Title: After Holbein
Author: Edith Wharton
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Anson Warley had had his moments of being a rather remarkable man; but
they were only intermittent; they recurred at ever-lengthening intervals;
and between times he was a small poor creature, chattering with cold
inside, in spite of his agreeable and even distinguished exterior.
He had always been perfectly aware of these two sides of himself (which,
even in the privacy of his own mind, he contemptuously refused to dub a
dual personality); and as the rather remarkable man could take fairly
good care of himself, most of Warley's attention was devoted to
ministering to the poor wretch who took longer and longer turns at
bearing his name, and was more and more insistent in accepting the
invitations which New York, for over thirty years, had tirelessly poured
out on him. It was in the interest of this lonely fidgety unemployed self
that Warley, in his younger days, had frequented the gaudiest restaurants
and the most glittering Palace Hotels of two hemispheres, subscribed to
the most advanced literary and artistic reviews, bought the pictures of
the young painters who were being the most vehemently discussed, missed
few of the showiest first nights in New York, London or Paris, sought the
company of the men and women—especially the women—most conspicuous in
fashion, scandal, or any other form of social notoriety, and thus tried
to warm the shivering soul within him at all the passing bonfires of
The original Anson Warley had begun by staying at home in his little
flat, with his books and his thoughts, when the other poor creature went
forth; but gradually—he hardly knew when or how—he had slipped into the
way of going too, till finally he made the bitter discovery that he and
the creature had become one, except on the increasingly rare occasions
when, detaching himself from all casual contingencies, he mounted to the
lofty water-shed which fed the sources of his scorn. The view from there
was vast and glorious, the air was icy but exhilarating; but soon he
began to find the place too lonely, and too difficult to get to,
especially as the lesser Anson not only refused to go up with him but
began to sneer, at first ever so faintly, then with increasing insolence,
at this affectation of a taste for heights.
"What's the use of scrambling up there, anyhow? I could understand it if
you brought down anything worth while—a poem or a picture of your own.
But just climbing and staring: what does it lead to? Fellows with the
creative gift have got to have their occasional Sinais; I can see that.
But for a mere looker-on like you, isn't that sort of thing rather a
pose? You talk awfully well—brilliantly, even (oh, my dear fellow, no
false modesty between you and ME, please!) But who the devil is there to
listen to you, up there among the glaciers? And sometimes, when you come
down, I notice that you're rather—well, heavy and tongue-tied. Look out,
or they'll stop asking us to dine! And sitting at home every
evening—brr! Look here, by the way; if you've got nothing better for
tonight, come along with me to Chrissy Torrance's—or the Bob
Briggses'—or Princess Kate's; anywhere where there's lots of racket and
sparkle, places that people go to in Rollses, and that are smart and hot
and overcrowded, and you have to pay a lot—in one way or another—to get
Once and again, it is true, Warley still dodged his double and slipped
off on a tour to remote uncomfortable places, where there were churches
or pictures to be seen, or shut himself up at home for a good bout of
reading, or just, in sheer disgust at his companion's platitude, spent an
evening with people who were doing or thinking real things. This happened
seldomer than of old, however, and more clandestinely; so that at last he
used to sneak away to spend two or three days with an
archaeologically-minded friend, or an evening with a quiet scholar, as
furtively as if he were stealing to a lover's tryst; which, as lovers'
trysts were now always kept in the limelight, was after all a fair
exchange. But he always felt rather apologetic to the other Warley about
these escapades—and, if the truth were known, rather bored and restless
before they were over. And in the back of his mind there lurked an
increasing dread of missing something hot and noisy and overcrowded when
he went off to one of his mountain-tops. "After all, that high-brow
business has been awfully overdone—now hasn't it?" the little Warley
would insinuate, rummaging for his pearl studs, and consulting his flat
evening watch as nervously as if it were a railway time-table. "If only
we haven't missed something really jolly by all this backing and
"Oh, you poor creature, you! Always afraid of being left out, aren't you?
Well—just for once, to humour you, and because I happen to be feeling
rather stale myself. But only to think of a sane man's wanting to go to
places just because they're hot and smart and overcrowded!" And off they
would dash together.
All that was long ago. It was years now since there had been two distinct
Anson Warleys. The lesser one had made away with the other, done him
softly to death without shedding of blood; and only a few people
suspected (and they no longer cared) that the pale white-haired man, with
the small slim figure, the ironic smile and the perfect evening clothes,
whom New York still indefatigably invited, was nothing less than a
Anson Warley—Anson Warley! No party was complete without Anson Warley.
He no longer went abroad now; too stiff in the joints; and there had been
two or three slight attacks of dizziness... Nothing to speak of, nothing
to think of, even; but somehow one dug one's self into one's comfortable
quarters, and felt less and less like moving out of them, except to motor
down to Long Island for weekends, or to Newport for a few visits in
summer. A trip to the Hot Springs, to get rid of the stiffness, had not
helped much, and the ageing Anson Warley (who really, otherwise, felt as
young as ever) had developed a growing dislike for the promiscuities of
hotel life and the monotony of hotel food.
Yes; he was growing more fastidious as he grew older. A good sign, he
thought. Fastidious not only about food and comfort, but about people
also. It was still a privilege, a distinction, to have him to dine. His
old friends were faithful, and the new people fought for him, and often
failed to get him; to do so they had to offer very special inducements in
the way of cuisine, conversation or beauty. Young beauty; yes that would
do it. He did like to sit and watch a lovely face, and call laughter into
lovely eyes. But no dull dinners for HIM, not even if they fed you off
gold. As to that he was as firm as the other Warley, the distant aloof
one with whom he had—er, well, parted company, oh, quite amicably, a
good many years ago...
