MoboReader> Literature > The Letter of the Contract

   Chapter 1 TRANSGRESSION

The Letter of the Contract By Basil King Characters: 36997

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


It was strange to think that if, on finishing her coffee in her room, she had looked in on the children, as she generally did, instead of going down to the drawing-room to write a note, her whole life might have been different. "Why didn't I?" was the question she often asked herself in the succeeding years, only to follow it with the reflection: "But perhaps it would have happened in any case. Since the fact was there, I must have come to know it-in the long run."

The note was an unimportant one. She could have sent it by a servant at any minute of the day. The very needlessness of writing it at once, so that her husband could post it as he went to his office, gave to the act something of the force of fate.

Everything that morning, when she came to think of it, had something of the force of fate. Why, on entering the drawing-room, hadn't she gone straight to her desk, according to her intention, if it wasn't that fate intervened? As a matter of fact, she went to the oriel window looking down into Fifth Avenue, with vague thoughts of the weather. It was one of those small Scotch corner windows that show you both sides of the street at once. It was so much the favorite conning-spot of the family that she advanced to it from habit.

And yet, if she had gone to her desk, that girl might have disappeared before the lines of the note were penned. As it was, the girl was there, standing as she had stood on other occasions-three or four, at least-between the two little iron posts that spaced off the opening for foot-passengers into the Park. She was looking up at the house in the way Edith had noticed before-not with the scrutiny of one who wishes to see, but with the forlorn patience of the unobtrusive creature hoping to be seen.

In a neat gray suit of the fashion of 1904 and squirrel furs she was the more unobtrusive because of a background of light snow. She was pathetically unobtrusive. Not that she seemed poor; she suggested, rather, some one lost or dazed or partially blotted out. People glanced at her as they hurried by. There were some who turned and glanced a second time. She might have been a person with a sorrow-a love-sorrow. At that thought Edith's heart went out to her in sympathy. She herself was so happy, with a happiness that had grown more intense each month, each week, each day, of her six years of married life, that it filled her imagination with a blissful, pitying pain to think that other women suffered.

The pity was sincere, and the bliss came from the knowledge of her security. She felt it wonderful to have such a sense of safety as that she experienced in gazing across the street at the girl's wistful face. It was like the overpowering thankfulness with which a man on a rock looks on while others drown. It wasn't callousness; it was only an appreciation of mercies. She was genuinely sorry for the girl, if the girl needed sorrow; but she didn't see what she could do to help her. It was well known that out in that life of New York-and of the world at large-there were tempests of passion in which lives were wrecked; but from them she herself was as surely protected by her husband's love as, in her warm and well-stored house, she was shielded from hunger and the storm. She accepted this good fortune meekly and as a special blessedness; but she couldn't help rejoicing all the more in the knowledge of her security.

The knowledge of her security gave luxury to the sigh with which she turned in the course of a few minutes to write her note. The desk stood under the mirror between the two windows at the end of the small back drawing-room. The small back drawing-room projected as an ell from the larger one that crossed the front of the house. She had just reached the words, "shall have great pleasure in accepting your kind invitation to-" when she heard her husband's step on the stairs. He was coming up from his solitary breakfast. She could hear, too, the rustle of the newspaper in his hand as he ascended, softly and tunelessly whistling. The sound of that whistling, which generally accompanied his presence in the house, was more entrancing to her than the trill of nightingales.

The loneliness her fancy ascribed to the girl over by the Park emphasized her sense of possession. She raised her head and looked into the mirror. The miracle of it struck her afresh, that the great, strong man she saw entering the room, with his brown velvet house-jacket and broad shoulders and splendid head, should be hers. She herself was a little woman, of soft curves and dimpling smiles and no particular beauty; and he had stooped, in his strength and tenderness, to make her bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, as she had become. And he had become bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh. She was no more his than he was hers. That was the great fact. She was no longer content with the limited formula, "They twain shall be one flesh"; they twain had become one spirit and one life.

It was while asserting this to herself, not for the first time, that she saw him start. He started back from the window-the large central window-to which he had gone, probably with vague thoughts of the weather, like herself. It was the manner of his start that chiefly attracted her attention. After drawing back he peered forward. It was an absurd thing to think of him; she knew that-of him of all people!-but one would almost have said that, in his own house, he shrank from being seen. But there was the fact. There was his attitude-his tiptoeing-his way of leaning toward the mantelpiece at an angle from which he could see what was going on in the Park and yet be protected by the curtain.

