At noon the next day Mrs. Fowler came
into Gabriella’s room and found her sewing beside
the window which looked on a gray expanse of sky and
street, where a few snowflakes were falling.
“Did you tell him, dear?”
she asked, arranging a handful of red roses in a little
alabaster vase on the desk.
No, Gabriella had not told him.
She felt now that she should never be able to tell
him, but all she said was:
“I didn’t get a chance. How lovely
those roses are.”
Mrs. Fowler set the vase where the
gray light fell on it, and then turning with empty
hands from the desk, asked gently:
“Aren’t you making a mistake,
dear?” Her movements were like those of a character
in a play who is made to fill in an awkward pause with
some mechanical action.
“I couldn’t tell him last
night,” replied Gabriella; “he was sick
She was very pale, even her lips had
lost their rich colour, and her eyes had a drawn and
heavy look as if she had not slept. Without looking
at her mother-in-law, she went on with her sewing,
working buttonholes of exquisite fineness in a small
white garment. In her lap there was a little
wicker basket filled with spools of thread and odd
bits of lace and cambric; and every now and then she
stopped her work and gazed thoughtfully down on it
as if she were trying to decide how she might use
the jumble of scraps that it contained.
“Gabriella,” said Mrs.
Fowler suddenly, after she had watched her a moment,
“did anything happen last night?”
“Happen? No, what could have happened?”
“At what time did George come in?”
“About one o’clock. I sat up for
“Was was anything the matter with
him? Was he in any way different?”
“He was sick. He was sick
all night.” A look of disgust crossed her
face while she stopped to wipe away a drop of blood
from her finger. “I don’t remember
pricking my finger since I was a child,” she
“You are keeping something from
me,” said Mrs. Fowler; and sitting down in the
small chair by the desk, she leaned her elbow, in her
full sleeve of violet cashmere, on the edge of the
blotting-pad. She was wearing a morning gown
made, as all her house gowns were made, after the princess
style, and Gabriella could see the tight expanse of
her bosom rising and falling under a garniture of
purple and silver passementerie. Her hair, fresh
from the crimping pins, rose in stiff ridges from her
forehead, and her bright red lips were so badly chapped
from cold that they cracked a little when she smiled.
She looked as hard as granite though in reality her
heart was breaking with pity.
“I want to help you,” she said, “and
I can’t if you keep things back.”
“I told you George was sick.
I was up all night with him.” Again a look
of disgust, which she could not control, flickered
and died in her face.
“But you oughtn’t to have
let him keep you awake. You need all the sleep
you can get. When he comes in late he must sleep
in the spare room across the hall.”
“His things are all in here
and he would come in to get them; that would wake
For a moment Mrs. Fowler hesitated
while the struggling breath grew more irregular under
the passementerie on her bosom. The ripe colour
faded from her cheeks and her lips looked blue in
the harsh light from the window.
“I think I’d better speak
to George,” she said. “He is spoiled
and he always thinks first of his own comfort.
I suppose it’s the way we brought him up but
when he understands, he will be more considerate.”
For the first time Gabriella laid
down her sewing and, leaning forward in her chair,
fixed her eyes, with their look of deep stillness,
of wistful expectancy, on the face of her mother-in-law.
“Would you mind telling me if
George was ever ever wild about women?”
she asked, and though her voice was very low and quiet,
her words seemed to echo loudly through the hushed
suspense in her brain. It was as if every piece
of furniture, every vacant wall, every picture, and
every pane of glass, repeated the sound.
The pleasant smile on Mrs. Fowler’s
lips became suddenly painful. As if she were
suffering a physical hurt, she put her handkerchief
to her mouth while she answered:
“He was once but
that was before he fell in love with you. We hoped
that you would be able to steady him that
marriage would make him settle down.”
“Did he drink then?”
“A little not enough
to make him show it. I never saw him really show
it but once, and then he was dreadfully sick.
Was was he like that last night?”
For a long minute, while she looked
out of the window at the falling snowflakes, Gabriella
did not reply. Then she spoke in a voice that
was sternly accusing.
“You ought to have told me.
I ought to have known.” Her own wild passion
for George was forgotten. She felt only a sense
of outrage, of wounded and stunned resentment, They
had treated her as if she were a child or a fool.
That she had been a fool she was not prepared to admit
at the instant and yet it was less than
a year ago, that June night when she had watched George
over the clove pinks while her heart melted with happiness.
She had had her way, and she was already regretting
her madness. “Is this what love comes to?”
she asked herself bitterly as she watched the white
flakes whirling out of the gray sky. “Is
this what it all comes to in the end, or am I different
from other women?”
Moistening her dry lips with the tip
of her tongue, Mrs. Fowler smiled bravely, though
there were tears in her eyes. “Archibald
wanted to, but I wouldn’t let him,” she
replied; “I hoped that you would make everything
different. He was so much in love with you.
I thought you could do anything with him.”
Though her reasoning failed to convince
Gabriella, it was sufficiently forcible to justify
her in her own judgment, and with an easier conscience,
she settled comfortably behind the impregnable defences
of the maternal instinct. After all, she had
only done what she believed to be best for her boy.
She had not been selfish, she had not even been thoughtless,
she had been merely a mother.
“I wish you would tell me what
really happened last night, Gabriella,” she
said, and her tone showed that she had recovered her
shaken confidence in the righteousness of her cause.
“I can’t tell you,”
answered Gabriella. “What good would it
do? George was disgusting, that was all.”
She spoke sternly, for no lingering tenderness softened
the judgment of her youth and her injured pride.
How could she possibly have tenderness for a man who
had tired of her in four months, who had become so
lost to common decency that he could let her see him
revoltingly drunk? And she had held her head so
high, she had so despised Jane for her weakness and
folly! At the moment she knew that she was helpless,
but deep down within her she felt that this helplessness
would not last that the wings of her soul
were still strong, still free, still untouched by
the shame her body had suffered. With a single
effort she could break the net of passion, and escape
into the wonderful world which surrounded her.
