Mrs. Farrell

by William Dean Howells

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Chapter XI

EASTON began to show signs of decided convalescence. Day by day he became more susceptible of the kindnesses which his sympathizers yearned to lavish upon him, all the more ardently for being so long held aloof by the certainty that the best thing they could do was to let him alone; the ladies got out their recipes for sick-room delicacies again, and broths and broils were debated. One day he sat up in a chair to have his bed made, and then a great wave of rejoicing ran through the house. Mrs. Farrell created a wine jelly which, when it was turned out of the mold upon a plate, was as worshipfully admired as if it had been the successful casting in bronze of some great work of art.

Her spirits had begun to rise; that day she moved as if on air, and as he grew better and better she put off the moral and material tokens of her lingering bondage to fear. For some time she had suffered herself to wear those great hoops of Etruscan gold in her ears; now she replaced her penitential slippers and sober shoes with worldly boots; she blossomed again in the rich colors that became her; on the following Sunday she celebrated her release in a silk that insulted her past captivity, and sang{193} for joy as she swooped through the house in it. On Monday she bought out the small stock of worsteds at the West Pekin store, and sat matching them in her lap when Gilbert came out upon the piazza. He stopped to look at her, and she asked him if he had any taste in colors. “Men have, a great deal oftener than women will allow,” she said. “At least they are quite apt to have inspirations in color.”

“I don’t believe I have,” answered Gilbert, still looking at her radiance and not at the worsteds. “I lived long and happily without knowing some colors from others by name.”

Mrs. Farrell laughed. “Oh, I didn’t mean the names. Women are glibber than men with those. But you’d have been able to criticize the effect, wouldn’t you? You’d have known that blue wouldn’t do for a brunette, if you’d seen it on her?”

“I’m not so sure,” said Gilbert.

“Why, look!” cried Mrs. Farrell, taking up a delicate shade of blue and holding it against one cheek, while she fixed her eyes upon his with businesslike preoccupation. “There! don’t you see how we take the life out of each other? Don’t you see that it perfectly kills me?”

“Well, I don’t know. I should say that the worsted was getting the worst of it.”

“Worsted and worsted; a pun or an opinion?” demanded Mrs. Farrell, still holding the color to her cheek, and her eyes on his.

“Oh, either; one’s as good as the other.”

“I don’t believe you meant either. I’m sorry{194} you can’t help me about matching these wools, and I’ve a great mind to make use of you in another way. But I don’t suppose you would do it,” she said, glancing up at him as she straightened the skeins of yarn by slipping them over her two hands.

“What do you wish to do?”

“Why, I wish to wind these skeins into little balls, and—”

“Me to hold them, as you’re doing, whilst you wind? I don’t mind that.”

“Really? I think it’s the silliest position in the world for a man; and I can’t let you. No, no; you shall not.”

“Yes, but I will. Come. I wish to show you that my manly dignity can rise superior to holding worsteds.”

He took up a skein and stretched it on his hands; she loosened a thread and began to wind; both with gloomy brows. When she had half done, she flung down the ball, and burst into a laugh. “No, no; you can’t face it out. You look silly in spite of that noble frown. How do you suppose you appear to those ladies down there under the trees, with your hands raised in that gesture of stage-supplication? You look as if you were imploring me for your life—or something; and here I am making all these cabalistic motions,” she resumed her winding, “as if I were weaving a spell around you! Do let us stop it! And I’ll get Miss Jewett to help me.

“No, go on,” said Gilbert. “If you offer to stop, I shall clasp my hands!{195}”

“Oh, oh!” shouted Mrs. Farrell. “Don’t, for pity’s sake! Was ever a poor sorceress so at her victim’s mercy before? This skein is nearly done. Will you put down your hands, you cruel object of my unhallowed arts?”

“I will, if you’ll let me put them up again, and help finish the other skeins. If you don’t consent, I’ll keep holding them so.”

“Well, then I’ll leave you in that interesting attitude.”

“If you dare to rise, I’ll follow you all about in it.”

