In this edition of the story "My Mortal Enemy," a letter from Willa Cather to her friend fortune to marry for love-a boldly romantic gesture that became a legend in. WattPad - Download as Word Doc .doc /.docx), PDF File .pdf), Text File .txt) or Marrying the cassanova by loveorhatethisgurl Marrying my mortal enemy by. starkness of My Mortal Enemy suggest that Miss Cather had full confidence in the .. Myra's marriage to Oswald has robbed her of fist-power; she does not have.
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PUBLISHED UNDER LIB. NO SOFT COPIES. Book 2: Journey to Forever. Marrying My Mortal Enemy · August 3, ·. OT: Meron ba dito yung mga my sister loves him but i love him ronaldweinland.info my sister loves him but i love him too. A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook Title: My Mortal Enemy () Author: Willa . If she married young Henshawe, he would cut her off without a penny.
I first met Myra Henshawe when I was fifteen, but I had known about her ever since I could remember anything at all. She and her runaway marriage were the theme of the most interesting, indeed the only interesting, stories that were told in our family, on holidays or at family dinners. My mother and aunts still heard from Myra Driscoll, as they called her, and Aunt Lydia occasionally went to New York to visit her. She had been the brilliant and attractive figure among the friends of their girlhood, and her life had been as exciting and varied as ours was monotonous. Though she had grown up in our town, Parthia, in southern Illinois, Myra Henshawe never, after her elopement, came back but once. It was in the year when I was finishing High School, and she must then have been a woman of forty-five.
McClung was the daughter of a prominent Presbyterian Pittsburgh family; her mother was from the wealthy Mellon family, and her father was a judge. She was interested in the arts and the Bohemian life the counterculture of the day. Cather had artistic genius; Isabelle proved the guide into culture. Cather made her first trip abroad with Isabelle in She moved into the McClungs' large, gracious home, where she had an attic study for writing. Friendship with Isabelle McClung became an emotional center for Cather, as Nebraska became her creative center.
She wrote all her books for Isabelle, she once said. The year following their meeting yielded a burst of creative activity. Cather had published only a single, forgettable story in each of the preceding years, but in she published six, including Eric Hermannson's Soul, her first in a magazine of national circulation Cosmopolitan.
Her themes include culture, class, and yearning for access to the world of art. Her first book, however, was a volume of poetry, April Twilights, published by a vanity press in bookishly imitative elegies, laments, and pastorals.
While visiting in Lincoln, she met Edith Lewis, daughter of a banking family there. In , Cather and Lewis took an apartment at 82 Washington Place, and they lived together for thirty-nine years, until Cather's death. Lewis, a published poet, remained at McClure's as assistant managing editor after Cather left, then worked as an advertising writer for J.
Walter Thompson. This relationship sustained Cather both personally—they traveled together and shared a summer cottage on Grand Manan Island—and professionally: they read proof together, and some of Cather's typescripts reveal Lewis's hand.
McClure, a magazine publisher legendary for discovering talent and notorious for creating chaos. McClure's Magazine excelled in first-rate fiction as well as in muckraking journalism that exposed corruption in politics and business. In writing to thank Jones, Cather described meeting with McClure in New York: she had returned to Pittsburgh feeling elated, as if her life were now more valuable than it had been.
McClure promised to publish her stories in his magazine, then as a book; he would place anything he didn't use. The seven stories deal with the yearning to enter the seductive and dangerous world of art. Three stories are in a sense exorcisms of issues Cather was confronting in her own life.
The body of a great sculptor is returned to his home town on the plains, where the uncomprehending townspeople ridicule him The Sculptor's Funeral. In Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament, a Pittsburgh high school boy seeks to escape working-class life by stealing money to go to New York, briefly entering the glamorous world he had imagined; he commits suicide rather than return to his old life.
Cather's first big assignment was a controversial series on Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science Church, to check the facts and rewrite a flawed manuscript by Georgine Milmine.
She went to Boston, where she worked under imminent deadlines for much of and ; Mary Baker G. Increasingly, Cather took over administrative responsibilities at the magazine, serving from to as managing editor. McClure valued Cather as an editor she ghost-wrote his Autobiography, published in , but the political and reformist aspect of the magazine was not particularly congenial to her, and though her position gave her access to the literary and artistic life of New York and London, she had little time for her own work.
She published only seven stories between and And to write and work on this level, we must live on it. Cather felt dispossessed of herself, like a trapeze performer putting all her energy into catching the bar lest she fall into the net, or like a rabbit being chased. She had been rereading Jewett's story Martha's Lady, which made her feel humble and desolate—and made her want to begin again. Cather left McClure's for a six-month vacation in late September of , never to return to full-time staff work.
This story of a bridge-building engineer is an updated approach to the tragic hero. The pattern was conventional, Cather later remarked, but the impressions she tried to communicate were genuine. Like Cather, Alexander's inner feelings are at odds with his public success.
The narrative follows his restless movement between Boston and London, and between Winifred, his cultivated wife, and Hilda Burgoyne, the actress whom he had loved in his youth. Cather was returning to her Nebraska roots even before she wrote O Pioneers! She had experienced it before only in the conception of a poem.
O Pioneers! On this landscape appear the characters whose lives will play out in two intertwined stories of youth. Alexandra Bergson, the far-seeing eldest child of an immigrant Swedish family, who after her father's death assumes responsibility for the family, learns to love the wild land into which they have come; she transforms it into one of the most prosperous farms on the Divide, but with prosperity comes loneliness.
Alexandra's youngest brother, Emil, falls in love with Marie, the young wife of a Bohemian neighbor; their passion ends unhappily when Marie's husband, Frank, kills them as they lie under the mulberry tree. These are the human stories repeated endlessly. She was referring not to her Nebraska material she had written much Nebraska fiction before this time but to her principle of design, the interrelatedness.
