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Title:      New Year'S Day (1924)
Author:     Edith Wharton
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eBook No.:  0301191.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted:          August 2003
Date most recently updated: August 2003

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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      New Year'S Day (1924)
Author:     Edith Wharton

Old New York
New Year'S Day
(The Seventies)

False Dawn
The Old Maid
The Spark
New Year's Day

(The 'Seventies)


"She was BAD...always. They used to meet at the Fifth Avenue 
Hotel," said my mother, as if the scene of the offence added to the 
guilt of the couple whose past she was revealing. Her spectacles 
slanted on her knitting, she dropped the words in a hiss that might 
have singed the snowy baby-blanket which engaged her indefatigable 
fingers. (It was typical of my mother to be always employed in 
benevolent actions while she uttered uncharitable words.)

the phrase characterized my old New York! A generation later, people 
would have said, in reporting an affair such as Lizzie Hazeldean's 
with Henry Prest: "They met in hotels"--and today who but a few 
superannuated spinsters, still feeding on the venom secreted in their 
youth, would take any interest in the tracing of such topographies?

Life has become too telegraphic for curiosity to linger on any given 
point in a sentimental relation; as old Sillerton Jackson, in 
response to my mother, grumbled through his perfect "china set": 
"Fifth Avenue Hotel? They might meet in the middle of Fifth Avenue 
nowadays, for all that anybody cares."

But what a flood of light my mother's tart phrase had suddenly 
focussed on an unremarked incident of my boyhood!

The Fifth Avenue Hotel...Mrs. Hazeldean and Henry Prest...the 
conjunction of these names had arrested her darting talk on a single 
point of my memory, as a search-light, suddenly checked in its 
gyrations, is held motionless while one notes each of the unnaturally 
sharp and lustrous images it picks out.

At the time I was a boy of twelve, at home from school for the 
holidays. My mother's mother, Grandmamma Parrett, still lived in the 
house in West Twenty-third Street which Grandpapa had built in his 
pioneering youth, in days when people shuddered at the perils of 
living north of Union Square--days that Grandmamma and my parents 
looked back to with a joking incredulity as the years passed and the 
new houses advanced steadily Park-ward, outstripping the Thirtieth 
Streets, taking the Reservoir at a bound, and leaving us in what, in 
my school-days, was already a dullish back-water between Aristocracy 
to the south and Money to the north.

Even then fashion moved quickly in New York, and my infantile memory 
barely reached back to the time when Grandmamma, in lace lappets and 
creaking 'moire,' used to receive on New Year's day, supported by her 
handsome married daughters. As for old Sillerton Jackson, who, once 
a social custom had dropped into disuse, always affected never to 
have observed it, he stoutly maintained that the New Year's day 
ceremonial had never been taken seriously except among families of 
Dutch descent, and that that was why Mrs. Henry van der Luyden had 
clung to it, in a reluctant half-apologetic way, long after her 
friends had closed their doors on the first of January, and the date 
had been chosen for those out-of-town parties which are so often used 
as a pretext for absence when the unfashionable are celebrating their 

Grandmamma, of course, no longer received. But it would have seemed 
to her an exceedingly odd thing to go out of town in winter, 
especially now that the New York houses were luxuriously warmed by 
the new hot-air furnaces, and searchingly illuminated by gas 
chandeliers. No, thank you--no country winters for the chilblained 
generation of prunella sandals and low-necked sarcenet, the 
generation brought up in unwarmed and unlit houses, and shipped off 
to die in Italy when they proved unequal to the struggle of living in 
New York! Therefore Grandmamma, like most of her contemporaries, 
remained in town on the first of January, and marked the day by a 
family reunion, a kind of supplementary Christmas--though to us 
juniors the absence of presents and plum-pudding made it but a pale 
and moonlike reflection of the Feast.

Still, the day was welcome as a lawful pretext for over-eating, 
dawdling, and looking out of the window: a Dutch habit still 
extensively practised in the best New York circles. On the day in 
question, however, we had not yet placed ourselves behind the 
plate-glass whence it would presently be so amusing to observe the 
funny gentlemen who trotted about, their evening ties hardly 
concealed behind their overcoat collars, darting in and out of 
chocolate-coloured house-fronts on their sacramental round of calls. 
We were still engaged in placidly digesting around the ravaged 
luncheon table when a servant dashed in to say that the Fifth 
Avenue Hotel was on fire.

Oh, then the fun began--and what fun it was! For Grandmamma's 
house was just opposite the noble edifice of white marble which I 
associated with such deep-piled carpets, and such a rich sultry smell 
of anthracite and coffee, whenever I was bidden to "step across" for 
a messenger-boy, or to buy the evening paper for my elders.

The hotel, for all its sober state, was no longer fashionable. No 
one, in my memory, had ever known any one who went there; it was 
frequented by "politicians" and "Westerners," two classes of citizens 
whom my mother's intonation always seemed to deprive of their vote by 
ranking them with illiterates and criminals.

But for that very reason there was all the more fun to be expected 
from the calamity in question; for had we not, with infinite 
amusement, watched the arrival, that morning, of monumental "floral 
pieces" and towering frosted cakes for the New Year's day reception 
across the way? The event was a communal one. All the ladies who 
were the hotel's "guests" were to receive together in the densely 
lace-curtained and heavily chandeliered public parlours, and 
gentlemen with long hair, imperials and white gloves had been 
hastening since two o'clock to the scene of revelry. And now, thanks 
to the opportune conflagration, we were going to have the excitement 
not only of seeing the Fire Brigade in action (supreme joy of the New 
York youngster), but of witnessing the flight of the ladies and their 
visitors, staggering out through the smoke in gala array. The idea 
that the fire might be dangerous did not mar these pleasing 
expectations. The house was solidly built; New York's invincible 
Brigade was already at the door, in a glare of polished brass, 
coruscating helmets and horses shining like table-silver; and my tall 
cousin Hubert Wesson, dashing across at the first alarm, had promptly 
returned to say that all risk was over, though the two lower floors 
were so full of smoke and water that the lodgers, in some confusion, 
were being transported to other hotels. How then could a small boy 
see in the event anything but an unlimited lark?

Our elders, once reassured, were of the same mind. As they stood 
behind us in the windows, looking over our heads, we heard chuckles 
of amusement mingled with ironic comment.

"Oh, my dear, look--here they all come! The New Year ladies! Low 
neck and short sleeves in broad daylight, every one of them! Oh, and 
the fat one with the paper roses in her hair...they ARE paper, my the frosted cake, probably! Oh! Oh! Oh! OH!"

Aunt Sabina Wesson was obliged to stuff her lace handkerchief between 
her lips, while her firm poplin-cased figure rocked with delight.

"Well, my dear," Grandmamma gently reminded her, "in my youth we wore 
low-necked dresses all day long and all the year round."

No one listened. My cousin Kate, who always imitated Aunt Sabina, 
was pinching my arm in an agony of mirth. "Look at them scuttling! 
The parlours must be full of smoke. Oh, but this one is still 
funnier; the one with the tall feather in her hair! Granny, did you 
wear feathers in your hair in the daytime? Oh, don't ask me to 
believe it! And the one with the diamond necklace! And all the 
gentlemen in white ties! Did Grandpapa wear a white tie at two 
o'clock in the afternoon?" Nothing was sacred to Kate, and she 
feigned not to notice Grandmamma's mild frown of reproval.

"Well, they do in Paris, to this day, at weddings--wear evening 
clothes and white ties," said Sillerton Jackson with authority. 
"When Minnie Transome of Charleston was married at the Madeleine to 
the Duc de..."

But no one listened even to Sillerton Jackson. One of the party had 
abruptly exclaimed: "Oh, there's a lady running out of the hotel 
who's not in evening dress!"

The exclamation caused all our eyes to turn toward the person 
indicated, who had just reached the threshold; and someone added, in 
an odd voice: "Why, her figure looks like Lizzie Hazeldean's--"

A dead silence followed. The lady who was not in evening dress 
paused. Standing on the door-step with lifted veil, she faced our 
window. Her dress was dark and plain--almost conspicuously plain--
and in less time than it takes to tell she had put her hand to her 
closely-patterned veil and pulled it down over her face. But my 
young eyes were keen and far-sighted; and in that hardly perceptible 
interval I had seen a vision. Was she beautiful--or was she only 
someone apart? I felt the shock of a small pale oval, dark eyebrows 
curved with one sure stroke, lips made for warmth, and now drawn up 
in a grimace of terror; and it seemed as if the mysterious something, 
rich, secret and insistent, that broods and murmurs behind a boy's 
conscious thoughts, had suddenly peered out at me...As the dart 
reached me her veil dropped.

"But it IS Lizzie Hazeldean!" Aunt Sabina gasped. She had stopped 
laughing, and her crumpled handkerchief fell to the carpet.

"Lizzie--LIZZIE?" The name was echoed over my head with varying 
intonations of reprobation, dismay and half-veiled malice.

Lizzie Hazeldean? Running out of the Fifth Avenue Hotel on New 
Year's day with all those dressed-up women? But what on earth could 
she have been doing there? No; nonsense! It was impossible...

"There's Henry Prest with her," continued Aunt Sabina in a precipitate whisper.

"With her?" someone gasped; and "OH--" my mother cried with a shudder.

The men of the family said nothing, but I saw Hubert Wesson's face 
crimson with surprise. Henry Prest! Hubert was forever boring us 
youngsters with his Henry Prest! That was the kind of chap Hubert 
meant to be at thirty: in his eyes Henry Prest embodied all the 
manly graces. Married? No, thank you! That kind of man wasn't made 
for the domestic yoke. Too fond of ladies' society, Hubert hinted 
with his undergraduate smirk; and handsome, rich, independent--an 
all-round sportsman, good horseman, good shot, crack yachtsman (had 
his pilot's certificate, and always sailed his own sloop, whose cabin 
was full of racing trophies); gave the most delightful little 
dinners, never more than six, with cigars that beat old Beaufort's; 
was awfully decent to the younger men, chaps of Hubert's age included 
--and combined, in short, all the qualities, mental and physical, 
which make up, in such eyes as Hubert's that oracular and 
irresistible figure, the man of the world. "Just the fellow," Hubert 
always solemnly concluded that I should go straight to if ever I got 
into any kind of row that I didn't want the family to know about"; 
and our blood ran pleasantly cold at the idea of our old Hubert's 
ever being in such an unthinkable predicament.

I felt sorry to have missed a glimpse of this legendary figure; but 
my gaze had been enthralled by the lady, and now the couple had 
vanished in the crowd.

The group in our window continued to keep an embarrassed silence. 
They looked almost frightened; but what struck me even more deeply 
was that not one of them looked surprised. Even to my boyish sense 
it was clear that what they had just seen was only the confirmation 
of something they had long been prepared for. At length one of my 
uncles emitted a whistle, was checked by a severe glance from his 
wife, and muttered: "I'll be damned"; another uncle began an 
unheeded narrative of a fire at which he had been present in his 
youth, and my mother said to me severely: "You ought to be at home 
preparing your lessons--a big boy like you!"--a remark so 
obviously unfair that it served only to give the measure of her 

"I don't believe it," said Grandmamma, in a low voice of warning, 
protest and appeal. I saw Hubert steal a grateful look at her.

But nobody else listened: every eye still strained through the 
window. Livery-stable "hacks," of the old blue-curtained variety, 
were driving up to carry off the fair fugitives; for the day was 
bitterly cold, and lit by one of those harsh New York suns of which 
every ray seems an icicle. Into these ancient vehicles the ladies, 
now regaining their composure, were being piled with their removable 
possessions, while their kid-gloved callers ("So like the White 
Rabbit!" Kate exulted) appeared and reappeared in the doorway, 
gallantly staggering after them under bags, reticules, bird-cages, 
pet dogs and heaped-up finery. But to all this--as even I, a 
little boy, was aware--nobody in Grandmamma's window paid the 
slightest attention. The thoughts of one and all, with a mute and 
guarded eagerness, were still following the movements of those two 
who were so obviously unrelated to the rest. The whole business--
discovery, comment, silent visual pursuit--could hardly, all told, 
have filled a minute, perhaps not as much; before the sixty seconds 
were over, Mrs. Hazeldean and Henry Prest had been lost in the crowd, 
and, while the hotel continued to empty itself into the street, had 
gone their joint or separate ways. But in my grandmother's window 
the silence continued unbroken.

"Well, it's over: here are the firemen coming out again," someone 
said at length.

We youngsters were all alert at that; yet I felt that the grown-ups 
lent but a half-hearted attention to the splendid sight which was New 
York's only pageant: the piling of scarlet ladders on scarlet carts, 
the leaping up on the engine of the helmeted flame-fighters, and the 
disciplined plunge forward of each pair of broad-chested black 
steeds, as one after another the chariots of fire rattled off.

Silently, almost morosely, we withdrew to the drawing-room hearth; 
where, after an interval of languid monosyllables, my mother, rising 
first, slipped her knitting into its bag, and turning on me with 
renewed severity, said: "This racing after fire-engines is what 
makes you too sleepy to prepare your lessons:--a comment so wide of 
the mark that once again I perceived, without understanding, the 
extent of the havoc wrought in her mind by the sight of Mrs. 
Hazeldean and Henry Prest coming out of the Fifth Avenue Hotel 

It was not until many years later that chance enabled me to relate 
this fugitive impression to what had preceded and what came after it.


