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    The Quicksand

    by Edith Wharton
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    I

    AS Mrs. Quentin's victoria, driving homeward, turned from the Park
    into Fifth Avenue, she divined her son's tall figure walking ahead
    of her in the twilight. His long stride covered the ground more
    rapidly than usual, and she had a premonition that, if he were going
    home at that hour, it was because he wanted to see her.

    Mrs. Quentin, though not a fanciful woman, was sometimes aware of a
    sixth sense enabling her to detect the faintest vibrations of her
    son's impulses. She was too shrewd to fancy herself the one mother
    in possession of this faculty, but she permitted herself to think
    that few could exercise it more discreetly. If she could not help
    overhearing Alan's thoughts, she had the courage to keep her
    discoveries to herself, the tact to take for granted nothing that
    lay below the surface of their spoken intercourse: she knew that
    most people would rather have their letters read than their
    thoughts. For this superfeminine discretion Alan repaid her
    by--being Alan. There could have been no completer reward. He was
    the key to the meaning of life, the justification of what must have
    seemed as incomprehensible as it was odious, had it not
    all-sufficingly ended in himself. He was a perfect son, and Mrs.
    Quentin had always hungered for perfection.

    Her house, in a minor way, bore witness to the craving. One felt it
    to be the result of a series of eliminations: there was nothing
    fortuitous in its blending of line and color. The almost morbid
    finish of every material detail of her life suggested the
    possibility that a diversity of energies had, by some pressure of
    circumstance, been forced into the channel of a narrow
    dilettanteism. Mrs. Quentin's fastidiousness had, indeed, the flaw
    of being too one-sided. Her friends were not always worthy of the
    chairs they sat in, and she overlooked in her associates defects she
    would not have tolerated in her bric-a-brac. Her house was, in fact,
    never so distinguished as when it was empty; and it was at its best
    in the warm fire-lit silence that now received her.

    Her son, who had overtaken her on the door-step, followed her into
    the drawing-room, and threw himself into an armchair near the fire,
    while she laid off her furs and busied herself about the tea table.
    For a while neither spoke; but glancing at him across the kettle,
    his mother noticed that he sat staring at the embers with a look she
    had never seen on his face, though its arrogant young outline was as
    familiar to her as her own thoughts. The look extended itself to his
    negligent attitude, to the droop of his long fine hands, the
    dejected tilt of his head against the cushions. It was like the
    moral equivalent of physical fatigue: he looked, as he himself would
    have phrased it, dead-beat, played out. Such an air was so foreign
    to his usual bright indomitableness that Mrs. Quentin had the sense
    of an unfamiliar presence, in which she must observe herself, must
    raise hurried barriers against an alien approach. It was one of the
    drawbacks of their excessive intimacy that any break in it seemed a
    chasm.

    She was accustomed to let his thoughts circle about her before they
    settled into speech, and she now sat in motionless expectancy, as
    though a sound might frighten them away.

    At length, without turning his eyes from the fire, he said: "I'm so
    glad you're a nice old-fashioned intuitive woman. It's painful to
    see them think."

    Her apprehension had already preceded him. "Hope Fenno--?" she
    faltered.

    He nodded. "She's been thinking--hard. It was very painful--to me,
    at least; and I don't believe she enjoyed it: she said she didn't."
    He stretched his feet to the fire. "The result of her cogitations is
    that she won't have me. She arrived at this by pure
    ratiocination--it's not a question of feeling, you understand. I'm
    the only man she's ever loved--but she won't have me. What novels
    did you read when you were young, dear? I'm convinced it all turns
    on that. If she'd been brought up on Trollope and Whyte-Melville,
    instead of Tolstoi and Mrs. Ward, we should have now been vulgarly
    sitting on a sofa, trying on the engagement-ring."

    Mrs. Quentin at first was kept silent by the mother's instinctive
    anger that the girl she has not wanted for her son should have dared
    to refuse him. Then she said, "Tell me, dear."

    "My good woman, she has scruples."

    "Scruples?"

    "Against the paper. She objects to me in my official capacity as
    owner of the _Radiator_."

    His mother did not echo his laugh.

