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    Expiation

    by Edith Wharton
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    I.

    "I CAN never," said Mrs. Fetherel, "hear the bell ring without a
    shudder."

    Her unruffled aspect--she was the kind of woman whose emotions never
    communicate themselves to her clothes--and the conventional
    background of the New York drawing-room, with its pervading
    implication of an imminent tea-tray and of an atmosphere in which
    the social functions have become purely reflex, lent to her
    declaration a relief not lost on her cousin Mrs. Clinch, who, from
    the other side of the fireplace, agreed with a glance at the
    clock, that it _was_ the hour for bores.

    "Bores!" cried Mrs. Fetherel impatiently. "If I shuddered at _them_,
    I should have a chronic ague!"

    She leaned forward and laid a sparkling finger on her cousin's
    shabby black knee. "I mean the newspaper clippings," she whispered.

    Mrs. Clinch returned a glance of intelligence. "They've begun
    already?"

    "Not yet; but they're sure to now, at any minute, my publisher tells
    me."

    Mrs. Fetherel's look of apprehension sat oddly on her small
    features, which had an air of neat symmetry somehow suggestive of
    being set in order every morning by the housemaid. Some one (there
    were rumors that it was her cousin) had once said that Paula
    Fetherel would have been very pretty if she hadn't looked so like a
    moral axiom in a copy-book hand.

    Mrs. Clinch received her confidence with a smile. "Well," she said,
    "I suppose you were prepared for the consequences of authorship?"

    Mrs. Fetherel blushed brightly. "It isn't their coming," she
    owned--"it's their coming _now_."

    "Now?"

    "The Bishop's in town."

    Mrs. Clinch leaned back and shaped her lips to a whistle which
    deflected in a laugh. "Well!" she said.

    "You see!" Mrs. Fetherel triumphed.

    "Well--weren't you prepared for the Bishop?"

    "Not now--at least, I hadn't thought of his seeing the clippings."

    "And why should he see them?"

    "Bella--_won't_ you understand? It's John."

    "John?"

    "Who has taken the most unexpected tone--one might almost say out of
    perversity."

    "Oh, perversity--" Mrs. Clinch murmured, observing her cousin
    between lids wrinkled by amusement. "What tone has John taken?"

    Mrs. Fetherel threw out her answer with the desperate gesture of a
    woman who lays bare the traces of a marital fist. "The tone of being
    proud of my book."

    The measure of Mrs. Clinch's enjoyment overflowed in laughter.

    "Oh, you may laugh," Mrs. Fetherel insisted, "but it's no joke to
    me. In the first place, John's liking the book is so--so--such a
    false note--it puts me in such a ridiculous position; and then it
    has set him watching for the reviews--who would ever have suspected
    John of knowing that books were _reviewed?_ Why, he's actually found
    out about the Clipping Bureau, and whenever the postman rings I hear
    John rush out of the library to see if there are any yellow
    envelopes. Of course, when they _do_ come he'll bring them into the
    drawing-room and read them aloud to everybody who happens to be
    here--and the Bishop is sure to happen to be here!"

    Mrs. Clinch repressed her amusement. "The picture you draw is a
    lurid one," she conceded, "but your modesty strikes me as abnormal,
    especially in an author. The chances are that some of the clippings
    will be rather pleasant reading. The critics are not all union men."

    Mrs. Fetherel stared. "Union men?"

    "Well, I mean they don't all belong to the well-known
    Society-for-the-Persecution-of-Rising-Authors. Some of them have
    even been known to defy its regulations and say a good word for a
    new writer."

    "Oh, I dare say," said Mrs. Fetherel, with the laugh her cousin's
    epigram exacted. "But you don't quite see my point. I'm not at all
    nervous about the success of my book--my publisher tells me I have
    no need to be--but I _am_ afraid of its being a succes de scandale."

    "Mercy!" said Mrs. Clinch, sitting up.

    The butler and footman at this moment appeared with the tea-tray,
    and when they had withdrawn, Mrs. Fetherel, bending her brightly
    rippled head above the kettle, continued in a murmur of avowal, "The
    title, even, is a kind of challenge."

    "'Fast and Loose,'" Mrs. Clinch mused. "Yes, it ought to take."

    "I didn't choose it for that reason!" the author protested. "I
    should have preferred something quieter--less pronounced; but I was
    determined not to shirk the responsibility of what I had written. I
    want people to know beforehand exactly what kind of book they are
    buying."

    "Well," said Mrs. Clinch, "that's a degree of conscientiousness that
    I've never met with before. So few books fulfil the promise of their
    titles that experienced readers never expect the fare to come up to
    the menu."

    "'Fast and Loose' will be no disappointment on that score," her
    cousin significantly returned. "I've handled the subject without
    gloves. I've called a spade a spade."

    "You simply make my mouth water! And to think I haven't been able to
    read it yet because every spare minute of my time has been given to
    correcting the proofs of 'How the Birds Keep Christmas'! There's an
    instance of the hardships of an author's life!"

    Mrs. Fetherel's eye clouded. "Don't joke, Bella, please. I suppose
    to experienced authors there's always something absurd in the
    nervousness of a new writer, but in my case so much is at stake;
    I've put so much of myself into this book and I'm so afraid of being
    misunderstood...of being, as it were, in advance of my time...
    like poor Flaubert....I _know_ you'll think me ridiculous...
    and if only my own reputation were at stake, I should never give
    it a thought...but the idea of dragging John's name through the
    mire..."

    Mrs. Clinch, who had risen and gathered her cloak about her, stood
    surveying from her genial height her cousin's agitated countenance.

    "Why did you use John's name, then?"

