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In Which Mr. Erwin Sees Paris
As she glanced around the sitting-room of her apart ment in Paris one September morning she found it difficult, in some respects, to realize that she had lived in it for more than five years. After Chiltern's death she had sought a ref. uge, and she had found it here: a refuge in which she meant-if her intention may be so definitely stated—to pass the remainder of her days.
As a refuge it had become dear to her. When first she had entered it she had looked about her numbly, thankful for walls and roof, thankful for its remoteness from the haunts of the prying: as a shipwrecked castaway regards, at the first light, the cave into which he has stumbled into the darkness-gratefully. And gradually, castaway that she felt herself to be, she had adorned it lovingly, as one above whose horizon the sails of hope were not to rise; filled it with friends not chosen in a day, whose faithful ministrations were not to cease. Her books, but only those worthy to be bound and read again; the pictures she had bought when she had grown to know what pictures were; the music she had come to love for its eternal qualities—these were her companions.
The apartment was in the old quarter across the Seine, and she had found it by chance. The ancient family of which this hotel had once been the home would scarce have recog. nized, if they had returned, the part of it Honora occupied. The room in which she mostly lived was above the corner of the quiet street, and might have been more aptly called a sitting-room than a salon. Its panels were the most delicate of blue-gray, fantastically designed and outlined by ribbons of blue. Some of them contained her pictures. The chairs, the sofas, the little tabourets, were upholstered in yellow,
their wood matching the panels. Above the carved mantel of yellowing marble was a quaintly shaped mirror extending to the high ceiling, and flanked on either side by sconces. The carpet was a golden brown, the hangings in the tall win. dows yellow. And in the morning the sun came in, not bois. terously, but as a well-bred and cheerful guest. An amiable proprietor had permitted her also to add a wrought-iron balcony as an adjunct to this room, and sometimes she sat there on the warmer days reading under the seclusion of an awning, or gazing at the mysterious façades of the houses opposite, or at infrequent cabs or pedestrians below.
An archway led out of the sitting-room into a smaller room, once the boudoir of a marquise, now Honora's library. This was in blue and gold, and she had so far modified the design of the decorator as to replace the mirrors of the cases with glass; she liked to see her books. Beyond the library was a dining room in grey, with dark red hangings; it over. looked the forgotten garden of the hotel.
One item alone of news from the outer world, vital to her, had drifted to her retreat. Newspapers filled her with dread, but it was from a newspaper, during the first year of her retirement, that she had learned of the death of Howard Spence. A complication of maladies was mentioned, but the true underlying cause was implied in the article, and this had shocked but not surprised her. A ferment was in progress in her own country, the affairs of the Orange Trust Company being investigated, and its president under indictment at the hour of his demise. Her feelings at the time, and for months after, were complex. She had been moved to deep pity, for in spite of what he had told her of his business transactions, it was impossible for her to think of him as a criminal. That he had been the tool of others, she knew, but it remained a question in her mind how clearly he had perceived the immorality of his course, and of theirs. He had not been given to casuistry, and he had been brought up in a school the motto of which he had once succinctly stated: the survival of the fittest. He had not been, alas, one of those to survive.
Thus Honora had found it impossible to unravel the tangled skein of their relationship, to assign a definite amount of blame to each. She did not shirk hers, and was willing to accept a full measure. That she had done wrong in marrying him, and again in leaving him to marry another man, she acknowledged freely. Wrong as she knew this to have been, severely though she had been punished for it, she could not bring herself to an adequate penitence. She tried to remember him as he had been at Silverdale, and in the first months of their marriage, and not as he had afterwards become. There was no question in her mind, now that it was given her to see things more clearly, that she might have tried harder, much harder, to make their marriage a success. He might, indeed, have done more to protect and cherish her. It was a man's part to guard a woman against the evils with which she had been surrounded. On the other hand, she could not escape the fact, nor did she attempt to escape it, that she had had the more light of the two: and that, though the task were formidable, she might have fought to retain that light and infuse him with it.
