Set Not Thy Foot On Graves by Julian Hawthorne (short story)

Set Not Thy Foot On Graves

by Julian Hawthorne

New York, April 29th.–Last night I came upon this
passage in my old author: “Friend, take it sadly home to thee–Age and
Youthe are strangers still. Youthe, being ignorant of the wisdome of
Age, which is Experience, but wise with its own wisdome, which is of
the unshackeled Soule, or Intuition, is great in Enterprise, but slack
in Achievement. Holding itself equal to all attempts and conditions,
and to be heir, not of its own spanne of yeares and compasse of
Faculties only, but of all time and all Human Nature–such, I saye,
being its illusion (if, indeede, it be illusion, and not in some sorte
a Truth), it still underrateth the value of Opportunitie, and, in the
vain beleefe that the City of its Expectation is paved with Golde and
walled with Precious Stones, letteth slip betwixt its fingers those
diamondes and treasures which ironical Fate offereth it…. But see
nowe what the case is when this youthe becometh in yeares. For nowe he
can nowise understand what defecte of Judgmente (or effecte of
insanitie rather) did leade him so to despise and, as it were, reject
those Giftes and golden chaunces which come but once to mortal men.
Experience (that saturnine Pedagogue) hath taught him what manner of
man he is, and that, farre from enjoying that Deceptive Seeminge or
mirage of Freedome which would persuade him that he may run hither and
thither as the whim prompteth over the face of the Earthe–yea, take
the wings of the morninge and winnowe his aerie way to the Pleiadies–
he must e’en plod heavilie and with paine along that single and narrowe
Path whereto the limitations of his personal nature and profession
confine him–happy if he arrive with muche diligence and faire credit
at the ende thereof, and falle not ignobly by the way. Neverthelesse–
for so great is the infatuation of man, who, although he acquireth all
other knowledge, yet arriveth not at the knowledge of Himself–if to
the Sage of Experience he proffered once again the gauds and prizes of
youthe, which he hath ever since regretted and longed for–what doeth
he in his wisdome? Verilie, so longe as the matter remaineth _in
nubibis_, as the Latins say, or in the Region of the Imagination, as
oure speeche hath it, he will beleeve, yea, take his oathe, that he
still is master of all those capacities and energies whiche, in his
youthe, would have prompted and enabled him to profit by this desired
occurrence. Yet shall it appeare (if the thinge be brought still
further to the teste, and, from an Imagination or Dreame, become an
actual Realitie), that he will shrinke from and decline that which he
did erste so ardently sigh for and covet. And the reason of this is as
follows, to-wit: That Habit or Custome hath brought him more to love
and affect those very ways and conditions of life, yea, those
inconveniences and deficiencies which he useth to deplore and abhorre,
than that Crown of Golde or Jewel of Happiness whose withholding he
hath all his life lamented. Hence we may learne, that what is past, is
dead, and that though thoughts be free, nature is ever captive, and
loveth her chaine.”

This is too lugubrious and cynical not to have some truth in it; but I
am unwilling to believe that more than half of it is true. The author
himself was evidently an old man, and therefore a prejudiced judge; and
he did not make allowances for the range and variety of temperament.
Age is not a matter of years, and scarcely of experience. The only
really old persons are the selfish ones. The man whose thoughts,
actions, and affections center upon himself, soon acquires a fixity and
crustiness which (if to be old is to be “strange to youth”) is old as
nothing else is. But the man who makes the welfare and happiness of
others his happiness, is as young at threescore as he was at twenty,
and perhaps even younger, for he has had no time to grow old.

_April 30th_.–The Courtneys are in town! This is, I believe, her
first visit to America since he married her. At all events, I have not
seen or heard of her in all these seven years. I wonder … I was going
to write, I wonder whether she remembers me. Of course she remembers
me, in a sort of way. I am tied up somewhere among her bundle of
recollections, and occasionally, in an idle moment, her eye falls upon
me, and moves her, perhaps, to smile or to sigh. For my own part, in
thinking over our old days, I find I forget her less than I had
supposed. Probably she has been more or less consciously in my mind
throughout. In the same way, one has always latent within him the
knowledge that he must die; but it does not follow that he is
continually musing on the thought of death. As with death, so with this
old love of mine. What a difference, if we had married! She was a very
lovely girl–at least, I thought so then. Very likely I should not
think her so now. My taste and knowledge have developed; a different
order of things interests me. It may not be an altogether pleasant
thing to confess; but, knowing myself as I now do, I have often thanked
my stars that I am a bachelor.

Doubtless she is even more changed than I am. A woman changes more than
a man in seven years, and a married woman especially must change a
great deal from twenty-two to twenty-nine. Think of Ethel Leigh being
in her thirtieth year! and the mother of four or five children,
perhaps. Well, for the matter of that, think of the romantic and
ambitious young Claude Campbell being an old bachelor of forty! I have
married Art instead of Ethel, and she, instead of being Mrs. Campbell,
is Mrs. Courtney.

