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    The Letters

    by Edith Wharton
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    I

    UP the long hill from the station at St.-Cloud, Lizzie West climbed
    in the cold spring sunshine. As she breasted the incline, she
    noticed the first waves of wistaria over courtyard railings and the
    high lights of new foliage against the walls of ivy-matted gardens;
    and she thought again, as she had thought a hundred times
    before, that she had never seen so beautiful a spring.

    She was on her way to the Deerings' house, in a street near the
    hilltop; and every step was dear and familiar to her. She went there
    five times a week to teach little Juliet Deering, the daughter of
    Mr. Vincent Deering, the distinguished American artist. Juliet had
    been her pupil for two years, and day after day, during that time,
    Lizzie West had mounted the hill in all weathers; sometimes with her
    umbrella bent against a driving rain, sometimes with her frail
    cotton parasol unfurled beneath a fiery sun, sometimes with the snow
    soaking through her patched boots or a bitter wind piercing her thin
    jacket, sometimes with the dust whirling about her and bleaching the
    flowers of the poor little hat that _had_ to "carry her through"
    till next summer.

    At first the ascent had seemed tedious enough, as dull as the trudge
    to her other lessons. Lizzie was not a heaven-sent teacher; she had
    no born zeal for her calling, and though she dealt kindlyand
    dutifully with her pupils, she did not fly to them on winged feet.
    But one day something had happened to change the face of life, and
    since then the climb to the Deering house had seemed like a
    dream-flight up a heavenly stairway.

    Her heart beat faster as she remembered it--no longer in a tumult of
    fright and self-reproach, but softly, peacefully, as ifbrooding over
    a possession that none could take from her.

    It was on a day of the previous October that she had stopped, after
    Juliet's lesson, to ask if she might speak to Juliet's papa. One had
    always to apply to Mr. Deering if there was anything to be said
    about the lessons. Mrs. Deering lay on her lounge up-stairs, reading
    greasy relays of dog-eared novels, the choice of which she left to
    the cook and the nurse, who were always fetching them forher from
    the _cabinet de lecture;_ and it was understood inthe house that she
    was not to be "bothered" about Juliet. Mr. Deering's interest in his
    daughter was fitful rather than consecutive; but at least he was
    approachable, and listened sympathetically, if a little absently,
    stroking his long, fair mustache, while Lizzie stated her difficulty
    or put in her plea for maps or copy-books.

    "Yes, yes--of course--whatever you think right," he would always
    assent, sometimes drawing a five-franc piece from his pocket, and
    laying it carelessly on the table, or oftener saying, with his
    charming smile: "Get what you please, and just put it onyour
    account, you know."

    But this time Lizzie had not come to ask for maps or copy-books, or
    even to hint, in crimson misery,--as once, poor soul! she had had to
    do,--that Mr. Deering had overlooked her last little account had
    probably not noticed that she had left it, some two months earlier,
    on a corner of his littered writing-table. That hour had been bad
    enough, though he had done his best to make it easy to carry it off
    gallantly and gaily; but this was infinitely worse. For she had come
    to complain of her pupil; to say that, much as she loved little
    Juliet, it was useless, unless Mr. Deering could "do something," to
    go on with the lessons.

    "It wouldn't be honest--I should be robbing you; I'm not sure that I
    haven't already," she half laughed, through mounting tears, as she
    put her case. Little Juliet would not work, would not obey. Her
    poor, little, drifting existence floated aimlessly between the
    kitchen and the _lingerie_, and all the groping tendrils ofher
    curiosity were fastened about the doings of the backstairs.

    It was the same kind of curiosity that Mrs. Deering, overhead in her
    drug-scented room, lavished on her dog-eared novels and onthe
    "society notes" of the morning paper; but since Juliet's horizon was
    not yet wide enough to embrace these loftier objects, her interest
    was centered in the anecdotes that Celeste and Suzanne brought back
    from the market and the library. That these were not always of an
    edifying nature the child's artless prattle too often betrayed; but
    unhappily they occupied her fancy to the complete exclusion of such
    nourishing items as dates and dynasties, and the sources of the
    principal European rivers.

    At length the crisis became so acute that poor Lizzie felt herself
    bound to resign her charge or ask Mr. Deering's intervention; and
    for Juliet's sake she chose the harder alternative. It _was_ hard to
    speak to him not onlybecause one hated still more to ascribe it to
    such vulgar causes, but becauseone blushed to bring them to the
    notice of a spirit engaged with higher things. Mr. Deering was very
    busy at that moment: he had a new picture "on." And Lizzie entered
    the studio with the flutterof one profanely intruding on some sacred
    rite; she almost heard the rustle of retreating wings as she
    approached.

    And then--and then--how differently it had all turned out! Perhaps
    it wouldn't have, if she hadn't been such a goose--she who so seldom
    cried, so prided herself on a stoic control of her little twittering
    cageful of "feelings." But if she had cried, it was because he had
    looked at her so kindly, so softly, and because she had nevertheless
    felt him so pained and shamed by what she said. The pain, of course,
    lay for both in the implication behind her words--in the one word
    they left unspoken. If little Juliet was as she was, it was because
    of the mother up-stairs--the mother who had given her child her
    futile impulses, and grudged her the care that might have guided
    them. The wretched case so obviously revolved in its own vicious
    circle that when Mr. Deering had murmured, "Of course if my wife
    were not an invalid," they both turned with a simultaneous spring to
    the flagrant "bad example" of Celeste and Suzanne, fastening on that
    with a mutual insistence that ended inhis crying out, "All the more,
    then, how can you leave her to them?"

    "But if I do her no good?" Lizzie wailed; and it was then
    that,--when he took her hand and assured her gently, "But you do, you
    do!"--it was then that, in the traditional phrase, she "brokedown,"
    and her conventional protest quivered off into tears.

    "You do _me_ good, at any rate--you make the houseseem less like a
    desert," she heard him say; and the next moment she felt herself
    drawn to him, and they kissed each other through her weeping.

    They kissed each other--there was the new fact. One does not, if one
    is a poor little teacher living in Mme. Clopin's Pension Suisse at
    Passy, and if one has pretty brown hair and eyes that reach out
    trustfully to other eyes--one does not, under these common but
    defenseless conditions, arrive at the age of twenty-five without
    being now and then kissed,--waylaid once by a noisy student between
    two doors, surprised once by one's gray-bearded professoras one bent
    over the "theme" he was correcting,--but these episodes, if they
    tarnish the surface, do not reach the heart: itis not the kiss
    endured, but the kiss returned, that lives. And Lizzie West's first
    kiss was for Vincent Deering.

    As she drew back from it, something new awoke in her--something
    deeper than the fright and the shame, and the penitent thought of
    Mrs. Deering. A sleeping germ of life thrilled and unfolded, and
    started out blindly to seek the sun.

    She might have felt differently, perhaps,--the shame and penitence
    might have prevailed,--had she not known him so kind and tender, and
    guessed him so baffled, poor, and disappointed. She knew the failure
    of his married life, and she divined a corresponding failure in his
    artistic career. Lizzie, who had made her own faltering snatch at
    the same laurels, brought her thwarted proficiency to bear on the
    question of his pictures, which she judged to be extremely
    brilliant, but suspected of having somehowfailed to affirm their
    merit publicly. She understood that he had tasted an earlier moment
    of success: a mention, a medal, something official and tangible;
    then the tide of publicity had somehow setthe other way, and left
    him stranded in a noble isolation. It was extraordinary and
    unbelievable that any one so naturally eminent and exceptional
    should have been subject to the same vulgar necessities that
    governed her own life, should have known povertyand obscurity and
    indifference. But she gathered that this had been the case, and felt
    that it formed the miraculous link between them. For through what
    medium less revealing than that of sharedmisfortune would he ever
    have perceived so inconspicuous an object as herself? And she
    recalled now how gently his eyes had rested on her from the
    first--the gray eyes that might have seemed mocking if they had not
    been so gentle.

    She remembered how he had met her the first day, when Mrs. Deering's
    inevitable headache had prevented her from receiving the new
    teacher, and how his few questions had at once revealed his interest
    in the little stranded, compatriot, doomed to earn a precarious
    living so far from her native shore. Sweet as the moment of
    unburdening had been, she wondered afterward what had determined it:
    how she, so shy and sequestered, had found herselfletting slip her
    whole poverty-stricken story, even to the avowalof the ineffectual
    "artistic" tendencies that had drawn her to Paris, and had then left
    her there to the dry task of tuition. She wondered at first, but she
    understood now; she understood everything after he had kissed her.
    It was simply because he wasas kind as he was great.

    She thought of this now as she mounted the hill in the spring
    sunshine, and she thought of all that had happened since. The
    intervening months, as she looked back at them, were merged in a
    vast golden haze, through which here and there rose the outline of a
    shining island. The haze was the general enveloping sense of his
    love, and the shining islands were the days they had spent together.
    They had never kissed again under his own roof. Lizzie's
    professional honor had a keen edge, but she had been spared the
    vulgar necessity of making him feel it. It was of theessence of her
    fatality that he always "understood" when his failing to do so might
    have imperiled his hold on her.