Mrs. Hazeldean paused at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Madison 
Square. The crowd attracted by the fire still enveloped her; it was 
safe to halt and take breath.

Her companion, she knew, had gone in the opposite direction. Their 
movements, on such occasions, were as well-ordered and as promptly 
executed as those of the New York Fire Brigade; and after their 
precipitate descent to the hall, the discovery that the police had 
barred their usual exit, and the quick: "You're all right?" to which 
her imperceptible nod had responded, she was sure he had turned down 
Twenty-third Street toward Sixth Avenue.

"The Parretts' windows were full of people," was her first thought.

She dwelt on it a moment, and then reflected: "Yes, but in all that 
crowd and excitement nobody would have beenthinking of ME!"

Instinctively she put her hand to her veil, as though recalling that 
her features had been exposed when she ran out, and unable to 
remember whether she had covered them in time or not.

"What a fool I am! It can't have been off my face for more than a 
second--" but immediately afterward another disquieting possibility 
assailed her. "I'm almost sure I saw Sillerton Jackson's head in one 
of the windows, just behind Sabina Wesson's. No one else has that 
particularly silvery gray hair." She shivered, for everyone in New 
York knew that Sillerton Jackson saw everything, and could piece 
together seemingly unrelated fragments of fact with the art of a 
skilled china-mender.

Meanwhile, after sending through her veil the circular glance which 
she always shot about her at that particular corner, she had begun to 
walk up Broadway. She walked well--fast, but not too fast; easily, 
assuredly, with the air of a woman who knows that she has a good 
figure, and expects rather than fears to be identified by it. But 
under this external appearance of ease she was covered with cold 
beads of sweat.

Broadway, as usual at that hour, and on a holiday, was nearly 
deserted; the promenading public still slowly poured up and down 
Fifth Avenue.

"Luckily there was such a crowd when we came out of the hotel that no 
one could possibly have noticed me," she murmured over again, 
reassured by the sense of having the long thoroughfare to herself. 
Composure and presence of mind were so necessary to a woman in her 
situation that they had become almost a second nature to her, and in 
a few minutes her thick uneven heart-beats began to subside and to 
grow steadier. As if to test their regularity, she paused before a 
florist's window, and looked appreciatively at the jars of roses and 
forced lilac, the compact bunches of lilies-of-the-valley and 
violets, the first pots of close-budded azaleas. Finally she opened 
the shop-door, and after examining the Jacqueminots and Marshal 
Niels, selected with care two perfect specimens of a new silvery-pink 
rose, waited for the florist to wrap them in cotton-wool, and slipped 
their long stems into her muff for more complete protection.

"It's so simple, after all," she said to herself as she walked on. 
"I'll tell him that as I was coming up Fifth Avenue from Cousin 
Cecilia's I heard the fire-engines turning into Twenty-third Street, 
and ran after them. Just what HE would have done...once..." 
she ended on a sigh.

At Thirty-first Street she turned the corner with a quicker step. 
The house she was approaching was low and narrow; but the Christmas 
holly glistening between frilled curtains, the well-scrubbed steps, 
the shining bell and door-knob, gave it a welcoming look. From 
garret to basement it beamed like the abode of a happy couple.

As Lizzie Hazeldean reached the door a curious change came over her. 
She was conscious of it at once--she had so often said to herself, 
when her little house rose before her: "It makes me feel younger as 
soon as I turn the corner." And it was true even today. In spite of 
her agitation she was aware that the lines between her eyebrows were 
smoothing themselves out, and that a kind of inner lightness was 
replacing the heavy tumult of her breast. The lightness revealed 
itself in her movements, which grew as quick as a girl's as she ran 
up the steps. She rang twice--it was her signal--and turned an 
unclouded smile on her elderly parlourmaid.

"Is Mr. Hazeldean in the library, Susan? I hope you've kept up the 
fire for him."

"Oh, yes, ma'am. But Mr. Hazeldean's not in," said Susan, returning 
the smile respectfully.

"NOT IN? With his cold--and in this weather?"

"That's what I told him, ma'am. But he just laughed--"

"Just laughed? What do you mean, Susan?" Lizzie Hazeldean felt 
herself turning pale. She rested her hand quickly on the hall table.

"Well, ma'am, the minute he heard the fire-engine, off he rushed like 
a boy. It seems the Fifth Avenue Hotel's on fire: there's where 
he's gone."

The blood left Mrs. Hazeldean's lips; she felt it shuddering back to 
her heart. But a second later she spoke in a tone of natural and 
good-humoured impatience.

"What madness! How long ago--can you remember?" Instantly, she 
felt the possible imprudence of the question, and added: "The doctor 
said he ought not to be out more than a quarter of an hour, and only 
at the sunniest time of the day."

"I know that, ma'am, and so I reminded him. But he's been gone 
nearly an hour, I should say."

A sense of deep fatigue overwhelmed Mrs. Hazeldean. She felt as if 
she had walked for miles against an icy gale: her breath came 

"How could you let him go?" she wailed; then, as the parlourmaid 
again smiled respectfully, she added: "Oh, I know--sometimes one 
can't stop him. He gets so restless, being shut up with these long 

"That's what I DO feel, ma'am."

Mistress and maid exchanged a glance of sympathy, and Susan felt 
herself emboldened to suggest: "Perhaps the outing will do him 
good," with the tendency of her class to encourage favoured invalids 
in disobedience.

Mrs. Hazeldean's look grew severe. "Susan! I've often warned you 
against talking to him in that way--"

Susan reddened, and assumed a pained expression. "How can you think 
it, ma'am?--me that never say anything to anybody, as all in the 
house will bear witness."

Her mistress made an impatient movement. "Oh, well, I daresay he 
won't be long. The fire's over."

"Ah--you knew of it too, then, ma'am?"

"Of the fire? Why, of course. I SAW it, even--" Mrs. Hazeldean 
smiled. "I was walking home from Washington Square--from Miss 
Cecilia Winter's--and at the corner of Twenty-third Street there 
was a huge crowd, and clouds of smoke...It's very odd that I 
shouldn't have run across Mr. Hazeldean." She looked limpidly at the 
parlourmaid." But, then, of course, in all that crowd and confusion 

Half-way up the stairs she turned to call back: "Make up a good fire 
in the library, please, and bring the tea up. It's too cold in the 

The library was on the upper landing. She went in, drew the two 
roses from her muff, tenderly unswathed them, and put them in a slim 
glass on her husband's writing-table. In the doorway she paused to 
smile at this touch of summer in the firelit wintry room; but a 
moment later her frown of anxiety reappeared. She stood listening 
intently for the sound of a latch-key; then, hearing nothing, passed 
on to her bedroom.

It was a rosy room, hung with one of the new English chintzes, which 
also covered the deep sofa, and the bed with its rose-lined 
pillow-covers. The carpet was cherry red, the toilet-table ruffled 
and looped like a ball-dress. Ah, how she and Susan had ripped and 
sewn and hammered, and pieced together old scraps of lace and ribbon 
and muslin, in the making of that airy monument! For weeks after she 
had done over the room her husband never came into it without saying: 
"I can't think how you managed to squeeze all this loveliness out of 
that last cheque of your stepmother's."

On the dressing-table Lizzie Hazeldean noticed a long florist's box, 
one end of which had been cut open to give space to the still longer 
stems of a bunch of roses. She snipped the string, and extracted 
from the box an envelope which she flung into the fire without so 
much as a glance at its contents. Then she pushed the flowers aside, 
and after rearranging her dark hair before the mirror, carefully 
dressed herself in a loose garment of velvet and lace which lay 
awaiting her on the sofa, beside her high-heeled slippers and 
stockings of open-work silk.

She had been one of the first women in New York to have tea every 
afternoon at five, and to put off her walking-dress for a tea-gown.


She returned to the library, where the fire was beginning to send a 
bright blaze through the twilight. It flashed on the bindings of 
Hazeldean's many books, and she smiled absently at the welcome it 
held out. A latch-key rattled, and she heard her husband's step, and 
the sound of his cough below in the hall.

"What madness--what madness!" she murmured.

Slowly--how slowly for a young man!--he mounted the stairs, and 
still coughing came into the library. She ran to him and took him in 
her arms.

"Charlie! How could you? In this weather? It's nearly dark!"

His long thin face lit up with a deprecating smile. "I suppose 
Susan's betrayed me, eh? Don't be cross. You've missed such a show! 
The Fifth Avenue Hotel's been on fire."

"Yes; I know." She paused, just perceptibly. I DIDN'T miss it, 
though--I rushed across Madison Square for a look at it myself."

"You did? You were there too? What fun!" The idea appeared to fill 
him with boyish amusement.

"Naturally I was! On my way home from Cousin Cecilia's..."

"Ah, of course. I'd forgotten you were going there. But how odd, 
then, that we didn't meet!"

"If we HAD I should have dragged you home long ago. I've been in at 
least half an hour, and the fire was already over when I got there. 
What a baby you are to have stayed out so long, staring at smoke and 
a fire-engine!"

He smiled, still holding her, and passing his gaunt hand softly and 
wistfully over her head. "Oh, don't worry. I've been indoors, 
safely sheltered, and drinking old Mrs. Parrett's punch. The old 
lady saw me from her window, and sent one of the Wesson boys across 
the street to fetch me in. They had just finished a family luncheon. 
And Sillerton Jackson, who was there, drove me home. So you see,--"

He released her, and moved toward the fire, and she stood motionless, 
staring blindly ahead, while the thoughts spun through her mind like 
a mill-race.

"Sillerton Jackson--" she echoed, without in the least knowing what she said.

"Yes; he has the gout again--luckily for me!--and his sister's 
brougham came to the Parretts' to fetch him."

She collected herself. "You're coughing more than you did 
yesterday," she accused him.

"Oh, well--the air's sharpish. But I shall be all right presently 
...Oh, those roses!" He paused in admiration before his 

Her face glowed with a reflected pleasure, though all the while the 
names he had pronounced--"The Parretts, the Wessons, Sillerton 
Jackson"--were clanging through her brain like a death-knell.

"They ARE lovely, aren't they?" she beamed.

"Much too lovely for me. You must take them down to the drawing-room."

"No; we're going to have tea up here."

"That's jolly--it means there'll be no visitors, I hope?"

She nodded, smiling.

"Good! But the roses--no, they mustn't be wasted on this desert 
air. You'll wear them in your dress this evening?"

She started perceptibly, and moved slowly back toward the hearth.

"This evening?...Oh, I'm not going to Mrs. Struthers's" she 
said, remembering.

"Yes, you are. Dearest--I want you to!"

"But what shall you do alone all the evening? With that cough, you 
won't go to sleep till late."

"Well, if I don't I've a lot of new books to keep me busy."

"Oh, your books--!" She made a little gesture, half teasing, half 
impatient, in the direction of the freshly cut volumes stacked up 
beside his student lamp. It was an old joke between them that she 
had never been able to believe anyone could really "care for 
reading." Long as she and her husband had lived together, this 
passion of his remained for her as much of a mystery as on the day 
when she had first surprised him, mute and absorbed, over what the 
people she had always lived with would have called "a deep book." It 
was her first encounter with a born reader; or at least, the few she 
had known had been, like her stepmother, the retired opera-singer, 
feverish devourers of circulating library fiction: she had never 
before lived in a house with books in it. Gradually she had learned 
to take a pride in Hazeldean's reading, as if it had been some rare 
accomplishment; she had perceived that it reflected credit on him, 
and was even conscious of its adding to the charm of his talk, a 
charm she had always felt without being able to define it. But 
still, in her heart of hearts she regarded books as a mere expedient, 
and felt sure that they were only an aid to patience, like jackstraws 
or a game of patience, with the disadvantage of requiring a greater 
mental effort.

"Shan't you be too tired to read tonight?" she questioned wistfully.

"Too tired? Why, you goose, reading is the greatest rest in the 
world!--I want you to go to Mrs. Struthers's dear; I want to see 
you again in that black velvet dress," he added with his coaxing 

The parlourmaid brought in the tray, and Mrs. Hazeldean busied 
herself with the tea-caddy. Her husband had stretched himself out in 
the deep armchair which was his habitual seat. He crossed his arms 
behind his neck, leaning his head back wearily against them, so that, 
as she glanced at him across the hearth, she saw the salient muscles 
in his long neck, and the premature wrinkles about his ears and chin. 
The lower part of his face was singularly ravaged; only the eyes, 
those quiet ironic grey eyes, and the white forehead above them, 
reminded her of what he had been seven years before. Only seven 

She felt a rush of tears: no, there were times when fate was too 
cruel, the future too horrible to contemplate, and the past--the 
past, oh, how much worse! And there he sat, coughing, coughing--
and thinking God knows what, behind those quiet half-closed lids. At 
such times he grew so mysteriously remote that she felt lonelier than 
when he was not in the room.


He roused himself, "Yes?"

"Here's your tea."