It was a surprising thing–her marrying him so suddenly. But,
appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I have never quite made up
my mind that Ethel was really fickle. She did it out of pique, or
pride, or impulse, or whatever it is that sways women in such cases.
She was angry, or indignant–how like fire and ice at once she was when
she was angry!–and she was resolved to show me that she could do
without me. She would not listen to my explanations; and I was always
awkward and stiff about making explanations. Besides, it was not an
easy matter to explain, especially to a girl like her. With a married
woman or a widow it would have been a simple thing enough. But Ethel
Leigh, the minister’s daughter–innocent, ignorant, passionate–she would
tolerate nothing short of a public disavowal and discontinuance of my
relations with Mrs. Murray, and that, of course, I could not consent to,
though heaven knows (and so must Ethel, by this time) that Mrs. Murray was
nothing to me save as she was the wife of my friend, during whose
enforced absence I was bound to look after her, to some extent. It was
not my fault that poor Mrs. Murray was a fool. But such are the
trumpery seeds from which tragedies grow. Not that ours was a tragedy,
exactly: Ethel married her English admirer, and I became a somewhat
distinguished artist, that is all. I wonder whether she has been happy!
Likely enough; she was born to be wealthy; Englishmen make good
husbands sometimes, and her London life must have been a brilliant
one…. I have been looking at my old photograph of her–the one she
gave me the morning after we were engaged. Tall, slender, dark, with
level brows, and the bearing of a Diana. She certainly was handsome,
and I shall not run the risk of spoiling this fine memory by calling on
her. Even if she have not deteriorated, she can scarcely have improved.
Nay, even were she the same now as then, I should not find her so,
because of the change in myself. Why should I blink the truth?
Experience, culture, and the sober second thought of middle age have
carried me far beyond the point where I could any longer be in sympathy
with this crude, thin-skinned, impulsive girl. And then–four or five
children! Decidedly, I will give her a wide berth. And Courtney
himself, with his big beard, small brain, and obtrusive laugh! I shall
step across to California for a few months.

_May 1st_.–Called this morning on Ethel Leigh–Mrs. Deighton
Courtney, that is to say. She is not so much changed, but she has
certainly improved. When I say she has not changed much, I refer to her
physical appearance. Her features are scarcely altered; her figure is a
little fuller and more compact; in her bearing there is a certain quiet
composure and self-possession–the air of a woman who has seen the
world, has received admiration, and is familiar with the graceful
little arts of social intercourse. In short, she has acquired a high
external polish; and that is precisely what she most needed. Evidently,
too, there is an increased mental refinement corresponding to the
outward manner. She has mellowed, sweetened–whether deepened or not I
should hesitate to affirm. But I am quite sure that I find her more
charming to talk with, more supple in intercourse, more fascinating, in
a word, than formerly. We chatted discursively and rather volubly for
more than an hour; yet we did not touch on anything very serious or
profound. They are staying at the Brevoort House. Courtney himself, by-
the-by, is still in Boston (they landed there), where business will
detain him a few days. Ethel goes on a house-hunting expedition to-
morrow, and I am going with her; for New York has altered out of her
recollection during these seven years. They are to remain here three
years, perhaps longer. Courtney is to establish and oversee an American
branch of his English business.

They have only one child–a pretty little thing: Susie and I became
great friends.

Mrs. Courtney opened the door of the private sitting-room in which I
was awaiting her, and came in–beautifully! She has learned how to do
that since I knew her. My own long residence in Paris has made me more
critical than I used to be in such matters; but I do not remember
having met any woman in society with manners more nearly perfect than
Mrs. Courtney’s. Ethel Leigh used to be, upon occasion, painfully
abrupt and disconcerting; and her movements and attitudes, though there
was abundant native grace in them, were often careless and
unconventional. Of course, I do not forget that niceties of deportment,
without sound qualities of mind and heart to back them, are of trifling
value; but the two kinds of attraction are by no means incompatible
with each other. Mrs. Courtney smiles often. Ethel Leigh used to smile
rarely, although, when the smile did come, it was irresistibly winning;
there was in it exquisite significance and tenderness. It is a
beautiful smile still, but that charm of rarity (if it be a charm) is
lacking. It is a conventional smile more than a spontaneous or a happy
one; indeed, it led me to surmise that she had perhaps not been very
happy since we last met, and had learned to use this smile as a sort of
veil. Not that I suppose for a moment that Courtney has ill-treated
her. I never could see anything in the man beyond a superficial
comeliness, a talent for business, and an affable temper; but ho was
not in any sense a bad fellow. Besides, he was over head and ears in
love with her; and Ethel would be sure to have the upper hand of a
nature like his. No, her unhappiness, if she be unhappy, would be due
to no such cause, she and her husband are no doubt on good terms with
each other. But–suppose she has discovered that he fell short of what
she demanded in a husband; that she overmatched him; that, in order to
make their life smooth, she must descend to him? I imagine it may be
something of that kind. Poor Mrs. Courtney!