The book's themes—yearning desire, attachment to place, ecstatic fulfillment in connection to something big, the loneliness and loss inevitable in human lives, and solace in the ongoing life of nature—as well as an interest in how individual lives unfold in a particular time and place and a belief in great truths underlying existence permeate all Cather's best works.
Despite the occasional review faulting O Pioneers! It is worthy of being recognized as the most vital, subtle and artistic piece of the year's fiction. It is a spirit, an attitude toward life, that in its large and simple honesty has a kind of nobleness.
Meanwhile, Cather was securing the conditions she needed to write. Long the editor of others' writing, she now had in Ferris Greenslet at Houghton Mifflin an interested and refined editor of her own. When in she and Lewis moved to number 5 Bank Street in Greenwich Village, she felt they had the ideal apartment, spacious and quiet, with their maid of four years to keep order in their lives. Freed of her full-time responsibilities at McClure's Magazine, Cather continued freelance work for the magazine, editing and writing to supplement her royalties.
She settled into a working routine of writing two to three hours in the morning; she always wrote a first draft by hand and typed a second and sometimes additional drafts, revising each time. Equally important for her, Cather was living at the heart of the cultural as well as the publishing world. It is characteristic that she next explored what it meant to find one's voice and come into one's own as an artist. For the details of her character's career, Cather drew loosely upon the opera singer Olive Fremstad, whose friendship she had enjoyed.
For the emotional life of her heroine, however, Cather drew upon her own life. Thea Kronborg passes her childhood in Moonstone, Colorado, so precisely based on Red Cloud that a visitor today can follow a character's movements through the actual town; she moves into the world—for lessons in Chicago, for an awakening to herself as an artist in Panther Canyon, Arizona, and to New York City, where she comes into full possession of her powers.
Thea Kronborg fights her way to the top, thereby as Cather wrote in her preface succeeding in delivering herself completely to her art; yet as she does so, her personal life pales. This was a period of exceptional public ferment and change.
There were personal changes, too. In , Judge McClung died and Isabelle and her brother sold the house that Cather had visited frequently even after moving to New York; and, most devastatingly for Cather, in Isabelle married the musician Jan Hambourg. She saw, however, that Isabelle was happy. Some of the scenes are among the most famous in American literature: the West, symbolized by a plow, magnified briefly against the setting sun, or children emerging from a fruit cave in an explosion of life.
Cather included lessons on reading her novel in the novel itself. She addressed how to draw upon lived experiences and actual people through a conversation between friends in the introduction. Throughout the novel, characters tell their stories in conversations with others, who may comprehend the stories only as their own experiences grow. Cather had found in conversation a way to write about the people and places she loved without causing them pain. Reviewers recognized that she belonged among the moderns.
Changing Publishers: Alfred A. Knopf Although her relationship with her editor, Ferris Greenslet, remained cordial, Cather was increasingly unhappy with Houghton Mifflin as her publisher. With almost three decades of experience in the literary marketplace, she now had definite ideas about books as embodiments of visual as well as literary art, about design as creating a reading field, and about promotion as introducing a book to its readers.
But she had to fight every step of the way. At this point, Alfred Knopf entered Cather's life. After graduating from Columbia in , at age twenty-three he founded his publishing house as a daring experiment in In Knopf, Cather found a publisher whose attention to design and manufacturing style gave all his Borzoi Press's titles a distinctive look; he was a passionate advocate of American literature, provided an international reach for his list with a program of literature in translation, and recognized Cather's genius.
He would remain her publisher for the rest of her life and would safeguard her legacy throughout his own.
Edith Lewis has written: Next to writing her novels, Willa Cather's choice of Alfred Knopf as a publisher influenced her career, I think, more than any action she ever took…he gave her great encouragement and absolute liberty to write exactly as she chose—protected her in every way he could from outside pressures and interruptions—and made evident, not only to her but to the world in general, his great admiration and belief in her.
Life was simply no longer a battle—she no longer had to feel apologetic or on the defensive. Eliot's The Waste Land and James Joyce's Ulysses were published that year, announcing a modernist sensibility of historical discontinuity, alienation, loss, and despair. The modern was saying that we create the world in perceiving it; meanwhile, in the real world Benito Mussolini was forming a fascist government in Italy and the Ku Klux Klan was gaining power in the United States.
One of Ours appeared in , Cather's first novel with Knopf, and her first major commercial success. For her plot Cather drew upon the life of her cousin G.
Cather, who seemed destined for failure—unhappy in business, farming, school, and marriage—and then joined the American Expeditionary Forces and died in France. Cather's character Claude Wheeler yearns for something splendid, struggles to escape the commonplace, in France he embraces an Old World culture and finds himself before his death. It became a best-seller, and Cather received royalties of nineteen thousand dollars in a year.
The book stimulated sales of her other titles, and it brought her the Pulitzer Prize in Critics were not as kind as the public, however. Though Cather maintained that she had not written a war novel, reviewers attacked her for presuming to do just that.
Perhaps in reaction, in late Cather went to Red Cloud for six weeks to be home for her parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary and Christmas. Back in New York, she and Knopf mounted a counteroffensive by appealing to her readers directly, circumventing reviewers.
Before its book publication, A Lost Lady was serialized in Century, with the first of three installments appearing in April.
A Lost Lady was an enormous success upon publication and since, meeting critical and popular acclaim. Whereas One of Ours follows Claude Wheeler's struggle to escape the insularity, self-importance, and ignorance of an America that had broken with the Old World, A Lost Lady's very design is that of a world broken in two. It is the story of the Old West told through the life of Marian Forrester, married to Captain Forrester, a railroad pioneer twenty-five years older than she.
She is seen through the eyes of Niel Herbert, a boy who at first idealizes her, then turns from her in bitter disappointment. Captain Forrester loses his fortune, falls ill, and dies; without the protection of her husband and the railroad aristocracy, Mrs. With the power to live strong in her, unwilling to immolate herself with her husband, she betrays the ideals of Niel Herbert, and he turns away bitterly. In the coda, he comes to be glad that she had a hand in breaking him in to life, achieving a hard-won maturity of understanding and compassion.