He took it from her in silence, and she began, nervously, to wonder 
why he was not talking. Was it because he was afraid it might make 
him cough again, afraid she would be worried, and scold him? Or was 
it because he was thinking--thinking of things he had heard at old 
Mrs. Parrett's, or on the drive home with Sillerton Jackson...
hints they might have dropped...insinuations...she didn't 
know what...or of something he had SEEN, perhaps, from old Mrs. 
Parrett's window? She looked across at his white forehead, so smooth 
and impenetrable in the lamplight, and thought: "Oh, God, it's like 
a locked door. I shall dash my brains out against it some day!"

For, after all, it was not impossible that he had actually seen her, 
seen her from Mrs. Parrett's window, or even from the crowd around 
the door of the hotel. For all she knew, he might have been near 
enough, in that crowd, to put out his hand and touch her. And he 
might have held back, benumbed, aghast, not believing his own eyes...
She couldn't tell. She had never yet made up her mind how he 
would look, how he would behave, what he would say, if ever he DID 
see or hear anything...

No! That was the worst of it. They had lived together for nearly 
nine years--and how closely!--and nothing that she knew of him, 
or had observed in him, enabled her to forecast exactly what, in that 
particular case, his state of mind and his attitude would be. In his 
profession, she knew, he was celebrated for his shrewdness and 
insight; in personal matters he often seemed, to her alert mind, 
oddly absent-minded and indifferent. Yet that might be merely his 
instinctive way of saving his strength for things he considered more 
important. There were times when she was sure he was quite 
deliberate and self-controlled enough to feel in one way and behave 
in another: perhaps even to have thought out a course in advance--
just as, at the first bad symptoms of illness, he had calmly made his 
will, and planned everything about her future, the house and the 
servants...No, she couldn't tell; there always hung over her the 
thin glittering menace of a danger she could neither define nor 
localize--like that avenging lightning which groped for the lovers 
in the horrible poem he had once read aloud to her (what a choice!) 
on a lazy afternoon of their wedding journey, as they lay stretched 
under Italian stone-pines.

The maid came in to draw the curtains and light the lamps. The fire 
glowed, the scent of the roses drifted on the warm air, and the clock 
ticked out the minutes, and softly struck a half hour, while Mrs. 
Hazeldean continued to ask herself, as she so often had before: 
"Now, what would be the NATURAL thing for me to say?"

And suddenly the words escaped from her, she didn't know how: "I 
wonder you didn't see me coming out of the hotel--for I actually 
squeezed my way in."

Her husband made no answer. Her heart jumped convulsively; then she 
lifted her eyes and saw that he was asleep. How placid his face 
looked--years younger than when he was awake! The immensity of her 
relief rushed over her in a warm glow, the counterpart of the icy 
sweat which had sent her chattering homeward from the fire. After 
all, if he could fall asleep, fall into such a peaceful sleep ass 
that--tired, no doubt, by his imprudent walk, and the exposure to 
the cold--it meant, beyond all doubt, beyond all conceivable dread, 
that he knew nothing, had seen nothing, suspected nothing: that she 
was safe, safe, safe!

The violence of the reaction made her long to spring to her feet and 
move about the room. She saw a crooked picture that she wanted to 
straighten, she would have liked to give the roses another tilt in 
their glass. But there he sat, quietly sleeping, and the long habit 
of vigilance made her respect his rest, watching over it as patiently 
as if it had been a sick child's.

She drew a contented breath. Now she could afford to think of his 
outing only as it might affect his health; and she knew that this 
sudden drowsiness, even if it were a sign of extreme fatigue, was 
also the natural restorative for that fatigue. She continued to sit 
behind the tea-tray, her hands folded, her eyes on his face, while 
the peace of the scene entered into her, and held her under brooding 


At Mrs. Struthers's, at eleven o'clock that evening, the long 
over-lit drawing-rooms were already thronged with people.

Lizzie Hazeldean paused on the threshold and looked about her. The 
habit of pausing to get her bearings, of sending a circular glance 
around any assemblage of people, any drawing-room, concert-hall or 
theatre that she entered, had become so instinctive that she would 
have been surprised had anyone pointed out to her the unobservant 
expression and careless movements of the young women of her 
acquaintance, who also looked about them, it is true, but with the 
vague unseeing stare of youth, and of beauty conscious only of itself.

Lizzie Hazeldean had long since come to regard most women of her age 
as children in the art of life. Some savage instinct of 
self-defence, fostered by experience, had always made her more alert 
and perceiving than the charming creatures who passed from the 
nursery to marriage as if lifted from one rose-lined cradle into 
another. "Rocked to sleep--that's what they've always been," she 
used to think sometimes, listening to their innocuous talk during the 
long after-dinners in hot drawing-rooms, while their husbands, in the 
smoking-rooms below, exchanged ideas which, if no more striking, were 
at least based on more direct experiences.

But then, as all the old ladies said, Lizzie Hazeldean had always 
preferred the society of men.

The man she now sought was not visible, and she gave a little sigh of 
ease. "If only he has had the sense to stay away!" she thought.

She would have preferred to stay away herself; but it had been her 
husband's whim that she should come. "You know you always enjoy 
yourself at Mrs. Struthers's--everybody does. The old girl somehow 
manages to have the most amusing house in New York. Who is it who's 
going to sing tonight?...If you don't go, I shall know it's 
because I've coughed two or three times oftener than usual, and 
you're worrying about me. My dear girl, it will take more than the 
Fifth Avenue Hotel fire to kill ME...My heart's feeling unusually
steady...Put on your black velvet, will you?--with these two roses..."

So she had gone. And here she was, in her black velvet, under the 
glitter of Mrs. Struthers's chandeliers, amid all the youth and good 
looks and gaiety of New York; for, as Hazeldean said, Mrs. 
Struthers's house was more amusing than anybody else's, and whenever 
she opened her doors the world flocked through them.

As Mrs. Hazeldean reached the inner drawing-room the last notes of a 
rich tenor were falling on the attentive silence. She saw 
Campanini's low-necked throat subside into silence above the piano, 
and the clapping of many tightly-fitted gloves was succeeded by a 
general movement, and the usual irrepressible outburst of talk.

In the breaking-up of groups she caught a glimpse of Sillerton 
Jackson's silvery crown. Their eyes met across bare shoulders, he 
bowed profoundly, and she fancied that a dry smile lifted his 
moustache. "He doesn't usually bow to me as low as that," she 
thought apprehensively.

But as she advanced into the room her self-possession returned. 
Among all these stupid pretty women she had such a sense of power, of 
knowing almost everything better than they did, from the way of doing 
her hair to the art of keeping a secret! She felt a thrill of pride 
in the slope of her white shoulders above the black velvet, in the 
one curl escaping from her thick chignon, and the slant of the gold 
arrow tipped with diamonds which she had thrust in to retain it. And 
she had done it all without a maid, with no one cleverer than Susan 
to help her! Ah, as a woman she knew her business...

Mrs. Struthers, plumed and ponderous, with diamond stars studding her 
black wig like a pin-cushion, had worked her resolute way back to the 
outer room. More people were coming in; and with her customary rough 
skill she was receiving, distributing, introducing them. Suddenly 
her smile deepened; she was evidently greeting an old friend. The 
group about her scattered, and Mrs. Hazeldean saw that, in her 
cordial absent-minded way, and while her wandering hostess-eye swept 
the rooms, she was saying a confidential word to a tall man whose 
hand she detained. They smiled at each other; then Mrs. Struthers's 
glance turned toward the inner room, and her smile seemed to say: 
"You'll find her there."

The tall man nodded. He looked about him composedly, and began to 
move toward the centre of the throng, speaking to everyone, appearing 
to have no object beyond that of greeting the next person in his 
path, yet quietly, steadily pursuing that path, which led straight to 
the inner room.

Mrs. Hazeldean had found a seat near the piano. A good-looking 
youth, seated beside her, was telling her at considerable length what 
he was going to wear at the Beauforts' fancy-ball. She listened, 
approved, suggested; but her glance never left the advancing figure 
of the tall man.

Handsome? Yes, she said to herself; she had to admit that he was 
handsome. A trifle too broad and florid, perhaps; though his air and 
his attitude so plainly denied it that, on second thoughts, one 
agreed that a man of his height had, after all, to carry some 
ballast. Yes; his assurance made him, as a rule, appear to people 
exactly as he chose to appear; that is, as a man over forty, but 
carrying his years carelessly, an active muscular man, whose blue 
eyes were still clear, whose fair hair waved ever so little less 
thickly than it used to on a low sunburnt forehead, over eyebrows 
almost silvery in their blondness, and blue eyes the bluer for their 
thatch. Stupid-looking? By no means. His smile denied that. Just 
self-sufficient enough to escape fatuity, yet so cool that one felt 
the fundamental coldness, he steered his way through life as easily 
and resolutely as he was now working his way through Mrs. Struthers's 

Half-way, he was detained by a tap of Mrs. Wesson's red fan. Mrs. 
Wesson--surely, Mrs. Hazeldean reflected, Charles had spoken of 
Mrs. Sabina Wesson's being with her mother, old Mrs. Parrett, while 
they watched the fire? Sabina Wesson was a redoubtable woman, one of 
the few of her generation and her clan who had broken with tradition, 
and gone to Mrs. Struthers's almost as soon as the Shoe-Polish Queen 
had bought her house in Fifth Avenue, and issued her first challenge 
to society. Lizzie Hazeldean shut her eyes for an instant; then, 
rising from her seat, she joined the group about the singer. From 
there she wandered on to another knot of acquaintances.

"Look here: the fellow's going to sing again. Let's get into that 
corner over there."

She felt ever so slight a touch on her arm, and met Henry Prest's 
composed glance.

A red-lit and palm-shaded recess divided the drawing-rooms from the 
dining-room, which ran across the width of the house at the back. 
Mrs. Hazeldean hesitated; then she caught Mrs. Wesson's watchful 
glance, lifted her head with a smile and followed her companion.

They sat down on a small sofa under the palms, and a couple, who had 
been in search of the same retreat, paused on the threshold, and with 
an interchange of glances passed on. Mrs. Hazeldean smiled more 

"Where are my roses? Didn't you get them?" Prest asked. He had a 
way of looking her over from beneath lowered lids, while he affected 
to be examining a glove-button or contemplating the tip of his 
shining boot.

"Yes, I got them," she answered.

"You're not wearing them. I didn't order those."


"Whose are they, then?"

She unfolded her mother-of-pearl fan, and bent above its complicated

"Mine," she pronounced.

"Yours! Well, obviously. But I suppose someone sent them to you?"

"_I_ did." She hesitated a second. "I sent them to myself."

He raised his eyebrows a little. "Well they don't suit you--that 
washy pink! May I ask why you didn't wear mine?"

"I've already told you...I've often asked you never to send 
flowers...on the day..."

"Nonsense. That's the very day...What's the matter? Are you 
still nervous?"

She was silent for a moment; then she lowered her voice to say: "You 
ought not to have come here tonight."

"My dear girl, how unlike you! You ARE nervous."

"Didn't you see all those people in the Parretts' window?"

"What, opposite? Lord, no; I just took to my heels! It was the 
deuce, the back way being barred. But what of it? In all that 
crowd, do you suppose for a moment--"

"My husband was in the window with them," she said, still lower.

His confident face fell for a moment, and then almost at once 
regained its look of easy arrogance.


"Oh, nothing--as yet. Only I ask go away now."

"Just as you asked me not to come! Yet YOU came, because you had the 
sense to see that if you didn't...and I came for the same reason. 
Look here, my dear, for God's sake don't lose your head!"

The challenge seemed to rouse her. She lifted her chin, glanced 
about the thronged room which they commanded from their corner, and 
nodded and smiled invitingly at several acquaintances, with the hope 
that some one of them might come up to her. But though they all 
returned her greetings with a somewhat elaborate cordiality, not one 
advanced toward her secluded seat.

She turned her head slightly toward her companion. "I ask you again 
to go," she repeated.

"Well, I will then, after the fellow's sung. But I'm bound to say 
you're a good deal pleasanter--"

The first bars of "Salve, Dimora" silenced him, and they sat side by 
side in the meditative rigidity of fashionable persons listening to 
expensive music. She had thrown herself into a corner of the sofa, 
and Henry Prest, about whom everything was discreet but his eyes, sat 
apart from her, one leg crossed over the other, one hand holding his 
folded opera-hat on his knee, while the other hand rested beside him 
on the sofa. But an end of her tulle scarf lay in the space between 
them; and without looking in his direction, without turning her 
glance from the singer, she was conscious that Prest's hand had 
reached and drawn the scarf toward him. She shivered a little, made 
an involuntary motion as though to gather it about her--and then 
desisted. As the song ended, he bent toward her slightly, said: 
"Darling" so low that it seemed no more than a breath on her cheek, 
and then, rising, bowed, and strolled into the other room.

She sighed faintly, and, settling herself once more in her corner, 
lifted her brilliant eyes to Sillerton Jackson, who was approaching. 
"It WAS good of you to bring Charlie home from the Parretts' this 
afternoon." She held out her hand, making way for him at her side.

"Good of me?" he laughed. "Why, I was glad of the chance of getting 
him safely home; it was rather naughty of HIM to be where he was, I 
suspect." She fancied a slight pause, as if he waited to see the 
effect of this, and her lashes beat her cheeks. But already he was 
going on: "Do you encourage him, with that cough, to run about town 
after fire-engines?"

