Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

Confessions of a Wife, an electronic edition

by Mary Adams [Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart, 1844-1911]

date: 1902
source publisher: The Century Co.
collection: Genre Fiction

Table of Contents

chapter 8 >>

Hide page layout

I

THE night is wild and wet. It makes faces at me when I go to the window, like a big gargoyle; it has the dignity that belongs to ugliness and character. I 'm afraid I was born a heathen for beauty's sake; for all the Christian there is in me --and that is scandalously little--is kept busy going into sackcloth and doing penance for my esthetic sins. I have never loved any person who was not beautiful. But then I have never loved many people--Father, and poor Ina.

The wind starts a long way off to-night, and stirs and strengthens with a terrible deliberation. By the time it reaches you, nothing can withstand it, and you don't care whether anything can or not. I feel as if I could open the window


4    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

and let myself drop, sure that it would lift me up and carry me, and I shouldn't in the least mind where. I dream of doing that often.

To-day I found something which pleased me. It was in that old French book of Father's that I read aloud in to keep up my accent. It was about a princess in a shallop on a river--no, I'll copy it, rather; it seems to me worth while, which is saying something, for most things do not strike me that way. I wish I knew why.

The princess was a sea-princess, but she lived in an inland country, and when the water-soul within her called, she had only a river wherewith to satisfy it. So she floated out in her shallop upon the river, nor would she let any person guide the shallop, neither her men nor her maidens, but loved the feel of the oar, and the deference of it to her own soft hands. And she chose the hour that precedes and follows the setting of the sun, for it was a fair hour, and the river was comely. And drifting, she thought to row, and rowing, she thought to drift; so, drifting and rowing, she had her will, for no one gainsaid her. And she was a fair princess, though a haughty, and many men crowned her in their hearts, but to none of them did she incline. And certain knights took boats and sought to overtake her upon the river, for she seemed to drift. But when they drew nearer to her, drifting, they perceived that she was rowing, and, row they never so sturdily, she did keep the shallop in advance of them, nor did she concern herself with them, for she was a princess, and she had the sea in her heart, while they were but knights, and contented themselves with the river, having been born


5    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

with river-souls, in the river country. And these wearied her, so that she rowed the stronger for her disdain, and escaped them all, though now and then but by a shallop's length.

Now it chanced that there appeared upon the river a new oar, being the oar of a prince who did disguise himself, but could not disguise his stroke; nor did he row like these others, the knights who rowed upon the river for her sake who disdained them, and this the princess, being expert in such matters, perceived. But the prince did not seek to overtake the princess, whereat she marveled; and she glanced backward over the river, and observed him that he rowed not to overtake her, but drifted at the leisure of his heart.

And every day, at the hour which precedes and follows the setting of the sun, the prince drifted at the leisure of his heart. Then did the leisure pass out of the heart of the princess, and she marveled exceedingly, both at herself and at him who did not overtake her. And while she glanced, she drifted. And it befell that on a certain day she glanced, and behold, he was rowing steadily. Then the princess bent to her oars, she being strong and beautiful, and so escaped him like the others, and he saw that she smiled as she escaped. But he rowed mightily, for he was a prince, and he gained upon her. And she perceived that he gained upon her, and it did not suit her to be overtaken, for thus was her nature, and she followed her nature, for she was princess, and it was permitted her. And she smote the water, and turned her shallop swiftly, and disappeared from his sight, and from the sight of all those others whom he had distanced upon the river. And the light fell, and the dusk rose, and they twain, the escaped and the pursuing, the fleeing and the seeking, were alone on that part of the river. For it is not a frequented part of the river. And the prin-


6    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

cess hid from him. And she believed him to have passed by unwitting, so she stirred in her shallop to find her oars, but lo! she had lost them. And she was adrift upon the river, and it was dark. Now, while she sat there in perplexity, but mute, for she was royal, she heard the motion of oars, as they had been muffled, and it was not easy to follow the sound thereof, for it was a subtle stroke, although a mighty. And she recognized the stroke, and she remembered that she had lost her oars.

So the prince lifted her into his own shallop, and she, for she was royal, gainsaid him not.

I have translated as I copied, and the mistakes will speak for themselves, as mistakes always do. Of course it is a version of Atalanta,--one of those modern things that copy the antique without a blush,--yet I rather like it. I never had any patience with Atalanta.

I HAVE been pursued all day by a fragment that I cannot mend or join, and I think it must have come from some delicate Sèvres cup or vase, of the quality that breaks because it is so beautiful:

I never know why 't is I love thee so:
I do not think 't is that thine eyes for me
Grow bright as sudden sunshine on the sea.
. . . . . . .
It is thy face I see, and it befell
Thou wert, and I was, and I love thee well.

7    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

A man wrote that, I'm sure, but he was different from men; and no woman could have written it, though she were like women. I must ask Father to look it up for me. He is the most accurate quoter I ever knew, and I suppose I have his instinct for quotation, without his accuracy. I hate etiquette, barbed-wire fences, kindergarten cubes, mathematics, politics, law, and dress-coats. I like to wear golf-skirts, and not to give an account of myself, and to run about the grounds in the dark, and to get into a ruby gown before the fire and write like this when I come in. It is one of the nights when March slips into the arms of May, and chills her to the heart. I know two things in this world that never, never tire me and always rest me --I wonder if they always will? One is a sunset, and the other is open wood fire.