    But her Thursdays and Sundays were free, and it soon became a habit
    to give them to him. She knew, for her peace of mind, onlytoo much
    about pictures, and galleries and churches had been the one bright
    outlet from the grayness of her personal atmosphere. For poetry,
    too, and the other imaginative forms of literature, she had always
    felt more than she had hitherto had occasion to betray; and now all
    these folded sympathies shot out their tendrils to the light. Mr.
    Deering knew how to express with unmatched clearness and competence
    the thoughts that trembled in her mind: to talk with him was to soar
    up into the azure on the outspread wings of his intelligence, and
    look down dizzily yet distinctly, on all the wonders and glories of
    the world. She was a little ashamed, sometimes, to find how few
    definite impressions she brought back from these flights; but that
    was doubtless because her heart beatso fast when he was near, and
    his smile made his words like a long quiver of light. Afterward, in
    quieter hours, fragments of theirtalk emerged in her memory with
    wondrous precision, every syllable as minutely chiseled as some of
    the delicate objects in crystal or ivory that he pointed out in the
    museums they frequented. It wasalways a puzzle to Lizzie that some
    of their hours should be so blurred and others so vivid.

    On the morning in question she was reliving all these memories with
    unusual distinctness, for it was a fortnight since she had seen her
    friend. Mrs. Deering, some six weeks previously, had gone to visit a
    relation at St.-Raphael; and, after she had been a month absent, her
    husband and the little girl had joined her. Lizzie'sadieux to
    Deering had been made on a rainy afternoon in the damp corridors of
    the Aquarium at the Trocadero. She could not receive him at her own
    _pension_. That a teacher should bevisited by the father of a pupil,
    especially when that father wasstill, as Madame Clopin said, _si
    bien_, was against that lady's austere Helvetian code. From
    Deering's first tentative hint of another solution Lizzie had
    recoiled in a wild unreasoned flurry of all her scruples, he took
    her "No, no, _no!_" as he tookall her twists and turns of
    conscience, with eyes half-tender and half-mocking, and an instant
    acquiescence which was the finest homage to the "lady" she felt he
    divined and honored in her.

    So they continued to meet in museums and galleries, or to extend, on
    fine days, their explorations to the suburbs, where now and then, in
    the solitude of grove or garden, the kiss renewed itself, fleeting,
    isolated, or prolonged in a shy, silent pressure of the hand. But on
    the day of his leave-taking the rain kept them under cover; and as
    they threaded the subterranean windings of the Aquarium, and Lizzie
    looked unseeingly at the monstrous faces glaring at her through
    walls of glass, she felt like a poor drowned wretch at the bottom of
    the sea, with all her glancing, sunlit memories rolling over her
    like the waves of its surface.

    "You'll never see him again--never see him again," the wavesboomed
    in her ears through his last words; and when she had said good-by to
    him at the corner, and had scrambled, wet and shivering, into the
    Passy omnibus, its great, grinding wheels took up the derisive
    burden--"Never see him, never see him again."

    All that was only two weeks ago, and here she was, as happy as a
    lark, mounting the hill to his door in the spring sunshine. Soweak a
    heart did not deserve such a radiant fate; and Lizzie saidto herself
    that she would never again distrust her star.

    II

    THE cracked bell tinkled sweetly through her heart as she stood
    listening for the scamper of Juliet's feet. Juliet, anticipatingthe
    laggard Suzanne, almost always opened the door for her governess,
    not from any unnatural zeal to hasten the hour of her studies, but
    from the irrepressible desire to see what was going on in the
    street. But on this occasion Lizzie listened vainly for astep, and
    at length gave the bell another twitch. Doubtless someunusually
    absorbing incident had detained the child below-stairs; thus only
    could her absence be explained.

    A third ring produced no response, and Lizzie, full of dawning
    fears, drew back to look up at the shabby, blistered house. She saw
    that the studio shutters stood wide, and then noticed, without
    surprise, that Mrs. Deering's were still unopened. No doubt
    Mrs. Deering was resting after the fatigue of the journey.
    Instinctively Lizzie's eyes turned again to the studio; and as she
    looked, she saw Deering at the window. He caught sight of her, and
    an instant later came to the door. He looked paler than usual, and
    she noticed that he wore a black coat.

    "I rang and rang--where is Juliet?"

    He looked at her gravely, almost solemnly; then, without answering,
    he led her down the passage to the studio, and closed the door when
    she had entered.

    "My wife is dead--she died suddenly ten days ago. Didn't you see it
    in the papers?"

    Lizzie, with a little cry, sank down on the rickety divan. She
    seldom saw a newspaper, since she could not afford one for her own
    perusal, and those supplied to the Pension Clopin were usually in
    the hands of its more privileged lodgers till long after the hour
    when she set out on her morning round.

    "No; I didn't see it," she stammered.

    Deering was silent. He stood a little way off, twisting an unlit
    cigarette in his hand, and looking down at her with a gaze that was
    both hesitating and constrained.

    She, too, felt the constraint of the situation, the impossibility of
    finding words that, after what had passed between them, should seem
    neither false nor heartless; and at last she exclaimed, standing up:
    "Poor little Juliet! Can't I go to her?"

    "Juliet is not here. I left her at St.-Raphael with the relations
    with whom my wife was staying."

    "Oh," Lizzie murmured, feeling vaguely that this added to the
    difficulty of the moment. How differently she had pictured
    theirmeeting!

    "I'm so--so sorry for her!" she faltered out.

    Deering made no reply, but, turning on his heel, walked the length
    of the studio, and then halted vaguely before the picture on the
    easel. It was the landscape he had begun the previous autumn, with
    the intention of sending it to the Salon that spring. But it was
    still unfinished--seemed, indeed, hardly moreadvanced than on the
    fateful October day when Lizzie, standing before it for the first
    time, had confessed her inability to dealwith Juliet. Perhaps the
    same thought struck its creator, for hebroke into a dry laugh, and
    turned from the easel with a shrug.

    Under his protracted silence Lizzie roused herself to the fact that,
    since her pupil was absent, there was no reason for her remaining
    any longer; and as Deering again moved toward her she said with an
    effort: "I'll go, then. You'll send for me when shecomes back?"

    Deering still hesitated, tormenting the cigarette between his
    fingers.

    "She's not coming back--not at present."

    Lizzie heard him with a drop of the heart. Was everything to be
    changed in their lives? But of course; how could she have dreamed it
    would be otherwise? She could only stupidly repeat: "Not coming
    back? Not this spring?"

    "Probably not, since are friends are so good as to keep her. The
    fact is, I've got to go to America. My wife left a little property,
    a few pennies, that I must go and see to--for the child."

    Lizzie stood before him, a cold knife in her breast. "I see--I see,"
    she reiterated, feeling all the while that she strained her eyes
    into impenetrable blackness.

    "It's a nuisance, having to pull up stakes," he went on, with a
    fretful glance about the studio.

    She lifted her eyes slowly to his face. "Shall you be gone long?"
    she took courage to ask.

    "There again--I can't tell. It's all so frightfully mixed up." He
    met her look for an incredibly long, strange moment. "Ihate to go!"
    he murmured as if to himself.

    Lizzie felt a rush of moisture to her lashes, and the old, familiar
    wave of weakness at her heart. She raised her hand to her face with
    an instinctive gesture, and as she did so he held out his arms.

    "Come here, Lizzie!" he said.

    And she went--went with a sweet, wild throb of liberation, with the
    sense that at last the house was his, that _she_ was his, if he
    wanted her; that never again would that silent, rebuking presence in
    the room above constrain and shame her rapture.

    He pushed back her veil and covered her face with kisses. "Don't
    cry, you little goose!" he said.

    III

    THAT they must see each other again before his departure, in
    someplace less exposed than their usual haunts, was as clear to
    Lizzie as it appeared to be to Deering. His expressing the wish
    seemed, indeed, the sweetest testimony to the quality of his feeling,
    since, in the first weeks of the most perfunctory widowerhood, a man
    of his stamp is presumed to abstain from light adventures. If, then,
    at such a moment, he wished so much to be quietly and gravely with
    her, it could be only for reasons she did not call by name, but of
    which she felt the sacred tremor in her heart; and it would have
    seemed incredibly vain and vulgar to put forward, at such a crisis,
    the conventional objections by means of which such littleexposed
    existences defend the treasure of their freshness.

    In such a mood as this one may descend from the Passy omnibus at the
    corner of the Pont de la Concorde (she had not let him fetch her in
    a cab) with a sense of dedication almost solemn, and may advance to
    meet one's fate, in the shape of a gentleman of melancholy elegance,
    with an auto-taxi at his call, as one has advanced to the
    altar-steps in some girlish bridal vision.

    Even the experienced waiter ushering them into an upper roomof the
    quiet restaurant on the Seine could hardly have supposed their quest
    for seclusion to be based on sentimental motives, so soberly did
    Deering give his orders, while his companion sat small and grave at
    his side. She did not, indeed, mean to let her private pang obscure
    their hour together: she was already learning that Deering shrank
    from sadness. He should see that she had courage and gaiety to face
    their coming separation, and yet give herself meanwhile to this
    completer nearness; but she waited, as always, for him to strike the
    opening note.

