Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘The Reef’
By Edith Wharton (1862–1937)
Book II

THE LIGHT of the October afternoon lay on an old high-roofed house which enclosed in its long expanse of brick and yellowish stone the breadth of a grassy court filled with the shadow and sound of limes.  1
  From the escutcheoned piers at the entrance of the court a level drive, also shaded by limes, extended to a white-barred gate beyond which an equally level avenue of grass, cut through a wood, dwindled to a blue-green blur against a sky banked with still white slopes of cloud.  2
  In the court, half-way between house and drive, a lady stood. She held a parasol above her head, and looked now at the house-front, with its double flight of steps meeting before a glazed door under sculptured trophies, now down the drive toward the grassy cutting through the wood. Her air was less of expectancy than of contemplation: she seemed not so much to be watching for any one, or listening for an approaching sound, as letting the whole aspect of the place sink into her while she held herself open to its influence. Yet it was no less apparent that the scene was not new to her. There was no eagerness of investigation in her survey: she seemed rather to be looking about her with eyes to which, for some intimate inward reason, details long since familiar had suddenly acquired an unwonted freshness.  3
  This was in fact the exact sensation of which Mrs. Leath was conscious as she came forth from the house and descended into the sunlit court. She had come to meet her stepson, who was likely to be returning at that hour from an afternoon’s shooting in one of the more distant plantations, and she carried in her hand the letter which had sent her in search of him; but with her first step out of the house all thought of him had been effaced by another series of impressions.  4
  The scene about her was known to satiety. She had seen Givré at all seasons of the year, and for the greater part of every year, since the far-off day of her marriage; the day when, ostensibly driving through its gates at her husband’s side, she had actually been carried there on a cloud of iris-winged visions.  5
  The possibilities which the place had then represented were still vividly present to her. The mere phrase “a French château” had called up to her youthful fancy a throng of romantic associations, poetic, pictorial, and emotional; and the serene face of the old house, seated in its park among the poplar-bordered meadows of middle France, had seemed, on her first sight of it, to hold out to her a fate as noble and dignified as its own mien.  6
  Though she could still call up that phase of feeling it had long since passed, and the house had for a time become to her the very symbol of narrowness and monotony. Then, with the passing of years, it had gradually acquired a less inimical character, had become, not again a castle of dreams, evoker of fair images and romantic legend, but the shell of a life slowly adjusted to its dwelling: the place one came back to, the place where one had one’s duties, one’s habits, and one’s books, the place one would naturally live in till one died: a dull house, an inconvenient house, of which one knew all the defects, the shabbinesses, the discomforts, but to which one was so used that one could hardly, after so long a time, think one’s self away from it without suffering a certain loss of identity.  7
  Now, as it lay before her in the autumn mildness, its mistress was surprised at her own insensibility. She had been trying to see the house through the eyes of an old friend who, the next morning, would be driving up to it for the first time; and in so doing she seemed to be opening her own eyes upon it after a long interval of blindness.  8
  The court was very still, yet full of a latent life: the wheeling and rustling of pigeons about the rectangular yews and across the sunny gravel; the sweep of rooks above the lustrous grayish-purple slates of the roof, and the stir of the tree-tops as they met the breeze which every day, at that hour, came punctually up from the river.  9
  Just such a latent animation glowed in Anna Leath. In every nerve and vein she was conscious of that equipoise of bliss which the fearful human heart scarce dares acknowledge. She was not used to strong or full emotions; but she had always known that she should not be afraid of them. She was not afraid now; but she felt a deep inward stillness.  10