She addressed me as “Mr. Campbell,” and I dare say she was right. Women
best know how to meet these situations. To have called me “Claude”
would have placed us in a false position, by ignoring the changes that
have taken place. It is wise to respect these barriers; they are
conventional, but, rightly considered, they are more of an assistance
than of an obstacle to freedom of intercourse. I asked her how she
liked England. She smiled and said, “It was my business to like
England; still, I am glad to see America once more.”

“You will entertain a great deal, I presume–that sort of thing?”

“We shall hope to make friends with people–and to meet old friends.
It is such a pleasant surprise to find you here. I heard you were
settled in Paris.”

“So I was, for several years; the Parisians said nice things about my
pictures. But one may weary even of Paris. I returned here two years
ago, and am now as much of a fixture in New York as if I’d never left
it.”

“But not a permanent fixture. Shall we never see you in London?”

“My present probabilities lie rather in the direction of California. I
want to make some studies of the scenery and the atmosphere. Besides, I
am getting too old to think of another European residence.”

“No one gets old after thirty–especially no bachelor!” she answered,
with a smile. “But if you were ever to feel old, the society of London
would rejuvenate you.”

“It has certainly done you no harm. But you have the happiness to be
married.”

She looked at me pleasantly and said, “Yes, I make a good
Englishwoman.” That sounded like an evasion, but the expression of her
face was not evasive. In the old days she would probably have flushed
up and said something cutting.

“You must see my little girl,” she said, after a while.

The child was called, and presently came in. She resembles her mother,
and has a vivacity scarcely characteristic of English children. I am
not constitutionally a worshiper of children, but I liked Susie. She
put her arms round her mother’s arm, and gazed at me with wide-eyed
scrutiny.”

“This is Mr. Campbell,” said mamma.

“My name is Susan Courtney,” said the little thing. “We are going to
stay in New York three years. Hot here–this is only an hotel–we are
going to have a house. How do you do? This is my dolly.”

I saluted dolly, and thereby inspired its parent with confidence: she
put her hand in mine, and gave me her smooth little cheek to kiss. “You
are not like papa,” she then observed.

I smiled conciliatingly, being uncertain whether it were prudent to
follow this lead; but Mrs. Courtney asked, “In what way different,
dear?”

“Papa has a beard,” replied Susie.

The incident rather struck me; it seemed to indicate that Mrs. Courtney
was under no apprehension that the child would say anything
embarrassing about the father. Having learned so much, I ventured
farther.

“Do you love papa or mamma best?” I inquired.

“I am with mamma most,” she answered, after meditation, “but when papa
comes, I like him.”

This was non-committal. She continued, “Papa is coming here day after
to-morrow. To-morrow, mamma and I are going to find a house.”

“Your husband leaves all that to you?” I said, turning to Mrs.
Courtney.

“Mr. Courtney never knows or cares what sort of a place he lives in. It
took me some little time to get used to that. I wanted everything to be
just in a certain way. They used to laugh at me, and say I was more
English than he.”

“Now that you are both here, you must both be American.”

“He doesn’t enjoy America much. Of course, it is very different from
London. An Englishman can not be expected to care for American ways and
American quickness, and–”

“American people?” I put in, laughingly.

“Don’t undress dolly here,” she said to Susie. “It isn’t time yet to
put her to bed, and she might catch cold.”