On the whole, since that parting, life had been much easier and
pleasanter; and by the time the little Warley was sixty-three he found
himself looking forward with equanimity to an eternity of New York
Oh, but only at the right houses—always at the right houses; that was
understood! The right people—the right setting—the right wines... He
smiled a little over his perennial enjoyment of them; said "Nonsense,
Filmore," to his devoted tiresome man-servant, who was beginning to hint
that really, every night, sir, and sometimes a dance afterward, was too
much, especially when you kept at it for months on end; and Dr. ——
"Oh, damn your doctors!" Warley snapped. He was seldom ill-tempered; he
knew it was foolish and upsetting to lose one's self-control. But Filmore
began to be a nuisance, nagging him, preaching at him. As if he himself
wasn't the best judge...
Besides, he chose his company. He'd stay at home any time rather than
risk a boring evening. Damned rot, what Filmore had said about his going
out every night. Not like poor old Mrs. Jaspar, for instance...$ He
smiled self-approvingly as he evoked her tottering image. "That's the
kind of fool Filmore takes me for," he chuckled, his good-humour restored
by an analogy that was so much to his advantage.
Poor old Evalina Jaspar! In his youth, and even in his prime, she had
been New York's chief entertainer—"leading hostess", the newspapers
called her. Her big house in Fifth Avenue had been an entertaining
machine. She had lived, breathed, invested and reinvested her millions,
to no other end. At first her pretext had been that she had to marry her
daughters and amuse her sons; but when sons and daughters had married and
left her she had seemed hardly aware of it; she had just gone on
entertaining. Hundreds, no, thousands of dinners (on gold plate, of
course, and with orchids, and all the delicacies that were out of
season), had been served in that vast pompous dining-room, which one had
only to close one's eyes to transform into a railway buffet for
millionaires, at a big junction, before the invention of restaurant
Warley closed his eyes, and did so picture it. He lost himself in amused
computation of the annual number of guests, of saddles of mutton, of legs
of lamb, of terrapin, canvas-backs, magnums of champagne and pyramids of
hot-house fruit that must have passed through that room in the last forty
And even now, he thought—hadn't one of old Evalina's nieces told him the
other day, half bantering, half shivering at the avowal, that the poor
old lady, who was gently dying of softening of the brain, still imagined
herself to be New York's leading hostess, still sent out invitations
(which of course were never delivered), still ordered terrapin, champagne
and orchids, and still came down every evening to her great shrouded
drawing-rooms, with her tiara askew on her purple wig, to receive a
stream of imaginary guests?
Rubbish, of course—a macabre pleasantry of the extravagant Nelly Pierce,
who had always had her joke at Aunt Evalina's expense... But Warley could
not help smiling at the thought that those dull monotonous dinners were
still going on in their hostess's clouded imagination. Poor old Evalina,
he thought! In a way she was right. There was really no reason why that
kind of standardized entertaining should ever cease; a performance so
undiscriminating, so undifferentiated, that one could almost imagine, in
the hostess's tired brain, all the dinners she had ever given merging
into one Gargantuan pyramid of food and drink, with the same faces,
perpetually the same faces, gathered stolidly about the same gold plate.
Thank heaven, Anson Warley had never conceived of social values in terms
of mass and volume. It was years since he had dined at Mrs. Jaspar's. He
even felt that he was not above reproach in that respect. Two or three
times, in the past, he had accepted her invitations (always sent out
weeks ahead), and then chucked her at the eleventh hour for something
more amusing. Finally, to avoid such risks, he had made it a rule always
to refuse her dinners. He had even—he remembered—been rather funny
about it once, when someone had told him that Mrs. Jaspar couldn't
understand...was a little hurt...said it couldn't be true that he always
had another engagement the nights she asked him... "TRUE? Is the truth
what she wants? All right! Then the next time I get a 'Mrs. Jaspar
requests the pleasure' I'll answer it with a 'Mr. Warley declines the
boredom.' Think she'll understand that, eh?" And the phrase became a
catchword in his little set that winter. "'Mr. Warley declines the
boredom.'—good, good, GOOD!" "Dear Anson, I do hope you won't decline
the boredom of coming to lunch next Sunday to meet the new Hindu
Yoghi"—or the new saxophone soloist, or that genius of a mulatto boy who
plays negro spirituals on a tooth-brush; and so on and so on. He only
hoped poor old Evalina never heard of it...
"Certainly I shall NOT stay at home tonight—why, what's wrong with me?"
he snapped, swinging round on Filmore.
The valet's long face grew longer. His way of answering such questions
was always to pull out his face; it was his only means of putting any
expression into it. He turned away into the bedroom, and Warley sat alone
by his library fire... Now what did the man see that was wrong with him,
he wondered? He had felt a little confusion that morning, when he was
doing his daily sprint around the Park (his exercise was reduced to
that!); but it had been only a passing flurry, of which Filmore could of
course know nothing. And as soon as it was over his mind had seemed more
lucid, his eye keener, than ever; as sometimes (he reflected) the
electric light in his library lamps would blaze up too brightly after a
break in the current, and he would say to himself, wincing a little at
the sudden glare on the page he was reading: "That means that it'll go
out again in a minute."
Yes; his mind, at that moment, had been quite piercingly clear and
perceptive; his eye had passed with a renovating glitter over every
detail of the daily scene. He stood still for a minute under the leafless
trees of the Mall, and looking about him with the sudden insight of age,
understood that he had reached the time of life when Alps and cathedrals
become as transient as flowers.
