Beatrice Harraden.

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mering of the unseemliness of his behaviour, and of the
discourtesy of his uncontrolled regret stole upon the
darkness of his selfishness. Some words rose to his lips,
but he was unable to give utterance to them. Her quiet
dignity paralysed him. It removed her out of the reach
of perfunctory apology, inadequate excuse. He could
only stand staring fixedly at the empty frame ; and it
was she who broke the terrible silence.

" You can see for yourself," she said, with a strange
smile on her face, " that the picture has been very carefully
cut out from its setting. There isn't a shred anywhere."

" No, not a shred," he said, thankful to regain the power
of speech. " The knife must have been fearfully sharp."

; ' Yes, it was evidently," she said.

" I don't even notice the indent where the man began
to cut," he said, " unless it was here on the right."

:< Yes, it was here evidently," she said.

" I can't believe it is gone," he said, with a wild
return of frenzied grief. " I see it before me even now."

" I see it," Gweneth said slowly. " I see it always there."

That was her punishment. She saw it in its frame,
in its accustomed place in the library, endowed as ever
with an irresistible and unrelenting influence. It was in
vain that her brain reminded her of the night's happening ;
it was in vain that she wandered from the spare room
to the library, and from the library to the spare room ;
in vain that, to reassure herself, she locked the spare
room door, and took the two pictures out of the golf -bag,
gazed at them with painful intenseness, and restored them
deliberately to their seclusion.



120 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

Yet a few minutes afterwards, she was more convinced
than before that the portrait of her rival hung undis-
turbed on the wall in the library, and that her agony, her
effort, her eagerness, her debasement had failed of their
set purpose. To have sinned and succeeded would at
least have been a mental satisfaction and triumph, physi-
cally if not morally healing. But in Gweneth's danger-
ously unbalanced condition of mind, to have sinned and
been frustrated could only mean an access of mental
disaster.

That night, after many hours of strain and restlessness,
her brain gave way.



m

" SNOWDBOPS in the golf -bag ransack the world
always there on the grave."

These were the words, constantly repeated in poor
Gweneth's ravings, which, amidst the incoherence, arrested
the attention of the doctor who watched by her side.
He took out his notebook and pencil, and tried the words
in separate combinations. These were his entries:

"1. Snowdrops in the golf -bag.

"2. Snowdrops on the grave.

"3. Ransack the world, snowdrops always there in the
golf-bag.

"4. Ransack the world, snowdrops always there in
the grave.

" 5. The golf -bag always there in the grave, ransack
the world for snowdrops.

" 6. Snowdrops always there on the grave, ransack
the world for golf-bag.

"7. Ransack the world for the grave, snowdrops always
there in golf -bag."

He shook his head gravely as he read them over. They
did not strike him as being ridiculous, for he knew that,
even in their disjointed connection, they stood for certain
fundamental ideas, the secret of which, once grasped,
would reveal to him the workings of her disordered mind.
She had collapsed. Why had she collapsed ? He had,



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE 121

of course, been told of the picture robberies ; but although
he took into consideration the excitement which such
an event would naturally have occasioned in the house-
hold, he regarded it merely as an accelerating agent, and
not as a causative force. It was obvious to his practised
judgment that she had been on the verge of a precipice,
and that eventually she would have fallen over. Chance
had contrived that it should be a little sooner.

But what was the .driving power which had impelled
her in the direction of the precipice ? He believed that
if he could solve that problem, he could indirectly or
directly help towards the healing of her mind. He never
allowed himself to rely only on intuition, or on accumulated
experience, physical and mental. He searched the spiritual
atmosphere of the sick person, and added his spiritual
knowledge to his scientific equipment of analysis. Some
of his confreres thought that he laid undue stress on the
value of the spiritual. Nevertheless, in their doubts,
they sought his help and the benefits of his methods,
justifying themselves by attributing his successful results
to the weight of his personality, and not to the soundness
of his views.

