“I wrote her a long letter that
night, and waited two days for a reply.
“On the third day I had a brief
line saying that she was going to spend Sunday with
some friends who had a place near Riverdale, and that
she would arrange to see me while she was there.
That was all.
“It was on a Saturday that I
received the note and I came out here the same night.
The next morning was rainy, and I was in despair, for
I had counted on her asking me to take her for a drive
or a long walk. It was hopeless to try to say
what I had to say to her in the drawing-room of a
crowded country-house. And only eleven days were
“I stayed indoors all the morning,
fearing to go out lest she should telephone me.
But no sign came, and I grew more and more restless
and anxious. She was too free and frank for coquetry,
but her silence and evasiveness made me feel that,
for some reason, she did not wish to hear what she
knew I meant to say. Could it be that she was,
after all, more conventional, less genuine, than I
had thought? I went again and again over the
whole maddening round of conjecture; but the only conclusion
I could rest in was that, if she loved me as I loved
her, she would be as determined as I was to let no
obstacle come between us during the days that were
“The luncheon-hour came and
passed, and there was no word from her. I had
ordered my trap to be ready, so that I might drive
over as soon as she summoned me; but the hours dragged
on, the early twilight came, and I sat here in this
very chair, or measured up and down, up and down, the
length of this very rug and still there
was no message and no letter.
“It had grown quite dark, and
I had ordered away, impatiently, the servant who came
in with the lamps: I couldn’t bear
any definite sign that the day was over! And
I was standing there on the rug, staring at the door,
and noticing a bad crack in its panel, when I heard
the sound of wheels on the gravel. A word at
last, no doubt a line to explain....
I didn’t seem to care much for her reasons, and
I stood where I was and continued to stare at the
door. And suddenly it opened and she came in.
“The servant followed her with
a light, and then went out and closed the door.
Her face looked pale in the lamplight, but her voice
was as clear as a bell.
“‘Well,’ she said, ‘you see
“I started toward her with hands
outstretched. ’You’ve come you’ve
come!’ I stammered.
“Yes; it was like her to come
in that way without dissimulation or explanation
or excuse. It was like her, if she gave at all,
to give not furtively or in haste, but openly, deliberately,
without stinting the measure or counting the cost.
But her quietness and serenity disconcerted me.
She did not look like a woman who has yielded impetuously
to an uncontrollable impulse. There was something
almost solemn in her face.
“The effect of it stole over
me as I looked at her, suddenly subduing the huge
flush of gratified longing.
“‘You’re here, here,
here!’ I kept repeating, like a child singing
over a happy word.
“‘You said,’ she
continued, in her grave clear voice, ’that we
couldn’t go on as we were ’
“‘Ah, it’s divine of you!’
I held out my arms to her.
“She didn’t draw back
from them, but her faint smile said, ‘Wait,’
and lifting her hands she took the pins from her hat,
and laid the hat on the table.
“As I saw her dear head bare
in the lamp-light, with the thick hair waving away
from the parting, I forgot everything but the bliss
and wonder of her being here here, in my
house, on my hearth that fourth rose from
the corner of the rug is the exact spot where she was
“I drew her to the fire, and
made her sit down in the chair you’re in, and
knelt down by her, and hid my face on her knees.
She put her hand on my head, and I was happy to the
depths of my soul.
“‘Oh, I forgot ’
she exclaimed suddenly. I lifted my head and our
eyes met. Hers were smiling.
“She reached out her hand, opened
the little bag she had tossed down with her hat, and
drew a small object from it. ’I left my
trunk at the station. Here’s the check.
Can you send for it?’ she asked.
“Her trunk she wanted
me to send for her trunk! Oh, yes I
see your smile, your ‘lucky man!’ Only,
you see, I didn’t love her in that way.
I knew she couldn’t come to my house without
running a big risk of discovery, and my tenderness
for her, my impulse to shield her, was stronger, even
then, than vanity or desire. Judged from the point
of view of those emotions I fell terribly short of
my part. I hadn’t any of the proper feelings.
Such an act of romantic folly was so unlike her that
it almost irritated me, and I found myself desperately
wondering how I could get her to reconsider her plan
without well, without seeming to want her
“It’s not the way a novel
hero feels; it’s probably not the way a man in
real life ought to have felt. But it’s the
way I felt and she saw it.