    "She had found a solution, of course--she overflows with expedients.
    I was to chuck the paper, and we were to live happily ever afterward
    on canned food and virtue. She even had an alternative ready--women
    are so full of resources! I was to turn the _Radiator_ into an
    independent organ, and run it at a loss to show the public what a
    model newspaper ought to be. On the whole, I think she fancied this
    plan more than the other--it commended itself to her as being more
    uncomfortable and aggressive. It's not the fashion nowadays to be
    good by stealth."

    Mrs. Quentin said to herself, "I didn't know how much he cared!"
    Aloud she murmured, "You must give her time."

    "Time?"

    "To move out the old prejudices and make room for new ones."

    "My dear mother, those she has are brand-new; that's the trouble
    with them. She's tremendously up-to-date. She takes in all the moral
    fashion-papers, and wears the newest thing in ethics."

    Her resentment lost its way in the intricacies of his metaphor. "Is
    she so very religious?"

    "You dear archaic woman! She's hopelessly irreligious; that's the
    difficulty. You can make a religious woman believe almost anything:
    there's the habit of credulity to work on. But when a girl's faith
    in the Deluge has been shaken, it's very hard to inspire her with
    confidence. She makes you feel that, before believing in you, it's
    her duty as a conscientious agnostic to find out whether you're not
    obsolete, or whether the text isn't corrupt, or somebody hasn't
    proved conclusively that you never existed, anyhow."

    Mrs. Quentin was again silent. The two moved in that atmosphere of
    implications and assumptions where the lightest word may shake down
    the dust of countless stored impressions; and speech was sometimes
    more difficult between them than had their union been less close.

    Presently she ventured, "It's impossible?"

    "Impossible?"

    She seemed to use her words cautiously, like weapons that might slip
    and inflict a cut. "What she suggests."

    Her son, raising himself, turned to look at her for the first time.
    Their glance met in a shock of comprehension. He was with her
    against the girl, then! Her satisfaction overflowed in a murmur of
    tenderness.

    "Of course not, dear. One can't change--change one's life...."

    "One's self," he emended. "That's what I tell her. What's the use of
    my giving up the paper if I keep my point of view?"

    The psychological distinction attracted her. "Which is it she minds
    most?"

    "Oh, the paper--for the present. She undertakes to modify the point
    of view afterward. All she asks is that I shall renounce my heresy:
    the gift of grace will come later."

    Mrs. Quentin sat gazing into her untouched cup. Her son's first
    words had produced in her the hallucinated sense of struggling in
    the thick of a crowd that he could not see. It was horrible to feel
    herself hemmed in by influences imperceptible to him; yet if
    anything could have increased her misery it would have been the
    discovery that her ghosts had become visible.

    As though to divert his attention, she precipitately asked, "And
    you--?"

    His answer carried the shock of an evocation. "I merely asked her
    what she thought of _you_."

    "Of me?"

    "She admires you immensely, you know."

    For a moment Mrs. Quentin's cheek showed the lingering light of
    girlhood: praise transmitted by her son acquired something of the
    transmitter's merit. "Well--?" she smiled.

    "Well--you didn't make my father give up the _Radiator_, did you?"

    His mother, stiffening, made a circuitous return: "She never comes
    here. How can she know me?"

    "She's so poor! She goes out so little." He rose and leaned against
    the mantel-piece, dislodging with impatient fingers a slender bronze
    wrestler poised on a porphyry base, between two warm-toned Spanish
    ivories. "And then her mother--" he added, as if involuntarily.

    "Her mother has never visited me," Mrs. Quentin finished for him.

    He shrugged his shoulders. "Mrs. Fenno has the scope of a wax doll.
    Her rule of conduct is taken from her grandmother's sampler."

    "But the daughter is so modern--and yet--"

    "The result is the same? Not exactly. _She_ admires you--oh,
    immensely!" He replaced the bronze and turned to his mother with a
    smile. "Aren't you on some hospital committee together? What
    especially strikes her is your way of doing good. She says
    philanthropy is not a line of conduct, but a state of mind--and it
    appears that you are one of the elect."

    As, in the vague diffusion of physical pain, relief seems to come
    with the acuter pang of a single nerve, Mrs. Quentin felt herself
    suddenly eased by a rush of anger against the girl. "If she loved
    you--" she began.