  The immediate effect of the feeling had been to send her forth in quest of her stepson. She wanted to stroll back with him and have a quiet talk before they re-entered the house. It was always easy to talk to him, and at this moment he was the one person to whom she could have spoken without fear of disturbing her inner stillness. She was glad, for all sorts of reasons, that Madame de Chantelle and Effie were still at Ouchy with the governess, and that she and Owen had the house to themselves. And she was glad that even he was not yet in sight. She wanted to be alone a little longer; not to think but to let the long slow waves of joy break over her one by one.  11
  She walked out of the court and sat down on one of the benches that bordered the drive. From her seat she had a diagonal view of the long house-front and of the domed chapel terminating one of the wings. Beyond a gate in the court-yard wall the flower-garden drew its dark-green squares and raised its statues against the yellowing background of the park. In the borders only a few late pinks and crimsons smouldered, but a peacock strutting in the sun seemed to have gathered into his outspread fan all the summer glories of the place.  12
  In Mrs. Leath’s hand was the letter which had opened her eyes to these things, and a smile rose to her lips at the mere feeling of the paper between her fingers. The thrill it sent through her gave a keener edge to every sense. She felt, saw, breathed the shining world as though a thin impenetrable veil had suddenly been removed from it.  13
  Just such a veil, she now perceived, had always hung between herself and life. It had been like the stage gauze which gives an illusive air of reality to the painted scene behind it, yet proves it, after all, to be no more than a painted scene.  14
  She had been hardly aware, in her girlhood, of differing from others in this respect. In the well-regulated well-fed Summers world the unusual was regarded as either immoral or ill-bred, and people with emotions were not visited. Sometimes, with a sense of groping in a topsy-turvy universe, Anna had wondered why everybody about her seemed to ignore all the passions and sensations which formed the stuff of great poetry and memorable action. In a community composed entirely of people like her parents and her parents’ friends she did not see how the magnificent things one read about could ever have happened. She was sure that if anything of the kind had occurred in her immediate circle her mother would have consulted the family clergyman, and her father perhaps even have rung up the police; and her sense of humor compelled her to own that, in the given conditions, these precautions might not have been unjustified.  15
  Little by little the conditions conquered her, and she learned to regard the substance of life as a mere canvas for the embroideries of poet and painter, and its little swept and fenced and tended surface as its actual substance. It was in the visioned region of action and emotion that her fullest hours were spent; but it hardly occurred to her that they might be translated into experience, or connected with anything likely to happen to a young lady living in West Fifty-fifth Street.  16
  She perceived, indeed, that other girls, leading outwardly the same life as herself, and seemingly unaware of her world of hidden beauty, were yet possessed of some vital secret which escaped her. There seemed to be a kind of freemasonry between them; they were wider awake than she, more alert, and surer of their wants if not of their opinions. She supposed they were “cleverer,” and accepted her inferiority good-humoredly, half aware, within herself, of a reserve of unused power which the others gave no sign of possessing.  17
  This partly consoled her for missing so much of what made their “good time”; but the resulting sense of exclusion, of being somehow laughingly but firmly debarred from a share of their privileges, threw her back on herself and deepened the reserve which made envious mothers cite her as a model of ladylike repression.  18
  Love, she told herself, would one day release her from this spell of unreality. She was persuaded that the sublime passion was the key to the enigma; but it was difficult to relate her conception of love to the forms it wore in her experience. Two or three of the girls she had envied for their superior acquaintance with the arts of life had contracted, in the course of time, what were variously described as “romantic” or “foolish” marriages; one even made a runaway match, and languished for a while under a cloud of social reprobation. Here, then, was passion in action, romance converted to reality; yet the heroines of these exploits returned from them untransfigured, and their husbands were as dull as ever when one had to sit next to them at dinner.  19
