MATILDA BREAKS IT GENTLY
At two o’clock of the fifth
night Matilda stole into Mrs. De Peyster with a face
that would have been an apt cover for the Book of
Lamentations. She opened her pages. That
day she had had a telegram that her sister Angelica the
really and truly Angelica, who really and truly lived
near Syracuse that Angelica was seriously
ill. She was sorry, but she felt that she must
“Of course, you must go, Matilda!”
exclaimed Mrs. De Peyster. Then the significance
to her of Matilda’s absence flashed upon her.
“But what will I do without any company at all?”
she cried. “And without any food?”
“I’ve seen to the food,
ma’am.” And Matilda explained that
during the evening, in preparation for her going,
she had been smuggling into the house from Sixth Avenue
delicatessen stores boxes of crackers, cold meats,
all varieties of canned goods “enough
to last you for a month, ma’am, and by that
time I’ll be back.”
Her explanation made, Matilda proceeded,
with extremest caution, to carry the provisions up
and stack them in one corner of Mrs. De Peyster’s
large, white-tiled bathroom. When the freightage
was over, the bathroom, with its supply of crackers
and zweibach, its bottles of olives and pickles, its
cold tongue, cold roast beef, cold chicken, its cans
of salmon, sardines, deviled ham, California peaches,
and condensed milk the bathroom was itself
a delicatessen shop that many an ambitious young German
would have regarded as a proud start in life.
“But what about food for the
others while you’re gone?” inquired Mrs.
De Peyster with a sudden hope that the others
would be starved into leaving.
“I’ve attended to them,
ma’am. I’ve bought a lot of things
that will keep. And then I told the tradespeople
that my niece was going to be here in my place, and
they are to deliver milk and other fresh things for
her every day in care of William.”
Matilda broke down at the last moment.
“If it wasn’t for you,
ma’am, I wouldn’t care if it was me that
was sick, instead of my sister, and if I never got
well. For with William
She could say no more, and departed adrip with tears.
Matilda’s nightly visits were
a loss; but Mrs. De Peyster had come to take her situation
more and more philosophically. The life was unspeakably
tedious, to be sure, and rather dangerous, too; but
she had accepted the predicament it had
to be endured and could not be helped; and such a
state of mind made her circumstances much easier to
support. All in all, there was no reason, though,
of course, it was most uncomfortable there
was no good reason, she kept assuring herself, why
she might not safely withstand the siege and come out
of the affair with none but her two confidants being
In this philosophic mood three more
days passed passed slowly and tediously,
to be sure, but yet they did get by. There were
relaxations, of course, things to occupy
her mind. She read a little each day; she listened
to Mary’s concert in the drawing-room below
her for Mary dared to continue playing despite
Matilda’s absence, since it was known that Matilda’s
niece was in the house, though Mary never showed her
face; she listened for snatches of the conversation
of Jack and Mary and Mr. Pyecroft when they passed
her door; at times she stood upon a chair at one of
her windows and cautiously peered through the little
panes in her shutters, like the lens of a camera,
down into the sunny green of Washington Square.
Also, of evenings, she found herself
straining to hear the voice of Judge Harvey.
When she surprised herself at this, she would flush
slightly, and again raise her book close to her shaded
Then, of course, her meals were a
diversion. She became quite expert with the can-opener
and the corkscrew. The empty cans, since there
was no way to get them out of her suite, she stacked
on the side of the bathroom opposite her provisions;
and daily the stack grew higher.
The nearest approach to an incident
during this solitary period came to pass on the third
night after Matilda’s departure. On that
evening Mrs. De Peyster became aware of a new voice
in the house a voice with a French accent.
It seemed familiar, yet for a time she was puzzled
as to the identity of the voice’s owner.
Then suddenly she knew: the man below was M.
Dubois, whom Olivetta, at her desire, had with unwilling
but obedient frostiness sent about his business.
She had known that Jack had taken up with M. Dubois
at the time the artist was doing her portrait; but
she had not known that Jack was so intimate as the
artist’s being admitted to Jack’s secret
seemed to indicate.
Within herself, some formless, incomprehensible
thing seemed about to happen. During these days
of solitude and this, too, even before
Matilda had gone a queer new something had
begun to stir within her, almost as though threatening
an eruption. It seemed a force, or spirit, rising
darkly from hitherto unknown spaces of her being.
It frightened her, with its amorphous, menacing strangeness.
She tried to keep it down. She tried to keep
her mental eyes away from it. And so, during
all these days, she had no idea what the fearsome thing
And then something did happen.
On the fifth day after Matilda’s departure,
and the eighteenth after the sailing of the Plutonia,
Mrs. De Peyster observed a sudden change in the atmosphere
of the house. Within an hour, from being filled
with honeymoon hilarity, the house became filled with
gloom. There was no more laughter no
more running up and down the stairs and through the
hallways the piano’s song was silent.