“She put her hands on my shoulders
and looked at me with deep, deep eyes. ‘Then
you didn’t expect me to stay?’ she asked.
“I caught her hands and pressed
them to me, stammering out that I hadn’t dared
“‘You thought I’d come just
for an hour?’
“’How could I dare think
more? I adore you, you know, for what you’ve
done! But it would be known if you if
you stayed on. My servants everybody
about here knows you. I’ve no right to expose
you to the risk.’ She made no answer, and
I went on tenderly: ’Give me, if you will,
the next few hours: there’s a train that
will get you to town by midnight. And then we’ll
arrange something in town where
it’s safer for you more easily managed....
It’s beautiful, it’s heavenly of you to
have come; but I love you too much I must
take care of you and think for you ’
“I don’t suppose it ever
took me so long to say so few words, and though they
were profoundly sincere they sounded unutterably shallow,
irrelevant and grotesque. She made no effort to
help me out, but sat silent, listening, with her meditative
smile. ’It’s my duty, dearest, as
a man,’ I rambled on. The more I love you
the more I’m bound ’
“‘Yes; but you don’t understand,’
“She rose as she spoke, and
I got up also, and we stood and looked at each other.
“‘I haven’t come
for a night; if you want me I’ve come for always,’
“Here again, if I give you an
honest account of my feelings I shall write myself
down as the poor-spirited creature I suppose I am.
There wasn’t, I swear, at the moment, a grain
of selfishness, of personal reluctance, in my feeling.
I worshipped every hair of her head when
we were together I was happy, when I was away from
her something was gone from every good thing; but
I had always looked on our love for each other, our
possible relation to each other, as such situations
are looked on in what is called society. I had
supposed her, for all her freedom and originality,
to be just as tacitly subservient to that view as
I was: ready to take what she wanted on the terms
on which society concedes such taking, and to pay
for it by the usual restrictions, concealments and
hypocrisies. In short, I supposed that she would
’play the game’ look out for
her own safety, and expect me to look out for it.
It sounds cheap enough, put that way but
it’s the rule we live under, all of us.
And the amazement of finding her suddenly outside of
it, oblivious of it, unconscious of it, left me, for
an awful minute, stammering at her like a graceless
dolt.... Perhaps it wasn’t even a minute;
but in it she had gone the whole round of my thoughts.
she said, very low. ’I suppose you can telephone
for a trap?’
“There was no irony or resentment
in her voice. She walked slowly across the room
and paused before the Brangwyn etching over there.
’That’s a good impression. Will
you telephone, please?’ she repeated.
“I found my voice again, and
with it the power of movement. I followed her
and dropped at her feet. ‘You can’t
go like this!’ I cried.
“She looked down on me from
heights and heights. ’I can’t stay
like this,’ she answered.
“I stood up and we faced each
other like antagonists. ‘You don’t
know,’ I accused her passionately, ’in
the least what you’re asking me to ask of you!’
“‘Yes, I do: everything,’
“‘And it’s got to be that or nothing?’
“‘Oh, on both sides,’ she reminded
“‘Not on both sides. It’s
not fair. That’s why ’
“‘Why you won’t?’
“‘Why I cannot may not!’
“‘Why you’ll take a night and not
“The taunt, for a woman usually
so sure of her aim, fell so short of the mark that
its only effect was to increase my conviction of her
helplessness. The very intensity of my longing
for her made me tremble where she was fearless.
I had to protect her first, and think of my own attitude
“She was too discerning not
to see this too. Her face softened, grew inexpressibly
appealing, and she dropped again into that chair you’re
in, leaned forward, and looked up with her grave smile.
“’You think I’m
beside myself raving? (You’re not
thinking of yourself, I know.) I’m not:
I never was saner. Since I’ve known you
I’ve often thought this might happen. This
thing between us isn’t an ordinary thing.
If it had been we shouldn’t, all these months,
have drifted. We should have wanted to skip to
the last page and then throw down the book.
We shouldn’t have felt we could trust
the future as we did. We were in no hurry because
we knew we shouldn’t get tired; and when two
people feel that about each other they must live together or
part. I don’t see what else they can do.
A little trip along the coast won’t answer.
It’s the high seas or else being tied
up to Lethe wharf. And I’m for the high
seas, my dear!’
