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The Moving Finger

The news of Mrs. Grancy's death came to me with the shock of an immense
blunder--one of fate's most irretrievable acts of vandalism. It was as
though all sorts of renovating forces had been checked by the clogging of
that one wheel. Not that Mrs. Grancy contributed any perceptible momentum
to the social machine: her unique distinction was that of filling to
perfection her special place in the world. So many people are like
badly-composed statues, over-lapping their niches at one point and leaving
them vacant at another. Mrs. Grancy's niche was her husband's life; and if
it be argued that the space was not large enough for its vacancy to leave a
very big gap, I can only say that, at the last resort, such dimensions must
be determined by finer instruments than any ready-made standard of utility.
Ralph Grancy's was in short a kind of disembodied usefulness: one of those
constructive influences that, instead of crystallizing into definite forms,
remain as it were a medium for the development of clear thinking and fine
feeling. He faithfully irrigated his own dusty patch of life, and the
fruitful moisture stole far beyond his boundaries. If, to carry on the
metaphor, Grancy's life was a sedulously-cultivated enclosure, his wife was
the flower he had planted in its midst--the embowering tree, rather, which
gave him rest and shade at its foot and the wind of dreams in its upper
branches.

We had all--his small but devoted band of followers--known a moment when it
seemed likely that Grancy would fail us. We had watched him pitted against
one stupid obstacle after another--ill-health, poverty, misunderstanding
and, worst of all for a man of his texture, his first wife's soft insidious
egotism. We had seen him sinking under the leaden embrace of her affection
like a swimmer in a drowning clutch; but just as we despaired he had always
come to the surface again, blinded, panting, but striking out fiercely for
the shore. When at last her death released him it became a question as to
how much of the man she had carried with her. Left alone, he revealed numb
withered patches, like a tree from which a parasite has been stripped. But
gradually he began to put out new leaves; and when he met the lady who
was to become his second wife--his one _real_ wife, as his friends
reckoned--the whole man burst into flower.

The second Mrs. Grancy was past thirty when he married her, and it was
clear that she had harvested that crop of middle joy which is rooted in
young despair. But if she had lost the surface of eighteen she had kept
its inner light; if her cheek lacked the gloss of immaturity her eyes were
young with the stored youth of half a life-time. Grancy had first known her
somewhere in the East--I believe she was the sister of one of our consuls
out there--and when he brought her home to New York she came among us as
a stranger. The idea of Grancy's remarriage had been a shock to us all.
After one such calcining most men would have kept out of the fire; but we
agreed that he was predestined to sentimental blunders, and we awaited
with resignation the embodiment of his latest mistake. Then Mrs. Grancy
came--and we understood. She was the most beautiful and the most complete
of explanations. We shuffled our defeated omniscience out of sight and gave
it hasty burial under a prodigality of welcome. For the first time in years
we had Grancy off our minds. "He'll do something great now!" the least
sanguine of us prophesied; and our sentimentalist emended: "He _has_
done it--in marrying her!"

It was Claydon, the portrait-painter, who risked this hyperbole; and who
soon afterward, at the happy husband's request, prepared to defend it in a
portrait of Mrs. Grancy. We were all--even Claydon--ready to concede that
Mrs. Grancy's unwontedness was in some degree a matter of environment. Her
graces were complementary and it needed the mate's call to reveal the flash
of color beneath her neutral-tinted wings. But if she needed Grancy to
interpret her, how much greater was the service she rendered him! Claydon
professionally described her as the right frame for him; but if she defined
she also enlarged, if she threw the whole into perspective she also cleared
new ground, opened fresh vistas, reclaimed whole areas of activity that had
run to waste under the harsh husbandry of privation. This interaction of
sympathies was not without its visible expression. Claydon was not alone
in maintaining that Grancy's presence--or indeed the mere mention of his
name--had a perceptible effect on his wife's appearance. It was as though a
light were shifted, a curtain drawn back, as though, to borrow another of
Claydon's metaphors, Love the indefatigable artist were perpetually seeking
a happier "pose" for his model. In this interpretative light Mrs. Grancy
acquired the charm which makes some women's faces like a book of which
the last page is never turned. There was always something new to read in
her eyes. What Claydon read there--or at least such scattered hints of
the ritual as reached him through the sanctuary doors--his portrait in
due course declared to us. When the picture was exhibited it was at once
acclaimed as his masterpiece; but the people who knew Mrs. Grancy smiled
and said it was flattered. Claydon, however, had not set out to paint
_their_ Mrs. Grancy--or ours even--but Ralph's; and Ralph knew his own
at a glance. At the first confrontation he saw that Claydon had understood.
As for Mrs. Grancy, when the finished picture was shown to her she turned
to the painter and said simply: "Ah, you've done me facing the east!"