Like Jane, she had been a fool, but, unlike Jane,
she would not stay a fool always.
“You seem so hard, Gabriella,”
said Mrs. Fowler. “Is it because you are
young? Young people never make allowances.”
The taste of bitterness rose to Gabriella’s
“I suppose I am hard,”
she answered, “and I am going to stay so.
There is safety in hardness.”
Remembering Jane, remembering the
hereditary weakness of the Carrs, who had all married
badly, she told herself that in hardness lay her solitary
refuge from despair. After all, it was better
to be hard than to break.
“You can’t judge George
quite as you would other men,” began George’s
mother, and she was aware after a minute that the maternal
instinct had in this instance led her to defeat.
“I am not judging other men,”
replied George’s wife coldly; “I am judging
George.” Against men as men she had never
even thought of cherishing a grievance. All her
life she had looked to some man as to the saviour
of the family fortunes, and her vision was still true
enough to perceive that, as a human being, Archibald
Fowler was finer and bigger than his wife, that Billy
was finer and bigger than Patty. She had found
men less the servants of mere instinct than she had
found women, less the passive and unresisting vehicles
of the elemental impulses. Then, too, they were
so seldom the victims of life, and there was in her
nature a fierce contempt for a victim. She despised
people who submitted to circumstances, who resigned
themselves to necessity, as if resignation were a
virtue instead of a vice.
“Well, you must try not to worry,
dear; worry is so bad for you. I am so sorry
it happened. You won’t mind my speaking
to George, will you?”
Gabriella shook her head. “I
don’t care what you say to him.”
“Do you feel able to come down to lunch?”
“Oh, yes, perfectly. I
am simply dying for a cup of tea, and afterwards I
think I’ll go out for a walk. One gets so
stuffy and dull when one stays in the house.”
Her manner had changed as if by magic.
In putting the thought of George out of her mind she
seemed to have put aside her resentment and despondency.
In the evening George came home, looking
a little yellow, with a box of gardenias in his hand;
but the scent of the flowers sickened Gabriella, and
she put them out of the room while she dressed for
dinner. The attention, instead of pleasing her,
brought an ironic twist to her lips, though she thanked
George quite as courteously as if he had been a stranger
to her. At dinner when Mr. Fowler abruptly asked
his son why he had not been to the office, she kept
her eyes fixed on her plate, in which she seemed to
see palely reflected the anxious pleasantness of her
mother-in-law’s smile. It hardly occurred
to her to wonder where George had spent his day, though,
when she met Mr. Fowler’s kind and tired look,
a pang shot through her heart. She was sorrier
for George’s father than she was for herself.
He looked so lonely, yet so patient. He so obviously
needed help, and no one appeared to notice it, not
even his wife, who began planning a dinner party in
the futile effort to come to George’s assistance.
It was by coming to George’s assistance in every
difficulty, Gabriella surmised, that his mother had
made George what he was; and the girl saw in imagination
an endless line of subterfuges, of pitiful excuses
and feeble justifications, all hidden in the tortuous
labyrinthine windings of the maternal instinct.
She saw, with the relentless vision of a Hebrew prophet,
the inevitable ruin of the love that does not submit
to wisdom as its law.
More than seven months afterwards,
when she lay in her room with her child in the crook
of her arm, she prayed passionately that some supreme
Power would grant her the strength not of emotion,
but of reason. All her life she had suffered
from an unrestrained indulgence of the virtues from
love running to waste through excess, from the self-sacrifice
that is capable of everything but self-discipline,
from the intemperate devotion to duty that is as morbid
as sin. Balance, moderation, restraint these
seemed to her, lying there with her child on her arm,
to be the things most worth striving for. She
saw her mother, worn to a shadow by the unnecessary
deaths she had died, by the useless crucifixions
she had endured; she saw Jane, haggard, wan, with
her sweetness turning to bitterness because it was
wasted; and again she found herself asking for balance,
moderation, restraint. The child, a little girl,
with George’s eyes and hair like gauze, had liberated
Gabriella from the last illusions of her girlhood.
And yet, though Gabriella prayed for
moderation, she found after a few months that motherhood
was absorbing the full strength of her nature.
George hardly existed for her; he came and went like
the passing of a shadow, and she began gradually to
sink her life into the life of her child. Not
until the winter was she brought back to a sharp realization
of her neglected duty to her mother; and this came
with a letter from Mrs. Carr during the last week
in January. Mrs. Carr was still living with Jane,
and though she had accepted mildly Gabriella’s
reasons for postponing her coming to New York, she
was beginning somewhat plaintively to question.
She had made little effort to hide her disappointment
at not being with her daughter when her grandchild
was born, for, in spite of the fact that she had tragically
assisted at the entrance of Jane’s six children
into the world, she still possessed an insatiable
appetite for the perpetually recurring scenes of birth
and death. Then only did her natural bent of
mind appear to be justified by universal phenomena.
And now on this morning in January,
when Frances Evelyn, the baby, lay good and quiet
in her crib, Gabriella read over again the disturbing
letter she had just received from her mother.
My dear daughter:
Jane wrote you that I had had a slight
attack of pneumonia, so you understood why I
was obliged to let so long a time go by without sending
you a letter. Though I have been out of bed now
for more than a fortnight, I still feel so weak
and good for nothing that I am hardly equal to
the exertion of writing. Then, too, I have had
some trouble with my wrist the right
one and this has made it really painful
for me to hold a pen or even a fork. The doctor
thinks it is a nervous affection and that it will
pass away as soon as I get back my strength,
and I am sure I hope and pray that it will.
But sometimes I feel as if I should never get any stronger,
and of course while my wrist is crippled I am
unable to do any sewing. This has depressed
me very much, for poor Jane has so many worries
of her own that I dread being dependent on her, and
Charley has not been at all well this winter,
though kinder and more considerate than I have
ever known him to be. He has his faults, but
I have always felt that he was not entirely responsible
and that we ought to pity rather than blame him.
