?" she panted.

Miss Macy, turning from the toilet-table, inclosed her in attenuated
arms. "Oh, darling, did you expect one to-day?"

"Do give it to me!" Lizzie pleaded with burning eyes.

"But I haven't any! There hasn't been a sign of a letter for you."

"I know there is. There _must_ be," Lizzie persisted, stamping her
foot.

"But, dearest, I've _watched_ for you, and there'sbeen nothing,
absolutely nothing."

Day after day, for the ensuing weeks, the same scene reenacted
itself with endless variations. Lizzie, after the first sharp spasm
of disappointment, made no effort to conceal her anxiety from Miss
Macy, and the fond Andora was charged to keep a vigilant eyeupon the
postman's coming, and to spy on the _bonne_ for possible negligence
or perfidy. But these elaborate precautions remained fruitless, and
no letter from Deering came.

During the first fortnight of silence Lizzie exhausted all the
ingenuities of explanation. She marveled afterward at the reasons
she had found for Deering's silence: there were moments when she
almost argued herself into thinking it more natural than his
continuing to write. There was only one reason which her
intelligence consistently rejected, and that was the possibility
that he had forgotten her, that the wholeepisode had faded from his
mind like a breath from a mirror. From that she resolutely turned
her thoughts, aware that if she suffered herself to contemplate it,
the motive power of life would fail, and she would no longer
understand why she rose up in the morning and laydown at night.

If she had had leisure to indulge her anguish she might havebeen
unable to keep such speculations at bay. But she had to be up and
working: the _blanchisseuse_ had to be paid, and Mme. Clopin's
weekly bill, and all the little "extras" that even her frugal habits
had to reckon with. And in the depths of her thought dwelt the
dogging fear of illness and incapacity, goading her to work while
she could. She hardly remembered the time when she had been without
that fear; it was second nature now, and it kept her on her feet
when other incentives might have failed. In the blankness of her
misery shefelt no dread of death; but the horror of being ill and
"dependent" was in her blood.

In the first weeks of silence she wrote again and again to Deering,
entreating him for a word, for a mere sign of life. From the first
she had shrunk from seeming to assert any claim on his future, yet
in her aching bewilderment she now charged herself with having been
too possessive, too exacting in her tone. She told herself that his
fastidiousness shrank from any but a "light touch," and that hers
had not been light enough. She should havekept to the character of
the "little friend," the artless consciousness in which tormented
genius may find an escape from its complexities; and instead, she
had dramatized their relation, exaggerated her own part in it,
presumed, forsooth, to share the front of the stage with him,
instead of being content to serve asscenery or chorus.

But though to herself she admitted, and even insisted on, the
episodical nature of the experience, on the fact that for Deeringit
could be no more than an incident, she was still convinced that his
sentiment for her, however fugitive, had been genuine.

His had not been the attitude of the unscrupulous male seeking a
vulgar "advantage." For a moment he had really needed her, andif he
was silent now, it was perhaps because he feared that she had
mistaken the nature of the need and built vain hopes on its possible
duration.

It was of the very essence of Lizzie's devotion that it sought
instinctively the larger freedom of its object; she could not
conceive of love under any form of exaction or compulsion. To make
this clear to Deering became an overwhelming need, and in a last
short letter she explicitly freed him from whatever sentimental
obligation its predecessors might have seemed to impose. In
thisstudied communication she playfully accused herself of having
unwittingly sentimentalized their relation, affirming, in
self-defense, a retrospective astuteness, a sense of the
impermanence of the tenderer sentiments, that almost put Deering in
the fatuous position of having mistaken coquetry for surrender. And
she ended gracefully with a plea for the continuance of the friendly
regardwhich she had "always understood" to be the basis of their
sympathy. The document, when completed, seemed to her worthy of what
she conceived to be Deering's conception of a woman of the world,
and she found a spectral satisfaction in the thought of making her
final appearance before him in that distinguished character. But she
was never destined to learn what effect the appearance produced; for
the letter, like those it sought to excuse, remained unanswered.


V

THE fresh spring sunshine which had so often attended Lizzie Weston
her dusty climb up the hill of St.-Cloud beamed on her, some two
years later, in a scene and a situation of altered import.

The horse-chestnuts of the Champs-Elysees filtered its rays through
the symmetrical umbrage inclosing the graveled space about Daurent's
restaurant, and Miss West, seated at a table within that privileged
circle, presented to the light a hat much better able to sustain its
scrutiny than those which had sheltered the brow of Juliet Deering's
instructress.

Her dress was in keeping with the hat, and both belonged to a
situation rich in such possibilities as the act of a leisurely
luncheon at Daurent's in the opening week of the Salon. Her
companions, of both sexes, confirmed and emphasized this impression
by an elaborateness of garb and an ease of attitude implying the
largest range of selection between the forms of Parisian idleness;
and even Andora Macy, seated opposite, as in the place of co-hostess
or companion, reflected, in coy grays and mauves, the festal note of
the occasion.

This note reverberated persistently in the ears of a solitary
gentleman straining for glimpses of the group from a table wedgedin
the remotest corner of the garden; but to Miss West herself the
occurrence did not rise above the usual. For nearly a year she had
been acquiring the habit of such situations, and the act of offering
a luncheon at Daurent's to her cousins, the Harvey Mearses of
Providence, and their friend Mr. Jackson Benn, produced in herno
emotion beyond the languid glow which Mr. Benn's presence was
beginning to impart to such scenes.

