Supper was over, and Gabriella, still
in the dress she had worn all day, was picking up
the children’s clothes from the floor of her
room. According to Mrs. Carr’s hereditary
habit in sorrow or sickness, Jane had been served
in bed with tea and toast, while several small hard
cots had been brought down from the attic and arranged
in the available space in the two bedrooms. As
Gabriella looked at the sleeping children, who had
kicked the covering away, and lay with round rosy limbs
gleaming in the lamplight, she remembered that Arthur
Peyton was coming at nine o’clock to take her
to Florrie’s party, and she told herself with
grim determination that she would never go to a party
again. The Berkeley conscience, that vein of
iron which lay beneath the outward softness and incompetence
of her mother and sister, held her, in spite of her
tempting youth, to the resolution she had made.
She had told Jimmy that she meant to earn her living
if she had to break rocks to do it, and Gabriella,
like Pussy, came of a race that “did not easily
change its mind.”
Turning to the bureau, she smoothed
out the children’s hair ribbons and pinned them,
in two tight little blue and pink rolls, to the pincushion.
Then taking up a broken comb, she ran it through the
soft lock of hair that fell like a brown wing over
her forehead. Her bright dark eyes, fringed in
short thick lashes and set wide apart under arched
eyebrows, gazed questioningly back at her from a row
of german favours with which she had decorated the
glass; and it was as if the face of youth, flickering
with a flamelike glow and intensity, swam there for
an instant in the dim greenish pool of the mirror.
Beneath the charm of the face there was the character
which one associates, not with youth, but with age
and experience. Beneath the fine, clear lines
of her head and limbs, the tall slenderness of her
figure, the look of swiftness and of energy, which
was almost birdlike in its grace and poise, there was
a strength and vigour which suggested a gallant boy
rather than the slighter and softer frame of a girl.
While she stood there, Gabriella thought
regretfully of all that it would mean to give up her
half-dependent and wholly ladylike existence and go
to work in a shop. Necessity not choice was driving
her; and in spirit she looked back almost wistfully
to the securely circumscribed lot of her grandmother.
For there was little of the rebel in her temperament;
and had she been free to choose, she would have instinctively
selected, guided by generations of gregarious ancestors,
the festive girlhood which Cousin Pussy had so ardently
described. She wanted passionately all the things
that other girls had, and her only quarrel, indeed,
with the sheltered life was that she couldn’t
afford it. In the expressive phrase of Cousin
Jimmy, the sheltered life “cost money,”
and to cost money was to be beyond the eager grasp
The door opened as if yielding under
protest, and Marthy entered, still hurriedly tying
the strings of the clean apron she had slipped on over
her soiled one before answering the door-bell.
“Yo’ beau done come, Miss Ella. Ain’t
“No, I’m not going to
the party, Marthy, but ask him to wait just a minute.”
“He’s settin’ over
yonder in de parlour wid his overcoat on.”
“Well, ask him to take it off;
I’ll be there in a moment.” She spoke
as gravely as Marthy had done, yet in her face there
was a light play of humour.
Two years ago she would have thrilled
with joy at the thought that Arthur was waiting for
her; but in those two years since her engagement she
had grown to look upon her first love as the gossamer,
fairylike romance of a child. For months she
had known that the engagement must be broken sooner
or later; and she knew now, while she listened to Marthy’s
shuffling feet hastening to deliver her message, that
she must break it to-night. In the dim pool of
her mirror a face looked back at her that was not
the face of Arthur Peyton; she saw it take form there
as one sees a face grow gradually into life from the
dimness of dreams. It was, she told herself to-night,
the very face of her dream that she saw.
“Well, I must get it over,”
she said with a sternness which gave her a passing
resemblance to the Saint Memin portrait of the Reverend
Bartholomew Berkeley; “I’ve got to get
it over to-night, and whatever happens I’ve
got to be honest.” Then, with a last glance
at the sleeping children, she lowered the gas, and
went across the darkened hail, which smelt of pickles
and bacon because one end of it was used as a storeroom.
The parlour had been swept since the
family council had deliberated there over Jane’s
destiny. The scraps of cambric had been gathered
up from the threadbare arabesques in the carpet;
the chairs had been placed at respectable distances
apart; the gas-jets in the chandelier were flaming
extravagantly under the damaged garlands; and the sewing
machine had been wheeled into the obscurity of the
hail, for it would have humiliated Gabriella’s
mother to think that her daughter received young men
in a room which looked as if somebody had worked there.
When Gabriella entered, Arthur Peyton
was standing in front of the fireplace, gazing abstractedly
at his reflection in the French mirror. Though
his chestnut hair was carefully brushed, he had instinctively
lifted his hand to smooth down an imaginary lock, and
while he did this, he frowned slightly as if at a
recollection that had ruffled his temper. His
features were straight and very narrow, with the look
of sensitiveness one associates with the thoroughbred,
and the delicate texture of his skin emphasized this
quality of high-breeding, which was the only thing
that one remembered about him. In his light-gray
eyes there was a sympathetic expression which invariably
won the hearts of old ladies, and these old ladies
were certain to say of him afterward, “such
a gentleman, my dear almost of the old school,
you know, and we haven’t many of them left in
this hurrying age.”
He had done well, though not brilliantly,
at college, for his mind, if unoriginal, had never
given anybody, not even his mother, the least bit
of trouble. For three years he had worked with
admirable regularity in the office of his uncle, Carter
Peyton, one of the most distinguished lawyers in the
Virginia of his period, and it was generally felt that
young Arthur Peyton would have “a brilliant future.”