  Her own case, of course, would be different. Some day she would find the magic bridge between West Fifty-fifth Street and life; once or twice she had even fancied that the clue was in her hand. The first time was when she had met young Darrow. She recalled even now the stir of the encounter. But his passion swept over her like a wind that shakes the roof of the forest without reaching its still glades or rippling its hidden pools. He was extraordinarily intelligent and agreeable, and her heart beat faster when he was with her. He had a tall fair easy presence and a mind in which the lights of irony played pleasantly through the shades of feeling. She liked to hear his voice almost as much as to listen to what he was saying, and to listen to what he was saying almost as much as to feel that he was looking at her; but he wanted to kiss her, and she wanted to talk to him about books and pictures, and have him insinuate the eternal theme of their love into every subject they discussed.  20
  Whenever they were apart a reaction set in. She wondered how she could have been so cold, called herself a prude and an idiot, questioned if any man could really care for her, and got up in the dead of night to try new ways of doing her hair. But as soon as he reappeared her head straightened itself on her slim neck and she sped her little shafts of irony, or flew her little kites of erudition, while hot and cold waves swept over her, and the things she really wanted to say choked in her throat and burned the palms of her hands.  21
  Often she told herself that any silly girl who had waltzed through a season would know better than she how to attract a man and hold him; but when she said “a man” she did not really mean George Darrow.  22
  Then one day, at a dinner, she saw him sitting next to one of the silly girls in question: the heroine of the elopement which had shaken West Fifty-fifth Street to its base. The young lady had come back from her adventure no less silly than when she went; and across the table the partner of her flight, a fat young man with eye-glasses, sat stolidly eating terrapin and talking about polo and investments.  23
  The young woman was undoubtedly as silly as ever; yet after watching her for a few minutes Miss Summers perceived that she had somehow grown luminous, perilous, obscurely menacing to nice girls and the young men they intended eventually to accept. Suddenly, at the sight, a rage of possessorship awoke in her. She must save Darrow, assert her right to him at any price. Pride and reticence went down in a hurricane of jealousy. She heard him laugh, and there was something new in his laugh…. She watched him talking, talking…. He sat slightly sideways, a faint smile beneath his lids, lowering his voice as he lowered it when he talked to her. She caught the same inflections, but his eyes were different. It would have offended her once if he had looked at her like that. Now her one thought was that none but she had a right to be so looked at. And that girl of all others! What illusions could he have about a girl who, hardly a year ago, had made a fool of herself over the fat young man stolidly eating terrapin across the table? If that was where romance and passion ended, it was better to take to district visiting or algebra!  24
  All night she lay awake and wondered: “What was she saying to him? How shall I learn to say such things?” and she decided that her heart would tell her—that the next time they were alone together the irresistible word would spring to her lips. He came the next day, and they were alone, and all she found was: “I didn’t know that you and Kitty Mayne were such friends.”  25
  He answered with indifference that he didn’t know it either, and in the reaction of relief she declared: “She’s certainly ever so much prettier than she was….”  26
  “She’s rather good fun,” he admitted, as though he had not noticed her other advantages; and suddenly Anna saw in his eyes the look she had seen there the previous evening.  27
  She felt as if he were leagues and leagues away from her. All her hopes dissolved, and she was conscious of sitting rigidly, with high head and straight lips, while the irresistible word fled with a last wing-beat into the golden mist of her illusions….  28
  She was still quivering with the pain and bewilderment of this adventure when Fraser Leath appeared. She met him first in Italy, where she was traveling with her parents; and the following winter he came to New York. In Italy he had seemed interesting: in New York he became remarkable. He seldom spoke of his life in Europe, and let drop but the most incidental allusions to the friends, the tastes, the pursuits which filled his cosmopolitan days; but in the atmosphere of West Fifty-fifth Street he seemed the embodiment of a storied past. He presented Miss Summers with a prettily-bound anthology of the old French poets and, when she showed a discriminating pleasure in the gift, observed with his grave smile: “I didn’t suppose I should find any one here who would feel about these things as I do.” On another occasion he asked her acceptance of a half-effaced eighteenth-century pastel which he had surprisingly picked up in a New York auction-room. “I know no one but you who would really appreciate it,” he explained.  29