"It's frightful, the way you've got used to it," Andora Macyhad
wailed in the first days of her friend's transfigured fortune, when
Lizzie West had waked one morning to find herself among the heirs of
an old and miserly cousin whose testamentary dispositions had
formed, since her earliest childhood, the subject of pleasantry and
conjecture in her own improvident family. Old Hezron Mears had never
given any sign of life to the luckless Wests; had perhaps hardly
been conscious of including them in the carefully drawn will which,
following the old American convention, scrupulously divided his
hoarded millions among his kin. It was by a mere genealogical
accident that Lizzie, falling just within the golden circle, found
herself possessed of a pittance sufficient to release her from the
prospect of a long gray future in Mme. Clopin's pension.

The release had seemed wonderful at first; yet she presentlyfound
that it had destroyed her former world without giving her anew one.
On the ruins of the old pension life bloomed the only flower that
had ever sweetened her path; and beyond the sense of present ease,
and the removal of anxiety for the future, her reconstructed
existence blossomed with no compensating joys. Shehad hoped great
things from the opportunity to rest, to travel, to look about her,
above all, in various artful feminine ways, to be "nice" to the
companions of her less privileged state; but such widenings of scope
left her, as it were, but the more conscious of the empty margin of
personal life beyond them. It was not till she woke to the leisure
of her new days that she had the full sense of what was gone from
them.

Their very emptiness made her strain to pack them with transient
sensations: she was like the possessor of an unfurnished house, with
random furniture and bric-a-brac perpetually pouring in "on
approval." It was in this experimental character that Mr. Jackson
Benn had fixed her attention, and the languid effort of her
imagination to adjust him to her requirements was seconded by
thefond complicity of Andora and the smiling approval of her
cousins. Lizzie did not discourage these demonstrations: she
suffered serenely Andora's allusions to Mr. Benn's infatuation, and
Mrs. Mears's casual boast of his business standing. All the better
ifthey could drape his narrow square-shouldered frame and round
unwinking countenance in the trailing mists of sentiment: Lizzie
looked and listened, not unhopeful of the miracle.

"I never saw anything like the way these Frenchmen stare! Doesn't it
make you nervous, Lizzie?" Mrs. Mears broke out suddenly, ruffling
her feather boa about an outraged bosom. Mrs. Mears was still in that
stage of development when her countrywomen taste to the full the
peril of being exposed to the gaze of the licentious Gaul.

Lizzie roused herself from the contemplation of Mr. Benn's round
baby cheeks and the square blue jaw resting on his perpendicular
collar. "Is some one staring at me?" she asked with a smile.

"Don't turn round, whatever you do! There--just over there, between
the rhododendrons--the tall fair man alone at that table. Really,
Harvey, I think you ought to speak to the head-waiter, orsomething;
though I suppose in one of these places they'd only laugh at you,"
Mrs. Mears shudderingly concluded.

Her husband, as if inclining to this probability, continued the
undisturbed dissection of his chicken wing; but Mr. Benn, perhaps
aware that his situation demanded a more punctilious attitude,
sternly revolved upon the parapet of his high collar inthe direction
of Mrs. Mears's glance.

"What, that fellow all alone over there? Why, _he's_ not French; he's
an American," he then proclaimed with a perceptible relaxing of the
facial muscles.

"Oh!" murmured Mrs. Mears, as perceptibly disappointed, and Mr. Benn
continued carelessly: "He came over on the steamer with me. He's
some kind of an artist--a fellow named Deering. He wasstaring at
_me_, I guess: wondering whether I was going to remember him. Why,
how d' 'e do? How are you? Why, yes, of course; with pleasure--my
friends, Mrs. Harvey Mears--Mr. Mears; my friends Miss Macy and Miss
West."

"I have the pleasure of knowing Miss West," said Vincent Deering
with a smile.


VI

EVEN through his smile Lizzie had seen, in the first moment, how
changed he was; and the impression of the change deepened to the
point of pain when, a few days later, in reply to his brief note, she
accorded him a private hour.

That the first sight of his writing--the first answer to
hisletters--should have come, after three long years, in the shape
of this impersonal line, too curt to be called humble, yet
confessing to a consciousness of the past by the studied avoidance
of its language! As she read, her mind flashed back over what she
had dreamed his letters would be, over the exquisite answers she had
composed above his name. There was nothing exquisite in the
conventional lines before her; but dormant nerves began to throb
again at the mere touch of the paper he had touched, and she threw
the little note into the fire before she dared to reply to it.