Cather had arrived. The commercial success of One of Ours was followed in by its receiving the Pulitzer Prize and by critical acclaim for A Lost Lady Celebrity status was conferred on her by interviewers, students, friends, and institutions, all making demands on her time.
The one thing everyone seemed bent on was preventing her from working, Cather wrote; then she did what Fitzgerald wished he had done: she set about ensuring conditions that enabled her to continue to write. She hired a secretary who would remain with her the rest of Cather's life to turn away intrusions on her time and attention. She and Lewis began plans to build a cottage on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, where they had first summered in ; they found congenial both its setting and its people's respect for privacy.
Cather also began taking steps to protect her writing from exploitation, insofar as possible. Warner Brothers had bought the film rights to A Lost Lady.
The results were dismal. The silent version, featuring Irene Rich and George Fawcett, was followed in by a freely adapted sound production conceived and promoted as a vehicle for its stars, Barbara Stanwyck, Frank Morgan, and Ricardo Cortez. The film's setting is a fashionable suburb of Chicago, Marian Forrester's lover Frank Ellinger is a World War I pilot, and Marian returns to her elderly husband after his heart attack. Having rejected the standard romantic plot, Cather saw her novel converted into melodrama, predictable and, worse, boring.
Outraged, she drew up legal strictures in her will against any future adaptations of her work in any form then known or to be developed. Cather explored questions of art's place in culture and feeling's relation to form in a series of essays, interviews, and talks in the early s. Myra was an orphan, and had been taken into this house as a very little girl and brought up by her great-uncle. John Driscoll made his fortune employing contract labour in the Missouri swamps.
He retired from business early, returned to the town where he had been a poor boy, and built a fine house in which he took great pride. He lived in what was considered great splendour in those days. He kept fast horses, and bred a trotter that made a national record. He bought silver instruments for the town band, and paid the salary of the bandmaster. When the band went up to serenade him on his birthday and on holidays, he called the boys in and treated them to his best whisky.
If Myra gave a ball or a garden-party, the band furnished the music. It was, indeed, John Driscoll's band. Myra, as my aunt often said, had everything: Her uncle took her back to Ireland with him, one summer, and had her painted by a famous painter. When they were at home, in Parthia, his house was always open to the young people of the town. Myra's good looks and high spirits gratified the old man's pride. Her wit was of the kind that he could understand, native and racy, and none too squeamish.
She was very fond of him, and he knew it. He was a coarse old codger, so unlettered that he made a poor showing with a pen. It was always told of him that when he became president of our national bank, he burned a lot of the treasury notes sent up to his house for him to sign, because he had "spoiled the sig-nay-ture. In his own way he was picturesque, and Myra appreciated it--not many girls would have done so.
Indeed, she was a good deal like him; the blood tie was very strong. There was never a serious disagreement between them until it came to young Henshawe. Oswald Henshawe was the son of a German girl of good family, and an Ulster Protestant whom Driscoll detested; there was an old grudge of some kind between the two men.
This Ulsterman was poor and impractical, a wandering schoolmaster, who had charge for a while of the High School in Parthia, and afterwards taught in smaller towns about.
Oswald put himself through Harvard with very little help from his parents. He was not taken account of in our town until he came home from college, a handsome and promising young man. He and Myra met as if for the first time, and fell in love with each other. When old Driscoll found that Oswald was calling on his niece, he forbade him the house. They continued to meet at my grandfather's, however, under the protection of my Aunt Lydia. Driscoll so persecuted the boy that he felt there was no chance for him in Parthia.
He roused himself and went to New York. He stayed there two years without coming home, sending his letters to Myra through my aunt. All Myra's friends were drawn into the web of her romance; half a dozen young men understudied for Oswald so assiduously that her uncle might have thought she was going to marry any one of them.
Oswald, meanwhile, was pegging away in New York, at a time when salaries were small and advancement was slow. But he managed to get on, and in two years he was in a position to marry. He wrote to John Driscoll, telling him his resources and prospects, and asked him for his niece's hand.
It was then that Driscoll had it out with Myra. He did not come at her in a tantrum, as he had done before, but confronted her with a cold, business proposition. If she married young Henshawe, he would cut her off without a penny. He could do so, because he had never adopted her. If she did not, she would inherit two-thirds of his property--the remaining third was to go to the church.
I've tried both ways, and I know. A poor man stinks, and God hates him. Some months after this conversation, Myra went out with a sleighing party. They drove her to a neighbouring town where Oswald's father had a school, and where Oswald himself had quietly arrived the day before. There, in the presence of his parents and of Myra's friends, they were married by the civil authority, and they went away on the Chicago express, which came through at two in the morning.
When I was a little girl my Aunt Lydia used to take me for a walk along the broad stone flagging that ran all the way around the old Driscoll grounds. Through the high iron fence we could see the Sisters, out for recreation, pacing two and two under the apple-trees. My aunt would tell me again about that thrilling night probably the most exciting in her life , when Myra Driscoll came down that path from the house, and out of those big iron gates, for the last time.
She had wanted to leave without taking anything but the clothes she wore--and indeed she walked out of the house with nothing but her muff and her porte-monnaie in her hands.
My prudent aunt, however, had put her toilet articles and some linen into a travelling-bag, and thrown it out of the back window to one of the boys stationed under an apple-tree. We girls were all in the sleighs and the boys stood in the snow holding the horses. We had begun to think she had weakened, or maybe gone to the old man to try to move him.
But we saw by the lights behind when the front door opened and shut, and here she came, with her head high, and that quick little bouncing step of hers. Your Uncle Rob lifted her into the sleigh, and off we went. And that hard old man was as good as his word. Her name wasn't mentioned in his will. He left it all to the Catholic Church and to institutions.
