BEHIND THE BLINDS
It was the next day.
Olivetta had mailed a few hurried
notes to friends about her sudden departure for a
complete rest in the utter seclusion of an unnamed
spot in Maine Jack De Peyster had moved
out the front door way and the windows
had been boarded up the house wore the proper
countenance of respectable desertion and
up in her sitting-room, lighted only by little diamond
panes in her thick shutters, sat Mrs. De Peyster reading
a newspaper. From this she gleaned that Mrs. De
Peyster had sailed that morning on the Plutonia, having
gone on board late the night before. Also she
learned that Mrs. De Peyster would not be back as
was her custom for the Newport season, but was going
to make an extended motor trip off the main-traveled
roads, perhaps penetrating as far as the beautiful
but rarely visited Balkan States.
Mrs. De Peyster was well satisfied
as she rested at ease in her favorite chair.
It would not be too much to say that she was very
proud; for hers was certainly a happy plan, a plan
few intellects could have evolved. And thus far
it had worked to perfection, and there was no doubt
but that it would work so to the end; for, although
Olivetta, to be sure, was rather careless, the instructions
given her, the arrangements made in her behalf, were
so admirable and complete that any miscarriage could
not possibly have Olivetta for its source.
Also Mrs. De Peyster was at heart
honestly contented. She had spoken truly when
she had told Olivetta that Europe was old to her and
had become merely a social duty. Of that fatiguing
obligation to her position she was glad to be relieved.
The past season, with its struggle with Mrs. Allistair
and that Duke de Crecy affair, had been a trying one,
and she was tired. By the present arrangement,
which she regarded as nothing short of an inspiration,
her social prestige was secure, her financial difficulties
were taken care of, and she herself would have the
desired opportunity for a sorely needed rest.
She would have her books, she would have the society
of Matilda (for Matilda had in the long years grown
to be more than a mere servant she was a
companion, a confidant) her creature comforts
would be well seen to by Matilda, she would
have the whole house to roam over at her will during
the day, and every night she would have the pleasant
relaxation of a drive behind the peerless William.
It seemed to her, as she looked forward
to it, the most desirable of vacations.
Her mind was quite at ease concerning
Jack. Severity, as she had said, had been necessary.
A bit of privation would do him good, would bring
him to his senses; she had no slightest doubt of that.
And when they met again, he would be in a mood to
fit into the place she had carefully prepared for
him. Of course, she would let him off in the
matter of Ethel Quintard, if he really didn’t
care for Ethel. There were other nice girls of
good families. She wouldn’t be hard on him.
Also she felt easier in her mind in
the matter of the quarrel with Judge Harvey.
The sting and humiliation of his words she had now
cast out of her system; she was really superior to
such criticism. There remained only Judge Harvey’s
offense. Certainly he had been inexcusably outspoken
and officious. Her resentment had settled down
into a calm, implacable, changeless attitude.
She would be polite to him, since they must continue
to meet in the future. But she would keep him
coldly at a distance. She would never unbend.
She would never forgive.
Next to the column recording her departure
she had noted a few paragraphs giving the progress
of the police in their search for James Preston, the
forger of the Jefferson letters. What a fool Judge
Harvey had been in that affair!...
And yet, in a way, she was sorry.
She had liked Judge Harvey; had liked him very much.
In fact, there had been relaxed moods in which she
had dallied pleasantly with the thought of marrying
him. She might, indeed, have married him already
had it not been for the obvious social descent.
Also, she thought for a moment of
Miss Gardner. In this matter she had likewise
been quite right. However, aside from the deception
Miss Gardner had practiced, she had seemed a nice
girl; and Mrs. De Peyster was lenient enough to feel
a very honest wish that the husband, who had so rapidly
disappeared, was a decent sort of man. Perhaps
later she might favor them with some trifling present.
She had a light luncheon, for it was
her custom to eat but little at midday, and spent
part of the afternoon with a comfortable sense of
improvement over one of John Fiske’s volumes
of colonial history; popular novels she abhorred as
frivolities beneath her. And then she took upon
her lap a large volume, weighing perhaps a dozen pounds,
entitled “Historic Families in America,”
in which first place was given to an account of the
glories of the De Peysters. Though premiership
was no better than the family’s due, she was
secretly pleased with her forebears’ place in
the volume in a sublimated way it was the
equivalent of going in first to dinner among distinguished
guests. She liked frequently to glance leisurely
through the pages, tasting here and there; and now,
as she did whenever she read the familiar text, she
lingered over certain passages of the deferential
genealogist whom, hardly conscious of the act of imagination, she could almost
see in tight satin breeches, postured on his knees, holding out these tributes
to her on a golden salver:
“In 1148 Archambaud de Paster”
... “From an early period of the fourteenth
century the De Peysters were among the richest and
most influential of the patrician families of Ghent”
... “The exact genealogical connection
between the De Peysters of the fourteenth century
and the above-noted sixteenth and seventeenth century
ancestors of the American De Peysters has not been
traced, as the work of translating and analyzing the
records of the intervening period is still incompleted.