Was this another evasion? The serene face betrayed nothing, but she
had left unanswered the question that aimed at discovering how she and
her husband stood toward each other. After all, however, no answer
could have told me more than her no answer did–supposing it to have
been intentional. I soon afterward took my leave, after having arranged
to call to-morrow and accompany her and Susie on their house-hunting
expedition. Upon the whole, I don’t think I am sorry to have renewed my
acquaintance with her. She is more delightful–as an acquaintance–than
when I knew her formerly. Should I have fallen in love with her had I
met her for the first time as she is now? Yes, and no! In the old days
there was something about her that commanded me–that fascinated my
youthful imagination. Perhaps it was only the freshness, the ignorance,
the timidity of young maidenhood–that mystery of possibilities of a
nature that has not yet met the world and received its impress for good
or evil. It is this which captivates in youth; and this, of course,
Mrs. Courtney has lost. But every quality that might captivate mature
manhood is hers, and, were I likely to think of marriage now, and were
she marriageable, she is the type of woman I would choose. Yet I do not
quite relish the perception that my present feminine ideal (whether it
be lower or higher) is not the former one. But,–frankly, would I marry
her if I could? I hardly know: I have got out of the habit of regarding
marriage as among my possibilities; many avenues of happiness that once
were open to me are now closed against me. Put it, that I have lost a
faculty–that I am now able to enjoy only in imagination a phase of
existence that, formerly, I could have enjoyed in fact. This bit of
self-analysis may be erroneous; but I would not like to run the risk of
proving it so! Am I not well enough off as I am? My health is fair, my
mind active, my reputation secure, my finances prosperous. The things
that I can dream must surely be better than anything that could happen.
I can picture, for example, a state of matrimonial felicity which no
marriage of mine could realize. Besides, I can, whenever I choose, see
Mrs. Courtney herself, talk with her, and enjoy her as a reasonable and
congenial friend, apart from the danger and disappointment that might
result from a closer connection. I think I have chosen the wiser part,
or, rather, the wiser part has been thrust upon me. That I shall never
be wildly happy is, at least, security that I shall never be profoundly
miserable. I shall simply be comfortable. Is this sour grapes? Am I, if not
counting, then discounting my eggs before they are hatched? To such
questions a practical–a materialized–answer would be the only
conclusive one. Were Mrs. Courtney ready to drop into my mouth, I
should either open my mouth, or else I should shut it, and either act
would be conclusive. But, so far from being ready to drop into my mouth,
she is immovably and (to all appearances) contentedly fixed where she
is. I suppose I am insinuating that appearances are deceptive; that she
may be unhappy with her husband, and desire to leave him. Well, there
is no technical evidence in support of such an hypothesis; but, again, in
a matter of this kind, it is not so much the technical as the indirect
evidence that tells–the cadences of the voice, the breathing, the
silences, the atmosphere. There is no denying that I did somehow
acquire a vague impression that Courtney is not so large a figure in his
wife’s eyes as he might be. I may have been biased by my previous
conception of his character, or I may have misinterpreted the impalpable,
indescribable signs that I remarked in her. But, once more, how do I
know that her not caring for him would postulate her caring for me? Why
should she care for either of us? Our old romance is to her as the memory
of something read in a book, and it is powerless to make her heart beat
one throb the faster. Were Courtney to die to-morrow, would his widow
expect me to marry her? Not she! She would settle down here quietly,
educate her daughter, and think better of her departed husband with
every year that passed, and less of repeating the experiment that made
her his! I may be prone to romantic and elaborate speculations, but I am
not exactly a fool. I do not delude myself with the idea that Mrs. Courtney
is, at this moment, following my example by recording her impressions of
me at her own writing-desk, and asking herself whether–if such and
such a thing were to happen–such another would be apt to follow.
No; she has put Susie to bed, and is by this time asleep herself, after
having read through the “Post,” or “Bazar,” or the last new novel, as
her predilection may be. It is after midnight; since she has not followed
my example, I will follow hers; it is much the more sensible of the two.

_May 2d_.–What a woman she is! and, in a different sense, what a
man I am! How little does a man know or suspect himself until he is
brought to the proof! How serenely and securely I philosophized and
laid down the law yesterday! and to-day, how strange to contrast the
event with my prognostication of it! And yet, again, how little has
happened that might not be told in such a way as to appear nothing! It
was the latent meaning, the spirit, the touch of look and tone. Her
husband may have reached New York by this time; they may be together at
this moment; he will find no perceptible change in her–perceptible to
him! He will be told that I have been her escort during the day, and
that I was polite and serviceable, and that a house has been selected.
What more is there to tell? Nothing–that he could hear or understand!
and yet–everything! He will say, “Yes, I recollect Campbell; nice
fellow; have him to dine with us one of these days.” But I shall never
sit at their table; I shall never see her again; I can not! I shall
start for California next week. Meanwhile I will write down the history
of one day, for it is well to have these things set visibly before one
–to grasp the nettle, as it were. Nothing is so formidable as it
appears when we shrink from defining it to ourselves.

I drove to the hotel in my brougham at eleven o’clock, as we had
previously arranged. She was ready and waiting for me, and little Susie
was with her. Ethel was charmingly dressed, and there was a soft look
in her eyes as she turned them on me–a look that seemed to say, “I
remember the past; it is pleasant to see you, so pleasant as to be
sad!” Susie came to me as if I were an old friend, and I lifted the
child from the floor and kissed her twice.

“Why did you give me two kisses?” she demanded, as I put her down.
“Papa always gives me only one kiss.”

“Papa has mamma as well as you to kiss; but I have no one; I am an old
bachelor.”

“When you have known mamma longer, will you kiss her too?”

“Old bachelors kiss nobody but little girls,” I replied, laughing.

“We went down to the brougham, and after we were seated and on our
way,” Ethel said, “Already I feel so much at home in New York, it almost
startles me. I fancied I should have forgotten old associations–should
have grown out of sympathy with them; but I seem only to have learned
to appreciate them more. Our memory for some things is better than we
would believe.”

“There are two memories in us,” I remarked; “the memory of the heart
and the memory of the head. The former never is lost, though the other
may be. But I had not supposed that you cared very deeply for the
American period of your life.”

“England is very agreeable,” she said, rather hastily. She turned her
head and looked out of the window; but after a pause she added, as if
to herself, “but I am an American!”