  He permitted himself no other comments, but these conveyed with sufficient directness that he thought her worthy of a different setting. That she should be so regarded by a man living in an atmosphere of art and beauty, and esteeming them the vital elements of life, made her feel for the first time that she was understood. Here was some one whose scale of values was the same as hers, and who thought her opinion worth hearing on the very matters which they both considered of supreme importance. The discovery restored her self-confidence, and she revealed herself to Mr. Leath as she had never known how to reveal herself to Darrow.  30
  As the courtship progressed, and they grew more confidential, her suitor surprised and delighted her by little explosions of revolutionary sentiment. He said: “Shall you mind, I wonder, if I tell you that you live in a dreadfully conventional atmosphere?” and, seeing that she manifestly did not mind: “Of course I shall say things now and then that will horrify your dear delightful parents—I shall shock them awfully, I warn you.”  31
  In confirmation of this warning he permitted himself an occasional playful fling at the regular churchgoing of Mr. and Mrs. Summers, at the innocuous character of the literature in their library, and at their guileless appreciations in art. He even ventured to banter Mrs. Summers on her refusal to receive the irrepressible Kitty Mayne, who, after a rapid passage with George Darrow, was now involved in another and more flagrant adventure.  32
  “In Europe, you know, the husband is regarded as the only judge in such matters. As long as he accepts the situation—” Mr. Leath explained to Anna, who took his view the more emphatically in order to convince herself that, personally, she had none but the most tolerant sentiments toward the lady.  33
  The subversiveness of Mr. Leath’s opinions was enhanced by the distinction of his appearance and the reserve of his manners. He was like the anarchist with a gardenia in his buttonhole who figures in the higher melodrama. Every word, every allusion, every note of his agreeably-modulated voice, gave Anna a glimpse of a society at once freer and finer, which observed the traditional forms but had discarded the underlying prejudices; whereas the world she knew had discarded many of the forms and kept almost all the prejudices.  34
  In such an atmosphere as his an eager young woman, curious as to all the manifestations of life, yet instinctively desiring that they should come to her in terms of beauty and fine feeling, must surely find the largest scope for self-expression. Study, travel, the contact of the world, the comradeship of a polished and enlightened mind, would combine to enrich her days and form her character; and it was only in the rare moments when Mr. Leath’s symmetrical blond mask bent over hers, and his kiss dropped on her like a cold smooth pebble, that she questioned the completeness of the joys he offered.  35
  There had been a time when the walls on which her gaze now rested had shed a glare of irony on these early dreams. In the first years of her marriage the sober symmetry of Givré had suggested only her husband’s neatly-balanced mind. It was a mind, she soon learned, contentedly absorbed in formulating the conventions of the unconventional. West Fifty-fifth Street was no more conscientiously concerned than Givré with the momentous question of “what people did”; it was only the type of deed investigated that was different. Mr. Leath collected his social instances with the same seriousness and patience as his snuff-boxes. He exacted a rigid conformity to his rules of non-conformity and his scepticism had the absolute accent of a dogma. He even cherished certain exceptions to his rules as the book-collector prizes a “defective” first edition. The Protestant churchgoing of Anna’s parents had provoked his gentle sarcasm; but he prided himself on his mother’s devoutness, because Madame de Chantelle, in embracing her second husband’s creed, had become part of a society which still observes the outward rites of piety.  36
  Anna, in fact, had discovered in her amiable and elegant mother-in-law an unexpected embodiment of the West Fifty-fifth Street ideal. Mrs. Summers and Madame de Chantelle, however strongly they would have disagreed as to the authorized source of Christian dogma, would have found themselves completely in accord on all the momentous minutiæ of drawing-room conduct; yet Mr. Leath treated his mother’s foibles with a respect which Anna’s experience of him forbade her to attribute wholly to filial affection.  37