“Oh dear me! I really believe you would. There, take up another skein.”

“No, you must put it on, yourself; I’ve just got my hands in the right places.”

“But you said you’d put them down if I’d let you put them up again,” lamented Mrs. Farrell.

“I’ve changed my mind. I said that before I perceived that I had you in my power. If you don’t hurry, I’ll exaggerate the attitude. Quick!”

She was laughing so that she could hardly arrange the yarn upon the framework so rigidly presented to her.

“Don’t hold your thumbs like sticks,” she besought him. “Have a little flexibility, if you have no pity. It’s some satisfaction to think you do look foolish.”

“I have the consolation of suspecting that you feel so. I’m quite willing to do the looking.”

Mrs. Farrell said nothing, but swiftly wound the yarn upon the ball, and, “Don’t hurry!” com{196}manded Gilbert. “I’m not going to put my hands down till I like, anyway. So you may as well take your time.”

“Oh, Mr. Gilbert,” pleaded Mrs. Farrell. “How can you threaten me, when I’m so meekly letting you have your own way! I never should have supposed you were that kind of man.”

“Neither should I,” said Gilbert. “This is the first opportunity I’ve had to play the tyrant to one of your amiable sex, and I’m determined to abuse it.”

“Oh, that’s a likely story! With that conceited air of yours, when you are so good as to address a woman! Don’t be a humbug, if you are a faithless despot.”

“And don’t you employ harsh language in addressing me, Mrs. Farrell, or I’ll sit here all day with my hands outstretched to you.”

“All day? Oh—happy thought! Wind very slowly and tire him out!”

“Do! I could stop here until I changed into a mere figure in a bas-relief—a profile and the back of a lifted hand; and you a classic shape intent upon the flying thread—”

“That’s not fair, Mr. Gilbert. To make remarks upon me when you know I can’t help myself.”

“Don’t you like to have remarks made upon you?”

“Not when I can’t help myself.”

“Why not? I haven’t forbidden you to answer back.”

“But you would, if my answers didn’t suit you.{197} How is it, if you don’t know anything about colors, that you dress in such very tolerable taste?”

“Do I? Mrs. Farrell, don’t take advantage of my helplessness to flatter me! I suppose it’s my tailor’s taste—which I always go against. And then, it’s New York.”

“Yes, New York is well dressed,” sighed Mrs. Farrell. “Oh dear me! The style of some New York girls that I’ve seen! I suppose men can’t feel it as we do.”

“Don’t be so sure of that. We can’t give any but the elementary names of things that a woman has on, but I don’t believe the subtlest effect of a dress is ever lost upon men; and I believe the soul of any man of imagination is as much taken with style in dressing as with beauty. Americans all adore it—perhaps because it’s so characteristic of American women that they seem almost to have invented it. It’s a curious thing—something different from beauty, something different from grace, something more charming than either, and as various as both. I should say it was the expression of personal character, and that American women have more style than any other women because they have more freedom, and utter themselves in dry-goods more fearlessly.”

Mrs. Farrell stopped winding the yarn a moment, and instinctively cast down her eyes over her draperies. He smiled.

“For shame!” she cried, indignantly, while her eyes dimmed with mortification at her self-betrayal. But she boldly grappled with the situation. “Did{198} you think I was thinking you thought me stylish? I know I am so; I had no need to think that. I was thinking that if ever you left the law and followed the true bent of your genius, New York ladies needn’t go to Worth for their dresses.”

“Isn’t that an unnecessarily elaborate bit of insult, considering that I hadn’t said a word to provoke it?”

“You smiled.”

“Why, you’ve been laughing all the time.”

“But I wasn’t laughing at you.”

“Whom were you laughing at?”

“I was laughing at myself.”

“Well, I merely smiled at you.”

But Mrs. Farrell was plainly hurt past jesting for the present. She wound furiously at the worsted, and they both kept silence.

At last Gilbert asked, “What is all this yarn for?”