Now that he was actually before her again, he became, as usual, the
one live spot in her consciousness. Once more her tormented
throbbing self sank back passive and numb, but now withall its power
of suffering mysteriously transferred to the presence, so known, yet
so unknown, at the opposite corner of herhearth. She was still
Lizzie West, and he was still Vincent Deering; but the Styx rolled
between them, and she saw his face through its fog. It was his face,
really, rather than his words, that told her, as she furtively
studied it, the tale of failure and slow discouragement which had so
blurred its handsome lines. Shekept afterward no precise memory of
the actual details of his narrative: the pain it evidently cost him
to impart it was so much the sharpest fact in her new vision of him.
Confusedly, however, she gathered that on reaching America he had
found his wife's small property gravely impaired; and that, while
lingering on to securewhat remained of it, he had contrived to sell
a picture or two, and had even known a brief moment of success,
during which he received orders and set up a studio. But
inexplicably the tide had ebbed, his work remained on his hands, and
a tedious illness, with its miserable sequel of debt, soon wiped out
his small advantage. There followed a period of eclipse, still more
vaguely pictured, during which she was allowed to infer that he had
tried his hand at divers means of livelihood, accepting employment
from a fashionable house-decorator, designing wall-papers,
illustrating magazine articles, and acting for a time, she dimly
understood, as the social tout of a new hotel desirous of
advertising its restaurant. These disjointed facts were strung on a
slender thread of personal allusions--references to friends who had
been kind (jealously, she guessed them to be women), and to enemies
who had darkly schemed against him. But, true to his tradition of
"correctness," he carefully avoided the mention of names, and left
her trembling conjectures to grope dimly through an alien crowded
world in which there seemed little room for her small shy presence.

As she listened, her private pang was merged in the intolerable
sense of his unhappiness. Nothing he had said explained or excused
his conduct to her; but he had suffered, he had been lonely, had
been humiliated, and she suddenly felt, with a fierce maternal rage,
that there was no conceivable justification for any scheme of things
in which such facts were possible. She could not have said why: she
simply knew that it hurt too much tosee him hurt.

Gradually it came to her that her unconsciousness of any personal
grievance was due to her having so definitely determinedher own
future. She was glad she had decided, as she now felt she had, to
marry Jackson Benn, if only for the sense of detachment it gave her
in dealing with the case of Vincent Deering. Her personal safety
insured her the requisite impartiality, and justified her in
dwelling as long as she chose on the last lines of a chapter to
which her own act had deliberately fixed the close. Any lingering
hesitations as to the finality of her decision were dispelled by the
imminent need of making it known to Deering; and when her visitor
paused in his reminiscences to say, with a sigh, "But many things
have happened to you too," his words did not so much evokethe sense
of her altered fortunes as the image of the protector to whom she
was about to intrust them.

"Yes, many things; it's three years," she answered.

Deering sat leaning forward, in his sad exiled elegance, hiseyes
gently bent on hers; and at his side she saw the solid form of Mr.
Jackson Benn, with shoulders preternaturally squared by the cut of
his tight black coat, and a tall shiny collar sustaining his baby
cheeks and hard blue chin. Then the vision faded as Deeringbegan to
speak.

"Three years," he repeated, musingly taking up her words. "I've so
often wondered what they'd brought you."

She lifted her head with a quick blush, and the terrified wish that
he should not, at the cost of all his notions of correctness, lapse
into the blunder of becoming "personal."

"You've wondered?" She smiled back bravely.

"Do you suppose I haven't?" His look dwelt on her. "Yes, Idaresay
that _was_ what you thought of me."

She had her answer pat--"Why, frankly, you know, I _didn't_ think of
you." But the mounting tide of her poor dishonored memories swept it
indignantly away. If it was his correctness toignore, it could never
be hers to disavow.

"_ Was_ that what you thought of me?" she heard himrepeat in a tone
of sad insistence; and at that, with a quick lift of her head, she
resolutely answered: "How could I know what to think? I had no word
from you."

If she had expected, and perhaps almost hoped, that this answer
would create a difficulty for him, the gaze of quiet fortitude with
which he met it proved that she had underestimatedhis resources.

"No, you had no word. I kept my vow," he said.

"Your vow?"

"That you _shouldn't_ have a word--not a syllable. Oh, I kept it
through everything!"

Lizzie's heart was sounding in her ears the old confused rumor of
the sea of life, but through it she desperately tried to distinguish
the still small voice of reason.

"What _was_ your vow? Why shouldn't I have had asyllable from you?"

He sat motionless, still holding her with a look so gentle that it
almost seemed forgiving.

Then abruptly he rose, and crossing the space between them, sat down
in a chair at her side. The deliberation of his movement might have
implied a forgetfulness of changed conditions, and Lizzie, as if
thus viewing it, drew slightly back; but he appeared not to notice
her recoil, and his eyes, at last leaving her face, slowly and
approvingly made the round of the small bright drawing-room. "This
is charming. Yes, things _have_ changed foryou," he said.

A moment before she had prayed that he might be spared the error of
a vain return upon the past. It was as if all her retrospective
tenderness, dreading to see him at such a disadvantage, rose up to
protect him from it. But his evasiveness exasperated her, and
suddenly she felt the inconsistent desire tohold him fast, face to
face with his own words.

Before she could reiterate her question, however, he had mether with
another.

"You _did_ think of me, then? Why are you afraid totell me that you
did?"

The unexpectedness of the challenge wrung an indignant cry from her.

"Didn't my letters tell you so enough?"

"Ah, your letters!" Keeping her gaze on his in a passion
ofunrelenting fixity, she could detect in him no confusion, not
theleast quiver of a sensitive nerve. He only gazed back at her more
sadly.

"They went everywhere with me--your letters," he said.

"Yet you never answered them." At last the accusation trembled to
her lips.

"Yet I never answered them."

"Did you ever so much as read them, I wonder?"

All the demons of self-torture were up in her now, and she loosed
them on him, as if to escape from their rage.

Deering hardly seemed to hear her question. He merely shifted his
attitude, leaning a little nearer to her, but without attempting, by
the least gesture, to remind her of the privilegeswhich such
nearness had once implied.