That answer was disheartening; the very point of their story was that they should be much happier than other people. When I was older I used to walk around the Driscoll place alone very often, especially on spring days, after school, and watch the nuns pacing so mildly and measuredly among the blossoming trees where Myra used to give garden-parties and have the band to play for her. I thought of the place as being under a spell, like the Sleeping Beauty's palace; it had been in a trance, or lain in its flowers like a beautiful corpse, ever since that winter night when Love went out of the gates and gave the dare to Fate.
Since then, chanting and devotions and discipline, and the tinkle of little bells that seemed forever calling the Sisters in to prayers. I knew that this was not literally true; old John Driscoll had lived on there for many years after the flight of his niece. I myself could remember his funeral--remember it very vividly--though I was not more than six years old when it happened. I sat with my parents in the front of the gallery, at the back of the church that the old man had enlarged and enriched during the latter days of his life.
The high altar blazed with hundreds of candles, the choir was entirely filled by the masses of flowers. The bishop was there, and a flock of priests in gorgeous vestments. When the pall-bearers arrived, Driscoll did not come to the church; the church went to him.
The bishop and clergy went down the nave and met that great black coffin at the door, preceded by the cross and boys swinging cloudy censers, followed by the choir chanting to the organ.
They surrounded, they received, they seemed to assimilate into the body of the church, the body of old John Driscoll. They bore it up to the high altar on a river of colour and incense and organ-tone; they claimed it and enclosed it. In after years, when I went to other funerals, stark and grim enough, I thought of John Driscoll as having escaped the end of all flesh; it was as if he had been translated, with no dark conclusion to the pageant, no "night of the grave" about which our Protestant preachers talked.
From the freshness of roses and lilies, from the glory of the high altar, he had gone straight to the greater glory, through smoking censers and candles and stars. After I went home from that first glimpse of the real Myra Henshawe, twenty-five years older than I had always imagined her, I could not help feeling a little disappointed.
John Driscoll and his niece had suddenly changed places in my mind, and he had got, after all, the more romantic part. Was it not better to get out of the world with such pomp and dramatic splendour than to linger on in it, having to take account of shirts and railway trains, and getting a double chin into the bargain?
The Henshawes were in Parthia three days, and when they left, it was settled that I was to go on to New York with Aunt Lydia for the Christmas holidays. We were to stay at the old Fifth Avenue Hotel, which, as Myra said, was only a stone's throw from their apartment, "if at any time a body was to feel disposed to throw one, Liddy! My Aunt Lydia and I arrived at the Jersey City station on the day before Christmas--a soft, grey December morning, with a little snow falling.
Myra Henshawe was there to meet us; very handsome, I thought, as she came walking rapidly up the platform, her plump figure swathed in furs,--a fur hat on her head, with a single narrow garnet feather sticking out behind, like the pages' caps in old story-books.
She was not alone. She was attended by a tall, elegant young man in a blue-grey ulster. He had one arm through hers, and in the other hand he carried a walking-stick. Henshawe, after she had embraced us. He is meeting an early train, too, so we planned to salute the morn together, and left Oswald to breakfast alone.
The young man took our hand-luggage and walked beside me to the ferryboat, asking polite questions about our trip. He was a Scotchman, of an old theatrical family, a handsome fellow, with a broad, fair-skinned face, sand-coloured hair and moustache, and fine grey eyes, deep-set and melancholy, with black lashes.
He took us up to the deck of the ferry, and then Mrs.
Henshawe told him he had better leave us. There will be no one else. She laughed as if his request pleased her.
Can't you trust your own judgment? She gave him a little push. Run along. She watched him anxiously as he walked away, and groaned: If I could only make him hurry once. You'll hear all about him later, Nellie.
You'll have to see a good deal of him, but you won't find it a hardship, I trust! The boat was pulling out, and I was straining my eyes to catch, through the fine, reluctant snow, my first glimpse of the city we were approaching. We passed the Wilhelm der Grosse coming up the river under tug, her sides covered with ice after a stormy crossing, a flock of seagulls in her wake.
The snow blurred everything a little, and the buildings on the Battery all ran together--looked like an enormous fortress with a thousand windows. From the mass, the dull gold dome of the World building emerged like a ruddy autumn moon at twilight.
From the Twenty-third Street station we took the crosstown car--people were economical in those days--to the Fifth Avenue Hotel. After we had unpacked and settled our things, we went across the Square to lunch at Purcell's, and there Mrs.
Henshawe told us about Ewan Gray. He was in love with one of her dearest friends, Esther Sinclair, whose company was coming into New York for the holidays. Though he was so young, he had, she said, "a rather spotty past," and Miss Sinclair, who was the daughter of an old New England family and had been properly brought up, couldn't make up her mind whether he was stable enough to marry.
You can see; he's just the sort of boy that women pick up and run off into the jungle with. But he's never wanted to marry before; it might be the making of him. He's distractedly in love--goes about like a sleep-walker. Still, I couldn't bear it if anything cruel happened to Esther. Aunt Lydia and Myra were going to do some shopping. When we went out into Madison Square again, Mrs. Henshawe must have seen my wistful gaze, for she stopped short and said: That's our house, over there, second floor--so you won't be far from home.
To me this is the real heart of the city; that's why I love living here. Madison Square was then at the parting of the ways; had a double personality, half commercial, half social, with shops to the south and residences on the north. It seemed to me so neat, after the raggedness of our Western cities; so protected by good manners and courtesy--like an open-air drawing-room. I could well imagine a winter dancing party being given there, or a reception for some distinguished European visitor.
The snow fell lightly all the afternoon, and friendly old men with brooms kept sweeping the paths--very ready to talk to a girl from the country, and to brush off a bench so that she could sit down. The trees and shrubbery seemed well-groomed and sociable, like pleasant people. The snow lay in clinging folds on the bushes, and outlined every twig of every tree--a line of white upon a line of black.