“To knit a smoking-cap for Mr. Easton,” she said, coldly, and then neither spoke again. Presently she caught a half-finished skein from his hand, tossed the balls and skeins together in her lap, and, gathering them up, swept indoors, leaving him planted where he had sat confronting her.

In spite of the careless gayety of his banter, Gilbert had worn a look that was neither easy nor joyous. He did not seem much irritated by her excessive retaliation, but presently rose and walked listlessly up to the village to get his letters, and when he came back he went to his sister-in-law’s room with a letter which he showed her.{199}

“Shall you go?” she asked, eagerly.

“I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m not on fire to go, but I don’t happen to be so. There’s a day or two for thinking it over. If it were not for Easton—”

“He’s a long while getting well,” said Mrs. Gilbert with an impatient sigh; “I don’t see why he’s so slow about it.”

“Well, Susan,” languidly reasoned Gilbert, “you’ve been about fifteen years yourself getting well, and you haven’t quite finished yet. You can’t consistently complain of a few weeks, more or less, in Easton. I dare say he would be well at once, if he could; but it isn’t a matter that he can hurry, exactly.”

“No,” said Mrs. Gilbert. “But aren’t you losing a great deal of time here, William? You came for two weeks, and you’ve stayed nearly six. Don’t you think Easton could get on without you, now?”

“Why, considering that Easton came here because he thought I’d like to have him, when I was merely a little under the weather, I don’t think it would be quite the thing for me to go off now, and leave him before he’s fairly on his legs.”

“That’s true,” sighed Mrs. Gilbert. “And I’m glad to have you so faithful to your friend, William. I’m sure you never could forgive yourself if you were recreant to him in the slightest thing. Your friendship has sacred claims upon you both. I have sometimes thought it was a little too romantic, but it’s a great thing to have the highest{200} standard in such matters, and you could never let your fidelity be less than Easton’s.”

Gilbert looked at her and pulled his mustache uneasily, but Mrs. Gilbert kept her eyes upon the sewing she had in hand. “You and Mrs. Farrell seem to be friends at present. I have heard of your holding worsted for her to wind, just now. The ladies who saw you at a little distance thought it a very picturesque group, and seemed grateful for the topic you had given them. They talked about it a good deal. I suppose it was picturesque—at least her part of it. I don’t think manly grace is at its best under such circumstances, though I dare say you weren’t posing for spectators.”

“I had no quarrel with Mrs. Farrell,” said Gilbert, choosing to ignore the other points.

“No? I thought there seemed to be a little coldness at one time.”

“Perhaps the shyness of comparative strangers, Mrs. Gilbert.”

“William,” said Mrs. Gilbert, “I wish you would talk seriously with me a moment.”

“Then you must start a serious subject. You can’t expect me to be very earnest about genteel comedy, or even melodrama.”

“Do you mean that she’s always playing a part? Why, don’t you believe—”

“Excuse me, Susan,” said Gilbert, “I haven’t formulated any creed on that subject, and I’d rather you’d make your conversation a little less Socratic, this morning, if it’s quite the same to you.”

“I beg your pardon, William; I know that with{201} your notions to loyalty to your friend, you wouldn’t allow yourself to speculate about the nature of the woman he hoped to make his wife, and I honor you for your delicacy, though she’s only another woman to me. Easton would deal the same with himself, if the case were yours.”

Gilbert listened with a stolid but rather a haggard air, and his sister-in-law continued:

“I suppose she must make it difficult to treat her at times with the lofty respect that you’d like to use, and that you have to keep him in mind pretty constantly. And yet, I don’t know, after all. It seems to me that if you interpret her behavior generously”—Gilbert winced a little at the words, used almost as Easton had once used them—“and make due allowance for his histrionic temperament, it can’t be so very hard for an honorable man.”

“The clemency of your sentiments in regard to Mrs. Farrell is a continual surprise to me, Susan, when I remember what an outfit you gave her the time we first talked of her,” said Gilbert.

“Oh, you can easily convict me of inconsistency on any point,” answered his sister-in-law. “But why shouldn’t I see a change for the better in her? Why shouldn’t I sincerely believe her capable of nobler things than I once did?”

