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'Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers : the SNARE is
BROKEN, and we are escaped." Psa/mcxxiv.




Registered at Stationer's Hall, London





(0 4Hp Wife



"I TOLD you not to hold it that way!"
A misery of exasperation vibrated in the voice
that rose above the shrill clatter of broken crockery.
Frances saw neither her mother nor the drab serv-
ant girl to whom the words were spoken; but the
apartment was so small that she heard even the
angry rustle of skirts and the sound of dragging
feet on the bare kitchen floor. With quiet des-
peration she laid down the volume she had been
trying to read. The noises robbed her of repose,
not by reason of their loudness, but because their
quality expressed, with an insistence that tortured
every nerve, those elements of her life which she
abhorred. She was afraid that her mother might
come in and speak querulously of the servant's
carelessness. She would listen, as so often before,
quietly. It was a single remnant of grace that she
never protested, never repulsed the plaintive confi-


dences of her mother, whom, at moments, she pitied
with such passionate tenderness. But if she could
escape ! She leaned so far out of the window that
she could see to the left the dusty August green of
the trees upon Morningside Heights. Masses of
sombre cloud shadowed the hill and heavy drops
of rain began to fall. She would have been glad
to slip out into the autumnal rain, could she have
done so unobserved. But her heart grew sick at
the thought of her mother's mournful solicitude
which she must first encounter. There was nothing
to do but to remain quiescent and let the grey hours
gather over her.

The fading afternoon light was merciful to the
mean respectability of the room, to the carefully
mended carpet, the heterogeneous chairs, the small,
old-fashioned piano, the general air of eager preser-
vation. But in her present mood Frances was
painfully conscious of these things. They were to
her the symbols of that ignoble solicitude which
poverty in her home entailed. She was not afraid
of privations. She would have welcomed a bare-
ness frank and unashamed. It was the tawdry
trappings above the stark sordidness of their life
that, in hours of pitiless observation, drew from
her tears which she, at her age, should not have


known. She heard her mother coming in, and at-
tempted to look more alert.

Mrs. Garnett gathered her apron in her worn
right hand and wiped her forehead with it. Her
face was cruelly furrowed, her brow puckered, not
with cares of a noble cast, but with small, miserable
and incessant worries. The scanty grey hair was
gathered into a knot no larger than an egg; the
greyish brown skin of her cheeks and neck hung
in loose, pendulous folds. Whenever Frances saw
the face and figure clearly, a compassion so immense
overwhelmed her that she yearned over her mother
with protecting care. The struggle to remain re-
spectable in New York on twelve hundred dollars
a year had made of Mrs. Garnett a thing of scorn :
it had made of her body a rag, and of her soul a
bundle of mean anxieties. Only her mother-love,
instinctive and unfortified by intelligence, had re-
mained to her of the more gracious possessions of
other years. The falling dark now hid her from

"But, Fanny, you're not dressed yet?"
The girl hated to be called "Fanny."
"What's the use of dressing? I'm very well as
I am."


"But your father has invited Mr. Ware to din-
ner to-night. "


"Well, don't you see that you should try to make
a good impression?"

"No, I don't see."

"For Heaven's sake, don't be a fool! Ware, I
am told, has a hundred thousand dollars if he has a

"Oh!" Frances moaned.

Mrs. Garnett came over to her and put an awk-
ward hand on her shoulder.

"I know just how you feel about it, my child.
But I tell you there's no curse like being poor. I'd
like to save you that. You don't understand ; you
think you don't want to give up your ideals for
money. All right. But if you have no money, I
tell you there's not an ideal, there's not a last rag
of decency that you won't have to throw away.
Don't I know it? Don't I know it?"

The woman's voice rose to a strident wail.

"Look at me!"

"Oh, mamma, please don't!"

Something in that crude and cruel self-revelation
stung Frances beyond endurance. It seemed to her


that her mother gloated, with violent self-pity, upon
her degradation and decay.

"You'll dress, won't you ?"

"Yes, yes; presently/*

When Frances was left alone she sat still with
her eyes closed. Visions passed before her, the
salient scenes of her life, which had tempered and,
she believed, warped her soul. But she also saw
the fine grey head of her father, and to think of
it comforted her. It was only at rare moments
that Dr. Garnett entertained a sense of his failure;
and she was glad that he, at least, however much
it may have contributed to their misery, was care-
less of material things. But his brief hours at
home were only tiny pools of light in the universal
drab of petty cares and compromises, intervals of
healing silence amid clamourous discussions of the
incompetence of servants and the cost of meat. A
memory came to the girl from which she drew back
instinctively with every nerve.