    "That's another of my difficulties! I _had_ to. There would have
    been no merit in publishing such a book under an assumed name; it
    would have been an act of moral cowardice. 'Fast and Loose' is not
    an ordinary novel. A writer who dares to show up the hollowness of
    social conventions must have the courage of her convictions and be
    willing to accept the consequences of defying society. Can you
    imagine Ibsen or Tolstoy writing under a false name?" Mrs. Fetherel
    lifted a tragic eye to her cousin. "You don't know, Bella, how often
    I've envied you since I began to write. I used to wonder
    sometimes--you won't mind my saying so?--why, with all your
    cleverness, you hadn't taken up some more exciting subject than
    natural history; but I see now how wise you were. Whatever happens,
    you will never be denounced by the press!"

    "Is that what you're afraid of?" asked Mrs. Clinch, as she grasped
    the bulging umbrella which rested against her chair. "My dear, if I
    had ever had the good luck to be denounced by the press, my brougham
    would be waiting at the door for me at this very moment, and I
    shouldn't have to ruin this umbrella by using it in the rain. Why,
    you innocent, if I'd ever felt the slightest aptitude for showing up
    social conventions, do you suppose I should waste my time writing
    'Nests Ajar' and 'How to Smell the Flowers'? There's a fairly steady
    demand for pseudo-science and colloquial ornithology, but it's
    nothing, simply nothing, to the ravenous call for attacks on social
    institutions--especially by those inside the institutions!"

    There was often, to her cousin, a lack of taste in Mrs. Clinch's
    pleasantries, and on this occasion they seemed more than usually
    irrelevant.

    "'Fast and Loose' was not written with the idea of a large sale."

    Mrs. Clinch was unperturbed. "Perhaps that's just as well," she
    returned, with a philosophic shrug. "The surprise will be all the
    pleasanter, I mean. For of course it's going to sell tremendously;
    especially if you can get the press to denounce it."

    "Bella, how _can_ you? I sometimes think you say such things
    expressly to tease me; and yet I should think you of all women would
    understand my purpose in writing such a book. It has always seemed
    to me that the message I had to deliver was not for myself alone,
    but for all the other women in the world who have felt the
    hollowness of our social shams, the ignominy of bowing down to the
    idols of the market, but have lacked either the courage or the power
    to proclaim their independence; and I have fancied, Bella dear, that,
    however severely society might punish me for revealing its
    weaknesses, I could count on the sympathy of those who, like
    you"--Mrs. Fetherel's voice sank--"have passed through the deep
    waters."

    Mrs. Clinch gave herself a kind of canine shake, as though to free
    her ample shoulders from any drop of the element she was supposed to
    have traversed.

    "Oh, call them muddy rather than deep," she returned; "and you'll
    find, my dear, that women who've had any wading to do are rather shy
    of stirring up mud. It sticks--especially on white clothes."

    Mrs. Fetherel lifted an undaunted brow. "I'm not afraid," she
    proclaimed; and at the same instant she dropped her tea-spoon with a
    clatter and shrank back into her seat. "There's the bell," she
    exclaimed, "and I know it's the Bishop!"

    It was in fact the Bishop of Ossining, who, impressively announced
    by Mrs. Fetherel's butler, now made an entry that may best be
    described as not inadequate to the expectations the announcement
    raised. The Bishop always entered a room well; but, when unannounced,
    or preceded by a Low Church butler who gave him his surname, his
    appearance lacked the impressiveness conferred on it by the due
    specification of his diocesan dignity. The Bishop was very fond of
    his niece Mrs. Fetherel, and one of the traits he most valued in her
    was the possession of a butler who knew how to announce a bishop.

    Mrs. Clinch was also his niece; but, aside from the fact that she
    possessed no butler at all, she had laid herself open to her uncle's
    criticism by writing insignificant little books which had a way of
    going into five or ten editions, while the fruits of his own
    episcopal leisure--"The Wail of Jonah" (twenty cantos in blank
    verse), and "Through a Glass Brightly; or, How to Raise Funds fora
    Memorial Window"--inexplicably languished on the back shelves of a
    publisher noted for his dexterity in pushing "devotional goods."
    Even this indiscretion the Bishop might, however, have condoned, had
    his niece thought fit to turn to him for support and advice at the
    painful juncture of her history when, in her own words, it became
    necessary for her to invite Mr. Clinch to look out for another
    situation. Mr. Clinch's misconduct was of the kind especially
    designed by Providence to test the fortitude of a Christian wife and
    mother, and the Bishop was absolutely distended with seasonable
    advice and edification; so that when Bella met his tentative
    exhortations with the curt remark that she preferred to do her own
    housecleaning unassisted, her uncle's grief at her ingratitude was
    not untempered with sympathy for Mr. Clinch.

    It is not surprising, therefore, that the Bishop's warmest greetings
    were always reserved for Mrs. Fetherel; and on this occasion Mrs.
    Clinch thought she detected, in the salutation which fell to her
    share, a pronounced suggestion that her own presence was
    superfluous--a hint which she took with her usual imperturbable good
    humor.

    II

    Left alone with the Bishop, Mrs. Fetherel sought the nearest refuge
    from conversation by offering him a cup of tea. The Bishop accepted
    with the preoccupied air of a man to whom, for the moment, tea is but
    a subordinate incident. Mrs. Fetherel's nervousness increased; and
    knowing that the surest way of distracting attention from one's own
    affairs is to affect an interest in those of one's companion, she
    hastily asked if her uncle had come to town on business.

    "On business--yes--" said the Bishop in an impressive tone. "I had
    to see my publisher, who has been behaving rather unsatisfactorily
    in regard to my last book."

