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Chapter 5

Continuity is so much the lesson of experience that in the course of a life by no means long it becomes the instinctive expectation. The event that has happened will happen again; it will prolong itself in a series of recurrences by which each one's episode shares in the unending history of all. The sense of this is so pervasive that humanity refuses to accept death itself as final. In the agonized affections, the shattered hopes, of those who remain, the severed life keeps on unbrokenly, and when time and reason prevail, at least as to the life here, the defeated faith appeals for fulfilment to another world, and the belief of immortality holds against the myriad years in which none of the numberless dead have made an indisputable sign in witness of it. The lost limb still reports its sensations to the brain; the fixed habit mechanically attempts its repetition when the conditions render it impossible.

Verrian was aware how deeply and absorbingly he had brooded upon the incident which he had done his utmost to close, when he found himself expecting an answer of some sort from his unknown correspondent. He perceived, then, without owning the fact, that he had really hoped for some protest, some excuse, some extenuation, which in the end would suffer him to be more merciful. Though he had wished to crush her into silence, and to forbid her all hope of his forgiveness, he had, in a manner, not meant to do it. He had kept a secret place in his soul where the sinner against him could find refuge from his justice, and when this sanctuary remained unattempted he found himself with a regret that he had barred the way to it so effectually. The regret was so vague, so formless, however, that he could tacitly deny it to himself at all times, and explicitly deny it to his mother at such times as her touch taught him that it was tangible.

One day, after ten or twelve days had gone by, she asked him, "You haven't heard anything more from that girl?"

"What girl?" he returned, as if he did not know; and he frowned. "You mean the girl that wrote me about my story?"

He continued to frown rather more darkly. "I don't see how you could expect me to hear from her, after what I wrote. But, to be categorical, I haven't, mother."

"Oh, of course not. Did you think she would be so easily silenced?"

"I did what I could to crush her into silence."

"Yes, and you did quite right; I am more and more convinced of that. But such a very tough young person might have refused to stay crushed. She might very naturally have got herself into shape again and smoothed out the creases, at least so far to try some further defence."

"It seems that she hasn't," Verrian said, still darkly, but not so frowningly.

"I should have fancied," his mother suggested, "that if she had wanted to open a correspondence with you—if that was her original object—she would not have let it drop so easily."

"Has she let it drop easily? I thought I had left her no possible chance of resuming it."

"That is true," his mother said, and for the time she said no more about the matter.

Not long after this he came home from the magazine office and reported to her from Armiger that the story was catching on more and more with the best class of readers. The editor had shown Verrian some references to it in newspapers of good standing and several letters about it.

"I thought you might like to look at the letters," Verrian said, and he took some letters from his pocket and handed them to her across the lunch-table. She did not immediately look at them, because he went on to add something that they both felt to be more important. "Armiger says there has been some increase of the sales, which I can attribute to my story if I have the cheek."

"That is good."

"And the house wants to publish the book. They think, down there, that it will have a very pretty success—not be a big seller, of course, but something comfortable."

Mrs. Verrian's eyes were suffused with pride and fondness. "And you can always think, Philip, that this has come to you without the least lowering of your standard, without forsaking your ideal for a moment."

"That is certainly a satisfaction."

She kept her proud and tender gaze upon him. "No one will ever know as I do how faithful you have been to your art. Did any of the newspapers recognize that—or surmise it, or suspect it?"

"No, that isn't the turn they take. They speak of the strong love interest involved in the problem. And the abundance of incident. I looked out to keep something happening, you know. I'm sorry I didn't ask Armiger to let me bring the notices home to you. I'm not sure that I did wisely not to subscribe to that press-clippings bureau."

His mother smiled. "You mustn't let prosperity corrupt you, Philip. Wouldn't seeing what the press is saying of it distract you from the real aim you had in your story?"

"We're all weak, of course. It might, if the story were not finished; but as it is, I think I could be proof against the stupidest praise."

"Well, for my part, I'm glad you didn't subscribe to the clippings bureau. It would have been a disturbing element." She now looked down at the letters as if she were going to take them up, and he followed the direction of her eyes. As if reminded of the fact by this, he said:

"Armiger asked me if I had ever heard anything more from that girl."

"Has he?" his mother eagerly asked, transferring her glance from the letters to her son's face.

"Not a word. I think I silenced her thoroughly."

"Yes," his mother said. "There could have been no good object in prolonging the affair and letting her confirm herself in the notion that she was of sufficient importance either to you or to him for you to continue the correspondence with her. She couldn't learn too distinctly that she had done—a very wrong thing in trying to play such a trick on you."

"That was the way I looked at it," Verrian said, but he drew a light sigh, rather wearily.

"I hope," his mother said, with a recurrent glance at the letters, "that there is nothing of that silly kind among these."

"No, these are blameless enough, unless they are to be blamed for being too flattering. That girl seems to be sole of her kind, unless the girl that she 'got together with' was really like her."

"I don't believe there was any other girl. I never thought there was more than one."

"There seemed to be two styles and two grades of culture, such as they were."

"Oh, she could easily imitate two manners. She must have been a clever girl," Mrs. Verrian said, with that admiration for any sort of cleverness in her sex which even very good women cannot help feeling.

"Well, perhaps she was punished enough for both the characters she assumed," Verrian said, with a smile that was not gay.

"Don't think about her!" his mother returned, with a perception of his mood. "I'm only thankful that she's out of our lives in every sort of way."

William Dean Howells

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