She gave back the laugh.

"I don't discourage him--ever--if I can help it. But it WAS 
foolish of him to go out today," she agreed; and all the while she 
kept on asking herself, as she had that afternoon, in her talk with 
her husband: "Now, what would be the NATURAL thing for me to say?"

Should she speak of having been at the fire herself--or should she 
not? The question dinned in her brain so loudly that she could 
hardly hear what her companion was saying; yet she had, at the same 
time, a queer feeling of his never having been so close to her, or 
rather so closely intent on her, as now. In her strange state of 
nervous lucidity, her eyes seemed to absorb with a new precision 
every facial detail of whoever approached her; and old Sillerton 
Jackson's narrow mask, his withered pink cheeks, the veins in the 
hollow of his temples, under the carefully-tended silvery hair, and 
the tiny blood-specks in the white of his eyes as he turned their 
cautious blue gaze on her, appeared as if presented under some 
powerful lens. With his eye-glasses dangling over one white-gloved 
hand, the other supporting his opera-hat on his knee, he suggested, 
behind that assumed carelessness of pose, the patient fixity of a 
naturalist holding his breath near the crack from which some tiny 
animal might suddenly issue--if one watched long enough, or gave 
it, completely enough, the impression of not looking for it, or 
dreaming it was anywhere near. The sense of that tireless attention 
made Mrs. Hazeldean's temples ache as if she sat under a glare of 
light even brighter than that of the Struthers' chandeliers--a 
glare in which each quiver of a half-formed thought might be as 
visible behind her forehead as the faint lines wrinkling its surface 
into an uncontrollable frown of anxiety. Yes, Prest was right; she 
was losing her head--losing it for the first time in the dangerous 
year during which she had had such continual need to keep it steady.

"What is it? What has happened to me?" she wondered.

There had been alarms before--how could it be otherwise? but they 
had only stimulated her, made her more alert and prompt; whereas 
tonight she felt herself quivering away into she knew not what abyss 
of weakness. What was different, then? Oh, she knew well enough! 
It was Charles...that haggard look in his eyes, and the lines of 
his throat as he had leaned back sleeping. She had never before 
admitted to herself how ill she thought him; and now, to have to 
admit it, and at the same time not to have the complete certainty 
that the look in his eyes was caused by illness only, made the strain 

She glanced about her with a sudden sense of despair. Of all the 
people in those brilliant animated groups--of all the women who 
called her Lizzie, and the men who were familiars at her house--she 
knew that not one, at that moment, guessed, or could have understood 
what she was feeling...Her eyes fell on Henry Prest, who had come 
to the surface a little way off, bending over the chair of the 
handsome Mrs. Lyman. "And YOU least of all!" she thought. "Yet God 
knows," she added with a shiver, "they all have their theories about 

"My dear Mrs. Hazeldean, you look a little pale. Are you cold? 
Shall I get you some champagne?" Sillerton Jackson was officiously 

"If you think the other women look blooming! My dear man, it's this 
hideous vulgar overhead lighting..." She rose impatiently. It 
had occurred to her that the thing to do--the "natural" thing--
would be to stroll up to Jinny Lyman, over whom Prest was still 
attentively bending. THEN people would see if she was nervous, or 
ill--or afraid!

But half-way she stopped and thought: "Suppose the Parretts and 
Wessons DID see me? Then my joining Jinny while he's talking to her 
will look--how will it look?" She began to regret not having had 
it out on the spot with Sillerton Jackson, who could be trusted to 
hold his tongue on occasion, especially if a pretty woman threw 
herself on his mercy. She glanced over her shoulder as if to call 
him back; but he had turned away, been absorbed into another group, 
and she found herself, instead, abruptly face to face with Sabina 
Wesson. Well, perhaps that was better still. After all, it all 
depended on how much Mrs. Wesson had seen, and what line she meant 
to take, supposing she HAD seen anything. She was not likely to be 
as inscrutable as old Sillerton. Lizzie wished now that she had not 
forgotten to go to Mrs. Wesson's last party.

"Dear Mrs. Wesson, it was so kind of you--"

But Mrs. Wesson was not there. By the exercise of that mysterious 
protective power which enables a woman desirous of not being waylaid 
to make herself invisible, or to transport herself, by means 
imperceptible, to another part of the earth's surface, Mrs. Wesson, 
who, two seconds earlier, appeared in all her hard handsomeness to be 
bearing straight down on Mrs. Hazeldean, with a scant yard of clear 
parquet between them--Mrs. Wesson, as her animated back and her 
active red fan now called on all the company to notice, had never 
been there at all, had never seen Mrs. Hazeldean ("WAS she at Mrs. 
Struthers's last Sunday?  How odd! I must have left before she got 
there--"), but was busily engaged, on the farther side of the piano, 
in examining a picture to which her attention appeared to have been 
called by the persons nearest her.

"Ah, how LIFE-LIKE! That's what I always feel when I see a 
Meissonier," she was heard to exclaim, with her well-known instinct 
for the fitting epithet.

Lizzie Hazeldean stood motionless. Her eyes dazzled as if she had 
received a blow on the forehead. "So THAT'S what it feels like!" she 
thought. She lifted her head very high, looked about her again, 
tried to signal to Henry Prest, but saw him still engaged with the 
lovely Mrs. Lyman, and at the same moment caught the glance of young 
Hubert Wesson, Sabina's eldest, who was standing in disengaged 
expectancy near the supper-room door.

Hubert Wesson, as his eyes met Mrs. Hazeldean's, crimsoned to the 
forehead, hung back a moment, and then came forward, bowing low--
again that too low bow! "So HE saw me too," she thought. She put
her hand on his arm with a laugh. "Dear me, how ceremonious 
you are! Really, I'm not as old as that bow of yours implies. My 
dear boy, I hope you want to take me in to supper at once. I was out 
in the cold all the afternoon, gazing at the Fifth Avenue Hotel fire, 
and I'm simply dying of hunger and fatigue."

There, the die was cast--she had said it loud enough for all the 
people nearest her to hear! And she was sure now that it was the 
right, the "natural" thing to do.

Her spirits rose, and she sailed into the supper-room like a goddess, 
steering Hubert to an unoccupied table in a flowery corner.

"No--I think we're very well by ourselves, don't you? Do you want 
that fat old bore of a Lucy Vanderlow to join us? If you DO, of 
course...I can see she's dying to...but then, I warn you, I 
shall ask a young man! Let me see--shall I ask Henry Prest? You 
see he's hovering! No, it IS jollier with just you and me, isn't 
it?" She leaned forward a little, resting her chin on her clasped 
hands, her elbows on the table, in an attitude which the older women 
thought shockingly free, but the younger ones were beginning to 

"And now, some champagne, please--and HOT terrapin!...But I 
suppose you were at the fire yourself, weren't you?" she leaned 
still a little nearer to say.

The blush again swept over young Wesson's face, rose to his forehead, 
and turned the lobes of his large ears to balls of fire ("It looks," 
she thought, "as if he had on huge coral earrings."). But she forced 
him to look at her, laughed straight into his eyes, and went on: 
"Did you ever see a funnier sight than all those dressed up 
absurdities rushing out into the cold? It looked like the end of an 
Inauguration Ball! I was so fascinated that I actually pushed my way 
into the hall. The firemen were furious, but they couldn't stop me 
--nobody can stop me at a fire! You should have seen the ladies 
scuttling down-stairs--the fat ones! Oh, but I beg your pardon; 
I'd forgotten that you admire...avoirdupois. No? But...Mrs. stupid of me! Why, you're actually blushing! I assure 
you, you're as red as your mother's fan--and visible from as great 
a distance! Yes, please; a little more champagne..."

And then the inevitable began. She forgot the fire, forgot her 
anxieties, forgot Mrs. Wesson's affront, forgot everything but the 
amusement, the passing childish amusement, of twirling around her 
little finger this shy clumsy boy, as she had twirled so many others, 
old and young, not caring afterward if she ever saw them again, but 
so absorbed in the sport, and in her sense of knowing how to do it 
better than the other women--more quietly, more insidiously, 
without ogling, bridling or grimacing--that sometimes she used to 
ask herself with a shiver: "What was the gift given to me for?" 
Yes; it always amused her at first: the gradual dawn of attraction 
in eyes that had regarded her with indifference, the blood rising to 
the face, the way she could turn and twist the talk as though she had 
her victim on a leash, spinning him after her down winding paths of 
sentimentality, irony, caprice...and leaving him, with beating 
heart and dazzled eyes, to visions of an all-promising morrow..." 
My only accomplishment!" she murmured to herself as she rose from the 
table followed by young Wesson's fascinated gaze, while already, on 
her own lips, she felt the taste of cinders.

"But at any rate," she thought, "he'll hold his tongue about having 
seen me at the fire."


She let herself in with her latch-key, glanced at the notes and 
letters on the hall-table (the old habit of allowing nothing to 
escape her), and stole up through the darkness to her room.

A fire still glowed in the chimney, and its light fell on two vases 
of crimson roses. The room was full of their scent.

Mrs. Hazeldean frowned, and then shrugged her shoulders. It had been 
a mistake, after all, to let it appear that she was indifferent to 
the flowers; she must remember to thank Susan for rescuing them. She 
began to undress, hastily yet clumsily, as if her deft fingers were 
all thumbs; but first, detaching the two faded pink roses from her 
bosom, she put them with a reverent touch into a glass on the 
toilet-table. Then, slipping on her dressing-gown, she stole to her 
husband's door. It was shut, and she leaned her ear to the keyhole. 
After a moment she caught his breathing, heavy, as it always was when 
he had a cold, but regular, untroubled...With a sigh of relief 
she tiptoed back. Her uncovered bed, with its fresh pillows and 
satin coverlet, sent her a rosy invitation; but she cowered down by 
the fire, hugging her knees and staring into the coals.

"So THAT'S what it feels like!" she repeated.

It was the first time in her life that she had ever been deliberately 
"cut"; and the cut was a deadly injury in old New York. For Sabina 
Wesson to have used it, consciously, deliberately--for there was no 
doubt that she had purposely advanced toward her victim--she must 
have done so with intent to kill. And to risk that, she must have 
been sure of her facts, sure of corroborating witnesses, sure of 
being backed up by all her clan.

Lizzie Hazeldean had her clan too--but it was a small and weak one, 
and she hung on its outer fringe by a thread of little-regarded 
cousinship. As for the Hazeldean tribe, which was larger and 
stronger (though nothing like the great organized Wesson-Parrett 
gens, with half New York and all Albany at its back)--well, the 
Hazeldeans were not much to be counted on, and would even, perhaps, 
in a furtive negative way, be not too sorry ("if it were not for poor 
Charlie") that poor Charlie's wife should at last be made to pay for 
her good looks, her popularity, above all for being, in spite of her 
origin, treated by poor Charlie as if she were one of them!

Her origin was, of course, respectable enough. Everybody knew all 
about the Winters--she had been Lizzie Winter. But the Winters 
were very small people, and her father, the Reverend Arcadius Winter, 
the sentimental over-popular Rector of a fashionable New York church, 
after a few seasons of too great success as preacher and director of 
female consciences, had suddenly had to resign and go to Bermuda for 
his health--or was it France?--to some obscure watering-place, it 
was rumoured. At any rate, Lizzie, who went with him (with a crushed 
bed-ridden mother), was ultimately, after the mother's death, fished 
out of a girls' school in Brussels--they seemed to have been in so 
many countries at once!--and brought back to New York by a former 
parishioner of poor Arcadius's, who had always "believed in him," in 
spite of the Bishop, and who took pity on his lonely daughter.

The parishioner, Mrs. Mant, was "one of the Hazeldeans." She was a 
rich widow, given to generous gestures which she was often at a loss 
how to complete: and when she had brought Lizzie Winter home, and 
sufficiently celebrated her own courage in doing so, she did not 
quite know what step to take next. She had fancied it would be 
pleasant to have a clever handsome girl about the house; but her 
house-keeper was not of the same mind. The spare-room sheets had not 
been out of lavender for twenty years--and Miss Winter always left 
the blinds up in her room, and the carpet and curtains, unused to 
such exposure, suffered accordingly. Then young men began to call--
they calledin numbers. Mrs. Mant had not supposed that the daughter 
of a clergyman--and a clergyman "under a cloud"--would expect 
visitors. She had imagined herself taking Lizzie Winter to church 
Fairs, and having the stitches of her knitting picked up by the young 
girl, whose "eyes were better" than her benefactress's. But Lizzie 
did not know how to knit--she possessed no useful accomplishments 
--and she was visibly bored by Church Fairs, where her presence was 
of little use, since she had no money to spend. Mrs. Mant began to 
see her mistake; and the discovery made her dislike her protegee, 
whom she secretly regarded as having intentionally misled her.