  In the early days, when she was still questioning the Sphinx instead of trying to find an answer to it, she ventured to tax her husband with his inconsistency.  38
  “You say your mother won’t like it if I call on that amusing little woman who came here the other day, and was let in by mistake; but Madame de Chantelle tells me she lives with her husband, and when mother refused to visit Kitty Mayne you said——”  39
  Mr. Leath’s smile arrested her. “My dear child, I don’t pretend to apply the principles of logic to my poor mother’s prejudices.”  40
  “But if you admit that they are prejudices——?”  41
  “There are prejudices and prejudices. My mother, of course, got hers from Monsieur de Chantelle, and they seem to me as much in their place in this house as the pot-pourri in your hawthorn jar. They preserve a social tradition of which I should be sorry to lose the least perfume. Of course I don’t expect you, just at first, to feel the difference, to see the nuance. In the case of little Madame de Vireville, for instance: you point out that she’s still under her husband’s roof. Very true; and if she were merely a Paris acquaintance—especially if you had met her, as one still might, in the right kind of house in Paris—I should be the last to object to your visiting her. But in the country it’s different. Even the best provincial society is what you would call narrow: I don’t deny it; and if some of our friends met Madame de Vireville at Givré—well, it would produce a bad impression. You’re inclined to ridicule such considerations, but gradually you’ll come to see their importance; and meanwhile, do trust me when I ask you to be guided by my mother. It is always well for a stranger in an old society to err a little on the side of what you call its prejudices but I should rather describe as its traditions.”  42
  After that she no longer tried to laugh or argue her husband out of his convictions. They were convictions, and therefore unassailable. Nor was any insincerity implied in the fact that they sometimes seemed to coincide with hers. There were occasions when he really did look at things as she did; but for reasons so different as to make the distance between them all the greater. Life, to Mr. Leath, was like a walk through a carefully classified museum, where, in moments of doubt, one had only to look at the number and refer to one’s catalogue; to his wife it was like groping about in a huge dark lumber-room where the exploring ray of curiosity lit up now some shape of breathing beauty and now a mummy’s grin.  43
  In the first bewilderment of her new state these discoveries had had the effect of dropping another layer of gauze between herself and reality. She seemed farther than ever removed from the strong joys and pangs for which she felt herself made. She did not adopt her husband’s view, but insensibly she began to live his life. She tried to throw a compensating ardor into the secret excursions of her spirit, and thus the old vicious distinction between romance and reality was re-established for her, and she resigned herself again to the belief that “real life” was neither real nor alive.  44
  The birth of her little girl swept away this delusion. At last she felt herself in contact with the actual business of living: but even this impression was not enduring. Everything but the irreducible crude fact of child-bearing assumed, in the Leath household, the same ghostly tinge of unreality. Her husband, at the time, was all that his own ideal of a husband required. He was attentive, and even suitably moved; but as he sat by her bedside, and thoughtfully proffered to her the list of people who had “called to enquire,” she looked first at him, and then at the child between them, and wondered at the blundering alchemy of Nature….  45
  With the exception of the little girl herself, everything connected with that time had grown curiously remote and unimportant. The days that had moved so slowly as they passed seemed now to have plunged down headlong steeps of time; and as she sat in the autumn sun, with Darrow’s letter in her hand, the history of Anna Leath appeared to its heroine like some gray shadowy tale that she might have read in an old book, one night as she was falling asleep….  46
  Two brown blurs emerging from the farther end of the wood-vista gradually defined themselves as her stepson and an attendant gamekeeper. They grew slowly upon the bluish background, with occasional delays and re-effacements, and she sat still, waiting till they should reach the gate at the end of the drive, where the keeper would turn off to his cottage and Owen continue on to the house.