    Looking back at it later, she wondered at the mild suavity of the
    hour. Her heart was unversed inhappiness, but he had found the tone
    to lull her apprehensions, and make her trust her fate for any
    golden wonder. Deepest of all, he gave her the sense of something
    tacit and confirmed between them, as if his tenderness were a habit
    of the heart hardly needing the support of outward proof.

    Such proof as he offered came, therefore, as a kind of crowning
    luxury, the flower of a profoundly rooted sentiment; andhere again
    the instinctive reserves and defenses would have seemed to vulgarize
    what his trust ennobled. But if all the tender casuistries of her
    heart were at his service, he took no grave advantage of them. Even
    when they sat alone after dinner, with the lights of the river
    trembling through their one low window, and the vast rumor of Paris
    inclosing them in a heart of silence, he seemed, as much as herself,
    under the spell of hallowing influences. She felt it most of all as
    she yielded to the arm hepresently put about her, to the long caress
    he laid on her lips and eyes: not a word or gesture missed the note
    of quiet union, or cast a doubt, in retrospect, on the pact they
    sealed with their last look.

    That pact, as she reviewed it through a sleepless night, seemed to
    have consisted mainly, on his part, in pleadings for full and
    frequent news of her, on hers in the assurance that it shouldbe
    given as often as he asked it. She had felt an intense desirenot to
    betray any undue eagerness, any crude desire to affirm anddefine her
    hold on him. Her life had given her a certain acquaintance with the
    arts of defense: girls in her situation were commonly supposed to
    know them all, and to use them as occasion called. But Lizzie's very
    need of them had intensified her disdain. Just because she was so
    poor, and had always, materially, so to count her change and
    calculate her margin, she would at least know the joy of emotional
    prodigality, would give her heart as recklessly as the rich their
    millions. She was sure now that Deering loved her, and if he had
    seized the occasion of their farewell to give her some definitely
    worded sign of his feeling--if, more plainly, he had asked her to
    marry him,--his doing so would have seemed less like a proof of his
    sincerity than of his suspecting in her the need of a verbal
    warrant. That he had abstained seemed to show that he trusted her as
    she trusted him, and that they were one most of all in this deep
    security of understanding.

    She had tried to make him divine all this in the chariness of her
    promise to write. She would write; of course she would. Buthe would
    be busy, preoccupied, on the move: it was for him to lether know
    when he wished a word, to spare her the embarrassment ofill-timed
    intrusions.

    "Intrusions?" He had smiled the word away. "You can't wellintrude,
    my darling, on a heart where you're already established, to the
    complete exclusion of other lodgers." And then, taking her hands,
    and looking up from them into her happy, dizzy eyes: "You don't know
    much about being in love, do you, Lizzie?" he laughingly ended.

    It seemed easy enough to reject this imputation in a kiss; but she
    wondered afterward if she had not deserved it. Was she really cold
    and conventional, and did other women give more richly and
    recklessly? She found that it was possible to turn about every one
    of her reserves and delicacies so that they looked like selfish
    scruples and petty pruderies, and at this game she came in time to
    exhaust all the resources of an over-abundant casuistry.

    Meanwhile the first days after Deering's departure wore a soft,
    refracted light like the radiance lingering after sunset. _He_, at
    any rate, was taxable with no reserves, nocalculations, and his
    letters of farewell, from train and steamer, filled her with long
    murmurs and echoes of his presence. How he loved her, how he loved
    her--and how he knew how to tell her so!

    She was not sure of possessing the same aptitude. Unused tothe
    expression of personal emotion, she fluctuated between the impulse
    to pour out all she felt and the fear lest her extravagance should
    amuse or even bore him. She never lost the sense that what was to
    her the central crisis of experience must be a mere episode in a
    life so predestined as his to romantic accidents. All that she felt
    and said would be subjected to the test of comparison with what
    others had already given him: from all quarters of the globeshe saw
    passionate missives winging their way toward Deering, forwhom her
    poor little swallow-flight ofdevotion could certainly not make a
    summer. But such moments were succeeded by others in which she
    raised her head and dared inwardly to affirm her conviction that no
    woman had ever loved him just as she had, and that none, therefore,
    had probably found just such things to say to him. And this
    conviction strengthened the other less solidly based belief that
    _he_ also, for the same reason, had found new accents to express his
    tenderness, and that the three letters she wore all day in her
    shabby blouse, and hid all night beneath her pillow, surpassed not
    only in beauty, but in quality, all he had ever penned for other
    eyes.

    They gave her, at any rate, during the weeks that she wore them on
    her heart, sensations even more complex and delicate than Deering's
    actual presence had ever occasioned. To be with him was always like
    breasting a bright, rough sea, that blinded while it buoyed her: but
    his letters formed a still pool of contemplation, above which she
    could bend, and see the reflection of the sky, and the myriad
    movements of life that flitted and gleamed below the surface. The
    wealth of his hidden life--that was what most surprised her! It was
    incredible to her now that she had had no inkling of it, but had
    kept on blindly along the narrow track of habit, like a traveler
    climbing a road in a fog, who suddenly finds himself on a sunlit
    crag between blue leagues of sky and dizzy depths of valley. And the
    odd thing was that all the people about her--the whole world of the
    Passy pension--were still plodding along the same dull path,
    preoccupied with the pebbles underfoot, and unconscious of the glory
    beyond the fog!

    There were wild hours when she longed to cry out to them what one
    saw from the summit--and hours of tremulous abasement when she asked
    herself why _her_ happy feet had been guided there, while others, no
    doubt as worthy, stumbled and blundered in obscurity. She felt, in
    particular, a sudden urgent pity for the two or three other girls at
    Mme. Clopin's--girls older, duller, less alive than she, and by that
    very token more appealingly flung upon her sympathy. Would they ever
    know? Had they ever known?--those were the questions that haunted
    her as she crossed her companions on the stairs, faced them at the
    dinner-table, and listened to their poor, pining talk in the dim-lit
    slippery-seated _salon_. One ofthe girls was Swiss, the other
    English; the third, Andora Macy, was ayoung lady from the Southern
    States who was studying French with the ultimate object of imparting
    it to the inmates of a girls' school at Macon, Georgia.

    Andora Macy was pale, faded, immature. She had a drooping Southern
    accent, and a manner which fluctuated between arch audacity and fits
    of panicky hauteur. She yearned to be admired, and feared to be
    insulted; and yet seemed tragically conscious that she was destined
    to miss both these extremes of sensation, or to enjoy them only at
    second hand in the experiences of her more privileged friends.

    It was perhaps for this reason that she took a wistful interest in
    Lizzie, who had shrunk from her at first, as the depressing image of
    her own probable future, but to whom she had now suddenly become an
    object of sentimental pity.

    IV

    MISS MACY's room was next to Miss West's, and the Southerner's knock
    often appealed to Lizzie's hospitality when Mme. Clopin's early
    curfew had driven her boarders from the _salon_. It sounded thus one
    evening just as Lizzie, tired from an unusually long day of tuition,
    was in the act of removing her dress. She was in too indulgent a
    mood to withhold her "Come in," and as Miss Macy crossed the
    threshold, Lizzie felt that Vincent Deering's first letter--the
    letter from the train--had slipped from her loosened bodice to the
    floor.

    Miss Macy, as promptly noting the fact, darted forward to recover
    the letter. Lizzie stooped also, fiercely jealous of her touch; but
    the other reached the precious paper first, andas she seized it,
    Lizzie knew that she had seen whence it fell, and was weaving round
    the incident a rapid web of romance.

    Lizzie blushed with annoyance. "It's too stupid, having no pockets!
    If one gets a letter as she is going out in the morning, she has to
    carry it in her blouse all day."

    Miss Macy looked at her with swimming eyes. "It's warm fromyour
    heart!" she breathed, reluctantly yielding up the missive.

    Lizzie laughed, for she knew better: she knew it was the letter that
    had warmed her heart. Poor Andora Macy! _She_ would never know. Her
    bleak bosom would never take fire from such a contact. Lizzie looked
    at her with kind eyes, secretly chafing at the injustice of fate.

    The next evening, on her return home, she found Andora hovering in
    the entrance hall.

    "I thought you'd like me to put this in your own hand," Miss Macy
    whispered significantly, pressing a letter upon Lizzie. "I couldn't
    _bear_ to see it lying on the table with theothers."

    It was Deering's letter from the steamer. Lizzie blushed tothe
    forehead, but without resenting Andora's divination. She could not
    have breathed a word of her bliss, but she was not altogethersorry
    to have it guessed, and pity for Andora's destitution yielded to the
    pleasure of using it as a mirror for her own abundance. DEERING
    wrote again on reaching New York, a long, fond, dissatisfied letter,
    vague in its indication of his own projects, specific in the
    expression of his love. Lizzie brooded over every syllable of it
    till they formed the undercurrent of all her waking thoughts, and
    murmured through her midnight dreams; but she wouldhave been happier
    if they had shed some definite light on the future.