    His gesture checked her. "I'm not asking you to get her to do that."

    The two were again silent, facing each other in the disarray of a
    common catastrophe--as though their thoughts, at the summons of
    danger, had rushed naked into action. Mrs. Quentin, at this
    revealing moment, saw for the first time how many elements of her
    son's character had seemed comprehensible simply because they were
    familiar: as, in reading a foreign language, we take the meaning of
    certain words for granted till the context corrects us. Often as in
    a given case, her maternal musings had figured his conduct, she now
    found herself at a loss to forecast it; and with this failure of
    intuition came a sense of the subserviency which had hitherto made
    her counsels but the anticipation of his wish. Her despair escaped
    in the moan, "What _is_ it you ask me?"

    "To talk to her."

    "Talk to her?"

    "Show her--tell her--make her understand that the paper has always
    been a thing outside your life--that hasn't touched you--that
    needn't touch _her_. Only, let her hear you--watch you--be with
    you--she'll see...she can't help seeing..."

    His mother faltered. "But if she's given you her reasons--?"

    "Let her give them to you! If she can--when she sees you...." His
    impatient hand again displaced the wrestler. "I care abominably," he
    confessed.

    II

    On the Fenno threshold a sudden sense of the futility of the attempt
    had almost driven Mrs. Quentin back to her carriage; but the door
    was already opening, and a parlor-maid who believed that Miss Fenno
    was in led the way to the depressing drawing-room. It was the kind
    of room in which no member of the family is likely to be found
    except after dinner or after death. The chairs and tables looked
    like poor relations who had repaid their keep by a long career of
    grudging usefulness: they seemed banded together against intruders
    in a sullen conspiracy of discomfort. Mrs. Quentin, keenly
    susceptible to such influences, read failure in every angle of the
    upholstery. She was incapable of the vulgar error of thinking that
    Hope Fenno might be induced to marry Alan for his money; but between
    this assumption and the inference that the girl's imagination might
    be touched by the finer possibilities of wealth, good taste admitted
    a distinction. The Fenno furniture, however, presented to such
    reasoning the obtuseness of its black-walnut chamferings; and
    something in its attitude suggested that its owners would be as
    uncompromising. The room showed none of the modern attempts at
    palliation, no apologetic draping of facts; and Mrs. Quentin,
    provisionally perched on a green-reps Gothic sofa with which it was
    clearly impossible to establish any closer relations, concluded
    that, had Mrs. Fenno needed another seat of the same size, she would
    have set out placidly to match the one on which her visitor now
    languished.

    To Mrs. Quentin's fancy, Hope Fenno's opinions, presently imparted
    in a clear young voice from the opposite angle of the Gothic sofa,
    partook of the character of their surroundings. The girl's mind was
    like a large light empty place, scantily furnished with a few
    massive prejudices, not designed to add to any one's comfort but too
    ponderous to be easily moved. Mrs. Quentin's own intelligence, in
    which its owner, in an artistically shaded half-light, had so long
    moved amid a delicate complexity of sensations, seemed in comparison
    suddenly close and crowded; and in taking refuge there from the
    glare of the young girl's candor, the older woman found herself
    stumbling in an unwonted obscurity. Her uneasiness resolved itself
    into a sense of irritation against her listener. Mrs. Quentin knew
    that the momentary value of any argument lies in the capacity of the
    mind to which it is addressed, and as her shafts of persuasion spent
    themselves against Miss Fenno's obduracy, she said to herself that,
    since conduct is governed by emotions rather than ideas, the really
    strong people are those who mistake their sensations for opinions.
    Viewed in this light, Miss Fenno was certainly very strong: there
    was an unmistakable ring of finality in the tone with which she
    declared,

    "It's impossible."

    Mrs. Quentin's answer veiled the least shade of feminine resentment.
    "I told Alan that, where he had failed, there was no chance of my
    making an impression."

    Hope Fenno laid on her visitor's an almost reverential hand. "Dear
    Mrs. Quentin, it's the impression you make that confirms the
    impossibility."

