Anne Douglas Sedgwick.

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[Illustration: 'My dear Mr. Kane, I do congratulate you,' Helen said.]







PARIS: 189, rue Saint-Jacques
LEIPZIG: 35-37 Königstrasse



Miss Althea Jakes was tired after her long journey from Basle. It was a
brilliant summer afternoon, and though the shutters were half closed on
the beating Parisian sunlight, the hotel sitting-room looked, in its
brightness, hardly shadowed. Unpinning her hat, laying it on the table
beside her, passing her hands over the undisordered folds of her hair,
Miss Jakes looked about her at the old-gold brocade of the furniture,
the many mirrors in ornate gold frames, the photographs from Bougereau,
the long, crisp lace curtains. It was the same sitting-room that she had
had last year, the same that she had had the year before last - the same,
indeed, to which she had been conducted on her first stay at the Hôtel
Talleyrand, eight years ago. The brocade looked as new, the gilded
frames as glittering, the lace curtains as snowy as ever. Everything was
as she had always seen it, from the ugly Satsuma vases flanking the ugly
bronze clock on the mantelpiece, to the sheaf of pink roses lying beside
her in their white paper wrappings. Even Miss Harriet Robinson's choice
of welcoming flowers was the same. So it had always been, and so, no
doubt, it would continue to be for many years to come; and she, no
doubt, for many summers, would arrive from Basle to sit, jadedly,
looking at it.

Amélie, her maid, was unpacking in the next room; the door was ajar, and
Miss Jakes could hear the creaking of lifted trays and the rustling of
multitudinous tissue-paper layers. The sounds suggested an answer to a
dim question that had begun to hover in her travel-worn mind. One came
back every summer to the Hôtel Talleyrand for the purpose of getting
clothes; that, perhaps, was a sufficient answer. Yet, to-day, it did not
seem sufficient. She was not really so very much interested in her
clothes; not nearly enough interested to make them a compensation for
such fatigue and loneliness as she was now feeling. And as she realised
this, a further question followed: in what was she particularly
interested? What was a sufficient motive for all the European
journeyings with which her life, for the past ten or twelve years, had
been filled? In a less jaded mood, in her usual mood of mild, if rather
wistful, assurance, she would have answered at once that she was
interested in everything - in everything that was of the best - pictures,
music, places, and people. These surely were her objects.