"Mr. Herwin has come in, and is reading to Father; the thick ceiling, floor, and carpet break the insistence of his voice, and it blurs into a rhythm, like the sound of waves. I don't altogether like his voice, and it's more agreeable taken through a medium of fresco and Wilton carpet. Robert Hazelton had a pleasant voice. Poor Rob! But he was too short, and he is very plain.

Oh, that wind! It roars like a' fierce, ele-


8    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

mental, raging creature that doesn't know what it wants, but is destined to have it at any cost. I can't help that feeling that if I opened the window and just let myself out, the, storm would be kind to me, and I should be upborne, and swept along safely, over the tops of trees, as I am in my dreams (they are usually elms, and very high, and I wonder why they are cultivated trees, and wish they were pines and live-oaks, but they always remain elms), and I think I should never be carried too high, so as to get frightened, or lost among clouds, and so dashed down. I am sure I should stay, like a captive balloon, at just about that height, within sight of earth and houses and people, but well out of their reach, and floating always, now wildly, now gently, if it stormed or if it calmed, with the cold freedom of the dead and the warm sentience of the living. And I think--

Father is sure not to miss me; the secretary is good for another hour at least. The next best thing to jumping out of the window is to get into the garden. The storm is growing gloriously worse. I believe I'll go.

I WENT. Golf-skirt and waterproof and rubber boots, wind in the face, rain on the head--I went. Slapped on the cheek, smitten in the


9    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

eyes, breath-beaten and storm-shaken, a fighter of and for the night and of the gale, for the love of storms and for the love of fighting, that was I. I seem to myself to have been a creature of the dark and the weather, sprung of them, as the wet flowers were sprung of the earth, and the falling torrents were born of the clouds. I seem to myself to have been a thousandfold more myself out there. The drawing-room girl in low dresses and trains, receiving beside her father, doing the proper thing saying what everybody says,--even the girl who likes Strauss waltzes, and dances once in a while till morning,--looked out of the window at this other girl, like distant relatives. The girl in the garden disowned them, and didn't care a raindrop what they thought of her. Oh, I didn't care what anybody thought of me! What's the sense in being alive if you can't hurl away other people's thoughts and respect your own? I suppose, if it comes to that, it's well to have your thoughts respectable. Truly, I don't think mine have ever been disreputable. Come Marna Trent! Out with it! Have they? No--no. I really don't think they have. I can't answer for what they might be, if it stormed hard enough, and I 'd been to too many receptions, and I couldn't get into rubber boots and a waterproof and run about gardens.


10    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

When you come to think of it, what 's a garden? The walls are stone, and pretty high; there are broken glass bottles all along the top, to keep burglars out and the cat in; James locks the iron gate at eleven; the shrubbery is all trimmed like bushes that have just come from the barber's; there isn't a weed to be seen, and the paths are so narrow that I get my golf-skirt wet. Why, if I were a man, I should be outside, in the clubs, the streets, the theaters,--God knows where,--doing bohemian things, watching people in the slums, going to queer places with policemen, tramping up and down and watching the colored lights on the long bridges, taking tremendous walks out into the country, coming home at any hour, with a latch-key, and wearing a mackintosh--no, I should wear an oil-coat, a long oil-coat, and a fisherman's sou'wester, and I should go--I wonder where? and I should do--I wonder what?

But I am a girl; and I stay in the garden. And that 's bad enough, for the other girls don't care about gardens. I heard a woman tell another woman one day that I was "very imprudent." She said I "went out evenings." I laughed then, for I could afford to, and I didn't care what she said. I don't feel so much like laughing now. The worst thing I ever did in my life I've done to-night within the last half-hour.


11    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

I'm glad that woman doesn't know it.

I haven't been outside of my father's garden, either. And you know, Marna Trent, how much respect your father's garden. In the first place, it 's a garden, and in the next, it's your father's. I believe the storm-soul got me, as the water-soul took Undine, when nobody expected it.

The princess was a sea-princess, but she lived in an inland country"--poor thing! I always thought I should like to go to school with a princess, and be able to say "Poor thing!" to her, for of course they're nothing but other girls, only they can't wallow round among wet things in rubber boots and golf-skirts. Who would be princess if she could be the daughter of an ex-governor, and live in a big, dull suburban place, with a garden seven acres across?

I went out into the garden, I say, and it stormed like the Last Day (I've always thought it would come in a spring freshet), and nobody saw me, for the servants weren't about, and the secretary was reading "The Life of Rufus Choate" to Father (Father always chooses some those contemporary things); and I saw the top of Mr. Herwin's head as I crept by the library windows--he has rather a nice head, if his hair weren't too curly. I don't like curly men, but straight ones, like Father. I stood on


12    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

tiptoe and peeked in, but I kept a good way off. Father looked very handsome and peaceful and happy in his big leather chair--dear Father! The secretary was reading dutifully. I believe he does it to increase his income while he is studying law, for one day I told him I couldn't bear lawyers, and he cultivated a grieved expression, which was not becoming, and I told him so. I never have been able to get on with Mr. Herwin. There's an Heir-to-the-Throne-in Disguise manner about him which, in my opinion, the circumstances don't justify. I feel like a panther stroked the wrong way every time I see him. It 's two years, now, since he has been around. I should think Father would get tired to death of him, but he says he is "a brilliant young man."