  She watched his approach with a smile. From the first days of her marriage she had been drawn to the boy, but it was not until after Effie’s birth that she had really begun to know him. The eager observation of her own child had shown her how much she had still to learn about the slight fair boy whom the holidays periodically restored to Givré. Owen, even then, both physically and morally, furnished her with the oddest of commentaries on his father’s mien and mind. He would never, the family sighingly recognized, be nearly as handsome as Mr. Leath; but his rather charmingly unbalanced face, with its brooding forehead and petulant boyish smile, suggested to Anna what his father’s countenance might have been could one have pictured its neat features disordered by a rattling breeze. She even pushed the analogy farther, and descried in her stepson’s mind a quaintly-twisted reflection of her husband’s. With his bursts of door-slamming activity, his fits of bookish indolence, his crude revolutionary dogmatizing, and his flashes of precocious irony, the boy was not unlike a boisterous embodiment of his father’s theories. It was as though Fraser Leath’s ideas, accustomed to hang like marionettes on their pegs, should suddenly come down and walk. There were moments, indeed, when Owen’s humors must have suggested to his progenitor the gambols of an infant Frankenstein; but to Anna they were the voice of her secret rebellions, and her tenderness to her stepson was partly based on her severity toward herself. As he had the courage she had lacked, so she meant him to have the chances she had missed; and every effort she made for him helped to keep her own hopes alive.  48
  Her interest in Owen led her to think more often of his mother and sometimes she would slip away and stand alone before her predecessor’s portrait. Since her arrival at Givré the picture—a “full length” by a once fashionable artist—had undergone the successive displacements of an exiled consort removed farther and farther from the throne; and Anna could not help noting that these stages coincided with the gradual decline of the artist’s fame. She had a fancy that if his credit had been in the ascendant the first Mrs. Leath might have continued to throne over the drawing-room mantelpiece, even to the exclusion of her successor’s effigy. Instead of this, her peregrinations had finally landed her in the shrouded solitude of the billiard-room, an apartment which no one ever entered, but where it was understood that “the light was better,” or might have been if the shutters had not been always closed.  49
  Here the poor lady, elegantly dressed, and seated in the middle of a large lonely canvas, in the blank contemplation of a gilt console, had always seemed to Anna to be waiting for visitors who never came.  50
  “Of course they never came, you poor thing! I wonder how long it took you to find out that they never would?” Anna had more than once apostrophized her, with a derision addressed rather to herself than to the dead; but it was only after Effie’s birth that it occurred to her to study more closely the face in the picture, and speculate on the kind of visitors that Owen’s mother might have hoped for.  51
  “She certainly doesn’t look as if they would have been the same kind as mine: but there’s no telling, from a portrait that was so obviously done ‘to please the family,’ and that leaves Owen so unaccounted for. Well, they never came, the visitors; they never came; and she died of it. She died of it long before they buried her: I’m certain of that. Those are stone-dead eyes in the picture…. The loneliness must have been awful, if even Owen couldn’t keep her from dying of it. And to feel it so she must have had feelings—real live ones, the kind that twitch and tug. And all she had to look at all her life was a gilt console—yes, that’s it, a gilt console screwed to the wall! That’s exactly and absolutely what he is!”  52
  She did not mean, if she could help it, that either Effie or Owen should know that loneliness, or let her know it again. They were three, now, to keep each other warm, and she embraced both children in the same passion of motherhood, as though one were not enough to shield her from her predecessor’s fate.  53
  Sometimes she fancied that Owen Leath’s response was warmer than that of her own child. But then Effie was still hardly more than a baby, and Owen, from the first, had been almost “old enough to understand”; certainly did understand now, in a tacit way that yet perpetually spoke to her. This sense of his understanding was the deepest element in their feeling for each other. There were so many things between them that were never spoken of, or even indirectly alluded to, yet that, even in their occasional discussions and differences formed the unadduced arguments making for final agreement….  54