For the present, however, he lived an uneventful life
with his widowed mother in a charming old house, surrounded
by a walled garden, in Franklin Street. Like
the house, he was always in perfect order; and everything
about him, from his loosely fitting clothes and his
immaculate linen to his inherited conceptions of life,
was arranged with such exquisite precision that it
was impossible to improve it in any way. He knew
exactly what he thought, and he knew also his reason,
which was usually a precedent in law or custom, for
thinking as he did. His opinions, which were
both active and abundant, were all perfectly legitimate
descendants of tradition, and the phrase “nobody
ever heard of such a thing,” was quite as convincing
to him as to Mrs. Carr or to Cousin Jimmy Wrenn.
“Gabriella, aren’t you
going?” he asked reproachfully as the girl entered.
“Oh, Arthur, we’ve had
such a dreadful day! Poor Jane has left Charley
for good and has come home, with all the children.
We’ve been busy dividing them among us, and
we’re going to turn the dining-room into a nursery.
“Left Charley? That’s
bad, isn’t it?” asked Arthur doubtfully.
“I feel so sorry for her, Arthur.
It must be terrible to have love end like that.”
“But she isn’t to blame.
Everybody knows that she has forgiven him again and
“Yes, everybody knows it,”
repeated Gabriella, as if she drew bitter comfort
from the knowledge, “and she says now that she
will never, never go back to him.”
For the first time a shadow appeared
in Arthur’s clear eyes.
“Do you think she ought to make
up her mind, darling, until she sees whether or not
he will reform? After all, she is his wife.”
“That’s what mother says,
and yet I believe Charley is the only person on earth
mother really hates. Now Cousin Jimmy and I will
do everything we can to keep her away from him.”
“I think I shouldn’t meddle
if I were you, dearest. She’ll probably
go back to him in the end because of the children.
“But I am going to help her
take care of the children,” replied Gabriella
stanchly. “Of course, my life will be entirely
different now, Arthur,” she added gently.
“Everything is altered for me, too, since yesterday.
I have thought it all over for hours, and I am going
to try to get a place in Brandywine’s store.”
“In a store?” repeated
Arthur slowly, and she saw the muscles of his mouth
tighten and grow rigid.
“Mother doesn’t like the
idea any more than you do, but what are we to come
to if we go on in the old aimless way? One can’t
make a living out of plain sewing, and though, of
course, Charley will be supposed to provide for his
children, he isn’t exactly the sort one can count
on. Brandywine’s, you see, is only a beginning.
What I mean is that I am obliged to learn how to support
“But couldn’t you work
just as well in your home, darling?
“People don’t pay anything
for home work. You must see what I mean, Arthur.”
“Yes, I see,” he replied
tenderly; but after a moment’s thought, he went
on again with the gentle obstinacy of a man whose thinking
had all been done for him before he was born.
“I wish, though, that you would try to hold
out a little longer, working at home with your mother.
In a year or two we shall be able to marry.”
“I couldn’t,” said
Gabriella, shaking her head. “Don’t
urge me, Arthur.”
“If you would only consent to
live with mother, we might marry now,” he pursued,
after a minute, as if he had not heard her.
“But it wouldn’t be fair
to her, and how could I ask her to take mother and
Jane and the children? No, I’ve thought
it all out, dear, and I must go to work.”
“But I’ll work for them,
Gabriella. I’ll do anything on earth rather
than see you ordered about by old Brandywine.”
“He won’t order me about,”
answered Gabriella cheerfully; “but mother feels
just as you do. She says I am going out of my
class because I won’t stay at home and work
“You couldn’t go out of
your class,” replied Arthur, with an instinctive
gallantry which even his distress could not overcome;
“but I can’t get used to the thought of
it, darling I simply can’t. You’re
so sacred to me. There’s something about
the woman a man loves that’s different from
every other woman, and the bare idea of your working
in a shop sickens me. I always think of you as
apart from the workaday world. I always think
of you as a star shining serenely above the sordid
struggle ” Overwhelmed by the glowing
train of his rhetoric, he broke down suddenly and
caught passionately at the cool hand of Gabriella.
As he looked at her slender finger,
on which he had placed her engagement ring two years
before, it seemed to him that the situation was becoming
intolerable that it was an affront not only
to his ideal of Gabriella, as something essentially
starlike and remote, but to that peculiar veneration
for women which he always spoke and thought of as
“Southern.” His ideal woman was gentle,
clinging, so perfectly a “lady” that she
would have perished had she been put into a shop; and,
though he was aware that Gabriella was a girl of much
character and determination, his mind was so constructed
that he was able, without difficulty, to think of
her as corresponding to this exalted type of her sex.
By the simple act of falling in love with her he had
endowed her with every virtue except the ones that
she actually possessed.
“I know, I know,” said
Gabriella tenderly, for she saw that he suffered.
Her training had been a hard one, though she had got
it at home, and in a violent reaction from the sentimentality
of her mother and Jane she had become suspicious of
any language that sounded “flowery” to
her sensitive ears. With her clear-sighted judgment,
she knew perfectly well that by no stretch of mind
or metaphor could she be supposed to resemble a star that
she was not shining, not remote, not even “ideal”
in Arthur’s delicate sense of the word.
