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Chapter 2

There was nothing to cloud the editor's judgment, when Verrian came to him, except the fact that he was a poet as well as an editor. He read in a silence as great as the author's the letter which Verrian submitted. Then he remained pondering it for as long a space before he said, "That is very touching."

Verrian jumped to his question. "Do you mean that we ought to send her the proofs of the story?"

"No," the editor faltered, but even in this decision he did not deny the author his sympathy. "You've touched bottom in that story, Verrian. You may go higher, but you can never go deeper."

Verrian flushed a little. "Oh, thank you!"

"I'm not surprised the girl wants to know how you manage your problem—such a girl, standing in the shadow of the other world, which is always eclipsing this, and seeing how you've caught its awful outline."

Verrian made a grateful murmur at the praise. "That is what my mother felt. Then you have no doubt of the good faith—"

"No," the editor returned, with the same quantity, if not the same quality, of reluctance as before. "You see, it would be too daring."

"Then why not let her have the proofs?"

"The thing is so unprecedented—"

"Our doing it needn't form a precedent."

"No."

"And if you've no doubt of its being a true case—"

"We must prove that it is, or, rather, we must make her prove it. I quite feel with you about it. If I were to act upon my own impulse, my own convictions, I should send her the rest of the story and take the chances. But she may be an enterprising journalist in disguise it's astonishing what women will do when they take to newspaper work—and we have no right to risk anything, for the magazine's sake, if not yours and mine. Will you leave this letter with me?"

"I expected to leave the whole affair in your hands. Do you mind telling me what you propose to do? Of course, it won't be anything—abrupt—"

"Oh no; and I don't mind telling you what has occurred to me. If this is a true case, as you say, and I've no question but it is, the writer will be on confidential terms with her pastor as well as her doctor and I propose asking her to get him to certify, in any sort of general terms, to her identity. I will treat the matter delicately—Or, if you prefer to write to her yourself—"

"Oh no, it's much better for you to do it; you can do it authoritatively."

"Yes, and if she isn't the real thing, but merely a woman journalist trying to work us for a 'story' in her Sunday edition, we shall hear no more from her."

"I don't see anything to object to in your plan," Verrian said, upon reflection. "She certainly can't complain of our being cautious."

"No, and she won't. I shall have to refer the matter to the house—"

"Oh, will you?"

"Why, certainly! I couldn't take a step like that without the approval of the house."

"No," Verrian assented, and he made a note of the writer's address from the letter. Then, after a moment spent in looking hard at the letter, he gave it back to the editor and went abruptly away.

He had proof, the next morning, that the editor had acted promptly, at least so far as regarded the house. The house had approved his plan, if one could trust the romantic paragraph which Verrian found in his paper at breakfast, exploiting the fact concerned as one of the interesting evidences of the hold his serial had got with the magazine readers. He recognized in the paragraph the touch of the good fellow who prepared the weekly bulletins of the house, and offered the press literary intelligence in a form ready for immediate use. The case was fairly stated, but the privacy of the author's correspondent was perfectly guarded; it was not even made known that she was a woman. Yet Verrian felt, in reading the paragraph, a shock of guilty dismay, as if he had betrayed a confidence reposed in him, and he handed the paper across the table to his mother with rather a sick look.

After his return from the magazine office the day before, there had been a good deal of talk between them about that girl. Mrs. Verrian had agreed with him that no more interesting event could have happened to an author, but she had tried to keep him from taking it too personally, and from making himself mischievous illusions from it. She had since slept upon her anxieties, with the effect of finding them more vivid at waking, and she had been casting about for an opening to penetrate him with them, when fortune put this paragraph in her way.

"Isn't it disgusting?" he asked. "I don't see how Armiger could let them do it. I hope to heaven she'll never see it!"

His mother looked up from the paragraph and asked,

"Why?"

"What would she think of me?"

"I don't know. She might have expected something of the kind."

"How expect something of the kind? Am I one of the self-advertisers?"

"Well, she must have realized that she was doing rather a bold thing."

"Bold?"

"Venturesome," Mrs. Verrian compromised to the kindling anger in her son's eyes.

"I don't understand you, mother. I thought you agreed with me about the writer of that letter—her sincerity, simplicity."

"Sincerity, yes. But simplicity—Philip, a thoroughly single-minded girl never wrote that letter. You can't feel such a thing as I do. A man couldn't. You can paint the character of women, and you do it wonderfully—but, after all, you can't know them as a woman does."

"You talk," he answered, a little sulkily, "as if you knew some harm of the girl."

"No, my son, I know nothing about her, except that she is not single-minded, and there is no harm in not being single-minded. A great many single-minded women are fools, and some double-minded women are good."

"Well, single-minded or double-minded, if she is what she says she is, what motive on earth could she have in writing to me except the motive she gives? You don't deny that she tells the truth about herself?"

"Don't I say that she is sincere? But a girl doesn't always know her own motives, or all of them. She may have written to you because she would like to begin a correspondence with an author. Or she may have done it out of the love of excitement. Or for the sake of distraction, to get away from herself and her gloomy forebodings."

"And should you blame her for that?"

"No, I shouldn't. I should pity her for it. But, all the same, I shouldn't want you to be taken in by her."

"You think, then, she doesn't care anything about the story?"

"I think, very probably, she cares a great deal about it. She is a serious person, intellectually at least, and it is a serious story. No wonder she would like to know, at first hand, something about the man who wrote it."

This flattered Verrian, but he would not allow its reasonableness. He took a gulp of coffee before saying, uncandidly, "I can't make out what you're driving at, mother. But, fortunately, there's no hurry about your meaning. The thing's in the only shape we could possibly give it, and I am satisfied to leave it in Armiger's hands. I'm certain he will deal wisely with it-and kindly."

"Yes, I'm sure he'll deal kindly. I should be very unhappy if he didn't. He could easily deal more wisely, though, than she has."

Verrian chose not to follow his mother in this. "All is," he said, with finality, "I hope she'll never see that loathsome paragraph."

"Oh, very likely she won't," his mother consoled him.

       
     
William Dean Howells

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