Women can never be too thankful that they are
spared by a merciful Providence the temptations
which seem to beset men. When we consider how
much more sheltered our lives are, we ought to
be lenient in our judgment, and I cannot help
feeling that God meant us to be so when he gave us
more spiritual natures than those of men. Dr.
Preston gave a very instructive and impressive
talk on that subject before the Ladies’
Aid Society of our church the week before I was taken
sick. Indeed, I am afraid I caught the cold
that led to pneumonia sitting in Charley’s
pew, which gets a bad draught from the door of the
I must apologize for this dull letter,
as I haven’t been able to get out even
to market. Before I was taken ill I used to do
all of Jane’s marketing, and you know what
a place the market is for meeting people and
hearing all the latest news. There are, however,
two things to tell you, and you’ll never
be able to guess them. First, poor Miss
Amelia Peterborough is dead. She was stricken
with paralysis a week ago when she was all alone
in the house Miss Jemima was at a
funeral and she never regained consciousness
until the end, which came at three o’clock
Sunday night. Poor Miss Jemima, I feel so
sorry for her. She keeps up beautifully and is
very pious and resigned. They say she will
go into the Old Ladies’ Home as soon as
the arrangements can be made.
The other piece of news is more cheerful,
though, for my part, life seems so short and
so uncertain that I can’t see much cheerfulness
anywhere. So many people are dying that you
can’t help wondering who will be next,
and as Dr. Preston said when he called on me during
my illness, our only substantial hope is in a blessed
hereafter. My one regret will be leaving
my children and grandchildren, and especially
my precious little Frances Evelyn, whom I have
never seen. I have no doubt that Mrs. Fowler was
far more useful than I could have been at the
time of your trial, but it was a great disappointment
to me not to be able to receive the little darling
into the world.
But I had entirely forgotten that I
started to tell you about Florrie Spencer’s
marriage to Algernon Caperton. Of course I couldn’t
go, but Jane says the wedding was lovely and that Florrie
looked really beautiful. Bessie had on rose-coloured
brocade. Did you ever hear of such a thing
at her age? She was just as gay and flirtatious
as a girl, Charley said, and she sent me some of the
cake and a bottle of champagne, which, of course,
I didn’t touch. It is a pity she is
so loud, for there isn’t a kinder heart in the
world. Florrie and Algernon are going to
New York on their wedding trip. Isn’t
it exactly like Florrie to want to go to all the theatres?
They send you word, by the way, that they are certainly
coming to see you and the baby.
And now that I have told all my news,
I must write a little about myself, though I
am afraid you will be upset by what I am obliged to
tell you. I put it off as long as I could for
I do hate to worry you but the doctor
has just been to see me and he says I must go
to Florida immediately to stay until the bad weather
is over. I told him I couldn’t possibly
afford it the trip would take a great
deal of money but he insisted that I should
write and tell you exactly what he said.
He said my lungs were very weak and that he ordered
the change you know they never seem to consider
expense and when he was leaving, he
stopped in the hall to speak to Jane about it.
Poor Jane, she is so worried that she has almost gone
deranged over my health, but as far as I am concerned
I feel that I would rather pass away than cause
so much trouble and upset everybody. Jane,
as you know, hasn’t a cent to her name, and it
is out of the question her asking Charley, because
he has had a very bad winter financially.
Even Cousin Jimmy stopped sending me the rent
of the house since I moved to Jane’s, and as
for Uncle Meriweather, he has been obliged to
give up his business and go to live with his
niece in the country. So, much as I hate to ask
you, my dear child, I feel that you would rather
I did so and that I ought to be perfectly
frank about the situation, particularly since poor
Jane feels so deeply her inability to help me.
I am afraid I should need about four hundred
dollars, as I have bought nothing to wear for
years. Bessie Spencer has told me of a very reasonable
place where I could board, and it is just possible
that she will be going herself by the time I
am ready. If for any reason you are unable
to let me have the money, just destroy this letter
and don’t think about it again. I
wouldn’t cause you a moment’s worry for
anything in the world.
With love to George
and a dozen kisses for my precious little
Your devoted mother,
Did I remember to tell you that Miss
Polly Hatch has gone to New York to look after
her nephew’s children? He lost his wife
a few months ago, and was left with four little
children, the youngest only a year old.
So her punishment had come! As
Gabriella dropped the letter into her lap, and looked
at little Frances, so good and happy in her crib, she
felt that she was punished not only for her reckless
marriage, but for all the subterfuge, all the deceit
which had followed it. She had not told her mother
the truth, for she, also, had been chiefly concerned
with “keeping up an appearance.” For
the purpose of shielding George, who was blandly indifferent
to her shielding, she had lied to her mother, if not
in words, yet in an evasion of the truth, and the result
was that her lies and her evasions had recoiled not
on George’s head, but on her own. For George
wouldn’t care. So little value did he place
upon Mrs. Carr’s good opinion, that he would
not care even if Gabriella were to tell her the truth.
And if she had only been honest! If she had only
refused to lie because custom exacted that a wife should
be willing to lie in defense of her husband.
Some obscure strain of dogmatic piety struggled in
the convulsed depths of her being, as if she had been
suddenly brought up against the vein of iron in her
soul against the moral law, stripped bare
of clustering delusions, which her ancestors had known
and fought for as “the Berkeley conscience.”
The Berkeley conscience, bred for centuries on a militant
faith, told her now that she was punished because
she had lied to her mother.
Then, as if this reversion to primitive
theology had been merely an automatic reaction of
certain nerve cells, she saw and condemned the childlike
superstition. No, she was not punished so quickly;
but she had been a fool, and she was paying the price
of her incredible folly. How little, how pitifully
little she knew of the world, after all! A year
ago, on that horrible night, she had thought that her
lesson was finished, but it was only beginning.
Her immense, confiding ignorance would lead her into
other abysses. And again, as on the morning after
that night of revelation, she resolved passionately
that she would not stay a fool always that
she would not become a victim of life.