A few weeks ago she had accompanied her
mother on a Saturday night expedition to One
Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street. They had
waited long to be served in a huge green-grocer's
establishment, and Frances had looked about her.
Under the sharp electric light stood, huddled to-


gether, scores of women of the lower middle classes,
in shabby black cloaks and bonnets grotesquely set
awry. With worn and callous fingersthey handled
the huge heaps of vegetables, meats and poultry
exposed for sale. They shook their heads in con-
temptuous deprecation of the wares, and haggled
shrilly with the tired and brutal clerks. Upon the
shrunken faces of the women glared a desperate
intentness to make the little sums, clutched in
clenched hands, go as far as possible. They grov-
elled smirkingly before a fat German, smiling be-
nevolently, but with eyes of steel, who was the pro-
prietor of the establishment. Most of the women
were elderly, but their grey hairs had brought them
no vestige of dignity or detachment, and Frances,
seeing them thus, had prayed fervently to perish
in the days of her youth rather than grow old to
mouth and chatter over broken meats under the im-
minent shadow, within close hail of the peremptory
voice, of death.

The vision haunted her. She pressed her fingers
upon her eyelids until she saw green and scarlet
circles, flashes and dots. And then a strange diz-
ziness came over her, and, at the same time, a mad
desire to escape from all the trammels of her life
into some freer, braver air, into spacious chambers


looking upon cool fields and beautiful mountains.
To weep, to cry out, to protest passionately once
only how that would have cleared the atmosphere
of her soul ! But she had herself well in hand; for
jthe flat was small, no sound but penetrated to its
Utmost corner, and there was, as she told herself
with bitter frankness, no place for her to cry.
Would this unnatural repression revenge itself upon
her some day? So far there had been no oppor-
tunity. There were, in her existence, few intervals
of repose in which her passionate soul might have
gained strength for an outburst. Its energy was
broken by a continuous clatter of petty incidents.

Art had become her refuge. As a little girl she
had read the sound, old books in her father's small
library. Others, too, which were not fit for a child,
and whose meaning (their incidents and sayings
clinging to her memory) had gradually unfolded
itself to her as the years went on. Then the more
I quiet volumes ceased to bite into her mind, ceased
to wrap her with a satisfying completeness from
the sordid hideousness about her. Thus, driven by
a great need, she had come into contact with a good
deal of verse and prose that taught her something
of the more exquisite and morbid possibilities of


life, and communicated to her senses an uneasiness
of whose nature she was not wholly ignorant. . . .
Frances took her hands from her eyes and saw
that it was quite dark. She hurried to her little
room to dress. There seemed too little difference
between the frock which she discarded and the one
she would wear, but, quite mechanically, from the
habit of avoiding discussion, she obeyed her
mother's command. She felt a little resentful
against her father for introducing a visitor; she
might have spent the evening over some absorbing
book, and the young men whom he occasionally
brought to their table had never interested her.
They were, as a rule, young medical students, un-
formed, uncouth, given to talking shop, and ob-
viously afraid of her. Ware, she knew, was an
older man, and of a different type. He had drifted,
idly curious, or seeking new sensations, into the
medical school in which her father held a small
demonstratorship; he repudiated, she understood,
the supposition that he would practise any profes-
sion. He had a moderate competence and dabbled
in literature. Such a guest might, in a more hope-
ful mood, have been welcome. But the last few
days of rain and humidity had, with their conse-
quent discomfort, brought out the full acerbity of


her mother's temper, had prevented her from wan-
dering into the quietude of Morningside Park, and
had worn her nervous endurance to a shred. She
could conceive of nothing that was not weary and

When she had dressed she lingered yet a brief
while in her room. She pressed her forehead
against the cool window-pane, and saw, since the
flat was on the fifth floor, a rag of sky between the
tall houses. The clouds had parted and a friendly
star shone down upon her. It moved her im-
mensely, so white it was, so benign, so different
from the turbulent inner fever of her life. She
welcomed it as an omen of fair fortune. Some-
where, somehow, she too would find her little por-
tion of serenity and joy. With inarticulate thank-
fulness and supplication she turned her soul, for a
moment, to God. Her deep and abiding sense of
eternal things found no other expression than this.
She had been brought up in no definite form of
faith, and often turned with a vague desire to the
Church and its visible symbols. But the conditions
of her life made an active affiliation with any body
of believers all but impossible, nor would her pride
have suffered her to bear the vague patronage
which would have been, in the majority of churches,


her inevitable portion. Such momentary commu-
nions, however, with a Power upon which the spirit
might lean often changed her mood. A star, a
flower, the waving of a leaf in the wind, a slender
poplar against the evening sky at the exquisite
stir of such appearances she felt the sustaining
and fortifying presence of God.

When she entered the dining-room her heart was
lighter. The table, bright with immaculate linen
and a little good silver and china, pleased her. It
was a great pity, she reflected, that the room was
so absurdly small that their guest would be prac-
tically barricaded in his seat. She brought a few
flowers from her own room and put them in a slen-
der vase on the dining-table. It was now time for
her father and Mr. Ware to come. The process
of waiting induced in her, as it always did> a slight
but steadily increasing nervousness. She felt her-
self grow a little pale and went to the window of
the drawing-room to look out into the street. The
lamp-light shimmered upon the pavement, which,
still wet from the recent rain, mirrored the rare
passers-by in a phantastic reversal of their natural
positions. Vaguely superstitious, she refrained
from looking out any longer, with a sense that at
her show of impatience those whom she awaited


would be delayed. She looked into the kitchen, but
her mother had gone to dress. On crossing the tiny
hall she heard the trill of the downstairs bell and
hurried back to the kitchen to press the button that
opened the door below. Her heart beat fast as she
iheard heavy steps upon the stair, and, in a mo-
ment, her father's clear voice bidding Mr. Ware
to enter.