I wonder what he 'd say now? But I don't see that there is any particular need of his knowing; I hate to worry Father. He's always had the most absurd confidence in me; it's perfectly irrational, but pretty solid. It's like the garden wall, with broken bottles on top. Who knows what I should have done without it? I hope I should have drawn the line at eloping with the coachman. An hour ago I had never done anything very special that I wouldn't be willing to


13    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

have father know. He might have seen any other page in this book; I 'd have given it to him if he asked for it. I wonder if this is the way people feel when they have done some dreadful thing-- like one person before the deed and another person after, and not able to convince anybody else that it isn't the same person at all. I feel very strangely, and a little seasick, as if I got off a shipwreck.

I went out into the garden, and it stormed as if the skies were breaking up and coming to pieces on the earth, and burying it under--you might think they were ashamed to see it. And the wind had worked its temper into a hurricane, but I loved it! I loved it! And I ran around in it, and I stiffened myself and fought against it, and turned and drew my waterproof-hood up, and fled before it; and I don't know which I liked the better, the battle or the flight, for I love everything that such a storm as that can do to you. My waterproof was drenched before I got past the smoke-bush and the big spiæa in the clump by the tree-house, and my golf-skirt wasn't short enough: it hit the borders, and they sopped at me like sponges squeezed out. And there was a hole in my rubber boots, and I could feel my feet squash in the wet. And


14    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

the wilder it was, and the wetter, the happier I felt. And I began to sing, for nobody could hear me, it raved so out there among the trees. I sang opera and ballads and queer things--all the love-songs I ever knew, and that one I like about the skipper's daughter and the mate:

"...a man might sail to Hell in your companie."
. . . . . . .
"Why not to Heaven?" quo' she.

And pop! in the middle of them, something dashed at me, and it was Job. I thought he was shut up in the kitchen, for his feet were wet, and he had a sore throat, and I 'd given him some hot whisky; and I scolded him. But I must say I appreciated it to have him take all that trouble to find me--there's no flatterer in this world like your own dog. So I picked him up, and put him under my waterproof in one of the dry spots.

"Job," I said, " you know better than this!"

Then the storm lifted up its voice, and spoke, quite distinctly, so close to me that I jumped.

"And so do you," it said.

And there stood a man.

I jumped, but I did not scream--I have so much consolation; but I haven't another atom. He was very wet, but not so wet as I, and he seemed to shed the storm from his mackintosh as


15    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

if it had been impudence. He looked exceedingly tall in the dark, and his soft felt hat was crushed down over his face in a disgraceful way. I had never noticed how square his shoulders were.

"Sir," said I, "how did you get here?"

"Why, I followed Job, of course," he said.

"Could you follow him back?" I suggested quite pleasantly.

Not immediately--no."

"If James should come out by accident--and he might, you know --he would shoot you for a burglar, as surely as you stand here. I don't see," I said--"really, Mr. Herwin, I don't see what you are standing here for."

"I will explain to you if you like," answered the secretary. He spoke so steadily, with that Heir-to-the-Throne manner of his, that I found it impossible to endure it, and I said:

"I think you forget what is due to me. You had better go back and read 'Rufus Choate' to my father."

"That is unworthy of you," he answered me very quietly.

Of course I knew it was, and that didn't make me feel any better. I let Job down, for he squirmed so under my waterproof, and insisted on kissing Mr. Herwin, which I thought


16    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

very unpleasant of him; so he ran around in his bare feet and sore throat,--I mean Job did,--and if he has pneumonia it will be Mr. Herwin's fault, and I shall never forgive him, never. By this time we had begun to walk up and down, up and down, for it was pretty cold standing still to be rained on so, and we splashed across the garden, fighting the gale and running from it,--first this, then that,--we two, I and a man, just as I had done alone. Job splashed after us, in his insufferably adorable, patient way, only the paths were so narrow that Job had to walk chiefly in the box border, which was wetter than anything.

"You had better go into the house," the secretary began.

"I 'm not ready to go into the house."

"You are getting very wet."

"That 's what I came out for."

"Sometime you'll do this once too often."

"I have done it once too often, it seems."

"I meant, you risk pneumonia. It is intolerable."

"It is Job who has pneumonia, not I. Pick him up, won't you? Put him under your mackintosh. He must be sopping. Thank you. Why, thank you! I really didn't think--"

"Don't you really think that I would do anything whatever that you asked me to?"


17    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

"I never gave the subject any consideration, Mr. Herwin."

"Then," he said, wheeling, "consider it now!"

A cataract of rain swept down from the trees over our heads, and drowned the words off his lips. A street light looked over the wall. I could see the broken bottles glisten, and a faint electric pallor flitted over that part of the garden by the tree-house in the Porter apple-tree. Now, the tree-house has a little thatched roof, and it isn't quite so wet in there, though it is only lattice at the sides, and sometimes I go in there when my storms are particularly wet--for nobody would think what a difference there is in storms; some of them are quite dry.

"Come!" said the secretary. And he took my hand as if he had been an iron man. Of course all he meant was to put me into the driest wetness there was till the torrent held up a little; but when I found myself alone in that tree-house in the storm, in the dark, with that man, I could have stabbed him with something, if I had anything sharp about me. But I had the sense left not to say so.

"I've always wanted a name for this tree-house," I began; "now I've got it."