"There were beautiful, wonderful things in them," he said, smiling.

She felt herself stiffen under his smile.

"You've waited three years to tell me so!"

He looked at her with grave surprise. "And do you resent mytelling
you even now?"

His parries were incredible. They left her with a breathless sense
of thrusting at emptiness, and a desperate, almost vindictive desire
to drive him against thewall and pin him there.

"No. Only I wonder you should take the trouble to tell me, when at
the time--"

And now, with a sudden turn, he gave her the final surprise of
meeting her squarely on her own ground.

"When at the time I didn't? But how _could_ I--at thetime?"

"Why couldn't you? You've not yet told me?"

He gave her again his look of disarming patience. "Do I need to?
Hasn't my whole wretched story told you?"

"Told me why you never answered my letters?"

"Yes, since I could only answer them in one way--by protesting my
love and my longing."

There was a long pause of resigned expectancy on his part, on hers,
of a wild confused reconstruction of her shattered past. "You mean,
then, that you didn't write because--"

"Because I found, when I reached America, that I was a pauper; that
my wife's money was gone, and that what I could earn--I've so little
gift that way!--was barely enough to keep Juliet clothed and
educated. It was as if an iron door had been suddenly locked
andbarred between us."

Lizzie felt herself driven back, panting upon the last defenses of
her incredulity. "You might at least have told me--have explained.
Do you think I shouldn't have understood?"

He did not hesitate. "You would have understood. It wasn'tthat."

"What was it then?" she quavered.

"It's wonderful you shouldn't see! Simply that I couldn't write you
_that_. Anything else--not _that!_"

"And so you preferred to let me suffer?"

There was a shade of reproach in his eyes. "I suffered too," he
said.

It was his first direct appeal to her compassion, and for a moment
it nearly unsettled the delicate poise of her sympathies, and sent
them trembling in the direction of scorn and irony. Buteven as the
impulse rose, it was stayed by another sensation. Once again, as so
often in the past, she became aware of a fact which, in his absence,
she always failed to reckon with--the fact of thedeep irreducible
difference between his image in her mind and hisactual self, the
mysterious alteration in her judgment produced by the inflections of
his voice, the look of his eyes, the whole complex pressure of his
personality. She had phrased it once self-reproachfully by saying to
herself that she "never could rememberhim," so completely did the
sight of him supersede the counterfeit about which her fancy wove
its perpetual wonders. Bright and breathing as that counterfeit was,
it became a gray figment of the mind at the touch of his presence;
and on this occasion the immediate result was to cause her to feel
his possible unhappiness with an intensity beside which her private
injury paled.

"I suffered horribly," he repeated, "and all the more that Icouldn't
make a sign, couldn't cry out my misery. There was onlyone escape
from it all--to hold my tongue, and pray that you might hate me."

The blood rushed to Lizzie's forehead. "Hate you--you prayed that I
might hate you?"

He rose from his seat, and moving closer, lifted her hand gently in
his. "Yes; because your letters showed me that, if youdidn't, you'd
be unhappier still."

Her hand lay motionless, with the warmth of his flowing through it,
and her thoughts, too--her poor fluttering stormy thoughts--felt
themselves suddenly penetrated by the same soft current of
communion.

"And I meant to keep my resolve," he went on, slowly releasing his
clasp. "I meant to keep it even after the random stream of things
swept me back here in your way; but when I saw you the other day, I
felt that what had been possible at a distance was impossible now
that we were near each other. How was it possibleto see you and want
you to hate me?"

He had moved away, but not to resume his seat. He merely paused at a
little distance, his hand resting on a chair-back, inthe transient
attitude that precedes departure.

Lizzie's heart contracted. He was going, then, and this washis
farewell. He was going, and she could find no word to detainhim but
the senseless stammer "I never hated you."

He considered her with his faint grave smile. "It's not necessary,
at any rate, that you should do so now. Time and circumstances have
made me so harmless--that's exactly why I've dared to venture back.
And I wanted to tell you how I rejoice inyour good fortune. It's the
only obstacle between us that I can't bring myself to wish away."

Lizzie sat silent, spellbound, as she listened, by the sudden
evocation of Mr. Jackson Benn. He stood there again, between herself
and Deering, perpendicular and reproachful, but less solid and
sharply outlined than before, with a look in his small hard eyes
that desperately wailed for reembodiment.

Deering was continuing his farewell speech. "You're rich now, you're
free. You will marry." She vaguely saw him holding out his hand.

"It's not true that I'm engaged!" she broke out. They were the last
words she had meant to utter; they were hardly related to her
conscious thoughts; but she felt her whole will suddenly gathered up
in the irrepressible impulse to repudiate and fling away from her
forever the spectral claim of Mr. Jackson Benn.


VII

IT was the firm conviction of Andora Macy that every object in the
Vincent Deerings' charming little house at Neuilly had been
expressly designed for the Deerings' son to play with.

The house was full of pretty things, some not obviously applicable
to the purpose; but Miss Macy's casuistry was equal tothe baby's
appetite, and the baby's mother was no match for them in the art of
defending her possessions. There were moments, in fact, when Lizzie
almost fell in with Andora's summary division of her works of art
into articles safe or unsafe for the baby to lick, or resisted it
only to the extent of occasionally substituting some less precious
or less perishable object for the particular fragility on which her
son's desire was fixed. And it was with this intention that, on a
certain fair spring morning--which worethe added luster of being the
baby's second birthday--she had murmured, with her mouth in his
curls, and one hand holding a bitof Chelsea above his dangerous
clutch: "Wouldn't he rather have that beautiful shiny thing over
there in Aunt Andorra's hand?"