Mrs. De Peyster sought to gain some clue to this mysterious
change by listening for the talk of Mary and Jack and
Mr. Pyecroft as they passed her door. But whereas
the trio had heretofore spoken freely and often in
liveliest tones, they now were either wordless or
their voices were solemnly hushed.
What did it mean? Days passed the
solemn gloom continued unabated and this
question grew an ever more puzzling mystery to Mrs.
De Peyster. What could it possibly, possibly,
But there was no way in which she
could find out. Her only source of information
was Matilda, and Matilda was gone for a month; and
even if Matilda, by any chance, should know what was
the matter, she would not dare write; and even if
she wrote, the letter, of course, would never be delivered,
but would doubtless be forwarded to the pretended Mrs.
De Peyster in Europe. Mrs. De Peyster could only
wonder and read and gaze furtively
out of the little peep-holes of her prison and
eat and stack the empty cans yet higher
in her bathroom and wait, impatiently wait,
while the mystery grew daily and hourly in magnitude.
Among the details that added to the
mystery’s bulk was the sound of another new
but familiar voice the voice of the competent
Miss Gardner, her discharged secretary. And Miss
Gardner’s voice was not heard for an hour and
then heard no more but was heard day after
day, and her tone was the tone of a person who is acquainted
with the management of an establishment and who is
giving necessary orders. And another detail was
that William no longer kept to the stable, but seemed
now constantly busy within the house. And another
detail was that she became aware that Jack and Mary
no longer tried to keep their presence in the house
a secret, but went openly forth into the streets together.
And Judge Harvey every day came openly to see them.
But the most bewildering, and yet
most clarifying, detail of all was one she observed
on the twelfth day since Matilda’s going, the
twenty-fifth of her own official absence.
On that afternoon she was standing
on a chair entertaining herself by gazing through
one of her shutters, when she saw Jack crossing Washington
Square. He was walking very soberly, and about
the left sleeve of a quiet gray summer suit was a
band of crape.
Mrs. De Peyster stepped down from
her chair. The mystery was lifting. Somebody
was dead! But who? Who?
Early the next morning, while the
inmates of the house were occupied in the serving
or the eating of breakfast, Mrs. De Peyster was startled
by a soft knocking at her door. But instantly
she was reassured by the tremulous accents without.
“It’s me, ma’am, Matilda.
Let me in quick!”
The next instant the door opened and
Matilda half staggered, half fell, into the room.
But such a Matilda! Shivering all over, eyes
“What is it?” cried Mrs.
De Peyster, seizing her housekeeper’s arm.
“Oh, ma ma ma’am,”
chattered Matilda. “It’s it’s
“But what is it?” demanded
Mrs. De Peyster, beginning to tremble with an unknown
“Oh, it’s it’s
awful! I couldn’t get you word before for
I didn’t dare write, and my sister wasn’t
well enough for me to leave her till last night.”
Mrs. De Peyster shook the shaking Matilda.
“Will you please tell me what’s happened!”
“Yes, ma ma’am.
Here’s a copy of the first paper that had anything
about it. The paper’s over a week old.
I brought it along to to break the thing
to you gently.”
Mrs. De Peyster seized the newspaper. In the center of
its first page was a reproduction of M. Duboiss painting of herself, and across
the papers top ran the giant headline:
MRS. DE PEYSTER FOUND
DEAD IN THE SEINE
Face Disfigured by Water, but Friends
in Paris Identify Social Leader by Clothes upon
Mrs. De Peyster sank without a word
into a chair, and her face duplicated the ashen hue
Matilda likewise collapsed into a
chair. “Oh, isn’t it awful, ma’am,”
“So so it’s
I that’s that’s dead!”
mumbled Mrs. De Peyster.
“Yes, ma’am. But
that isn’t all. I I thought I’d
break it to you gently. That was over a week
ago. Since then
“You mean,” breathed the
marble lips of Mrs. De Peyster, “that there’s
“Yes, ma’am. Oh,
the papers have been full of it. It’s been
a tremendous sensation!”
“Oh!” gasped Mrs. De Peyster.
“And Mr. Jack, since you died
without a will, is your heir. And, since he is
now the head of the De Peyster family, the first thing
he did on hearing the news was to arrange by cable
to have your body sent here.”
Mrs. De Peyster, as though galvanized,
half rose from her chair.
“You mean my body is coming
“I said I was trying to break
it to you gently,” moaned Matilda. “It’s it’s
already here. The ship that brought it is now
docking. Your funeral
“It takes place in the drawing-room,
this morning. Oh, isn’t it awful!
But, perhaps, ma’am, if you could see what beautiful
flowers your friends have sent
But Mrs. De Peyster had very softly
sunk back into her chair.