And the man said "Ararat!" before I got the word out. I didn't suppose he was that kind of man. And I began to feel quite comfortable


18    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

and to enjoy myself, and it is the scandalous and sacred truth that I began not to want to go in. And at that point, if anybody would believe it, the secretary took it upon himself to make me go in.

The storm had gone babbling down,--it had got past the raving stage,--and he put out his hand to help me down the tree-house steps, but he didn't say anything at all, and I would rather he had said anything. The street light looked over the wall at us, and I felt as if it were a policeman, while I climbed down from Ararat. It is a very unbecoming light. I hope I didn't look as ghastly as he did.

So I said, "You are hoarse, Mr. Herwin. You have taken cold already," just as one says, "Won't you have another lump of sugar?" at an afternoon tea. I admit that my remark was the more exasperating, seeing that the man was as dumb as a stuffed eagle. Then he opened his mouth, and spake:

"You will come in now, Miss Marna, won't you? Your father might be worried."

Now he spoke in quite a proper tone, gently and deferentially, as a man should, and I said yes, I would go in; for I am quite willing to please people when they speak to me properly. So we came in, up the wet paths, between the


19    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

box borders, and the rain had stopped. And Mr. Herwin did not talk at all while we went past the spiræa and smoke-bushes, but Job wriggled out from under his mackintosh and kissed him in the most unmitigated way. So we came on, and the library lights fell out on us from the window where I had peeked in; and Father was asleep in his big chair before the fire. And it came over me like that! what a thing I'd done--prancing about in a dark garden, in a storm, alone in a tree-house with the secretary, and only Job to chaperon me. For I never have done such a thing before in my life. I never did anything I shouldn't want the servants to know. And I wondered what Father would think. So I pulled up my waterproof-hood over my bare, wet head, to hide the scorching of my cheeks. But the man had the manners not to notice this. He did something much worse, however. He began, in a personally conducted tone that I object to:

"Do you often go out this way in such storms?"

"Always."

"You might get one of those dangerous colds people are having."

"I couldn't get cold that way, any more than an English sparrow."


20    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

"The next time you do it," said Mr. Herwin, "I shall go, too. In fact," he said, "every time you do it, I shall come out and bring you in."

"Very well," I said; "that would only make it the more interesting."

The secretary looked at me with a kind of proud motion of his head, for he saw that I taunted him. I was sorry by then, and I would have stopped him, but it was too late. Before the library window, in the face of the porch light, in the sight of my father, he told me how he felt to me.

"Oh, what a pity!" I said--

If he had talked that way, if he had looked that way, if I had known he felt that way, out on Ararat, in the dark and wet, I should have said something so insolent to him as no man ever could forgive a woman for, not if she were sorry till she died for having said it. But it was not storming any more. And it seemed different in the light and quiet, and with Father so near. So I answered as I did. What could a girl do more? I 'm sure I was quite civil to the secretary. I can't see any particular reason why he should get up such an expression as he did. And he dropped Job, too, and Job growled at him--there 's positively no limit to that dog's intelligence.


21    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

So I said good night, but Mr. Herwin did not answer me. He lifted his hat, and stood bare-headed, and Job and I came, dripping, into the empty hall.

Now we are quite dry and happy. Job is done up in his gray blanket that matches his blue-skye complexion, bundled before the fire. He has had another dose of whisky; I suspect he has got a little too much. I have had a hot bath, and got out of everything and into something, and now my ruby gown --especially the velvet part of it--seems to me to understand me better than anything in the world. The rain has quite stopped, but the wind sings down the chimney. It has that tune in its head, too, and seems to be humming it:

A man might sail to Hell in your companie."
But never gets quite through, comes to a pause, falls short of heaven, and spoils the sense.

Father is still asleep in the library. Maggie has come and gone for the night. The house is preposterously still. Mr. Herwin did not come in again. I didn't know but he would.

"MY DEAR MR. HERWIN:

I hope I was not uncivil to you the other evening. I was really


22    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

very wet and cross. I did not mean to be ugly, you know, but I'm liable to break out that way. It's a kind of attack I have at times: I growl, like Job. I hope you quite understand that I esteem you very highly, and that I am always ready to be your friend, although I cannot be what you ask.

"Most sincerely yours, "MARNA TRENT."
"DEAR MR. HERWIN:

I fail to see why I should be snapped up in this way, as if I had been in the habit of forcing an unwelcome correspondence upon you. I must call your attention to the fact that you never received a note from me before, and this, I beg you to observe, is the last with which you will be annoyed. I did not suppose my friendship was a matter of so little consequence to people. For my own part, I think friendship is much nicer than other things. According to my experience, that is the great point on which men and women differ. I am, sir,

"Very truly yours, "M. TRENT."

There are people so constituted that they must express themselves at any proper or improper


23    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

cost, and I'm afraid I'm one of them. I admire the large reserve, the elemental silence that one reads about, in what I call the deaf-mute heroes heroines; but I can't imitate it, and whether I'm above or beneath it, I perceive that I haven't the perception to know.

There are four ways in which a woman can her mind, if she doesn't lavish her heart: a mother, a girl friend, a lover, or a book will serve her. None of these four outlets is open to me. Ina! Poor Ina! You sweet, dead, only girl I ever truly cared for! Sometimes I wonder if my mother's lovely ghost is a little jealous of you because I can't remember her to love her as I loved you. Pray tell her, Dear, if you get a chance in that wide world of yours and hers, that I have never thought about her in all my life as much as I have this spring. She seems to float before me and about me, in the air, wherever I go or stir.