In Mrs. Mant's life, the transition from one enthusiasm to another 
was always marked by an interval of disillusionment, during which, 
Providence having failed to fulfill her requirements, its existence 
was openly called into question. But in this flux of moods there was 
one fixed point: Mrs. Mant was a woman whose life revolved about a 
bunch of keys. What treasures they gave access to, what disasters 
would have ensued had they been forever lost, was not quite clear; 
but whenever they were missed the household was in an uproar, and as 
Mrs. Mant would trust them to no one but herself, these occasions 
were frequent. One of them arose at the very moment when Mrs. Mant 
was recovering from her enthusiasm for Miss Winter. A minute before, 
the keys had been there, in a pocket of her work-table; she had 
actually touched them in hunting for her buttonhole-scissors. She 
had been called away to speak to the plumber about the bath-room 
leak, and when she left the room there was no one in it but Miss 
Winter. When she returned, the keys were gone. The house had been 
turned inside out; everyone had been, if not accused, at least 
suspected; and in a rash moment Mrs. Mant had spoken of the police. 
The housemaid had thereupon given warning, and her own maid 
threatened to follow; when suddenly the Bishop's hints recurred to 
Mrs. Mant. The bishop had always implied that there had been 
something irregular in Dr. Winter's accounts, besides the other 
unfortunate business...

Very mildly, she had asked Miss Winter if she might not have seen the 
keys, and "picked them up without thinking." Miss Winter permitted 
herself to smile in denying the suggestion; the smile irritated Mrs. 
Mant; and in a moment the floodgates were opened. She saw nothing to 
smile at in her question--unless it was of a kind that Miss Winter 
was already used to, prepared for...with that sort of background 
...her unfortunate father...

"Stop!" Lizzie Winter cried. She remembered now, as if it had 
happened yesterday, the abyss suddenly opening at her feet. It was 
her first direct contact with human cruelty. Suffering, weakness, 
frailties other than Mrs. Mant's restricted fancy could have 
pictured, the girl had known, or at least suspected; but she had 
found as much kindness as folly in her path, and no one had ever 
before attempted to visit upon her the dimly-guessed shortcomings of 
her poor old father. She shook with horror as much as with 
indignation, and her "Stop!" blazed out so violently that Mrs. Mant, 
turning white, feebly groped for the bell.

And it was then, at that very moment, that Charles Hazeldean came in 
--Charles Hazeldean, the favourite nephew, the pride of the tribe. 
Lizzie had seen him only once or twice, for he had been absent since 
her return to New York. She had thought him distinguished-looking, 
but rather serious and sarcastic; and he had apparently taken little 
notice of her--which perhaps accounted for her opinion.

"Oh, Charles, dearest Charles--that you should be here to hear such 
things said to me!" his aunt gasped, her hand on her outraged heart.

"What things? Said by whom? I see no one here to say them but Miss 
Winter," Charles had laughed, taking the girl's icy hand.

"Don't shake hands with her! She has insulted me! She has ordered 
me to keep silence--in my own house. "Stop!" she said, when I was 
trying, in the kindness of my heart, to get her to admit privately...
Well, if she prefers to have the police..."

"I do! I ask you to send for them!" Lizzie cried.

How vividly she remembered all that followed: the finding of the 
keys, Mrs. Mant's reluctant apologies, her own cold acceptance of 
them, and the sense on both sides of the impossibility of continuing 
their life together! She had been wounded to the soul, and her own 
plight first revealed to her in all its destitution. Before that, 
despite the ups and downs of a wandering life, her youth, her good 
looks, the sense of a certain bright power over people and events, 
had hurried her along on a spring tide of confidence; she had never 
thought of herself as the dependent, the beneficiary, of the persons 
who were kind to her. Now she saw herself, at twenty, a penniless 
girl, with a feeble discredited father carrying his snowy head, his 
unctuous voice, his edifying manner from one cheap watering-place to 
another, through an endless succession of sentimental and pecuniary 
entanglements. To him she could be of no more help than he to her; 
and save for him she was alone. The Winter cousins, as much 
humiliated by his disgrace as they had been puffed-up by his 
triumphs, let it be understood, when the breach with Mrs. Mant became 
known, that they were not in a position to interfere; and among Dr. 
Winter's former parishioners none was left to champion him. Almost 
at the same time, Lizzie heard that he was about to marry a 
Portuguese opera-singer and be received into the Church of Rome; and 
this crowning scandal too promptly justified his family.

The situation was a grave one, and called for energetic measures. 
Lizzie understood it--and a week later she was engaged to Charles 

She always said afterward that but for the keys he would never have 
thought of marrying her; while he laughingly affirmed that, on the 
contrary, but for the keys she would never have looked at HIM.

But what did it all matter, in the complete and blessed understanding 
which was to follow on their hasty union? If all the advantages on 
both sides had been weighed and found equal by judicious advisers, 
harmony more complete could hardly have been predicted. As a matter 
of fact, the advisers, had they been judicious, would probably have 
found only elements of discord in the characters concerned. Charles 
Hazeldean was by nature an observer and a student, brooding and 
curious of mind: Lizzie Winter (as she looked back at herself)--
what was she, what would she ever be, but a quick, ephemeral 
creature, in whom a perpetual and adaptable activity simulated mind, 
as her grace, her swiftness, her expressiveness simulated beauty? So 
others would have judged her; so, now, she judged herself. And she 
knew that in fundamental things she was still the same. And yet she 
had satisfied him: satisfied him, to all appearances, as completely 
in the quiet later years as in the first flushed hours. As 
completely, or perhaps even more so. In the early months, dazzled 
gratitude made her the humbler, fonder worshipper: but as her powers 
expanded in the warm air of comprehension, as she felt herself grow 
handsomer, cleverer, more competent and more companionable than he 
had hoped, or she had dreamed herself capable of becoming, the 
balance was imperceptibly reversed, and the triumph in his eyes when 
they rested on her.

The Hazeldeans were conquered; they had to admit it. such a 
brilliant recruit to the clan was not to be disowned. Mrs. Mant was 
left to nurse her grievance in solitude, till she too fell into line, 
carelessly but handsomely forgiven.

Ah, those first years of triumph! They frightened Lizzie now as she 
looked back. One day, the friendless defenceless daughter of a 
discredited man; the next, almost the wife of Charlie Hazeldean, the 
popular successful young lawyer, with a good practice already 
assured, and the best of professional and private prospects. His own 
parents were dead, and had died poor; but two or three childless 
relatives were understood to be letting their capital accumulate for 
his benefit, and meanwhile in Lizzie's thrifty hands his earnings 
were largely sufficient.

Ah, those first years! There had been barely six; but even now there 
were moments when their sweetness drenched her to the soul...
Barely six; and then the sharp re-awakening of an inherited weakness 
of the heart that Hazeldean and his doctors had imagined to be 
completely cured. Once before, for the same cause, he had been sent 
off, suddenly, for a year of travel in mild climates and distant 
scenes; and his first return had coincided with the close of Lizzie's 
sojourn at Mrs. Mant's. The young man felt sure enough of the future 
to marry and take up his professional duties again, and for the 
following six years he had led, without interruption, the busy life 
of a successful lawyer; then had come a second break-down, more 
unexpectedly, and with more alarming symptoms. The "Hazeldean heart" 
was a proverbial boast in the family; the Hazeldeans privately 
considered it more distinguished than the Sillerton gout, and far 
more refined than the Wesson liver; and it had permitted most of them 
to survive, in valetudinarian ease, to a ripe old age, when they died 
of some quite other disorder. But Charles Hazeldean had defied it, 
and it took its revenge, and took it savagely.

One by one, hopes and plans faded. The Hazeldeans went south for a 
winter; he lay on a deck-chair in a Florida garden, and read and 
dreamed, and was happy with Lizzie beside him. So the months passed; 
and by the following autumn he was better, returned to New York, and 
took up his profession. Intermittently but obstinately, he had 
continued the struggle for two more years; but before they were over 
husband and wife understood that the good days were done.

He could be at his office only at lengthening intervals; he sank 
gradually into invalidism without submitting to it. His income 
dwindled; and, indifferent for himself, he fretted ceaselessly at the 
thought of depriving Lizzie of the least of her luxuries.

At heart she was indifferent to them too; but she could not convince 
him of it. He had been brought up in the old New York tradition, 
which decreed that a man, at whatever cost, must provide his wife 
with what she had always "been accustomed to"; and he had gloried too 
much in her prettiness, her elegance, her easy way of wearing her 
expensive dresses, and his friends' enjoyment of the good dinners she 
knew how to order, not to accustom her to everything which could 
enhance such graces. Mrs. Mant's secret satisfaction rankled in him. 
She sent him Baltimore terrapin, and her famous clam broth, and a 
dozen of the old Hazeldean port, and said "I told you so" to her 
confidants when Lizzie was mentioned; and Charles Hazeldean knew it, 
and swore at it.

"I won't be pauperized by her!" he declared; but Lizzie smiled away 
his anger, and persuaded him to taste the terrapin and sip the port.

She was smiling faintly at the memory of the last passage between him 
and Mrs. Mant when the turning of the bedroom door-handle startled 
her. She jumped up, and he stood there. The blood rushed to her 
forehead; his expression frightened her; for an instant she stared at 
him as if he had been an enemy. Then she saw that the look in his 
face was only the remote lost look of excessive physical pain.

She was at his side at once, supporting him, guiding him to the 
nearest armchair. He sank into it, and she flung a shawl over him, 
and knelt at his side while his inscrutable eyes continued to repel 

"Charles...Charles," she pleaded.

For a while he could not speak; and she said to herself that she 
would perhaps never know whether he had sought her because he was 
ill, or whether illness had seized him as he entered her room to 
question, accuse, or reveal what he had seen or heard that afternoon.

Suddenly he lifted his hand and pressed back her forehead, so that 
her face lay bare under his eyes.

"Love, love--you've been happy?"

"HAPPY?" The word choked her. She clung to him, burying her anguish 
against his knees. His hand stirred weakly in her hair, and 
gathering her whole strength into the gesture, she raised her head 
again, looked into his eyes, and breathed back: "And you?"

He gave her one full look; all their life together was in it, from 
the first day to the last. His hand brushed her once more, like a 
blessing, and then dropped. The moment of their communion was over; 
the next she was preparing remedies, ringing for the servants, 
ordering the doctor to be called. Her husband was once more the 
harmless helpless captive that sickness makes of the most dreaded and 
the most loved.


It was in Mrs. Mant's drawing-room that, some half-year later, Mrs. 
Charles Hazeldean, after a moment's hesitation, said to the servant 
that, yes, he might show in Mr. Prest.

Mrs. Mant was away. She had been leaving for Washington to visit a 
new protégée when Mrs. Hazeldean arrived from Europe, and after a 
rapid consultation with the clan had decided that it would not be 
"decent" to let poor Charles's widow go to an hotel. Lizzie had 
therefore the strange sensation of returning, after nearly nine 
years, to the house from which her husband had triumphantly rescued 
her; of returning there, to be sure, in comparative independence, 
and without danger of falling into her former bondage, yet with every 
nerve shrinking from all that the scene revived.

Mrs. Mant, the next day, had left for Washington; but before starting 
she had tossed a note across the breakfast-table to her visitor.

"Very proper--he was one of Charlie's oldest friends, I believe?" 
she said, with her mild frosty smile. Mrs. Hazeldean glanced at the 
note, turned it over as if to examine the signature, and restored it 
to her hostess.

"Yes. But I don't think I care to see anyone just yet."

There was a pause, during which the butler brought in fresh 
griddle-cakes, replenished the hot milk, and withdrew. As the door 
closed on him, Mrs. Mant said, with a dangerous cordiality: "No one 
would misunderstand your receiving an old friend of your husband's...
like Mr. Prest."

Lizzie Hazeldean cast a sharp glance at the large empty mysterious 
face across the table. They WANTED her to receive Henry Prest, then? 
Ah, well...perhaps she understood...

"Shall I answer this for you, my dear? Or will you?" Mrs. Mant pursued.

"Oh, as you like. But don't fix a day, please. Later--"

Mrs. Mant's face again became vacuous. She murmured: "You must not 
shut yourself up too much. It will not do to be morbid. I'm sorry 
to have to leave you here alone--"

Lizzie's eyes filled: Mrs. Mant's sympathy seemed more cruel than 
her cruelty. Every word that she used had a veiled taunt for its 

"Oh, you mustn't think of giving up your visit--"

"My dear, how can I? It's a DUTY. I'll send a line to Henry Prest, 
then...If you would sip a little port at luncheon and dinner we 
should have you looking less like a ghost..."

Mrs. Mant departed; and two days later--the interval was "decent" 
--Mr. Henry Prest was announced. Mrs. Hazeldean had not seen him 
since the previous New Year's day. Their last words had been 
exchanged in Mrs. Struthers's crimson boudoir, and since then half a 
year had elapsed. Charles Hazeldean had lingered for a fortnight; 
but though there had been ups and downs, and intervals of hope when 
none could have criticised his wife for seeing her friends, her door 
had been barred against everyone. She had not excluded Henry Prest 
more rigorously than the others; he had simply been one of the many 
who received, day by day, the same answer: "Mrs. Hazeldean sees no 
one but the family."

Almost immediately after her husband's death she had sailed for 
Europe on a long-deferred visit to her father, who was now settled at 
Nice; but from this expedition she had presumably brought back little 
comfort, for when she arrived in New York her relations were struck 
by her air of ill-health and depression. It spoke in her favour, 
however; they were agreed that she was behaving with propriety.