“You have all the reasons in the world; and if you had none, still, optimism is amiable. But really, do you know this is getting very tiresome? Am I to spend all my leisure moments with you in philosophizing Mrs. Farrell? I’m willing to take{202} any version of her that you give me. How can I doubt her devotion to Easton when I see her getting ready to knit him a smoking-cap? I know she’s sorry for having made that misunderstanding between him and me, for she said she was. Who wouldn’t believe a handsome young woman when she says she’s sorry? Perhaps another handsome young woman. Not I.”

“Now you’re talking in a very silly, cynical way, William, and you’d better say good morning, and come again when you’re in a different mood.”

“I’m willing enough to say good morning,” returned Gilbert, and went.

He went by an attraction which he could not resist to Easton’s room, and experienced again that heartquake with which he now always met his friend’s eye, and which he was always struggling to prevent or avert. It was a thing which his nerves might be reasoned out of, with due thought, and it did not come, when he was once in Easton’s presence and confronted him from time to time. But in the morning, when their eyes first met, or after any little absence, the shock was inevitable; and he knew, though he would not own it to himself, that he had been trying somehow to shun the encounter. The bitterest rage he had felt against his friend was bliss to this fear of the trust he saw in Easton’s face. He could best endure it when he could meet him in Mrs. Farrell’s presence. In the gay talk which he held with them together he could persuade himself that the harmless pleasure of the moment was all. He found a like respite when alone with her. He did not pretend to himself that he tried to avoid her; he knew that he sought her with feverish eagerness; now and then in the pauses of her voice a haggard consciousness blotted his joy in her charm, but when he parted from her he was sensible of a stupid and craven apprehension, as if the fascination of her presence were also a safeguard beyond which he could not hope for mercy from himself. At such times it was torture to meet Rachel Woodward, and the shy friendship which had sprung up between them died of this pain. His haunting inward blame seemed to look at him again from her clear eyes; he accused himself in the tones of her voice; she confronted him like an outer conscience, even when her regard seemed explicitly to refuse intelligence of what was in his heart.

At dinner, that day, Mrs. Farrell was very bright-eyed and rather subdued; she looked like a woman who had been having a cry. She talked amiably with everybody, as was now her wont, and when she found herself, late in the afternoon, again on the piazza with Gilbert, she said, “You’re sorry, I suppose.”

“Not the least,” he answered, with nervous abruptness. “Why should I be sorry? Because you made an outrageous speech to me?”

“You are rather a vindictive person, aren’t you?” she asked, beginning again.

“No—I don’t think so,” returned Gilbert. “Do you?”

“You cherished a grudge against me a good while, and if you hadn’t happened to overdo it you’d be still bearing malice, I suppose.{204}”

“And because you overdid it this morning you’re able to pardon me now. I see the process of your reasoning. Well, hereafter I shall not offend you by smiling; I’m going to frown at everything you do.”

“No, don’t do that! I want you to be very kind to me.”

“Yes? How is a gentleman to be kind to a lady?”

“Everything depends upon character and circumstance. If she isn’t the wisest of her sex—so few of us are—and has been used to doing and saying quite what she pleased, without regard to consequences, and she finds herself in a position where circumspection is her duty, he ought to look about for her and guard her.”

“From what?”

“Oh—hawks, and lynxes, and—cats. They’re everywhere.”

Mrs. Farrell sat down on the benching and drew from her pocket the balls of worsted which she had loosely rolled in a handkerchief, together with some knitting already begun, and went on with the work, while Gilbert stood before her, looking down at her.

“You oughtn’t to have helped me with these this morning,” she said, pushing the little balls about and sorting them for the right colors.

“You asked me to do it!”

“But you ought to have refused. It was because I thought you were trying to embarrass me, and take advantage of my foolishness, that I got angry and was rude to you.{205}”

Gilbert said nothing, and after a little more comparison of the worsteds Mrs. Farrell made her decision, and took her knitting in her hand.

