Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 4

Verrian still sat at his desk, thinking, with his burning face in his hands. It was covered with shame for what had happened to him, but his humiliation had no quality of pity in it. He must write to that girl, and write at once, and his sole hesitation was as to the form he should give his reply. He could not address her as Dear Miss Brown or as Dear Madam. Even Madam was not sharp and forbidding enough; besides, Madam, alone or with the senseless prefix, was archaic, and Verrian wished to be very modern with this most offensive instance of the latest girl. He decided upon dealing with her in the third person, and trusting to his literary skill to keep the form from clumsiness.

He tried it in that form, and it was simply disgusting, the attitude stiff and swelling, and the diction affected and unnatural. With a quick reversion to the impossible first type, he recast his letter in what was now the only possible shape.

"MY DEAR MISS BROWN,—The editor of the American Miscellany has sent me a copy of his recent letter to you and your own reply, and has remanded to me an affair which resulted from my going to him with your request to see the close of my story now publishing in his magazine.

"After giving the matter my best thought, I have concluded that it will be well to enclose all the exhibits to you, and I now do this in the hope that a serious study of them will enable you to share my surprise at the moral and social conditions in which the business could originate. I willingly leave with you the question which is the more trustworthy, your letter to me or your letter to him, or which the more truly represents the interesting diversity of your nature. I confess that the first moved me more than the second, and I do not see why I should not tell you that as soon as I had your request I went with it to Mr. Armiger and did what I could to prompt his compliance with it. In putting these papers out of my hands, I ought to acknowledge that they have formed a temptation to make literary use of the affair which I shall now be the better fitted to resist. You will, of course, be amused by the ease with which you could abuse my reliance on your good faith, and I am sure you will not allow any shame for your trick to qualify your pleasure in its success.

"It will not be necessary for you to acknowledge this letter and its enclosures. I will register the package, so that it will not fail to reach you, and I will return any answer of yours unopened, or, if not recognizably addressed, then unread.

"Yours sincerely,

"P. S. VERRIAN."

He read and read again these lines, with only the sense of their insufficiency in doing the effect of the bitterness in his heart. If the letter was insulting, it was by no means as insulting as he would have liked to make it. Whether it would be wounding enough was something that depended upon the person whom he wished to wound. All that was proud and vain and cruel in him surged up at the thought of the trick that had been played upon him, and all that was sweet and kind and gentle in him, when he believed the trick was a genuine appeal, turned to their counter qualities. Yet, feeble and inadequate as his letter was, he knew that he could not do more or worse by trying, and he so much feared that by waiting he might do less and better that he hurried it into the post at once. If his mother had been at hand he would have shown it her, though he might not have been ruled by her judgment of it. He was glad that she was not with him, for either she would have had her opinion of what would be more telling, or she would have insisted upon his delaying any sort of reply, and he could not endure the thought of difference or delay.

He asked himself whether he should let her see the rough first draft of his letter or not, and he decided that he would not. But when she came into his study on her return he showed it her.

She read it in silence, and then she seemed to temporize in asking, "Where are her two letters?"

"I've sent them back with the answer."

His mother let the paper drop from her hands. "Philip! You haven't sent this!"

"Yes, I have. It wasn't what I wanted to make it, but I wished to get the detestable experience out of my mind, and it was the best I could do at the moment. Don't you like it?"

"Oh—" She seemed beginning to say something, but without saying anything she took the fallen leaf up and read it again.

"Well!" he demanded, with impatience.

"Oh, you may have been right. I hope you've not been wrong."

"Mother!"

"She deserved the severest things you could say; and yet—"

"Well?"

"Perhaps she was punished enough already."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't like your being-vindictive."

"Vindictive?"

"Being so terribly just, then." She added, at his blank stare, "This is killing, Philip."

He gave a bitter laugh. "I don't think it will kill her. She isn't that kind."

"She's a girl," his mother said, with a kind of sad absence.

"But not a single-minded girl, you warned me. I wish I could have taken your warning. It would have saved me from playing the fool before myself and giving myself away to Armiger, and letting him give himself away. I don't think Miss Brown will suffer much before she dies. She will 'get together,' as she calls it, with that other girl and have 'a real good time' over it. You know the village type and the village conditions, where the vulgar ignorance of any larger world is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Don't be troubled by my vindictiveness or my justice, mother! I begin to think I have done justice and not fallen short of it, as I was afraid."

Mrs. Verrian sighed, and again she gave his letter back to her son. "Perhaps you are right, Philip. She is probably so tough as not to feel it very painfully."

"She's not so tough but she'll be very glad to get out of it so lightly. She has had a useful scare, and I've done her a favor in making the scare a sharp one. I suppose," Verrian mused, "that she thinks I've kept copies of her letters."

"Yes. Why didn't you?" his mother asked.

Verrian laughed, only a little less bitterly than before. "I shall begin to believe you're all alike, mother."

I didn't keep copies of her letters because I wanted to get her and her letters out of my mind, finally and forever. Besides, I didn't choose. to emulate her duplicity by any sort of dissimulation.

"I see what you mean," his mother said. "And, of course, you have taken the only honorable way."

Then they were both silent for a time, thinking their several thoughts.

Verrian broke the silence to say, "I wish I knew what sort of 'other girl' it was that she 'got together with.'"

"Why?"

"Because she wrote a more cultivated letter than this magnanimous creature who takes all the blame to herself."

"Then you don't believe they're both the same?"

"They are both the same in stationery and chirography, but not in literature."

"I hope you won't get to thinking about her, then," his mother entreated, intelligibly but not definitely.

"Not seriously," Verrian reassured her. "I've had my medicine."

William Dean Howells

Sorry, no summary available yet.