So he had been called in, in Gweneth's instance. And
he continued to linger hi the sick-room, puzzling over his
notes, straining to catch some muttered fugitive word
which would perhaps guide him to some clue of her spiritual
condition. No fresh word came. But he was struck
with her unceasing reference to snowdrops. Why snow-
drops ? This was the month of June, the month of roses,
and no one ought to be harping on snowdrops until
the hour of their sweet and welcome arrival in their own
due time. He concluded that there must be some special
reason why she was thinking of them. Did they repre-
sent to her a sweet memory, a sad experience, a happiness,
a sorrow ? He must try and find out. Before he left
the house, he put several questions to Andrew Sirrell,
and finally he referred to the snowdrops.

" She speaks constantly of snowdrops," he said. " I
am curious to know whether they are her favourite
flowers ? "



122 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

" They were my first wife's favourite flowers," Andrew
Sirrell replied, in a low voice.

" Your first wife's favourite flowers," the doctor repeated.
Then, after a pause, he said casually:

" Did your present wife know this ? "

" Oh, yes," Andrew Sirrell answered. " Of course,
she knew it. She we planted snowdrops on on the
grave. We went together in fact "

He broke off and turned away, overcome with emotion.

A light broke in on the doctor.

" Ah," he said thoughtfully, " perhaps she has been
fretting. Forgive me for asking you but no doubt you
were passionately attached to your first wife ? "

" Yes," Andrew answered almost inaudibly.

" Did you perhaps claim from your second wife an
unreasonable homage to the memory of her whom you had
lost ? " Dr. Newbold asked.

" I was not conscious of doing this," Andrew Sirrell
said.

" Of course not," Dr. Newbold said. " And that's
where the whole trouble lies. No man would deliberately
set out to hurt the feelings of his second wife, if he had
any regard for her happiness. I myself never meant to
do this. Yet I did it, Mr. Sirrell. And that is why I
dare speak to you, because you will understand that I
do not speak as a judge, but as a fellow-blunderer. My
first wife's picture pervaded the house, and her memory
pervaded my heart. My second wife bore the trial as
long as she could, and then she quietly left me. She
wrote : * / leave you to your pictures and your memories. 1
I awoke instantly to the realisation of my selfishness
in hurting her, and of my bereftness in forfeiting her love.
It took a great deal of pleading and persuasion to make
her leave her parents' home in Cumberland and return
to me. But she yielded at last, and we entered on a new
life, in which memories and actualities found a due and
healthy relationship."

He paused. Andrew Sirrell, who had been standing
staring out of the window, sank into the armchair, and
for a brief minute covered his face with his hands.



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE 123

" I begin to see it all," he said, in a tense voice. " Oh,
what a fool I've been what a selfish and cruel fool."

" One of a large company," Dr. Newbold answered
kindly, " fellow- blunderers, fostered by an unjust tradition
that women are here to bear anything from us. I rejoice
that their new day has come."

Andrew Sirrell did not heed his words. He was invaded
by an army of reproachful and accusing thoughts.

" And the portrait," he cried aloud, in mental agony.
" I must have made her suffer untold miseries over the
portrait alone and the robbery of it. I've been out of
my senses. I've expected her to grieve over its loss as
much as I grieve. I've "

The doctor interrupted him suddenly.

" Of whom was the portrait ? " he asked. " Not of
your first wife ? "

Andrew Sirrell gave silent assent.

" And it's one of the missing pictures ? " he asked again.

Andrew Sirrell nodded.

"And I suppose she saw that your bereavement was
renewed in its loss ? " he asked.

" You torture me," Andrew Sirrell cried. " You
torture me because the thoughts you suggest are only
too true. I told her I could not live without the portrait.
I told her that if I spent my last farthing in the search,
it must be found. 1 remember I told her that the world
must be ransacked."

Dr. Newbold glanced at the man's haggard face, and
made no comment on this pitiful confession. But he ran
his eye over his own notes, and with a secret sense of
professional triumph, he mentally scratched out " Snow-
drops ransack the world on the grave." He believed
that he had now probably solved the ideas for which they
stood. The sick woman upstairs was suffering from a
mental illness brought on, or aggravated by jealousy
and outraged pride. Yes, these were, perhaps, the forces
causing her illness, the climax of which could very easily
have been hastened by the robbery of the portrait and
her husband's uncontrolled regret over the loss of his
treasure.