She had known the horrors of poverty, of that bitter
genteel poverty which must keep up an appearance at
any cost; and she could never forget the grim days,
after the death of Uncle Beverly Blair, when they
had shivered in fireless rooms and gone for weeks
without butter on their bread. For the one strong
quality in Mrs. Carr’s character was the feeling
she spoke of complacently, though modestly, as “proper
pride”; and this proper pride, which was now
resisting Gabriella’s struggle for independence,
had in the past resisted quite as stubbornly the thought
of an appeal to the ready charity of her masculine
relatives. To seek a man’s advice had been
from her girlhood the primal impulse of Mrs. Carr’s
nature; but, until Fate had starved her into sincerity,
she had kept alive the ladylike fiction that she was
in need of moral, not material, assistance.
“Of course, if there were any
other way, Arthur,” said Gabriella, remembering
the earlier battles with her mother, and eager to compromise
when she could do so with dignity; “but how can
I go on being dependent on Cousin Jimmy and Uncle
Meriweather. Neither of them is rich, and Cousin
Jimmy has a large family.”
Of course she was reasonable.
The most disagreeable thing about Gabriella, Jane
had once said, was her inveterate habit of being reasonable.
But then Jane, who was of an exquisite sensibility,
felt that Gabriella’s reasonableness belonged
to a distinctly lower order of intelligence.
When all was said, Gabriella saw clearly because she
had a practical mind, and a practical mind is usually
engrossed with material matters.
“I understand exactly how you
feel, dear, but if only you could go on just as you
are for a few years longer,” said Arthur, sticking
to his original idea with a tenacity which made it
possible for him to argue for hours and yet remain
exactly where he had started. Though they talked
all night, though she convinced him according to all
the laws and principles of logic, she knew that he
would still think precisely what he had thought in
the beginning, for his conviction was rooted, deeper
than reason, in the unconquerable prejudices which
had passed from the brain into the very blood of his
race. He would probably say at the end:
“I admit all that you tell me, Gabriella, but
my sentiment is against it;” and this sentiment,
overruling sense, would insist, with sublime obstinacy,
that Gabriella must not work in a shop. It would
ignore, after the exalted habit of sentiment, such
merely sordid facts as poverty and starvation (who
ever heard of a woman of good family starving in Virginia?),
and, at last, if Gabriella were really in love with
Arthur, it would triumph over her finer judgment and
reduce her to submission. But while she watched
him, in the very minute when, failing for words, he
caught her in his arms, she said to herself, suddenly
chilled and determined: “I must get it over
to-night, and I’ve got to be honest.”
The scent of the hyacinths floated to her again, but
it seemed to bring a cold wind, as if a draught had
blown in through the closed slats of the shutters.
“Everything has changed, Arthur,”
she said, “and I don’t think I ought to
go on being engaged.” Then because her words
sounded insincere, she added sternly: “Even
if we could be married and of course we
can’t be I I don’t
feel that I should want to marry. I am not sure
that I love you enough to marry you.”
It was all so unromantic, so unemotional,
so utterly different from the scene she had pictured
when she imagined what “breaking her engagement”
would be like. Then she had always thought of
herself as dissolving in tears on the horsehair sofa,
which had become sacred to the tragedy of poor Jane;
but, to her surprise, she did not feel now the faintest
inclination to cry. It ought to have been theatrical,
but it wasn’t not even when she took
off her engagement ring, as she had read in novels
that girls did at the decisive instant, and laid it
down on the table. When she remembered this afterwards,
it appeared rather foolish, but Arthur seemed not
to notice it, and when Marthy came in to light the
fire in the morning, she found the ring lying on a
copy of Gray’s Elegy and brought it back to
“I’ll never give you up,”
said Arthur stubbornly, and knowing his character,
she felt that he had spoken the truth. He could
not give her up even had he wished it, for, like a
belief, she had passed from his brain into the fibre
of his being. She had become a habit to him, and
not love, but the inability to change, to cease thinking
what he had always thought, to break a fixed manner
of life, would keep him faithful to her in his heart.
“I’m sorry oh,
I’m sorry,” she murmured, longing to have
it over and to return to Jane and the children.
It occurred to her almost resentfully that love was
not always an unmixed delight.
“Is there any one else, Gabriella?”
he asked with a sudden choking sound in his voice.
“I have sometimes thought in the last
four or five months that there might be that
you had changed that ”
He stopped abruptly, and she answered him with a beautiful
frankness which would have horrified the imperishable,
if desiccated, coquetry of her mother.
“There is some one else and
there isn’t,” she replied simply.
“I mean I think of some one else very often of
some one who isn’t in my life at all from
whom I never hear ”
“Is it George Fowler?”
She bowed her head, and, though she
did not blush, her eyes grew radiant.
“And you have known him less than a year?”
Again she bowed her head without speaking.
What was there, after all, that she could say in justification
of her behaviour?
A groan escaped him, smothered into
a gentle murmur of protest. “And I thought
women were more constant than men!” he exclaimed
with something of the baffled and helpless feeling
which had overtaken Uncle Meriweather while he regarded
The generalization was not without
interest for Gabriella.
“I thought so, too,” she
observed dispassionately. “I thought so,
too, and that is why it was such a dreadful surprise
to me when it happened. You yourself aren’t
more shocked and surprised than I was in the beginning,”
“But you’ve got used to the thought, I
“Well, one has to, you see.
What else is there to do? I always understood
from mother” she went on with the
same eager interest, as if she were stumbling upon
new and important intellectual discoveries “I
always understood that women never fell in love with
men first I mean until they had had positive
proof that their love would be returned. But
in this case that didn’t seem to matter at all.