The picture, then, for all its value, seemed a mere incident in the
unfolding of their double destiny, a foot-note to the illuminated text of
their lives. It was not till afterward that it acquired the significance
of last words spoken on a threshold never to be recrossed. Grancy, a year
after his marriage, had given up his town house and carried his bliss an
hour's journey away, to a little place among the hills. His various duties
and interests brought him frequently to New York but we necessarily saw him
less often than when his house had served as the rallying-point of kindred
enthusiasms. It seemed a pity that such an influence should be withdrawn,
but we all felt that his long arrears of happiness should be paid in
whatever coin he chose. The distance from which the fortunate couple
radiated warmth on us was not too great for friendship to traverse; and our
conception of a glorified leisure took the form of Sundays spent in the
Grancys' library, with its sedative rural outlook, and the portrait of Mrs.
Grancy illuminating its studious walls. The picture was at its best in that
setting; and we used to accuse Claydon of visiting Mrs. Grancy in order to
see her portrait. He met this by declaring that the portrait _was_
Mrs. Grancy; and there were moments when the statement seemed unanswerable.
One of us, indeed--I think it must have been the novelist--said that
Clayton had been saved from falling in love with Mrs. Grancy only by
falling in love with his picture of her; and it was noticeable that he, to
whom his finished work was no more than the shed husk of future effort,
showed a perennial tenderness for this one achievement. We smiled afterward
to think how often, when Mrs. Grancy was in the room, her presence
reflecting itself in our talk like a gleam of sky in a hurrying current,
Claydon, averted from the real woman, would sit as it were listening to the
picture. His attitude, at the time, seemed only a part of the unusualness
of those picturesque afternoons, when the most familiar combinations of
life underwent a magical change. Some human happiness is a landlocked lake;
but the Grancys' was an open sea, stretching a buoyant and illimitable
surface to the voyaging interests of life. There was room and to spare on
those waters for all our separate ventures; and always beyond the sunset,
a mirage of the fortunate isles toward which our prows bent.


II

It was in Rome that, three years later, I heard of her death. The notice
said "suddenly"; I was glad of that. I was glad too--basely perhaps--to be
away from Grancy at a time when silence must have seemed obtuse and speech
derisive.

I was still in Rome when, a few months afterward, he suddenly arrived
there. He had been appointed secretary of legation at Constantinople and
was on the way to his post. He had taken the place, he said frankly, "to
get away." Our relations with the Porte held out a prospect of hard work,
and that, he explained, was what he needed. He could never be satisfied to
sit down among the ruins. I saw that, like most of us in moments of extreme
moral tension, he was playing a part, behaving as he thought it became a
man to behave in the eye of disaster. The instinctive posture of grief is
a shuffling compromise between defiance and prostration; and pride feels
the need of striking a worthier attitude in face of such a foe. Grancy, by
nature musing and retrospective, had chosen the rôle of the man of action,
who answers blow for blow and opposes a mailed front to the thrusts of
destiny; and the completeness of the equipment testified to his inner
weakness. We talked only of what we were not thinking of, and parted, after
a few days, with a sense of relief that proved the inadequacy of friendship
to perform, in such cases, the office assigned to it by tradition.