    That would come, no doubt, when he had had time to look about and
    get his bearings. She counted up the days that must elapse before
    she received his next letter, and stole down early to peepat the
    papers, and learn when the next American mail was due. Atlength the
    happy date arrived, and she hurried distractedly through the day's
    work, trying to conceal her impatience by the endearments she
    bestowed upon her pupils. It was easier, in her present mood, to
    kiss them than to keep them at their grammars.

    That evening, on Mme. Clopin's threshold, her heart beat so wildly
    that she had to lean a moment against the door-post beforeentering.
    But on the hall table, where the letters lay, there was none for
    her.

    She went over them with a feverish hand, her heart dropping down and
    down, as she had sometimes fallen down an endless stairway in a
    dream--the very same stairway up which she had seemed to flywhen she
    climbed the long hill to Deering's door. Then it suddenly struck her
    that Andora might have found and secreted her letter, and with a
    spring she was on the actual stairs and rattling Miss Macy's
    door-handle.

    "You've a letter for me, haven't you?" she panted.

    Miss Macy, turning from the toilet-table, inclosed her in attenuated
    arms. "Oh, darling, did you expect one to-day?"

    "Do give it to me!" Lizzie pleaded with burning eyes.

    "But I haven't any! There hasn't been a sign of a letter for you."

    "I know there is. There _must_ be," Lizzie persisted, stamping her
    foot.

    "But, dearest, I've _watched_ for you, and there'sbeen nothing,
    absolutely nothing."

    Day after day, for the ensuing weeks, the same scene reenacted
    itself with endless variations. Lizzie, after the first sharp spasm
    of disappointment, made no effort to conceal her anxiety from Miss
    Macy, and the fond Andora was charged to keep a vigilant eyeupon the
    postman's coming, and to spy on the _bonne_ for possible negligence
    or perfidy. But these elaborate precautions remained fruitless, and
    no letter from Deering came.

    During the first fortnight of silence Lizzie exhausted all the
    ingenuities of explanation. She marveled afterward at the reasons
    she had found for Deering's silence: there were moments when she
    almost argued herself into thinking it more natural than his
    continuing to write. There was only one reason which her
    intelligence consistently rejected, and that was the possibility
    that he had forgotten her, that the wholeepisode had faded from his
    mind like a breath from a mirror. From that she resolutely turned
    her thoughts, aware that if she suffered herself to contemplate it,
    the motive power of life would fail, and she would no longer
    understand why she rose up in the morning and laydown at night.

    If she had had leisure to indulge her anguish she might havebeen
    unable to keep such speculations at bay. But she had to be up and
    working: the _blanchisseuse_ had to be paid, and Mme. Clopin's
    weekly bill, and all the little "extras" that even her frugal habits
    had to reckon with. And in the depths of her thought dwelt the
    dogging fear of illness and incapacity, goading her to work while
    she could. She hardly remembered the time when she had been without
    that fear; it was second nature now, and it kept her on her feet
    when other incentives might have failed. In the blankness of her
    misery shefelt no dread of death; but the horror of being ill and
    "dependent" was in her blood.

    In the first weeks of silence she wrote again and again to Deering,
    entreating him for a word, for a mere sign of life. From the first
    she had shrunk from seeming to assert any claim on his future, yet
    in her aching bewilderment she now charged herself with having been
    too possessive, too exacting in her tone. She told herself that his
    fastidiousness shrank from any but a "light touch," and that hers
    had not been light enough. She should havekept to the character of
    the "little friend," the artless consciousness in which tormented
    genius may find an escape from its complexities; and instead, she
    had dramatized their relation, exaggerated her own part in it,
    presumed, forsooth, to share the front of the stage with him,
    instead of being content to serve asscenery or chorus.

    But though to herself she admitted, and even insisted on, the
    episodical nature of the experience, on the fact that for Deeringit
    could be no more than an incident, she was still convinced that his
    sentiment for her, however fugitive, had been genuine.

    His had not been the attitude of the unscrupulous male seeking a
    vulgar "advantage." For a moment he had really needed her, andif he
    was silent now, it was perhaps because he feared that she had
    mistaken the nature of the need and built vain hopes on its possible
    duration.

    It was of the very essence of Lizzie's devotion that it sought
    instinctively the larger freedom of its object; she could not
    conceive of love under any form of exaction or compulsion. To make
    this clear to Deering became an overwhelming need, and in a last
    short letter she explicitly freed him from whatever sentimental
    obligation its predecessors might have seemed to impose. In
    thisstudied communication she playfully accused herself of having
    unwittingly sentimentalized their relation, affirming, in
    self-defense, a retrospective astuteness, a sense of the
    impermanence of the tenderer sentiments, that almost put Deering in
    the fatuous position of having mistaken coquetry for surrender. And
    she ended gracefully with a plea for the continuance of the friendly
    regardwhich she had "always understood" to be the basis of their
    sympathy. The document, when completed, seemed to her worthy of what
    she conceived to be Deering's conception of a woman of the world,
    and she found a spectral satisfaction in the thought of making her
    final appearance before him in that distinguished character. But she
    was never destined to learn what effect the appearance produced; for
    the letter, like those it sought to excuse, remained unanswered.

    V

    THE fresh spring sunshine which had so often attended Lizzie Weston
    her dusty climb up the hill of St.-Cloud beamed on her, some two
    years later, in a scene and a situation of altered import.

    The horse-chestnuts of the Champs-Elysees filtered its rays through
    the symmetrical umbrage inclosing the graveled space about Daurent's
    restaurant, and Miss West, seated at a table within that privileged
    circle, presented to the light a hat much better able to sustain its
    scrutiny than those which had sheltered the brow of Juliet Deering's
    instructress.

    Her dress was in keeping with the hat, and both belonged to a
    situation rich in such possibilities as the act of a leisurely
    luncheon at Daurent's in the opening week of the Salon. Her
    companions, of both sexes, confirmed and emphasized this impression
    by an elaborateness of garb and an ease of attitude implying the
    largest range of selection between the forms of Parisian idleness;
    and even Andora Macy, seated opposite, as in the place of co-hostess
    or companion, reflected, in coy grays and mauves, the festal note of
    the occasion.

    This note reverberated persistently in the ears of a solitary
    gentleman straining for glimpses of the group from a table wedgedin
    the remotest corner of the garden; but to Miss West herself the
    occurrence did not rise above the usual. For nearly a year she had
    been acquiring the habit of such situations, and the act of offering
    a luncheon at Daurent's to her cousins, the Harvey Mearses of
    Providence, and their friend Mr. Jackson Benn, produced in herno
    emotion beyond the languid glow which Mr. Benn's presence was
    beginning to impart to such scenes.

    "It's frightful, the way you've got used to it," Andora Macyhad
    wailed in the first days of her friend's transfigured fortune, when
    Lizzie West had waked one morning to find herself among the heirs of
    an old and miserly cousin whose testamentary dispositions had
    formed, since her earliest childhood, the subject of pleasantry and
    conjecture in her own improvident family. Old Hezron Mears had never
    given any sign of life to the luckless Wests; had perhaps hardly
    been conscious of including them in the carefully drawn will which,
    following the old American convention, scrupulously divided his
    hoarded millions among his kin. It was by a mere genealogical
    accident that Lizzie, falling just within the golden circle, found
    herself possessed of a pittance sufficient to release her from the
    prospect of a long gray future in Mme. Clopin's pension.

    The release had seemed wonderful at first; yet she presentlyfound
    that it had destroyed her former world without giving her anew one.
    On the ruins of the old pension life bloomed the only flower that
    had ever sweetened her path; and beyond the sense of present ease,
    and the removal of anxiety for the future, her reconstructed
    existence blossomed with no compensating joys. Shehad hoped great
    things from the opportunity to rest, to travel, to look about her,
    above all, in various artful feminine ways, to be "nice" to the
    companions of her less privileged state; but such widenings of scope
    left her, as it were, but the more conscious of the empty margin of
    personal life beyond them. It was not till she woke to the leisure
    of her new days that she had the full sense of what was gone from
    them.

    Their very emptiness made her strain to pack them with transient
    sensations: she was like the possessor of an unfurnished house, with
    random furniture and bric-a-brac perpetually pouring in "on
    approval." It was in this experimental character that Mr. Jackson
    Benn had fixed her attention, and the languid effort of her
    imagination to adjust him to her requirements was seconded by
    thefond complicity of Andora and the smiling approval of her
    cousins. Lizzie did not discourage these demonstrations: she
    suffered serenely Andora's allusions to Mr. Benn's infatuation, and
    Mrs. Mears's casual boast of his business standing. All the better
    ifthey could drape his narrow square-shouldered frame and round
    unwinking countenance in the trailing mists of sentiment: Lizzie
    looked and listened, not unhopeful of the miracle.

    "I never saw anything like the way these Frenchmen stare! Doesn't it
    make you nervous, Lizzie?" Mrs. Mears broke out suddenly, ruffling
    her feather boa about an outraged bosom. Mrs. Mears was still in that
    stage of development when her countrywomen taste to the full the
    peril of being exposed to the gaze of the licentious Gaul.