Everything was fleeting, fleeting...yes, that was what had given him the
vertigo. The doctors, poor fools, called it the stomach, or high
blood-pressure; but it was only the dizzy plunge of the sands in the
hour-glass, the everlasting plunge that emptied one of heart and bowels,
like the drop of an elevator from the top floor of a sky-scraper.
Certainly, after that moment of revelation, he had felt a little more
tired than usual for the rest of the day; the light had flagged in his
mind as it sometimes did in his lamps. At Chrissy Torrance's, where he
had lunched, they had accused him of being silent, his hostess had said
that he looked pale; but he had retorted with a joke, and thrown himself
into the talk with a feverish loquacity. It was the only thing to do; for
he could not tell all these people at the lunch table that very morning
he had arrived at the turn in the path from which mountains look as
transient as flowers—and that one after another they would all arrive
He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, but not in sleep. He did not
feel sleepy, but keyed up and alert. In the next room he heard Filmore
reluctantly, protestingly, laying out his evening clothes... He had no
fear about the dinner tonight; a quiet intimate little affair at an old
friend's house. Just two or three congenial men, and Elfmann, the pianist
(who would probably play), and that lovely Elfrida Flight. The fact that
people asked him to dine to meet Elfrida Flight seemed to prove pretty
conclusively that he was still in the running! He chuckled softly at
Filmore's pessimism, and thought: "Well, after all, I suppose no man
seems young to his valet... Time to dress very soon," he thought; and
luxuriously postponed getting up out of his chair...
"She's worse than usual tonight," said the day nurse, laying down the
evening paper as her colleague joined her. "Absolutely determined to have
her jewels out."
The night nurse, fresh from a long sleep and an afternoon at the movies
with a gentleman friend, threw down her fancy bag, tossed off her hat and
rumpled up her hair before old Mrs. Jaspar's tall toilet mirror. "Oh,
I'll settle that—don't you worry," she said brightly.
"Don't you fret her, though, Miss Cress," said the other, getting wearily
out of her chair. "We're very well off here, take it as a whole, and I
don't want her pressure rushed up for nothing."
Miss Cress, still looking at herself in the glass, smiled reassuringly at
Miss Dunn's pale reflection behind her. She and Miss Dunn got on very
well together, and knew on which side their bread was buttered. But at
the end of the day Miss Dunn was always fagged out and fearing the worst.
The patient wasn't as hard to handle as all that. Just let her ring for
her old maid, old Lavinia, and say: "My sapphire velvet tonight, with the
diamond stars"—and Lavinia would know exactly how to manage her.
Miss Dunn had put on her hat and coat, and crammed her knitting, and the
newspaper, into her bag, which, unlike Miss Cress's, was capacious and
shabby; but still she loitered undecided on the threshold. "I could stay
with you till ten as easy as not..." She looked almost reluctantly about
the big high-studded dressing-room (everything in the house was
high-studded), with its rich dusky carpet and curtains, and its
monumental dressing-table draped with lace and laden with gold-backed
brushes and combs, gold-stoppered toilet-bottles, and all the charming
paraphernalia of beauty at her glass. Old Lavinia even renewed every
morning the roses and carnations in the slim crystal vases between the
powder boxes and the nail polishers. Since the family had shut down the
hot-houses at the uninhabited country place on the Hudson, Miss Cress
suspected that old Lavinia bought these flowers out of her own pocket.
"Cold out tonight?" queried Miss Dunn from the door.
"Fierce... Reg'lar blizzard at the corners. Say, shall I lend you my fur
scarf?" Miss Cress, pleased with the memory of her afternoon (they'd be
engaged soon, she thought), and with the drowsy prospect of an evening in
a deep arm-chair near the warm gleam of the dressing-room fire, was
disposed to kindliness toward that poor thin Dunn girl, who supported her
mother, and her brother's idiot twins. And she wanted Miss Dunn to notice
her new fur.
"My! Isn't it too lovely? No, not for worlds, thank you..." Her hand lay
on the door-knob, Miss Dunn repeated: "Don't you cross her now," and was
Lavinia's bell rang furiously, twice; then the door between the
dressing-room and Mrs. Jaspar's bedroom opened, and Mrs. Jaspar herself
"Lavinia!" she called, in a high irritated voice; then, seeing the nurse,
who had slipped into her print dress and starched cap, she added in a
lower tone: "Oh, Miss Lemoine, good evening." Her first nurse, it
appeared, had been called Miss Lemoine; and she gave the same name to all
the others, quite unaware that there had been any changes in the staff.
"I heard talking, and carriages driving up. Have people begun to arrive?"
she asked nervously. "Where is Lavinia? I still have my jewels to put
She stood before the nurse, the same petrifying apparition which always,
at this hour, struck Miss Cress to silence. Mrs. Jaspar was tall; she had
been broad; and her bones remained impressive though the flesh had
withered on them. Lavinia had encased her, as usual, in her low-necked
purple velvet dress, nipped in at the waist in the old-fashioned way,
expanding in voluminous folds about the hips and flowing in a long train
over the darker velvet of the carpet. Mrs. Jaspar's swollen feet could no
longer be pushed into the high-heeled satin slippers which went with the
dress; but her skirts were so long and spreading that, by taking short
steps, she managed (so Lavinia daily assured her) entirely to conceal the
broad round tips of her black orthopaedic shoes.