Soon afterward my own work called me home, but Grancy remained several
years in Europe. International diplomacy kept its promise of giving
him work to do, and during the year in which he acted as chargé
d'affaires
he acquitted himself, under trying conditions, with
conspicuous zeal and discretion. A political redistribution of matter
removed him from office just as he had proved his usefulness to the
government; and the following summer I heard that he had come home and
was down at his place in the country.

On my return to town I wrote him and his reply came by the next post. He
answered as it were in his natural voice, urging me to spend the following
Sunday with him, and suggesting that I should bring down any of the old
set who could be persuaded to join me. I thought this a good sign, and
yet--shall I own it?--I was vaguely disappointed. Perhaps we are apt to
feel that our friends' sorrows should be kept like those historic monuments
from which the encroaching ivy is periodically removed.

That very evening at the club I ran across Claydon. I told him of Grancy's
invitation and proposed that we should go down together; but he pleaded an
engagement. I was sorry, for I had always felt that he and I stood nearer
Ralph than the others, and if the old Sundays were to be renewed I should
have preferred that we two should spend the first alone with him. I said as
much to Claydon and offered to fit my time to his; but he met this by a
general refusal.

"I don't want to go to Grancy's," he said bluntly. I waited a moment, but
he appended no qualifying clause.

"You've seen him since he came back?" I finally ventured.

Claydon nodded.

"And is he so awfully bad?"

"Bad? No: he's all right."

"All right? How can he be, unless he's changed beyond all recognition?"

"Oh, you'll recognize _him_," said Claydon, with a puzzling deflection
of emphasis.

His ambiguity was beginning to exasperate me, and I felt myself shut out
from some knowledge to which I had as good a right as he.

"You've been down there already, I suppose?"

"Yes; I've been down there."

"And you've done with each other--the partnership is dissolved?"

"Done with each other? I wish to God we had!" He rose nervously and tossed
aside the review from which my approach had diverted him. "Look here,"
he said, standing before me, "Ralph's the best fellow going and there's
nothing under heaven I wouldn't do for him--short of going down there
again." And with that he walked out of the room.

Claydon was incalculable enough for me to read a dozen different meanings
into his words; but none of my interpretations satisfied me. I determined,
at any rate, to seek no farther for a companion; and the next Sunday I
travelled down to Grancy's alone. He met me at the station and I saw at
once that he had changed since our last meeting. Then he had been in
fighting array, but now if he and grief still housed together it was
no longer as enemies. Physically the transformation was as marked but
less reassuring. If the spirit triumphed the body showed its scars. At
five-and-forty he was gray and stooping, with the tired gait of an old man.
His serenity, however, was not the resignation of age. I saw that he did
not mean to drop out of the game. Almost immediately he began to speak of
our old interests; not with an effort, as at our former meeting, but simply
and naturally, in the tone of a man whose life has flowed back into its
normal channels. I remembered, with a touch of self-reproach, how I had
distrusted his reconstructive powers; but my admiration for his reserved
force was now tinged by the sense that, after all, such happiness as his
ought to have been paid with his last coin. The feeling grew as we neared
the house and I found how inextricably his wife was interwoven with my
remembrance of the place: how the whole scene was but an extension of that
vivid presence.

Within doors nothing was changed, and my hand would have dropped without
surprise into her welcoming clasp. It was luncheon-time, and Grancy led me
at once to the dining-room, where the walls, the furniture, the very plate
and porcelain, seemed a mirror in which a moment since her face had been
reflected. I wondered whether Grancy, under the recovered tranquillity
of his smile, concealed the same sense of her nearness, saw perpetually
between himself and the actual her bright unappeasable ghost. He spoke of
her once or twice, in an easy incidental way, and her name seemed to hang
in the air after he had uttered it, like a chord that continues to vibrate.
If he felt her presence it was evidently as an enveloping medium, the moral
atmosphere in which he breathed. I had never before known how completely
the dead may survive.