She looked at Henry Prest as if he were a stranger: so difficult was 
it, at the first moment, to fit his robust and splendid person into 
the region of twilight shades which, for the last months, she had 
inhabited. She was beginning to find that everyone had an air of 
remoteness; she seemed to see people and life through the confusing 
blur of the long crape veil in which it was a widow's duty to shroud 
her affliction. But she gave him her hand without perceptible 

He lifted it toward his lips, in an obvious attempt to combine 
gallantry with condolence, and then, half-way up, seemed to feel that 
the occasion required him to release it.

"Well--you'll admit that I've been patient!" he exclaimed.

"Patient? Yes. What else was there to be?" she rejoined with a 
faint smile, as he seated himself beside her, a little too near.

"Oh, well...of course! I understood all that. I hope you'll 
believe. But mightn't you at least have answered my letters--one 
or two of them?

She shook her head. "I couldn't write."

"Not to anyone? Or not to me?" he queried, with ironic emphasis.

"I wrote only the letters I had to--no others."

"Ah, I see." He laughed slightly. "And you didn't consider that 
letters to ME were among them?"

She was silent, and he stood up and took a turn across the room. His 
face was redder than usual, and now and then a twitch passed over it. 
She saw that he felt the barrier of her crape, and that it left him 
baffled and resentful. A struggle was still perceptibly going on in 
him between his traditional standard of behaviour at such a meeting, 
and primitive impulses renewed by the memory of their last hours 
together. When he turned back and paused before her his ruddy flush 
had paled, and he stood there, frowning, uncertain, and visibly 
resenting the fact that she made him so.

"You sit there like a stone!" he said.

"I feel like a stone."

"Oh, come--!"

She knew well enough what he was thinking: that the only way to 
bridge over such a bad beginning was to get the woman into your arms 
--and talk afterward. It was the classic move. He had done it 
dozens of times, no doubt, and was evidently asking himself why the 
deuce he couldn't do it now...But something in her look must 
have benumbed him. He sat down again beside her.

"What you must have been through, dearest!" He waited and coughed. 
"I can understand your being--all broken up. But I know nothing; 
remember, I know nothing as to what actually happened..."

"Nothing happened."

"As to--what we feared? No hint--?"

She shook her head.

He cleared his throat before the next question. "And you don't think 
that in your absence he may have spoken--to anyone?"


"Then, my dear, we seem to have had the most unbelievable good luck; 
and I can't see--"

He had edged slowly nearer, and now laid a large ringed hand on her 
sleeve. How well she knew those rings--the two dull gold snakes 
with malevolent jewelled eyes! She sat as motionless as if their 
coils were about her, till slowly his tentative grasp relaxed.

"Lizzie, you know"--his tone was discouraged--"this is morbid..."


"When you're safe out of the worst scrape...and free, my darling, 
FREE! Don't you realize it? I suppose the strain's been too much 
for you; but I want you to feel that now--"

She stood up suddenly, and put half the length of the room between them.

"Stop! Stop! Stop!" she almost screamed, as she had screamed long 
ago at Mrs. Mant.

He stood up also, darkly red under his rich sunburn, and forced a smile.

"Really," he protested, "all things considered--and after a 
separation of six months!" She was silent. "My dear," he continued 
mildly, "will you tell me what you expect me to think?"

"Oh, don't take that tone," she murmured.

"What tone?"

"As if--as if--you still imagined we could go back--"

She saw his face fall. Had he ever before, she wondered, stumbled 
upon an obstacle in that smooth walk of his? It flashed over her 
that this was the danger besetting men who had a "way with women"--
the day came when they might follow it too blindly.

The reflection evidently occurred to him almost as soon as it did to 
her. He summoned another propitiatory smile, and drawing near, took 
her hand gently. "But I don't want to go back...I want to go 
forward, dearest...Now that at last you're free."

She seized on the word as if she had been waiting for her cue. 
"Free! Oh, that's it--FREE! Can't you see, can't you understand, 
that I mean to stay free?"

Again a shadow of distrust crossed his face, and the smile he had 
begun for her reassurance seemed to remain on his lips for his own.

"But of course! Can you imagine that I want to put you in chains? I 
want you to be as free as you please--free to love me as much as 
you choose!" He was visibly pleased with the last phrase.

She drew away her hand, but not unkindly. "I'm sorry--I AM sorry, 
Henry. But you don't understand."

"What don't I understand?"

"That what you ask is quite impossible--ever. I can't go on...
in the old way..."

She saw his face working nervously. "In the old way? You mean--?" 
Before she could explain he hurried on with an increasing majesty of 
manner: "Don't answer! I see--I understand. When you spoke of 
freedom just now I was misled for a moment--I frankly own I was--
into thinking that, after your wretched marriage, you might prefer 
discreeter apparent independence which would leave us 
both...I say APPARENT, for on my side there has never been the 
least wish to conceal...But if I was mistaken, if on the contrary 
what you wish to take advantage of your freedom to 
regularize our...our attachment..."

She said nothing, not because she had any desire to have him complete 
the phrase, but because she found nothing to say. To all that 
concerned their common past she was aware of offering a numbed soul. 
But her silence evidently perplexed him, and in his perplexity he 
began to lose his footing, and to flounder in a sea of words.

"Lizzie! Do you hear me? If I was mistaken, I say--and I hope I'm 
not above owning that at times I MAY be mistaken; if I was--why, by 
God, my dear, no woman ever heard me speak the words before; but here 
I am to have and to hold, as the Book says! Why, hadn't you realized 
it? Lizzie, look up--! I'M ASKING YOU TO MARRY ME."

Still for a moment, she made no reply, but stood gazing about her as 
if she had the sudden sense of unseen presences between them. At 
length she gave a faint laugh. It visibly ruffled her visitor.

"I'm not conscious," he began again, "of having said anything 
particularly laughable--" He stopped and scrutinized her narrowly, 
as though checked by the thought that there might be something not 
quite normal...Then, apparently reassured, he half-murmured his 
only French phrase: "La joie fait"

She did not seem to hear. "I wasn't laughing at you," she said, "but 
only at the coincidences of life. It was in this room that my 
husband asked me to marry him."

"Ah?" Her suitor appeared politely doubtful of the good taste, or 
the opportunity, of producing this reminiscence. But he made another 
call on his magnanimity. "Really? But, I say, my dear, I couldn't 
be expected to know it, could I? If I'd guessed that such a painful 

"Painful?" She turned upon him. "A painful association? Do you 
think that was what I meant?" Her voice sank. "This room is sacred 
to me."

She had her eyes on his face, which, perhaps because of its 
architectural completeness, seemed to lack the mobility necessary to 
follow such a leap of thought. It was so ostensibly a solid 
building, and not a nomad's tent. He struggled with a ruffled pride, 
rose again to playful magnanimity, and murmured: "Compassionate 

"Oh, compassionate? To whom? Do you imagine--did I ever say 
anything to make you doubt the truth of what I'm telling you?"

His brows fretted: his temper was up. "SAY anything? No," he 
insinuated ironically; then, in a hasty plunge after his lost 
forbearance, added with exquisite mildness: "Your tact was perfect...
always. I've invariably done you that justice. No one could 
have been more thoroughly the...the lady. I never failed to 
admire your good-breeding in avoiding any reference to your...
your other life."

She faced him steadily. "Well, that other life WAS my life--my 
only life! Now you know."

There was a silence. Henry Prest drew out a monogrammed handkerchief 
and passed it over his dry lips. As he did so, a whiff of his eau de 
Cologne reached her, and she winced a little. It was evident that he 
was seeking what to say next; wondering, rather helplessly, how to 
get back his lost command of the situation. He finally induced his 
features to break again into a persuasive smile.

"Not your ONLY life, dearest," he reproached her.

She met it instantly. "Yes; so you thought--because I chose you should."

"You chose--?" The smile became incredulous.

"Oh, deliberately. But I suppose I've no excuse that you would not 
dislike to hear...Why shouldn't we break off now?"

"Break off...this conversation?" His tone was aggrieved. "Of 
course I've no wish to force myself--"

She interrupted him with a raised hand. "Break off for good, Henry."

"For good?" He stared, and gave a quick swallow, as though the dose 
were choking him. "For good? Are you really--? You and I? Is 
this serious, Lizzie?"

"Perfectly. But if you prefer to hear...what can only be painful..."

He straightened himself, threw back his shoulders, and said in an 
uncertain voice: "I hope you don't take me for a coward."

She made no direct reply, but continued: "Well, then, you thought I 
loved you, I suppose--"

He smiled again, revived his moustache with a slight twist, and gave 
a hardly perceptible shrug. "You...ah...managed to produce 
the illusion..."

"Oh, well, yes: a woman CAN--so easily! That's what men often 
forget. You thought I was a lovelorn mistress; and I was only an 
expensive prostitute."

"Elizabeth!" he gasped, pale now to the ruddy eyelids. She saw that 
the word had wounded more than his pride, and that, before realizing 
the insult to his love, he was shuddering at the offence to his 
taste. Mistress! Prostitute! Such words were banned. No one 
reproved coarseness of language in women more than Henry Prest; one 
of Mrs. Hazeldean's greatest charms (as he had just told her) had 
been her way of remaining, "through it all," so ineffably "the lady." 
He looked at her as if a fresh doubt of her sanity had assailed him.

"Shall I go on?" she smiled.

He bent his head stiffly. "I am still at a loss to imagine for what 
purpose you made a fool of me."

"Well, then, it was as I say. I wanted money--money for my husband."

He moistened his lips. "For your husband?"

"Yes; when he began to be so ill; when he needed comforts, luxury, 
the opportunity to get away. He saved me, when I was a girl, from 
untold humiliation and wretchedness. No one else lifted a finger to 
help me--not one of my own family. I hadn't a penny or a friend. 
Mrs. Mant had grown sick of me, and was trying to find an excuse to 
throw me over. Oh, you don't know what a girl has to put up with--
a girl alone in the world--who depends for her clothes, and her 
food, and the roof over her head, on the whims of a vain capricious 
old woman! It was because HE knew, because he understood, that he 
married me...He took me out of misery into blessedness. He put 
me up above them all...he put me beside himself. I didn't care 
for anything but that; I didn't care for the money or the freedom; I 
cared only for him. I would have followed him into the desert--I 
would have gone barefoot to be with him. I would have starved, 
begged, done anything for him--ANYTHING." She broke off, her voice 
lost in a sob. She was no longer aware of Prest's presence--all 
her consciousness was absorbed in the vision she had evoked. "It was 
HE who cared--who wanted me to be rich and independent and admired! 
He wanted to heap everything on me--during the first years I could 
hardly persuade him to keep enough money for himself...And then 
he was taken ill; and as he got worse, and gradually dropped out of 
affairs, his income grew smaller, and then stopped altogether; and all 
the while there were new expenses piling up--nurses, doctors, 
travel; and he grew frightened; frightened not for himself but for me 
...And what was I to do? I had to pay for things somehow. For 
the first year I managed to put off paying--then I borrowed small 
sums here and there. But that couldn't last. And all the while I 
had to keep on looking pretty and prosperous, or else he began to 
worry, and think we were ruined, and wonder what would become of me 
if he didn't get well. By the time you came I was desperate--I 
would have done anything, anything! He thought the money came from 
my Portuguese stepmother. She really was rich, as it happens. 
Unluckily my poor father tried to invest her money, and lost it all; 
but when they were first married she sent a thousand dollars--and 
all the rest, all you gave me, I built on that."

She paused pantingly, as if her tale were at an end. Gradually her 
consciousness of present things returned, and she saw Henry Prest, as 
if far off, a small indistinct figure looming through the mist of her 
blurred eyes. She thought to herself: "He doesn't believe me," and 
the thought exasperated her.

"You wonder, I suppose," she began again, "that a woman should dare 
confess such things about herself--"

He cleared his throat. "About herself? No; perhaps not. But about 
her husband."

The blood rushed to her forehead. "About her husband? But you don't 
dare to imagine--?"

"You leave me," he rejoined icily, "no other inference that I can 
see." She stood dumbfounded, and he added: "At any rate, it 
certainly explains your extraordinary coolness--pluck, I used to 
think it. I perceive that I needn't have taken such precautions."

She considered this. "You think, then, that he knew? You think, 
perhaps, that I knew he did?" She pondered again painfully, and then 
her face lit up. "He never knew--never! That's enough for me--
and for you it doesn't matter. Think what you please. He was happy 
to the end--that's all I care for."

"There can be no doubt about your frankness," he said with pinched lips.

"There's no longer any reason for not being frank."

He picked up his hat, and studiously considered its lining; then he 
took the gloves he had laid in it, and drew them thoughtfully through 
his hands. She thought: "Thank God, he's going!"

But he set the hat and gloves down on a table, and moved a little 
nearer to her. His face looked as ravaged as a reveller's at 

"You--leave positively nothing to the imagination!" he murmured.

"I told you it was useless--" she began; but he interrupted her: 
"Nothing, that is--if I believed you." He moistened his lips 
again, and tapped them with his handkerchief. Again she had a whiff 
of the eau de Cologne. "But I don't! he proclaimed. "Too many 
memories...too many...proofs, my dearest..." He stopped, 
smiling somewhat convulsively. She saw that he imagined the smile 
would soothe her.