“Think of sitting here here,
in this room, in this chair and listening
to that, and seeing the tight on her hair, and hearing
the sound of her voice! I don’t suppose
there ever was a scene just like it....
“She was astounding inexhaustible;
through all my anguish of resistance I found a kind
of fierce joy in following her. It was lucidity
at white heat: the last sublimation of passion.
She might have been an angel arguing a point in the
empyrean if she hadn’t been, so completely, a
woman pleading for her life....
“Her life: that was the
thing at stake! She couldn’t do with less
of it than she was capable of; and a woman’s
life is inextricably part of the man’s she cares
“That was why, she argued, she
couldn’t accept the usual solution: couldn’t
enter into the only relation that society tolerates
between people situated like ourselves. Yes:
she knew all the arguments on that side:
didn’t I suppose she’d been over them and
over them? She knew (for hadn’t she often
said it of others?) what is said of the woman who,
by throwing in her lot with her lover’s, binds
him to a lifelong duty which has the irksomeness without
the dignity of marriage. Oh, she could talk on
that side with the best of them: only she asked
me to consider the other the side of the
man and woman who love each other deeply and completely
enough to want their lives enlarged, and not diminished,
by their love. What, in such a case she
reasoned must be the inevitable effect
of concealing, denying, disowning, the central fact,
the motive power of one’s existence? She
asked me to picture the course of such a love:
first working as a fever in the blood, distorting
and deflecting everything, making all other interests
insipid, all other duties irksome, and then, as the
acknowledged claims of life regained their hold, gradually
dying the poor starved passion! for
want of the wholesome necessary food of common living
and doing, yet leaving life impoverished by the loss
of all it might have been.
“‘I’m not talking,
dear ’ I see her now, leaning toward
me with shining eyes: ’I’m not talking
of the people who haven’t enough to fill their
days, and to whom a little mystery, a little manoeuvring,
gives an illusion of importance that they can’t
afford to miss; I’m talking of you and me, with
all our tastes and curiosities and activities; and
I ask you what our love would become if we had to
keep it apart from our lives, like a pretty useless
animal that we went to peep at and feed with sweetmeats
through its cage?’
“I won’t, my dear fellow,
go into the other side of our strange duel: the
arguments I used were those that most men in my situation
would have felt bound to use, and that most women
in Paulina’s accept instinctively, without even
formulating them. The exceptionalness, the significance,
of the case lay wholly in the fact that she had formulated
them all and then rejected them....
“There was one point I didn’t,
of course, touch on; and that was the popular conviction
(which I confess I shared) that when a man and a woman
agree to defy the world together the man really sacrifices
much more than the woman. I was not even conscious
of thinking of this at the time, though it may have
lurked somewhere in the shadow of my scruples for
her; but she dragged it out into the daylight and held
me face to face with it.
not attempting to lay down any general rule,’
she insisted; ’I’m not theorizing about
Man and Woman, I’m talking about you and me.
How do I know what’s best for the woman in the
next house? Very likely she’ll bolt when
it would have been better for her to stay at home.
And it’s the same with the man: he’ll
probably do the wrong thing. It’s generally
the weak heads that commit follies, when it’s
the strong ones that ought to: and my point is
that you and I are both strong enough to behave like
fools if we want to....
“’Take your own case first because,
in spite of the sentimentalists, it’s the man
who stands to lose most. You’ll have to
give up the Iron Works: which you don’t
much care about because it won’t be
particularly agreeable for us to live in New York:
which you don’t care much about either.
But you won’t be sacrificing what is called “a
career.” You made up your mind long ago
that your best chance of self-development, and consequently
of general usefulness, lay in thinking rather than
doing; and, when we first met, you were already planning
to sell out your business, and travel and write.
Well! Those ambitions are of a kind that won’t
be harmed by your dropping out of your social setting.
On the contrary, such work as you want to do ought
to gain by it, because you’ll be brought nearer
to life-as-it-is, in contrast to life-as-a-visiting-list....’
“She threw back her head with
a sudden laugh. ’And the joy of not having
any more visits to make! I wonder if you’ve
ever thought of that? Just at first, I mean;
for society’s getting so deplorably lax that,
little by little, it will edge up to us you’ll
see! I don’t want to idealize the situation,
dearest, and I won’t conceal from you that in
time we shall be called on. But, oh, the fun
we shall have had in the interval! And then,
for the first time we shall be able to dictate our
own terms, one of which will be that no bores need
apply. Think of being cured of all one’s
chronic bores! We shall feel as jolly as people
do after a successful operation.’