After luncheon we went for a long walk through the autumnal fields and
woods, and dusk was falling when we re-entered the house. Grancy led the
way to the library, where, at this hour, his wife had always welcomed
us back to a bright fire and a cup of tea. The room faced the west, and
held a clear light of its own after the rest of the house had grown dark.
I remembered how young she had looked in this pale gold light, which
irradiated her eyes and hair, or silhouetted her girlish outline as she
passed before the windows. Of all the rooms the library was most peculiarly
hers; and here I felt that her nearness might take visible shape. Then, all
in a moment, as Grancy opened the door, the feeling vanished and a kind
of resistance met me on the threshold. I looked about me. Was the room
changed? Had some desecrating hand effaced the traces of her presence? No;
here too the setting was undisturbed. My feet sank into the same deep-piled
Daghestan; the bookshelves took the firelight on the same rows of rich
subdued bindings; her armchair stood in its old place near the tea-table;
and from the opposite wall her face confronted me.

Her face--but _was_ it hers? I moved nearer and stood looking up at
the portrait. Grancy's glance had followed mine and I heard him move to my
side.

"You see a change in it?" he said.

"What does it mean?" I asked.

"It means--that five years have passed."

"Over _her_?"

"Why not?--Look at me!" He pointed to his gray hair and furrowed temples.
"What do you think kept _her_ so young? It was happiness! But now--"
he looked up at her with infinite tenderness. "I like her better so," he
said. "It's what she would have wished."

"Have wished?"

"That we should grow old together. Do you think she would have wanted to be
left behind?"

I stood speechless, my gaze travelling from his worn grief-beaten features
to the painted face above. It was not furrowed like his; but a veil
of years seemed to have descended on it. The bright hair had lost its
elasticity, the cheek its clearness, the brow its light: the whole woman
had waned.

Grancy laid his hand on my arm. "You don't like it?" he said sadly.

"Like it? I--I've lost her!" I burst out.

"And I've found her," he answered.

"In _that_?" I cried with a reproachful gesture.

"Yes; in that." He swung round on me almost defiantly. "The other had
become a sham, a lie! This is the way she would have looked--does look, I
mean. Claydon ought to know, oughtn't he?"

I turned suddenly. "Did Claydon do this for you?"

Grancy nodded.

"Since your return?"

"Yes. I sent for him after I'd been back a week--." He turned away and gave
a thrust to the smouldering fire. I followed, glad to leave the picture
behind me. Grancy threw himself into a chair near the hearth, so that the
light fell on his sensitive variable face. He leaned his head back, shading
his eyes with his hand, and began to speak.


III

"You fellows knew enough of my early history to A guess what my second
marriage meant to me. I say guess, because no one could understand--really.
I've always had a feminine streak in me, I suppose: the need of a pair of
eyes that should see with me, of a pulse that should keep time with mine.
Life is a big thing, of course; a magnificent spectacle; but I got so tired
of looking at it alone! Still, it's always good to live, and I had plenty
of happiness--of the evolved kind. What I'd never had a taste of was the
simple inconscient sort that one breathes in like the air....

"Well--I met her. It was like finding the climate in which I was meant to
live. You know what she was--how indefinitely she multiplied one's points
of contact with life, how she lit up the caverns and bridged the abysses!
Well, I swear to you (though I suppose the sense of all that was latent in
me) that what I used to think of on my way home at the end of the day, was
simply that when I opened this door she'd be sitting over there, with the
lamp-light falling in a particular way on one little curl in her neck....
When Claydon painted her he caught just the look she used to lift to mine
when I came in--I've wondered, sometimes, at his knowing how she looked
when she and I were alone.--How I rejoiced in that picture! I used to say
to her, 'You're my prisoner now--I shall never lose you. If you grew tired
of me and left me you'd leave your real self there on the wall!' It was
always one of our jokes that she was going to grow tired of me--

"Three years of it--and then she died. It was so sudden that there was
no change, no diminution. It was as if she had suddenly become fixed,
immovable, like her own portrait: as if Time had ceased at its happiest
hour, just as Claydon had thrown down his brush one day and said, 'I can't
do better than that.'

