IN WHICH THE MIRROR IS HELD UP TO HUMAN NATURE
When, the next day, Nancy went to
pay her promised visit to Mrs. Eversley, the rectory
was steeped in the deep household peace of mid-afternoon.
Both Allan and Bernal had gone out soon after luncheon,
while Aunt Bell had withdrawn into the silence, there
to meditate the first letters of the alphabet of the
inexpressible, to hover about the pleasant line that
divides the normal from the subliminal.
Though bruised and torn, Nancy was
still grimly upright in the eye of duty, still a worthy
follower of orthodox ways. Buried in her own
eventful thoughts in that mind-world where love is
born and dies, where beliefs rise and perish but no
sound ever disturbs the stillness, she made her way
along the shaded side of the street toward the Wyeth
residence. Not until she had passed several doors
beyond the house did she recall her errand, remember
that her walk led to a goal, that she herself had
matters in hand other than thinking, thinking, thinking.
Retracing her steps, she rang the
bell and asked for Mrs. Eversley. Before the
servant could reply, Mrs. Wyeth rustled prettily down
the hall from the library at the back. She wore
a gown of primrose yellow. An unwonted animation
lighted the cold perfection of her face, like fire
seen through ice.
“So glad to see you!”
she said with graceful effusion “And
the Doctor? And that queer, fascinating, puzzling
brother of yours, how are they? So glad!
Yes, poor sister keeps to her room and you really mustn’t
linger with me an instant. I’m not even
going to ask you to sit down. Go right up.
Her door’s at the end of the hall, you know.
You’ll comfort the poor thing beautifully, you
She paused for breath, a vivid smile
taking the place of words. Mrs. Linford, rendered
oddly, almost obstinately reserved by this excessive
cordiality, was conscious of something unnatural in
that smile a too great intensity, like
the greenness of artificial palms.
“Thank you so much for coming,
you angel,” she went on playfully, “for
doubtless I shall not be visible when you go.
You see Donald’s off in the back of the house
re-arranging whole shelves of wretched, dusty books
and he fancies that he must have my suggestions.”
“The door at the end of the
hall!” she trilled in sweet but unmistakable
dismissal, one arm pointing gracefully aloft from its
enveloping foam of draperies, that same too-intense
smile upon the Greek face that even Nancy, in moments
of humane expansion, had admitted to be all but faultless.
And the latter, wondering not a little at the stiff
disposition to have her quickly away, which she had
somehow divined through all the gushing cordiality
of Mrs. Wyeth’s manner, went on upstairs.
As she rapped at Mrs. Eversley’s door, the bell
of the street door sounded in her ears.
Somewhat less than an hour after,
she came softly out again, opening and closing the
door noiselessly. So effectually had she soothed
the invalid, that the latter had fallen into a much-needed
sleep, and Nancy, eager to escape to that mind-world
where the happenings are so momentous and the silence
is so tense, had crept like a mouse from the room.
At the top of the stairs she paused
to gather up her skirts. Then her ears seemed
to catch the sound of voices on the floor below and
she remained motionless for a second, listening.
She had no desire to encounter for the second time
the torrent of Mrs. Wyeth’s manner, no wish
to meet unnecessarily one so disagreeably gifted in
the art of arousing in her an aversion of which she
was half ashamed.
No further sound greeted her straining
ears, and, deciding that the way was clear, she descended
the thickly carpeted stairs. Near the bottom,
opposite the open doors of the front drawing-room,
she paused to look into the big mirror on the opposite
wall. As she turned her head for a final touch
to the back of her veil, her eyes became alive to something
in that corner of the room now revealed to her by the
mirror something that held her frozen with
Though the room lay in the dusk of
drawn curtains, the gown of Mrs. Wyeth showed unmistakably Mrs.
Wyeth abandoned to the close, still embrace of an
Distressed at the awkwardness of her
position, Nancy hesitated, not knowing whether to
retreat or go forward. She had decided to go on,
observing nothing and of course she had
observed nothing save an agreeable incident in the
oft impugned domesticity of Mr. and Mrs. Wyeth when
a further revelation arrested her.
Even as she put her foot to the next
step, the face of Mrs. Wyeth was lifted and Mrs. Wyeth’s
big eyes fastened upon hers through the impartial
mirror. But their expression was not that of the
placid matron observed in a passage of conjugal tenderness.
Rather, it was one of acute dismay almost
fear. Poor Mrs. Weyth, who had just said, “Doubtless
I shall not be visible when you go!”
Even as she caught this look, Nancy
started down the remaining steps, her cheeks hot from
her own wretched awkwardness. She wanted to hurry to
run; she might still escape without having reason to
suspect that the obscured person was other than he
should be in the opinion of an exacting world.
Then, as her hand was at the door, while the silken
rustling of that hurried disentanglement was in her
ears, the voice of Wyeth sounded remotely from the
rear of the house. It seemed to come from far
back in the library, removed from them by the length
of the double drawing-rooms a comfortable,
smooth, high-pitched voice lazy, drawling
Linford! The name seemed to
sink into the stillness of the great house, leaving
no ripple behind. Before an answer to the call
could come, she had opened the great door and pulled
it sharply to behind her.
Outside, she lingered a moment as
if in serenely absent contemplation of the street,
with the air of one who sought to recall her next
engagement. Then, gathering up her skirts, she
went leisurely down the steps and passed unhurriedly
from the view of those dismayed eyes that she felt
upon her from the Wyeth window.
On the avenue she turned north and
was presently alone in a shaded aisle of the park that
park whose very trees and shrubs seem to have taken
on a hard, knowing look from having been so long made
the recipients of cynical confidences. They seemed
to understand perfectly what had happened, to echo
Wyeth’s high-pitched, friendly drawl, with an
added touch of mockery that was all their own “Oh Linford!”