A good many people have told me that I ought to be a writer, which only shows the massive ignorance of the average human mind. It sometimes seems to me as if I must carry "Rejected, with thanks" written all over me, I have explored that subject so thoroughly. I am told that there are persons who have got manuscripts back seventeen times, and have become famous


24    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

at the eighteenth trial trip; but my pluck gave out at four experiences with prose and two with poetry, and I am done with a literary career for this world.

There is a fifth method of self-preservation. You can become your own author, publisher, printer, binder, reader, critic, and public; and a common blank-book, with a padlock if you choose, is competent to carry your soul and the secrets thereof, if you have any, or to convince you that you have some, if you haven't, which is substantially the same thing. I call mine "The Accepted Manuscript."

It is a week to-night since I added anything to the Accepted Manuscript, and I've nothing but copies of a couple of humiliating notes to fill the gap. Since that evening when I went out into the tree-house in the storm, the secretary has not seen fit to speak to me at all. If I meet him at the door, he lifts his hat, and if I go into the library while he is reading to Father, he lifts his eyes, and their expression is positively exasperating. I never denied that Mr. Herwin was a handsome man, and melancholy becomes him, I'm bound to admit. But he has that remote air, as if I had been caught stabbing him, and nobody knew it but himself and me, and he wouldn't tell of me, lest I be held up to human


25    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

execration; it is a manner quite peculiar to Mr. Herwin. I don't pretend to know how the man does it, but he contrives to make me feel as if I had committed high treason, as if I had got entangled in a political plot against my own nature.

I wish Father would dismiss him and get another secretary.

I told him so yesterday, for I got a chance when we met in the hall, and I was going out to drive in my dove-colored cloth, trying to open chiffon sunshade that stuck. He opened it for me--he is quite a gentleman, even when I don't choose to be quite a lady, and I will own that no invariable lady ought to have said what I said to the secretary. And the aggravating thing about it was that the secretary laughed--he laughed outright, as if I had amused him more than I could be expected to understand. He had the sunshade in his hand, and he held it over my head, and he said: "What pretty nonsense!" But he looked at the white silk and chiffon, with the sun shining through it. I wasn't quite clear what he meant. I'm not accustomed to have my sunshades called nonsense, or my language either. I never heard of a governor's secretary before who was impertinent to the governor's daughter. I can't see that Senator Herwin's having been an honest person, and dying poor,


26    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

accounts for it. I have been told that Mrs. Herwin was a Southern beauty, the extravagant kind, and that she led her husband a life. I never saw her, but I 'm sure the secretary resembles his mother. He looks remarkably handsome when he is insolent.

"MY DEAR MR. HERWIN:

I have spent twenty-four hours trying to decide whether to put your note into the fire, return it unanswered, or show it to my father. It is really unpleasant to receive such things. You put one in such a brutal light! As if it were a girl's fault because a man liked her. I don't wish to be ill-mannered; I'd rather be barbarous: but you compel me to say, sir, that I disapprove of your persistence altogether. Pray, do you think I am the kind of woman who can be browbeaten into loving people? Perhaps you take me for the other sort that waits to be coaxed. Learn that I am neither

"But believe me to be,
"Sincerely yours, "MARNA TRENT.

"P.S. I told you that I esteemed you and would be your friend. You refused my friendship, and now you wonder that I decline your


27    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

love. It seems to me that a man ought to be satisfied with what he can get, and not make such large demands that nobody can possibly meet them. If I were a man, and loved a woman as much as all that, I would--well, I would do quite differently."

"DEAR MR. HERWIN:

Certainly not. Why should I tell you what I would do if I were a man? I cannot see that the circumstances call for it.

Very truly, "M. T."
"MY DEAR SIR:

Your last note is disagreeable to me. I must beg you to forego any further correspondence with me on this subject. It is one on which it is, and will be forever, impossible for us to agree.

M. TRENT."
"MY DEAR MR. HERWIN:

The world is so full of women! I read the other day that there are forty millions in this country. I think if you really would exert yourself, you might manage to love some other one of them. And then you and I would both be quite happy. You are not a dull man (I grant you that), but you don't seem to understand my point in the least. It is not that I have a highly developed aversion to


28    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

you. It is that I do not wish to love any man--not any man. Pray consider this as final. You can be so agreeable when you are not troublesome.

"MARNA TRENT."
"DEAR FRIEND:

Now you are quite reasonable and possible. I never had any objections to your friendship; it was you who objected to mine. Since you are willing to meet me on that basis at last, I find you interesting and valuable to me; and I am perfectly willing to write to you in this way once in a while, since you wish it, though I prefer to mail anything I may feel like saying to your address. I was sorry the day I left a note in the second volume of 'Rufus Choate,' and I would rather you did not send things by Maggie. There 's something about it I don't just like. I never allowed my heroine to do it in the novel I wrote. You never knew I wrote a novel, did you? I never told anybody before. It is because we are friends that I tell you. That is my idea of a friend --somebody you can say things to. I am mistaken in you if you ask me why I never published it. That's one thing I like about you--you are not stupid. You are one of the people who understand; and there are not enough of them to go round, you know. I never knew but one person who understood--


29    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

that was my girl friend, Ina. She died. Sometimes I think she died because she understood too much--everything and everybody. People wasted their hearts on her; they told her everything, and went bankrupt in confidence as soon they came near her.