Nothing mattered, and the more I fought against it
and tried to be true to my engagement, the more I
found myself being false. It’s all very
strange,” she concluded, “but that is
just how it happened.”
“And he knows nothing about it?”
“Oh, no. I told him I was engaged to you,
and then he went away.”
For an instant he was silent, and
watching his face, so carefully guarded and controlled
by habit that it had the curious blank look of a statue’s,
Gabriella could form no idea of the suppressed inarticulate
suffering in his heart.
“And if he came back would you marry him?”
Before replying she sat for a minute
gazing down on her folded hands and weighing each
separate word of her answer.
“I should try not to, Arthur,”
she said at last, “but but I am not
sure that I should be able to help it.”
When at last he had said “good-bye”
rather grimly, and gone out of the door without looking
back, she was conscious of an immense relief, of a
feeling that she could breathe freely again after an
age of oppression. There was a curious sense
of unreality about the hour she had just passed through,
as if it belonged not to actual life, but to a play
she had been rehearsing. She had felt nothing.
The breaking of her engagement had failed utterly
to move her.
After bolting the front door, she
turned out the gas in the parlour, pushed back the
lump of coal in the grate in the hope of saving it
for the morrow, and went cautiously down the hall
to her room. As she passed her mother’s
door, a glimmer of light along the threshold made her
pause for a minute, and while she hesitated, an anxious
voice floated out to her:
“Gabriella, is that you?”
“Yes, Mother, do you want anything?”
“Jane has one of her heart attacks.
I put her to bed in my room because it is more comfortable
than the dining-room. Don’t you think you
had better go back and wake Marthy?”
“Is she ill? Let me come
in,” answered Gabriella, pushing open the door
and brushing by Mrs. Carr, who stood, shrunken and
shivering, in a gray flannel wrapper and felt slippers.
Though Jane’s attacks were familiar
occurrences, they never failed to produce an immediate
panic in the household. As a child of nine, Gabriella
remembered being aroused in the middle of a bitter
night, hastily wrapped in her mother’s shawl
and a blanket, and hurried up the staircase to Jane,
who had broken her engagement to Charley the evening
before. Jane, pale, angelic, palpitating, appeared
to draw her last breath as they entered, while the
old doctor supported her in his arms, and Marthy,
in a frenzy of service, rattled the dead embers in
the grate. It had all been horribly vivid, and
when Jane had murmured Charley’s name in a dying
voice, they had stood, trembling and blue with cold,
around her bed, waiting for the end. But the end
had not come, and three months later Jane was married
to Charley Gracey.
After that scene, Gabriella had associated
Jane’s attacks with a freezing January night
and a fireless grate (though the last but one had
occurred in mid-August), and she was relieved now to
find a fire burning in her mother’s room and
a kettle singing merrily on the fender. The elder
children, with their flannel petticoats pinned over
their thin little shoulders, were sitting straight
and stiff on a box couch which had been turned into
a bed, and their strange little faces looked wan and
peaked in the firelight.
Jane was really ill, Gabriella decided,
after a glance at her sister. Nothing except
acute suffering could have given her that ghastly pallor
or made her eyes sink so far back in her head.
She lay quite motionless on the far side of the big
tester bed, staring straight up at the ceiling with
an expression which terrified Gabriella, though she
had seen it on her sister’s face at least a
dozen times before to-night.
“Has Arthur gone?” asked
Mrs. Carr in a voice that sounded as if she were running.
“Yes. Did you want him, mother?”
“I thought we might send him
for the doctor and for Charley. Don’t you
think Charley ought to be told of her condition?
She has asked for the children.”
“Have you given her the digitalis?”
“I can’t make her swallow
it. There are the drops on the table by the bed.
My hands tremble so I had to measure them three times.”
Taking the glass from the table, Gabriella
bent over her sister and implored her to swallow the
drops, but, without appearing to hear her voice, Jane
still stared blankly upward, with the rigid, convulsed
look of a woman who has been stricken with dumbness.
Her flaxen hair, damp with camphor, which Mrs. Carr
had wildly splashed on her forehead, clung flat and
close to her head, while the only pulse in her body
seemed to beat in irregular, spasmodic throbs in her
“Don’t go, mother.
I’ll wake Marthy,” cried Gabriella, for
Mrs. Carr, inspired by the spirit of panic, was darting
out of the door in her felt slippers. Then, while
the children, crying distractedly, rushed to Jane’s
bedside, the girl ran out of the house and along the
brick walk to the kitchen and the room above it where
Marthy lived the little life she had apart from her
work. In answer to Gabriella’s call she
emerged entirely dressed from the darkness; and at
the news of Jane’s illness she was seized with
the spurious energy which visits her race in the moment
of tragedy. She offered at once to run for the
doctor, and suggested, without a hint from Gabriella,
that she had better leave word, on her way home, for
“I knowed ‘twuz comin’
jez ez soon ez I lay eyes on ’er,” she
muttered, for she was an old family servant.
“Dar ain’ no use ‘n tryin’
ter come betweenst dem de good Lawd is done
jine tergedder fur worse. A baid husban’!
Hi! Dar ain’t un ’oman erlive, I reckon,
dat ’ouldn’t ruther own a baid husban’
den no husban’ at all. You all is got to
teck ’em de way dey’s made, en dar’s
moughty few un um dat is made right.”