Then it came to her, with a flush that made her tingle all over, that she was spying on him. He thought her in the children's room up-stairs, when all the while she was watching him in a mirror. Never in her life had she known such a rush of shame. Bending her head, she scribbled blindly, "dinner on Tuesday evening the twenty-fourth at-" She was compelled by an inner force she didn't understand to glance up at the mirror again, but, to her relief, he had gone.

Later she heard him at the telephone. To avoid all appearance of listening she went to the kitchen to give her orders for the day. On her return he was in the hall, dressed for going out. Scanning his face, she thought he looked suddenly care-worn.

"I've ordered a motor to take me downtown," he explained, as he pulled on his gloves. He generally took the street-car in Madison Avenue.

"Aren't you well?" she thought it permissible to ask.

"Oh yes; I'm all right."

"Then why-?"

He made an effort to be casual: "Well, I just thought I would."

She had decided not to question him-it was a matter of honor or pride with her, she was not sure which-but while giving him the note to post she ventured to say, "You're not worried about anything, are you?"

"Not in the least." He seemed to smother the words by stooping to kiss her good-by.

She followed him to the door. "You'd tell me, wouldn't you, if you were worried?"

For the second time he stooped and kissed her, again smothering the words, "Yes, dear; but I'm not."

She stood staring at the glass door after he had closed it behind him. "Oh, what is it?" she questioned. Within less than an hour the world had become peopled with fears, and all she could do was to stare at the door through which she could still see him dimly.

She could see him dimly, but plainly, for the curtain of patterned filet-work hanging flat against the glass was almost transparent from within the house, though impenetrable from outside. Was it her imagination that saw him look cautiously round before leaving the protection of the doorway? Was it her imagination that watched while he crossed the pavement hurriedly, to spring into the automobile before he could be observed? Was it only the needless alarm of a foolish woman that thought him anxious to reach the shelter of the motor lest he should be approached or accosted? She tried to think so. It was easier to question her own sanity than to doubt him. She would not doubt him. She assured herself of that as she returned to her post in the oriel window.

The girl in gray was gone, and down the long street, over which there was a thin glaze of ice, the motor was creeping carefully. She watched it because he was inside. It was all she should see of him till nightfall. The whole of the long day must be passed with this strange new something in her heart-this something that wasn't anything. If he would only come back for a minute and put his arms about her and let her look up into his face she would know it wasn't anything. She did know it; she said so again and again. But if he would only discover that he had forgotten something-a handkerchief or his cigar-case; that did happen occasionally....

And then it was as if her prayer was to be answered while still on her lips. Before the vehicle had got so far away as to be indistinguishable from other vehicles she saw it stop. It stopped and turned. She held her breath. Slowly, very slowly, it began to creep up the gentle slope again. She supposed it must be the treacherous ground that made it move at such a snail's pace. It moved as if the chauffeur or his client were looking for some one. Gradually it drew up at the curb. It was the curb toward the Park-and from another of the little openings with iron posts to space them off appeared the girl in gray.

She advanced promptly, as if she had been called. At the door of the car she stood for a few minutes in conversation with the occupant. For one of the parties at least that method of communication was apparently not satisfactory, for he stepped out, dismissed the cab, and accompanied the girl through the little opening into the Park. In a second or two they were out of sight, down one of the sloping pathways.

* * *

During the next two months Edith had no explanation of this mystery, nor did she seek one. After the first days of amazement and questioning she fell back on what she took to be her paramount duty-to trust. She argued that if he had seen her in some analogous situation, however astounding, he would have trusted her to the uttermost; and she must do the same by him. There were ever so many reasons, she said to herself, that would not only account for the incident, but do him credit. The girl might be a stenographer dismissed from his office, asking to be reinstated; she might be a poor relation making an appeal; she might be a wretched woman toward whom he was acting on behalf of a friend. Such cases, and similar cases, arose frequently.

The wonder was, however, that he never spoke of it. There was that side to it, too. It induced another order of reflection. He was so much in the habit of relating to her, partly for her amusement, partly for his own, all the happenings, both trivial and important, of each day, that his silence with regard to this one, which surely must be considered strange-strange, if no more-was noticeable. A wretched woman toward whom he was acting on behalf of a friend! It surely couldn't, couldn't be a wretched woman toward whom he was acting, not on behalf of a friend, but....