Sufficient has been ascertained, however, to leave
no doubt of the continual progress of the family in
possessions, social dignity, and public consequence”
... “The first man in New Amsterdam who
had a family carriage” ... “The chief
people of the city and province, and stately visitors
from the Old World, were often grouped together under
Such august and ample phrases could
but nourish and exalt her sense of worthiness; could
but add to her growing sense of satisfaction.
She closed the ceremonious volume, and her eyes, lifting,
rested for a gratifying moment on a framed steel engraving
from the painting of Abraham De Peyster, Mayor of
New York from 1691 to 1693. The picture pleased
her, with its aristocratically hooked nose, its full
wig, its smile of amiable condescension. But
fortunately she had forgotten, or perhaps preferred
not to learn, that when this ancestor was New York’s
foremost figure, the city had had within its domain
somewhat less than one one-thousandth of its present
And then her eyes wandered to the
three-quarters portrait of herself by M. Dubois, hung
temporarily in this room. Yes, it was good.
M. Dubois had caught the peculiar De Peyster quality.
One looked at it and instinctively thought of generations
processioning back into a beginningless past.
“In 1148 Archambaud de Paster” ...
Toward five o’clock she rose
and, a stately figure in lavender dressing-gown, strolled
through the velvet hush of the great darkened house:
over foot-flattering rugs, through silken hangings
that rustled discreet homage at her passing, by dark
tapestries lit with threads of gold, among shadowy
bronzes and family portraits and pier-glasses and
glinting cut-glass candlesticks and chandeliers.
So exaltative yet so soothing, this opulent silence,
this spacious solitude!
And for an almost perfect hour she
sat in her rear drawing-room, lightly, ever so cautiously,
touching bits of Grieg and Tschaikowsky out of
her Steinway Grand just dim whispers of
music that did not breathe beyond the door. She
played well, for she loved the piano and had a real
gift for instrumentation. Often when she played
for her friends, she had to hold herself in consciously,
had to play below her ability; for to have allowed
herself to play her best might have been to suggest
that she was striving to be as good as a professional,
and that would have caused comment and been in bad
Her piano was going to be another comfort to her.
She was complacent even
happy even exultant. It was all so
restful. And before her were three months three
beautiful months of this calm, this rest,
At seven o’clock Matilda announced
that her dinner was ready, and she swept back into
the great dining-room, high-ceilinged, surfaced completely
with old paneling of Flemish oak. The room was
dimly illuminated by a single shaded electric bulb.
The other lighting had all been switched off; during
the summer the illumination would, of course, have
to be unsuspiciously meager. To a mortal of a
less exalted sphere the repast would have seemed a
banquet. Mrs. De Peyster, though an ascetic at
noon, was something of an epicure at night; she liked
a comfortable quantity, and that of many varieties,
and these of the best. Under the ministrations
of Matilda she pleasurably disposed of clear soup,
whitebait, a pair of squabs on toast with asparagus
tips, and an alligator pear salad.
“Really, Matilda,” she
remarked with benign approval as she leisurely began
on her iced strawberries, “I had quite forgotten
that you were such a wonderful cook. Most excellent!”
“Thank you, ma’am,”
In her enjoyment Mrs. De Peyster had not noticed that
throughout the meal her faithful attendant had worn
a somewhat troubled look.
“Just give me food up to this
standard, and I shall be most happy, my dear.
My summer may grow somewhat tedious toward the end;
I shall count a great deal on good meals to keep it
“Of course of course ”
and then a salad plate slipped from Matilda’s
hands. “Oh, ma’am, I I
“What is the matter, Matilda?”
demanded Mrs. De Peyster, a trifle stern at this ineptness.
Nothing at all. I’ll see that you get it,
b but I don’t know how I’ll
“Don’t know how?”
“You see, ma’am, the butcher,
the grocer, everybody thinks I’m the only person
in the house. We’ve always traded with these
same people, and I’ve stayed here alone now
for fifteen summers, and they know I eat very little
and care only for plain food. And so to-day when
I ordered all these things, they they grinned
at me. And the butcher said, ‘Living pretty
high, while the missus is away.’”
Mrs. De Peyster had dropped her dessert
spoon, and was staring at her confederate. “I
never thought about food!” she exclaimed in dismay.