    "Ah--your last book?" faltered Mrs. Fetherel, with a sickening sense
    of her inability to recall the name or nature of the work in
    question, and a mental vow never again to be caught in such
    ignorance of a colleague's productions.

    "'Through a Glass Brightly,'" the Bishop explained, with an emphasis
    which revealed his detection of her predicament. "You may remember
    that I sent you a copy last Christmas?"

    "Of course I do!" Mrs. Fetherel brightened. "It was that delightful
    story of the poor consumptive girl who had no money, and two little
    brothers to support--"

    "Sisters--idiot sisters--" the Bishop gloomily corrected.

    "I mean sisters; and who managed to collect money enough to put up a
    beautiful memorial window to her--her grandfather, whom she had
    never seen--"

    "But whose sermons had been her chief consolation and support during
    her long struggle with poverty and disease." The Bishop gave the
    satisfied sigh of the workman who reviews his completed task. "A
    touching subject, surely; and I believe I did it justice; at least,
    so my friends assured me."

    "Why, yes--I remember there was a splendid review of it in the
    'Reredos'!" cried Mrs. Fetherel, moved by the incipient instinct of
    reciprocity.

    "Yes--by my dear friend Mrs. Gollinger, whose husband, the late Dean
    Gollinger, was under very particular obligations to me. Mrs.
    Gollinger is a woman of rare literary acumen, and her praise of my
    book was unqualified; but the public wants more highly seasoned
    fare, and the approval of a thoughtful churchwoman carries less
    weight than the sensational comments of an illiterate journalist."
    The Bishop lent a meditative eye on his spotless gaiters. "At the
    risk of horrifying you, my dear," he added, with a slight laugh, "I
    will confide to you that my best chance of a popular success would
    be to have my book denounced by the press."

    "Denounced?" gasped Mrs. Fetherel. "On what ground?"

    "On the ground of immorality." The Bishop evaded her startled gaze.
    "Such a thing is inconceivable to you, of course; but I am only
    repeating what my publisher tells me. If, for instance, a critic
    could be induced--I mean, if a critic were to be found, who called
    in question the morality of my heroine in sacrificing her own health
    and that of her idiot sisters in order to put up a memorial window
    to her grandfather, it would probably raise a general controversy in
    the newspapers, and I might count on a sale of ten or fifteen
    thousand within the next year. If he described her as morbid or
    decadent, it might even run to twenty thousand; but that is more than
    I permit myself to hope. In fact, I should be satisfied with any
    general charge of immorality." The Bishop sighed again. "I need
    hardly tell you that I am actuated by no mere literary ambition.
    Those whose opinion I most value have assured me that the book is
    not without merit; but, though it does not become me to dispute
    their verdict, I can truly say that my vanity as an author is not at
    stake. I have, however, a special reason for wishing to increase the
    circulation of 'Through a Glass Brightly'; it was written for a
    purpose--a purpose I have greatly at heart--"

    "I know," cried his niece sympathetically. "The chantry window--?"

    "Is still empty, alas! and I had great hopes that, under Providence,
    my little book might be the means of filling it. All our wealthy
    parishioners have given lavishly to the cathedral, and it was for
    this reason that, in writing 'Through a Glass,' I addressed my
    appeal more especially to the less well-endowed, hoping by the
    example of my heroine to stimulate the collection of small sums
    throughout the entire diocese, and perhaps beyond it. I am sure,"
    the Bishop feelingly concluded, "the book would have a wide-spread
    influence if people could only be induced to read it!"

    His conclusion touched a fresh thread of association in
    Mrs. Fetherel's vibrating nerve-centers. "I never thought of that!"
    she cried.

    The Bishop looked at her inquiringly.

    "That one's books may not be read at all! How dreadful!" she
    exclaimed.

    He smiled faintly. "I had not forgotten that I was addressing an
    authoress," he said. "Indeed, I should not have dared to inflict my
    troubles on any one not of the craft."

    Mrs. Fetherel was quivering with the consciousness of her
    involuntary self-betrayal. "Oh, uncle!" she murmured.

    "In fact," the Bishop continued, with a gesture which seemed to
    brush away her scruples, "I came here partly to speak to you about
    your novel. 'Fast and Loose,' I think you call it?"

    Mrs. Fetherel blushed assentingly.

    "And is it out yet?" the Bishop continued.

    "It came out about a week ago. But you haven't touched your tea, and
    it must be quite cold. Let me give you another cup..."

    "My reason for asking," the Bishop went on, with the bland
    inexorableness with which, in his younger days, he had been known to
    continue a sermon after the senior warden had looked four times at
    his watch--"my reason for asking is, that I hoped I might not be too
    late to induce you to change the title."

    Mrs. Fetherel set down the cup she had filled. "The title?" she
    faltered.

    The Bishop raised a reassuring hand. "Don't misunderstand me, dear
    child; don't for a moment imagine that I take it to be in anyway
    indicative of the contents of the book. I know you too well for
    that. My first idea was that it had probably been forced on you by
    an unscrupulous publisher--I know too well to what ignoble
    compromises one may be driven in such cases!..." He paused, as
    though to give her the opportunity of confirming this conjecture, but
    she preserved an apprehensive silence, and he went on, as though
    taking up the second point in his sermon--"Or, again, the name may
    have taken your fancy without your realizing all that it implies to
    minds more alive than yours to offensive innuendoes. It
    is--ahem--excessively suggestive, and I hope I am not too late to
    warn you of the false impression it is likely to produce on the very
    readers whose approbation you would most value. My friend Mrs.
    Gollinger, for instance--"