"You're jewels, Mrs. Jaspar? Why, you've got them on," said Miss Cress
Mrs. Jaspar turned her porphyry-tinted face to Miss Cress, and looked at
her with a glassy incredulous gaze. Her eyes, Miss Cress thought, were
the worst... She lifted one old hand, veined and knobbed as a raised map,
to her elaborate purple-black wig, groped among the puffs and curls and
undulations (queer, Miss Cress thought, that it never occurred to her to
look into the glass), and after an interval affirmed: "You must be
mistaken, my dear. Don't you think you ought to have your eyes examined?"
The door opened again, and a very old woman, so old as to make Mrs.
Jaspar appear almost young, hobbled in with sidelong steps. "Excuse me,
madam. I was downstairs when the bell rang."
Lavinia had probably always been small and slight; now, beside her
towering mistress, she looked a mere feather, a straw. Everything about
her had dried, contracted, been volatilized into nothingness, except her
watchful gray eyes, in which intelligence and comprehension burned like
two fixed stars. "Do excuse me, madam," she repeated.
Mrs. Jaspar looked at her despairingly. "I hear carriages driving up. And
Miss Lemoine says I have my jewels on; and I know I haven't."
"With that lovely necklace!" Miss Cress ejaculated.
Mrs. Jaspar's twisted hand rose again, this time to her denuded
shoulders, which were as stark and barren as the rock from which the hand
might have been broken. She felt and felt, and tears rose in her eyes...
"Why do you lie to me?" she burst out passionately.
Lavinia softly intervened. "Miss Lemoine meant how lovely you'll be when
you get the necklace on, madam."
"Diamonds, diamonds," said Mrs. Jaspar with an awful smile.
"Of course, madam."
Mrs. Jaspar sat down at the dressing-table, and Lavinia with eager random
hands, began to adjust the point de Venise about her mistress's
shoulders, and to repair the havoc wrought in the purple-black wig by its
wearer's gropings for her tiara.
"Now you do look lovely, madam," she sighed.
Mrs. Jaspar was on her feet again, stiff but incredibly active. ("Like a
cat she is," Miss Cress used to relate.) "I do hear carriages—or is it
an automobile? The Magraws, I know, have one of those new-fangled
automobiles. And now I hear the front door opening. Quick, Lavinia! My
fan, my gloves, my handkerchief...how often have I got to tell you? I
used to have a PERFECT maid—"
Lavinia's eyes brimmed. "That was me, madam," she said, bending to
straighten out the folds of the long purple velvet train. ("To watch the
two of 'em," Miss Cress used to tell a circle of appreciative friends,
"is a lot better than any circus.")
Mrs. Jaspar paid no attention. She twitched the train out of Lavinia's
vacillating hold, swept to the door, and then paused there as if stopped
by a jerk of her constricted muscles. "Oh, but my diamonds—you cruel
woman, you! You're letting me go down without my diamonds!" Her ruined
face puckered up in a grimace like a new-born baby's, and she began to
sob despairingly. "Everybody... Every...body's against me..." she wept in
her powerless misery.
Lavinia helped herself to her feet and tottered across the floor. It was
almost more than she could bear to see her mistress in distress. "Madam,
madam—if you'll just wait till they're got out of the safe," she
The woman she saw before her, the woman she was entreating and consoling,
was not the old petrified Mrs. Jaspar with porphyry face and wig awry
whom Miss Cress stood watching with a smile, but a young proud creature,
commanding and splendid in her Paris gown of amber moire, who, years ago,
had burst into just such furious sobs because, as she was sweeping down
to receive her guests, the doctor had told her that little Grace, with
whom she had been playing all afternoon, had a diphtheric throat, and no
one must be allowed to enter. "Everybody's against me, everybody..." she
had sobbed in her fury; and the young Lavinia, stricken by such Olympian
anger, had stood speechless, longing to comfort her, and secretly
indignant with little Grace and the doctor...
"If you'll just wait, madam, while I go down and ask Munson to open the
safe. There's no one come yet, I do assure you..."
Munson was the old butler, the only person who knew the combination of
the safe in Mrs. Jaspar's bedroom. Lavinia had once known it too, but now
she was no longer able to remember it. The worst of it was that she
feared lest Munson, who had been spending the day in the Bronx, might not
have returned. Munson was growing old too, and he did sometimes forget
about these dinner-parties of Mrs. Jaspar's, and then the stupid footman,
George, had to announce the names, and you couldn't be sure that Mrs.
Jaspar wouldn't notice Munson's absence, and be excited and angry. These
dinner-party nights were killing old Lavinia, and she did so want to keep
alive; she wanted to live long enough to wait on Mrs. Jaspar to the last.
She disappeared, and Miss Cress poked up the fire, and persuaded Mrs.
Jaspar to sit down in an armchair and "tell her who was coming". It
always amused Mrs. Jaspar to say over the long list of her guests' names,
and generally she remembered them fairly well, for they were always the
same—the last people, Lavinia and Munson said, who had dined at the
house, on the very night before her stroke. With recovered complacency
she began, counting over one after another on her ring-laden fingers:
"The Italian Ambassador, the Bishop, Mr. and Mrs. Torrington Bligh, Mr.
and Mrs. Fred Amesworth, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell Magraw, Mr. and Mrs.
Torrington Bligh..." ("You've said them before," Miss Cress interpolated,
getting out her fancy knitting—a necktie for her friend—and beginning
to count the stitches.) And Mrs. Jaspar, distressed and bewildered by the
interruption, had to repeat over and over: "Torrington Bligh, Torrington
Bligh," till the connection was re-established, and she went on again
swimmingly with "Mr. and Mrs. Fred Amesworth, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell
Magraw, Miss Laura Ladew, Mr. Harold Ladew, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Bronx,
Mr. and Mrs. Torrington Bl— no, I mean, Mr. Anson Warley. Yes, Mr. Anson
Warley; that's it," she ended complacently.