“Nor did I, ma’am, till
the butcher spoke. And, besides, William received
the goods, and and he smiled at me and said
“It does look suspicious!” interrupted
Mrs. De Peyster.
“I think it does, ma’am.”
“If you keep on having so much food sent in
“And such high quality, ma’am.”
“Some one may suspect become
curious and might find out might
“That’s what I was thinking of, ma’am.”
Mrs. De Peyster had risen.
“Matilda, we cannot run that risk!”
“Perhaps perhaps, ma’am, we’d
better change our butcher and grocer.”
“That would do no good, for
the new ones would find out that there was supposed
to be only a single person here, No, such ordering
has got to be stopped!”
“If you can stand it, I think
it would be safer, ma’am. But what will
There was a brief silence. Mrs. De Peyster’s
air grew almost tragic.
“Matilda, do you realize that
you and I have got to live for the summer, for the
entire summer, upon the amount you have been accustomed
to ordering for yourself!”
“It looks that way, ma’am.”
The epicure in Mrs. De Peyster spoke
out in a voice of even deeper poignancy.
“Two persons do you
realize that, Matilda! two adult persons
will have to live for three months upon the rations
of one person!”
“And what’s worse,”
added Matilda, “as I told you, I don’t
eat much. I’ve usually had just a little
tea and now and then a chop.”
“A little tea and a chop!”
Mrs. De Peyster looked as though she were going to
faint. “A little tea and a chop!...
For three months!... Matilda!”
It seemed plain, however, that this
was the only way out. But standing over the remains
of the last genuine meal she expected to taste until
the summer’s end, her brow began slowly to clear.
“Matilda,” she said after
a moment, in a rebuking tone, “I’m surprised
you did not see the solution to this!”
“Is there one, ma’am? What is it?”
“You are so fixed in the habit
of sending your orders to the tradespeople that your
mind cannot conceive of any other procedure.
You are to go out in person, at night, if you like,
to shops where you are not known, pay cash for whatever
you want, and carry your purchases home with you.
It is really extremely simple.”
“Why, of course, ma’am,” meekly
With the specter of famine thus banished,
confidence, good humor, and the luxurious expectancy
of a reposeful summer returned to Mrs. De Peyster.
Soon she was being further diverted by the mild excitement
of being dressed in one of Matilda’s sober housekeeper
gowns, the twin of the dress Matilda now wore, for
her evening ride with William. They were fortunately
of nearly the same figure, though, of course, there
was a universe of difference in how those two figures
Matilda, the competent, skilled Matilda,
was inexplicably incompetent at this function.
So clumsy, so nervous was she, that Mrs. De Peyster
was moved to ask with a little irritation what was
the matter. Matilda hastily assured her mistress
that there was nothing nothing at all; and
buttoned a few more buttonholes over the wrong buttons.
As she followed the fully garbed and thickly veiled
Mrs. De Peyster, now looking the most stately of stately
housekeepers, down the stairway, her nervousness increased.
“I wish I wish ”
she began at the door. “What is the
matter with you, Matilda?” demanded Mrs. De
“I I rather wish you you
wouldn’t go out, ma’am.”
“You are afraid I may be recognized?”
“No, I wasn’t thinking of that, ma’am.
“What else is there to be afraid of?”
“Nothing, ma’am, nothing. But I wish
“I am going, Matilda; we will
not discuss it,” said Mrs. De Peyster, in a
peremptory tone intended to silence Matilda. “You
may first clear away the dishes,” she ordered.
“But I believe I left a squab and some asparagus.
You might put them, and any other little thing you
have, on the dining-room table; I shall probably be
hungry on my return from my drive. And then put
my rooms in order. I believe the tea-tray is still
in my sitting-room; don’t forget to bring it
But but ” “Matilda” very
severely “are you going to do as
I bid you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” very
humbly. “But excuse me for presuming to
advise you, ma’am, but if you want to pass for
me you must remember to be very humble and
“I believe I know how to play
my part,” Mrs. De Peyster interrupted with dignity.
Then she softened; it was her instinct to be thoughtful
of those who served her. “We shall both
try to get to bed early, my dear. You especially
need sleep after last night’s strain in getting
Olivetta away. We shall have a long, restful night.”
Mrs. De Peyster opened the door, unlocked
the door in the boarding and locked it behind her,
and stepped into her brougham, which had been ordered
and was waiting at the curb. “Up Fifth Avenue
and into the Park, William,” she said.
She settled back into the courtly embrace of the cushions;
she breathed deep of the freedom of the soft May night.
The carriage turned northward into the Avenue.
Rolling along in such soothing ease a crowd
streaming on either side of her yet such
solitude so entirely unknown.
Restful, yes. And spiced with
just the right pinch of mild adventure.
It really could not possibly have been better.