"I went away, as you know, and stayed over there five years. I worked as
hard as I knew how, and after the first black months a little light stole
in on me. From thinking that she would have been interested in what I was
doing I came to feel that she _was_ interested--that she was there and
that she knew. I'm not talking any psychical jargon--I'm simply trying to
express the sense I had that an influence so full, so abounding as hers
couldn't pass like a spring shower. We had so lived into each other's
hearts and minds that the consciousness of what she would have thought
and felt illuminated all I did. At first she used to come back shyly,
tentatively, as though not sure of finding me; then she stayed longer and
longer, till at last she became again the very air I breathed.... There
were bad moments, of course, when her nearness mocked me with the loss of
the real woman; but gradually the distinction between the two was effaced
and the mere thought of her grew warm as flesh and blood.

"Then I came home. I landed in the morning and came straight down here. The
thought of seeing her portrait possessed me and my heart beat like a
lover's as I opened the library door. It was in the afternoon and the room
was full of light. It fell on her picture--the picture of a young and
radiant woman. She smiled at me coldly across the distance that divided us.
I had the feeling that she didn't even recognize me. And then I caught
sight of myself in the mirror over there--a gray-haired broken man whom she
had never known!

"For a week we two lived together--the strange woman and the strange man.
I used to sit night after night and question her smiling face; but no
answer ever came. What did she know of me, after all? We were irrevocably
separated by the five years of life that lay between us. At times, as I
sat here, I almost grew to hate her; for her presence had driven away my
gentle ghost, the real wife who had wept, aged, struggled with me during
those awful years.... It was the worst loneliness I've ever known. Then,
gradually, I began to notice a look of sadness in the picture's eyes; a
look that seemed to say: 'Don't you see that _I_ am lonely too?' And
all at once it came over me how she would have hated to be left behind! I
remembered her comparing life to a heavy book that could not be read with
ease unless two people held it together; and I thought how impatiently her
hand would have turned the pages that divided us!--So the idea came to me:
'It's the picture that stands between us; the picture that is dead, and not
my wife. To sit in this room is to keep watch beside a corpse.' As this
feeling grew on me the portrait became like a beautiful mausoleum in which
she had been buried alive: I could hear her beating against the painted
walls and crying to me faintly for help....

"One day I found I couldn't stand it any longer and I sent for Claydon. He
came down and I told him what I'd been through and what I wanted him to do.
At first he refused point-blank to touch the picture. The next morning I
went off for a long tramp, and when I came home I found him sitting here
alone. He looked at me sharply for a moment and then he said: 'I've changed
my mind; I'll do it.' I arranged one of the north rooms as a studio and he
shut himself up there for a day; then he sent for me. The picture stood
there as you see it now--it was as though she'd met me on the threshold and
taken me in her arms! I tried to thank him, to tell him what it meant to
me, but he cut me short.

"'There's an up train at five, isn't there?' he asked. 'I'm booked for a
dinner to-night. I shall just have time to make a bolt for the station and
you can send my traps after me.' I haven't seen him since.

"I can guess what it cost him to lay hands on his masterpiece; but, after
all, to him it was only a picture lost, to me it was my wife regained!"


IV

After that, for ten years or more, I watched the strange spectacle of a
life of hopeful and productive effort based on the structure of a dream.
There could be no doubt to those who saw Grancy during this period that
he drew his strength and courage from the sense of his wife's mystic
participation in his task. When I went back to see him a few months later I
found the portrait had been removed from the library and placed in a small
study up-stairs, to which he had transferred his desk and a few books. He
told me he always sat there when he was alone, keeping the library for his
Sunday visitors. Those who missed the portrait of course made no comment on
its absence, and the few who were in his secret respected it. Gradually all
his old friends had gathered about him and our Sunday afternoons regained
something of their former character; but Claydon never reappeared among us.

As I look back now I see that Grancy must have been failing from the time
of his return home. His invincible spirit belied and disguised the signs of
weakness that afterward asserted themselves in my remembrance of him. He
seemed to have an inexhaustible fund of life to draw on, and more than one
of us was a pensioner on his superfluity.

Nevertheless, when I came back one summer from my European holiday and
heard that he had been at the point of death, I understood at once that we
had believed him well only because he wished us to.