"Job and I are sitting in the library, and Father has gone to bed. You have been gone half an hour. The June-beetles are butting their heads against the screens on account of the lights, and Job barks and bounces at them every time they hit. The moths are out there, too, clinging to the wire netting, and flying about stealthily--beautiful little beings, some of them, transparent as spirits, and as indifferent to fate as men and women. How joyously they court death! To look at them one would think it quite a privilege.

"I found the roses when you left, and the poems, out in the hall on the hat-tree. You are very thoughtful and kind, and, to tell the truth, I don't mind being remembered. I have never read much of Edwin Arnold. I shall begin with the long one about Radha and Krishna. I have turned the leaves a little. I must say I don't think Krishna was in the least worthy of a girl like that. Why did she waste herself on such a fellow?


30    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

"So you liked my shade hat with the May-flowers? That is very nice of you. The disadvantage about a man friend is that his education in millinery is defective, as a rule. I was quite pleased that you knew it was a May-flower. Father asked me if they were hollyhocks, and I told him no, they were peonies.

"Faithfully your friend, MARNA TRENT.

"P.S. I forgot to say yes, thank you; I will drive with you on Sunday, if you wish."

"OH, now you have spoiled it all! How could you, how could you begin all over again, and be disagreeable? Do you suppose I would have walked in the garden with you, by moonlight, by June moonlight, if I hadn't trusted you? I don't trust people over again when they shake my trust, either, not if I can help it. That is one of my peculiarities. I have attacks of lunacy,--idiocy, if you will,--but I swing back, and come to my senses, and look at things with a kind of composure which I don't wonder that you did not count on. I don't think it is characteristic of girls, as girls go, and I know that it is not considered admirable or lovable by men. But I cannot help that, and I don't want to help


31    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

it, which is more. I prefer to swing back and keep balance of power.

"Sir, you did wrong to make love to me again, when I had trusted you to make friendship. No, I shall be quite unable to play golf with you on Saturday, and I shall not be at home on Sunday afternoon. I am going out to the cemetery to put flowers on Ina's grave. And on Monday Father has invited an old friend of ours, Dr. Robert Hazelton, to dinner, so I shall be preëngaged all that evening, while you are reading to Father, and probably much later. And on Tuesday I am going to a dance at the Curtises'. There is one thing I am convinced of: it is the greatest mistake, both in life and in literature, to suppose that love is the difficult, the complicated thing. It is not love, it is friendship, which is great problem of civilized society. The other is quite elemental beside it.

"M. T."

June the thirteenth.

If I loved Mr. Herwin, of course I would not, in fact I perceive that I could not, make him so miserable. I think he is the handsomest man, when he is unhappy, whom I ever knew in my life. I like to be quite just to people. He has the bewildering beauty of a pagan god (I mean,


32    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

of course, one of the good-looking gods), but he has the exasperating sensitiveness of a modern man. And then, he has the terrible persistence of a savage. I think he would have been capable of dashing whole tribes to war for a woman, and carrying her off on his shoulder, bound hand and foot, to his own country, and whether she loved him or hated him wouldn't have mattered so much--he would have got the woman. It must be very uncomfortable to be born with such a frightful will.

But I do not love him. I have told him that I do not love him. I have told him till I should think he would be ashamed to hear it again. But it seems only to make him worse and worse. He has a kind of sublimated insolence such as I never met in any other person, and when I scorn him for it, I find that I admire him for it--which is despicable in me, of course, and I know it perfectly.

He had the arrogance to tell me to-day in so many words that I didn't understand myself. He said--but I will not write what he said. The Accepted Manuscript rejects the quotation.--Oh, if I could talk with Ina! My poor Ina! --If I could only put my head on my mother's lap a minute! It seems to me a lonely girl is the loneliest being in all the world.


33    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

June the fourteenth.

I put the date down. I put it down precisely, and drive it into my memory like the nail that Jael drove into living flesh and bone and brain. Now that I have done it, I wonder that I am not as dead as Sisera.

I have told a person to-night--I, being sane and in my right mind, competent to sign a will, or serve as a witness, or be treasurer of a charity bazaar--I, Marna Trent, have told a person that I--

How long ago was it? Forty-five minutes, by my watch. We were in the drawing-room, for Father had two governors and three senators to dinner, and he had them prisoners in the library, and the secretary was let off. So Job was lying on the flounce of my white swiss with the May-flowers embroidered on it, and the lights were a little low on account of the June-beetles, and there was a moon, and our long lace curtain drifted in and out, and blew against me, and I got twisted in it like a veil.

And the secretary said--Then I said--He looked like that savage I wrote about--the one that flung all the tribes into war. If he had picked me up and jumped over the garden wall with me, I shouldn't have been surprised in the least. The terrible thing is that I shouldn't


34    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

have much cared if he had. For the man did look as glorious as a deity. But he had the divine originality to tell me that I loved him.

And the veriest squaw in the latest great and gory North American historical novel couldn't have acted worse than I did.

For I said I did.