She was that peculiarly civilised being, the American woman of
independent means and discriminating tastes, whose cosmopolitan studies
and acquaintances give, in their multiplicity, the impression of a full,
if not a completed, life. But to-day the gloomy question hovered: was
not the very pilgrimage to Bayreuth, the study of archæology in Rome,
and of pictures in Florence, of much the same nature as the yearly visit
to Paris for clothes? What was attained by it all? Was it not something
merely superficial, to be put on and worn, as it were, not to be lived
for with a growing satisfaction? Miss Jakes did not answer this
question; she dismissed it with some indignation, and she got up and
rang rather sharply for tea, which was late; and after asking the
garçon, with a smile that in its gentleness contrasted with the
sharpness of the pull, that it might be brought at once, she paused near
the table to lean over and smell her sheaf of roses, and to read again,
listlessly, Miss Harriet Robinson's words of affectionate greeting. Miss
Robinson was a middle-aged American lady who lived in Paris, and had
long urged Althea to settle there near her. Ten years ago, when she had
first met Miss Robinson in Boston, Althea had thought her a brilliant
and significant figure; but she had by now met too many of her kind - in
Rome, in Florence, in Dresden - to feel any wish for a more intimate
relationship. She was fond of Miss Robinson, but she prayed that fate
did not reserve for her a withering to the like brisk, colourless
spinsterhood. This hope, the necessity for such hope, was the final
depth of her gloomy mood, and she found herself looking at something
very dark as she stood holding Miss Robinson's expensive roses. For,
after all, what was going to become of her? The final depth shaped
itself to-day in more grimly realistic fashion than ever before: what
was she going to do with herself, in the last resort, unless something
happened? Her mind dwelt upon all the visible alternatives. There was
philanthropic lunch-going and lunch-giving spinsterhood in Boston; there
was spinsterhood in Europe, semi-social, semi-intellectual, and
monotonous in its very variety, for Althea had come to feel change as
monotonous; or there was spinsterhood in England established near her
friend, Miss Buckston, who raised poultry in the country, and went up to
London for Bach choir practices and Woman's Suffrage meetings. Althea
couldn't see herself as taking an interest in poultry or in Woman's
Suffrage, nor did she feel herself fitted for patriotic duties in
Boston. There was nothing for it, then, but to continue her present
nomadic life. After seeing herself shut in to this conclusion, it was a
real relief to her to hear the tea-tray chink outside, and to see it
enter, high on the garçon's shoulder, as if with a trivial but cheerful
reply to her dreary questionings. Tea, at all events, would always
happen and always be pleasant. Althea smiled sadly as she made the
reflection, for she was not of an Epicurean temperament. After she had
drunk her tea she felt strengthened to go in and ask Amélie about her
clothes. She might have to get a great many new ones, especially if she
went home for the autumn and winter, as she half intended to do. She
took up the roses, as she passed them, to show to Amélie. Amélie was a
bony, efficient Frenchwoman, with high cheek-bones and sleek black hair.
She had come to Althea first, many years ago, as a courier-maid, to take
her back to America. Althea's mother had died in Dresden, and Althea had
been equipped by anxious friends with this competent attendant for her
sad return journey. Amélie had proved intelligent and reliable in the
highest degree, and though she had made herself rather disagreeable
during her first year in Boston, she had stayed on ever since. She still
made herself disagreeable from time to time, and Althea had sometimes
lacked only the courage to dismiss her; but she could hardly imagine
herself existing without Amélie, and in Europe Amélie was seldom
disagreeable. In Europe, at the worst, she was gruff and ungracious, and
Althea was fond enough of her to ignore these failings, although they
frightened her a little; but though an easily intimidated person, and
much at a loss in meeting opposition or rudeness, she was also
tenacious. She might be frightened, but people could never make her do
what she didn't want to do, not even Amélie. Her relations with Amélie
were slightly strained just now, for she had not taken her advice as to
their return journey from Venice. Amélie had insisted on Mont Cenis, and
Althea had chosen the St. Gothard; so that it was as a measure of
propitiation that she selected three of the roses for Amélie as she went
into the bedroom. Amélie, who was kneeling before one of the larger
boxes and carefully lifting skirts from its trays, paused to sniff at
the flowers, and to express a terse thanks and admiration. 'Ah, bien
merci, mademoiselle,' she said, laying her share on the table beside

She was not very encouraging about the condition of Althea's wardrobe.

'Elles sont défraîchies - démodées - en vérité, mademoiselle,' she
replied, when Althea asked if many new purchases were necessary.

Althea sighed. 'All the fittings!'

'Il faut souffrir pour être belle,' said Amélie unsympathetically.

Althea had not dared yet to tell her that she might be going back to
America that winter. The thought of Amélie's gloom cast a shadow over
the project, and she could not yet quite face it. She wandered back to
the sitting-room, and, thinking of Amélie's last words, she stood for
some time and looked at herself in the large mirror which rose from
mantelpiece to cornice, enclosed in cascades of gilt. One of the things
that Althea, in her mild assurance, was really secure of - for, as we
have intimated, her assurance often covered a certain insecurity - was
her own appearance. She didn't know about 'belle,' that seemed rather a
trivial term, and the English equivalent better to express the
distinctive characteristic of her face. She had so often been told she
was nobly beautiful that she did not see herself critically, and she now
leaned her elbow on the mantelpiece and gazed at herself with sad
approbation. The mirror reflected only her head and shoulders, and Miss
Jakes's figure could not, even by a partisan, have been described as
beautiful; she was short, and though immature in outline, her form was
neither slender nor graceful. Althea did not feel these defects, and was
well satisfied with her figure, especially with her carriage, which was
full of dignity; but it was her head that best pleased her, and her
head, indeed, had aspects of great benignity and sweetness. It was a
large head, crowned with coils of dull gold hair; her clothing followed
the fashions obediently, but her fashion of dressing her hair did not
vary, and the smooth parting, the carved ripples along her brow became
her, though they did not become her stiffly conventional attire. Her
face, though almost classic in its spaces and modelling, lacked in
feature the classic decision and amplitude, so that the effect was
rather that of a dignified room meagrely furnished. For these
deficiencies, however, Miss Jakes's eyes might well be accepted as
atonement. They were large, dark, and innocent; they lay far apart,
heavily lidded and with wistful eyebrows above them; their expression
varied easily from lucid serenity to a stricken, expectant look, like
that of a threatened doe, and slight causes could make Miss Jakes's eyes
look stricken. They did not look stricken now, but they looked
profoundly melancholy.