124 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

But there were still two phrases unexplained and dis-
jointed from any apparent connection " In the golf-
bag always there" What was " always there " ? Did
she mean that something was always " in the golf -bag " ?
Or did "always there" refer to the snowdrops on the
grave ? Impossible to guess. And probably that detail
might not matter. It might, of course, but it might not.
But it did matter to know why her mind dwelt on the
golf -bag. Was she fond of golf ? Was her husband fond
of golf ? Had the first wife been fond of golf ? Ah,
perhaps there was a golf -bag in the house " always there "
belonging to the first wife.

He turned to ask the question, but he saw that Andrew
Sirrell was overcome with grief, and that the poor fellow
needed the mercy of peace to help him to withstand the
inner tempest which was gathering force in relentless
fashion. So he forbore. He went away and left Andrew
Sirrell alone, to meet himself face to face.

Andrew met himself. And as the encounter became
more intimate, his suffering grew more acute. Number-
less instances of his thoughtlessness and selfishness rose
to his mind. The honeymoon, which they had spent
in visiting all the places where he and his first bride had
stayed during their honeymoon. The sacred pilgrimage
to her grave, where they had planted her favourite snow-
drops, and he had been unable to control his passionate
grief. The flower-bed, spelling with its pattern the letters
of her beloved name. The portrait dominating his library
and the shrine of his heart. Her books over which he
was always poring. Her letters which he was always
reading. His constant demands on Gweneth's sympathy.
His entire disregard of her feelings.

He shuddered. He was shocked. He was ashamed.
He had accepted everything and given nothing.

Why had she not made some sign ?

Why had she not tried to stop him in his pitiful
course ?

But stay. She had tried. He remembered now. He
recalled two or three occasions when she had appeared
to fall short in sympathy and kindness, and he had re-



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE 125

preached her. He heard her voice saying gravely : " /
do my best in a very difficult position, Andrew."

Why did not that warn him ?

Once she had refused to sit in his library. He heard
her saying : " There is no room for me in the library.''
Fool that he was, he had chosen to believe that she referred
to the smallness of the room, and not to the mental space
occupied by the portrait. Looking back now, he realised
that he had received many warnings, all of which he in
his folly, selfishness, insolence, had entirely disregarded.
Insolence. Yes, that was the word. He had rewarded
her kindness, her tenderness, not with gratitude, but with
insolence. What was a man made of that he should dare
take up such an attitude to the woman whom he had asked
to share his life ? What was a woman made of that she
should deign to accept such treatment from a man's
hands ?

Ah, but Gweneth had not accepted it. She had been
fighting it silently ; and it was her silence which had cost
Gweneth her sanity. Why had she not left him, as that
other man's wife had left her husband ? Why had she
not cried out : " / leave you to your memories and your
pictures " ? Had she stayed on, hoping by her love and
patience to wean him from the past and win him for
herself ? Was it true that, as the doctor said, his grief over
the loss of the cherished portrait had proved to be the finish-
ing touch to her despair ? He knew it to be true. He knew
now that his unrestraint had been disgraceful. He remem-
bered that for one brief moment a sense of shame had
stolen over him, when Gweneth's quiet dignity had arrested
the onward rush of his unmeasured words. So that he
must have known even then. And yet, in spite of that
knowledge, he had continued to wound her. But not
wilfully, not wilfully. What had the doctor said ? Fellow-
blunderers, belonging to a large company. But that
did not help him. That did not make his individual
blunder less fatal. That would not restore Gweneth to
her sanity. That would not give him back his lost chances
of loving and serving her.

The words of the sad old German song echoed in his



126 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

ears : " The mill will never grind with the water that is
past."

He said them aloud : " The mill will never grind with
the water that "

The door opened and the maid announced the detective.

" I have good news for you, sir," the man said, with
a smile of professional triumph. " I have got on their
track. It's as I thought that same gang. We shall
now find the portraits, without a doubt."

Andrew Sirrell gathered himself together and listened
with apparent attention to the man's report.

But the only words he heard were the words of that
old German song echoing ever mournfully in his ears :
" The mill will never grind with the water that is past"



IV

THERE was no improvement in Gweneth's condition the
next day. The night nurse reported a night of continuous
brain excitement, which the opiate had not succeeded in
allaying. Dr. Newbold asked to be left alone with the
patient for a few minutes, and he drew his chair near the
bed, and began to speak to Gweneth as if she were in her
right mind, calm, conscious, and receptive of ideas.