Madison Square Garden, new and spacious then, looked to me so light and fanciful, and Saint Gaudens' Diana, of which Mrs. Henshawe had told me, stepped out freely and fearlessly into the grey air. I lingered long by the intermittent fountain. Its rhythmical splash was like the voice of the place. It rose and fell like something taking deep, happy breaths; and the sound was musical, seemed to come from the throat of spring. Not far away, on the corner, was an old man selling English violets, each bunch wrapped in oiled paper to protect them from the snow.
Here, I felt, winter brought no desolation; it was tamed, like a polar bear led on a leash by a beautiful lady. About the Square the pale blue shadows grew denser and drew closer. The street lamps flashed out all along the Avenue, and soft lights began to twinkle in the tall buildings while it was yet day--violet buildings, just a little denser in substance and colour than the violet sky.
While I was gazing up at them I heard a laugh close beside me, and Mrs. Henshawe's arm slipped through mine. I've seen the messenger boys dodging all about you! But we can't stay. We're going home to Oswald. Oh, hear the penny whistle! They always find me out. The Henshawes' apartment was the second floor of an old brownstone house on the north side of the Square.
I loved it from the moment I entered it; such solidly built, high-ceiled rooms, with snug fire-places and wide doors and deep windows. The long, heavy velvet curtains and the velvet chairs were a wonderful plum-colour, like ripe purple fruit.
The curtains were lined with that rich cream-colour that lies under the blue skin of ripe figs.
Oswald was standing by the fire, drinking a whisky and soda while he waited for us. He put his glass down on the mantel as we opened the door, and forgot all about it. He pushed chairs up to the hearth for my aunt and me, and stood talking to us while his wife went to change her dress and to have a word with the Irish maid before dinner. Everything in their little apartment seemed to me absolutely individual and unique, even the dinner service; the thick grey plates and the soup tureen painted with birds and big, bright flowers--I was sure there were no others like them in the world.
As we were finishing dinner the maid announced Mr. Henshawe went into the parlour to greet him, and we followed a moment later. The young man was in evening clothes, with a few sprays of white hyacinth in his coat. He stood by the fire, his arm on the mantel. His clean, fair skin and melancholy eyes, his very correct clothes, and something about the shape of his hands, made one conscious of a cool, deliberate fastidiousness in him.
In spite of his spotty past he looked, that night, as fresh and undamaged as the flowers he wore. Henshawe took on a slightly bantering tone with him, and seemed to be trying to cheer him up.
Gray would not sit down. After an interval of polite conversation he said to his host: She has promised to do something kind for me. They went into Henshawe's little study, off the parlour, and shut the door. We could hear a low murmur of voices.
When they came back to us Mrs. Henshawe stood beside Gray while he put on his caped cloak, talking encouragingly.
Oswald would laugh at me, but all the same they have a bad history. Love itself draws on a woman nearly all the bad luck in the world; why, for mercy's sake, add opals?
He brought two bracelets for me to decide between them, Oswald, both lovely. However did they let you carry off two, Ewan? I always pay my bills, Myra. I don't know why, but I do. I suppose it's the Scotch in me. Henshawe merrily at the door. He made no reply, but bent over her hand and vanished. Henshawe, as she came back to the fire. Henshawe smiled. Lydia--" he sat down by my aunt and put his hand on hers--"I'd never feel sure that I did my own courting, if it weren't that I was a long way off at the time.
Myra is so fond of helping young men along. We nearly always have a love affair on hand. When Oswald had finished his cigar we were taken out for a walk. This was primarily for the good of her "figger," Myra said, and incidentally we were to look for a green bush to send to Madame Modjeska.
At the florist's we found, among all the little trees and potted plants, a glistening holly-tree, full of red berries and pointed like a spire, easily the queen of its companions. Myra threw up her head. It's not a woollen petticoat or warm mittens that Madame is needing. He was to ask for Mrs. Hewes, the housekeeper, and under her guidance he was to carry the tree up to Madame Modjeska's rooms himself. The man showed a sympathetic interest, and promised to follow instructions.
Then Mrs. Henshawe gave him a silver dollar and wished him a Merry Christmas. As we walked home she slipped her arm through mine, and we fell a little behind the other two. It wakens the guilt in me. No playing with love; and I'd sworn a great oath never to meddle again. You send a handsome fellow like Ewan Gray to a fine girl like Esther, and it's Christmas eve, and they rise above us and the white world around us, and there isn't anybody, not a tramp on the park benches, that wouldn't wish them well--and very likely hell will come of it!
The next morning Oswald Henshawe, in a frock-coat and top-hat, called to take Aunt Lydia and me to church. The weather had cleared before we went to bed, and as we stepped out of our hotel that morning, the sun shone blindingly on the snow-covered park, the gold Diana flashed against a green-blue sky. We were going to Grace Church, and the morning was so beautiful that we decided to walk. You've only to present it. He drew both of us closer to him. It's some sleeve-buttons, given me by a young woman who means no harm, but doesn't know the ways of the world very well.
She's from a breezy Western city, where a rich girl can give a present whenever she wants to and nobody questions it. She sent these to my office yesterday. If I send them back to her it will hurt her feelings; she would think I had misunderstood her. She'll get hard knocks here, of course, but I don't want to give her any. On the other hand--well, you know Myra; nobody better. She would punish herself and everybody else for this young woman's questionable taste.
So I want you to give them to me, Lydia. I'm not clever enough to fool Myra. Can't you just put them away in your office? Besides," he gave a slightly embarrassed laugh, "I'd like to wear them. They are very pretty. But you know how a little thing of that sort can upset my wife.
I thought you might give them to me when you come over to dine with us to-morrow night. She wouldn't be jealous of you. But if you don't like the idea. All through the Christmas service I could see that Aunt Lydia was distracted and perplexed. As soon as we got back to the hotel and were safe in our rooms she took the brown leather case from her muff and opened it.
The sleeve-buttons were topazes, winy-yellow, lightly set in crinkly gold. I believe she was seduced by their beauty. Everything is always for Myra. He never gets anything for himself. And all the admiration is for her; why shouldn't he have a little? He has been devoted to a fault. It isn't good for any woman to be humoured and pampered as he has humoured her.