    Lizzie roused herself from the contemplation of Mr. Benn's round
    baby cheeks and the square blue jaw resting on his perpendicular
    collar. "Is some one staring at me?" she asked with a smile.

    "Don't turn round, whatever you do! There--just over there, between
    the rhododendrons--the tall fair man alone at that table. Really,
    Harvey, I think you ought to speak to the head-waiter, orsomething;
    though I suppose in one of these places they'd only laugh at you,"
    Mrs. Mears shudderingly concluded.

    Her husband, as if inclining to this probability, continued the
    undisturbed dissection of his chicken wing; but Mr. Benn, perhaps
    aware that his situation demanded a more punctilious attitude,
    sternly revolved upon the parapet of his high collar inthe direction
    of Mrs. Mears's glance.

    "What, that fellow all alone over there? Why, _he's_ not French; he's
    an American," he then proclaimed with a perceptible relaxing of the
    facial muscles.

    "Oh!" murmured Mrs. Mears, as perceptibly disappointed, and Mr. Benn
    continued carelessly: "He came over on the steamer with me. He's
    some kind of an artist--a fellow named Deering. He wasstaring at
    _me_, I guess: wondering whether I was going to remember him. Why,
    how d' 'e do? How are you? Why, yes, of course; with pleasure--my
    friends, Mrs. Harvey Mears--Mr. Mears; my friends Miss Macy and Miss
    West."

    "I have the pleasure of knowing Miss West," said Vincent Deering
    with a smile.

    VI

    EVEN through his smile Lizzie had seen, in the first moment, how
    changed he was; and the impression of the change deepened to the
    point of pain when, a few days later, in reply to his brief note, she
    accorded him a private hour.

    That the first sight of his writing--the first answer to
    hisletters--should have come, after three long years, in the shape
    of this impersonal line, too curt to be called humble, yet
    confessing to a consciousness of the past by the studied avoidance
    of its language! As she read, her mind flashed back over what she
    had dreamed his letters would be, over the exquisite answers she had
    composed above his name. There was nothing exquisite in the
    conventional lines before her; but dormant nerves began to throb
    again at the mere touch of the paper he had touched, and she threw
    the little note into the fire before she dared to reply to it.

    Now that he was actually before her again, he became, as usual, the
    one live spot in her consciousness. Once more her tormented
    throbbing self sank back passive and numb, but now withall its power
    of suffering mysteriously transferred to the presence, so known, yet
    so unknown, at the opposite corner of herhearth. She was still
    Lizzie West, and he was still Vincent Deering; but the Styx rolled
    between them, and she saw his face through its fog. It was his face,
    really, rather than his words, that told her, as she furtively
    studied it, the tale of failure and slow discouragement which had so
    blurred its handsome lines. Shekept afterward no precise memory of
    the actual details of his narrative: the pain it evidently cost him
    to impart it was so much the sharpest fact in her new vision of him.
    Confusedly, however, she gathered that on reaching America he had
    found his wife's small property gravely impaired; and that, while
    lingering on to securewhat remained of it, he had contrived to sell
    a picture or two, and had even known a brief moment of success,
    during which he received orders and set up a studio. But
    inexplicably the tide had ebbed, his work remained on his hands, and
    a tedious illness, with its miserable sequel of debt, soon wiped out
    his small advantage. There followed a period of eclipse, still more
    vaguely pictured, during which she was allowed to infer that he had
    tried his hand at divers means of livelihood, accepting employment
    from a fashionable house-decorator, designing wall-papers,
    illustrating magazine articles, and acting for a time, she dimly
    understood, as the social tout of a new hotel desirous of
    advertising its restaurant. These disjointed facts were strung on a
    slender thread of personal allusions--references to friends who had
    been kind (jealously, she guessed them to be women), and to enemies
    who had darkly schemed against him. But, true to his tradition of
    "correctness," he carefully avoided the mention of names, and left
    her trembling conjectures to grope dimly through an alien crowded
    world in which there seemed little room for her small shy presence.

    As she listened, her private pang was merged in the intolerable
    sense of his unhappiness. Nothing he had said explained or excused
    his conduct to her; but he had suffered, he had been lonely, had
    been humiliated, and she suddenly felt, with a fierce maternal rage,
    that there was no conceivable justification for any scheme of things
    in which such facts were possible. She could not have said why: she
    simply knew that it hurt too much tosee him hurt.

    Gradually it came to her that her unconsciousness of any personal
    grievance was due to her having so definitely determinedher own
    future. She was glad she had decided, as she now felt she had, to
    marry Jackson Benn, if only for the sense of detachment it gave her
    in dealing with the case of Vincent Deering. Her personal safety
    insured her the requisite impartiality, and justified her in
    dwelling as long as she chose on the last lines of a chapter to
    which her own act had deliberately fixed the close. Any lingering
    hesitations as to the finality of her decision were dispelled by the
    imminent need of making it known to Deering; and when her visitor
    paused in his reminiscences to say, with a sigh, "But many things
    have happened to you too," his words did not so much evokethe sense
    of her altered fortunes as the image of the protector to whom she
    was about to intrust them.

    "Yes, many things; it's three years," she answered.

    Deering sat leaning forward, in his sad exiled elegance, hiseyes
    gently bent on hers; and at his side she saw the solid form of Mr.
    Jackson Benn, with shoulders preternaturally squared by the cut of
    his tight black coat, and a tall shiny collar sustaining his baby
    cheeks and hard blue chin. Then the vision faded as Deeringbegan to
    speak.

    "Three years," he repeated, musingly taking up her words. "I've so
    often wondered what they'd brought you."

    She lifted her head with a quick blush, and the terrified wish that
    he should not, at the cost of all his notions of correctness, lapse
    into the blunder of becoming "personal."

    "You've wondered?" She smiled back bravely.

    "Do you suppose I haven't?" His look dwelt on her. "Yes, Idaresay
    that _was_ what you thought of me."

    She had her answer pat--"Why, frankly, you know, I _didn't_ think of
    you." But the mounting tide of her poor dishonored memories swept it
    indignantly away. If it was his correctness toignore, it could never
    be hers to disavow.

    "_ Was_ that what you thought of me?" she heard himrepeat in a tone
    of sad insistence; and at that, with a quick lift of her head, she
    resolutely answered: "How could I know what to think? I had no word
    from you."

    If she had expected, and perhaps almost hoped, that this answer
    would create a difficulty for him, the gaze of quiet fortitude with
    which he met it proved that she had underestimatedhis resources.

    "No, you had no word. I kept my vow," he said.

    "Your vow?"

    "That you _shouldn't_ have a word--not a syllable. Oh, I kept it
    through everything!"

    Lizzie's heart was sounding in her ears the old confused rumor of
    the sea of life, but through it she desperately tried to distinguish
    the still small voice of reason.

    "What _was_ your vow? Why shouldn't I have had asyllable from you?"

    He sat motionless, still holding her with a look so gentle that it
    almost seemed forgiving.

    Then abruptly he rose, and crossing the space between them, sat down
    in a chair at her side. The deliberation of his movement might have
    implied a forgetfulness of changed conditions, and Lizzie, as if
    thus viewing it, drew slightly back; but he appeared not to notice
    her recoil, and his eyes, at last leaving her face, slowly and
    approvingly made the round of the small bright drawing-room. "This
    is charming. Yes, things _have_ changed foryou," he said.

    A moment before she had prayed that he might be spared the error of
    a vain return upon the past. It was as if all her retrospective
    tenderness, dreading to see him at such a disadvantage, rose up to
    protect him from it. But his evasiveness exasperated her, and
    suddenly she felt the inconsistent desire tohold him fast, face to
    face with his own words.

    Before she could reiterate her question, however, he had mether with
    another.

    "You _did_ think of me, then? Why are you afraid totell me that you
    did?"

    The unexpectedness of the challenge wrung an indignant cry from her.

    "Didn't my letters tell you so enough?"

    "Ah, your letters!" Keeping her gaze on his in a passion
    ofunrelenting fixity, she could detect in him no confusion, not
    theleast quiver of a sensitive nerve. He only gazed back at her more
    sadly.

    "They went everywhere with me--your letters," he said.

    "Yet you never answered them." At last the accusation trembled to
    her lips.

    "Yet I never answered them."

    "Did you ever so much as read them, I wonder?"

    All the demons of self-torture were up in her now, and she loosed
    them on him, as if to escape from their rage.

    Deering hardly seemed to hear her question. He merely shifted his
    attitude, leaning a little nearer to her, but without attempting, by
    the least gesture, to remind her of the privilegeswhich such
    nearness had once implied.

    "There were beautiful, wonderful things in them," he said, smiling.

    She felt herself stiffen under his smile.

    "You've waited three years to tell me so!"

    He looked at her with grave surprise. "And do you resent mytelling
    you even now?"

    His parries were incredible. They left her with a breathless sense
    of thrusting at emptiness, and a desperate, almost vindictive desire
    to drive him against thewall and pin him there.

    "No. Only I wonder you should take the trouble to tell me, when at
    the time--"

    And now, with a sudden turn, he gave her the final surprise of
    meeting her squarely on her own ground.