The empty bottle had slipped to one
side of the crib, and little Frances lay smiling at
the friendly universe, with her wet mouth wide open
and her blue eyes, so like George’s, sparkling
with laughter. The down on her head, as fine
and soft as spun silk, made tiny rings over her pink
skull, which was as clear and delicate as an eggshell;
and these golden rings filled Gabriella with a tenderness
so poignant that it brought tears to her eyes.
Whatever her mother may have thought about the world,
it was perfectly obvious that Frances Evelyn considered
her part in it remarkably jolly. To be a well
baby in an amiable universe was her ideal of felicity.
When George came up to luncheon, which
he did sometimes now, he went straight to the nursery
for a glimpse of his daughter. Ever since little
Frances had lost her first hair and gained her golden
down, he had taken an interest in the rapid stages
of her development; and, though he never “wasted
time,” as he said, in the nursery, he liked to
look in once a day and see whether or not she had changed
in the night. On her side the baby treated her
father as if he were an inexhaustible family joke,
to be enjoyed not too seriously, but with a polite
recognition of its humorous points. If she were
sucking her bottle when he entered, she immediately
stopped and laughed at him while the rubber nipple
dropped from her toothless gums; if she awoke and discovered
him at the side of her crib, she greeted him with
subdued but inappeasable merriment; if he lifted her
in his arms, her crocheted shoes could barely contain
the kicks of her ecstatic feet. And because she
was a jolly little beggar, George grew, after a time,
to cherish a certain fondness for her. There
was some use in a laughing baby, but he hated anything,
child, woman, or animal, that cried.
On this particular day the baby happened
to be asleep when he entered, so, without stopping,
he went into Gabriella’s bedroom, where the
perfume of roses mingled with the scent of the burning
logs on the andirons.
“That’s a good fire,”
he observed, stopping on the hearth-rug. “I
don’t wonder you hate to go out.”
“Yes, the room was a little
chilly, so I lit the fire for the baby’s bath.
I don’t usually have one,” replied Gabriella,
explaining her apparent extravagance.
“Has she been well?”
“She is always well. I
haven’t had a day’s anxiety about her since
she was born.”
“But she isn’t very old
yet.” Already little Frances was supplying
conversational material to her parents.
“I wish you would sit down,
George,” said Gabriella, with a change of tone.
“I want to read you a part of a letter from mother.”
“Can’t you tell me instead?”
“If you’d rather.
You know I never told mother why we couldn’t
have her to live with us. I never told her anything.
I simply made excuses.”
“That was all right, wasn’t it?”
He was plainly nervous.
“At the time I thought I couldn’t do differently,
but now ”
She gave him the letter, and while
he unfolded it awkwardly, she watched him anxiously
and yet without interrupting his reading. Beyond
the simple facts, she had told him nothing, and it
was characteristic of her that she did not embellish
these facts with picturesque phrases. She herself
was so insensible to the appeal of rhetoric that she
hardly thought of it as likely to influence anybody.
Then, too, in moments of intense feeling she had always
a sensation of dumbness.
“I’m awfully sorry about
her illness,” he said, “but when you think
of it, the best thing that could have happened to
her was not to come to New York. This climate
would have been the end of her.”
“Will you let me have the money,
George? I will try to save in every way that
I can. I’ve made all the baby’s clothes,
as it is, and I can easily make the few things I need,
also. Since the baby came I have stopped calling
with your mother.”
A flush rose to his face. “I
know you’ve been a regular brick about money,
Gabriella. I never saw a woman buy as little as
you do, and you always manage to look well dressed.”
She smiled with faint irony.
Her clothes were dowdy, for she had turned the broadcloth
dress she had had at her marriage and was wearing it
in the street; but if he thought her well dressed,
it seemed hardly fair to undeceive him. Had she
been any other woman, she reflected, he would probably
have looked at her long enough to discover that she
had grown decidedly shabby.
Since the baby’s birth, as she
told him, she had stopped calling with her mother-in-law,
and a black net dress, given her by Mrs. Fowler because
it had grown too small in the waist, was still presentable
enough for the family dinners. But she never worried
about her appearance, and it was a relief to find
that George was quite as indifferent on the subject
as she was. In the days of their honeymoon he
had been so particular that she had spent hours each
day before the mirror.
“Will you let me have the money,
George?” she asked again. The form of the
request had not changed, but there was a deeper note
in her voice: the irony, which had been at first
only a glancing edge to her smile, a subdued flash
in her eyes, had passed now into her speech. George,
looking sideways at the slightly austere charm of her
profile, thought suddenly, “Gabriella is growing
hard.” He noticed, too, for the first time,
that she looked older since the birth of the baby,
that her bosom was fuller and that her figure, which
had always been good, was now lovely in its long flowing
lines. She was handsomer than she had been before
her marriage, for her complexion had become clearer
since she had lived in the North, and though she was
still pale, her skin was losing its sallow tone.
Yet, though he thought her more attractive
than she had been as a girl, she had ceased to make
the faintest appeal to his senses. There were
times even when he wondered how she had ever appealed
to him, for she had not been beautiful, and beauty
had always seemed to him to be essential in the women
with whom one fell in love. But, however it had
happened, still it had happened, and she was now his
wife and the mother of the adorable Frances Evelyn.
“I’m awfully cut up about
it, Gabriella,” he said, “but honestly
I am out of the money. I couldn’t lay my
hands on it just now to save my life.”
His excuses convinced him while he
uttered them, but he had barely paused before Gabriella
demolished them with a single blow of her merciless
“You were talking last night
about buying a horse,” she replied.
He frowned resentfully, and she immediately
regretted her words. By speaking the truth she
had defeated her purpose.
“It isn’t as if I were
buying a horse for pleasure,” he answered doggedly;
“I am dependent on exercise you can
see for yourself how I’ve gone off in the last
two or three months. Of course if the horse were
simply for enjoyment, like a carriage, it would be
different. But mother has given up her carriage,”
he concluded triumphantly.