I hastened down to the country and found him midway in a slow
convalescence. I felt then that he was lost to us and he read my thought at
a glance.

"Ah," he said, "I'm an old man now and no mistake. I suppose we shall have
to go half-speed after this; but we shan't need towing just yet!"

The plural pronoun struck me, and involuntarily I looked up at Mrs.
Grancy's portrait. Line by line I saw my fear reflected in it. It was the
face of a woman who knows that her husband is dying. My heart stood still
at the thought of what Claydon had done.

Grancy had followed my glance. "Yes, it's changed her," he said quietly.
"For months, you know, it was touch and go with me--we had a long fight of
it, and it was worse for her than for me." After a pause he added: "Claydon
has been very kind; he's so busy nowadays that I seldom see him, but when I
sent for him the other day he came down at once."

I was silent and we spoke no more of Grancy's illness; but when I took
leave it seemed like shutting him in alone with his death-warrant.

The next time I went down to see him he looked much better. It was a Sunday
and he received me in the library, so that I did not see the portrait
again. He continued to improve and toward spring we began to feel that, as
he had said, he might yet travel a long way without being towed.

One evening, on returning to town after a visit which had confirmed my
sense of reassurance, I found Claydon dining alone at the club. He asked me
to join him and over the coffee our talk turned to his work.

"If you're not too busy," I said at length, "you ought to make time to go
down to Grancy's again."

He looked up quickly. "Why?" he asked.

"Because he's quite well again," I returned with a touch of cruelty. "His
wife's prognostications were mistaken."

Claydon stared at me a moment. "Oh, _she_ knows," he affirmed with a
smile that chilled me.

"You mean to leave the portrait as it is then?" I persisted.

He shrugged his shoulders. "He hasn't sent for me yet!"

A waiter came up with the cigars and Claydon rose and joined another group.

It was just a fortnight later that Grancy's housekeeper telegraphed for me.
She met me at the station with the news that he had been "taken bad" and
that the doctors were with him. I had to wait for some time in the deserted
library before the medical men appeared. They had the baffled manner of
empirics who have been superseded by the great Healer; and I lingered only
long enough to hear that Grancy was not suffering and that my presence
could do him no harm.

I found him seated in his arm-chair in the little study. He held out his
hand with a smile.

"You see she was right after all," he said.

"She?" I repeated, perplexed for the moment.

"My wife." He indicated the picture. "Of course I knew she had no hope from
the first. I saw that"--he lowered his voice--"after Claydon had been here.
But I wouldn't believe it at first!"

I caught his hands in mine. "For God's sake don't believe it now!" I
adjured him.

He shook his head gently. "It's too late," he said. "I might have known
that she knew."

"But, Grancy, listen to me," I began; and then I stopped. What could I say
that would convince him? There was no common ground of argument on which we
could meet; and after all it would be easier for him to die feeling that
she _had_ known. Strangely enough, I saw that Claydon had missed his
mark....


V

Grancy's will named me as one of his executors; and my associate, having
other duties on his hands, begged me to assume the task of carrying out our
friend's wishes. This placed me under the necessity of informing Claydon
that the portrait of Mrs. Grancy had been bequeathed to him; and he replied
by the next post that he would send for the picture at once. I was staying
in the deserted house when the portrait was taken away; and as the door
closed on it I felt that Grancy's presence had vanished too. Was it his
turn to follow her now, and could one ghost haunt another?

After that, for a year or two, I heard nothing more of the picture, and
though I met Claydon from time to time we had little to say to each other.
I had no definable grievance against the man and I tried to remember that
he had done a fine thing in sacrificing his best picture to a friend; but
my resentment had all the tenacity of unreason.