Miss Cress smiled and interrupted her counting. "No, that's NOT it."
"What do you mean, my dear—not it?"
"Mr. Anson Warley. He's not coming."
Mrs. Jaspar's jaw fell, and she stared at the nurse's coldly smiling
face. "Not coming?"
"No. He's not coming. He's not on the list." (That old list! As if Miss
Cress didn't know it by heart! Everybody in the house did, except the
booby, George, who heard it reeled off every other night by Munson, and
who was always stumbling over the names, and having to refer to the
"Not on the list?" Mrs. Jaspar gasped.
Miss Cress shook her pretty head.
Signs of uneasiness gathered on Mrs. Jaspar's face and her lip began to
tremble. It always amused Miss Cress to give her these little jolts,
though she knew Miss Dunn and the doctors didn't approve of her doing so.
She knew also that it was against her own interests, and she did try to
bear in mind Miss Dunn's oft-repeated admonition about not sending up the
patient's blood pressure; but when she was in high spirits, as she was
tonight (they would certainly be engaged), it was irresistible to get a
rise out of the old lady. And she thought it funny, this new figure
unexpectedly appearing among those time-worn guests. ("I wonder what the
rest of 'em 'll say to him," she giggled inwardly.)
"No; he's not on the list." Mrs. Jaspar, after pondering deeply,
announced the fact with an air of recovered composure.
"That's what I told you," snapped Miss Cress.
"He's not on the list; but he promised me to come. I saw him yesterday,"
continued Mrs. Jaspar, mysteriously.
"You SAW him—where?"
She considered. "Last night, at the Fred Amesworths' dance."
"Ah," said Miss Cress, with a little shiver; for she knew that Mrs.
Amesworth was dead, and she was the intimate friend of the trained nurse
who was keeping alive, by dint of piqures and high frequency, the
inarticulate and inanimate Mr. Amesworth. "It's funny," she remarked to
Mrs. Jaspar, "that you'd never invited Mr. Warley before."
"No, I hadn't; not for a long time. I believe he felt I'd neglected him;
for he came up to me last night, and said he was so sorry he hadn't been
able to call. It seems he's been ill, poor fellow. Not as young as he
was! So of course I invited him. He was very much gratified."
Mrs. Jaspar smiled at the remembrance of her little triumph; but Miss
Cress's attention had wandered, as it always did when the patient became
docile and reasonable. She thought: "Where's old Lavinia? I bet she can't
find Munson." And she got up and crossed the floor to look into Mrs.
Jaspar's bedroom, where the safe was.
There an astonishing sight met her. Munson, as she had expected, was
nowhere visible; but Lavinia, on her knees before the safe, was in the
act of opening it herself, her twitching hand slowly moving about the
"Why, I thought you'd forgotten the combination!" Miss Cress exclaimed.
Lavinia turned a startled face over her shoulder. "So I had, Miss. But
I've managed to remember it, thank God. I HAD to, you see, because
Munson's forgot to come home."
"Oh," said the nurse incredulously. ("Old fox," she thought, "I wonder
why she's always pretended she'd forgotten it.") For Miss Cress did not
know that the age of miracles is not yet past.
Joyous, trembling, her cheeks wet with grateful tears, the little old
woman was on her feet again, clutching to her breast the diamond stars,
the necklace of solitaires, the tiara, the earrings. One by one she
spread them out on the velvet-lined tray in which they always used to be
carried from the safe to the dressing-room; then, with rambling fingers,
she managed to lock the safe again, and put the keys in the drawer where
they belonged, while Miss Cress continued to stare at her in amazement.
"I don't believe the old witch is as shaky as she makes out," was her
reflection as Lavinia passed her, bearing the jewels to the dressing-room
where Mrs. Jaspar, lost in pleasant memories, was still computing: "The
Italian Ambassador, the Bishop, the Torrington Blighs, the Mitchell
Magraws, the Fred Amesworths..."
Mrs. Jaspar was allowed to go down to the drawing-room alone on
dinner-party evenings because it would have mortified her too much to
receive her guests with a maid or a nurse at her elbow; but Miss Cress
and Lavinia always leaned over the stair-rail to watch her descent, and
make sure it was accomplished in safety.
"She do look lovely yet, when all her diamonds is on," Lavinia sighed,
her purblind eyes bedewed with memories, as the bedizened wig and purple
velvet disappeared at the last bend of the stairs. Miss Cress, with a
shrug, turned back to the fire and picked up her knitting, while Lavinia
set about the slow ritual of tidying up her mistress's room. From below
they heard the sound of George's stentorian monologue: "Mr. and Mrs.
Torrington Bligh, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell Magraw...Mr. Ladew, Miss Laura
Anson Warley, who had always prided himself on his equable temper, was
conscious of being on edge that evening. But it was an irritability which
did not frighten him (in spite of what those doctors always said about
the importance of keeping calm) because he knew it was due merely to the
unusual lucidity of his mind. He was in fact feeling uncommonly well, his
brain clear and all his perceptions so alert that he could positively
hear the thoughts passing through his man-servant's mind on the other
side of the door, as Filmore grudgingly laid out the evening clothes.
Smiling at the man's obstinacy, he thought: "I shall have to tell them
tonight that Filmore thinks I'm no longer fit to go into society." It was
always pleasant to hear the incredulous laugh with which his younger
friends received any allusion to his supposed senility. "What, YOU? Well,
that's a good one!" And he thought it was, himself.