    Mrs. Fetherel, as the publication of her novel testified, was in
    theory a woman of independent views; and if in practise she
    sometimes failed to live up to her standard, it was rather from an
    irresistible tendency to adapt herself to her environment than from
    any conscious lack of moral courage. The Bishop's exordium had
    excited in her that sense of opposition which such admonitions are
    apt to provoke; but as he went on she felt herself gradually
    enclosed in an atmosphere in which her theories vainly gasped for
    breath. The Bishop had the immense dialectical advantage of
    invalidating any conclusions at variance with his own by always
    assuming that his premises were among the necessary laws of thought.
    This method, combined with the habit of ignoring any classifications
    but his own, created an element in which the first condition of
    existence was the immediate adoption of his standpoint; so that his
    niece, as she listened, seemed to feel Mrs. Gollinger's Mechlin cap
    spreading its conventual shadow over her rebellious brow and the
    "Revue de Paris" at her elbow turning into a copy of the "Reredos."
    She had meant to assure her uncle that she was quite aware of the
    significance of the title she had chosen, that it had been
    deliberately selected as indicating the subject of her novel, and
    that the book itself had been written indirect defiance of the class
    of readers for whose susceptibilities she was alarmed. The words
    were almost on her lips when the irresistible suggestion conveyed by
    the Bishop's tone and language deflected them into the apologetic
    murmur, "Oh, uncle, you mustn't think--I never meant--" How much
    farther this current of reaction might have carried her, the
    historian is unable to computer, for at this point the door opened
    and her husband entered the room.

    "The first review of your book!" he cried, flourishing a yellow
    envelope. "My dear Bishop, how lucky you're here!"

    Though the trials of married life have been classified and
    catalogued with exhaustive accuracy, there is one form of conjugal
    misery which has perhaps received inadequate attention; and that is
    the suffering of the versatile woman whose husband is not equally
    adapted to all her moods. Every woman feels for the sister who is
    compelled to wear a bonnet which does not "go" with her gown; but
    how much sympathy is given to her whose husband refuses to harmonize
    with the pose of the moment? Scant justice has, for instance, been
    done to the misunderstood wife whose husband persists in
    understanding her; to the submissive helpmate whose taskmaster shuns
    every opportunity of browbeating her; and to the generous and
    impulsive being whose bills are paid with philosophic calm. Mrs.
    Fetherel, as wives go, had been fairly exempt from trials of this
    nature, for her husband, if undistinguished by pronounced brutality
    or indifference, had at least the negative merit of being her
    intellectual inferior. Landscape gardeners, who are aware of the
    usefulness of a valley in emphasizing the height of a hill, can form
    an idea of the account to which an accomplished woman may turn such
    deficiencies; and it need scarcely be said that Mrs. Fetherel had
    made the most of her opportunities. It was agreeably obvious to
    every one, Fetherel included, that he was not the man to appreciate
    such a woman; but there are no limits to man's perversity, and he
    did his best to invalidate this advantage by admiring her without
    pretending to understand her. What she most suffered from was this
    fatuous approval: the maddening sense that, however she conducted
    herself, he would always admire her. Had he belonged to the class
    whose conversational supplies are drawn from the domestic circle,
    his wife's name would never have been off his lips; and to Mrs.
    Fetherel's sensitive perceptions his frequent silences were
    indicative of the fact that she was his one topic.

    It was, in part, the attempt to escape this persistent approbation
    that had driven Mrs. Fetherel to authorship. She had fancied that
    even the most infatuated husband might be counted onto resent, at
    least negatively, an attack on the sanctity of the hearth; and her
    anticipations were heightened by a sense of the unpardonableness of
    her act. Mrs. Fetherel's relations with her husband were in fact
    complicated by an irrepressible tendency to be fond of him; and
    there was a certain pleasure in the prospect of a situation that
    justified the most explicit expiation.

    These hopes Fetherel's attitude had already defeated. He read the
    book with enthusiasm, he pressed it on his friends, he sent a copy
    to his mother; and his very soul now hung on the verdict of the
    reviewers. It was perhaps this proof of his general ineptitude that
    made his wife doubly alive to his special defects; so that his
    inopportune entrance was aggravated by the very sound of his voice
    and the hopeless aberration of his smile. Nothing, to the observant,
    is more indicative of a man's character and circumstances than his
    way of entering a room. The Bishop of Ossining, for instance,
    brought with him not only an atmosphere of episcopal authority, but
    an implied opinion on the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, and
    on the attitude of the church toward divorce; while the appearance
    of Mrs. Fetherel's husband produced an immediate impression of
    domestic felicity. His mere aspect implied that there was a
    well-filled nursery upstairs; that this wife, if she did not sew on
    his buttons, at least superintended the performance of that task;
    that they both went to church regularly, and that they dined with
    his mother every Sunday evening punctually at seven o'clock.

    All this and more was expressed in the affectionate gesture with
    which he now raised the yellow envelope above Mrs. Fetherel's
    clutch; and knowing the uselessness of begging him not to be
    silly, she said, with a dry despair, "You're boring the Bishop
    horribly."

    Fetherel turned a radiant eye on that dignitary. "She bores us all
    horribly, doesn't she, sir?" he exulted.

    "Have you read it?" said his wife, uncontrollably.

    "Read it? Of course not--it's just this minute come. I say, Bishop,
    you're not going--?"

    "Not till I've heard this," said the Bishop, settling himself in his
    chair with an indulgent smile.

    His niece glanced at him despairingly. "Don't let John's nonsense
    detain you," she entreated.