One day, however, a lady whose portrait he had just finished begged me
to go with her to see it. To refuse was impossible, and I went with the
less reluctance that I knew I was not the only friend she had invited.
The others were all grouped around the easel when I entered, and after
contributing my share to the chorus of approval I turned away and began
to stroll about the studio. Claydon was something of a collector and his
things were generally worth looking at. The studio was a long tapestried
room with a curtained archway at one end. The curtains were looped back,
showing a smaller apartment, with books and flowers and a few fine bits of
bronze and porcelain. The tea-table standing in this inner room proclaimed
that it was open to inspection, and I wandered in. A _bleu poudré_
vase first attracted me; then I turned to examine a slender bronze
Ganymede, and in so doing found myself face to face with Mrs. Grancy's
portrait. I stared up at her blankly and she smiled back at me in all
the recovered radiance of youth. The artist had effaced every trace of
his later touches and the original picture had reappeared. It throned
alone on the panelled wall, asserting a brilliant supremacy over its
carefully-chosen surroundings. I felt in an instant that the whole room was
tributary to it: that Claydon had heaped his treasures at the feet of the
woman he loved. Yes--it was the woman he had loved and not the picture; and
my instinctive resentment was explained.

Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder.

"Ah, how could you?" I cried, turning on him.

"How could I?" he retorted. "How could I _not_? Doesn't she belong to
me now?"

I moved away impatiently.

"Wait a moment," he said with a detaining gesture. "The others have gone
and I want to say a word to you.--Oh, I know what you've thought of me--I
can guess! You think I killed Grancy, I suppose?"

I was startled by his sudden vehemence. "I think you tried to do a cruel
thing," I said.

"Ah--what a little way you others see into life!" he murmured. "Sit down a
moment--here, where we can look at her--and I'll tell you."

He threw himself on the ottoman beside me and sat gazing up at the picture,
with his hands clasped about his knee.

"Pygmalion," he began slowly, "turned his statue into a real woman;
_I_ turned my real woman into a picture. Small compensation, you
think--but you don't know how much of a woman belongs to you after you've
painted her!--Well, I made the best of it, at any rate--I gave her the best
I had in me; and she gave me in return what such a woman gives by merely
being. And after all she rewarded me enough by making me paint as I shall
never paint again! There was one side of her, though, that was mine alone,
and that was her beauty; for no one else understood it. To Grancy even
it was the mere expression of herself--what language is to thought. Even
when he saw the picture he didn't guess my secret--he was so sure she was
all his! As though a man should think he owned the moon because it was
reflected in the pool at his door--

"Well--when he came home and sent for me to change the picture it was like
asking me to commit murder. He wanted me to make an old woman of her--of
her who had been so divinely, unchangeably young! As if any man who really
loved a woman would ask her to sacrifice her youth and beauty for his sake!
At first I told him I couldn't do it--but afterward, when he left me alone
with the picture, something queer happened. I suppose it was because I was
always so confoundedly fond of Grancy that it went against me to refuse
what he asked. Anyhow, as I sat looking up at her, she seemed to say, 'I'm
not yours but his, and I want you to make me what he wishes." And so I did
it. I could have cut my hand off when the work was done--I daresay he told
you I never would go back and look at it. He thought I was too busy--he
never understood....

"Well--and then last year he sent for me again--you remember. It was after
his illness, and he told me he'd grown twenty years older and that he
wanted her to grow older too--he didn't want her to be left behind. The
doctors all thought he was going to get well at that time, and he thought
so too; and so did I when I first looked at him. But when I turned to
the picture--ah, now I don't ask you to believe me; but I swear it was
_her_ face that told me he was dying, and that she wanted him to know
it! She had a message for him and she made me deliver it."

He rose abruptly and walked toward the portrait; then he sat down beside me
again.

"Cruel? Yes, it seemed so to me at first; and this time, if I resisted,
it was for _his_ sake and not for mine. But all the while I felt her
eyes drawing me, and gradually she made me understand. If she'd been there
in the flesh (she seemed to say) wouldn't she have seen before any of us
that he was dying? Wouldn't he have read the news first in her face? And
wouldn't it be horrible if now he should discover it instead in strange
eyes?--Well--that was what she wanted of me and I did it--I kept them
together to the last!" He looked up at the picture again. "But now she
belongs to me," he repeated....

Edith Wharton

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