    "When at the time I didn't? But how _could_ I--at thetime?"

    "Why couldn't you? You've not yet told me?"

    He gave her again his look of disarming patience. "Do I need to?
    Hasn't my whole wretched story told you?"

    "Told me why you never answered my letters?"

    "Yes, since I could only answer them in one way--by protesting my
    love and my longing."

    There was a long pause of resigned expectancy on his part, on hers,
    of a wild confused reconstruction of her shattered past. "You mean,
    then, that you didn't write because--"

    "Because I found, when I reached America, that I was a pauper; that
    my wife's money was gone, and that what I could earn--I've so little
    gift that way!--was barely enough to keep Juliet clothed and
    educated. It was as if an iron door had been suddenly locked
    andbarred between us."

    Lizzie felt herself driven back, panting upon the last defenses of
    her incredulity. "You might at least have told me--have explained.
    Do you think I shouldn't have understood?"

    He did not hesitate. "You would have understood. It wasn'tthat."

    "What was it then?" she quavered.

    "It's wonderful you shouldn't see! Simply that I couldn't write you
    _that_. Anything else--not _that!_"

    "And so you preferred to let me suffer?"

    There was a shade of reproach in his eyes. "I suffered too," he
    said.

    It was his first direct appeal to her compassion, and for a moment
    it nearly unsettled the delicate poise of her sympathies, and sent
    them trembling in the direction of scorn and irony. Buteven as the
    impulse rose, it was stayed by another sensation. Once again, as so
    often in the past, she became aware of a fact which, in his absence,
    she always failed to reckon with--the fact of thedeep irreducible
    difference between his image in her mind and hisactual self, the
    mysterious alteration in her judgment produced by the inflections of
    his voice, the look of his eyes, the whole complex pressure of his
    personality. She had phrased it once self-reproachfully by saying to
    herself that she "never could rememberhim," so completely did the
    sight of him supersede the counterfeit about which her fancy wove
    its perpetual wonders. Bright and breathing as that counterfeit was,
    it became a gray figment of the mind at the touch of his presence;
    and on this occasion the immediate result was to cause her to feel
    his possible unhappiness with an intensity beside which her private
    injury paled.

    "I suffered horribly," he repeated, "and all the more that Icouldn't
    make a sign, couldn't cry out my misery. There was onlyone escape
    from it all--to hold my tongue, and pray that you might hate me."

    The blood rushed to Lizzie's forehead. "Hate you--you prayed that I
    might hate you?"

    He rose from his seat, and moving closer, lifted her hand gently in
    his. "Yes; because your letters showed me that, if youdidn't, you'd
    be unhappier still."

    Her hand lay motionless, with the warmth of his flowing through it,
    and her thoughts, too--her poor fluttering stormy thoughts--felt
    themselves suddenly penetrated by the same soft current of
    communion.

    "And I meant to keep my resolve," he went on, slowly releasing his
    clasp. "I meant to keep it even after the random stream of things
    swept me back here in your way; but when I saw you the other day, I
    felt that what had been possible at a distance was impossible now
    that we were near each other. How was it possibleto see you and want
    you to hate me?"

    He had moved away, but not to resume his seat. He merely paused at a
    little distance, his hand resting on a chair-back, inthe transient
    attitude that precedes departure.

    Lizzie's heart contracted. He was going, then, and this washis
    farewell. He was going, and she could find no word to detainhim but
    the senseless stammer "I never hated you."

    He considered her with his faint grave smile. "It's not necessary,
    at any rate, that you should do so now. Time and circumstances have
    made me so harmless--that's exactly why I've dared to venture back.
    And I wanted to tell you how I rejoice inyour good fortune. It's the
    only obstacle between us that I can't bring myself to wish away."

    Lizzie sat silent, spellbound, as she listened, by the sudden
    evocation of Mr. Jackson Benn. He stood there again, between herself
    and Deering, perpendicular and reproachful, but less solid and
    sharply outlined than before, with a look in his small hard eyes
    that desperately wailed for reembodiment.

    Deering was continuing his farewell speech. "You're rich now, you're
    free. You will marry." She vaguely saw him holding out his hand.

    "It's not true that I'm engaged!" she broke out. They were the last
    words she had meant to utter; they were hardly related to her
    conscious thoughts; but she felt her whole will suddenly gathered up
    in the irrepressible impulse to repudiate and fling away from her
    forever the spectral claim of Mr. Jackson Benn.

    VII

    IT was the firm conviction of Andora Macy that every object in the
    Vincent Deerings' charming little house at Neuilly had been
    expressly designed for the Deerings' son to play with.

    The house was full of pretty things, some not obviously applicable
    to the purpose; but Miss Macy's casuistry was equal tothe baby's
    appetite, and the baby's mother was no match for them in the art of
    defending her possessions. There were moments, in fact, when Lizzie
    almost fell in with Andora's summary division of her works of art
    into articles safe or unsafe for the baby to lick, or resisted it
    only to the extent of occasionally substituting some less precious
    or less perishable object for the particular fragility on which her
    son's desire was fixed. And it was with this intention that, on a
    certain fair spring morning--which worethe added luster of being the
    baby's second birthday--she had murmured, with her mouth in his
    curls, and one hand holding a bitof Chelsea above his dangerous
    clutch: "Wouldn't he rather have that beautiful shiny thing over
    there in Aunt Andorra's hand?"

    The two friends were together in Lizzie's little morning-room--the
    room she had chosen, on acquiring the house, because, when she sat
    there, she could hear Deering's step as he paced up and down before
    his easel in the studio she had built for him. His step had been
    less regularly audible than she had hoped, for, after three years of
    wedded bliss, he had somehow failed to settle downto the great work
    which was to result from that privileged state; but even when she did
    not hear him she knew that he was there, above her head, stretched
    out on the old divan from Passy, and smoking endless cigarettes
    while he skimmed the morning papers; and the sense of his nearness
    had not yet lost its first keen edge of bliss.

    Lizzie herself, on the day in question, was engaged in a more
    arduous task than the study of the morning's news. She had
    neverunlearned the habit of orderly activity, and the trait she
    least understood in her husband's character was his way of letting
    the loose ends of life hang as they would. She had been disposed at
    first to ascribe this to the chronic incoherence of his first
    _menage;_ but now she knew that, though he basked under therule of
    her beneficent hand, he would never feel any active impulse to
    further its work. He liked to see things fall into place about him
    at a wave of her wand; but his enjoyment of her household magic in
    no way diminished his smiling irresponsibility, and it was with one
    of its least amiable consequences that his wife and her friend were
    now dealing.

    Before them stood two travel-worn trunks and a distended
    portmanteau, which had shed their contents in heterogeneous
    heapsover Lizzie's rosy carpet. They represented the hostages left
    byher husband on his somewhat precipitate departure from a New
    Yorkboarding-house, and indignantly redeemed by her on her learning,
    in a curt letter from his landlady, that the latter was not
    disposedto regard them as an equivalent for the arrears of Deering's
    board.

    Lizzie had not been shocked by the discovery that her husband had
    left America in debt. She had too sad an acquaintance with the
    economic strain to see any humiliation in such accidents; but it
    offended her sense of order that he should not have liquidated his
    obligation in the three years since their marriage. He took her
    remonstrance with his usual disarming grace, and left her to forward
    the liberating draft, though her delicacy had provided him with a
    bank-account which assured his personal independence. Lizzie had
    discharged the duty without repugnance, since she knewthat his
    delegating it to her was the result of his good-humored indolence
    and not of any design on her exchequer. Deering was not dazzled by
    money; his altered fortunes had tempted him to no excesses: he was
    simply too lazy to draw the check, as he had been too lazy to
    remember the debt it canceled.

    "No, dear! No!" Lizzie lifted the Chelsea figure higher. "Can't you
    find something for him, Andora, among that rubbish over there?
    Where's the beaded bag you had in your hand just now? I don't think
    it could hurt him to lick that."

    Miss Macy, bag in hand, rose from her knees, and stumbled through
    the slough of frayed garments and old studio properties. Before the
    group of mother and son she fell into a raptured attitude.

    "Do look at him reach for it, the tyrant! Isn't he just like the
    young Napoleon?"

    Lizzie laughed and swung her son in air. "Dangle it before him,
    Andora. If you let him have it too quickly, he won't care for it.
    He's just like any man, I think."

    Andora slowly lowered the shining bag till the heir of the Deerings
    closed his masterful fist upon it. "There--my Chelsea'ssafe!" Lizzie
    smiled, setting her boy on the floor, and watchinghim stagger away
    with his booty.

    Andora stood beside her, watching too. "Have you any idea where that
    bag came from, Lizzie?"

    Mrs. Deering, bent above a pile of dis-collared shirts, shook an
    inattentive head. "I never saw such wicked washing! There isn't one
    that's fit to mend. The bag? No; I've not the least idea."

    Andora surveyed her dramatically. "Doesn't it make you utterly
    miserable to think that some woman may have made it for him?"