That she did not hold herself guiltless is the important point. Many of her hours were spent in retrospection. She was, in a sense, as one dead, yet retaining her faculties; and these became infinitely keen now that she was deprived of the power to use them as guides through life. She felt that the
power had come too late, like a legacy when one is old. And she contemplated the Honora of other days of the flesh, as though she were now the spirit departed from that body; sorrowfully, poignantly regretful of the earthly motives, of the tarnished ideals by which it had been animated and led to destruction.
Even Hugh Chiltern had left her no illusions. She thought of him at times with much tenderness; whether she still loved him or not she could not say. She came to the conclusion that all capacity for intense feeling had been burned out of her. And she found that she could permit her mind to rest upon no period of her sojourn at Grenoble without a sense of horror; there had been no hour when she had seemed secure from haunting terror, no day that had not added its mite to the gathering evidence of an ultimate retribution. And it was like a nightmare to summon again this spectacle of the man going to pieces under her eyes. The whole incident in her life as time wore on assumed an aspect bizarre, incredible, as the follies of a night of madness appear in the saner light of morning. Her great love had bereft her of her senses, for had the least grain of sanity remained to her she might have known that the thing they attempted was impossible of accomplishment.
Her feeling now, after four years, might be described as relief. To employ again the figure of the castaway, she often wondered why she of all others had been rescued from the tortures of slow drowning and thrown up on an island. What had she done above the others to deserve preservation? It was inevitable that she should on occasions picture to her. self the years with him that would have stretched ahead, even as the vision of them had come to her that morning when, in obedience to his telegram, she had told Starling to prepare for guests. Her escape had indeed been miraculous!
Although they had passed through a ceremony, the conviction had never taken root in her that she had been mar. ried to Chiltern. The tie that had united her to him had not been sacred, though it had been no less binding; more so, in fact. That tie would have become a shackle. Her perception of this, after his death, had led her to instruct her attorney to send back to his relatives all but a small income from his estate, enough for her to live on during her lifetime. There had been some trouble about this matter; Mrs. Grainger, in particular, had surprised her in making objections, and had finally written a letter which Honora received with a feeling akin to gratitude. Whether her own action had softened this lady's feelings, she never understood; she had cherished the letter for its unexpectedly charitable expressions. Chiltern's family had at last agreed to accept the estate on the condi. tion that the income mentioned should be tripled. And to this Honora had consented. Money had less value than ever
in her eyes.
She lived here in Paris in what may be called a certain peace, made no demands
upon the world, and had no expectations from it. She was now in half mourning, and intended to remain so. Her isolation was of her own choice, if a stronger expression be not used. She was by no means an enforced outcast. And she was even aware that a certain sympathy for her had grown up amongst her former friends which had spread to the colony of her compatriots in Paris; in whose numbers there were some, by no means unrecog. nized, who had defied the conventions more than she. Hugh Chiltern's reputation, and the general knowledge of his career, had no doubt aided to increase this sympathy, but the dignity of her conduct since his death was at the founda. tion of it. Sometimes, on her walks and drives, she saw people bowing to her, and recognized friends or acquaintances of what seemed to her like a former existence.
Such had been her life in Paris until a certain day in early September, a month before this chapter opens. It was afternoon, and she was sitting in the balcony cutting a volume of memoirs when she heard the rattle of a cab on the cobbles below, and peered curiously over the edge of the railing. Although still half a block away, the national character. istics of the passenger were sufficiently apparent. He was an American—of that she was sure. And many Americans did not stray into that quarter. The length of his legs, for one thing, betrayed him: he found the seat of the fiacre too low, and had crossed one knee over the other. Other and less easily definable attributes he did not lack. And as he leaned against the faded blue cushions regarding with interest the buildings he passed, he seemed, like an ambassador, to convert the cab in which he rode into United States territory. Then she saw that it was Peter Erwin.
She drew back her head from the balcony rail, and tried to sit still and to think, but she was trembling as one stricken with a chill. The cab stopped; and presently, after an interval, his card was handed her. She rose, and stood for a moment with her hand against the wall before she went into the salon. None of the questions she had asked herself were