That it might be all over and done with would make no difference. Of course it was all over and done with-if it was that. No man could love a woman as he had loved his wife during the past six or seven years, and still-But it wasn't that. It never had been that. If it had been-even before they were married, even before he knew her-But she would choke that thought back. She would choke everything back that told against him. She developed the will to trust. She developed a trust that acted on her doubts like a narcotic-not solving them, but dulling their poignancy into stupor.

So March went out, and April passed, and May came in, with leaves on the trees and tulips in the Park, and children playing on the bits of greensward. She had walked as far as the Zoo with the two little boys, and, having left them with their French governess, was on her way home. People were in the habit of dropping in between four and six, and of late she had become somewhat dependent on their company. They kept her from thinking. Their scraps of gossip provided her, when she talked to her husband, with topics that steered her away from dangerous ground. He himself had given her a hint that a certain ground was dangerous; and, though he had done it laughingly, she had grown so sensitive as to see in his words more perhaps than they meant. She had asked him a question on some subject-she had forgotten what-quite remote from the mystery of the girl in gray. Leaning across the table, with amusement on his lips and in his eyes, he had replied:

"Don't you remember the warning?

'Where the apple reddens

Never pry,

Lest we lose our Edens,

Eve and I.'"

Inwardly she had staggered from the words as if he had struck her, though he had no reason to suspect that. In response she merely said, pensively: "En sommes nous lá?"

"En sommes nous-where?"

"Where the apple reddens."

"Oh, but everybody's there."

"You mean all married people."

"Married and single."

"But married people more than single."

"I mean that we all have our illusions, and we'd better keep them as long as possible. When we don't-"

"We lose our Edens."

"Exactly."

"So that our Edens are no more than a sort of fool's paradise."

"Ah, no; a sort of wise man's paradise, in which he keeps all he's been able to rescue from a wicked world."

She was afraid to go on. She might learn that she and their children and their home and their happiness had been what he had been able to rescue from a wicked world-and that wouldn't have appeased her. Her thoughts would have been of the wicked world from which he had escaped more than of the paradise in which he had found shelter. She was no holy Elisabeth, to welcome Tannh?user back from the Venusberg. That he should have been in the Venusberg at all could be only a degree less torturing to her than to know he was there still.

So she kept away from subjects that would have told her more than she feared already, taking refuge in themes she had once considered vapid and inane. To miss nothing, she hurried homeward on that May afternoon, so as to be beside her tea-table in the drawing-room before any one appeared. And yet, the minute came when she cast aside all solicitudes and hesitations.

Going up the pathway leading to the opening opposite her house, she noticed a figure standing between the two iron posts. It was not now a figure in gray, but one in white-in white, with a rose-colored sash, and carrying a rose-colored parasol. Edith quickened her pace unconsciously, urged on by fear lest the girl should move away before she had time to reach her. In spite of a rush of incoherent emotions she was able to reflect that she was perfectly cool, entirely self-possessed. She was merely dominated by a need-the need of coming face to face with this person and seeing who she was. She had no idea what she herself would do or say, or whether or not she would do or say anything. That was secondary; it would take care of itself. The immediate impulse was too imperative to resist. She must at least see, even if nothing came of her doing so. If she had any thought of a resulting consequence it was in the assumption that her presence as wife and woman of the world would dispel the noxious thing she had been striving to combat for the past two months, as the sun dissipates a miasma.

But her approaches were careful and courteous. She, too, carried a parasol, negligently, gracefully, over the shoulder. It served to conceal her face till she had passed the stranger by a pace or two and glanced casually backward. She might have done so, however, with full deliberation, for the woman took no notice of her at all. Her misty, troubled blue eyes, of which the lids were red as if from weeping, were fixed on the house across the way.

Edith saw now that, notwithstanding a certain youthfulness of dress and bearing, this was a woman, not a girl. She was thirty-five at least, though the face was of the blond, wistful, Scandinavian type that fades from pallor to pallor without being perceptibly stamped by time. It was pallor like that of the white rose after it has passed the perfection of its bloom and before it has begun to wither.

Edith paused, still without drawing the misty eyes on herself.

"Do you know the people in that house?" she asked, at last.