    "Detain him? That's good," guffawed Fetherel. "It isn't as long as
    one of his sermons--won't take me five minutes to read. Here, listen
    to this, ladies and gentlemen: 'In this age of festering pessimism
    and decadent depravity, it is no surprise to the nauseated reviewer
    to open one more volume saturated with the fetid emanations of the
    sewer--'"

    Fetherel, who was not in the habit of reading aloud, paused with a
    gasp, and the Bishop glanced sharply at his niece, who kept her gaze
    fixed on the tea-cup she had not yet succeeded in transferring to
    his hand.--"'Of the sewer,'" her husband resumed; "'but his wonder
    is proportionately great when he lights on a novel as sweetly
    inoffensive as Paula Fetherel's "Fast and Loose." Mrs. Fetherel is,
    we believe, a new hand at fiction, and her work reveals frequent
    traces of inexperience; but these are more than atoned for by her
    pure, fresh view of life and her altogether unfashionable regard for
    the reader's moral susceptibilities. Let no one be induced by its
    distinctly misleading title to forego the enjoyment of this pleasant
    picture of domestic life, which, in spite of a total lack of force
    in character-drawing and of consecutiveness in incident, may be
    described as a distinctly pretty story.'"

    III

    It was several weeks later that Mrs. Clinch once more brought the
    plebeian aroma of heated tram-cars and muddy street-crossings into
    the violet-scented atmosphere of her cousin's drawing-room.

    "Well," she said, tossing a damp bundle of proof into the corner of
    a silk-cushioned bergere, "I've read it at last and I'm not so
    awfully shocked!"

    Mrs. Fetherel, who sat near the fire with her head propped on a
    languid hand, looked up without speaking.

    "Mercy, Paula," said her visitor, "you're ill."

    Mrs. Fetherel shook her head. "I was never better," she
    said, mournfully.

    "Then may I help myself to tea? Thanks."

    Mrs. Clinch carefully removed her mended glove before taking a
    buttered tea-cake; then she glanced again at her cousin.

    "It's not what I said just now--?" she ventured.

    "Just now?"

    "About 'Fast and Loose'? I came to talk it over."

    Mrs. Fetherel sprang to her feet. "I never," she cried dramatically,
    "want to hear it mentioned again!"

    "Paula!" exclaimed Mrs. Clinch, setting down her cup.

    Mrs. Fetherel slowly turned on her an eye brimming with the
    incommunicable; then, dropping into her seat again, she added, with
    a tragic laugh, "There's nothing left to say."

    "Nothing--?" faltered Mrs. Clinch, longing for another tea-cake, but
    feeling the inappropriateness of the impulse in an atmosphere so
    charged with the portentous. "Do you mean that everything _has_ been
    said?" She looked tentatively at her cousin. "Haven't they been
    nice?"

    "They've been odious--odious--" Mrs. Fetherel burst out, with an
    ineffectual clutch at her handkerchief. "It's been perfectly
    intolerable!"

    Mrs. Clinch, philosophically resigning herself to the propriety of
    taking no more tea, crossed over to her cousin and laid a
    sympathizing hand on that lady's agitated shoulder.

    "It _is_ a bore at first," she conceded; "but you'll be surprised to
    see how soon one gets used to it."

    "I shall--never--get--used to it--" Mrs. Fetherel brokenly declared.

    "Have they been so very nasty--all of them?"

    "Every one of them!" the novelist sobbed.

    "I'm so sorry, dear; it _does_ hurt, I know--but hadn't you rather
    expected it?"

    "Expected it?" cried Mrs. Fetherel, sitting up.

    Mrs. Clinch felt her way warily. "I only mean, dear, that I fancied
    from what you said before the book came out--that you rather
    expected--that you'd rather discounted--"

    "Their recommending it to everybody as a perfectly harmless story?"

    "Good gracious! Is _that_ what they've done?"

    Mrs. Fetherel speechlessly nodded.

    "Every one of them?"

    "Every one--"

    "Whew!" said Mrs. Clinch, with an incipient whistle.

    "Why, you've just said it yourself!" her cousin suddenly reproached
    her.

    "Said what?"

    "That you weren't so _awfully_ shocked--"

    "I? Oh, well--you see, you'd keyed me up to such a pitch that it
    wasn't quite as bad as I expected--"

    Mrs. Fetherel lifted a smile steeled for the worst. "Why not say at
    once," she suggested, "that it's a distinctly pretty story?"

    "They haven't said _that?_"

    "They've all said it."

    "My poor Paula!"

    "Even the Bishop--"

    "The Bishop called it a pretty story?"

    "He wrote me--I've his letter somewhere. The title rather scared
    him--he wanted me to change it; but when he'd read the book he wrote
    that it was all right and that he'd sent several copies to his
    friends."

    "The old hypocrite!" cried Mrs. Clinch. "That was nothing but
    professional jealousy."

    "Do you think so?" cried her cousin, brightening.

    "Sure of it, my dear. His own books don't sell, and he knew the
    quickest way to kill yours was to distribute it through the diocese
    with his blessing."

    "Then you don't really think it's a pretty story?"

    "Dear me, no! Not nearly as bad as that--"

    "You're so good, Bella--but the reviewers?"

    "Oh, the reviewers," Mrs. Clinch jeered. She gazed meditatively at
    the cold remains of her tea-cake. "Let me see," she said, suddenly;
    "do you happen to remember if the first review came out in an
    important paper?"

    "Yes--the 'Radiator.'"

    "That's it! I thought so. Then the others simply followed suit: they
    often do if a big paper sets the pace. Saves a lot of trouble. Now
    if you could only have got the 'Radiator' to denounce you--"

    "That's what the Bishop said!" cried Mrs. Fetherel.

    "He did?"