She remained silent, and he began once more, as if appealing to her 
against her own verdict: "I know better, Lizzie. In spite of 

"I took your money--"

"As a favour. I knew the difficulties of your position...I 
understood completely. I beg of you never again to allude to--all 
that." It dawned on her that anything would be more endurable to him 
than to think he had been a dupe--and one of two dupes! The part 
was not one that he could conceive of having played. His pride was 
up in arms to defend her, not so much for her sake as for his own. 
The discovery gave her a baffling sense of helplessness; against that 
impenetrable self-sufficiency all her affirmations might spend 
themselves in vain.

"No man who has had the privilege of being loved by you could ever 
for a moment..."

She raised her head and looked at him. "You have never had that 
privilege," she interrupted.

His jaw fell. She saw his eyes pass from uneasy supplication to a 
cold anger. He gave a little inarticulate grunt before his voice 
came back to him.

"You spare no pains in degrading yourself in my eyes."

"I am not degrading myself. I am telling you the truth. I needed 
money. I knew no way of earning it. You were willing to give it...
for what you call the privilege..."

"Lizzie," he interrupted solemnly, "don't go on! I believe I enter 
into all your feelings--I believe I always have. In so sensitive, 
so hypersensitive a nature, there are moments when every other 
feeling is swept away by scruples...For those scruples I only 
honour you the more. But I won't hear another word now. If I 
allowed you to go on in your present state of...nervous might be the first to deplore...I wish to 
forget everything you have said...I wish to look forward, not 
back...: He squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and fixed 
her with a glance of recovered confidence. "How little you know me 
if you believe that I could fail you NOW!"

She returned his look with a weary steadiness. "You are kind--you 
mean to be generous, I'm sure. But don't you see that I CAN'T marry 

"I only see that, in the natural rush of your remorse--"

"Remorse? Remorse?" She broke in with a laugh. "Do you imagine I 
feel any remorse? I'd do it all over again tomorrow--for the same 
object! I got what I wanted--I gave him that last year, that last 
good year. It was the relief from anxiety that kept him alive, that 
kept him happy. Oh, he WAS happy--I know that!" She turned to 
Prest with a strange smile. "I do thank you for that--I'm not 

" really...indecent..." He took 
up his hat again, and stood in the middle of the room as if waiting
to be waked from a bad dream.

"You are--rejecting an opportunity--" he began.

She made a faint motion of assent.

"You do realize it? I'm still prepared to--to help you, if you 
should..." She made no answer, and he continued: "How do you 
expect to live--since you have chosen to drag in such 

"I don't care how I live. I never wanted the money for myself."

He raised a deprecating hand. "Oh, don't--AGAIN! The woman I had 
meant to..." Suddenly, to her surprise, she saw a glitter of 
moisture on his lower lids. He applied his handkerchief to them, and 
the waft of scent checked her momentary impulse of compunction. That 
Cologne water! It called up picture after picture with a hideous 
precision. "Well, it was worth it," she murmured doggedly.

Henry Prest restored his handkerchief to his pocket. He waited, 
glanced about the room, turned back to her.

"If your decision is final--"

"Oh, final!"

He bowed. "There is one thing more--which I should have mentioned 
if you had ever given me the opportunity of seeing you after--after 
last New Year's day. Something I preferred not to commit to writing 

"Yes?" she questioned indifferently.

"Your husband, you are positively convinced had no idea...that day...?"


"Well, others, it appears, had." He paused. "Mrs. Wesson saw us."

"So I supposed. I remember now that she went out of her way to cut 
me that evening at Mrs. Struthers's."

"Exactly. And she was not the only person who saw us. If people had 
not been disarmed by your husband's falling ill that very day you 
would have found yourself--ostracized."

She made no comment, and he pursued, with a last effort: "In your 
grief, your solitude, you haven't yet realized what your future will 
be--how difficult. It is what I wished to guard you against--it 
was my purpose in asking you to marry me." He drew himself up and 
smiled as if he were looking at his own reflection in a mirror, and 
thought favourably of it. "A man who has had the misfortune to 
compromise a woman is bound in honour--Even if my own inclination 
were not what it is, I should consider..."

She turned to him with a softened smile. Yes, he had really brought 
himself to think that he was proposing to marry her to save her 
reputation. At this glimpse of the old hackneyed axioms on which he 
actually believed that his conduct was based, she felt anew her 
remoteness from the life he would have drawn her back to.

"My poor Henry, don't you see how far I've got beyond the Mrs. 
Wessons? If all New York wants to ostracize me, let it! I've had my woman has more than one. Why shouldn't I have to pay 
for it? I'm ready."

"Good heavens!" he murmured.

She was aware that he had put forth his last effort. The wound she 
had inflicted had gone to the most vital spot; she had prevented his 
being magnanimous, and the injury was unforgivable. He was glad, 
yes, actually glad now, to have her know that New York meant to cut 
her; but, strive as she might, she could not bring herself to care 
either for the fact, or for his secret pleasure in it. Her own 
secret pleasures were beyond New York's reach and his.

"I'm sorry," she reiterated gently. He bowed, without trying to take 
her hand, and left the room.

As the door closed she looked after him with a dazed stare. "He's 
right, I suppose; I don't realize yet--" She heard the shutting of 
the outer door, and dropped to the sofa, pressing her hands against 
her aching eyes. At that moment, for the first time, she asked 
herself what the next day, and the next, would be like...

"If only I cared more about reading," she moaned, remembering how 
vainly she had tried to acquire her husband's tastes, and how gently 
and humorously he had smiled at her efforts. "Well--there are 
always cards; and when I get older, knitting and patience, I suppose. 
And if everybody cuts me I shan't need any evening dresses. That 
will be an economy, at any rate," she concluded with a little shiver.


..."She was BAD...always. They used to meet at the Fifth Avenue Hotel."

I must go back now to this phrase of my mother's--the phrase from 
which, at the opening of my narrative, I broke away for a time in 
order to project more vividly on the scene that anxious moving vision 
of Lizzie Hazeldean: a vision in which memories of my one boyish 
glimpse of her were pieced together with hints collected afterward.

When my mother uttered her condemnatory judgment I was a young man of 
twenty-one, newly graduated from Harvard, and at home again under the 
family roof in New York. It was long since I had heard Mrs. 
Hazeldean spoken of. I had been away, at school and at Harvard, for 
the greater part of the interval, and in the holidays she was 
probably not considered a fitting subject of conversation, especially 
now that my sisters came to the table.

At any rate, I had forgotten everything I might ever have picked up 
about her when, on the evening after my return, my cousin Hubert 
Wesson--now towering above me as a pillar of the Knickerbocker 
Club, and a final authority on the ways of the world--suggested our 
joining her at the opera.

"Mrs. Hazeldean? But I don't know her. What will she think?"

"That it's all right. Come along. She's the jolliest woman I know. 
We'll go back afterward and have supper with her--jolliest house I 
know." Hubert twirled a self-conscious moustache.

We were dining at the Knickerbocker, to which I had just been 
elected, and the bottle of Pommery we were finishing disposed me to 
think that nothing could be more fitting for two men of the world 
than to end their evening in the box of the jolliest woman Hubert 
knew. I groped for my own moustache, gave a twirl in the void, and 
followed him, after meticulously sliding my overcoat sleeve around my 
silk hat as I had seen him do.

But once in Mrs. Hazeldean's box I was only an overgrown boy again, 
bathed in such blushes as used, at the same age, to visit Hubert, 
forgetting that I had a moustache to twirl, and knocking my hat from 
the peg on which I had just hung it, in my zeal to pick up a 
programme she had not dropped.

For she was really too lovely--too formidably lovely. I was used 
by now to mere unadjectived loveliness, the kind that youth and 
spirits hang like a rosy veil over commonplace features, an average 
outline and a pointless merriment. But this was something 
calculated, accomplished, finished--and just a little worn. It 
frightened me with my first glimpse of the infinity of beauty and the 
multiplicity of her pit-falls. What! There were women who need not 
fear crow's-feet, were more beautiful for being pale, could let a 
silver hair or two show among the dark, and their eyes brood inwardly 
while they smiled and chatted? but then no young man was safe for a 
moment! But then the world I had hitherto known had been only a warm 
pink nursery, while this new one was a place of darkness, perils and 

It was the next day that one of my sisters asked me where I had been 
the evening before, and that I puffed out my chest to answer: "With 
Mrs. Hazeldean--at the opera." My mother looked up, but did not 
speak till the governess had swept the girls off; then she said with 
pinched lips: "Hubert Wesson took you to Mrs. Hazeldean's box?"


"Well, a young man may go where he pleases. I hear Hubert is still 
infatuated; it serves Sabina right for not letting him marry the 
youngest Lyman girl. But don't mention Mrs. Hazeldean again before 
your sisters...They say her husband never knew--I suppose if he 
HAD she would never have got old Miss Cecilia Winter's money." And 
it was then that my mother pronounced the name of Henry Prest, and 
added that phrase about the Fifth Avenue Hotel which suddenly woke my 
boyish memories...

In a flash I saw again, under its quickly-lowered veil, the face with 
the exposed eyes and the frozen smile, and felt through my grown-up 
waistcoat the stab to my boy's heart and the loosened murmur of my 
soul; felt all this, and at the same moment tried to relate that 
former face, so fresh and clear despite its anguish, to the smiling 
guarded countenance of Hubert's "Jolliest woman I know."

I was familiar with Hubert's indiscriminate use of his one adjective, 
and had not expected to find Mrs. Hazeldean "jolly" in the literal 
sense: in the case of the lady he happened to be in love with the 
epithet simply meant that she justified his choice. Nevertheless, as 
I compared Mrs. Hazeldean's earlier face to this one, I had my first 
sense of what may befall in the long years between youth and 
maturity, and of how short a distance I had travelled on that 
mysterious journey. If only she would take me by the hand!

I was not wholly unprepared for my mother's comment. There was no 
other lady in Mrs. Hazeldean's box when we entered; none joined her 
during the evening, and our hostess offered no apology for her 
isolation. In the New York of my youth every one knew what to think 
of a woman who was seen "alone at the opera"; if Mrs. Hazeldean was 
not openly classed with Fanny Ring, our one conspicuous 
"professional," it was because, out of respect for her social origin, 
New York preferred to avoid such juxtapositions. Young as I was, I 
knew this social law, and had guessed, before the evening was over, 
that Mrs. Hazeldean was not a lady on whom other ladies called, 
though she was not, on the other hand, a lady whom it was forbidden 
to mention to other ladies. So I did mention her, with bravado.

No ladies showed themselves at the opera with Mrs. Hazeldean; but one 
or two dropped in to the jolly supper announced by Hubert, an 
entertainment whose jollity consisted in a good deal of harmless 
banter over broiled canvas-backs and celery, with the best of 
champagne. These same ladies I sometimes met at her house afterward. 
They were mostly younger than their hostess, and still, though 
precariously, within the social pale: pretty trivial creatures, 
bored with a monotonous prosperity, and yearning for such unlawful 
joys as cigarettes, plain speaking, and a drive home in the small 
hours with the young man of the moment. But such daring spirits were 
few in old New York, their appearances infrequent and somewhat 
furtive. Mrs. Hazeldean's society consisted mainly of men, men of 
all ages, from her bald or grey-headed contemporaries to youths of 
Hubert's accomplished years and raw novices of mine.

A great dignity and decency prevailed in her little circle. It was 
not the oppressive respectability which weighs on the reformed 
declassee, but the air of ease imparted by a woman of distinction 
who has wearied of society and closed her doors to all save her 
intimates. One always felt, at Lizzie Hazeldean's, that the next 
moment one's grandmother and aunts might be announced; and yet so 
pleasantly certain that they wouldn't be.

What is there in the atmosphere of such houses that makes them so 
enchanting to a fastidious and imaginative youth? Why is it that 
"those women" (as the others call them) alone know how to put the 
awkward at ease, check the familiar, smile a little at the 
over-knowing, and yet encourage naturalness in all? The difference 
of atmosphere is felt on the very threshold. The flowers grow 
differently in their vases, the lamps and easy-chairs have found a 
cleverer way of coming together, the books on the table are the very 
ones that one is longing to get hold of. The most perilous coquetry 
may not be in a woman's way of arranging her dress but in her way of 
arranging her drawing-room; and in this art Mrs. Hazeldean excelled.

I have spoken of books; even then they were usually the first objects 
to attract me in a room, whatever else of beauty it contained; and I 
remember, on the evening of that first "jolly supper," coming to an 
astonished pause before the crowded shelves that took up one wall of 
the drawing room. What! The goddess read, then? She could 
accompany one on those flights too? Lead one, no doubt? My heart 
beat high...

But I soon learned that Lizzie Hazeldean did not read. She turned 
but languidly even the pages of the last Ouida novel: and I remember 
seeing Mallock's 'New Republic' uncut on her table for weeks. It 
took me no long time to make the discovery: at my very next visit 
she caught my glance of surprise in the direction of the rich 
shelves, smiled, coloured a little, and met it with the confession: 
"No, I can't read them. I've tried--I HAVE tried--but print 
makes me sleepy. Even novels do..." "They" were the accumulated 
treasures of English poetry, and a rich and varied selection of 
history, criticism, letters, in English, French and Italian--she 
spoke these languages, I knew--books evidently assembled by a 
sensitive and widely-ranging reader. We were alone at the time, and 
Mrs. Hazeldean went on in a lower tone: "I kept just the few he 
liked best--my husband, you know." It was the first time that 
Charles Hazeldean's name had been spoken between us, and my surprise 
was so great that my candid cheek must have reflected the blush on 
hers. I had fancied that women in her situation avoided alluding to 
their husbands. But she continued to look at me, wistfully, humbly 
almost, as if there were something more that she wanted to say, and 
was inwardly entreating me to understand.