The woman looked at her, not inquiringly or with much show of comprehension, but vaguely and as from a distance. Edith repeated the question.

The thin, rather bloodless lips parted. The answer seemed to come under compulsion from a stronger will: "I-I know-"

"You know the gentleman."

The pale thin lips parted again. After a second or two there was a barely audible "Yes."

"I'm his wife."

There was no sign on the woman's part either of surprise or of quickened interest.

There was only the brief hesitation that preceded all her responses.

"Are you?"

"You knew he was married, didn't you?"

"Oh yes."

"Have you known him long?"

"Eleven years."

"That's longer than I've known him."

"Oh yes."

"Do you know how long I've known him?"

"Oh yes."

"How do you know?"

"I remember."

"What makes you remember?"

"He told me."

"Why did he tell you?"

A glow of animation came into the dazed face. "That's what I don't know. I didn't care-much. He always said he would marry some day. It had nothing to do with me. We agreed on that from the first."

"From the first of-what?"

"From the first of everything."

Before putting the next question Edith took time to think. Because she was so startlingly cool and clear she was aware of feeling like one who stands with the revolver at her breast or the draught of cyanide in her hand, knowing that within a few seconds it may be too late to reconsider. And yet, she had never in her life felt more perfectly collected. She looked up the street and down the street, and across at her own house, of which the cheerful windows reflected the May sunshine. She bowed and smiled to a man on foot. She bowed and smiled two or three times to people passing in carriages. From the Park she could hear the shrieks of children on a merry-go-round; she could follow a catchy refrain from "The Belle

of New York" as played by a band at a distance. Her sang-froid was extraordinary. It was while making the observation to herself that her question came out, before she had decided whether or not to utter it. She had no remorse for that, however, since she knew she couldn't have kept herself from asking it in the end. As well expect the man staggering to the outer edge of a precipice not to reel over.

"So it was-everything?"

In uttering the words she felt oddly shy. She looked down at the pavement, then, with a flutter of the eyelids, up at the woman.

But the woman herself showed no such hesitation.

"Oh yes."

"And is-still?"

And then the woman who was not a girl, but who was curiously like a child, suddenly took fright. Tears came to her eyes; there was a convulsive movement of the face. Edith could see she was a person who wept easily.

"I won't tell you any more."

The declaration was made in a tone of childish fretfulness.

Edith grew soothing. "I'm sorry if I've hurt your feelings. Don't mind speaking, because it doesn't make any difference to me-now."

The woman stared, the tears wet on her cheeks. "Don't you-love him?"

Edith was ready with her answer. It came firmly: "No."

"Didn't you-ever?"

This time Edith considered, answering more slowly. "I don't know. If I ever did-the thing is so dead-that I don't understand how it could ever have been alive."

The woman dried her eyes. "I don't see how you can help it."

"You can't help it, can you?" Edith smiled, with a sense of her own superiority. "I suppose that's the reason you come here. I've seen you before."

"Have you?"

"Yes; several times. And that is the reason, isn't it?-because you can't help loving him."

The woman's tears began to flow again. "It's because I don't know what else to do. When he doesn't come any more-"

"Oh, so he doesn't come."

"Not unless I make him. When he sees me here-"

"Well, what then?"

"He gets angry. He comes to tell me that if I do it again-"

"I see. But he comes. It brings him. That's the main thing, isn't it? Well, now that you've told me so much, I'll-I'll try to-to send him." She was struck with a new thought. "If you were to come in now-you could-you could wait for him."

The frightened look returned. "Oh, but he'd kill me!"

"Oh no, he wouldn't." She smiled again, with a sense of her superiority. "He wouldn't kill you when he knew I didn't care."

"But don't you care?"

She shook her head. "No. And I shall never care again. He can do what he likes. He's free-and so are you. I'd rather he went to you. Eleven years, did you say? Why, he was your husband long before he was mine."

"Oh no; he was never my husband. We agreed from the first-"

"He wasn't your husband according to the strict letter of the contract; but I don't care anything about that. It's what I call being your husband. I'd rather you took him back.... Oh, my God! There he is."