“Help me, don’t hinder me!” she went on in a low voice. “Don’t be amused at me; let me alone; keep away from me; don’t make me talked about!”

“Shall I go now?” asked Gilbert, huskily.

Mrs. Farrell looked up at him in astonishment that dispersed all other emotions. “Oh, good gracious!” she cried, “they’re all alike, after all! No, you poor—man, you! You must stay, now, till some one comes up; and don’t run off the instant they do come! And you must keep on talking, now. Come, let us converse of various matters—

“‘Whether the sea is boiling hot, And whether pigs have wings.’ There, thank Heaven! there comes Mrs. Stevenson. Pay some attention to her. Ask her about her art, as she calls it, and try to seem interested. Mrs. Stevenson, I’m in despair over these worsteds. I can make nothing of them. Did you see any at the Bazar, the other day, when you were at Quopsaug? There ought to be crewels in that immense assortment. Where is that lavender? Where, oh, tell me where, is that little lavender gone? Perhaps it’s in my pocket! Perhaps it’s rolled under the bench. No! Then I’ve left it in my room, and I’ll have to go after it. Excuse!” She caught her worsteds against her dress, and, turning a sidelong glance upon him as she whirled past, made “Talk!” with mute lips, and left him.{206}

When she came back, neither he nor Mrs. Stevenson was there. They had apparently dispersed each other. She sat down awhile and knitted contentedly, and then went with her work to visit Mrs. Gilbert, who had not been at dinner.

“I’m very glad to see you,” said Mrs. Gilbert, who had a flask of cologne in her hand, and moistened her forehead with it from time to time as she talked.

“Headache?” suggested Mrs. Farrell.

“Yes, only a minor headache—nothing heroic at all. It’s merely something to occupy the mind. Do you happen to know where my brother is?”

“I left him with Mrs. Stevenson on the piazza, a few moments ago—talking art, I suppose.” Mrs. Farrell adventured this. “They’re not there, now; perhaps he’s gone to look at her works.”

“That’s the smoking-cap, is it?” asked Mrs. Gilbert.

Mrs. Farrell held up at arm’s length the small circle of the crown which she had so far knitted, and, gazing at it in deep preoccupation, answered, “Yes. These are the colors,” she added. She leaned toward the other, and held them forward in both hands. “I think it’s pretty well for West Pekin.”

“I’ve no doubt it will be charming,” said Mrs. Gilbert. “I don’t approve of smoking, of course, but I hope he’ll soon be able to use his smoking-cap. I was just thinking about you, Mrs. Farrell. I want Mr. Easton to get well as soon as possible, so that you can begin to have a good, long, commonplace courtship. If you were a daughter of mine{207}—”

“I should be a pretty old daughter for you, Mrs. Gilbert,” said Mrs. Farrell, flatteringly.

“Oh, I fancy not so very. How old are you?”

“I’m twenty-four.”

“And I’m forty-five, and look fifty. You’re still in your first youth, and I’m in my first old age. I could easily be your mother.”

“I wish you were! I should be the better for being your daughter, Mrs. Gilbert.”

“I don’t know. I shouldn’t like to promise you that. But sometimes I think I could have been a good mother, or at least that children would have made a good mother of me, for I believe that half the goodness that women get credit for is forced upon them by those little helpless troubles. Men could be just as good if they had the care and burden of children—men are so very near being very good as it is.”

“I know it,” sighed Mrs. Farrell. “I never knew my own mother,” she added; “if I had, I might have been a better woman. But are we to blame, I wonder, that we are not so good as we might have been—you if you’d had children, and I if I had had a mother?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I dare say we shall never be judged so harshly anywhere else as we are in this world.”

“That’s true!” said Mrs. Farrell, bitterly.

“Not that we don’t stand in need of judgment,” continued the other, “as much as we do of mercy. It’s wholesome, and I’ve never been unjustly blamed yet that I didn’t feel I deserved it all, and{208} more. Oh, Mrs. Farrell, if I were really to speak to you as my daughter—”

“Don’t call me Mrs. Farrell! Call me by my own name,” cried the younger woman, impulsively. “Call me—Rosabel.”