The two friends were together in Lizzie's little morning-room--the
room she had chosen, on acquiring the house, because, when she sat
there, she could hear Deering's step as he paced up and down before
his easel in the studio she had built for him. His step had been
less regularly audible than she had hoped, for, after three years of
wedded bliss, he had somehow failed to settle downto the great work
which was to result from that privileged state; but even when she did
not hear him she knew that he was there, above her head, stretched
out on the old divan from Passy, and smoking endless cigarettes
while he skimmed the morning papers; and the sense of his nearness
had not yet lost its first keen edge of bliss.

Lizzie herself, on the day in question, was engaged in a more
arduous task than the study of the morning's news. She had
neverunlearned the habit of orderly activity, and the trait she
least understood in her husband's character was his way of letting
the loose ends of life hang as they would. She had been disposed at
first to ascribe this to the chronic incoherence of his first
_menage;_ but now she knew that, though he basked under therule of
her beneficent hand, he would never feel any active impulse to
further its work. He liked to see things fall into place about him
at a wave of her wand; but his enjoyment of her household magic in
no way diminished his smiling irresponsibility, and it was with one
of its least amiable consequences that his wife and her friend were
now dealing.

Before them stood two travel-worn trunks and a distended
portmanteau, which had shed their contents in heterogeneous
heapsover Lizzie's rosy carpet. They represented the hostages left
byher husband on his somewhat precipitate departure from a New
Yorkboarding-house, and indignantly redeemed by her on her learning,
in a curt letter from his landlady, that the latter was not
disposedto regard them as an equivalent for the arrears of Deering's
board.

Lizzie had not been shocked by the discovery that her husband had
left America in debt. She had too sad an acquaintance with the
economic strain to see any humiliation in such accidents; but it
offended her sense of order that he should not have liquidated his
obligation in the three years since their marriage. He took her
remonstrance with his usual disarming grace, and left her to forward
the liberating draft, though her delicacy had provided him with a
bank-account which assured his personal independence. Lizzie had
discharged the duty without repugnance, since she knewthat his
delegating it to her was the result of his good-humored indolence
and not of any design on her exchequer. Deering was not dazzled by
money; his altered fortunes had tempted him to no excesses: he was
simply too lazy to draw the check, as he had been too lazy to
remember the debt it canceled.

"No, dear! No!" Lizzie lifted the Chelsea figure higher. "Can't you
find something for him, Andora, among that rubbish over there?
Where's the beaded bag you had in your hand just now? I don't think
it could hurt him to lick that."

Miss Macy, bag in hand, rose from her knees, and stumbled through
the slough of frayed garments and old studio properties. Before the
group of mother and son she fell into a raptured attitude.

"Do look at him reach for it, the tyrant! Isn't he just like the
young Napoleon?"

Lizzie laughed and swung her son in air. "Dangle it before him,
Andora. If you let him have it too quickly, he won't care for it.
He's just like any man, I think."

Andora slowly lowered the shining bag till the heir of the Deerings
closed his masterful fist upon it. "There--my Chelsea'ssafe!" Lizzie
smiled, setting her boy on the floor, and watchinghim stagger away
with his booty.

Andora stood beside her, watching too. "Have you any idea where that
bag came from, Lizzie?"

Mrs. Deering, bent above a pile of dis-collared shirts, shook an
inattentive head. "I never saw such wicked washing! There isn't one
that's fit to mend. The bag? No; I've not the least idea."

Andora surveyed her dramatically. "Doesn't it make you utterly
miserable to think that some woman may have made it for him?"

Lizzie, bowed in anxious scrutiny above the shirts, broke into an
unruffled laugh. "Really, Andora, really--six, seven, nine; no,
there isn't even a dozen. There isn't a whole dozen of _anything_. I
don't see how men live alone!"

Andora broodingly pursued her theme. "Do you mean to tell me it
doesn't make you jealous to handle these things of his that other
women may have given him?"

Lizzie shook her head again, and, straightening herself with a smile,
tossed a bundle in her friend's direction. "No, it doesn't make me
the least bit jealous. Here, count these socks for me, like a
darling."

Andora moaned, "Don't you feel _anything at all?_" asthe socks
landed in her hollow bosom; but Lizzie, intent upon her task,
tranquilly continued to unfold and sort. She felt a great deal as
she did so, but her feelings were too deep and delicate for the
simplifying process of speech. She only knew that each article she
drew from the trunks sent through her the long tremor of Deering's
touch. It was part of her wonderful new life that everything
belonging to him contained an infinitesimal fraction of himself--a
fraction becoming visible in the warmth of her love as certain
secret elements become visible in rare intensities of temperature.
And in the case of the objects before her, poor shabby witnesses of
his days of failure, what they gave out acquired a special poignancy
from its contrast to his present cherished state. His shirts were
all in round dozens now, and washed as carefully as old lace. As for
his socks, she knew the pattern of every pair, and would have liked
to see the washerwoman who dared to mislay one, or bring it home
with the colors "run"! And in these homely tokens of his well-being
she saw the symbol of what her tenderness had brought him. He was
safe in it, encompassed by it, morally and materially, and she
defied the embattled powers of malice to reach him through the armor
of her love. Such feelings, however, were not communicable, even had
one desired to express them: they wereno more to be distinguished
from the sense of life itself than bees from the lime-blossoms in
which they murmur.