“I don’t know why this
nonsense sticks in my mind when some of the graver
things we said are less distinct. Perhaps it’s
because of a certain iridescent quality of feeling
that made her gaiety seem like sunshine through a
“‘You ask me to think
of myself?’ she went on. ’But the
beauty of our being together will be that, for the
first time, I shall dare to! Now I have to think
of all the tedious trifles I can pack the days with,
because I’m afraid I’m afraid to
hear the voice of the real me, down below, in the
windowless underground hole where I keep her....
“’Remember again, please,
it’s not Woman, it’s Paulina Trant, I’m
talking of. The woman in the next house may have
all sorts of reasons honest reasons for
staying there. There may be some one there who
needs her badly: for whom the light would go out
if she went. Whereas to Philip I’ve been
simply well, what New York was before he
decided to travel: the most important thing in
life till he made up his mind to leave it; and now
merely the starting-place of several lines of steamers.
Oh, I didn’t have to love you to know that!
I only had to live with him.... If he
lost his eye-glasses he’d think it was the fault
of the eye-glasses; he’d really feel that the
eyeglasses had been careless. And he’d
be convinced that no others would suit him quite as
well. But at the optician’s he’d
probably be told that he needed something a little
different, and after that he’d feel that the
old eye-glasses had never suited him at all, and that
that was their fault too....’
“At one moment but
I don’t recall when I remember she
stood up with one of her quick movements, and came
toward me, holding out her arms. ’Oh, my
dear, I’m pleading for my life; do you suppose
I shall ever want for arguments?’ she cried....
“After that, for a bit, nothing
much remains with me except a sense of darkness and
of conflict. The one spot of daylight in my whirling
brain was the conviction that I couldn’t whatever
happened profit by the sudden impulse she
had acted on, and allow her to take, in a moment of
passion, a decision that was to shape her whole life.
I couldn’t so much as lift my little finger
to keep her with me then, unless I were prepared to
accept for her as well as for myself the full consequences
of the future she had planned for us....
the point: I wasn’t. I felt in her poor
fatuous idiot that I was! that lack of
objective imagination which had always seemed to me
to account, at least in part, for many of the so-called
heroic qualities in women. When their feelings
are involved they simply can’t look ahead.
Her unfaltering logic notwithstanding, I felt this
about Paulina as I listened. She had a specious
air of knowing where she was going, but she didn’t.
She seemed the genius of logic and understanding,
but the demon of illusion spoke through her lips....
“I said just now that I hadn’t,
at the outset, given my own side of the case a thought.
It would have been truer to say that I hadn’t
given it a separate thought. But I couldn’t
think of her without seeing myself as a factor the
chief factor in her problem, and without
recognizing that whatever the experiment made of me,
that it must fatally, in the end, make of her.
If I couldn’t carry the thing through she must
break down with me: we should have to throw our
separate selves into the melting-pot of this mad adventure,
and be ‘one’ in a terrible indissoluble
completeness of which marriage is only an imperfect
“There could be no better proof
of her extraordinary power over me, and of the way
she had managed to clear the air of sentimental illusion,
than the fact that I presently found myself putting
this before her with a merciless precision of touch.
“’If we love each other
enough to do a thing like this, we must love each
other enough to see just what it is we’re going
“So I invited her to the dissecting-table,
and I see now the fearless eye with which she approached
the cadaver. ’For that’s what it is,
you know,’ she flashed out at me, at the end
of my long demonstration. ’It’s a
dead body, like all the instances and examples and
hypothetical cases that ever were! What do you
expect to learn from thai? The first great anatomist
was the man who stuck his knife in a heart that was
beating; and the only way to find out what doing a
thing will be like is to do it!’
“She looked away from me suddenly,
as if she were fixing her eyes on some vision on the
outer rim of consciousness. ’No: there’s
one other way,’ she exclaimed; ’and that
is, not to do it! To abstain and refrain;
and then see what we become, or what we don’t
become, in the long run, and to draw our inferences.
That’s the game that almost everybody about
us is playing, I suppose; there’s hardly one
of the dull people one meets at dinner who hasn’t
had, just once, the chance of a berth on a ship that
was off for the Happy Isles, and hasn’t refused
it for fear of sticking on a sand-bank!