“Is that your name? I took it for granted you were Isabel. It’s a very pretty name, very sweet and quaint; but I won’t call you by it; it would make you more of a stranger to me than Mrs. Farrell does.”

“Well, no matter. You shall call me what you like. Come; you said if you were to speak to me as your daughter—”

“Oh, I’m not certain whether I can go on, after all. Perhaps what I was going to say would degenerate into a kind of lecture on love and marriage in the abstract. If I had a daughter whose love affair had been so romantic as yours, I believe I should tell her to make all the surer of her heart on account of the romance. I’m afraid that in matters of love, romance is a dangerous element. Love ought to be perfectly ordinary, regular, and every-day like.”

“Those are very heretical ideas!” said Mrs. Farrell, shaking her head.

“Yes, yes, I dare say,” answered Mrs. Gilbert; “but, as I said before, I hope for both your sakes that you and Mr. Easton will have a good stupid wooing—at least a year of it—when he gets well.”

“I shall not object to that, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Farrell, demurely.{209}

“No, I should hope you were too much of a woman. That’s a woman’s reign, the time of courtship. Her lover is never truly subject to her again. Make it as long as you can—long enough to get the romance out of your heads. And I wish you a sound quarrel or two.”

“Oh! Now you are joking.”

“Yes, I am. I hope you may never say an unkind word to each other. Have you a temper?”

“Not much, I believe.”

“Has he?”

“I’ve been a little afraid of him once or twice.”

“Already? Well, I think it’s a pity you haven’t a temper, too. Don’t be one of the coldly self-possessed kind when he is angry; it’s far better to be frightened.”

“I will try always to be frightened. But I’m not sure that it was any violence of his that scared me, so much as his—”


“Well, his goodness—or somebody else’s badness. Mine, for example.”

“Ah yes! He is a good man. It’s a merit in a husband, goodness is; though I doubt very much if young people often think of that; they’re so blinded by each other’s idolatry that they have no sense of good or bad; they adore one quite as much as the other. And you must consider yourself a young person. You must have been very young when you were married, Mrs. Farrell.”

“Yes, I was very young indeed. It seems a great while ago. And afterward my life was very{210} unhappy—after his death—they made it so. Mrs. Gilbert,” she cried, “I know you don’t like a great many things in me; but perhaps you would like more if you knew more.”

“Yes, but don’t tell them. One must have something to disapprove of in others, or how can one respect oneself?”

“I don’t say that the fault was all theirs; I don’t pretend that I was a very meek or manageable sister, but only that I could have been better with better people. They were vulgar to the tips of their fingers. And that drove me from them at last.”

They sat some moments without saying anything, Mrs. Gilbert keeping her eyes intent upon Mrs. Farrell’s face, whose fallen eyes in turn were fixed upon her work. Then the former said with a little sigh, “So you think I don’t like some things about you! My dear, I like altogether too many. Yes,” she continued, absently, studying the beautiful face, “I suppose I should, too.”

“Should what?” asked Mrs. Farrell.

“Make a fool of myself, if I were a man. I never could resist such a face as yours; I only wonder they don’t have more power. But recollect, my dear, that somehow, sometime, you’ll be held responsible for your power, if you abuse it, even though we poor mortals seem to ask nothing better than to be made fools of by you.”

“Was that what you were going to say?” asked Mrs. Farrell, lifting her eyes from her work and looking keenly at Mrs. Gilbert.

“No, it wasn’t. But I’m so far off the track,{211} now, I won’t say it. After all, it might seem like a glittering generality about—”

The women relaxed their wary regard; the elder did not offer to go on, and the younger did not urge her. Mrs. Farrell knitted half a round on the smoking-cap, as if to gain a new starting point, and then dropped her work in her lap and laid her hands, one on top of the other, over it. “Did you ever try inhaling the fumes of coffee for your headaches?” she asked.