"Oh, do _look_ at him, Lizzie! He's found out how toopen the bag!"

Lizzie lifted her head to smile a moment at her son, who satthroned
on a heap of studio rubbish, with Andora before him on adoring
knees. She thought vaguely, "Poor Andora!" and then resumed the
discouraged inspection of a buttonless white waistcoat. The next
sound she was aware of was a fluttered exclamation from her friend.

"Why, Lizzie, do you know what he used the bag for? To keepyour
letters in!"

Lizzie looked up more quickly. She was aware that Andora's pronoun
had changed its object, and was now applied to Deering. And it
struck her as odd, and slightly disagreeable, that a letter of hers
should be found among the rubbish abandoned in her husband's New
York lodgings.

"How funny! Give it to me, please."

"Give the bag to Aunt Andora, darling! Here--look inside, and see
what else a big big boy can find there! Yes, here's another! Why,
why--"

Lizzie rose with a shade of impatience and crossed the floorto the
romping group beside the other trunk.

"What is it? Give me the letters, please." As she spoke, she
suddenly recalled the day when, in Mme. Clopin's _pension_, she had
addressed a similar behest to Andora Macy.

Andora had lifted a look of startled conjecture. "Why, thisone's
never been opened! Do you suppose that awful woman could have kept
it from him?"

Lizzie laughed. Andora's imaginings were really puerile. "What awful
woman? His landlady? Don't be such a goose, Andora. How can it have
been kept back from him, when we've found it here among his things?"

"Yes; but then why was it never opened?"

Andora held out the letter, and Lizzie took it. The writingwas hers;
the envelop bore the Passy postmark; and it was unopened. She stood
looking at it with a sudden sharp drop of the heart.

"Why, so are the others--all unopened!" Andora threw out on a rising
note; but Lizzie, stooping over, stretched out her hand.

"Give them to me, please."

"Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie--" Andora, still on her knees, continued to hold
back the packet, her pale face paler with anger and compassion.
"Lizzie, they're the letters I used to post for you--_the letters he
never answered!_ Look!"

"Give them back to me, please."

The two women faced each other, Andora kneeling, Lizzie motionless
before her, the letters in her hand. The blood had rushed to her
face, humming in her ears, and forcing itself into the veins of her
temples like hot lead. Then it ebbed, and she felt cold and weak.

"It must have been some plot--some conspiracy!" Andora cried, so
fired by the ecstasy of invention that for the moment she seemed
lost to all but the esthetic aspect of the case.

Lizzie turned away her eyes with an effort, and they rested on the
boy, who sat at her feet placidly sucking the tassels of the bag.
His mother stooped and extracted them from his rosy mouth, which a
cry of wrath immediately filled. She lifted him in her arms, and for
the first time no current of life ran from his bodyinto hers. He
felt heavy and clumsy, like some one else's child; and his screams
annoyed her.

"Take him away, please, Andora."

"Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie!" Andora wailed.

Lizzie held out the child, and Andora, struggling to her feet,
received him.

"I know just how you feel," she gasped out above the baby's head.

Lizzie, in some dark hollow of herself, heard the echo of a laugh.
Andora always thought she knew how people felt!

"Tell Marthe to take him with her when she fetches Juliet home from
school."

"Yes, yes." Andora gloated over her. "If you'd only give way, my
darling!"

The baby, howling, dived over Andora's shoulder for the bag.

"Oh, _take_ him!" his mother ordered.

Andora, from the door, cried out: "I'll be back at once. Remember,
love, you're not alone!"

But Lizzie insisted, "Go with them--I wish you to go with them," in
the tone to which Miss Macy had never learned the answer.

The door closed on her outraged back, and Lizzie stood alone. She
looked about the disordered room, which offered a dreary image of
the havoc of her life. An hour or two ago everything about her had
been so exquisitely ordered, without and within; her thoughtsand
emotions had lain outspread before her like delicate jewels laid
away symmetrically in a collector's cabinet. Now they had been
tossed down helter-skelter among the rubbish there on the floor, and
had themselves turned to rubbish like the rest. Yes, there lay her
life at her feet, among all that tarnished trash.

She knelt and picked up her letters, ten in all, and examined the
flaps of the envelops. Not one had been opened--not one. Asshe
looked, every word she had written fluttered to life, and every
feeling prompting it sent a tremor through her. With
vertiginousspeed and microscopic vision she was reliving that whole
period of her life, stripping bare again the black ruin over which
the drift of three happy years had fallen.

She laughed at Andora's notion of a conspiracy--of the letters
having been "kept back." She required no extraneous aid in
deciphering the mystery: her three years' experience of Deering shed
on it all the light she needed. And yet a moment before shehad
believed herself to be perfectly happy! Now it was the worstpart of
her anguish that it did not really surprise her.