As soon. as the words were out of me, I could have killed myself. And when I saw the expression on his face, I could have killed him (that is, I could have if, say, it had been the fashion of my tribe). There never was a civilized woman who had more of the "forest primeval" in her than I, and never one who was less suspected of it. I am thought to be quite a proper person, like other well-bred girls; and the curious thing is that the savage in me never breaks out in improper ways, but only smolders, and sharpens knives, and thinks things, and hums war-cries under its breath --and carries chiffon sunshades, and wears twelve-button gloves and satin slippers or embroidered May-flowers all the while. And nothing could prove it so well as the fact that my hand and my brain are writing this sentence, putting words together decently and in order, while I have fled into a pathless place and hidden from myself. If he were here this minute, searching my soul with


35    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

his splendid eyes, that man could never find me. I cannot find myself. There is no trail.

All I know is that I got straight up, and went out of the drawing-room, and left him alone. Any school-girl might have done as silly a thing. I can't say that I take any particular comfort in the recollection of the fact. But I am convinced I should do it again under the same circumstances.

For the lace curtain blew so, and fell over my head and face, and I stood up to push it away, and he sprang to his feet, and his arms --and I dipped under them, as if we had been playing that game that children call "Open the gates to let the king come in"--and so I whirled about, and swung out, and I found I was free, and I ran.

He hasn't gone yet. It is perfectly still in the drawing-room. That is his cigar on the piazza. I wonder what he 's waiting for?

I PUT my head out of the window just now to ask him, for it is very tiresome up here, and cigar-smoke makes me nervous. So I leaned out a little way, and I said:

"What are you waiting for, Mr. Herwin?"

"You."

"You'll wait a good while, then."


36    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

"Oh, no, I sha'n't."

"Sir, I find you insufferable."

"Dear, I find you adorable."

"Mr. Herwin, go home. I am not coming down."

"Marna, come down. I am not going home."

"Then you will spend the night on the piazza. What are you waiting for, anyway?"

"To take something."

"Call James. He has the keys of the wine-cellar."

"Are you going to be insufferable?"

"Well, I'd rather be anything than adorable."

"But, you see, you can't help yourself."

"You'll find I can....What is it you are waiting to take, Mr. Herwin?"

"One of my rights."

"You have no rights, sir."

"Oh, yes, I have...Marna, come down!"

"I might, if you spoke to me properly."

"Won't you come down --please?"

"I am sorry to disappoint you. But I do not please." And then I shut the window down. But it is a pretty warm night, and I couldn't stand it as long as I thought I could. So I opened the window after a while, as softly as a moonbeam sliding around the edges of a leaf. I didn't think anybody could hear me. That


37    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

man has the ears of an intelligent Cherokee. But I shall not write down what he said. The Accepted Manuscript declines the publication such language. So I answered, for I had to say something:

"Where is Job, Mr. Herwin?"

"On my lap."

"I must say I don't think much of his taste. What is he doing?"

"Kissing me."

"Oh, good gracious!"...

So I shut the window down again, and I locked it, too. Pretty soon Job came up to my door and cried, and I let him in. But I didn't go down. And I didn't open the window. And there isn't air enough in this room to fill the lungs of a moth. And Job's tongue hangs out of his mouth like a long, pink ribbon, he pants so. It is ten o'clock.

IT is half-past ten. I have opened the window far enough to tuck my silver hand-glass under --the little one. By the pronounced absence of nicotine from the atmosphere, I infer that the secretary has given up a bad argument and gone home.--I wonder, by the way, what kind of home he has? It never occurred to me to wonder, before. Some sort of chambers, I sup-


38    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

pose, among a lot of bachelors. I should think he must be quite comfortable and happy.

The governors and the senators have gone, too. I have kissed Father good night, and sent Maggie away, for I couldn't bear the sight of her to-night, and had hard work not to tell her so. And now Job and I are locked in. Job is asleep in his basket bed by the window; and when the June-beetles hit on the screen, he growls in his dreams, for there never was anybody so intelligent as Job; but when the moths come, they are so beautiful and so stealthy, he does not growl. As I write, they whirl and flit, and retreat and advance, and yield and persist, like half-embodied souls entangled in some eternal game. That invisible barrier between them and delight and death seems to tantalize them beyond endurance.

It is eleven o'clock.

IT is half-past eleven. I haven't begun to undress. I think there never was anything worse than the weather to-night. I cannot get breath enough to think. Job squirms about in his basket, and sits up and begs like a china dog in a country grocery. I think he wants a walk. I believe I'll slip out into the garden with him; I've done it before, as late as this. The moon


39    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

is as bright as an army with banners. There is something martial and terrible about it--it seems to move right over one, as if it had orders to prepare for a vast battle of the elements. I believe there'll be a tremendous easterly storm to-morrow. I always know before the weather bureau does when an easterly is on the way. Perhaps I may come to my senses out in the garden.

It is twelve o'clock--it is, to be precise, half-past twelve o'clock.

I did come to my senses out in the garden--or I lost them forever, and the terrible thing is that I cannot tell which.

For Job and I went out into the garden, and the world was as white as death, and as warm as life, and we plunged into the night as if we plunged into a bath of warmth and whiteness--and I ran faster than Job. The yellow June lilies are out, and the purple fleurs-de-lis; the white climber is in blossom on the tree-house, and the other roses--oh, the roses! There was such a scent of everything in one--a lily-honey-iris-rose perfume--that I felt drowned in it, as if I had been one flower trying to become another, or doomed to become others still. It was as quiet as paradise. I ran up the steps to


40    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

Ararat, and Job stayed below to paw a toad. The little white rose followed me all over the lattice, and seemed to creep after me; it has a golden heart, and such a scent as I cannot describe; it is the kind of sweetness that makes you not want to talk about it. The electric light in the street was out, for this suburb, being of an economical turn of mind, never competes with the moon. There was moon enough--oh, there was enough, I think, for the whole world! For, when that happened which did happen, it seemed to me as if the whole world were looking at me.