Here she stood, in the heartless little French sitting-room, meaning so
well, so desirous of the best, yet alone, uncertain of any aim, and very
weary of everything.


Althea, though a cosmopolitan wanderer, had seldom stayed in an hotel
unaccompanied. She did not like, now, going down to the _table d'hôte_
dinner alone, and was rather glad that her Aunt Julia and Aunt Julia's
two daughters were to arrive in Paris next week. It was really almost
the only reason she had for being glad of Aunt Julia's arrival, and she
could imagine no reason for being glad of the girls'. Tiresome as it was
to think of going to tea with Miss Harriet Robinson, to think of hearing
from her all the latest gossip, and all the latest opinions of the
latest books and pictures - alert, mechanical appreciations with which
Miss Robinson was but too ready - it was yet more tiresome to look
forward to Aunt Julia's appreciations, which were dogmatic and often
belated, and to foresee that she must run once more the gauntlet of Aunt
Julia's disapproval of expatriated Americans. Althea was accustomed to
these assaults and met them with weary dignity, at times expostulating:
'It is all very well for you, Aunt Julia, who have Uncle Tom and the
girls; I have nobody, and all my friends are married.' But this brought
upon her an invariable retort: 'Well, why don't you get married then?
Franklin Winslow Kane asks nothing better.' This retort angered Althea,
but she was too fond of Franklin Winslow Kane to reply that perhaps
she, herself, did ask something better. So that it was as a convenience,
and not as a comfort, that she looked forward to Aunt Julia; and to the
girls she did not look forward at all. They were young, ebullient,
slangy; they belonged to a later generation than her own, strange to her
in that it seemed weighted with none of the responsibilities and
reverences that she had grown up among. It was a generation that had no
respect for and no anxiety concerning Europe; that played violent
outdoor games, and went without hats in summer.

The dining-room was full when she went down to dinner, her inward tremor
of shyness sustained by the consciousness of the perfect fit and cut of
her elaborate little dress. People sat at small tables, and the general
impression was one of circumspection and withdrawal. Most of the
occupants were of Althea's type - richly dressed, quiet-voiced Americans,
careful of their own dignity and quick at assessing other people's. A
French family loudly chattered and frankly stared in one corner; for the
rest, all seemed to be compatriots.

But after Althea had taken her seat at her own table near the pleasantly
open window, and had consulted the menu and ordered a half-bottle of
white wine, another young woman entered and went to the last vacant
table left in the room, the table next Althea's - so near, indeed, that
the waiter found some difficulty in squeezing himself between them when
he presented the _carte des vins_ to the newcomer.

She was not an American, Althea felt sure of this at once, and the mere
negation was so emphatic that it almost constituted, for the first
startled glance, a complete definition. But, glancing again and again,
while she ate her soup, Althea realised there were so many familiar
things the newcomer was not, that she seemed made up of differences. The
fact that she was English - she spoke to the waiter absent-mindedly in
that tongue - did not make her less different, for she was like no
English person that Althea had ever seen. She engaged at once the whole
of her attention, but at first Althea could not have said whether this
attention were admiring; her main impression was of oddity, of something
curiously arresting and noticeable.