She knew so well how it must have happened. The letters hadreached
him when he was busy, occupied with something else, and had been put
aside to be read at some future time--a time which nevercame.
Perhaps on his way to America, on the steamer, even, he had met
"some one else"--the "some one" who lurks, veiled and ominous, in
the background of every woman's thoughts about her lover. Or perhaps
he had been merely forgetful. She had learned from experience that
the sensations which he seemed to feel with the most exquisite
intensity left no reverberations in his mind--thathe did not relive
either his pleasures or his pains. She needed no better proof of
that than the lightness of his conduct toward hisdaughter. He seemed
to have taken it for granted that Juliet would remain indefinitely
with the friends who had received her after her mother's death, and
it was at Lizzie's suggestion that the littlegirl was brought home
and that they had established themselves at Neuilly to be near her
school. But Juliet once with them, he became the model of a tender
father, and Lizzie wondered that he had not felt the child's
absence, since he seemed so affectionately aware of her presence.

Lizzie had noted all this in Juliet's case, but had taken for
granted that her own was different; that she formed, for Deering, the
exception which every woman secretly supposes herself to formin the
experience of the man she loves. Certainly, she had learned by this
time that she could not modify his habits, but she imagined that she
had deepened his sensibilities, had furnished him with an
"ideal"--angelic function! And she now saw that the fact of her
letters--her unanswered letters--having, on his own assurance,
"meant so much" to him, had been the basis on which this beautiful
fabric was reared.

There they lay now, the letters, precisely as when they had left her
hands. He had not had time to read them; and there had been a moment
in her past when that discovery would have been thesharpest pang
imaginable to her heart. She had traveled far beyond that point. She
could have forgiven him now for having forgottenher; but she could
never forgive him for having deceived her.

She sat down, and looked again vaguely about the room. Suddenly she
heard his step overhead, and her heart contracted. She was afraid he
was coming down to her. She sprang up and bolted the door; then she
dropped into the nearest chair, tremulous and exhausted, as if the
pushing of the bolt had required an immense muscular effort. A
moment later she heard him on the stairs, andher tremor broke into a
cold fit of shaking. "I loathe you--I loathe you!" she cried.

She listened apprehensively for his touch on the handle of the door.
He would come in, humming a tune, to ask some idle question and lay
a caress on her hair. But no, the door was bolted; she was safe. She
continued to listen, and the step passed on. He had not been coming
to her, then. He must have gone down-stairs to
fetchsomething--another newspaper, perhaps. He seemed to read little
else, and she sometimes wondered when he had found time to store the
material that used to serve for their famous "literary" talks. The
wonder shot through her again, barbed with a sneer. At that moment
it seemed to her that everything he had ever done and beenwas a lie.

She heard the house-door close, and started up. Was he going out? It
was not his habit to leave the house in the morning.

She crossed the room to the window, and saw him walking, with a
quick decided step, between the budding lilacs to the gate. What
could have called him forth at that unwonted hour? It was odd that
he should not have told her. The fact that she thought it odd
suddenly showed her how closely their lives were interwoven. Shehad
become a habit to him, and he was fond of his habits. But toher it
was as if a stranger had opened the gate and gone out. She wondered
what he would feel if he knew that she felt _that_.

"In an hour he will know," she said to herself, with a kind of
fierce exultation; and immediately she began to dramatize the scene.
As soon as he came in she meant to call him up to her room and hand
him the letters without a word. For a moment she gloated on the
picture; then her imagination recoiled from it. She was humiliated
by the thought of humiliating him. She wanted to keephis image
intact; she would not see him.

He had lied to her about her letters--had lied to her when he found
it to his interest to regain her favor. Yes, there was thepoint to
hold fast. He had sought her out when he learned that she was rich.
Perhaps he had come back from America on purpose to marry her; no
doubt he had come back on purpose. It was incredible that she had
not seen this at the time. She turned sick at the thought of her
fatuity and of the grossness of his arts. Well, the event proved
that they were all heneeded. But why had he gone out at such an
hour? She was irritated to find herself still preoccupied by his
comings and goings.

Turning from the window, she sat down again. She wondered what she
meant to do next. No, she would not show him the letters; she would
simply leave them on his table and go away. She would leave the
house with her boy and Andora. It was a relief to feela definite
plan forming itself in her mind--something that her uprooted
thoughts could fasten on. She would go away, of course; and
meanwhile, in order not to see him, she would feign a headache, and
remain in her room till after luncheon. Then she and Andora would
pack a few things, and fly with the child while he was dawdling
about up-stairs in the studio. When one's house fell, one fled from
the ruins: nothing could be simpler, more inevitable.

Her thoughts were checked by the impossibility of picturing what
would happen next. Try as she would, she could not see herself and
the child away from Deering. But that, of course, was because of her
nervous weakness. She had youth, money, energy: all the trumps were
on her side. It was much more difficult to imagine what would become
of Deering. He was so dependent on her, and they had been so happy
together! The fact struck her as illogical, and even immoral, and
yet she knew he had been happy with her. It never happened like that
in novels: happiness "built on a lie" always crumbled, and buried
the presumptuous architect beneath the ruins. According to the laws
of every novel she had ever read, Deering, having deceived her once,
would inevitably have gone on deceiving her. Yet she knew he had not
gone on deceiving her.

She tried again to picture her new life. Her friends, of course,
would rally about her. But the prospect left her cold; she did not
want them to rally. She wanted only one thing--the life she had been
living before she had given her baby the embroideredbag to play
with. Oh, why had she given him the bag? She had been so happy, they
had all been so happy! Every nerve in her clamored for her lost
happiness, angrily, unreasonably, as the boy had clamored for his
bag! It was horrible to know too much; there was always blood in the
foundations. Parents "kept things" from children--protected them
from all the dark secrets of pain and evil. And was any life livable
unless it were thus protected? Could any one look in the Medusa's
face and live?