“There is, no doubt, a deep-rooted and substantial repose in English
life such as is scarcely to be found elsewhere,” I said; “but, for all
that, I have often thought that the best part of domestic happiness
could exist nowhere but here. Here a man may marry the woman he loves,
and their affection for each other will be made stronger by the
hardships they may have to pass through. After all, when we come to the
end of our lives, it is not the business we have done, nor the social
distinction we have enjoyed–it is the love we have given and received
that we are glad of.”

“Mamma,” inquired Susie, “does Mr. Campbell love you?”

We both of us looked at the child and laughed a little. “Mr. Campbell
is an old friend,” said Ethel. After a few moments she blushed. She
held in her hand some house-agents’ orders to view houses, and these
she now began to examine. “Is this Madison Avenue place likely to be a
good one?” she asked me.

“It is conveniently situated and comfortable; but I should think it
might be too large for a family of three. Perhaps, though, you don’t
like a close fit?”

“I don’t like empty rooms, though I prefer such rooms as there are to
be large. But it doesn’t make much difference. Mr. Courtney moves about
a good deal, and he is as happy in a hotel as anywhere. These American
hotels are luxurious and splendid, but they are not home-like to me.”

“I remember you used to dislike being among a crowd of people you
didn’t know.”

“Yes, and I haven’t yet learned to be sociable in that way. A friend is
more company for me than a score of acquaintances. Dear me! I’m afraid
New York will spoil me–for England!”

“Perhaps Mr. Courtney may be cured of England by New York.”

She smiled and said, “Perhaps! He accommodates himself to things more
easily than I do, but I think one needs to be born in America to know
how to love it.”

Under the veil of discussing America and things in general, we were
talking of ourselves, awakening reminiscences of the past, and
discovering, with a pleasure we did not venture to acknowledge, that–
allowing for the events and the years that had come between–we were as
much in accord as when we were young lovers. Yes, as much, and perhaps
even more. For surely, if one grows in the right way, the sphere of
knowledge and sympathy must enlarge, and thereby the various points of
contact between two minds and hearts must be multiplied. Ethel and I,
during these seven years, had traveled our round of daily life on
different sides of the earth; but the miles of sea and land which had
physically separated us had been powerless to estrange our spirits.
Nothing is more strange, in this mysterious complexity of impressions
and events that we call human existence, than the fact that two beings,
entirely cut off from all natural means of association and communion,
may yet, unknown to each other, be breathing the same spiritual air and
learning the same moral and intellectual lessons. Like two seeds of the
same species, planted, the one in American soil, the other in English,
Ethel and I had selected, by some instinct of the soul, the same
elements from our different surroundings; so that now, when we met once
more, we found a close and harmonious resemblance between the leaves
and blossoms of our experience. What can be more touching and
delightful than such a discovery? Or what more sad than to know that it
came too late for us to profit by it?

Oh, Ethel, how easy it is to take the little step that separates light
from darkness, happiness from misery! Remembering that we live but
once, and that the worthy enjoyments of life are so limited in number
and so hard to get, it seems unjust and monstrous that one little hour
of jealousy or misunderstanding should wreck the fair prospects of
months and years. Why is mischief so much readier to our hand than
good?

We got out at a house near the Park. I assisted Ethel to alight, and,
as her hand rested on mine, the thought crossed my mind–How sweet if
this were our own home that we are about to enter!–and I glanced at
her face to see whether a like thought had visited her. She maintained
a subdued demeanor, with an expression about the mouth and eyes of a
peculiar timid gentleness, and, as it were, a sort of mental leaning
upon me for support and protection. She felt, it may be, a little fear
of herself, at finding herself–in more senses than one–so near to me;
and, woman-like, she depended upon me to protect her against the very
peril of which I was the occasion. No higher or more delicate
compliment can be paid by a woman to a man; and I resolved that I would
do what in me lay to deserve it. But such resolutions are the hardest
in the world to keep, because the circumstance or the impulse of the
moment is continually in wait to betray you. Ethel was more fascinating
and lovely in this mood than in any other I had hitherto seen her in;
and the misgiving, from which I could not free myself, that the man
whom Fate had made her husband did not appreciate or properly cherish
the gift bestowed upon him, made me warm toward her more than ever. I
could scarcely have believed that such blood could flow in the sober
veins of my middle age; but love knows nothing of time or age!

“I do not like this house,” Susie declared, when we had been admitted
by the care-taker. “It has no carpets, nor chairs, nor pictures; and
the floor is dirty; and the walls are not pretty!”

“I suppose one can have these houses decorated and furnished at short
notice?” Ethel asked me.

“It would not take long. There are several firms that make it their
specialty.”

“I have always wanted to live in a house where the colors and forms
were to my taste. I don’t know whether you remember that you used to
think I had some taste in such matters. Mr. Courtney, of course,
doesn’t care much about art, and he didn’t encourage me to carry out my
ideas. A business man can not be an artist, you know.”