He was a spendthrift, she realized,
but he was a spendthrift with a streak of stinginess
in his nature. Though he enjoyed gratifying his
own desires, which were many, it pained him inexpressibly
to witness extravagance on the part of others, and
by a curious twist of the imagination, all money spent
by Gabriella appeared to him to be an extravagance.
To be sure, he had just told her that she was a brick
about money, but that had been intended as a warning
to virtue rather than as an encouragement to weakness.
There was, to be sure, a vague understanding that
she might make bills when they were unavoidable; but
so in want of spending money had she been since her
marriage, that several times she had been obliged
to borrow car fare from her mother-in-law. When
she had asked George for an allowance, however small,
he had put her off with the permission to charge whatever
she bought in the shops. As the bills apparently
never lessened, and her conscience revolted from debt,
she had gone without things she needed rather than
accept the barren generosity of his promises.
At Christmas her father-in-law had given her fifty
dollars in gold, and with this she had bought presents
for her mother and Jane and the servants.
In the old days in Hill Street she
had had little enough, but at least that little had
really belonged to her; and since her marriage she
had learned that when one is poor, it is better to
live surrounded by want. To be poor in the midst
of wealth to be obliged to support a fictitious
affluence on one’s secret poverty this
was after all to know the supreme mortification of
spirit. There were days when she almost prayed
that the brooding suspense would assume a definite
shape, that the blow would fall, the crash come, and
ruin envelop them all. Any visible fact would
be better than this impending horror of the imagination this
silent dread so much worse than any reality of failure which
encompassed them with the impalpable thickness and
darkness of a cloud.
“Then I can’t help my
mother even if it’s a matter of life and death?”
“I don’t believe it’s
as bad as that, Gabriella. Ten chances to one
the rest of the winter will be mild, and she would
find Florida too depressing. You never can tell
about doctors, you know. It’s their business
to make trouble. Now you mustn’t let yourself
worry there’s anxiety enough without
that, heaven knows. Why, just look at father!
He has lost almost all he ever had he is
simply staving off failure for I don’t know
how long, and yet from mother’s manner who on
earth would suspect that there is anything wrong?
Now that’s what I call pluck. By Jove ”
Again her impetuous spirit dangerous
gift! flashed out recklessly in defence
of the truth.
“Then why don’t you try
to help your father, George?” she asked.
“He tells me that you rarely go down to the
office.” Her voice vibrated, but the stern
lines of her mouth, which had lost its rich softness
under the stress of her anger, hardly quivered.
His frown darkened to a scowl.
The calm disdain in her manner made him feel that
he hated her, and he told himself stubbornly that if
she had been gentler, if she had been more womanly,
he would have done what she asked of him, forgetting
in his rage that, if she had been these things, he
would have found even less difficulty in refusing her.
“You know as well as I do that
I can’t stand office work when I’m not
fit,” he returned sullenly. “It plays
the devil with my nerves.”
Her case was hopeless. If it
had not been so in the beginning, she had ruined it
by her irrefutable arguments, and while he rambled
on moodily, making excuses for his neglect of business,
she sat silently planning ways by which she might
get the money for her mother. To ask her father-in-law
was, of course, out of the question; and Mrs. Fowler,
beyond a miraculously extended credit, due probably
to the shining bubble of her husband’s financial
security, was as penniless as Gabriella. Unless
she could find something to sell there seemed little
likelihood of securing four hundred dollars in a day.
It was imperative, then, that she should find something
to sell; and remembering her mother’s tragic
visits to old Mr. Camberwell, she ran hastily over
her few personal possessions. As her wedding
gifts had been entirely in the form of clothes the
donors doubtless surmising that the wife of a rich
man’s son would have other gifts in abundance there
remained only the trinkets George and George’s
parents had given her. All through luncheon,
while Mrs. Fowler, with an assumed frivolity which
Gabriella found more than usually depressing, rippled
on over the warmed-over salmon, the girl mentally
arranged and sorted in their cases a diamond brooch,
an amethyst necklace, a bracelet set with pearls, and
a topaz heart she occasionally wore on a gold chain,
which she valued because it had belonged to her grandmother.
Once she stopped, and lifting her hand, looked appraisingly
at her engagement ring for an instant, while Mrs.
Fowler, observing her long gaze, remarked caressingly:
“I always thought it an unusually
pretty stone, my dear. George knows a good deal
about stones.” Then, as if inspired by an
impulse, she added quickly:
“Wasn’t George upstairs
before lunch? I thought I heard his voice.”
“Yes, but he said he had an engagement at the
“I wonder if he knows I have
asked the Capertons to dinner to-night? You know
I got Florrie’s card the other day. She
is here on her wedding journey, but even then she
doesn’t like to be quiet, for she is her mother
all over again. I used to know Bessie very well.
Kind hearted, but a little vulgar.”
“I didn’t tell George.
Perhaps you had better telephone him.”
“Oh, well, he usually comes
up to dinner because of the baby. I’ve asked
one or two people to meet Florrie, for I remember that
Bessie’s one idea of enjoyment was to be in
a crowd. The Crowboroughs are coming and the
Thorntons and the Blantons.”
“I’ll be dressed in time,”
responded Gabriella, but she was thinking rapidly,
“I can sell the diamond brooch and the bracelet
and, if it is necessary, the amethyst necklace.
The brooch must have cost at least three hundred dollars.”
The meal was finished in silence,
for even Mrs. Fowler’s cheerfulness would flag
now and then without a spur; and Gabriella made no
effort to keep up the strained conversation.
As soon as they had risen from the table, she ran
upstairs to dress for the street, and then, before
going out, she sat down at her desk, and wrapped up
the brooch and the bracelet in tissue paper.
For a minute she gazed, undecided, at the amethyst
necklace. Mr. Fowler had given it to her, and
she hated to part with it. George’s gifts
meant nothing to her now, but she felt a singular
fondness for the amethyst necklace.