The newcomer sat in profile to Althea, her back to the room, facing the
open window, out of which she gazed vaguely and unseeingly. She was
dressed in black, a thin dress, rather frayed along the edges - an
evening dress; though, as a concession to Continental custom, she had a
wide black scarf over her bare shoulders. She sat, leaning forward, her
elbows on the table, and once, when she glanced round and found Althea's
eyes fixed on her, she looked back for a moment, but with something of
the same vagueness and unseeingness with which she looked out of the

She was very odd. An enemy might say that she had Chinese eyes
and a beak-like nose. The beak was small, as were all the
features - delicately, decisively placed in the pale, narrow face - yet it
jutted over prominently, and the long eyes were updrawn at the outer
corners and only opened widely with an effect of effort. She had
quantities of hair, dense and dark, arranged with an ordered
carelessness, and widely framing her face and throat. She was very
thin, and she seemed very tired; and fatigue, which made Althea look
wistful, made this young lady look bored and bitter. Her grey eyes,
perhaps it was the strangeness of their straight-drawn upper lids, were
dazed and dim in expression. She ate little, leaned limply on her
elbows, and sometimes rubbed her hands over her face, and sat so, her
fingers in her hair, for a languid moment. Dinner was only half over
when she rose and went away, her black dress trailing behind her, and a
moon-like space of neck visible between her heavily-clustered hair and
the gauze scarf.

Althea could not have said why, but for the rest of the meal, and after
she had gone back to her sitting-room, the thought of the young lady in
black remained almost oppressively with her.

She had felt empty and aimless before seeing her; since seeing her she
felt more empty, more aimless than ever. It was an absurd impression,
and she tried to shake it off with the help of a recent volume of
literary criticism, but it coloured her mind as though a drop of some
potent chemical had been tipped into her uncomfortable yet indefinable
mood, and had suddenly made visible in it all sorts of latent elements.

It was curious to feel, as a deep conviction about a perfect stranger,
that though the young lady in black might often know moods, they would
never be undefined ones; to be sure that, however little she had, she
would always accurately know what she wanted. The effect of seeing some
one so hard, so clear, so alien, was much as if, a gracefully moulded
but fragile earthenware pot, she had suddenly, while floating down the
stream, found herself crashing against the bronze vessel of the fable.

A corrective to this morbid state of mind came to her with the evening
post, and in the form of a thick letter bearing the Boston postmark.
Franklin Winslow Kane had not occurred to Althea as an alternative to
the various forms of dignified extinction with which her imagination had
been occupied that afternoon. Franklin often occurred to her as a
solace, but he never occurred to her as an escape.

He was a young man of very homespun extraction, who hovered in Boston on
the ambiguous verge between the social and the scholastic worlds; the
sort of young man whom one asked to tea rather than to dinner. He was an
earnest student, and was attached to the university by an official,
though unimportant, tie. A physicist, and, in his own sober way, with
something of a reputation, he was profoundly involved in theories that
dealt with the smallest things and the largest - molecules and the
formation of universes.

He had first proposed to Althea when she was eighteen. She was now
thirty-three, and for all these years Franklin had proposed to her on
every occasion that offered itself. He was deeply, yet calmly,
determinedly, yet ever so patiently, in love with her; and while other
more eligible and more easily consoled aspirants had drifted away and
got married and become absorbed in their growing families, Franklin
alone remained admirably faithful. She had never given him any grounds
for expecting that she might some day marry him, yet he evidently found
it impossible to marry anybody else. This was the touching fact about
Franklin, the one bright point, as it were, in his singularly colourless
personality. His fidelity was like a fleck of orange on the wing of some
grey, unobtrusive moth; it made him visible.

Althea's compassionate friendship seemed to sustain him sufficiently on
his way; he did not pine or protest, though he punctually requested. He
frequently appeared and he indefatigably wrote, and his long constancy,
the unemotional trust and closeness of their intimacy, made him seem
less a lover than the American husband of tradition, devoted and
uncomplaining, who had given up hoping that his wife would ever come
home and live with him.

Althea rather resented this aspect of their relation; she was well aware
of its comicality; but though Franklin's devotion was at times something
of a burden, though she could expect from him none of the glamour of
courtship, she could ill have dispensed with his absorption in her.
Franklin's absorption in her was part of her own personality; she would
hardly have known herself without it; and her relation to him, irksome,
even absurd as she sometimes found it, was perhaps the one thing in her
life that most nearly linked her to reality; it was a mirage, at all
events, of the responsible affections that her life lacked.