“You yourself would have become an artist if–” I began; but I was
approaching dangerous ground, and I stopped. “This dining-room might be
done in Indian red,” I remarked–“the woodwork, that is to say. The
walls would be a warm salmon color, which contrasts well with the cold
blue of the china, which it is the fashion to have about nowadays. As
for the furniture, antique dark oak is as safe as anything, don’t you
think so?”

“I should like all that,” said she, moving a little nearer me, and
letting her eyes wander about the room with a pleased expression, until
at length they met my own. “If you could only design our decoration for
us, I’m sure it would be perfect; at least, I should be satisfied.
Well, and how should we… how ought the drawing-room to be done?”

“There is a shade of yellow that is very agreeable for drawing-rooms,
and it goes very well with the dull peacock-blue which is in vogue now.
Then you could get one of those bloomy Morris friezes. There is some
very graceful Chippendale to be picked up in various places. And no
such good furniture is made nowadays. But I am advising you too much
from the artist’s point of view.”

“Oh, I can get other sort of advice when I want it.” She looked at me
with a smile; our glances met more often now than at first. “But it
seems to me,” she went on, “that the way the house is built docs not
suit the way we want to decorate it. Let us look at a smaller one. I
should think ten rooms would be quite enough. And it would be nice to
have a corner house, would it not?”

“If the question were only of our agreement, there would probably not
be much difficulty,” I said, in a tone which I tried to make merely
courteous, but which may have revealed something more than courtesy
beneath it.

In coming down-stairs she gathered her dress in her right hand and put
her left in my arm; and then, in a flash, the picture came before me of
the last time we had gone arm-in-arm together down-stairs. It was at
her father’s house, and she was speaking to me of that unlucky Mrs.
Murray; we had our quarrel that evening in the drawing-room, and it was
never made up. From then till now, what a gulf! and yet those years
would have been but a bridge to pass over, save for the one barrier
that was insurmountable between us.

“What has become of that Mrs. Murray whom you used to know?” she asked,
as we reached the foot of the stairs. She relinquished my arm as she
spoke, and faced me.

I felt the blood come to my face. “Mrs. Murray was in my thoughts at
the same moment–and perhaps by the same train of associations.” I
answered, “I don’t know where she is now; I lost sight of her years
ago–soon after you were married, in fact. Why do you ask?”

“You had not forgotten her, then?”

“I had every reason to forget her, except the one reason for which I
have remembered her–and you know what that is! Have you mistrusted me
all this time?”

“Oh, no–no! I don’t think I really mistrusted you at all; and long ago
I admitted to myself that you had acted unselfishly and honorably. But
I was angry at the time; you know, sometimes a girl will be angry, even
when there is no good reason for it. I have long wished for an
opportunity to tell you this, for my own sake, you know, as well as for
yours.”

“I hardly know whether I am most glad or sorry to hear this,” I said,
as we moved toward the door. “If you had only been able to say it, or
to think it, before … there would have been a great difference!”

“The worst of mistakes is, they are so seldom set right at the time, or
in the way they ought to be. Come, Susie, we are going away now. Susie,
do you most like to be American or English?”

“English,” replied Susie, without hesitation.

Her mother turned to me and said in a low tone:

“I love her, whichever she is.”

I understood what she meant. Susie was the symbol of that inevitable
element in our lives which seems to evolve itself without reference to
our desires or efforts; but which, nevertheless, when we have
recognized that it is inevitable, we learn (if we are wise) to accept
and even to love. Save for the estrangement between Ethel and myself,
Susie would never have existed; yet there she was, a beautiful child,
who had as good a right to be as either of us; and her mother loved
her, and, as it were, bade me love her also. I took the little maiden
by the hand and said, “You are right, Susie; the Americans are the
children of the English, and can not expect to be so wise and
comfortable as they. But you must remember that the Americans have a
future before them, and we are not enemies any more. Will you be
friends with me, and let me call you my little girl?”

“I shouldn’t mind being your little girl, if I could still have the
same mamma,” was Susie’s reply. “Papa is away a great deal, and you
could be papa, you know, until he came back.”

I made some laughing answer; but, in fact, Susie’s frank analysis of
the situation poignantly kindled an imagination which stood in no need
of stimulus. Ah, if this were the Golden Age, when love never went
astray, how happy we might be! But it is not the Golden Age–far from
it! Meanwhile, I think I can assert, with a clear conscience, that no
dishonorable purpose possessed me. I loved Ethel too profoundly to wish
to do her wrong. Yet I may have wished–I did wish–that a kindly
Providence might have seen fit to remove the disabilities that
controlled us. If a wish could have removed Courtney painlessly to
another world, I think I should have wished it. There was something
exquisitely touching in Ethel’s appearance and manner. She is as pure
as any woman that ever lived; but she is a woman! and I felt that, for
this day, I had a man’s power over her. Occasionally I was conscious
that her eyes were resting on my face; when I addressed her, her aspect
softened and brightened; she fell into little moods of preoccupation
from which she would emerge with a sigh; in many ways she betrayed,
without knowing it, the secret that neither of us would mention. I do
not mean to imply that she expected me to mention it. A pure woman does
not realize the dangers of the world; and that very fact is itself her
strongest security against them. But, had I spoken, she would have
responded. It was a temptation which I could hardly have believed I
could have resisted as I did; but such a woman calls out all that is
best and noblest in a man; and, at the time, I was better than I am!