And then, the moment he was in his bedroom, dressing, the sight of
Filmore made him lose his temper again. "No; NOT those studs, confound
it. The black onyx ones—haven't I told you a hundred times? Lost them, I
suppose? Sent them to the wash again in a soiled shirt? That it?" He
laughed nervously, and sitting down before his dressing-table began to
brush back his hair with short angry strokes.
"Above all," he shouted out suddenly, "don't stand there staring at me as
if you were watching to see exactly at what minute to telephone for the
"The under—? Oh, sir!" gasped Filmore.
"The—the—damn it, are you DEAF too? Who said undertaker? I said TAXI;
can't you hear what I say?"
"You want me to call a taxi, sir?"
"No; I don't. I've already told you so. I'm going to walk." Warley
straightened his tie, rose and held out his arms towards his dress-coat.
"It's bitter cold, sir; better let me call a taxi all the same."
Warley gave a short laugh. "Out with it, now! What you'd really like to
suggest is that I should telephone to say I can't dine out. You'd
scramble me some eggs instead, eh?"
"I wish you would stay in, sir. There's eggs in the house."
"My overcoat," snapped Warley.
"Or else let me call a taxi; now do, sir."
Warley slipped his arms into his overcoat, tapped his chest to see if his
watch (the thin evening watch) and his note-case were in their proper
pockets, turned back to put a dash of lavender on his handkerchief, and
walked with stiff quick steps toward the front door of his flat.
Filmore, abashed, preceded him to ring for the lift; and then, as it
quivered upward through the long shaft, said again: "It's a bitter cold
night, sir; and you've had a good deal of exercise today."
Warley levelled a contemptuous glance at him. "Daresay that's why I'm
feeling so fit," he retorted as he entered the lift.
It WAS bitter cold; the icy air hit him in the chest when he stepped out
of the overheated building, and he halted on the doorstep and took a long
breath. "Filmore's missed his vocation; ought to be nurse to a
paralytic," he thought. "He'd love to have to wheel me about in a chair."
After the first shock of the biting air he began to find it exhilarating,
and walked along at a good pace, dragging one leg ever so little after
the other. (The masseur had promised him that he'd soon be rid of that
stiffness.) Yes—decidedly a fellow like himself ought to have a younger
valet; a more cheerful one, anyhow. He felt like a young 'un himself this
evening; as he turned into Fifth Avenue he rather wished he could meet
some one he knew, some man who'd say afterward at his club: "Warley? Why,
I saw him sprinting up Fifth Avenue the other night like a two-year-old;
that night it was four or five below..." He needed a good
counter-irritant for Filmore's gloom. "Always have young people about
you," he thought as he walked along; and at the words his mind turned to
Elfrida Flight, next to whom he would soon be sitting in a warm
pleasantly lit dining-room—WHERE?
It came as abruptly as that: the gap in his memory. He pulled up at it as
if his advance had been checked by a chasm in the pavement at his feet.
Where the dickens was he going to dine? And with whom was he going to
dine? God! But things didn't happen in that way; a sound strong man
didn't suddenly have to stop in the middle of the street and ask himself
where he was going to dine...
"Perfect in mind, body and understanding." The old legal phrase bobbed up
inconsequently into his thoughts. Less than two minutes ago he had
answered in every particular to that description; what was he now? He put
his hand to his forehead, which was bursting; then he lifted his hat and
let the cold air blow for a while on his overheated temples. It was
queer, how hot he'd got, walking. Fact was, he'd been sprinting along at
a damned good pace. In future he must try to remember not to hurry...
Hang it—one more thing to remember!... Well, but what was all the fuss
about? Of course, as people got older their memories were subject to
these momentary lapses; he'd noticed it often enough among his
contemporaries. And, brisk and alert though he still was, it wouldn't do
to imagine himself totally exempt from human ills.
Where was it he was dining? Why, somewhere farther up Fifth Avenue; he
was perfectly sure of that. With that lovely...that lovely... No; better
not make any effort for the moment. Just keep calm, and stroll slowly
along. When he came to the right street corner of course he'd spot it;
and then everything would be perfectly clear again. He walked on, more
deliberately, trying to empty his mind of all thoughts. "Above all," he
said to himself, "don't worry."
He tried to beguile his nervousness by thinking of amusing things.
"Decline the boredom—" He thought he might get off that joke tonight.
"Mrs. Jaspar requests the pleasure—Mr. Warley declines the boredom." Not
so bad, really; and he had an idea he'd never told it to the
people...what in hell WAS their name?...the people he was on his way to
dine with... "Mrs. Jaspar requests the pleasure." Poor old Mrs. Jaspar;
again it occurred to him that he hadn't always been very civil to her in
old times. When everybody's running after a fellow it's pardonable now
and then to chuck a boring dinner at the last minute; but all the same,
as one grew older one understood better how an unintentional slight of
that sort might cause offense, cause even pain. And he hated to cause
people pain... He thought perhaps he'd better call on Mrs. Jaspar some
afternoon. She'd be surprised! Or ring her up, poor old girl, and propose
himself, just informally, for dinner. One dull evening wouldn't kill
him—and how pleased she'd be! Yes—he thought decidedly... When he got
to be her age, he could imagine how much he'd like it if somebody still
in the running should ring him up unexpectedly and say—
He stopped and looked up, slowly, wonderingly, at the wide illuminated
facade of the house he was approaching. Queer coincidence—it was the
Jaspar house. And all lit up; for a dinner evidently. And that was
queerer yet; almost uncanny; for here he was, in front of the door, as
the clock struck a quarter past eight; and of course—he remembered it
quite clearly now—it was just here, it was with Mrs. Jaspar, that he was
dining... Those little lapses of memory never lasted more than a second
or two. How right he'd been not to let himself worry. He pressed his hand
on the door-bell.