“I’d better take it with
me,” she thought; and wrapping it with the others,
she put the package into her little bag, and went out
of the room. It was her habit to stop for a last
look at little Frances before she left the house,
but to-day she hurried past the nursery, and ran downstairs
and out of doors, where Mrs. Fowler was getting into
a hansom with the assistance of Burrows, the English
“May I drop you somewhere, Gabriella?”
inquired Mrs. Fowler, while Burrows arranged the parcels
on the seat of the hansom. In the strong sunshine
all the little lines which were imperceptible in the
shadow of the house lines of sleeplessness,
of anxiety, of prolonged aching suspense appeared
to start out as if by magic in her face. And over
this underlying network of anxious thoughts there dropped
suddenly, like a veil, that look of artificial pleasantness.
She would have died sooner than lift it before one
of the servants.
“No, thank you. I need
the walk,” answered Gabriella, stopping beside
the hansom. “You will be tired if you do
all those errands. May I help you?”
“No, no, dear, take your walk.
I am so glad the storm is over. It will be a
Then the hansom drove off; Burrows,
after a longing glance at the blue sky, slowly ascended
the brownstone steps; and Gabriella, closing her furs
at the throat, for the wind was high, hurried in the
direction of Fifth Avenue.
The streets were still white after
the storm; piles of new-fallen snow lay in the gutters;
and when Gabriella crossed Madison Avenue, the wind
was so strong that it almost lifted her from the ground.
Above the shining whiteness of the streets there was
a sky of spring; and spring was blossoming in the
little cart of a flower vendor, which had stopped
to let the traffic pass at the corner. There were
few people out of doors, and these few appeared remote
and strangely unreal between the wintry earth and
the April sky. Beside the gutters, where the street
cleaners were already at work, wagons drawn by large,
heavy horses moved slowly from crossing to crossing.
At Forty-second Street the traffic was blocked by
one of these wagons; and from the windows of the stage,
which had stopped by the sidewalk, the eyes of the
passengers stared with moody resignation at the hurrying
pedestrians. And it seemed to Gabriella that
these faces wore, one and all, the look of secret
anxiety, the faint network of lines which she had seen
in the face of her mother-in-law. “I wonder
if I have it, too,” she thought, pausing before
a shop window. But her reflection flashed back
at her from the glass, smooth, stern, unsmiling, as
if her features had been sculptured in marble.
Below Fortieth Street there was the
shop of a jeweller she sometimes went to with Mrs.
Fowler in that lady’s despairing quest for suitable
wedding presents at moderate prices; and something
in the kindly, sympathetic face of the clerk who waited
on them made Gabriella decide suddenly to trust him.
As she unwrapped the tissue paper rather nervously,
and keeping back the necklace, laid the brooch and
the bracelet on the square of purple velvet he spread
out on the counter, she raised her eyes to his with
a look that was childlike in its appeal. Again
she thought of the morning on which they had surreptitiously
taken her silver mug, hidden in Mrs. Carr’s
gray and black shawl, to the shop of old Mr. Camberwell.
“How much might I get for these?
I have worn them only a few times. They do not
suit me,” she said.
For a minute the clerk looked at her
reflectively, but without curiosity; then lifting
the trinkets from the square of velvet, he passed
behind a green curtain into an adjoining room.
After a short absence, in which she nervously examined
an assortment of travelling clocks, he came back and
told her that they would give her four hundred and
fifty dollars for the two pieces.
“The stones alone are worth
that,” he added, “and, of course, they
will have to be reset before we can sell them.”
“May I have the check now?”
“Shall we send it to you by mail?”
“No, I must have it now. I want it this
He yielded, still with his reflective
but incurious manner; and when she left the shop a
quarter of an hour later the check was in her little
bag beside the amethyst necklace. “I am
glad I didn’t have to sell the necklace,”
she thought. “Now I’ll find a hotel
and write to mother, and it will all be settled.
It will all be settled,” she repeated in a joyous
tone; and this joyousness, overflowing her breast,
showed in her eyes, in the little quivering smile
on her lips, and in her light and buoyant step over
the snow. A weight had been lifted from her heart,
and she felt at peace with the world, at peace with
the shivering passers-by, at peace even with George.
The wind, hastening her walk, stung her face till
it flushed through its pallor, and sent the warm blood
bounding with happiness through her veins. Under
the stainless blue of the sky, it seemed to her that
the winter’s earth was suddenly quickening with
the seeds of the spring.
In the Waldorf she found a corner
which was deserted, except for an elderly man with
a dried face and a girl in a green hat, who appeared
to be writing to her lover; and sitting down at a
little desk behind a lamp, she wrote to her mother
without mentioning George, without explaining anything,
without even making excuses for her failure to keep
her promise. She knew now that George had never
meant that her mother should live with them, that
he had never meant that they should take an apartment,
that he had lied to her, without compunction, from
the beginning. She knew this as surely as she
knew that he was faithless and selfish, as surely
as she knew that he had ceased to love her and would
never love her again. And this knowledge, which
had once caused her such poignant agony, seemed now
as detached and remote as any tragedy in ancient history.
She was barely twenty-two, and her love story had
already dwindled to an impersonal biographical interest
in her mind.
When she had finished her letter,
she placed the check inside of it, and then sat for
a minute pensively watching the girl in the green hat,
whose face paled and reddened while she wrote to her
“It seems a hundred years ago
since I felt like that,” she thought, “and
now it is all over.” Then because melancholy
had no part in her nature, and she was too practical
to waste time in useless regrets, she rose quickly
from the desk, and went out, while the exhilaration
of her mood was still proof against the dangerous
weakness of self-pity. “It’s life
I’m living, not a fairy tale,” she told
herself sternly as she posted the letter and left
the hotel. “It’s life I’m living,
and life is hard, however you take it.”