“Oh, my dear, I gave that up away back in the Dark Ages,” returned Mrs. Gilbert, resorting to the cologne.

“I suppose the cologne does you no good?”

“Not the least in the world. But one must do something.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Farrell, drawing the word in with a long breath, “one must do something.” She took up her work again and knitted awhile before she added, “I wonder if a man would go on forever doing something that he knew did him no good, as a woman does?”

“No, I suppose not. Men are very queer,” said Mrs. Gilbert, gravely. “They’re quite inert. But that gives them some of their advantages.”

“They have pretty nearly all the advantages, haven’t they?” asked Mrs. Farrell, quickly. “Even when some woman makes fools of them! At least when that happens they have all the other women on their side.” As she knitted rapidly on she had now and then a little tremulous motion of the head that shook the gold hoops in her ears against her neck.{212}

“Well, then they have a right to our pity.”

“Oh, do you think so? It seems to me that she has a right to more.” She looked down on either side of her at the floor. “I thought I brought both balls of that ashes of roses with me.” Mrs. Gilbert looked about the carpet in her vicinity. “Don’t trouble yourself. It’s no matter. I think I won’t use it here, after all. I’ll use this brown. A woman never makes a fool of a man unless she respects him very much. Of course there must be something fascinating about him, or she wouldn’t care to have him care for her, at all; it would be disgusting.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Gilbert.

“And then,” continued Mrs. Farrell, keeping her eyes on her work and knitting faster and faster, “if she has any heart at all, it must be half broken to think of what she’s done. The falsest coquette that ever was would feel like bowing down to true love in a man; and what is she to do if ever the worst comes to the worst and she finds she’s afraid she doesn’t love him? She must know that his good faith is ten million times stronger than her looks, and that it has a claim which she must try to answer somehow. Shall she marry him out of pity, and put him to the shame of finding it out some day? That would be the worst kind of treachery. No, no; she couldn’t do that! And can she tell him how wicked she has been, and ask him never to see her face or breathe her name or hear it spoken again? That would be easy, if it were only for her! But if she did this, if she could have the courage to kill his faith in her with such a blow as that, and to{213} blacken his life with shame for having loved her, what better would she be than a murderess?”

She grew pale as she spoke, but no tremor now shook the hoops in her ears; she only wrought the more swiftly and kept her eyes upon the flying needle, while a kind of awe began to express itself in the gaze that Mrs. Gilbert bent upon her.

“What should you think then of the power of a pretty face?” asked Mrs. Farrell, flashing a curious look of self-scorn upon her. “What could the pretty face do for her, or for him? Could it help her to forgive herself, or help him to forget her? And which would have the greatest claim to the pity of the spectators?—supposing there were spectators of the tragedy, and there nearly always are. Come, imagine some such woman, Mrs. Gilbert, and imagine her your daughter—you were imagining me your daughter, just now—and tell me what you would say to her. You wouldn’t know what to say, even to your own daughter? Oh! I thought you might throw some light upon such a case.” She had lifted her eyes with fierce challenge to Mrs. Gilbert’s, but now she dropped them again upon her work. “But what if the case were still worse? Can you imagine so much as its being worse?”

“Yes, I can imagine its being worse,” said Mrs. Gilbert, whose visage seemed to age suddenly with a premonition that a thing long dreaded, long expected, was now coming, in spite of all attempted disbelief.

“Oh yes, certainly! You were wondering just now that beauty didn’t have greater power! Suppose that even in all this wretchedness, this miserable daughter of yours was afraid— Ah! Mrs. Gilbert,” she cried, starting violently to her feet, “you were trying a minute ago—don’t you think I knew your drift?—to peep into my heart! How do you like to have it flung wide open to you?” She confronted Mrs. Gilbert, who had risen too, with a wild reproach, as if she had made the wrong another’s by tearing the secret of it from her own breast. Mrs. Gilbert answered her nothing, and in another instant she faltered, “Don’t blame him, don’t be harsh with him. But, oh, in the name of mercy, send him away!”


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