"He was a great reader: a student. And he tried so hard to make me 
read too--he wanted to share everything with me. And I DID like 
poetry--some poetry--when he read it aloud to me. After his 
death I thought: 'There'll be his books. I can go back to them--I 
shall find him there.' And I tried--oh, so hard--but it's no 
use. They've lost their most things have." She 
stood up, lit a cigarette, pushed back a log on the hearth. I felt 
that she was waiting for me to speak. If life had but taught me how 
to answer her, what was there of her story I might not have learned? 
But I was too inexperienced; I could not shake off my bewilderment. 
What! This woman whom I had been pitying for matrimonial miseries 
which seemed to justify her seeking solace elsewhere--this woman 
could speak of her husband in such a tone! I had instantly perceived 
that the tone was not feigned; and a confused sense of the complexity 
--or the chaos--of human relations held me as tongue-tied as a 
schoolboy to whom a problem beyond his grasp is suddenly propounded.

Before the thought took shape she had read it, and with the smile 
which drew such sad lines about her mouth, had continued gaily: 
"What are you up to this evening, by the way? What do you say to 
going to the "Black Crook" with your cousin Hubert and one or two 
others? I have a box."

It was inevitable that, not long after this candid confession, I 
should have persuaded myself that a taste for reading was boring in a 
woman, and that one of Mrs. Hazeldean's chief charms lay in her 
freedom from literary pretensions. The truth was, of course, that it 
lay in her sincerity; in her humble yet fearless estimate of her own 
qualities and short-comings. I had never met its like in a woman of 
any age, and coming to me in such early days, and clothed in such 
looks and intonations, it saved me, in after years, from all peril of 
meaner beauties.

But before I had come to understand that, or to guess what falling in 
love with Lizzie Hazeldean was to do for me, I had quite unwittingly 
and fatuously done the falling. The affair turned out, in the 
perspective of the years, to be but an incident of our long 
friendship; and if I touch on it here it is only to illustrate 
another of my poor friend's gifts. If she could not read books she 
could read hearts; and she bent a playful yet compassionate gaze on 
mine while it still floundered in unawareness.

I remember it all as if it were yesterday. We were sitting alone in 
her drawing-room, in the winter twilight, over the fire. We had 
reached--in her company it was not difficult--the degree of 
fellowship when friendly talk lapses naturally into a friendlier 
silence, and she had taken up the evening paper while I glowered 
dumbly at the embers. One little foot, just emerging below her 
dress, swung, I remember, between me and the fire, and seemed to hold 
her all in the spring of its instep...

"Oh," she exclaimed, "poor Henry Prest--". She dropped the paper. 
"His wife is dead--poor fellow," she said simply.

The blood rushed to my forehead: my heart was in my throat. She had 
named him--named him at last, the recreant lover, the man who had 
"dishonoured" her! My hands were clenched: if he had entered the 
room they would have been at his throat...

And then, after a quick interval, I had again the humiliating 
disheartening sense of not understanding: of being too young, too 
inexperienced, to know. This woman, who spoke of her deceived 
husband with tenderness, spoke compassionately of her faithless 
lover! And she did the one as naturally as the other, not as if this 
impartial charity were an attitude she had determined to assume, but 
as if it were part of the lesson life had taught her.

"I didn't know he was married," I growled between my teeth.

She meditated absently. "Married? Oh, yes; when was it? The year 
after..." her voice dropped again..."after my husband died. 
He married a quiet cousin, who had always been in love with him, I 
believe. They had two boys.--You knew him?" she abruptly 

I nodded grimly.

"People always thought he would never marry--he used to say so 
himself," she went on, still absently.

I burst out:  "The--hound!"

"OH!" she exclaimed. I started up, our eyes met, and hers filled 
with tears of reproach and understanding. We sat looking at each 
other in silence. Two of the tears overflowed, hung on her lashes, 
melted down her cheeks. I continued to stare at her shamefacedly; 
then I got to my feet, drew out my handkerchief, and tremblingly, 
reverently, as if I had touched a sacred image, I wiped them away.

My love-making went no farther. In another moment she had contrived 
to put a safe distance between us. She did not want to turn a boy's 
head; long since (she told me afterward) such amusements had ceased 
to excite her. But she did want my sympathy, wanted it 
overwhelmingly: amid the various feelings she was aware of arousing, 
she let me see that sympathy, in the sense of a moved understanding, 
had always been lacking. "But then," she added ingenuously, "I've 
never really been sure, because I've never told anyone my story. 
Only I take it for granted that, if I haven't, it's THEIR fault 
rather than mine..." She smiled half-deprecatingly, and my bosom 
swelled, acknowledging the distinction. "And now I want to tell 
YOU--" she began.

I have said that my love for Mrs. Hazeldean was a brief episode in 
our long relation. At my age, it was inevitable that it should be 
so. The "fresher face" soon came, and in its light I saw my old 
friend as a middle-aged woman, turning grey, with a mechanical smile 
and haunted eyes. But it was in the first glow of my feeling that 
she had told me her story; and when the glow subsided, and in the 
afternoon light of a long intimacy I judged and tested her 
statements, I found that each detail fitted into the earlier picture.

My opportunities were many; for once she had told the tale she always 
wanted to be retelling it. A perpetual longing to relive the past, a 
perpetual need to explain and justify herself--the satisfaction of 
these two cravings, once she had permitted herself to indulge them, 
became the luxury of her empty life. She had kept it empty--
emotionally, sentimentally empty--from the day of her husband's 
death, as the guardian of an abandoned temple might go on forever 
sweeping and tending what had once been the god's abode. But this 
duty performed, she had no other. She had done one great--or 
abominable--thing; rank it as you please, it had been done 
heroically. But there was nothing in her to keep her at that height. 
Her tastes, her interests, her conceivable occupations, were all on 
the level of a middling domesticity; she did not know how to create 
for herself any inner life in keeping with that one unprecedented 

Soon after her husband's death, one of her cousins, the Miss Cecilia 
Winter of Washington Square to whom my mother had referred, had died 
also, and left Mrs. Hazeldean a handsome legacy. And a year or two 
later Charles Hazeldean's small estate had undergone the favourable 
change that befell New York realty in the 'eighties. The property he 
had bequeathed to his wife had doubled, then tripled, in value; and 
she found herself, after a few years of widowhood, in possession of 
an income large enough to supply her with all the luxuries which her 
husband had struggled so hard to provide. It was the peculiar irony 
of her lot to be secured from temptation when all danger of 
temptation was over; for she would never, I am certain, have held out 
the tip of her finger to any man to obtain such luxuries for her own 
enjoyment. But if she did not value her money for itself, she owed 
to it--and the service was perhaps greater than she was aware--
the power of mitigating her solitude, and filling it with the trivial 
distractions without which she was less and less able to live.

She had been put into the world, apparently, to amuse men and enchant 
them; yet, her husband dead, her sacrifice accomplished, she would 
have preferred, I am sure, to shut herself up in a lonely monumental 
attitude, with thoughts and pursuits on a scale with her one great 
hour. But what was she to do? She had known of no way of earning 
money except by her graces; and now she knew no way of filling her 
days except with cards and chatter and theatre-going. Not one of the 
men who approached her passed beyond the friendly barrier she had 
opposed to me. Of that I was sure. She had not shut out Henry Prest 
in order to replace him--her face grew white at the suggestion. 
But what else was there to do, she asked me; what? The days had to 
be spent somehow; and she was incurably, disconsolately sociable.

So she lived, in a cold celibacy that passed for I don't know what 
licence; so she lived, withdrawn from us all, yet needing us so 
desperately, inwardly faithful to her one high impulse, yet so 
incapable of attuning her daily behaviour to it! And so, at the very 
moment when she ceased to deserve the blame of society, she found 
herself cut off from it, and reduced to the status of the "fast" 
widow noted for her jolly suppers.

I bent bewildered over the depths of her plight. What else, at any 
stage of her career, could she have done, I often wondered? Among 
the young women now growing up about me I find none with enough 
imagination to picture the helpless incapacity of the pretty girl of 
the 'seventies, the girl without money or vocation, seemingly put 
into the world only to please, and unlearned in any way of 
maintaining herself there by her own efforts. Marriage alone could 
save such a girl from starvation, unless she happened to run across 
an old lady who wanted her dogs exercised and her 'Churchman' read 
aloud to her. Even the day of painting wild-roses on fans, of 
colouring photographs to "look like" miniatures, of manufacturing 
lamp-shades and trimming hats for more fortunate friends--even this 
precarious beginning of feminine independence had not dawned. It was 
inconceivable to my mother's generation that a portionless girl 
should not be provided for by her relations until she found a 
husband; and that, having found him, she should have to help him to 
earn a living, was more inconceivable still. The self-sufficing 
little society of that vanished New York attached no great importance 
to wealth, but regarded poverty as so distasteful that it simply took 
no account of it.

These things pleaded in favour of poor Lizzie Hazeldean, though to 
superficial observers her daily life seemed to belie the plea. She 
had known no way of smoothing her husband's last years but by being 
false to him; but once he was dead, she expiated her betrayal by a 
rigidity of conduct for which she asked no reward but her own inner 
satisfaction. As she grew older, and her friends scattered, married, 
or were kept away from one cause or another, she filled her depleted 
circle with a less fastidious hand. One met in her drawing-room dull 
men, common men, men who too obviously came there because they were 
not invited elsewhere, and hoped to use her as a social 
stepping-stone. She was aware of the difference--her eyes said so 
whenever I found one of these new-comers installed in my arm-chair--
but never, by word or sign, did she admit it. She said to me once: 
"You find it duller here than it used to be. It's my fault, perhaps; 
I think I knew better how to draw out my old friends." And another 
day: "Remember, the people you meet here now come out of kindness. 
I'm an old woman, and I consider nothing else." That was all.

She went more assiduously than ever to the theatre and the opera; she 
performed for her friends a hundred trivial services; in her 
eagerness to be always busy she invented superfluous attentions, 
oppressed people by offering assistance they did not need, verged at 
times--for all her tact--on the officiousness of the desperately 
lonely. At her little suppers she surprised us with exquisite 
flowers and novel delicacies. The champagne and cigars grew better 
and better as the quality of the guests declined; and sometimes, as 
the last of her dull company dispersed, I used to see her, among the 
scattered ash-trays and liqueur decanters, turn a stealthy glance at 
her reflection in the mirror, with haggard eyes which seemed to ask: 
"Will even THESE come back to-morrow?"

I should be loth to leave the picture at this point; my last vision 
of her is more satisfying. I had been away, travelling for a year at 
the other end of the world; the day I came back I ran across Hubert 
Wesson at my club. Hubert had grown pompous and heavy. He drew me 
into a corner, and said, turning red, and glancing cautiously over 
his shoulder: "Have you seen our old friend Mrs. Hazeldean? She's 
very ill, I hear."

I was about to take up the "I hear"; then I remembered that in my 
absence Hubert had married, and that his caution was probably a 
tribute to his new state. I hurried at once to Mrs. Hazeldean's; and 
on her door-step, to my surprise, I ran against a Catholic priest, 
who looked gravely at me, bowed and passed out.

I was unprepared for such an encounter, for my old friend had never 
spoken to me of religious matters. The spectacle of her father's 
career had presumably shaken whatever incipient faith was in her; 
though in her little-girlhood, as she often told me, she had been as 
deeply impressed by Dr. Winter's eloquence as any grown-up member of 
his flock. But now, as soon as I laid eyes on her, I understood. 
She was very ill, she was visibly dying; and in her extremity, fate, 
not always kind, had sent her the solace which she needed. Had some 
obscure inheritance of religious feeling awaked in her? Had she 
remembered that her poor father, after his long life of mental and 
moral vagabondage, had finally found rest in the ancient fold? I 
never knew the explanation--she probably never knew it herself.

But she knew that she had found what she wanted. At last she could 
talk of Charles, she could confess her sin, she could be absolved of 
it. Since cards and suppers and chatter were over, what more blessed 
barrier could she find against solitude? All her life, henceforth, 
was a long preparation for that daily hour of expansion and 
consolation. And then this merciful visitor, who understood her so 
well, could also tell her things about Charles: knew where he was, 
how he felt, what exquisite daily attentions could still be paid to 
him, and how, with all unworthiness washed away, she might at last 
hope to reach him. Heaven could never seem strange, so interpreted; 
each time that I saw her, during the weeks of her slow fading, she 
was more and more like a traveller with her face turned homeward, yet 
smilingly resigned to await her summons. The house no longer seemed 
lonely, nor the hours tedious; there had even been found for her, 
among the books she had so often tried to read, those books which had 
long looked at her with such hostile faces, two or three (they were 
always on her bed) containing messages from the world where Charles 
was waiting.

Thus provided and led, one day she went to him.


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