    Mrs. Quentin waited a moment: she was perfectly aware that, where
    her feelings were concerned, her sense of humor was not to be relied
    on. "Do I make such an odious impression?" she asked at length, with
    a smile that seemed to give the girl her choice of two meanings.

    "You make such a beautiful one! It's too beautiful--it obscures my
    judgment."

    Mrs. Quentin looked at her thoughtfully. "Would it be permissible, I
    wonder, for an older woman to suggest that, at your age, it isn't
    always a misfortune to have what one calls one's judgment
    temporarily obscured?"

    Miss Fenno flushed. "I try not to judge others--"

    "You judge Alan."

    "Ah, _he_ is not others," she murmured, with an accent that touched
    the older woman.

    "You judge his mother."

    "I don't; I don't!"

    Mrs. Quentin pressed her point. "You judge yourself, then, as you
    would be in my position--and your verdict condemns me."

    "How can you think it? It's because I appreciate the difference in
    our point of view that I find it so difficult to defend myself--"

    "Against what?"

    "The temptation to imagine that I might be as _you_ are--feeling as
    I do."

    Mrs. Quentin rose with a sigh. "My child, in my day love was less
    subtle." She added, after a moment, "Alan is a perfect son."

    "Ah, that again--that makes it worse!"

    "Worse?"

    "Just as your goodness does, your sweetness, your immense indulgence
    in letting me discuss things with you in a way that must seem almost
    an impertinence."

    Mrs. Quentin's smile was not without irony. "You must remember that
    I do it for Alan."

    "That's what I love you for!" the girl instantly returned; and again
    her tone touched her listener.

    "And yet you're sacrificing him--and to an idea!"

    "Isn't it to ideas that all the sacrifices that were worth while
    have been made?"

    "One may sacrifice one's self."

    Miss Fenno's color rose. "That's what I'm doing," she said gently.

    Mrs. Quentin took her hand. "I believe you are," she answered. "And
    it isn't true that I speak only for Alan. Perhaps I did when I
    began; but now I want to plead for you too--against yourself." She
    paused, and then went on with a deeper note: "I have let you, as you
    say, speak your mind to me in terms that some women might have
    resented, because I wanted to show you how little, as the years go
    on, theories, ideas, abstract conceptions of life, weigh against the
    actual, against the particular way in which life presents itself to
    us--to women especially. To decide beforehand exactly how one ought
    to behave in given circumstances is like deciding that one will
    follow a certain direction in crossing an unexplored country.
    Afterward we find that we must turn out for the obstacles--cross the
    rivers where they're shallowest--take the tracks that others have
    beaten--make all sorts of unexpected concessions. Life is made up of
    compromises: that is what youth refuses to understand. I've lived
    long enough to doubt whether any real good ever came of sacrificing
    beautiful facts to even more beautiful theories. Do I seem
    casuistical? I don't know--there may be losses either way...but
    the love of the man one loves...of the child one loves...
    that makes up for everything...."

    She had spoken with a thrill which seemed to communicate itself to
    the hand her listener had left in hers. Her eyes filled suddenly,
    but through their dimness she saw the girl's lips shape a last
    desperate denial:

    "Don't you see it's because I feel all this that I mustn't--that I
    can't?"

    III

    Mrs. Quentin, in the late spring afternoon, had turned in at the
    doors of the Metropolitan Museum. She had been walking in the Park,
    in a solitude oppressed by the ever-present sense of her son's
    trouble, and had suddenly remembered that some one had added a
    Beltraffio to the collection. It was an old habit of Mrs. Quentin's
    to seek in the enjoyment of the beautiful the distraction that most
    of her acquaintances appeared to find in each other's company. She
    had few friends, and their society was welcome to her only in her
    more superficial moods; but she could drug anxiety with a picture as
    some women can soothe it with a bonnet.

    During the six months that had elapsed since her visit to Miss Fenno
    she had been conscious of a pain of which she had supposed herself
    no longer capable: as a man will continue to feel the ache of an
    amputated arm. She had fancied that all her centres of feeling had
    been transferred to Alan; but she now found herself subject to a
    kind of dual suffering, in which her individual pang was the keener
    in that it divided her from her son's. Alan had surprised her: she
    had not foreseen that he would take a sentimental rebuff so hard.
    His disappointment took the uncommunicative form of a sterner
    application to work. He threw himself into the concerns of the
    _Radiator_ with an aggressiveness that almost betrayed itself in the
    paper. Mrs. Quentin never read the _Radiator_, but from the glimpses
    of it reflected in the other journals she gathered that it was at
    least not being subjected to the moral reconstruction which had been
    one of Miss Fenno's alternatives.