  Musing on this, she continued to watch his approach; and her heart began to beat a little faster at the thought of what she had to say to him. But when he reached the gate she saw him pause, and after a moment he turned aside as if to gain a cross-road through the park.  55
  She started up and waved her sunshade, but he did not see her. No doubt he meant to go back with the gamekeeper, perhaps to the kennels, to see a retriever who had hurt his leg. Suddenly she was seized by the whim to overtake him. She threw down the parasol, thrust her letter into her bodice, and catching up her skirts began to run.  56
  She was slight and light, with a natural ease and quickness of gait, but she could not recall having run a yard since she had romped with Owen in his school-days; nor did she know what impulse moved her now. She only knew that run she must, that no other motion, short of flight, would have been buoyant enough for her humor. She seemed to be keeping pace with some inward rhythm, seeking to give bodily expression to the lyric rush of her thoughts. The earth always felt elastic under her, and she had a conscious joy in treading it; but never had it been as soft and springy as to-day. It seemed actually to rise and meet her as she went, so that she had the feeling, which sometimes came to her in dreams, of skimming miraculously over short bright waves. The air, too, seemed to break in waves against her, sweeping by on its current all the slanted lights and moist sharp perfumes of the failing day. She panted to herself: “This is nonsense!” her blood hummed back: “But it’s glorious!” and she sped on till she saw that Owen had caught sight of her and was striding back in her direction. Then she stopped and waited, flushed and laughing, her hands clasped against the letter in her breast.  57
  “No, I’m not mad,” she called out; “but there’s something in the air to-day—don’t you feel it?—And I wanted to have a little talk with you,” she added as he came up to her, smiling at him and linking her arm in his.  58
  He smiled back, but above the smile she saw the shade of anxiety which, for the last two months, had kept its fixed line between his handsome eyes.  59
  “Owen, don’t look like that! I don’t want you to!” she said imperiously.  60
  He laughed. “You said that exactly like Effie. What do you want me to do? To race with you as I do Effie? But I shouldn’t have a show!” he protested, still with the little frown between his eyes.  61
  “Where are you going?” she asked.  62
  “To the kennels. But there’s not the least need. The vet has seen Garry and he’s all right. If there’s anything you wanted to tell me——”  63
  “Did I say there was? I just came out to meet you—I wanted to know if you’d had good sport.”  64
  The shadow dropped on him again. “None at all. The fact is I didn’t try. Jean and I have just been knocking about in the woods. I wasn’t in a sanguinary mood.”  65
  They walked on with the same light gait, so nearly of a height that keeping step came as naturally to them as breathing. Anna stole another look at the young face on a level with her own.  66
  “You did say there was something you wanted to tell me,” her stepson began after a pause.  67
  “Well, there is.” She slackened her pace involuntarily, and they came to a pause and stood facing each other under the limes.  68
  “Is Darrow coming?” he asked.  69
  She seldom blushed, but at the question a sudden heat suffused her. She held her head high.  70
  “Yes: he’s coming. I’ve just heard. He arrives to-morrow. But that’s not——” She saw her blunder and tried to rectify it. “Or rather, yes, in a way it is my reason for wanting to speak to you——”  71
  “Because he’s coming?”  72
  “Because he’s not yet here.”  73
  “It’s about him, then?”  74
  He looked at her kindly, half-humorously, an almost fraternal wisdom in his smile.  75
  “About——? No, no: I meant that I wanted to speak to-day because it’s our last day alone together.”  76
  “Oh, I see.” He had slipped his hands into the pockets of his tweed shooting jacket and lounged along at her side, his eyes bent on the moist ruts of the drive, as though the matter had lost all interest for him.  77
  “Owen——”  78
  He stopped again and faced her. “Look here, my dear, it’s no sort of use.”  79
  “What’s no use?”  80
  “Anything on earth you can any of you say.”  81
  She challenged him: “Am I one of ‘any of you’?”  82
  He did not yield. “Well, then—anything on earth that even you can say.”  83
  “You don’t in the least know what I can say—or what I mean to.”  84
  “Don’t I, generally?”  85
  She gave him this point, but only to make another. “Yes; but this is particularly. I want to say … Owen, you’ve been admirable all through.”  86
  He broke into a laugh in which the odd elder-brotherly note was once more perceptible.  87
  “Admirable,” she emphasized. “And so has she.”  88
  “Oh, and so have you to her!” His voice broke down to boyishness. “I’ve never lost sight of that for a minute. It’s been altogether easier for her, though,” he threw off presently.  89