For a few blocks she walked on briskly, thinking of
the shop windows and of the brightness and gaiety of
the crowd in Fifth Avenue; but in spite of her efforts,
her thoughts fluttered back presently to herself and
her own problems. “After all, you can’t
become a victim unless you give in,” she said
grimly; “and I’ll die rather than become
Her walk kept her out until five o’clock,
and when she entered the house at that hour she found
her mother-in-law in the front hall giving directions
to Burrows. At sight of Gabriella she paused breathlessly,
and said with undisguised nervousness:
“A very queer-looking person
who says she was sent by your mother has just come
to see you, dear a seamstress of some kind,
I fancy. As she looked quite clean, I let her
go upstairs to the nursery to wait for you. I
hope you don’t mind. She was so eager to
see the baby.”
“Oh, it’s Miss Polly!”
cried Gabriella; and without stopping to explain,
she ran upstairs and into the nursery, where little
Frances was cooing with delight in Miss Polly’s
The seamstress’ small birdlike
face, framed by the silk quilling of her old lady’s
bonnet, broke into a hundred cheerful wrinkles at the
sight of Gabriella. Even the grotesqueness of
her appearance of her fantastic mantle
trimmed with bugles, made from her best wrap in the
’seventies, of her full alpaca skirt, with its
wide hem stiffened by buckram, of her black cotton
gloves, and her enormous black broadcloth bag even
these things could not extinguish the pleasure Gabriella
felt in the meeting. If Miss Polly was ridiculous
at home, she was twice as ridiculous in New York,
but somehow it did not seem to matter. The sight
of her brought happy tears to the girl’s eyes,
and in the attempt to hide them, she buried her face
in the warm, flower-scented neck of little Frances.
“She’s the peartest baby
I ever saw,” remarked Miss Polly with pride.
“Wouldn’t yo’ ma dote on her?”
“Wouldn’t she? But
how did you leave mother and Jane and the children?
The baby must be a big boy now.”
“He’s runnin’ around
all the time, and never out of mischief. I never
saw such a child for mischief. I was tellin’
yo’ ma so last week. There’s
another baby on the way with Jane, you know.”
“How in the world will she take
care of it? I suppose Charley is just the same?”
“Well, if you ask me, Gabriella,
I never was so dead set against Mr. Charley as the
rest of you. I helped raise Jane from the time
she was no higher than that and I ain’t
sayin’ nothin’ against her except that
Mr. Charley ain’t half as bad to my mind as
she makes him out. Some men respond to naggin’
and some don’t that’s what I
said to her one day when she broke down and cried
on my shoulder and you’ve got to be
mighty particular when you begin to nag that you’re
naggin’ the right sort. But she won’t
listen, not she. ’If I don’t tell
Charley of his faults, who’s goin’ to?’
she asks. You know Jane always did talk pretty
free to me ever since she was a little girl. Well,
there are some people that simply can’t stand
bein’ told of their faults, and Mr. Charley is
one of ’em. It ain’t the kind of treatment
that agrees with him, and if I’d been in Jane’s
place, I reckon I’d have found it out long ago.
But it ain’t her way to learn anything you
know that as well as I do. She’s obliged
to make the world over even if it drops to pieces in
“She doesn’t seem to have done much with
“Well, you mark my words, Mr.
Charley ain’t bad, but he’s full of natur’,
and Jane, is the kind of woman that’s never happy
unless she’s gettin’ the better of natur’.
Whatever’s natural is plum wrong, that’s
the way she looks at it; but mind you, I ain’t
sayin’ she’s all in the right. Naggin’
ain’t a virtue to my mind any mo’ than
drink is, but Jane, she can’t see it that way,
and there ain’t a bit of use tryin’ to
make her. She’s soft, but she’s mulish,
and the hardest thing on earth to push is a mule that
“It’s such a pity, but
I suppose nothing will change her. Tell me about
“Yo’ ma looks downright
po’ly. What with her sickness and her bother
about Jane and the bad weather, she ain’t managin’
to keep as spry as I’d like to see her.
From the stitch in her back she has most of the time
it wouldn’t surprise me any day to hear that
she’d come down with kidney trouble, and she
breathes so short that consumption has crossed my
mind mo’ than once when I was talkin’ to
Miss Polly, having, as she expressed
it, “an eye for symptoms,” possessed an
artistic rather than a scientific interest in disease;
and the vivid realism of her descriptions had often,
on her “sewing days” at home, reduced
Gabriella to faintness, though Mrs. Carr, with her
more delicate sensibilities, was able to listen with
apparent enjoyment to the ghastly recitals. Not
only had Miss Polly achieved in her youth a local
fame as a “sick nurse,” but, in the days
when nursing was neither sanitary nor professional,
she was often summoned hastily from her sewing machine
to assist at a birth or a burial in one of the families
for whom she worked. And happy always, as befits
one whose life, stripped bare of ephemeral blessings,
is centred upon the basic realities, she was never
happier than when she put down her sewing, took off
her spectacles, exchanged her apron for a mantle, and
after carefully tying her bonnet strings, departed
for a triumphant encounter with the Eternal Issues.
“I am so anxious about mother,”
said Gabriella. “Did she tell you she was
going to Florida?”
“She cert’ny did.
She was real full of it, and she talked a lot about
you all up here the baby and you and Mr.
George. You know I ain’t laid my eyes on
Mr. George mo’ than three times in my life.
Well, I reckon I’d better be gettin’ along
back, or the children will miss me. I’ve
got four children to do for now, and one of ’em
ain’t any bigger than Frances. It does
seem funny don’t it, for an old maid
to have her hands full of children? But, you
know, I always did dote on children. There wouldn’t
be half so much fun in this world if it wan’t
for children and men, and there ain’t a mite
of difference between them under their skins.
Yes, I can find my way back real easy. I always
was good at finding my way about, and all I’ve
got to do is to set out and walk in that direction
till I come to a car over yonder by that high building,
and as soon as I get on I’ll ask the conductor
to put me off right at my do’.”