    Mrs. Quentin never spoke to her son of what had happened. She was
    superior to the cheap satisfaction of avenging his injury by
    depreciating its cause. She knew that in sentimental sorrows such
    consolations are as salt in the wound. The avoidance of a subject so
    vividly present to both could not but affect the closeness of their
    relation. An invisible presence hampered their liberty of speech and
    thought. The girl was always between them; and to hide the sense of
    her intrusion they began to be less frequently together. It was then
    that Mrs. Quentin measured the extent of her isolation. Had she ever
    dared to forecast such a situation, she would have proceeded on the
    conventional theory that her son's suffering must draw her nearer to
    him; and this was precisely the relief that was denied her. Alan's
    uncommunicativeness extended below the level of speech, and his
    mother, reduced to the helplessness of dead-reckoning, had not even
    the solace of adapting her sympathy to his needs. She did not know
    what he felt: his course was incalculable to her. She sometimes
    wondered if she had become as incomprehensible to him; and it was to
    find a moment's refuge from the dogging misery of such conjectures
    that she had now turned in at the Museum.

    The long line of mellow canvases seemed to receive her into the rich
    calm of an autumn twilight. She might have been walking in an
    enchanted wood where the footfall of care never sounded. So deep was
    the sense of seclusion that, as she turned from her prolonged
    communion with the new Beltraffio, it was a surprise to find she was
    not alone.

    A young lady who had risen from the central ottoman stood in
    suspended flight as Mrs. Quentin faced her. The older woman was the
    first to regain her self-possession.

    "Miss Fenno!" she said.

    The girl advanced with a blush. As it faded, Mrs. Quentin noticed a
    change in her. There had always been something bright and bannerlike
    in her aspect, but now her look drooped, and she hung at half-mast,
    as it were. Mrs. Quentin, in the embarrassment of surprising a
    secret that its possessor was doubtless unconscious of betraying,
    reverted hurriedly to the Beltraffio.

    "I came to see this," she said. "It's very beautiful."

    Miss Fenno's eye travelled incuriously over the mystic blue reaches
    of the landscape. "I suppose so," she assented; adding, after
    another tentative pause, "You come here often, don't you?"

    "Very often," Mrs. Quentin answered. "I find pictures a great help."

    "A help?"

    "A rest, I mean...if one is tired or out of sorts."

    "Ah," Miss Fenno murmured, looking down.

    "This Beltraffio is new, you know," Mrs. Quentin continued. "What a
    wonderful background, isn't it? Is he a painter who interests you?"

    The girl glanced again at the dusky canvas, as though in a final
    endeavor to extract from it a clue to the consolations of art. "I
    don't know," she said at length; "I'm afraid I don't understand
    pictures." She moved nearer to Mrs. Quentin and held out her hand.

    "You're going?"

    "Yes."

    Mrs. Quentin looked at her. "Let me drive you home," she said,
    impulsively. She was feeling, with a shock of surprise, that it gave
    her, after all, no pleasure to see how much the girl had suffered.

    Miss Fenno stiffened perceptibly. "Thank you; I shall like the
    walk."

    Mrs. Quentin dropped her hand with a corresponding movement of
    withdrawal, and a momentary wave of antagonism seemed to sweep the
    two women apart. Then, as Mrs. Quentin, bowing slightly, again
    addressed herself to the picture, she felt a sudden touch on her
    arm.

    "Mrs. Quentin," the girl faltered, "I really came here because I saw
    your carriage." Her eyes sank, and then fluttered back to her
    hearer's face. "I've been horribly unhappy!" she exclaimed.

    Mrs. Quentin was silent. If Hope Fenno had expected an immediate
    response to her appeal, she was disappointed. The older woman's face
    was like a veil dropped before her thoughts.