"God," he thought, as the double doors swung open, "but it's good to get
in out of the cold."
In that hushed sonorous house the sound of the door-bell was as loud to
the two women upstairs as if it had been rung in the next room.
Miss Cress raised her head in surprise, and Lavinia dropped Mrs. Jaspar's
other false set (the more comfortable one) with a clatter on the marble
wash-stand. She stumbled across the dressing-room, and hastened out to
the landing. With Munson absent, there was no knowing how George might
Miss Cress joined her. "Who is it?" she whispered excitedly. Below, they
heard the sound of a hat and a walking stick being laid down on the big
marble-topped table in the hall, and then George's stentorian drone: "Mr.
"It is—it IS! I can see him—a gentleman in evening clothes," Miss Cress
whispered, hanging over the stair-rail.
"Good gracious—mercy me! And Munson not here! Oh, whatever, whatever
shall we do?" Lavinia was trembling so violently that she had to clutch
the stair-rail to prevent herself from falling. Miss Cress thought, with
her cold lucidity: "She's a good deal sicker than the old woman."
"What shall we do, Miss Cress? That fool of a George—he's showing him
in! Who could have thought it?" Miss Cress knew the images that were
whirling through Lavinia's brain: the vision of Mrs. Jaspar's having
another stroke at the sight of this mysterious intruder, of Mr. Anson
Warley's seeing her there, in her impotence and her abasement, of the
family's being summoned, and rushing in to exclaim, to question, to be
horrified and furious—and all because poor old Munson's memory was
going, like his mistress's, like Lavinia's, and because he had forgotten
that it was one of the DINNER NIGHTS. Oh, misery!... The tears were
running down Lavinia's cheeks, and Miss Cress knew she was thinking: "If
the daughters send him off—and they will—where's he going to, old and
deaf as he is, and all his people dead? Oh, if only he can hold on till
she dies, and get his pension..."
Lavinia recovered herself with one of her supreme efforts. "Miss Cress,
we must go down at once, at once! Something dreadful's going to
happen..." She began to totter toward the little velvet-lined lift in the
corner of the landing.
Miss Cress took pity on her. "Come along," she said. "But nothing
dreadful's going to happen. You'll see."
"Oh, thank you, Miss Cress. But the shock—the awful shock to her—of
seeing that strange gentleman walk in."
"Not a bit of it." Miss Cress laughed as she stepped into the lift. "He's
not a stranger. She's expecting him."
"Expecting him? Expecting Mr. Warley?"
"Sure she is. She told me so just now. She says she invited him
"But, Miss Cress, what are you thinking of? Invite him—how? When you
know she can't write nor telephone.
"Well, she says she saw him; she saw him last night at a dance."
"Oh, God," murmured Lavinia, covering her eyes with her hands.
"At a dance at the Fred Amesworths'—that's what she said," Miss Cress
pursued, feeling the same little shiver run down her back as when Mrs.
Jaspar had made the statement to her.
"The Amesworths—oh, not the Amesworths?" Lavinia echoed, shivering too.
She dropped her hands from her face, and followed Miss Cress out of the
lift. Her expression had become less anguished, and the nurse wondered
why. In reality, she was thinking, in a sort of dreary beatitude: "But if
she's suddenly got as much worse as this, she'll go before me, after all,
my poor lady, and I'll be able to see to it that she's properly laid out
and dressed, and nobody but Lavinia's hands'll touch her."
"You'll see—if she was expecting him, as she says, it won't give her a
shock, anyhow. Only, how did HE know?" Miss Cress whispered, with an
acuter renewal of her shiver. She followed Lavinia with muffled steps
down the passage to the pantry, and from there the two women stole into
the dining-room, and placed themselves noiselessly at its farther end,
behind the tall Coromandel screen through the cracks of which they could
peep into the empty room.
The long table was set, as Mrs. Jaspar always insisted that it should be
on these occasions; but old Munson not having returned, the gold plate
(which his mistress also insisted on) had not been got out, and all down
the table, as Lavinia saw with horror, George had laid the coarse blue
and white plates from the servants' hall. The electric wall-lights were
on, and the candles lit in the branching Sevres candelabra—so much at
least had been done. But the flowers in the great central dish of Rose
Dubarry porcelain, and in the smaller dishes which accompanied it—the
flowers, oh shame, had been forgotten! They were no longer real flowers;
the family had long since suppressed that expense; and no wonder, for
Mrs. Jaspar always insisted on orchids. But Grace, the youngest daughter,
who was the kindest, had hit on the clever device of arranging three
beautiful clusters of artificial orchids and maidenhair, which had only
to be lifted from their shelf in the pantry and set in the dishes—only,
of course, that imbecile footman had forgotten, or not had known where to
find them. And, oh, horror, realizing his oversight too late, no doubt,
to appeal to Lavinia, he had taken some old newspapers and bunched them
up into something that he probably thought resembled a bouquet, and
crammed one into each of the priceless Rose Dubarry dishes.
Lavinia clutched at Miss Cress's arm. "Oh, look—look what he's done; I
shall die of the shame of it... Oh, Miss, hadn't we better slip around to
the drawing-room and try to coax my poor lady upstairs again, afore she
Miss Cress, peering through the crack of the screen, could hardly
suppress a giggle. For at that moment the double doors of the dining-room
were thrown open, and George, shuffling about in a baggy livery inherited
from a long-departed predecessor of more commanding build, bawled out in
his loud sing-song: "Dinner is served, madam."