And she's often most unreasonable with him--most unreasonable! The next evening, as we were walking across the Square to the Henshawes, we glanced up and saw them standing together in one of their deep front windows, framed by the plum-coloured curtains.
They were looking out, but did not see us. I noticed that she was really quite a head shorter than he, and she leaned a little towards him. When she was peaceful, she was like a dove with its wings folded. There was something about them, as they stood in the lighted window, that would have discouraged me from meddling, but it did not shake my aunt. As soon as we were in the parlour, before we had taken off our coats, she said resolutely: Once an old friend left with me some cufflinks he couldn't keep--unpleasant associations, I suppose.
I thought of giving them to one of my own boys, but I brought them for Oswald. I'd rather he would have them than anybody. Aunt Lydia spoke with an ease and conviction which compelled my admiration. She took the buttons out of her muff, without the box, of course, and laid them in Mrs.
Henshawe's hand. Henshawe was delighted. Yes, they're exactly right for him. There's hardly any other stone I would like, but these are exactly right.
Look, Oswald, they're the colour of a fine Moselle. He grew red, was confused in his remarks, and was genuinely reluctant when his wife insisted upon taking the gold buttons out of his cuffs and putting in the new ones. But did it never occur to you that anyone besides yourself might know what is appropriate for Oswald?
No, I'm sure it never did! Myra took the laugh so heartily to herself that I felt it was a shame to deceive her. So, I am sure, did Oswald. During dinner he talked more than usual, but he was ill at ease. Afterwards, at the opera, when the lights were down, I noticed that he was not listening to the music, but was looking listlessly off into the gloom of the house, with something almost sorrowful in his strange, half-moon eyes.
During an entr'acte a door at the back was opened, and a draught blew in. As he put his arm back to pull up the cloak which had slipped down from his wife's bare shoulders, she laughed and said: He dropped his hand quickly and frowned so darkly that I thought he would have liked to put the topazes under his heel and grind them up.
I thought him properly served then, but often since I have wondered at his gentle heart. Henshawe a great deal, but we were seldom alone. It was the season of calls and visits, and she said that meeting so many people would certainly improve my manners and my English. She hated my careless, slangy, Western speech. Her friends, I found, were of two kinds: He doesn't properly belong in business.
We never speak of it, but I'm sure he hates it. He went into an office only because we were young and terribly in love, and had to be married. The business friends seemed to be nearly all Germans. On Sunday we called at half-a-dozen or more big houses. I remember very large rooms, much upholstered and furnished, walls hung with large paintings in massive frames, and many stiff, dumpy little sofas, in which the women sat two-and-two, while the men stood about the refreshment tables, drinking champagne and coffee and smoking fat black cigars.
Among these people Mrs. Myra took on her loftiest and most challenging manner.
I could see that some of the women were quite afraid of her. They were in great haste to rush refreshments to her, and looked troubled when she refused anything. They addressed her in German and profusely complimented her upon the way she spoke it. We had a carriage that afternoon, and Myra was dressed in her best--making an especial effort on Oswald's account; but the rich and powerful irritated her.
Their solemnity was too much for her sense of humour; there was a biting edge to her sarcasm, a curl about the corners of her mouth that was never there when she was with people whose personality charmed her.
I had one long, delightful afternoon alone with Mrs. Henshawe in Central Park. We walked for miles, stopped to watch the skating, and finally had tea at the Casino, where she told me about some of the singers and actors I would meet at her apartment on New Year's eve. Her account of her friends was often more interesting to me than the people themselves.
After tea she hailed a hansom and asked the man to drive us about the park a little, as a fine sunset was coming on. We were jogging happily along under the elms, watching the light change on the crusted snow, when a carriage passed from which a handsome woman leaned out and waved to us. Henshawe bowed stiffly, with a condescending smile. I glimpsed what seemed to me insane ambition. My aunt was always thanking God that the Henshawes got along as well as they did, and worrying because she felt sure Oswald wasn't saving anything.
And here Mrs. Myra was wishing for a carriage--with stables and a house and servants, and all that went with a carriage! All the way home she kept her scornful expression, holding her head high and sniffing the purple air from side to side as we drove down Fifth Avenue. When we alighted before her door she paid the driver, and gave him such a large fee that he snatched off his hat and said twice: That week Mrs. Henshawe took me to see a dear friend of hers, Anne Aylward, the poet. She was a girl who had come to New York only a few years before, had won the admiration of men of letters, and was now dying of tuberculosis in her early twenties.
Henshawe had given me a book of her poems to read, saying: Miss Aylward lived with her mother in a small flat overlooking the East River, and we found her in a bathchair, lying in the sun and watching the river boats go by. Her study was a delightful place that morning, full of flowers and plants and baskets of fruit that had been sent her for Christmas. But it was Myra Henshawe herself who made that visit so memorably gay.
Never had I seen her so brilliant and strangely charming as she was in that sunlit study up under the roofs. Their talk quite took my breath away; they said such exciting, such fantastic things about people, books, music--anything; they seemed to speak together a kind of highly flavoured special language. As we were walking home she tried to tell me more about Miss Aylward, but tenderness for her friend and bitter rebellion at her fate choked her voice.
She suffered physical anguish for that poor girl. My aunt often said that Myra was incorrigibly extravagant; but I saw that her chief extravagance was in caring for so many people, and in caring for them so much. When she but mentioned the name of some one whom she admired, one got an instant impression that the person must be wonderful, her voice invested the name with a sort of grace. When she liked people she always called them by name a great many times in talking to them, and she enunciated the name, no matter how commonplace, in a penetrating way, without hurrying over it or slurring it; and this, accompanied by her singularly direct glance, had a curious effect.
When she addressed Aunt Lydia, for instance, she seemed to be speaking to a person deeper down than the blurred, taken-for-granted image of my aunt that I saw every day, and for a moment my aunt became more individual, less matter-of-fact to me. I had noticed this peculiar effect of Myra's look and vocative when I first met her, in Parthia, where her manner of addressing my relatives had made them all seem a little more attractive to me. I asked Mrs. Henshawe whether it could be he.