    "He said his only chance of selling 'Through a Glass Brightly' was
    to have it denounced on the ground of immorality."

    "H'm," said Mrs. Clinch. "I thought he knew a trick or two." She
    turned an illuminated eye on her cousin. "You ought to get _him_ to
    denounce 'Fast and Loose'!" she cried.

    Mrs. Fetherel looked at her suspiciously. "I suppose every book must
    stand or fall on its own merits," she said in an unconvinced tone.

    "Bosh! That view is as extinct as the post-chaise and the
    packet-ship--it belongs to the time when people read books. Nobody
    does that now; the reviewer was the first to set the example, and
    the public were only too thankful to follow it. At first they read
    the reviews; now they read only the publishers' extracts from them.
    Even these are rapidly being replaced by paragraphs borrowed from
    the vocabulary of commerce. I often have to look twice before I am
    sure if I am reading a department-store advertisement or the
    announcement of a new batch of literature. The publishers will soon
    be having their 'fall and spring openings' and their 'special
    importations for Horse-Show Week.' But the Bishop is right, of
    course--nothing helps a book like a rousing attack on its morals; and
    as the publishers can't exactly proclaim the impropriety of their
    own wares, the task has to be left to the press or the pulpit."

    "The pulpit--?" Mrs. Fetherel mused.

    "Why, yes--look at those two novels in England last year--"

    Mrs. Fetherel shook her head hopelessly. "There is so much more
    interest in literature in England than here."

    "Well, we've got to make the supply create the demand. The Bishop
    could run your novel up into the hundred thousands in no time."

    "But if he can't make his own sell--?"

    "My dear, a man can't very well preach against his own writings!"

    Mrs. Clinch rose and picked up her proofs.

    "I'm awfully sorry for you, Paula dear," she concluded, "but I can't
    help being thankful that there's no demand for pessimism in the
    field of natural history. Fancy having to write 'The Fall of a
    Sparrow,' or 'How the Plants Misbehave!'"

    IV

    Mrs. Fetherel, driving up to the Grand Central Station one morning
    about five months later, caught sight of the distinguished novelist,
    Archer Hynes, hurrying into the waiting-room ahead of her. Hynes, on
    his side, recognizing her brougham, turned back to greet her as the
    footman opened the carriage-door.

    "My dear colleague! Is it possible that we are traveling together?"

    Mrs. Fetherel blushed with pleasure. Hynes had given her two columns
    of praise in the Sunday "Meteor," and she had not yet learned to
    disguise her gratitude.

    "I am going to Ossining," she said, smilingly.

    "So am I. Why, this is almost as good as an elopement."

    "And it will end where elopements ought to--in church."

    "In church? You're not going to Ossining to go to church?"

    "Why not? There's a special ceremony in the cathedral--the chantry
    window is to be unveiled."

    "The chantry window? How picturesque! What _is_ a chantry? And why
    do you want to see it unveiled? Are you after copy--doing something
    in the Huysmans manner? 'La Cathedrale,' eh?"

    "Oh, no." Mrs. Fetherel hesitated. "I'm going simply to please my
    uncle," she said, at last.

    "Your uncle?"

    "The Bishop, you know." She smiled.

    "The Bishop--the Bishop of Ossining? Why, wasn't he the chap who
    made that ridiculous attack on your book? Is that prehistoric ass
    your uncle? Upon my soul, I think you're mighty forgiving to travel
    all the way to Ossining for one of his stained-glass sociables!"

    Mrs. Fetherel's smile flowed into a gentle laugh. "Oh, I've never
    allowed that to interfere with our friendship. My uncle felt
    dreadfully about having to speak publicly against my book--it was a
    great deal harder for him than for me--but he thought it his duty to
    do so. He has the very highest sense of duty."

    "Well," said Hynes, with a shrug, "I don't know that he didn't do
    you a good turn. Look at that!"

    They were standing near the book-stall, and he pointed to a placard
    surmounting the counter and emblazoned with the conspicuous
    announcement: "Fast and Loose. New Edition with Author's Portrait.
    Hundred and Fiftieth Thousand."

    Mrs. Fetherel frowned impatiently. "How absurd! They've no right to
    use my picture as a poster!"

    "There's our train," said Hynes; and they began to push their way
    through the crowd surging toward one of the inner doors.

    As they stood wedged between circumferent shoulders, Mrs. Fetherel
    became conscious of the fixed stare of a pretty girl who whispered
    eagerly to her companion: "Look Myrtle! That's Paula Fetherel right
    behind us--I knew her in a minute!"

    "Gracious--where?" cried the other girl, giving her head a twist
    which swept her Gainsborough plumes across Mrs. Fetherel's face.

    The first speaker's words had carried beyond her companion's ear,
    and a lemon-colored woman in spectacles, who clutched a copy of the
    "Journal of Psychology" on one drab-cotton-gloved hand, stretched her
    disengaged hand across the intervening barrier of humanity.

    "Have I the privilege of addressing the distinguished author of
    'Fast and Loose'? If so, let me thank you in the name of the Woman's
    Psychological League of Peoria for your magnificent courage in
    raising the standard of revolt against--"

    "You can tell us the rest in the car," said a fat man, pressing his
    good-humored bulk against the speaker's arm.

    Mrs. Fetherel, blushing, embarrassed and happy, slipped into the
    space produced by this displacement, and a few moments later had
    taken her seat in the train.

    She was a little late, and the other chairs were already filled by a
    company of elderly ladies and clergymen who seemed to belong to the
    same party, and were still busy exchanging greetings and settling
    themselves in their places.