Still muttering, she stumbled down
the walk and out of the gate, while Gabriella returned
to her mother’s room and hurried the weeping
children into their shoes and stockings. Mrs.
Carr, still in her flannel wrapper, with her little
flat gray curls screwed up on pins for the night, and
her thin ankles showing pathetically above her felt
slippers, ran nervously to and fro with mustard plasters
and bottles of hot water which she continually refilled
from the kettle on the fender. Occasionally she
paused long enough to hold the camphor to Jane’s
nose or to lift the quilt from the bottom of the bed
and then put it carefully back in the very spot where
it had lain before she had touched it. And because
she was born to take two steps to every one that was
necessary, because she could not accomplish the simplest
act without a prodigious waste of energy and emotion,
because she died twenty deaths over the slightest
anxiety, and, most of all, because she was the last
person on earth who ought to have been burdened with
poverty and hard work and an unhappily married daughter because
of all these things Mrs. Carr wore herself to a shadow
in the quarter of an hour they spent waiting for the
doctor and Charley Gracey.
Though she had brought Jane through
at least a dozen “attacks,” she still
lost her presence of mind as completely as on that
January night when, utterly distraught, she had hurried
Gabriella to the first death-bed scene of her sister;
she still grew as forgetful of herself and her own
feelings, and, in obedience to some profound law of
her nature, she still as confidently “expected
the worst.” For Mrs. Carr’s philosophy,
like Jane’s, was of that active but dreary sort
that thrives best upon misery. Just as Jane,
who had lost every illusion about Charley, went on
loving him in spite of it, so Mrs. Carr, having lost
her illusions about life, retained a kind of wistful
fondness for the thing that had wounded her.
The door-bell rang sharply, and Gabriella
went to let in the doctor, a brisk, authoritative
young man of the new school, who had learned everything
there was to be known about medicine except the way
to behave in a sickroom, and who abhorred a bedside
manner as heartily as if it were calomel or castor
oil. His name was Darrow, and he was the assistant
of old Dr. Walker, Mrs. Carr’s family physician,
who never went out at night since he had passed his
seventieth birthday. Gabriella, who liked him
because he was not anecdotal and gave small doses
of medicine, hastily led the way to her mother’s
room before she ran back to meet Charley Gracey at
the door of the dark parlour.
“You can’t see her now.
The doctor is with her,” she whispered.
“I’ll make a light in here and you can
“Let me,” said Charley,
quite as pleasantly as if he were not a bad husband,
while he found a match and struck it on the sole of
his foot. Then, as the gas flared up, he exclaimed,
with a low whistle, “By Jove, you’re a
“Well, it’s your fault,”
replied Gabriella sharply, letting him see, as she
told herself, exactly what she thought of him.
“You’ve made Jane so ill we thought she
“I’m sorry for that,”
he said, suddenly smitten with gravity. “Is
she really so bad?”
His charming freckled face, with its
irrepressible humour, grew almost grotesquely solemn,
while the habitual merriment faded slowly from his
light-gray eyes, leaving them empty of expression.
He was a short, rather thick-set man, not particularly
good-looking, not particularly clever, but possessing
a singular, if unaccountable, charm. Everybody
liked Charley, though nobody respected him. He
was a scamp, but a lovable scamp, while Jane, with
the best intentions in the world, had managed to make
every virtue unattractive. When people condemned
him, they said that he was “utterly unprincipled”;
when they softened in their judgment, they admitted
that he had “the best heart in the world.”
“I suppose it isn’t any
worse than other attacks,” answered Gabriella,
“but you know what they are like.”
“Yes, I know,” replied Charley. “Oh,
Lord, don’t I?”
“She asked mother to send for
you,” continued Gabriella. “She wants
you to know that she has forgiven you.”
“Has she?” said Charley,
without elation. Turning away, he stared for a
minute or two at the engraving of the children feeding
fish in a pond; then, with his eyes still glued to
the picture, he burst out passionately: “Gabriella,
I’d hoped she wouldn’t this time!”
“If I were she,” retorted
Gabriella crushingly, “I would never speak to
you again until the day of my death.”
“If she were you,” rejoined
Charley, with barefaced audacity, “I’d
have been a good husband. Why, I was simply starving
to be a good husband when I married Jane. It’s
my ideal in life. I’m all for the domestic
thing by nature. I was tired positively
dog-tired of the other kind. I wanted a wife.
I adored I’ve always adored babies ”
“If that is true,” returned
Gabriella sternly, for she was not disposed to soften
to Charley, and in her heart she deeply resented what
she called Jane’s “weakness,” “if
that is true why do you behave so outrageously to
Jane and the children? Why can’t you be
“I could,” answered Charley,
with engaging lucidity, “if she were less so.
It’s her infernal virtue I can’t stand,
Gabriella. No man could stand it without taking
“But you knew she was that way.
She was always trying to make people better.
It is her mission. Why, I remember one winter
night before you were married mother got me out of
bed in the cold to come and hear Jane forgive you
beautifully about something.”
“That was the first time, and
it was very touching. I suppose the first time
always is touching. Of course, I didn’t
know she meant to keep it up. No man could possibly
have kept it up,” said Charley, with bitterness,
“but she married me to reform me, and it is the
only thing she has really enjoyed about her marriage.