But why should she leave the house, since it was hers? Here, with
her boy and Andora, she could still make for herself the semblance
of a life. It was Deering who would have to go; he would understand
that as soon as he saw the letters.

She pictured him in the act of going--leaving the house as he had
left it just now. She saw the gate closing on him for the last time.
Now her vision was acute enough: she saw him as distinctlyas if he
were in the room. Ah, he would not like returning to the old life of
privations and expedients! And yet she knew he wouldnot plead with
her.

Suddenly a new thought rushed through her mind. What if Andora had
rushed to him with the tale of the discovery of the letters--with
the "Fly, you are discovered!" of romantic fiction? What if he _had_
left her for good? It would not be unlikehim, after all. Under his
wonderful gentleness he was always evasive and inscrutable. He might
have said to himself that he would forestall her action, and place
himself at once on the defensive. It might be that she _had_ seen
him go out of the gate forthe last time.

She looked about the room again, as if this thought had given it a
new aspect. Yes, this alone could explain her husband's going out.
It was past twelve o'clock, their usual luncheon hour, and he was
scrupulously punctual at meals, and gently reproachful if shekept
him waiting. Only some unwonted event could have caused himto leave
the house at such an hour and with such marks of haste. Well,
perhaps it was better that Andora should have spoken. She mistrusted
her own courage; she almost hoped the deed had been done for her.
Yet her next sensation was one of confused resentment. She said to
herself, "Why has Andora interfered?" She felt baffled and angry, as
though her prey had escaped her. If Deering had been in the house,
she would have gone to him instantly and overwhelmed him with her
scorn. But he had gone out, and she did not know where he had gone,
and oddly mingled with her anger against him was the latent instinct
of vigilance, thesolicitude of the woman accustomed to watch over
the man she loves. It would be strange never to feel that solicitude
again, never to hear him say, with his hand on her hair: "Why, you
foolish child, were you worried? Am I late?"

The sense of his touch was so real that she stiffened herself
against it, flinging back her head as if to throw off his hand. The
mere thought of his caress was hateful; yet she felt it in all her
traitorous veins. Yes, she felt it, but with horror and repugnance.
It was something she wanted to escape from, and the fact of
struggling against it was what made its hold so strong. It was as
though her mind were sounding her body to make sure of
itsallegiance, spying on it for any secret movement of revolt.

To escape from the sensation, she rose and went again to thewindow.
No one was in sight. But presently the gate began to swing back, and
her heart gave a leap--she knew not whether up ordown. A moment
later the gate opened slowly to admit a perambulator, propelled by
the nurse and flanked by Juliet and Andora. Lizzie's eyes rested on
the familiar group as if she hadnever seen it before, and she stood
motionless, instead of flyingdown to meet the children.

Suddenly there was a step on the stairs, and she heard Andora's
agitated knock. She unbolted the door, and was strainedto her
friend's emaciated bosom.

"My darling!" Miss Macy cried. "Remember you have your child--and
me!"

Lizzie loosened herself gently. She looked at Andora with afeeling
of estrangement which she could not explain.

"Have you spoken to my husband?" she asked, drawing coldly back.

"Spoken to him? No." Andora stared at her in genuine wonder.

"Then you haven't met him since he left me?"

"No, my love. Is he out? I haven't met him."

Lizzie sat down with a confused sense of relief, which welled up to
her throat and made speech difficult.

Suddenly light came to Andora. "I understand, dearest. Youdon't feel
able to see him yourself. You want me to go to him for you." She
looked about her, scenting the battle. "You're right, darling. As
soon as he comes in I'll go to him. The sooner we get it over the
better."

She followed Lizzie, who without answering her had turned
mechanically back to the window. As they stood there, the gate moved
again, and Deering entered the garden.

"There he is now!" Lizzie felt Andora's fervent clutch uponher arm.
"Where are the letters? I will go down at once. You allow me to
speak for you? You trust my woman's heart? Oh, believe me, darling,"
Miss Macy panted, "I shall know just what to say to him!"

"What to say to him?" Lizzie absently repeated.

As her husband advanced up the path she had a sudden trembling
vision of their three years together. Those years were her
wholelife; everything before them had been colorless and
unconscious, like the blind life of the plant before it reaches the
surface ofthe soil. They had not been exactly what she dreamed; but
if they had taken away certain illusions, they had left richer
realities in their stead. She understood now that she had gradually
adjusted herself to the new image of her husband as he was, as he
would always be. He was not the hero of her dream, but he was the
man she loved, and who had loved her. For she saw now, in this last
wide flash of pity and initiation, that, as a solid marble may
bemade out of worthless scraps of mortar, glass and pebbles, so
outof mean mixed substances may be fashioned a love that will bear
the stress of life.

More urgently, she felt the pressure of Miss Macy's hand.

"I shall hand him the letters without a word. You may rely, love, on
my sense of dignity. I know everything you're feeling at this
moment!"

Deering had reached the door-step. Lizzie continued to watch him in
silence till he disappeared under the glazed roof of the porch below
the window; then she turned and looked almost compassionately at her
friend.

"Oh, poor Andora, you don't know anything--you don't know anything
at all!" she said.

THE END

Edith Wharton


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