When we were in the brougham again, I said, “If you will allow me, I
will drive you to a house I have seen, which belongs to a man with whom
I am slightly acquainted. He is on the point of leaving it, but his
furniture is still in it, and, as he is himself an artist and a man of
taste, it will be worth your while to look at it. He is rather deaf,
but that is all the better; we can express our opinions without
disturbing him. Perhaps you might arrange to take house and furniture
as they stand.”

“Whatever you advise, I shall like to do,” Ethel answered.

We presently arrived at the house, which was situated in the upper part
of the town, a little to the west of Fifth Avenue. It was a comely
gabled edifice of red brick, with square bay-windows and a roomy porch.
The occupant, Maler, a German, happened to be at home; and on my
sending in my card, we were admitted at once, and he came to greet us
in the hall in his usual hearty, headlong fashion.

“My good Campbell,” he exclaimed, in his blundering English, “very
delighted to see you. Ah, dis will be madame, and de little maid! So
you are married since some time–I have not know it! Your servant,
Madame Campbell. I know–all de artists know–your husband: we wish we
could paint how he can–but it is impossible! Ha, ha, ha! not so! Now,
I am very pleased you shall see dis house. May I beg de honor of
accompany you? First you shall see de studio; dat I call de stomach of
de house, eh? because it is most important of all de places, and make
de rest of de places live. See, I make dat window be put in–you find
no better light in New York. Den you see, here we have de alcove, where
Madame Campbell shall sit and make her sewing, while de husband do his
work on de easel. How you like dat portiere? I design him myself–oh,
yes, I do all here; you keep them if you like; I go to Germany, perhaps
not come back after some years, so I leave dem, not so? Now I show you
my little chamber of the piano. See, I make an arched ceiling–groined
arch, eh?–and I gild him; so I get pretty light and pretty sound,
not? Ah! madame, I have not de happiness to be married, but I make my
house so, dat if I get me a wife, she find all ready; but no wife come,
so I give him over to Herr Campbell and you. Now we mount up-stairs to
de bed-rooms, eh?”

In this way he went over the entire house with us. His loud, jolly
voice, his resounding laugh, his bustling manner, his heedless, boy-
like self-confidence, and his deafness, made it impossible to get in a
word of explanation, and, after a few efforts, I gave up the attempt.

“Let him suppose what he likes,” I said aside to Ethel, “it can make no
difference; he is going away, and you will never see him again. After
all these years, it can do no great harm for us to play at being Mr.
and Mrs. Campbell for an hour!”

“It is a very beautiful house,” she said, tacitly accepting what I had
proposed. “It is such a house as I have always dreamed of living in. I
shall not care to look at any others. Will you tell him that we–that I
will take it just as it stands. You have made this a very pleasant day
for me–a very happy day,” she added, in a lower tone. “Every room here
will be associated with you. You will come here often and see me, will
you not? Perhaps, after all, you might use the studio to paint my–or
Susie’s portrait in.”

“I shall inflict myself upon you very often, I have no doubt,” was all
I ventured to reply. I could not tell her, at that moment, that we must
never see each other again. She–after the manner of women–probably
supposes that a man’s strength is limitless; that he may do with
himself and make of himself what he chooses; and she supposes that I
could visit her and converse with her day after day, and yet keep my
thoughts and my acts within such bounds as would enable me to take
Courtney honestly by the hand. But I know too well my own weakness, and
I shall leave her while yet I have power to do so. Tomorrow–or soon–I
will write to her one last letter, telling her why I go.

Sudden and strange indeed has been this passionate episode in a life
which, methought, had done with passion. It has lasted hardly so many
hours as I have lived years; and yet, were I to live on into the next
century, it would never cease to influence me in all I think and do. I
can not solve to my satisfaction this problem–why two lives should be
wasted as ours have been. Courtney could have been happy with another
wife, or with no wife at all, perhaps; but, for Ethel and me, there
could be no happiness save in each other. But were she free to-day, the
separation that has already existed–long though it has been–would
only serve to render our future union more blissful and complete. We
have learned, by sad experience, the value of a love like ours, and we
should know how to give it its fullest and widest expression. But oh!
what a blank and chilly road lies before us now!

I drove her back to her hotel; we hardly spoke all the way; my heart
was too full, and hers also, I think; though she did not know, as I
did, that it was our last interview. It must be our last! Heaven help
me to keep that resolution!