    Lizzie, bowed in anxious scrutiny above the shirts, broke into an
    unruffled laugh. "Really, Andora, really--six, seven, nine; no,
    there isn't even a dozen. There isn't a whole dozen of _anything_. I
    don't see how men live alone!"

    Andora broodingly pursued her theme. "Do you mean to tell me it
    doesn't make you jealous to handle these things of his that other
    women may have given him?"

    Lizzie shook her head again, and, straightening herself with a smile,
    tossed a bundle in her friend's direction. "No, it doesn't make me
    the least bit jealous. Here, count these socks for me, like a
    darling."

    Andora moaned, "Don't you feel _anything at all?_" asthe socks
    landed in her hollow bosom; but Lizzie, intent upon her task,
    tranquilly continued to unfold and sort. She felt a great deal as
    she did so, but her feelings were too deep and delicate for the
    simplifying process of speech. She only knew that each article she
    drew from the trunks sent through her the long tremor of Deering's
    touch. It was part of her wonderful new life that everything
    belonging to him contained an infinitesimal fraction of himself--a
    fraction becoming visible in the warmth of her love as certain
    secret elements become visible in rare intensities of temperature.
    And in the case of the objects before her, poor shabby witnesses of
    his days of failure, what they gave out acquired a special poignancy
    from its contrast to his present cherished state. His shirts were
    all in round dozens now, and washed as carefully as old lace. As for
    his socks, she knew the pattern of every pair, and would have liked
    to see the washerwoman who dared to mislay one, or bring it home
    with the colors "run"! And in these homely tokens of his well-being
    she saw the symbol of what her tenderness had brought him. He was
    safe in it, encompassed by it, morally and materially, and she
    defied the embattled powers of malice to reach him through the armor
    of her love. Such feelings, however, were not communicable, even had
    one desired to express them: they wereno more to be distinguished
    from the sense of life itself than bees from the lime-blossoms in
    which they murmur.

    "Oh, do _look_ at him, Lizzie! He's found out how toopen the bag!"

    Lizzie lifted her head to smile a moment at her son, who satthroned
    on a heap of studio rubbish, with Andora before him on adoring
    knees. She thought vaguely, "Poor Andora!" and then resumed the
    discouraged inspection of a buttonless white waistcoat. The next
    sound she was aware of was a fluttered exclamation from her friend.

    "Why, Lizzie, do you know what he used the bag for? To keepyour
    letters in!"

    Lizzie looked up more quickly. She was aware that Andora's pronoun
    had changed its object, and was now applied to Deering. And it
    struck her as odd, and slightly disagreeable, that a letter of hers
    should be found among the rubbish abandoned in her husband's New
    York lodgings.

    "How funny! Give it to me, please."

    "Give the bag to Aunt Andora, darling! Here--look inside, and see
    what else a big big boy can find there! Yes, here's another! Why,
    why--"

    Lizzie rose with a shade of impatience and crossed the floorto the
    romping group beside the other trunk.

    "What is it? Give me the letters, please." As she spoke, she
    suddenly recalled the day when, in Mme. Clopin's _pension_, she had
    addressed a similar behest to Andora Macy.

    Andora had lifted a look of startled conjecture. "Why, thisone's
    never been opened! Do you suppose that awful woman could have kept
    it from him?"

    Lizzie laughed. Andora's imaginings were really puerile. "What awful
    woman? His landlady? Don't be such a goose, Andora. How can it have
    been kept back from him, when we've found it here among his things?"

    "Yes; but then why was it never opened?"

    Andora held out the letter, and Lizzie took it. The writingwas hers;
    the envelop bore the Passy postmark; and it was unopened. She stood
    looking at it with a sudden sharp drop of the heart.

    "Why, so are the others--all unopened!" Andora threw out on a rising
    note; but Lizzie, stooping over, stretched out her hand.

    "Give them to me, please."

    "Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie--" Andora, still on her knees, continued to hold
    back the packet, her pale face paler with anger and compassion.
    "Lizzie, they're the letters I used to post for you--_the letters he
    never answered!_ Look!"

    "Give them back to me, please."

    The two women faced each other, Andora kneeling, Lizzie motionless
    before her, the letters in her hand. The blood had rushed to her
    face, humming in her ears, and forcing itself into the veins of her
    temples like hot lead. Then it ebbed, and she felt cold and weak.

    "It must have been some plot--some conspiracy!" Andora cried, so
    fired by the ecstasy of invention that for the moment she seemed
    lost to all but the esthetic aspect of the case.

    Lizzie turned away her eyes with an effort, and they rested on the
    boy, who sat at her feet placidly sucking the tassels of the bag.
    His mother stooped and extracted them from his rosy mouth, which a
    cry of wrath immediately filled. She lifted him in her arms, and for
    the first time no current of life ran from his bodyinto hers. He
    felt heavy and clumsy, like some one else's child; and his screams
    annoyed her.

    "Take him away, please, Andora."

    "Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie!" Andora wailed.

    Lizzie held out the child, and Andora, struggling to her feet,
    received him.

    "I know just how you feel," she gasped out above the baby's head.

    Lizzie, in some dark hollow of herself, heard the echo of a laugh.
    Andora always thought she knew how people felt!

    "Tell Marthe to take him with her when she fetches Juliet home from
    school."

    "Yes, yes." Andora gloated over her. "If you'd only give way, my
    darling!"

    The baby, howling, dived over Andora's shoulder for the bag.

    "Oh, _take_ him!" his mother ordered.

    Andora, from the door, cried out: "I'll be back at once. Remember,
    love, you're not alone!"

    But Lizzie insisted, "Go with them--I wish you to go with them," in
    the tone to which Miss Macy had never learned the answer.

    The door closed on her outraged back, and Lizzie stood alone. She
    looked about the disordered room, which offered a dreary image of
    the havoc of her life. An hour or two ago everything about her had
    been so exquisitely ordered, without and within; her thoughtsand
    emotions had lain outspread before her like delicate jewels laid
    away symmetrically in a collector's cabinet. Now they had been
    tossed down helter-skelter among the rubbish there on the floor, and
    had themselves turned to rubbish like the rest. Yes, there lay her
    life at her feet, among all that tarnished trash.

    She knelt and picked up her letters, ten in all, and examined the
    flaps of the envelops. Not one had been opened--not one. Asshe
    looked, every word she had written fluttered to life, and every
    feeling prompting it sent a tremor through her. With
    vertiginousspeed and microscopic vision she was reliving that whole
    period of her life, stripping bare again the black ruin over which
    the drift of three happy years had fallen.

    She laughed at Andora's notion of a conspiracy--of the letters
    having been "kept back." She required no extraneous aid in
    deciphering the mystery: her three years' experience of Deering shed
    on it all the light she needed. And yet a moment before shehad
    believed herself to be perfectly happy! Now it was the worstpart of
    her anguish that it did not really surprise her.

    She knew so well how it must have happened. The letters hadreached
    him when he was busy, occupied with something else, and had been put
    aside to be read at some future time--a time which nevercame.
    Perhaps on his way to America, on the steamer, even, he had met
    "some one else"--the "some one" who lurks, veiled and ominous, in
    the background of every woman's thoughts about her lover. Or perhaps
    he had been merely forgetful. She had learned from experience that
    the sensations which he seemed to feel with the most exquisite
    intensity left no reverberations in his mind--thathe did not relive
    either his pleasures or his pains. She needed no better proof of
    that than the lightness of his conduct toward hisdaughter. He seemed
    to have taken it for granted that Juliet would remain indefinitely
    with the friends who had received her after her mother's death, and
    it was at Lizzie's suggestion that the littlegirl was brought home
    and that they had established themselves at Neuilly to be near her
    school. But Juliet once with them, he became the model of a tender
    father, and Lizzie wondered that he had not felt the child's
    absence, since he seemed so affectionately aware of her presence.

    Lizzie had noted all this in Juliet's case, but had taken for
    granted that her own was different; that she formed, for Deering, the
    exception which every woman secretly supposes herself to formin the
    experience of the man she loves. Certainly, she had learned by this
    time that she could not modify his habits, but she imagined that she
    had deepened his sensibilities, had furnished him with an
    "ideal"--angelic function! And she now saw that the fact of her
    letters--her unanswered letters--having, on his own assurance,
    "meant so much" to him, had been the basis on which this beautiful
    fabric was reared.

    There they lay now, the letters, precisely as when they had left her
    hands. He had not had time to read them; and there had been a moment
    in her past when that discovery would have been thesharpest pang
    imaginable to her heart. She had traveled far beyond that point. She
    could have forgiven him now for having forgottenher; but she could
    never forgive him for having deceived her.

    She sat down, and looked again vaguely about the room. Suddenly she
    heard his step overhead, and her heart contracted. She was afraid he
    was coming down to her. She sprang up and bolted the door; then she
    dropped into the nearest chair, tremulous and exhausted, as if the
    pushing of the bolt had required an immense muscular effort. A
    moment later she heard him on the stairs, andher tremor broke into a
    cold fit of shaking. "I loathe you--I loathe you!" she cried.