    "I've thought so often," the girl went on precipitately, "of what
    you said that day you came to see me last autumn. I think I
    understand now what you meant--what you tried to make me see....
    Oh, Mrs. Quentin," she broke out, "I didn't mean to tell you this--I
    never dreamed of it till this moment--but you _do_ remember what you
    said, don't you? You must remember it! And now that I've met you in
    this way, I can't help telling you that I believe--I begin to
    believe--that you were right, after all."

    Mrs. Quentin had listened without moving; but now she raised her
    eyes with a slight smile. "Do you wish me to say this to Alan?" she
    asked.

    The girl flushed, but her glance braved the smile. "Would he still
    care to hear it?" she said fearlessly.

    Mrs. Quentin took momentary refuge in a renewed inspection of the
    Beltraffio; then, turning, she said, with a kind of reluctance: "He
    would still care."

    "Ah!" broke from the girl.

    During this exchange of words the two speakers had drifted
    unconsciously toward one of the benches. Mrs. Quentin glanced about
    her: a custodian who had been hovering in the doorway sauntered into
    the adjoining gallery, and they remained alone among the silvery
    Vandykes and flushed bituminous Halses. Mrs. Quentin sank down on
    the bench and reached a hand to the girl.

    "Sit by me," she said.

    Miss Fenno dropped beside her. In both women the stress of emotion
    was too strong for speech. The girl was still trembling, and Mrs.
    Quentin was the first to regain her composure.

    "You say you've suffered," she began at last. "Do you suppose _I_
    haven't?"

    "I knew you had. That made it so much worse for me--that I should
    have been the cause of your suffering for Alan!"

    Mrs. Quentin drew a deep breath. "Not for Alan only," she said. Miss
    Fenno turned on her a wondering glance. "Not for Alan only. _That_
    pain every woman expects--and knows how to bear. We all know our
    children must have such disappointments, and to suffer with them is
    not the deepest pain. It's the suffering apart--in ways they don't
    understand." She breathed deeply. "I want you to know what I mean.
    You were right--that day--and I was wrong."

    "Oh," the girl faltered.

    Mrs. Quentin went on in a voice of passionate lucidity. "I knew it
    then--I knew it even while I was trying to argue with you--I've
    always known it! I didn't want my son to marry you till I heard your
    reasons for refusing him; and then--then I longed to see you his
    wife!"

    "Oh, Mrs. Quentin!"

    "I longed for it; but I knew it mustn't be."

    "Mustn't be?"

    Mrs. Quentin shook her head sadly, and the girl, gaining courage
    from this mute negation, cried with an uncontrollable escape of
    feeling:

    "It's because you thought me hard, obstinate narrow-minded? Oh, I
    understand that so well! My self-righteousness must have seemed so
    petty! A girl who could sacrifice a man's future to her own moral
    vanity--for it _was_ a form of vanity; you showed me that plainly
    enough--how you must have despised me! But I am not that girl
    now--indeed I'm not. I'm not impulsive--I think things out. I've
    thought this out. I know Alan loves me--I know _how_ he loves
    me--and I believe I can help him--oh, not in the ways I had fancied
    before--but just merely by loving him." She paused, but Mrs. Quentin
    made no sign. "I see it all so differently now. I see what an
    influence love itself may be--how my believing in him, loving him,
    accepting him just as he is, might help him more than any theories,
    any arguments. I might have seen this long ago in looking at
    _you_--as he often told me--in seeing how you'd kept yourself apart
    from--from--Mr. Quentin's work and his--been always the beautiful
    side of life to them--kept their faith alive in spite of
    themselves--not by interfering, preaching, reforming, but by--just
    loving them and being there--" She looked at Mrs. Quentin with a
    simple nobleness. "It isn't as if I cared for the money, you know;
    if I cared for that, I should be afraid--"

    "You will care for it in time," Mrs. Quentin said suddenly.

    Miss Fenno drew back, releasing her hand. "In time?"

    "Yes; when there's nothing else left." She stared a moment at the
    pictures. "My poor child," she broke out, "I've heard all you say so
    often before!"

    "You've heard it?"

    "Yes--from myself. I felt as you do, I argued as you do, I acted as
    I mean to prevent your doing, when I married Alan's father."