    One of the ladies, at Mrs. Fetherel's approach, uttered an
    exclamation of pleasure and advanced with outstretched hand. "My
    dear Mrs. Fetherel! I am so delighted to see you here. May I hope
    you are going to the unveiling of the chantry window? The dear
    Bishop so hoped that you would do so! But perhaps I ought to
    introduce myself. I am Mrs. Gollinger"--she lowered her voice
    expressively--"one of your uncle's oldest friends, one who has stood
    close to him through all this sad business, and who knows what he
    suffered when he felt obliged to sacrifice family affection to the
    call of duty."

    Mrs. Fetherel, who had smiled and colored slightly at the beginning
    of this speech, received its close with a deprecating gesture.

    "Oh, pray don't mention it," she murmured. "I quite understood how
    my uncle was placed--I bore him no ill will for feeling obliged to
    preach against my book."

    "He understood that, and was so touched by it! He has often told me
    that it was the hardest task he was ever called upon to
    perform--and, do you know, he quite feels that this unexpected gift
    of the chantry window is in some way a return for his courage in
    preaching that sermon."

    Mrs. Fetherel smiled faintly. "Does he feel that?"

    "Yes; he really does. When the funds for the window were so
    mysteriously placed at his disposal, just as he had begun to despair
    of raising them, he assured me that he could not help connecting the
    fact with his denunciation of your book."

    "Dear uncle!" sighed Mrs. Fetherel. "Did he say that?"

    "And now," continued Mrs. Gollinger, with cumulative rapture--"now
    that you are about to show, by appearing at the ceremony to-day,
    that there has been no break in your friendly relations, the dear
    Bishop's happiness will be complete. He was so longing to have you
    come to the unveiling!"

    "He might have counted on me," said Mrs. Fetherel, still smiling.

    "Ah, that is so beautifully forgiving of you!" cried Mrs. Gollinger,
    enthusiastically. "But then, the Bishop has always assured me that
    your real nature was very different from that which--if you will
    pardon my saying so--seems to be revealed by your brilliant
    but--er--rather subversive book. 'If you only knew my niece, dear
    Mrs. Gollinger,' he always said, 'you would see that her novel was
    written in all innocence of heart;' and to tell you the truth, when
    I first read the book I didn't think it so very, _very_ shocking. It
    wasn't till the dear Bishop had explained tome--but, dear me, I
    mustn't take up your time in this way when so many others are
    anxious to have a word with you."

    Mrs. Fetherel glanced at her in surprise, and Mrs. Gollinger
    continued, with a playful smile: "You forget that your face is
    familiar to thousands whom you have never seen. We all recognized
    you the moment you entered the train, and my friends here are so
    eager to make your acquaintance--even those"--her smile
    deepened--"who thought the dear Bishop not _quite unjustified_ in
    his attack on your remarkable novel."

    V

    A religious light filled the chantry of Ossining Cathedral, filtering
    through the linen curtain which veiled the central window, and
    mingling with the blaze of tapers on the richly adorned altar.

    In this devout atmosphere, agreeably laden with the incense-like
    aroma of Easter lilies and forced lilacs, Mrs. Fetherel knelt with a
    sense of luxurious satisfaction. Beside her sat Archer Hynes, who
    had remembered that there was to be a church scene in his next
    novel, and that his impressions of the devotional environment needed
    refreshing. Mrs. Fetherel was very happy. She was conscious that her
    entrance had sent a thrill through the female devotees who packed
    the chantry, and she had humor enough to enjoy the thought that, but
    for the good Bishop's denunciation of her book, the heads of his
    flock would not have been turned so eagerly in her direction.
    Moreover, as she had entered she had caught sight of a society
    reporter, and she knew that her presence, and the fact that she was
    accompanied by Hynes, would be conspicuously proclaimed in the
    morning papers. All these evidences of the success of her handiwork
    might have turned a calmer head than Mrs. Fetherel's; and though she
    had now learned to dissemble her gratification, it still filled her
    inwardly with a delightful glow.

    The Bishop was somewhat late in appearing, and she employed the
    interval in meditating on the plot of her next novel, which was
    already partly sketched out, but for which she had been unable to
    find a satisfactory denouement. By a not uncommon process of
    ratiocination, Mrs. Fetherel's success had convinced her of her
    vocation. She was sure now that it was her duty to lay bare the
    secret plague-spots of society, and she was resolved that there
    should be no doubt as to the purpose of her new book. Experience had
    shown her that where she had fancied she was calling a spade a spade
    she had in fact been alluding in guarded terms to the drawing-room
    shovel. She was determined not to repeat the same mistake, and she
    flattered herself that her coming novel would not need an episcopal
    denunciation to insure its sale, however likely it was to receive
    this crowning evidence of success.

    She had reached this point in her meditations when the choir burst
    into song and the ceremony of the unveiling began. The Bishop,
    almost always felicitous in his addresses to the fair sex, was never
    more so than when he was celebrating the triumph of one of his
    cherished purposes. There was a peculiar mixture of Christian
    humility and episcopal exultation in the manner with which he called
    attention to the Creator's promptness in responding to his demand
    for funds, and he had never been more happily inspired than in
    eulogizing the mysterious gift of the chantry window.