As I sat, quite by myself, in Ararat, behind the vines, all flecked with leaf-shadows and flower-shadows.(and thinking how pretty shadows are on white dresses and on bare hands and a little bit of your arm), I heard Job's tail hit the foot of the tree-house steps. And as I looked, it began to wag in the most unpardonable manner. Then I knew what had happened, and my heart leaped in my body like a live creature that had been caught in a trap. My lips moved, but they were as dry as a dead, red maple-leaf; my words refused me, and there couldn't have been a rose in the garden as red as my cheeks, for I felt as if I could have died of fear and joy, and of shame because I felt joy. There is something


41    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

terrible about joy. It doesn't seem to mind any of the other emotions.

"Do not be frightened," he said quite gently. "It is only I."

It was only he. It was only the only person in the world who could have frightened me, out there in Ararat in my father's garden, at more than half-past eleven by the June moon.

He came up the tree-house steps, tramping steadily, and he made no more apology for his behavior than the moon did, or the west wind, which, by now, had begun to stir and rise.

"You intrude, Mr. Herwin," I said. "Since you do, I must go into the house."

"Presently," he said serenely. But I looked up into his eyes, and I saw that he was not serene. And he stood between me and the tree-house steps. And I said:

"Let me pass, sir!"

"In a minute, Marna."

"Let me pass this minute!"

"My beautiful!"

"You presume, Mr. Herwin, and take a liberty."

"Perhaps I do. I beg your pardon. Go into the house, if you will."

He stepped back. I moved to go down the tree-house steps, but I tripped over something--


42    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

it was Job; for Job had forgotten his toad, and he had come up into Ararat, wiggling and waggling at the secretary, and he took my dress in his teeth to shake it the way he does, and that tripped me, and I fell.

I should have gone clear down the tree-house steps, the whole length, but he caught me. And when he had caught me he did not let me go.

"I will not take it," he said, between his teeth. And he went as white as the moon. "You shall give it to me."

"I will never give it to you!" I cried.

"What if I held you here until you did "

"I should hate and abhor you."

"You couldn't hate me."

"When you speak like that, I despise you."

"No, you don't; you love me."

"I wish you a very good evening, Mr. Herwin."

"I wish you to be my wife, Miss Trent."

"I must decline the honor, sir."

"But I decline the declination...You love me!"

"Do you think it is proper--keeping a girl out here at midnight, this way?"

"We will make it proper. We will tell the whole world to-morrow morning. I will wake your father up and tell him now, if you say so."


43    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

"I don't say anything--not anything, you understand."

"You have said everything, Dear," he answered another tone, and he spoke so reverently and solemnly that my spirit died within me, and I felt, suddenly and strangely, less like a girl in love than like a girl at prayer. And the tears came to me, I don't know why, from some depth in me that I had never known or felt in all my life; and they began to roll down my cheeks, and I trembled, for I was more afraid of my own tears than I was of him, or of his love.

"God forgive me!" he said. "What have I done? I have made you cry!" And he took my face between his hands.

Oh, Mother, Mother! My dead Mother! The man took my face between his hands, and he kissed me on the lips.--Mother, Mother, Mother!

IT is two o'clock. I cannot sleep. I am sitting up straight here in my night-dress. I think I shall never sleep again. The night grows cruelly bright and brighter all the time. I wish the moon could be put out. I. feel as if my eyelids had been burned off, as if my eyes would never feel any softness or darkness again. I wonder if there are people in the world who would not


44    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

feel as unhappy if they had committed a great sin as I feel about that kiss ?

The music over at the Curtises' has but just stopped. Somebody has been serenading one of the Curtis girls--a college crowd, I think. They sang a thing I do not know. But the German words came over quite distinctly:

Er hat mich geküsst.
My cheeks blaze till they smart and ache. I feel as if the whole world knew. I feel as if the climbing rose told, and the iris, the June lilies, and even the poor gray toad that Job tormented; as if every sweet, loving, gracious thing and every little, common, unpopular thing in nature conspired against me; and as if the moon sided with them, and the warm west wind drove them on.

And the moths--now I have it! It was the moths. They who delight in dying, and die of delight--they would be the first to tell of me. They would see me led to delight and death, and not be sorry for me at all. Nobody would be sorry for me.

Er hat mich geküsst.
And yet I do not wish or mean to marry this man--nor any man; no, not any man. That is my nature.


45    CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE

Why has not my nature as much claim to recognition as his nature? I can't see that he has a monopoly in natures. In that Indian poem which he sent me were some words. They keep close behind my thoughts, as close as Job keeps to my shadow:

Thy heart has entered: let thy feet go too.
Give him the drink of amrit from thy lips.
But Radha was quite a dignified person. Nobody took any liberties with her. Krishna was bad enough, but he did not steal. That a man should kiss you when you do not mean to be his wife--it is a dreadful thing. I can't think of anything worse that could happen to a girl. He has made me so unhappy that I never want to see his face again.

I think I really shall ask Father to dismiss the secretary.

chapter 8 >>