    The long empty gallery seemed to reverberate with the girl's
    startled exclamation--"Oh, Mrs. Quentin--"

    "Hush; let me speak. Do you suppose I'd do this if you were the kind
    of pink-and-white idiot he ought to have married? It's because I see
    you're alive, as I was, tingling with beliefs, ambitions, energies,
    as I was--that I can't see you walled up alive, as I was, without
    stretching out a hand to save you!" She sat gazing rigidly forward,
    her eyes on the pictures, speaking in the low precipitate tone of
    one who tries to press the meaning of a lifetime into a few
    breathless sentences.

    "When I met Alan's father," she went on, "I knew nothing of his--his
    work. We met abroad, where I had been living with my mother. That
    was twenty-six years ago, when the _Radiator_ was less--less
    notorious than it is now. I knew my husband owned a newspaper--a
    great newspaper--and nothing more. I had never seen a copy of the
    _Radiator_; I had no notion what it stood for, in politics--or in
    other ways. We were married in Europe, and a few months afterward we
    came to live here. People were already beginning to talk about the
    _Radiator_. My husband, on leaving college, had bought it with some
    money an old uncle had left him, and the public at first was merely
    curious to see what an ambitious, stirring young man without any
    experience of journalism was going to make out of his experiment.
    They found first of all that he was going to make a great deal of
    money out of it. I found that out too. I was so happy in other ways
    that it didn't make much difference at first; though it was pleasant
    to be able to help my mother, to be generous and charitable, to live
    in a nice house, and wear the handsome gowns he liked to see me in.
    But still it didn't really count--it counted so little that when,
    one day, I learned what the _Radiator_ was, I would have gone out
    into the streets barefooted rather than live another hour on the
    money it brought in...." Her voice sank, and she paused to steady
    it. The girl at her side did not speak or move. "I shall never
    forget that day," she began again. "The paper had stripped bare some
    family scandal--some miserable bleeding secret that a dozen unhappy
    people had been struggling to keep out of print--that _would_ have
    been kept out if my husband had not--Oh, you must guess the rest! I
    can't go on!"

    She felt a hand on hers. "You mustn't go on, Mrs. Quentin," the girl
    whispered.

    "Yes, I must--I must! You must be made to understand." She drew a
    deep breath. "My husband was not like Alan. When he found out how I
    felt about it he was surprised at first--but gradually he began to
    see--or at least I fancied he saw--the hatefulness of it. At any
    rate he saw how I suffered, and he offered to give up the whole
    thing--to sell the paper. It couldn't be done all of a sudden, of
    course--he made me see that--for he had put all his money in it, and
    he had no special aptitude for any other kind of work. He was a born
    journalist--like Alan. It was a great sacrifice for him to give up
    the paper, but he promised to do it--in time--when a good
    opportunity offered. Meanwhile, of course, he wanted to build it up,
    to increase the circulation--and to do that he had to keep on in the
    same way--he made that clear to me. I saw that we were in a vicious
    circle. The paper, to sell well, had to be made more and more
    detestable and disgraceful. At first I rebelled--but somehow--I
    can't tell you how it was--after that first concession the ground
    seemed to give under me: with every struggle I sank deeper. And
    then--then Alan was born. He was such a delicate baby that there was
    very little hope of saving him. But money did it--the money from the
    paper. I took him abroad to see the best physicians--I took him to a
    warm climate every winter. In hot weather the doctors recommended
    sea air, and we had a yacht and cruised every summer. I owed his
    life to the _Radiator_. And when he began to grow stronger the habit
    was formed--the habit of luxury. He could not get on without the
    things he had always been used to. He pined in bad air; he drooped
    under monotony and discomfort; he throve on variety, amusement,
    travel, every kind of novelty and excitement. And all I wanted for
    him his inexhaustible foster-mother was there to give!