" It has been one of those sad blunders, Mrs. Sirrell,"
he said gently, " which mar our lives and the lives of
those we love. But your husband loves you. You must
give him another chance. The snowdrops are dead.
They will never bloom again."

He waited for a moment, and then he said again slowly
and, if possible, with added kindness :

" It has been one of those sad blunders which mar our
lives and the lives of those we love. But your husband
loves you. You must give him another chance. The
snowdrops are dead. They will never bloom again."

There was a pause in her pitiful moaning. But it was
of the briefest duration. He bent nearer her. His voice,
his manner, were as the voice and manner of one giving
a benediction.



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE 127

" Your husband loves you. The snowdrops are dead,"
he whispered again and again.

There seemed no end to his patience and persistence.

There was another pause in her moaning. It appeared
to him to last longer than the previous period of restful-
ness. And he felt encouraged.

" Your husband loves you. The snowdrops are dead.
Your husband loves you. You must give him another
chance," he kept on murmuring softly but very clearly.

She lay quite still. She slept.

He rose and wiped the sweat from his brow. Had he
reached her, or was it merely that the opiate had at last
taken effect ? He could not tell. He only knew that,
armed with the secret of some part of her mental suffering,
he had put forth the best of his brain strength in an attempt
to reach her brain.

He went downstairs to the library, and gave the good
news to her husband that she was at least quiet for the
moment. That was some gain, if only temporary.

" But I believe her to be very ill, Mr. Sirrell," he said
gravely. " It seems to me that to-day she has less strength
than yesterday. The puzzle to me is that you should
never have noticed she was slipping into a most peculiar
mental condition."

Andrew bent his head.

" I am ashamed I did not notice," he said humbly.

The doctor remained silent.

" I would do anything to make reparation to her,"
Andrew said, with painful earnestness.

" We will leave no stone unturned to save her, so that
you may be able to make reparation," Dr. Newbold said.
" But she's very ill, and I'm deeply puzzled."

He questioned Andrew about her character, her tempera-
ment, her tastes, her habits. He asked permission to
speak to one of the maids. The parlour-maid, Flora,
helped him in an altogether unexpected way. Yes, she
said, she thought Mrs. Sirrell had been very peculiar of
late. She had gone about the house with a strange smile
on her face, always rather preoccupied and sometimes
talking to herself in a whisper. No, she had not been irrit-



128 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

able to them. On the contrary, she had been kinder
than ever, and there was no one in the house who would
not have served her to the uttermost. Yes, she did vary
a good deal, not only from day to day, but hour to hour.
She was always different when Mr. Sirrell was at home.
Directly she expected him, she left off brooding. Yes,
that was the word. Brooding. Yes, on the whole, she
had been worse than ever lately. Where did she spend
most of her time ? Oh, she spent most of her time in
the library. What did she do ? Nothing except

Flora hesitated and coloured.

" Well ? " said the doctor kindly.

" Once or twice I've seen her standing staring at the
portrait," Flora said nervously.

:< Yes," said the doctor quite calmly, as if the matter
were of no importance.

" And once lately I heard her talking to it," Flora
added still more nervously.

" Ah, that must have been your imagination," the
doctor said, a little brusquely.

" No, sir, she was talking to it, and at first she didn't
hear me come into the room," Flora insisted.

" I suppose the other maids knew this ? " the doctor
said casually.

Flora shook her head.

" I haven't spoken of it till now," she answered, the
tears coming into her eyes. " I was upset for her. She
she has always been good to me. But the next day
I didn't let her go into the library. I gave it a good turn-
out and she had to keep away."

" Ah, then, she has had someone to watch over her
very kindly," Dr. Newbold said gently. And he signed
to the girl that she might withdraw. But when she had
reached the door, a sudden thought struck him, and,
with the thought, came an impulse of need for further
details of information which he believed she could pro-
bably supply. For some reason or other, which he ex-
plained to himself later, he checked the intensity of his
eagerness, and confined himself to one or two points only.

" I should like to ask you a few more things," he said.