When she had gone, Gabriella went
back into the nursery, and stood looking down at little
Frances, who had fallen asleep, with the smile of
an angel on her face. “I wonder if I can
be the least bit like Jane?” she said aloud
while she watched the sleeping child.
George did not come home to dinner;
and the wonder was still in Gabriella’s mind
when she dressed herself in her black net gown, and
went downstairs to meet Florrie, who looked younger
and more brilliant than ever in a dress of white and
silver brocade. Florrie’s husband, a dreamy,
quiet man, the safe kind of man, Gabriella
reflected, who inevitably marries a dangerous woman regarded
his noisy wife with a guileless admiration which was
triumphantly surviving a complete submergence in the
sparkling shallows of Florrie’s personality.
He was a man of sense and of breeding. He possessed
the ordinary culture of a gentleman as well as the
trained mind of a lawyer, yet he appeared impervious
alike to the cheapness of Florrie’s wit and the
vulgarity of her taste. Her beauty had not only
blinded him to her mental deficiencies; it had actually
deluded him into a belief in her intelligence.
He treated her slangy sallies as if they were an original
species of humour; he accepted the sweeping comment
of her ignorance as if it had been an inspired criticism
of life. While she chattered, parrotlike, to
the judge, who was obviously impressed by her appearance,
Algernon listened to her ejaculatory conversation with
a mixture of admiration and awe.
“How do you think Florrie is
looking?” he asked in a low tone of Gabriella,
while his wife’s laugh, high, shrill, penetrating
in its dry soprano quality, fluted loudly on the opposite
side of the table. Beside Patty’s patrician
loveliness, as serene and flawless as that of a marble
goddess, Florrie appeared cheap, common, and merely
pretty to Gabriella. The hard brilliancy of her
surface was like a shining polish which would wear
off with sleep and have to be replenished each morning;
and while she watched her, Gabriella saw, in imagination,
a vaguely ominous outline surrounding her which might
have been the uncertain edge of her mother’s
shadow. In twenty-five years Florrie would be
the image of her mother protuberant hips,
pinched waist, mottled complexion, and hopelessly
tarnished hair; yet, with this awful prospect before
him, Algernon could appear not only tolerant, but
positively adoring. He had seen Bessie he
had known her for years and he could marry
“I never saw her look handsomer,”
said Gabriella, “that white and silver gown
is very becoming.”
“That’s what I told her,
but she wouldn’t believe me. She thought
it was too plain for her style. Your sister-in-law
is something of Florrie’s type, isn’t
she? Not quite so striking a figure, perhaps,
but the same sort of colouring.”
Was it possible that for the first
time in his life the simple Algernon was speaking
in irony? Turning in her chair, she looked questioningly
into his kind, grave face, so empty of humour, into
his serious gray eyes, which followed each movement
of his wife’s with admiring attention.
No, he was not ironic; he was perfectly solemn.
It was a miracle a miracle not of piety,
but of passion that she was witnessing.
“Yes, Patty is lovely,”
she answered, thinking, as she reflected upon the
eccentricities of love, how much too good he was for
Across the table Florrie’s voice
was heard exclaiming: “Now, you don’t
mean it! Well, I’m just as flattered as
I can be!” and Gabriella surmised that she was
completing her conquest of the judge.
“It’s wonderful how well
she gets on with everybody,” observed Algernon.
“She’s never at a loss for a word, and
I tell her if I had her ready wit, I’d be the
greatest lawyer in Virginia to-day. Have you noticed
the way she is managing Judge Crowborough?”
“She always gets on well with
men,” acquiesced Gabriella, though without the
enthusiasm of Algernon. “Do you remember
what a belle she always was at the germans?”
Though she was willing to admit that love was the
ruling principle of life, it occurred to her that Algernon
would be more amusing if he were less abundantly supplied
with that virtue.
They talked of nothing but Florrie
until the women went into the drawing-room; and there,
from the safe haven of a window, Gabriella listened
to Florrie’s ceaseless prattle about herself.
She was as egotistical, as effervescent, as she had
been as a schoolgirl; and it seemed to Gabriella that
she was hardly a day older. Her eyes, of a grayish
blue, like pale periwinkles, were as bold, as careless,
as conquering in their glances; her hair was still
as dazzling; her face, with its curious resemblance
in shape to the face of a pretty cat, was still as
frank, as naïve, as confiding in its innocence.
If she had changed at all, it was that, since her
marriage to the silent Algernon, she had become even
more talkative than she had been in her girlhood.
Her vivacity was as disturbing as the incessant buzzing
of a June beetle.
“Well, you need never tell me
again that you wouldn’t rather live in New York,
Gabriella,” she fluted at parting, “because
I shan’t believe a single word of it. Why,
we’ve been to the theatre every night for a
fortnight, and we haven’t seen half the good
plays that are going on. Algy wanted to stay
at Niagara Falls you know we went to Niagara
Falls first but it was so deadly quiet
I couldn’t stand it. ’I don’t
care if I am married,’ I said to Algy, ‘what
I want is the theatre.’”
After she had gone, adoringly wrapped
up by Algernon, Patty turned to her mother with a
little malicious grimace:
“I know it’s horrid to
say she’s dreadful, mamma, but she really is.”
“Don’t, Patty, it isn’t
kind, and, besides, she’s a friend of Gabriella’s.
What I can’t understand,” she added, “is
how Bessie ever came out of Virginia, yet there were
always a few like her. You don’t remember
Pussy Prime, do you? Of course you don’t,
she died long before your day, but she was just that
loud, boisterous kind, and all the men were in love
“Well, if I’m ever born
again,” remarked Gabriella, as she kissed Patty
good-night, “I hope I’ll be born a fat
blonde. They always get taken care of.”
She ascended the stairs wearily to
her room. Yes, she was barely twenty-two and
love was over forever. “I couldn’t
hold a man six months,” she thought dejectedly,
“and yet Florrie, who is a fool and vulgar,
will be adored all her life.”