  “On the whole, I suppose it has. Well——” she summed up with a laugh, “aren’t you all the better pleased to be told you’ve behaved as well as she?”  90
  “Oh, you know, I’ve not done it for you,” he tossed back at her, without the least note of hostility in the affected lightness of his tone.  91
  “Haven’t you, though, perhaps—the least bit? Because, after all, you knew I understood?”  92
  “You’ve been awfully kind about pretending to.”  93
  She laughed. “You don’t believe me? You must remember I had your grandmother to consider.”  94
  “Yes: and my father—and Effie, I suppose—and the outraged shades of Givré!” He paused, as if to lay more stress on the boyish sneer: “Do you likewise include the late Monsieur de Chantelle?”  95
  His stepmother did not appear to resent the thrust. She went on, in the same tone of affectionate persuasion: “Yes: I must have seemed to you too subject to Givré. Perhaps I have been. But you know that was not my real object in asking you to wait, to say nothing to your grandmother before her return.”  96
  He considered. “Your real object, of course, was to gain time.”  97
  “Yes—but for whom? Why not for you?”  98
  “For me?” He flushed up quickly. “You don’t mean——?”  99
  She laid her hand on his arm and looked gravely into his handsome eyes.  100
  “I mean that when your grandmother gets back from Ouchy I shall speak to her——”  101
  “You’ll speak to her…?”  102
  “Yes; if only you’ll promise to give me time——”  103
  “Time for her to send for Adelaide Painter?”  104
  “Oh, she’ll undoubtedly send for Adelaide Painter!”  105
  The allusion touched a spring of mirth in both their minds, and they exchanged a laughing look.  106
  “Only you must promise not to rush things. You must give me time to prepare Adelaide too,” Mrs. Leath went on.  107
  “Prepare her too?” He drew away for a better look at her. “Prepare her for what?”  108
  “Why, to prepare your grandmother! For your marriage. Yes, that’s what I mean. I’m going to see you through, you know——”  109
  His feint of indifference broke down and he caught her hand. “Oh, you dear divine thing! I didn’t dream——”  110
  “I know you didn’t.” She dropped her gaze and began to walk on slowly. “I can’t say you’ve convinced me of the wisdom of the step. Only I seem to see that other things matter more—and that not missing things matters most. Perhaps I’ve changed—or your not changing has convinced me. I’m certain now that you won’t budge. And that was really all I ever cared about.”  111
  “Oh, as to not budging—I told you so months ago: you might have been sure of that! And how can you be any surer to-day than yesterday?”  112
  “I don’t know. I suppose one learns something every day——”  113
  “Not at Givré!” he laughed, and shot a half-ironic look at her. “But you haven’t really been at Givré lately—not for months! Don’t you suppose I’ve noticed that, my dear?”  114
  She echoed his laugh to merge it in an undenying sigh. “Poor Givré….”  115
  “Poor empty Givré! With so many rooms full and yet not a soul in it—except of course my grandmother, who is its soul!”  116
  They had reached the gateway of the court and stood looking with a common accord at the long soft-hued façade on which the autumn light was dying. “It looks so made to be happy in——” she murmured.  117
  “Yes—to-day, to-day!” He pressed her arm a little. “Oh, you darling—to have given it that look for me!” He paused, and then went on in a lower voice: “Don’t you feel we owe it to the poor old place to do what we can to give it that look? You, too, I mean? Come, let’s make it grin from wing to wing! I’ve such a mad desire to say outrageous things to it—haven’t you? After all, in old times there must have been living people here!”  118
  Loosening her arm from his she continued to gaze up at the house-front, which seemed, in the plaintive decline of light, to send her back the mute appeal of something doomed.  119
  “It is beautiful,” she said.  120
  “A beautiful memory! Quite perfect to take out and turn over when I’m grinding at the law in New York, and you’re——” He broke off and looked at her with a questioning smile. “Come! Tell me. You and I don’t have to say things to talk to each other. When you turn suddenly absent-minded and mysterious I always feel like saying: ‘Come back. All is discovered.’”  121
  She returned his smile. “You know as much as I know. I promise you that.”  122
  He wavered, as if for the first time uncertain how far he might go. “I don’t know Darrow as much as you know him,” he presently risked.  123
  She frowned a little. “You said just now we didn’t need to say things——”  124
  “Was I speaking? I thought it was your eyes——” He caught her by both elbows and spun her halfway round, so that the late sun shed a betraying gleam on her face. “They’re such awfully conversational eyes! Don’t you suppose they told me long ago why it’s just to-day you’ve made up your mind that people have got to live their own lives—even at Givré?”  125

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