    She listened apprehensively for his touch on the handle of the door.
    He would come in, humming a tune, to ask some idle question and lay
    a caress on her hair. But no, the door was bolted; she was safe. She
    continued to listen, and the step passed on. He had not been coming
    to her, then. He must have gone down-stairs to
    fetchsomething--another newspaper, perhaps. He seemed to read little
    else, and she sometimes wondered when he had found time to store the
    material that used to serve for their famous "literary" talks. The
    wonder shot through her again, barbed with a sneer. At that moment
    it seemed to her that everything he had ever done and beenwas a lie.

    She heard the house-door close, and started up. Was he going out? It
    was not his habit to leave the house in the morning.

    She crossed the room to the window, and saw him walking, with a
    quick decided step, between the budding lilacs to the gate. What
    could have called him forth at that unwonted hour? It was odd that
    he should not have told her. The fact that she thought it odd
    suddenly showed her how closely their lives were interwoven. Shehad
    become a habit to him, and he was fond of his habits. But toher it
    was as if a stranger had opened the gate and gone out. She wondered
    what he would feel if he knew that she felt _that_.

    "In an hour he will know," she said to herself, with a kind of
    fierce exultation; and immediately she began to dramatize the scene.
    As soon as he came in she meant to call him up to her room and hand
    him the letters without a word. For a moment she gloated on the
    picture; then her imagination recoiled from it. She was humiliated
    by the thought of humiliating him. She wanted to keephis image
    intact; she would not see him.

    He had lied to her about her letters--had lied to her when he found
    it to his interest to regain her favor. Yes, there was thepoint to
    hold fast. He had sought her out when he learned that she was rich.
    Perhaps he had come back from America on purpose to marry her; no
    doubt he had come back on purpose. It was incredible that she had
    not seen this at the time. She turned sick at the thought of her
    fatuity and of the grossness of his arts. Well, the event proved
    that they were all heneeded. But why had he gone out at such an
    hour? She was irritated to find herself still preoccupied by his
    comings and goings.

    Turning from the window, she sat down again. She wondered what she
    meant to do next. No, she would not show him the letters; she would
    simply leave them on his table and go away. She would leave the
    house with her boy and Andora. It was a relief to feela definite
    plan forming itself in her mind--something that her uprooted
    thoughts could fasten on. She would go away, of course; and
    meanwhile, in order not to see him, she would feign a headache, and
    remain in her room till after luncheon. Then she and Andora would
    pack a few things, and fly with the child while he was dawdling
    about up-stairs in the studio. When one's house fell, one fled from
    the ruins: nothing could be simpler, more inevitable.

    Her thoughts were checked by the impossibility of picturing what
    would happen next. Try as she would, she could not see herself and
    the child away from Deering. But that, of course, was because of her
    nervous weakness. She had youth, money, energy: all the trumps were
    on her side. It was much more difficult to imagine what would become
    of Deering. He was so dependent on her, and they had been so happy
    together! The fact struck her as illogical, and even immoral, and
    yet she knew he had been happy with her. It never happened like that
    in novels: happiness "built on a lie" always crumbled, and buried
    the presumptuous architect beneath the ruins. According to the laws
    of every novel she had ever read, Deering, having deceived her once,
    would inevitably have gone on deceiving her. Yet she knew he had not
    gone on deceiving her.

    She tried again to picture her new life. Her friends, of course,
    would rally about her. But the prospect left her cold; she did not
    want them to rally. She wanted only one thing--the life she had been
    living before she had given her baby the embroideredbag to play
    with. Oh, why had she given him the bag? She had been so happy, they
    had all been so happy! Every nerve in her clamored for her lost
    happiness, angrily, unreasonably, as the boy had clamored for his
    bag! It was horrible to know too much; there was always blood in the
    foundations. Parents "kept things" from children--protected them
    from all the dark secrets of pain and evil. And was any life livable
    unless it were thus protected? Could any one look in the Medusa's
    face and live?

    But why should she leave the house, since it was hers? Here, with
    her boy and Andora, she could still make for herself the semblance
    of a life. It was Deering who would have to go; he would understand
    that as soon as he saw the letters.

    She pictured him in the act of going--leaving the house as he had
    left it just now. She saw the gate closing on him for the last time.
    Now her vision was acute enough: she saw him as distinctlyas if he
    were in the room. Ah, he would not like returning to the old life of
    privations and expedients! And yet she knew he wouldnot plead with
    her.

    Suddenly a new thought rushed through her mind. What if Andora had
    rushed to him with the tale of the discovery of the letters--with
    the "Fly, you are discovered!" of romantic fiction? What if he _had_
    left her for good? It would not be unlikehim, after all. Under his
    wonderful gentleness he was always evasive and inscrutable. He might
    have said to himself that he would forestall her action, and place
    himself at once on the defensive. It might be that she _had_ seen
    him go out of the gate forthe last time.

    She looked about the room again, as if this thought had given it a
    new aspect. Yes, this alone could explain her husband's going out.
    It was past twelve o'clock, their usual luncheon hour, and he was
    scrupulously punctual at meals, and gently reproachful if shekept
    him waiting. Only some unwonted event could have caused himto leave
    the house at such an hour and with such marks of haste. Well,
    perhaps it was better that Andora should have spoken. She mistrusted
    her own courage; she almost hoped the deed had been done for her.
    Yet her next sensation was one of confused resentment. She said to
    herself, "Why has Andora interfered?" She felt baffled and angry, as
    though her prey had escaped her. If Deering had been in the house,
    she would have gone to him instantly and overwhelmed him with her
    scorn. But he had gone out, and she did not know where he had gone,
    and oddly mingled with her anger against him was the latent instinct
    of vigilance, thesolicitude of the woman accustomed to watch over
    the man she loves. It would be strange never to feel that solicitude
    again, never to hear him say, with his hand on her hair: "Why, you
    foolish child, were you worried? Am I late?"

    The sense of his touch was so real that she stiffened herself
    against it, flinging back her head as if to throw off his hand. The
    mere thought of his caress was hateful; yet she felt it in all her
    traitorous veins. Yes, she felt it, but with horror and repugnance.
    It was something she wanted to escape from, and the fact of
    struggling against it was what made its hold so strong. It was as
    though her mind were sounding her body to make sure of
    itsallegiance, spying on it for any secret movement of revolt.

    To escape from the sensation, she rose and went again to thewindow.
    No one was in sight. But presently the gate began to swing back, and
    her heart gave a leap--she knew not whether up ordown. A moment
    later the gate opened slowly to admit a perambulator, propelled by
    the nurse and flanked by Juliet and Andora. Lizzie's eyes rested on
    the familiar group as if she hadnever seen it before, and she stood
    motionless, instead of flyingdown to meet the children.

    Suddenly there was a step on the stairs, and she heard Andora's
    agitated knock. She unbolted the door, and was strainedto her
    friend's emaciated bosom.

    "My darling!" Miss Macy cried. "Remember you have your child--and
    me!"

    Lizzie loosened herself gently. She looked at Andora with afeeling
    of estrangement which she could not explain.

    "Have you spoken to my husband?" she asked, drawing coldly back.

    "Spoken to him? No." Andora stared at her in genuine wonder.

    "Then you haven't met him since he left me?"

    "No, my love. Is he out? I haven't met him."

    Lizzie sat down with a confused sense of relief, which welled up to
    her throat and made speech difficult.

    Suddenly light came to Andora. "I understand, dearest. Youdon't feel
    able to see him yourself. You want me to go to him for you." She
    looked about her, scenting the battle. "You're right, darling. As
    soon as he comes in I'll go to him. The sooner we get it over the
    better."

    She followed Lizzie, who without answering her had turned
    mechanically back to the window. As they stood there, the gate moved
    again, and Deering entered the garden.

    "There he is now!" Lizzie felt Andora's fervent clutch uponher arm.
    "Where are the letters? I will go down at once. You allow me to
    speak for you? You trust my woman's heart? Oh, believe me, darling,"
    Miss Macy panted, "I shall know just what to say to him!"

    "What to say to him?" Lizzie absently repeated.

    As her husband advanced up the path she had a sudden trembling
    vision of their three years together. Those years were her
    wholelife; everything before them had been colorless and
    unconscious, like the blind life of the plant before it reaches the
    surface ofthe soil. They had not been exactly what she dreamed; but
    if they had taken away certain illusions, they had left richer
    realities in their stead. She understood now that she had gradually
    adjusted herself to the new image of her husband as he was, as he
    would always be. He was not the hero of her dream, but he was the
    man she loved, and who had loved her. For she saw now, in this last
    wide flash of pity and initiation, that, as a solid marble may
    bemade out of worthless scraps of mortar, glass and pebbles, so
    outof mean mixed substances may be fashioned a love that will bear
    the stress of life.

    More urgently, she felt the pressure of Miss Macy's hand.

    "I shall hand him the letters without a word. You may rely, love, on
    my sense of dignity. I know everything you're feeling at this
    moment!"

    Deering had reached the door-step. Lizzie continued to watch him in
    silence till he disappeared under the glazed roof of the porch below
    the window; then she turned and looked almost compassionately at her
    friend.

    "Oh, poor Andora, you don't know anything--you don't know anything
    at all!" she said.

    THE END
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