Susie was not at all impressed by the pathos of the situation; she
babbled all the time, and thus, at all events, afforded us an excuse
for our silence. At parting, one incident occurred that may as well be
recorded. I had shaken hands with Ethel, speaking a few words of
farewell, and allowing her to infer that we might meet again on the
morrow; then I turned to Susie, and gave her the kiss which I would
have given the world to have had the right to press on her mother’s
lips. Ethel saw, and, I think, understood. She stooped quickly down,
and laid her mouth where mine had been. Through the innocent medium of
the child, our hearts met; and then I saw her no more.

_May 3d_.–Of course, it may not be true, probably it is not;
mistakes are so easily made in the first moments of such horror and
confusion; the dead come to life, and the living die. Or, at the worst,
he may be only wounded or disabled. At all events, I decline to
believe, save upon certain evidence, that the poor fellow has actually
been killed. Were it to turn out so, I should feel almost like a
murderer; for was not I writing, in this very journal, and perhaps at
the very moment the accident occurred, that if my wish could send him
to another world, I would not spare him?

_Later_.–I have read all the accounts in the newspapers this
morning, and all agree in putting Courtney’s name among the killed.
There can be no doubt about it any longer; he is dead. When the
collision occurred, the car in which he vas riding was thrown across
the track, and the other train crashed through it. Judging by the
condition of the body when discovered, death must have been nearly
instantaneous. Poor Courtney! My conscience is not at ease. Of course,
I am not really responsible; that is only imagination. But I begin to
suspect that my imagination has been playing me more than one trick
lately.

And now, with this new state of affairs so suddenly and terribly
brought about, what is to be done? I am as yet scarcely in a condition
to reflect calmly; but a voice within me seems to say that something
else besides my conscience has been awakened by Courtney’s death. Can
it be that imagination, dallying with what it took for impossibilities,
could so far mislead a man? Well, I shall start at once for the scene
of the disaster, and relieve the poor fellow’s widow of whatever pain I
can. Ethel Courtney a widow! Ah, Ethel! Death sheds a ghastly light
upon the idle vagaries of the human heart.

_May 15th_.–_Denver_, _Colorado_.–Magnificent weather
and scenery; very different from my own mental scenery and mood at this
moment. I am sorely out of spirits; and no wonder, after the reckless
and insane emotion of the first days of this month. One pays for such
indulgences at my age.

I have been re-reading the foregoing pages of this journal. Was I a
fool or a coward, or was I merely intoxicated for eight-and-forty
hours? At all events, Courtney’s tragic end sobered me, and put what I
had been doing in a true light. I am glad my insanity was not permitted
to proceed farther than it did; but I have quite enough to reproach
myself with as it is. So far as I hare been able to explain the matter
to myself, my prime error lay in attributing, in a world subject to
constant change, too much permanence to a given state of affairs. The
fact that Ethel was the wife of another man seemed to me so fixed and
unalterable that I allowed my imagination to play with the picture of
what might happen if that unalterable fact were altered. Secure in this
fallacy, I worked myself up to the pitch of believing that I was
actually and passionately in love with a woman whose inaccessibility
was, after all, her most winning attraction. Moreover, by writing down,
in this journal, the events and words of the hours we spent together, I
confirmed myself in my false persuasion, and probably imported into the
record of what we said and did an amount of color and hidden
significance that never, as I am now convinced, belonged to it in
reality. Deluded by the notion that I was playing with a fancy, I was
suddenly aroused to find myself imbrued in facts. The whole episode has
profoundly humiliated me, and degraded me in my own esteem.

But I am not at the bottom of the mystery yet. Was I not in love with
Ethel? Surely I was, if love be anything. Then why did I not ask her to
marry me? Would she have refused me? No. That last look she gave me
from under her black veil, when I told her I was going away…. Ah, no,
she would not have refused me. Then why did I hesitate? Was not such a
marriage precisely what I have always longed for? During all these
seven years have I not been bewailing my bachelorhood, and wishing for
an Ethel to cheer my solitary fireside with her gracious presence, to
be interested in my work and hopes, to interest me in her wifely and
maternal ways and aspirations? And when at last all these things were
offered me, why did I shrink back and reject them?

Honestly, I can not explain it. Perhaps, if I had never loved her
before, I might have loved her this time enough to unite my fate with
hers. Or, perhaps–for I may as well speak plainly, since I am speaking
to myself–perhaps, by force of habit, I had grown to love, better than
love itself, those self-same forlorn conditions and dreary solitudes
which I was continually lamenting and praying to be delivered from.
What a dismal solution of the problem this would be were it the true
one! It amounts to saying that I prefer an empty room, a silent hearth,
an old pair of slippers, and a dressing-gown to the love and
companionship of a refined and beautiful woman!–that I love even my
own discomforts more than the comfort she would give me! It sounds
absurd, scandalous, impossible; and yet, if it be not the literal
truth, I know not what the truth is. It is amazing that an educated and
intelligent man can live to be forty years old and still have come to
no better an understanding of himself than I had. Verily, as my old
author said, thought is free, but nature is captive, and loveth her
chain. Yes, my old author was right.

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