And now, in her mood of positive morbidity, the sight of Franklin's
handwriting on the thick envelope brought her the keenest sense she had
ever had of his value. One might have no aim oneself, yet to be some one
else's aim saved one from that engulfing consciousness of nonentity; one
might be uncertain and indefinite, but a devotion like Franklin's
really defined one. She must be significant, after all, since this very
admirable person - admirable, though ineligible - had found her so for so
many years. It was with a warming sense of restoration, almost of
reconstruction, that she opened the letter, drew out the thickly-folded
sheets of thin paper and began to read the neat, familiar writing. He
told her everything that he was doing and thinking, and about everything
that interested him. He wrote to her of kinetics and atoms as if she had
been a fellow-student. It was as if, helplessly, he felt the whole bulk
of his outlook to be his only chance of interesting her, since no detail
was likely to do so. Unfortunately it didn't interest her much.
Franklin's eagerness about some local election, or admiration for some
talented pupil, or enthusiasm in regard to a new theory that delved
deeper and circled wider than any before, left her imagination inert, as
did he. But to-night all these things were transformed by the greatness
of her own need and of her own relief. And when she read that Franklin
was to be in Europe in six weeks' time, and that he intended to spend
some months there, and, if she would allow it, as near her as was
possible, a sudden hope rose in her and seemed almost a joy.

Was it so impossible, after all, as an alternative? Equipped with her
own outlooks, with her wider experience, and with her ample means, might
not dear Franklin be eligible? To sink back on Franklin, after all these
years, would be, of course, to confess to failure; but even in failure
there were choices, and wasn't this the best form of failure? Franklin
was not, could never be, the lover she had dreamed of; she had never met
that lover, and she had always dreamed of him. Franklin was
dun-coloured; the lover of her dreams a Perseus-like flash of purple and
gold, ardent, graceful, compelling, some one who would open doors to
large, bright vistas, and lead her into a life of beauty. But this was a
dream and Franklin was the fact, and to-night he seemed the only fact
worth looking at. Wasn't dun-colour, after all, preferable to the
trivial kaleidoscope of shifting tints which was all that the future,
apart from Franklin, seemed to offer her? Might not dun-colour, even,
illuminated by joy, turn to gold, like highway dust when the sun shines
upon it? Althea wondered, leaning back in her chair and gazing before
her; she wondered deeply.

If only Franklin would come in now with the right look. If only he would
come in with the right word, or, if not with the word, with an even more
compelling silence! Compulsion was needed, and could Franklin compel?
Could he make her fall in love with him? So she wondered, sitting alone
in the Paris hotel, the open letter in her hand.


When Althea went in to lunch next day, after an arduous morning of
shopping, she observed, with mingled relief and disappointment, that the
young lady in black was not in her place. She might very probably have
gone away, and it was odd to think that an impression so strong was
probably to remain an impression merely. On the whole, she was sorry to
think that it might be so, though the impression had not been altogether

After lunch she lay down and read reviews for a lazy hour, and then
dressed to receive Miss Harriet Robinson, who, voluble and beaming,
arrived punctually at four.

Miss Robinson looked almost exactly as she had looked for the last ten
years. She changed as little as the hotel drawing-room, but that the
pictures on the wall, the vases on the shelf of her mental decoration
varied with every season. She was always passionately interested in
something, and it was surprising to note how completely in the new she
forgot last year's passion. This year it was eugenics and Strauss; the
welfare of the race had suddenly engaged her attention, and the menaced
future of music. She was slender, erect, and beautifully dressed. Her
hands were small, and she constantly but inexpressively gesticulated
with them; her elaborately undulated hair looked like polished, fluted
silver; her eyes were small, dark, and intent; she smiled as constantly
and as inexpressively as she gesticulated.

'And so you really think of going back for the winter?' she asked Althea
finally, when the responsibilities of parenthood and the impermanency of
modern musical artifices had been demonstrated. 'Why, my dear? You see
everybody here. Everybody comes here, sooner or later.'

'I don't like getting out of touch with home,' said Althea.

Online LibraryAnne Douglas SedgwickFranklin Kane → online text (page 1 of 24)