She looked in the direction I indicated, then looked quickly away again. He used to be a friend of mine. That's a sad phrase, isn't it? But there was a time when he could have stood by Oswald in a difficulty--and he didn't. He passed it up. Wasn't there. I've never forgiven him.
I regretted having noticed the man in the loge, for all the rest of the afternoon I could feel the bitterness working in her. I knew that she was suffering. The scene on the stage was obliterated for her; the drama was in her mind. She was going over it all again; arguing, accusing, denouncing. As we left the theatre she sighed: It's all very well to tell us to forgive our enemies; our enemies can never hurt us very much. But oh, what about forgiving our friends?
The Henshawes always gave a party on New Year's eve. That year most of the guests were stage people. Some of them, in order to get there before midnight, came with traces of make-up still on their faces. I remember old Jefferson de Angelais arrived in his last-act wig, carrying his plumed hat--during the supper his painted eyebrows spread and came down over his eyes like a veil.
Most of them are dead now, but it was a fine group that stood about the table to drink the New Year in.
By far the handsomest and most distinguished of that company was a woman no longer young, but beautiful in age, Helena Modjeska. I remember how, when Oswald asked her to propose a toast, she put out her long arm, lifted her glass, and looking into the blur of the candlelight with a grave face, said: As she was not playing, she had come early, some time before the others, bringing with her a young Polish woman who was singing at the Opera that winter.
I had an opportunity to watch Modjeska as she sat talking to Myra and Esther Sinclair--Miss Sinclair had once played in her company. When the other guests began to arrive, and Myra was called away, she sat by the fire in a high-backed chair, her head resting lightly on her hand, her beautiful face half in shadow.
How well I remember those long, beautifully modelled hands, with so much humanity in them. They were worldly, indeed, but fashioned for a nobler worldliness than ours; hands to hold a sceptre, or a chalice--or, by courtesy, a sword. The party did not last long, but it was a whirl of high spirits. Everybody was hungry and thirsty. There was a great deal of talk about Sarah Bernhardt's Hamlet, which had been running all week and had aroused hot controversy; and about Jean de Reszke's return to the Metropolitan that night, after a long illness in London.
By two o'clock every one had gone but the two Polish ladies. Modjeska, after she put on her long cloak, went to the window, drew back the plum-coloured curtains, and looked out. And how still all the ci-ty is, how still! Something old. Oswald brought one. And we might have less light, might we not? She sat by the window, half draped in her cloak, the moonlight falling across her knees. Her friend went to the piano and commenced the Casta Diva aria, which begins so like the quivering of moonbeams on the water.
It was the first air on our old music-box at home, but I had never heard it sung--and I have never heard it sung so beautifully since. I remember Oswald, standing like a statue behind Madame Modjeska's chair, and Myra, crouching low beside the singer, her head in both hands, while the song grew and blossomed like a great emotion.
When it stopped, nobody said anything beyond a low good-bye. Modjeska again drew her cloak around her, and Oswald took them down to their carriage. Aunt Lydia and I followed, and as we crossed the Square we saw their cab going up the Avenue. For many years I associated Mrs. Henshawe with that music, thought of that aria as being mysteriously related to something in her nature that one rarely saw, but nearly always felt; a compelling, passionate, overmastering something for which I had no name, but which was audible, visible in the air that night, as she sat crouching in the shadow.
When I wanted to recall powerfully that hidden richness in her, I had only to close my eyes and sing to myself: As I opened the door into the entry hall, the first thing that greeted me was Mrs. Henshawe's angry laugh, and a burst of rapid words that stung like cold water from a spray.
Is that clear? Oswald answered with a distinctly malicious chuckle: The key happens to open a safety deposit box. Her voice rose an octave in pitch. How dare you? They told me at your bank that this wasn't a bank key, though it looks like one. I stopped and showed it to them--the day you forgot your keys and telephoned me to bring them down to your office. I coughed and rapped at the door. I heard Oswald push back a chair. I might have known it! I never forget to change them. And you went to the bank and made me and yourself ridiculous.
I can imagine their amusement. I know how to get information without giving any. Here is Nellie Birdseye, rapping at the gates. Come in, Nellie. You and Oswald are going over to Martin's for lunch. He and I are quarrelling about a key-ring. There will be no luncheon here to-day. She went away, and I stood bewildered. This delightful room had seemed to me a place where light-heartedness and charming manners lived--housed there just as the purple curtains and the Kiva rugs and the gay water-colours were.
And now everything was in ruins. The air was still and cold like the air in a refrigerating-room. What I felt was fear; I was afraid to look or speak or move. Everything about me seemed evil. When kindness has left people, even for a few moments, we become afraid of them, as if their reason had left them.
When it has left a place where we have always found it, it is like shipwreck; we drop from security into something malevolent and bottomless. I'll get my hat and we'll be off. His inkwell was uncovered, and on the blotter lay a half-written sheet of note paper. I was glad to get out into the sunlight with him.
The city seemed safe and friendly and smiling. The air in that room had been like poison. Oswald tried to make it up to me. We walked round and round the Square, and at Martin's he made me drink a glass of sherry, and pointed out the interesting people in the dining-room and told me stories about them. But without his hat, his head against the bright window, he looked tired and troubled.
I wondered, as on the first time I saw him, in my own town, at the contradiction in his face: I felt that his life had not suited him; that he possessed some kind of courage and force which slept, which in another sort of world might have asserted themselves brilliantly.
I thought he ought to have been a soldier or an explorer. I have since seen those half-moon eyes in other people, and they were always inscrutable, like his; fronted the world with courtesy and kindness, but one never got behind them.
We went to the theatre, but I remember very little of the performance except a dull heartache, and a conviction that I should never like Mrs. Myra so well again. That was on Saturday. On Monday Aunt Lydia and I were to start for home. We positively did not see the Henshawes again.