She’s a born reformer. I haven’t
eaten a thing I cared about, nor drank a drop I wanted,
nor used a bad word I was fond of, since I married,
without being nagged at about it. She loved me
for my vices, and yet she hasn’t let me keep
a single one not even the smallest not
even cigarettes. Nag! Good God! She’s
nagged me to perfection ever since the day of our wedding
when she made me sign the pledge before she let me
“Well, that doesn’t make
it any easier for us or for the children,” replied
Gabriella, without sympathy; “and if you don’t
think of Jane, you might at least think of your children.”
“Of course it’s hard on
the kids,” admitted Charley ruefully. “But
as for Jane now, will you tell me what
would become of Jane after she had reformed me?
Why, she’d be bored to death. She’d
be a martyr without any martyrdom. When she made
me give up tobacco, she lost interest in everything
for a week. She was like your Uncle Meriweather
after the surrender. There wasn’t anything
left to fight about, and fighting was all he could
“I believe I really
believe you have been drinking,” interrupted
Gabriella with cold disgust. “Suppose Jane
were to die?”
“She won’t die. She’ll
be all right as soon as she has forgiven me.”
He was not only bad, she told herself,
he was perfectly shameless. He appeared to have
been born without the faintest sense of responsibility.
And yet, while Gabriella listened to him, she realized
that, in some ways, he might be a less trying companion
than poor Jane. His candour was as simple, as
unaffected, as the serene artlessness of a child.
It was impossible not to believe in his sincerity.
Though she “despised him,” as she told
herself, still she was obliged to admit that there
was something to be said on his side. The harsh
judgment of youth of youth that never tries
to understand, that never makes allowances softened
under the influence of Charley’s reprehensible
charm. Even badness, Gabriella conceded grudgingly,
might be easier to live with in some circumstances
than a too exalted self-righteousness.
“If you’ll bring Jane
to that way of thinking,” retorted Charley, with
vulgar frankness, “I’ll give you five hundred
dollars down. If you’ll thoroughly corrupt
her mind and persuade her to neglect her duty to me,
I’ll make it a thousand.”
He was jesting! It was monstrous,
with Jane lying ill in her mother’s room; it
was indecent; it was grossly immoral; but he was actually
jesting! Not even scandal, not even the doctor’s
presence in the house, could suppress his incorrigible
spirit of levity. “If I were Jane, I’d
never speak to him,” thought Gabriella, and the
question flashed through her mind, “how in the
world could she ever have loved him?” It was
impossible for her to conceive of any situation when
Charley could have made a girl fall in love with him.
Though she had heard stories of his early conquests,
she had never believed them. There were times
when she almost liked him, but it was the kind of
liking one gave to an inferior, not to an equal.
She admitted his charm, but it was the charm of an
irresponsible creature the capricious attraction
of a child or an animal. Her common sense, she
told herself, would keep her from making a mistake
such as Jane had made with her life; and, besides,
she was utterly devoid of the missionary instinct
which had lured Jane to destruction. “If
I ever marry, it will be different from that,”
she thought passionately. “It will be utterly
The door of Mrs. Carr’s room
opened suddenly, Marthy’s name was called in
a high voice, and the doctor was heard saying reassuringly:
“She is over the worst. There is no need
“Don’t send me in there
alone, Gabriella,” begged Charley piteously.
“I’d rather face bullets than Jane in an
attack.” His bravado had deserted him,
and he appeared positively craven. The stiffness
seemed to have gone not only out of his character,
but out of his clothes also. Even his collar
had become limp with emotion.
“Well, I don’t care,”
answered Gabriella, “you’ve got to stand
it. There’s no use squirming when you’ve
only yourself to blame.” With a malicious
pleasure, she watched the consternation in Charley’s
face, while the doctor’s footsteps came rapidly
down the hall and stopped at the threshold of the
“You may go in, Mr. Gracey your
wife is asking for you; but be very careful not to
say anything that might disturb her. Just keep
her as quiet as you can for a few hours.”
Then the door in the distance opened
again, and Mrs. Carr, in the hollow tones of destiny,
called: “Gabriella, Jane is waiting to speak
to her husband.”
“Come, Charley,” ordered
Gabriella, grimly, and a moment later she pushed him
across her mother’s threshold and turned back
into the hall. “I hope she’ll make
him squirm,” she said to herself, with relish.
Nothing, she felt, except the certainty of Charley’s
squirming, could make up to her for the half-hour
she had just spent with him.
She was still standing there when
Jane’s medicine came from the druggist at the
corner, and for a while she waited outside the door,
fearing to lighten Charley’s punishment by her
entrance. The medicine had to be measured in
drops, and she went into the dining-room, where the
children were huddled together in an improvised bed,
and diluted the mixture with water before she could
persuade herself to go into her mother’s room.
Even then she hesitated until she remembered that the
doctor had said Jane must take the first dose immediately.
Not by her, if she could help it, should the divine
wrath of the furies be appeased.
But with the first touch of her hand
on the knob, Charley’s flippant voice greeted
her with, “Won’t you come in, Gabriella?”
and swallowing her angry retort, she entered stiffly,
with the glass held out straight before her.
Charley, on his knees beside the bed, with his arm
under his wife’s pillow, stared up at his sister-in-law
with the guilty look of a whipped terrier, while Jane,
pallid, suffering, saintly, rested one thin blue-veined
hand on his shoulder. Her face was the colour
of the sheet, her eyes were unnaturally large and
surrounded by violet circles; and her hair, drenched
with camphor, spread over the pillow like the hair
of a drowned woman. Never had she appeared so
broken, so resigned, so ineffably spiritual; and Gabriella’s
solitary comfort was the thought that Jane’s
attack had conquered Charley as completely as it had
conquered the rest of them.