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE 129

" And I will tell you why I ask. It is important that
I should learn something about Mrs. Sirrell's behaviour
immediately previous to her collapse. Mr. Sirrell tells
me he was out in the afternoon. He, therefore, could
not know. Did she seem excited and overwrought ?
And, as far as you know, what did she do with herself ?
Did she have a shock of any kind ? You are attached
to Mrs. Sirrell, are you not ? Well, my reason for asking
is, that I believe we might have more chance of saving
her, if we knew exactly what caused her final breakdown.
I feel sure there was something."

" She wasn't excited at all," the girl said. " She was
just restless fearfully restless. She kept wandering up
and downstairs, and went first into the library and then
into the spare room. She didn't even settle down to her
afternoon cup of tea. She left it half finished, and hurried
up to the spare room."

" What did she do there ? " the doctor asked slowly.

The girl shook her head.

" I don't know, sir," she answered.

" Was it her habit to go there often ? " he asked.

" No," the girl replied.

" I should like to go there," he said, after a pause.

She led him upstairs to the spare room, and disappeared
at once, thankful to escape from further examination.
He was alone ; for Andrew Sirrell, who seemed as one
stricken and paralysed, had shown no sign of wishing to
follow him, and had merely nodded assentingly when he
had expressed a wish to see the room.

The doctor himself could not have explained why he
wished to see the room. There was obviously nothing
exceptional about it. It appeared to him the usual kind
of visitor's apartment, not belonging to anyone in particular,
and therefore without any intimate personal character-
istics to proclaim personal ownership. He saw nothing
in it to arrest his attention, and he was on the point
of leaving, satisfied that he had at least passed over the
same ground as his patient, when he suddenly felt that
he must remain where he was, in the middle of the room,
on the very spot, perhaps, where his patient had stood.
9



130 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

And a curious thing happened. He was standing
lost in thought, trying to piece together the scattered
fragments of the information he had received, trying to
break down mental barriers and get in touch with Gweneth's
mind, trying to analyse a new idea which had been creeping
stealthily into his brain, when he looked up and noticed
a door probably leading into a dressing-room. He ap-
proached it with a strange reluctance. He opened it,
found it was the door of a big cupboard, and was closing
it again, when he caught sight of a large golf-bag in the
far-end corner.

" The golf -bag" he said in a startled whisper. He
remembered in a lightning flash that this was one of
the things on which his patient was harping. He hesitated
for a moment, and finally, with an effort of resolution,
moved the golf-bag on to the bed. He took out the
driver and the niblick first of all ; then the putter, which
he examined with a quite unnecessary attentiveness ;
then the cleek, which he kept in his hands an interminable
time ; then the brassie, at which he stared as though he
had never before seen a brassie with its brass shoe. His
manner became slower and more deliberately procrastinat-
ing with each successive club. At last he took out a roll.

" A roll," he said slowly, and as he held it in his right
hand, his left hand sought and covered his eyes.

" A roll," he said again.

He opened the roll, and found that it consisted of two
portraits, one of a most beautiful woman and the other
of a young man.

He stood as though turned to stone.

"I see now," he whispered, " her work her work."

Up to now, only the faintest suspicion of this prob-
ability had entered his brain, and then mainly as the
result of his conversation with the parlour-maid. He
realised, as he was always realising afresh, how hopelessly
little even an expert could ever know of the workings of
another person's mind. Theories, generalisations, deduc-
tions could all be wrecked by some unforeseen development,
Yes, this was her work. It was plain to him, from the
scattered fragments of her incoherent talk, from tlip know-



THE FIRST WIFE'S PICTURE 131

ledge he had gained of her suffering, her jealousy, her
restlessness after the disappearance of the pictures,
and her mysterious visits to the spare room where her
secret was in hiding. The interesting fact that two of
the portraits had been removed, confirmed him in his
belief. From his vast experience he recognised in this
precaution the protecting craft characteristic of the
unbalanced mind. Yes, it was her work.

He turned impulsively to the portrait of the beautiful
woman, opened it out, and laid it on the floor. He stood
staring at it, fascinated, dominated by it.

"It is not a portrait," he thought ; " it is a living
person. One could never forget it. It would be always
there always haunting one. It was not fair on her to
have such a marvellous picture in the house. It could
not have failed to become a living reality to her. She


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Online LibraryBeatrice HarradenThirteen all told → online text (page 10 of 23)