    "My husband said nothing, but he must have seen how things were
    going. There was no more talk of giving up the _Radiator_. He never
    reproached me with my inconsistency, but I thought he must despise
    me, and the thought made me reckless. I determined to ignore the
    paper altogether--to take what it gave as though I didn't know where
    it came from. And to excuse this I invented the theory that one may,
    so to speak, purify money by putting it to good uses. I gave away a
    great deal in charity--I indulged myself very little at first. All
    the money that was not spent on Alan I tried to do good with. But
    gradually, as my boy grew up, the problem became more complicated.
    How was I to protect Alan from the contamination I had let him live
    in? I couldn't preach by example--couldn't hold up his father as a
    warning, or denounce the money we were living on. All I could do was
    to disguise the inner ugliness of life by making it beautiful
    outside--to build a wall of beauty between him and the facts of
    life, turn his tastes and interests another way, hide the _Radiator_
    from him as a smiling woman at a ball may hide a cancer in her
    breast! Just as Alan was entering college his father died. Then I
    saw my way clear. I had loved my husband--and yet I drew my first
    free breath in years. For the _Radiator_ had been left to Alan
    outright--there was nothing on earth to prevent his selling it when
    he came of age. And there was no excuse for his not selling it. I
    had brought him up to depend on money, but the paper had given us
    enough money to gratify all his tastes. At last we could turn on the
    monster that had nourished us. I felt a savage joy in the thought--I
    could hardly bear to wait till Alan came of age. But I had never
    spoken to him of the paper, and I didn't dare speak of it now. Some
    false shame kept me back, some vague belief in his ignorance. I
    would wait till he was twenty-one, and then we should be free.

    "I waited--the day came, and I spoke. You can guess his answer, I
    suppose. He had no idea of selling the _Radiator_. It wasn't the
    money he cared for--it was the career that tempted him. He was a
    born journalist, and his ambition, ever since he could remember, had
    been to carry on his father's work, to develop, to surpass it. There
    was nothing in the world as interesting as modern journalism. He
    couldn't imagine any other kind of life that wouldn't bore him to
    death. A newspaper like the _Radiator_ might be made one of the
    biggest powers on earth, and he loved power, and meant to have all
    he could get. I listened to him in a kind of trance. I couldn't find
    a word to say. His father had had scruples--he had none. I seemed to
    realize at once that argument would be useless. I don't know that I
    even tried to plead with him--he was so bright and hard and
    inaccessible! Then I saw that he was, after all, what I had made
    him--the creature of my concessions, my connivances, my evasions.
    That was the price I had paid for him--I had kept him at that cost!

    "Well--I _had_ kept him, at any rate. That was the feeling that
    survived. He was my boy, my son, my very own--till some other woman
    took him. Meanwhile the old life must go on as it could. I gave up
    the struggle. If at that point he was inaccessible, at others he was
    close to me. He has always been a perfect son. Our tastes grew
    together--we enjoyed the same books, the same pictures, the same
    people. All I had to do was to look at him in profile to see the
    side of him that was really mine. At first I kept thinking of the
    dreadful other side--but gradually the impression faded, and I kept
    my mind turned from it, as one does from a deformity in a face one
    loves. I thought I had made my last compromise with life--had hit on
    a _modus vivendi_ that would last my time.

    "And then he met you. I had always been prepared for his marrying,
    but not a girl like you. I thought he would choose a sweet thing who
    would never pry into his closets--he hated women with ideas! But as
    soon as I saw you I knew the struggle would have to begin again. He
    is so much stronger than his father--he is full of the most
    monstrous convictions. And he has the courage of them, too--you saw
    last year that his love for you never made him waver. He believes in
    his work; he adores it--it is a kind of hideous idol to which he
    would make human sacrifices! He loves you still--I've been honest
    with you--but his love wouldn't change him. It is you who would have
    to change--to die gradually, as I have died, till there is only one
    live point left in me. Ah, if one died completely--that's simple
    enough! But something persists--remember that--a single point, an
    aching nerve of truth. Now and then you may drug it--but a touch
    wakes it again, as your face has waked it in me. There's always
    enough of one's old self left to suffer with...."

    She stood up and faced the girl abruptly. "What shall I tell Alan?"
    she said.

    Miss Fenno sat motionless, her eyes on the ground. Twilight was
    falling on the gallery--a twilight which seemed to emanate not so
    much from the glass dome overhead as from the crepuscular depths
    into which the faces of the pictures were receding. The custodian's
    step sounded warningly down the corridor. When the girl looked up
    she was alone.
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