"Oh, it's too late," moaned Lavinia. Miss Cress signed to her to keep
silent, and the two watchers glued their eyes to their respective cracks
of the screen.
What they saw, far off down the vista of empty drawing-rooms, and after
an interval during which (as Lavinia knew) the imaginary guests were
supposed to file in and take their seats, was the entrance, at the end of
the ghostly cortege, of a very old woman, still tall and towering, on the
arm of a man somewhat smaller than herself, with a fixed smile on a
darkly pink face, and a slim erect figure clad in perfect evening
clothes, who advance with short measured steps, profiting (Miss Cress
noticed) by the support of the arm he was supposed to sustain. "Well—I
never!" was the nurse's inward comment.
The couple continued to advance, with rigid smiles and eyes staring
straight ahead. Neither turned to the other, neither spoke. All their
attention was concentrated on the immense, the almost unachievable effort
of reaching that point, half way down the long dinner table, opposite the
big Dubarry dish, where George was drawing back a gilt armchair for Mrs.
Jaspar. At last they reached it, and Mrs. Jaspar seated herself, and
waved a stony hand to Mr. Warley. "On my right." He gave a little bow,
like the bend of a jointed doll, and with infinite precaution let himself
down into his chair. Beads of perspiration were standing on his forehead,
and Miss Cress saw him draw out his handkerchief and wipe them stealthily
away. He then turned his head somewhat stiffly toward his hostess.
"Beautiful flowers," he said, with great precision and perfect gravity,
waving his hand toward the bunched-up newspaper in the bowl of Sevres.
Mrs. Jaspar received the tribute with complacency. "So glad...orchids...
From High Lawn...every morning," she simpered.
"Mar-vellous," Mr. Warley completed.
"I always say to the Bishop..." Mrs. Jaspar continued.
"Ha—of course," Mr. Warley warmly assented.
"Not that I don't think..."
George had reappeared from the pantry with a blue crockery dish of mashed
potatoes. This he handed in turn to one after another of the imaginary
guests, and finally presented to Mrs. Jaspar and her right-hand
They both helped themselves cautiously, and Mrs. Jaspar addressed an arch
smile to Mr. Warley. "'Nother month—no more oysters."
George, with a bottle of Apollinaris wrapped in a napkin, was saying to
each guest in turn: "Perrier-Jouet, 'ninety-five." (He had picked that
up, thought Miss Cress, from hearing old Munson repeat it so often.)
"Hang it—well, then just a sip," murmured Mr. Warley.
"Old times," bantered Mrs. Jaspar; and the two turned to each other and
bowed their heads and touched glasses.
"I often tell Mrs. Amesworth..." Mrs. Jaspar continued, bending to an
imaginary presence across the table.
"Ha—HA!" Mr. Warley approved.
George reappeared and slowly encircled the table with a dish of spinach.
After the spinach the Apollinaris also went the rounds again, announced
successively as Chateau Lafite, 'seventy four, and "the old Newbold
Madeira". Each time that George approached his glass, Mr. Warley made a
feint of lifting a defensive hand, and then smiled and yielded. "Might as
well—hanged for a sheep..." he remarked gaily; and Mrs. Jaspar giggled.
Finally a dish of Malaga grapes and apples was handed. Mrs. Jaspar, now
growing perceptibly languid, and nodding with more and more effort at Mr.
Warley's pleasantries, transferred a bunch of grapes to her plate, but
nibbled only two or three. "Tired," she said suddenly, in a whimper like
a child's; and she rose, lifting herself up by the arms of her chair, and
leaning over to catch the eye of an invisible lady, presumably Mrs.
Amesworth, seated opposite to her. Mr. Warley was on his feet too,
supporting himself by resting one hand on the table in a jaunty attitude.
Mrs. Jaspar waved to him to be reseated. "Join us—after cigars," she
smilingly ordained; and with a great and concentrated effort he bowed to
her as she passed toward the double doors which George was throwing open.
Slowly, majestically, the purple velvet train disappeared down the long
enfilade of illuminated rooms, and the last door closed behind her.
"Well, I do believe she's enjoyed it!" chuckled Miss Cress, taking
Lavinia by the arm to help her back to the hall. Lavinia, for weeping,
could not answer.
Anson Warley found himself in the hall again, getting into his fur-lined
overcoat. He remembered suddenly thinking that the rooms had been
intensely over-heated, and that all the other guests had talked very loud
and laughed inordinately. "Very good talk though, I must say," he had to
In the hall, as he got his arms into his coat (rather a job, too, after
that Perrier-Jouet) he remembered saying to somebody (perhaps it was to
the old butler): "Slipping off early—going on; 'nother engagement," and
thinking to himself the while that when he got out into the fresh air
again he would certainly remember where the other engagement was. He
smiled a little while the servant, who seemed a clumsy fellow, fumbled
with the opening of the door. "And Filmore, who thought I wasn't even
well enough to dine out! Damned ass! What would he say if he knew I was
The door opened, and with an immense sense of exhilaration Mr. Warley
issued forth from the house and drew in a first deep breath of night air.
He heard the door closed and bolted behind him, and continued to stand
motionless on the step, expanding his chest, and drinking in the icy
"'Spose it's about the last house where they give you 'ninety-five
Perrier-Jouet," he thought; and then: "Never heard better talk either..."
He smiled again with satisfaction at the memory of the wine and the wit.
Then he took a step forward, to where a moment before the pavement had
been—and where now there was nothing.
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