He was standing on the other side of the street watching them. How long he had been there neither of them knew. Engrossed in the subject between them, and screened by their sunshades, they hadn't noticed him come round the corner from Madison Avenue on his way home. He stood leaning on his stick, stroking an end of his long mustache pensively. He wore a gray suit and a soft gray felt hat. For a minute or more there was no change in his attitude, even when the terrified eyes of the women told him he was observed. As he began to thread his way among the vehicles to cross the street he displayed neither haste nor confusion. Edith could see that, though he was pale and grave, he could, even in this situation, carry himself with dignity. In its way it was something to be glad of. She herself stood her ground as a man on a sinking ship waits for the waves to engulf him.

Reaching the pavement, he ignored his wife to go directly to the woman.

"What does this mean, Maggie?"

His tone was not so much stern as reproachful. The faded woman, who was still trying to make herself young and pretty, quailed at it.

Edith came to her relief:

"Isn't that something for you to explain, Chip?"

He turned to his wife. "I'm willing to explain anything you like, Edith-as far as I can."

"I won't ask you how far that is-because I know already everything I need to know."

"Everything you need to know-what for?"

"For understanding my position, I suppose."

"Your position? Your position is that of my wife."

"Oh no, it isn't. There's your wife."

"Don't say that, Edith. That lady would be the first to tell you-"

"She has been the first to tell me. She's been extremely kind. She's answered my questions with a frankness-"

"But you're not kind, Edith. Surely you see that-that mentally she's not-not like every one else."

"Oh, quite. I don't think I am now. I doubt if I ever shall be again. No woman can be mentally like every one else after she's been deceived as we've been."

"She hasn't been deceived, Edith; and I should never have deceived you if-"

She laughed without mirth. "If you hadn't wanted to keep me in the dark."

"No; if I hadn't had responsibilities-"

"Responsibilities! Do you call that"-her glance indicated the woman, whose misty stare went from the one to the other in a vain effort to follow what they were saying-"do you call that a responsibility?"

"I'm afraid I do, Edith."

"And what about-me?"

"Hasn't a man more responsibilities than one?"

"A married man hasn't more wives than one."

"A married man has to take his life as his life has formed itself. He was an unmarried man first."

"Which means, I suppose, that the ties he formed when he was an unmarried man-"

"May bind him still-if they're of a certain kind."

"And yours are-of a certain kind."

"They're of that kind. I haven't been able to free myself from them. But don't you think we'd better go in? We can hardly talk about such things out here."

She bowed to another passing friend. He, too, lifted his hat. When the friend had gone by she glanced hastily toward the house.

"No, I can't go in," she said, hurriedly. "I'd rather talk out here."

"Very well, then. We can take a stroll in the Park?"

"What? We three?"

"Oh, she's gone-if that's the only reason."

Turning, Edith saw the woman with the rose-colored parasol rapidly descending the path by which she had come.

He turned from the girl to his wife. "I'm willing to explain anything you like-as far as I can."

"I'd still rather stay out here," she said. "If I were to go in, I think it would-"

"Yes? What?"

"I think it would kill me."

"Oh, come, Edith. Let's face the thing calmly. Don't let us become hysterical."

"Am I hysterical, Chip?"

"In your own way, yes. Where another woman would make a fuss, you're unnaturally frozen; but it comes to the same thing. I know that your heart-"

"Is breaking. Oh, I don't deny that. But I'd rather it broke here than indoors. I don't know why, but I can stand it here, with people going by; whereas in there-"

"Oh, cut it, Edith, for God's sake! Can't you see that my heart's breaking, too?"

She looked him in the face, shaking her head sadly. "No, Chip, I can't see that. If there had been any danger of it you wouldn't have-"

"But I couldn't help it. That's what you don't seem to understand."

"No; I'm afraid I don't."

"Would you try to understand-if I were to tell you?"

"I think I know already most of what you'd have to say. She's a woman whom you knew long before you knew me-and from whom you've never been able-"

"She was the daughter of a Swedish Lutheran pastor-dead now-established in New Jersey. In some way she drifted to the stage. Her name was Margarethe Kastenskjold. When she went on the stage she made it Maggie Clare. She had about as much talent for the theater as a paper doll. When I first knew her she was still getting odd jobs in third and fourth rate companies. Since then she hasn't played at all."

"I understand. There's been no need of it. She's quite well dressed."

"Let me go on, will you, Edith? I was about two or three and twenty then. She may have been a year or two older. She was living at that time with Billy Cummings. And somehow it happened-after Billy died-and she was stranded-"

She made an appealing gesture. "Please! I know how those things come about-or I can easily imagine. In your case-I'd-I'd rather not try." She got the words out somehow without breaking down.