    Though no hint of the donor's identity had been allowed to escape
    him, it was generally understood that the Bishop knew who had given
    the window, and the congregation awaited in a flutter of suspense
    the possible announcement of a name. None came, however, though the
    Bishop deliciously titillated the curiosity of his flock by circling
    ever closer about the interesting secret. He would not disguise from
    them, he said, that the heart which had divined his inmost wish had
    been a woman's--is it not to woman's intuitions that more than half
    the happiness of earth is owing? What man is obliged to learn by the
    laborious process of experience, woman's wondrous instinct tells her
    at a glance; and so it had been with this cherished scheme, this
    unhoped-for completion of their beautiful chantry. So much, at
    least, he was allowed to reveal; and indeed, had he not done so, the
    window itself would have spoken for him, since the first glance at
    its touching subject and exquisite design would show it to have
    originated in a woman's heart. This tribute to the sex was received
    with an audible sigh of contentment, and the Bishop, always
    stimulated by such evidence of his sway over his hearers, took up
    his theme with gathering eloquence.

    Yes--a woman's heart had planned the gift, a woman's hand had
    executed it, and, might he add, without too far withdrawing the veil
    in which Christian beneficence ever loved to drape its acts--might
    he add that, under Providence, a book, a simple book, a mere tale,
    in fact, had had its share in the good work for which they were
    assembled to give thanks?

    At this unexpected announcement, a ripple of excitement ran through
    the assemblage, and more than one head was abruptly turned in the
    direction of Mrs. Fetherel, who sat listening in an agony of wonder
    and confusion. It did not escape the observant novelist at her side
    that she drew down her veil to conceal an uncontrollable blush, and
    this evidence of dismay caused him to fix an attentive gaze on her,
    while from her seat across the aisle, Mrs. Gollinger sent a smile of
    unctuous approval.

    "A book--a simple book--" the Bishop's voice went on above this
    flutter of mingled emotions. "What is a book? Only a few pages and a
    little ink--and yet one of the mightiest instruments which
    Providence has devised for shaping the destinies of man . .. one of
    the most powerful influences for good or evil which the Creator has
    placed in the hands of his creatures..."

    The air seemed intolerably close to Mrs. Fetherel, and she drew out
    her scent-bottle, and then thrust it hurriedly away, conscious that
    she was still the center of an unenviable attention. And all the
    while the Bishop's voice droned on...

    "And of all forms of literature, fiction is doubtless that which has
    exercised the greatest sway, for good or ill, over the passions and
    imagination of the masses. Yes, my friends, I am the first to
    acknowledge it--no sermon, however eloquent, no theological
    treatise, however learned and convincing, has ever inflamed the
    heart and imagination like a novel--a simple novel. Incalculable is
    the power exercised over humanity by the great magicians of the
    pen--a power ever enlarging its boundaries and increasing its
    responsibilities as popular education multiplies the number of
    readers....Yes, it is the novelist's hand which can pour balm on
    countless human sufferings, or inoculate mankind with the festering
    poison of a corrupt imagination...."

    Mrs. Fetherel had turned white, and her eyes were fixed with a blind
    stare of anger on the large-sleeved figure in the center of the
    chancel.

    "And too often, alas, it is the poison and not the balm which the
    unscrupulous hand of genius proffers to its unsuspecting readers.
    But, my friends, why should I continue? None know better than an
    assemblage of Christian women, such as I am now addressing, the
    beneficent or baleful influences of modern fiction; and so, when I
    say that this beautiful chantry window of ours owes its existence in
    part to the romancer's pen"--the Bishop paused, and bending forward,
    seemed to seek a certain face among the countenances eagerly
    addressed to his--"when I say that this pen, which for personal
    reasons it does not become me to celebrate unduly--"

    Mrs. Fetherel at this point half rose, pushing back her chair, which
    scraped loudly over the marble floor; but Hynes involuntarily laid a
    warning hand on her arm, and she sank down with a confused murmur
    about the heat.

    "--When I confess that this pen, which for once at least has proved
    itself so much mightier than the sword, is that which was inspired
    to trace the simple narrative of 'Through a Glass Brightly'"--Mrs.
    Fetherel looked up with a gasp of mingled relief and anger--"when I
    tell you, my dear friends, that it was your Bishop's own work which
    first roused the mind of one of his flock to the crying need of a
    chantry window, I think you will admit that I am justified in
    celebrating the triumphs of the pen, even though it be the modest
    instrument which your own Bishop wields."

    The Bishop paused impressively, and a faint gasp of surprise and
    disappointment was audible throughout the chantry. Something very
    different from this conclusion had been expected, and even Mrs.
    Gollinger's lips curled with a slightly ironic smile. But Archer
    Hynes's attention was chiefly reserved for Mrs. Fetherel, whose face
    had changed with astonishing rapidity from surprise to annoyance,
    from annoyance to relief, and then back again to something very like
    indignation.

    The address concluded, the actual ceremony of the unveiling was
    about to take place, and the attention of the congregation soon
    reverted to the chancel, where the choir had grouped themselves
    beneath the veiled window, prepared to burst into a chant of praise
    as the Bishop drew back the hanging. The moment was an impressive
    one, and every eye was fixed on the curtain. Even Hynes's gaze
    strayed to it for a moment, but soon returned to his neighbor's
    face; and then he perceived that Mrs. Fetherel, alone of all the
    persons present, was not looking at the window. Her eyes were fixed
    in an indignant stare on the Bishop; a flush of anger burned
    becomingly under her veil, and her hands nervously crumpled the
    beautifully printed program of the ceremony.

    Hynes broke into a smile of comprehension. He glanced at the Bishop,
    and back at the Bishop's niece; then, as the episcopal hand was
    solemnly raised to draw back the curtain, he bent and whispered in
    Mrs. Fetherel's ear:

    "Why, you gave it yourself! You wonderful woman, of course you gave
    it yourself!"

    Mrs. Fetherel raised her eyes to his with a start. Her blush
    deepened and her lips shaped a hasty "No"; but the denial was
    deflected into the indignant murmur--"It wasn't _his_ silly book
    that did it anyhow!"
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