Sunday morning the maid came with some flowers and a note from Myra, saying that her friend Anne Aylward was having a bad day and had sent for her. On Monday we took an early boat across the ferry, in order to breakfast in the Jersey station before our train started. We had got settled in our places in the Pullman, the moment of departure was near, when we heard an amused laugh, and there was Myra Henshawe, coming into the car in her fur hat, followed by a porter who carried her bags.
But we won't quarrel, will we? I'm only going as far as Pittsburgh. I've some old friends there. Oswald and I have had a disagreement, and I've left him to think it over. If he needs me, he can quite well come after me. All day Mrs. Myra was jolly and agreeable, though she treated us with light formality, as if we were new acquaintances. We lunched together, and I noticed, sitting opposite her, that when she was in this mood of high scorn, her mouth, which could be so tender--which cherished the names of her friends and spoke them delicately--was entirely different.
It seemed to curl and twist about like a little snake. Letting herself think harm of anyone she loved seemed to change her nature, even her features. It was dark when we got into Pittsburgh. The Pullman porter took Myra's luggage to the end of the car. She bade us good-bye, started to leave us, then turned back with an icy little smile. I was sure to find out, I always do. I don't hold it against you, but it's disgusting in a man to lie for personal decorations.
A woman might do it, now. Aunt Lydia was very angry. A man never is justified, but if ever a man was. Ten years after that visit to New York I happened to be in a sprawling overgrown West-coast city which was in the throes of rapid development--it ran about the shore, stumbling all over itself and finally tumbled untidily into the sea. Every hotel and boarding-house was overcrowded, and I was very poor. Things had gone badly with my family and with me.
I had come West in the middle of the year to take a position in a college--a college that was as experimental and unsubstantial as everything else in the place. I found lodgings in an apartment-hotel, wretchedly built and already falling to pieces, although it was new. I moved in on a Sunday morning, and while I was unpacking my trunk, I heard, through the thin walls, my neighbour stirring about; a man, and, from the huskiness of his cough and something measured in his movements, not a young man.
The caution of his step, the guarded consideration of his activities, let me know that he did not wish to thrust the details of his housekeeping upon other people any more than he could help.
In a moment I saw the ends of dark neckties fluttering out of the window next mine. All this made me melancholy--more than the dreariness of my own case. I was young, and it didn't matter so much about me; for youth there is always the hope, the certainty, of better things. But an old man, a gentleman, living in this shabby, comfortless place, cleaning his neckties of a Sunday morning and humming to himself.
I was glad when his outer door shut softly and I heard no more of him. There was an indifferent restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel. As I was going down to my dinner that evening, I met, at the head of the stairs, a man coming up and carrying a large black tin tray. His head was bent, and his eyes were lowered. As he drew aside to let me pass, in spite of his thin white hair and stooped shoulders, I recognised Oswald Henshawe, whom I had not seen for so many years--not, indeed, since that afternoon when he took me to see Sarah Bernhardt play Hamlet.
When I called his name he started, looked at me, and rested the tray on the sill of the blindless window that lighted the naked stairway. Nellie Birdseye! Can it be?
He seemed deeply shaken, and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his forehead. I would not know you. What good fortune for Myra! She will hardly believe it when I tell her. She is ill, my poor Myra. Oh, very ill! But we must not speak of that, nor seem to know it. What it will mean to her to see you again! Her friends always were so much to her, you remember?
Will you stop and see us as you come up? Her room is thirty-two; rap gently, and I'll be waiting for you. Now I must take her dinner.
Oh, I hope for her sake you are staying some time. She has no one here. He took up the tray and went softly along the uncarpeted hall. I felt little zest for the canned vegetables and hard meat the waitress put before me.
I had known that the Henshawes had come on evil days, and were wandering about among the cities of the Pacific coast. But Myra had stopped writing to Aunt Lydia, beyond a word of greeting at Christmas and on her birthday.
She had ceased to give us any information about their way of life. We knew that several years after my memorable visit in New York, the railroad to whose president Oswald had long been private secretary, was put into the hands of a receiver, and the retiring president went abroad to live. Henshawe had remained with the new management, but very soon the road was taken over by one of the great trunk lines, and the office staff was cut in two. In the reorganization Henshawe was offered a small position, which he indignantly refused--his wife wouldn't let him think of accepting it.
He went to San Francisco as manager of a commission house; the business failed, and what had happened to them since I did not know. I lingered long over my dismal dinner. I had not the courage to go up-stairs. Henshawe was not more than sixty, but he looked much older. He had the tired, tired face of one who has utterly lost hope.
Oswald had got his wife up out of bed to receive me. When I entered she was sitting in a wheel-chair by an open window, wrapped in a Chinese dressing-gown, with a bright shawl over her feet.
She threw out both arms to me, and as she hugged me, flashed into her old gay laugh. And we so safely hidden--in earth, like a pair of old foxes! But it was in the cards that we should meet again. Now I understand; a wise woman has been coming to read my fortune for me, and the queen of hearts has been coming up out of the pack when she had no business to; a beloved friend coming out of the past.
Well, Nellie, dear, I couldn't think of any old friends that weren't better away, for one reason or another, while we are in temporary eclipse. I gain strength faster if I haven't people on my mind. But you, Nellie. Somebody young, and clear-eyed, chock-full of opinions, and without a past.
But you may have a past, already? The darkest ones come early. I was delighted. She was. I hadn't expected anything so good. The electric bulbs in the room were shrouded and muffled with coloured scarfs, and in that light she looked much less changed than Oswald. The corners of her mouth had relaxed a little, but they could still curl very scornfully upon occasion; her nose was the same sniffy little nose, with its restless, arched nostrils, and her double chin, though softer, was no fuller.
A strong cable of grey-black hair was wound on the top of her head, which, as she once remarked, "was no head for a woman at all, but would have graced one of the wickedest of the Roman emperors. Her bed was in the alcove behind her.