"All the same, Edith," he went on, "you'll have to try-if you're going to do me anything like justice. If she hadn't been a refined, educated sort of girl, entirely at sea in her surroundings, and stranded-stranded for money, mind you, next door to going to starve-and no chance of getting a job, because she couldn't act a little bit-if it hadn't been for all that-"

"Oh, I know how you'd be generous!"

"Yes; but you don't know how I came to be a fool."

"Is there any reason why I should know-now that the fact is there?"

He looked at her steadily. "Edith! What are you made of?"

She returned his look. "I think-of stone. Up till to-day I've been a woman of flesh and blood; but I'm not sure that I am any longer. You can't kill the heart in a woman's body-and still expect her to feel."

"But, Edith-Edith darling-there's no reason why I should have killed the heart in your body when I never dreamed of doing you a wrong-that is, an intentional wrong," he corrected.

"You knew you were doing some woman a wrong-some future woman, the woman you'd marry-as far back as when you took up what Billy Cummings dropped from his dead hands-"

"Oh, that! That, dear, is nothing but the talk of feminist meetings. Men are men, and women are women. You can't make one law for them both. Besides, it's too big a subject to go into now."

"I'm not trying to. I wasn't thinking of men in general; I was thinking only of you."

"But, good Lord, Edith, you don't think I've been better than any one else, do you?"

Her forlorn smile made his heart ache. "I did think so. I dare say it was a mistake."

"It was a mistake. If you hadn't made it-"

"But it was at least a mistake one can understand. I could hardly be expected to take it for granted-whatever men may be, or may have the right to be-that the man who asked me to marry him-and who made me love him as I think few men have been loved by women-I could hardly take it for granted that he was already keeping-and had been keeping for years-and would keep for years to come-another-"

He moved impatiently. "But, I tell you, I couldn't get rid of her. I couldn't shake her off-or pay her off-or do any of the usual things. It was agreed between us before I married you-long before I married you-that everything was at an end. But, poor soul, she doesn't know what an agreement is. There's something lacking in her. She's always been like a child, and of late years she's been more so. If you knew her as I do you'd be sorry for her."

"Oh, I am sorry for her. Her whole mind is ravaged by suffering."

"I know it's my fault; but it isn't wholly or even chiefly my fault. A woman like that has no right to suffer. She lost the privilege of suffering when she became what she is. At any rate, she has no right to haunt like a shadow the man who's befriended her-"

"But, I presume, she's befriended him. And-and continues to befriend him-since that's the word."

He avoided her eyes, looking up the street and whistling tunelessly beneath his breath.

"I said-continues to befriend him," she repeated.

The tuneless whistling went on. She allowed him time to get the full effect of her meaning. As far as she could see her way, her line of action depended on his response. When he dodged the question she knew what she would have to do.

"Look here, Edith," he said, at last, "the long and short of it is this. She's on my hands-and I can't abandon her. I must see that she's provided for, at the very least. Hang it all, she's-she's attached to me; has been attached to me for more than ten years. I can't ignore that; now, can I? And she's helpless. How can I desert her? I can't do it, any more than I could desert a poor old faithful dog-or a baby. Can I, now?"

"No; I dare say not."

"But I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll undertake never to see her again-of my own free will. I'll give you my word of honor-"

She shook her head. "Oh, I'm not asking for that."

"Then what do you ask for? Just tell me, and whatever it is-"

"It's that, since you can't abandon her, you abandon me."

"What?"

She repeated the words more firmly.

"Never."

"Then I'm afraid it will be for me to abandon you." She gave him a little nod. "Good-by."

She had turned and taken a step or two along the pavement before his astonishment allowed him to overtake her.

"Edith, for God's sake, what do you mean? You're not crazy, are you?"

"Quite possibly I am; I can't tell yet. Or perhaps I can tell. It's like this," she went on, after an instant's thinking. "A half-hour ago, while I was talking to that-that poor creature-before you came up-I was quite aware of being like a woman with a dose of cyanide of potassium in her hand, and doubting whether or not to take it. Well, I took it. I took it and I-died. That is, the Edith who was your wife-died. What survives of her personality is something else. I don't know what it is yet-it's too soon to say-but it isn't your wife.... It's-it's something like that."