“Gabriella, I’ve forgiven
him,” said Jane, with fainting sweetness, “and
he wants you and mother to do so. He has promised
to be good in the future.”
“Well, I shan’t forgive
him for keeping me up all night,” answered Gabriella
resentfully, and she felt that even if it killed Jane,
she could not keep back her reply. “I can’t
answer for mother, but I haven’t forgiven him
and I never shall.” She felt her anger hardened
to a rock inside of her, and it hurt her so that she
put the glass hurriedly down on the table and ran
out of the room. As she closed the door behind
her she heard Jane saying gently: “Yes,
I forgive you, Charley, but I can’t help feeling
that you don’t love me as you ought to.”
An old cape of her mother’s
was lying on a chair in the hall, and, throwing it
over her shoulders, Gabriella went out on the porch
and stood breathing quickly in the cold air, with
her hand pressed on her bosom, which rose and fell
as if she had been running. She was not only
furious, she was grossly affronted, though she had
known from the beginning, she said to herself, exactly
how it would end. She had never trusted Jane no,
not a minute; she had never really trusted her mother.
Something had told her that Jane had never meant in
her heart to leave Charley, that she was only making
a scene, after the immemorial habit of women, before
going back to him. And yet, though she had suspected
this all along, she was as indignant as if she had
been deceived by a conspiracy of the three of them.
Her sense of decency was outraged. She despised
Jane because she had no strength of character; but
even while this thought was still in her mind, she
admitted that Jane had had sufficient strength of
character to upset the household, bring Charley to
repentance, and emerge, faint but victorious, from
the wreck of their peace. Yes, she despised Jane,
though it was impossible to deny that Jane’s
methods were successful, since she had got what she
The street was very quiet, for it
was in the small gray hours between midnight and dawn,
and a solitary policeman, strolling by on his beat,
appeared as wan and spectral as the bare boughs of
the poplar trees beneath which he moved. The
wind was still blowing over the brow of the hill,
and now and then it tossed a wisp of straw or a handful
of dust on the porch where Gabriella was standing.
As it swept onward it drove a flock of shadows, like
black birds, up the open street into the clear space
under the old-fashioned gas lamp at the corner.
All the lights were out in the neighbouring houses,
but from a boarding-house down the block there floated
suddenly the gay snatch of a waltz played on a banjo
with a broken string. Then the music stopped,
the policeman passed, and Gabriella and the wind were
alone in the street. Overhead the stars shone
dimly through a web of mist; and it seemed to her that
the sadness of the sky and the sadness of the earth
had mingled there in the long straight street where
the wind blew with a melancholy sound between rows
of silent and darkened houses.
A noise in the hall made her turn,
and, looking up, she saw the gaunt figure of Miss
Amelia Peterborough standing in the bend of the staircase.
In her hand the old maid held a twisted candlestick
of greenish brass, and the yellow flame of the candle
cast a trembling, fantastic shadow on the wall at
her back. Her head, shorn of the false “front”
she wore in the day, appeared to have become all forehead
and beaked nose; her eyes had dwindled to mere points
of blackness; her mouth, sunken and drawn over toothless
gums, was like the mouth of a witch. The wind,
blowing in gusts through the open door, inflated her
gray shawl and the skirt of her dressing-gown, while,
with each flutter of her garments, the grotesque shadow
on the white wall danced and gibbered behind her.
And, as she gazed down on the girl, it was as if the
end of life, with its pathos, its cruelties, its bitterness
and its disillusionment, had stopped for a fleeting
instant to look back at life in the pride and ignorance
of its beginning.
“There was so much moving about,
I thought something might have happened,” said
Miss Amelia apologetically, while Gabriella, closing
the door, shut the draught from the staircase.
“Jane had one of her heart attacks,”
answered the girl. “I’m so sorry we
But she was thinking while she spoke,
“So that is old age so that is what
it means to be old?” There is a vague compassion
in the thought, but it held no terror, for the decay
of Miss Amelia seemed as utterly remote and detached
from her own life as one of the past ages in history.
The youth in her brain created a radiant illusion of
immortality. By no stretch of imagination could
she picture herself like the infirm and loveless creature
before her. Yet she knew, without realizing it,
that Miss Amelia had once been young, that she had
once even been beautiful. There was a legend,
fading now into tradition, that her lover had been
killed in a duel, fought for her while she was still
a girl, and that she had worn only white or black since
that day she who was now well over eighty.
She had known love; a man had died for her; it was
said that she had been a famous coquette in the ’thirties;
and now she stood there, grotesque and sexless, with
her eyes empty of dreams and of memories, and her
face as gray and sinister as the face of her shadow.
“I hope she is better, poor
child,” she said, for, like the rest of Richmond,
she believed Jane to be all saint and Charley all sinner.
“If I can be of any help, be sure to let me
“Yes, I’ll let you know,
thank you. I hope we didn’t disturb Miss
The younger Miss Peterborough called
“the happy one” by Gabriella and Mrs.
Carr because she was always cheerful, though, as far
as any one could tell, she had nothing and had never
had anything to be cheerful about was named
Jemima. A chronic invalid, from some obscure trouble
which had not left her for twenty years, she was seldom
free from pain, and yet Gabriella had never seen her
(except at funerals, for which she entertained a perfectly
healthy fondness as diversions free to the poor) without
a smile on her face.