“‘I’m doing my best,
you know,’ she continued, ’to see the sequel
as you see it, as you believe it’s your duty
to me to see it. I know the instances you’re
thinking of: the listless couples wearing out
their lives in shabby watering places, and hanging
on the favour of hotel acquaintances; or the proud
quarrelling wretches shut up alone in a fine house
because they’re too good for the only society
they can get, and trying to cheat their boredom by
squabbling with their tradesmen and spying on their
servants. No doubt there are such cases; but I
don’t recognize either of us in those dismal
figures. Why, to do it would be to admit that
our life, yours and mine, is in the people about us
and not in ourselves; that we’re parasites and
not self-sustaining creatures; and that the lives
we’re leading now are so brilliant, full and
satisfying that what we should have to give up would
surpass even the blessedness of being together!’
“At that stage, I confess, the
solid ground of my resistance began to give way under
me. It was not that my convictions were shaken,
but that she had swept me into a world whose laws
were different, where one could reach out in directions
that the slave of gravity hasn’t pictured.
But at the same time my opposition hardened from reason
into instinct. I knew it was her voice, and not
her logic, that was unsettling me. I knew that
if she’d written out her thesis and sent it me
by post I should have made short work of it; and again
the part of me which I called by all the finest names:
my chivalry, my unselfishness, my superior masculine
experience, cried out with one voice: ’You
can’t let a woman use her graces to her own
undoing you can’t, for her own sake,
let her eyes convince you when her reasons don’t!’
“And then, abruptly, and for
the first time, a doubt entered me: a doubt of
her perfect moral honesty. I don’t know
how else to describe my feeling that she wasn’t
playing fair, that in coming to my house, in throwing
herself at my head (I called things by their names),
she had perhaps not so much obeyed an irresistible
impulse as deeply, deliberately reckoned on the dissolvent
effect of her generosity, her rashness and her beauty....
“From the moment that this mean
doubt raised its head in me I was once more the creature
of all the conventional scruples: I was repeating,
before the looking-glass of my self-consciousness,
all the stereotyped gestures of the ’man of
honour.’... Oh, the sorry figure I must
have cut! You’ll understand my dropping
the curtain on it as quickly as I can....
“Yet I remember, as I made my
point, being struck by its impressiveness. I
was suffering and enjoying my own suffering. I
told her that, whatever step we decided to take, I
owed it to her to insist on its being taken soberly,
“advisedly,” isn’t it? Oh, I
was thinking of the Marriage Service,’ she interposed
with a faint laugh.)
“ that if I accepted,
there, on the spot, her headlong beautiful gift of
herself, I should feel I had taken an unfair advantage
of her, an advantage which she would be justified
in reproaching me with afterward; that I was not afraid
to tell her this because she was intelligent enough
to know that my scruples were the surest proof of the
quality of my love; that I refused to owe my happiness
to an unconsidered impulse; that we must see each
other again, in her own house, in less agitating circumstances,
when she had had time to reflect on my words, to study
her heart and look into the future....
“The factitious exhilaration
produced by uttering these beautiful sentiments did
not last very long, as you may imagine. It fell,
little by little, under her quiet gaze, a gaze in
which there was neither contempt nor irony nor wounded
pride, but only a tender wistfulness of interrogation;
and I think the acutest point in my suffering was reached
when she said, as I ended: ‘Oh; yes, of
course I understand.’
“‘If only you hadn’t
come to me here!’ I blurted out in the torture
of my soul.
“She was on the threshold when
I said it, and she turned and laid her hand gently
on mine. ‘There was no other way,’
she said; and at the moment it seemed to me like some
hackneyed phrase in a novel that she had used without
any sense of its meaning.
“I don’t remember what
I answered or what more we either of us said.
At the end a desperate longing to take her in my arms
and keep her with me swept aside everything else,
and I went up to her, pleading, stammering, urging
I don’t know what.... But she held me back
with a quiet look, and went. I had ordered the
carriage, as she asked me to; and my last definite
recollection is of watching her drive off in the rain....
“I had her promise that she
would see me, two days later, at her house in town,
and that we should then have what I called ‘a
decisive talk’; but I don’t think that
even at the moment I was the dupe of my phrase.
I knew, and she knew, that the end had come....”