"Oh, don't!" he groaned. "Don't talk that way. Come in. You can't stay out here."

She looked over at the house again. He thought she shuddered. "I can't stay out here; but I don't have to go in-there."

"What do you mean? Where are you going?"

"Just now I'm going to Aunt Emily's."

"Very well. I'll send a carriage for you after dinner-if you stay so late."

"No; don't do that."

"Do you mean-?"

"I mean that I may stay there for two or three days-perhaps longer. After that I'll-I'll see."

"You'll see-what?"

"Where to go next."

"Oh, come, Edie, let's talk sense. You know I can't allow that."

She smiled again, with that queer, forlorn smile that seemed to stab him. "I'm afraid the authority is out of your hands-now."

He let that pass.

"Even so, there are the children. Think of them."

"I am thinking of them-which is why I must hurry away. They'll be here in a minute; and I-I can't see them yet. I shouldn't be able to bear it."

"And do you think you'll be able to bear our being separated for two or three days, when you know I adore you? Why, you'll break down within an hour."

"That's just it. That's why I must hurry. I shall break down within half an hour. You don't suppose I can go on like this? I'm almost breaking down now. I must get to Aunt Emily's before-"

She was interrupted by a cry: "Hello, papa!"

Up the pathway leading from the Zoo a little white-suited man of five came prancing and screaming, followed by another of three doing the same. The French governess marched primly and sedately behind them.

"You see?" Edith said, quickly. "I must go. I can't see them to-night-or speak to them-or kiss them-or hear them say their prayers-or anything. You wouldn't understand; but-but I couldn't bear it. You must tell them I've gone to spend a few nights with Aunt Emily, as I did when she was ill. You must say that to the servants, too. Tell Jenny she needn't send me anything-yet. I have some things there-that I left the last time-"

"Oh, you're not going to stay all night," he groaned. "You'll come back."

"Very well. If I come back-I come back. It will be so much the better or so much the worse, as the case may be. If I come back, it will be because I accept the compromise you make between me and-and your other-"

He broke in hastily. "It's not a compromise-and there's no 'other.' If you could see how far from vital the whole thing is, from a man's point of view-"

"Unfortunately, I'm only a woman, and can see it only from a woman's point of view. So that, if I don't come back, it will be because-because-the Edith who was your wife is dead beyond resurrection."

"But she isn't!"

"Perhaps not. We must see. I shall know better when I've-I've been away from you a little."

"And in the mean time you may be risking your happiness and mine."

She shot him a reproachful glance. "Do you say that?"

"Yes, Edith, I do say it. If I've broken the letter of the contract, you may be transgressing its spirit. Don't forget that. Take care. What I did, I did because I couldn't help it. You can help it-"

"Oh no, I can't. That's where you haven't understood me. You say I don't see things from your point of view, and perhaps I don't. But neither do you see them from mine. You wonder why I don't go over there"-she nodded toward the house-"where I had my home-where my children have theirs-where you and I ... But I can't. That's all I can say. I may do it some day; I don't know. But just now-I couldn't drag myself up the steps. It would mean that we were going on as before, when all that-that sort of thing-seems to me so-so utterly over."

"You'll feel differently when you've had time to think."

"Perhaps I shall. And time to think is all I'm asking. You understand that, don't you? that I'm not making anything definite-yet. If I can ever come back to you, I will. But if I can't-"

"Hello, mama! Hello, papa!" The elder boy galloped up. "We've seen the monkeys. And one great big monkey looked like-"

"All?, maman! All?, papa! N's avons vu les singes-mais des dr?les! Il y en avait un qui-"

The children caught their father round the knees. Stooping, he put his arms about them, urging them toward their mother. They were to plead for him-to be his advocates.

"Tell mama," he whispered to the older boy, "not to go to Aunt Emily's to-night. Tell her we can't do without her-that we want her at home." He turned to the younger. "Dis à maman que tu vas pleurer si elle te quitte ce soir-qu'il faut qu'elle vienne t'écouler dire la prière."

But, when he raised himself, Edith was already walking swiftly up the Avenue. He would have followed her, only that the children seemed to restrain him, clinging to his knees. All he could do was to watch her-watch her while the thronging crowds and the shimmering sun-shot dust of the golden afternoon blotted her from his sight-and the great city-world out of which he had received her took her back.

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