“Sister Jemima doesn’t
wake easily. She is a sound sleeper and she’s
getting a little hard of hearing”; and lifting
the candlestick to light her way, Miss Amelia turned
back up the stairs, while the flame flitted like a
golden moth into the dimness.
“Poor old thing,” thought
Gabriella, imagining in her ignorance that she could
understand the tragedy of Miss Amelia’s life;
“poor old thing, she must have had a terrible
As she approached her mother’s
door, Charley came out, glanced at her sheepishly,
and hurried to where his hat hung on the walnut hatrack
in the front hall. Then, as if overcoming his
first impulse to avoid her, he beckoned to her furtively,
and said in a sepulchral whisper: “Gabriella,
be very careful what you say to her.”
The audacity of it! This from
Charley, the abandoned, the depraved, the unutterably
abhorrent in her sight. Without replying, she
turned indignantly away and opened her mother’s
Lying in the middle of the bed now,
and slightly propped with pillows, Jane was sipping
a second dose of medicine from a glass Mrs. Carr held
to her lips.
“I know you don’t understand
my forgiving him, Gabriella,” she said very
gently, “but some day, after you are married,
you will realize that I do it from a sacred duty from
a sacred duty,” she repeated firmly, while the
shining light of martyrdom illumined her features.
“Well, it’s none of my
business,” answered Gabriella crossly, “but
the sooner you do it, I suppose the sooner you will
have to do it again.” If only for once
Jane would be direct, if only she would be natural,
if only she would speak the truth and not fiction.
“Oh, no, dear, you don’t
understand him any better than you do me,” said
Jane as sweetly as ever in spite of Gabriella’s
deplorable loss of temper. “He is really
dreadfully penitent, and he sees that he hasn’t
always treated me as he ought to have done. But
you’ll know what I mean when you marry, Gabriella.
She’ll understand me then, won’t she,
“I’m sometimes tempted
to hope that Gabriella will never marry,” replied
Mrs. Carr with the uncompromising bitterness of abject
despair; “the Carrs all seem to marry so badly.”
In her normal mood she would never
have uttered this heresy, for she belonged to a generation
that regarded even a bad marriage as better for a
woman than no marriage at all; but the night had worn
her out, and one of her spells of neuralgia, which
followed fatigue, was already beginning in her face.
The purple crocheted “fascinator” she had
caught up at the doctor’s entrance was still
on her head, and her long pale face, beneath the airy
scallops, appeared frozen in an expression of incurable
melancholy. For the rest she had been too frightened,
too forgetful of herself and her own comfort even
to put on her stockings, though Gabriella had begged
her to do so. “Don’t think about me.
Attend to poor Jane,” she had repeated over
“Mother, go into my room and
get into bed,” commanded Gabriella, whose patience,
never abundant, was ebbing low. “If you
don’t get some sleep your neuralgia won’t
be any better.”
“It isn’t any better.
I don’t expect it to be any better.”
“Well, you must go to bed or
it will get worse. I’ll heat you a cup of
milk and wrap you up in warm blankets.”
“Don’t worry about me, dear. Think
of poor Jane.”
“We’ve been thinking of
Jane all night, and you need it now more than she
does. I can tell by your eyes how you are suffering.”
In the first streak of dawn, which
was beginning to glimmer faintly on the window-panes,
Mrs. Carr looked as if she had withered overnight.
“It’s only my left temple,”
she said dully, “otherwise I am quite well.
No, dear, I must rub Jane’s forehead until she
falls asleep. The doctor said it was important
that we should keep her soothed.”
But it was a law of Gabriella’s
nature that she never knew when she was beaten.
Failure aroused the sleeping forces within her, and
when these forces were once liberated, the spasmodic
efforts of Mrs. Carr and the indirect methods of Jane
were alike powerless to oppose them. At such
times a faint flush rose to her pale cheeks, her eyes
shone with a burning darkness, while her mouth lost
its fresh young red and grew hard in outline.
“You must go to bed, mother,”
she repeated in a voice which Mrs. Carr would have
obeyed had it issued from the wall or a piece of furniture.
Fifteen minutes later Gabriella stood
authoritatively beside the bed, while her mother,
with a mustard plaster at the back of her neck, obediently
sipped hot milk from a teacup. Mrs. Carr had surrendered
to the conquering spirit of her daughter, but her
surrender, which was unwilling and weakly defiant,
gave out presently a last feeble flicker of resistance.
“Don’t you think, Gabriella,
we might arrange to live with Jane?” she asked.
“It would be a saving of expense for us both,
and we might be so helpful about the children.”
“And about Charley, too, I suppose,”
suggested Gabriella maliciously.
Mrs. Carr, having been born without
a sense of humour, never understood the broadest joke
unless it was illustrated; but even to her it became
evident, after a moment’s anxious thought, that
Gabriella was teasing her.
“You seem to forget that he
is her husband,” she replied, with a pathetic
clutch at her dignity, which, owing perhaps to the
purple “fascinator” and the mustard plaster,
she failed completely to recapture. Then, as
she finished the milk and handed back the empty cup
to her daughter, she added wearily, for life, as she
often said to herself of late, was becoming almost
too much for her, and she was feeling worn out and
“My one comfort, Gabriella,
is the thought that Arthur Peyton loves you.
There couldn’t be anybody more unlike Charley.”
“There couldn’t be,”
agreed Gabriella mildly, for she felt that another
blow would prostrate her mother.