The two men came into the drawing-room, which
they seemed to fill. Dr. Garnett was tall ; his vivid
blue eyes and white hair and beard were conspicu-
ous. Ware looked shorter than he was by reason
of his breadth of figure and heaviness of movement.
It seemed to Frances that his features, settled in a
somewhat sluggish repose, might flare up into su-
preme intelligence. He was homely, beyond doubt,
dark and awkward, but there was a signal of flame
in his half-shut eyes. She abandoned her observa-
tion under fire of her father's cheery talk.

"This is my daughter Frances, Ware. You
two ought to get along well. You have many I
may say, nearly all interests in common. You
haven't had a pleasant day, have you, Fanny? No;
the weather has been wretched."

He became aware of the young people's silence
and stopped in some embarrassment.


"You will excuse me for the moment," he said.
"I must get rid of some of the evidences of the
day's toil."

A faint smile at her father's facile magnilo-
quence seemed to mark the beginning of a less con-
strained attitude. Frances faced the young man.

"I'm afraid papa forgot to offer you a chair."

He sat down, bending forward a little and fold-
ing his hands between his knees. There seemed
to Frances something pathetic in this strong man,
gifted, she had been told, with unusual powers of
speech, struggling, so evidently, after utterance.
His voice, when he spoke, had in it a lyric note, a
chanting cadence, resonant and unaffected. It in-
terested her at once, as did the curious directness of
his speech.

"I am very glad that Dr. Garnett permitted me
to come and that I see you at last."

"At last?" She was quite willing to help him.

"Your father is very proud of you."

She noted, as once before, his faint, reluctant

"Ah, yes, papa talks of me, no doubt. But you
must not pitch your expectations too high."

"I was interested," he said slowly, "because
your father told me of your caring for certain books


and certain things which, frankly, women as a rule
disregard completely."

"Oh, I read. What else is one to do?"

"No, don't put me off, please," the words
sounded very nearly morose "I'm incapable of

She laughed a little, and, with a characteristic
gesture, joined her hands upon her heavy hair.
The light shone full upon her : upon her changeful
grey eyes, her fair cheeks slightly flushed, the full,
rich moulding of her chin and lips. The loose
sleeves fell back, leaving her round, warm arms bare
almost to the shoulder. She saw his lids open wide
and his eyes fixed upon her with startling intensity.
A little shiver passed over her; she dropped her
arms, and heard, with distinct relief, her father
and mother approach the drawing-room. They
moved in a few minutes to the dining-room, where
the conversation became general. Ware hardly
looked at Frances, but addressed himself with al-
most tactless persistence to her parents. She divined
his confusion and was not aggrieved. The talk
seemed to her not very illuminating, until, in dis-
cussing a recent play, she heard Ware's voice gather

"The whole plot," he was saying, "hinges upon


a very noxious absurdity. Through the traditions
of chivalry a good deal of brutal injustice has
come into the world. It is firmly held that if a
woman of the gentler class grants a man the slight-
est favour she has thereby come into possession of
him, body and soul, forever; she can take his life
and, if she will, ruin it. And yet, unless she is a
child or an idiot, she stands upon precisely the same
basis with the man, who asserts no such right. He
does not demand possession of her, however he may
desire it. She demands it, having really given noth-
ing that the man has not also given. The bargain
is too unequal."

"But would she grant any favour, would she have
committed herself in any given case at all," asked
Dr. Garnett, "except upon the tacit agreement that
the action gives her certain rights?"

"Certainly, she would. For it is life itself that
compels her, even as it compels us!"

Mrs. Garnett looked at Frances anxiously. The
turn of the conversation seemed to her an unsuit-
able one. She had always opposed her husband's
frank discussions of life with their daughter, his
insistence upon the sanity that springs from know-
ledge. She gave the signal that dinner was over,


arose, and led the way through the narrow hall to
the front of the flat.

Ware, with a sensitiveness that at once pleased
and annoyed Frances, had read her mother's invol-
untary rebuke. He grew silent and ill at ease.
They had lingered late over their meal and the end
of the evening became flat and empty. Dr. Gar-
nett talked alertly and well, but Ware was not again
to be betrayed into definite speech, Shortly after
ten he arose to go.

"I am not often at leisure in the evening/' he
said to Mrs. Garnett, "but if I might sometimes
call on you and Miss Garnett earlier in the day, I
should be glad."

Mrs. Garnett was exuberant in her friendliness.

"Do come," she said; "Fanny is often dull. We
haven't many visitors."

Frances blushed at her mother's vulgar oppor-
tunism and hardly touched the hand that Ware held

When, presently, she had gone to her room for
the night, she found herself regretting that she had
not been kinder to him at the last moment. He in-
terested her and she knew that she wanted him to
come again. She did not put this desire into words,
unaccustomed yet to violate a final feminine reti-


cence, even to herself. But she would have liked
to feel another pressure of his strong, soft palm.
Slowly she undressed herself and passed her hand
gently over the delicate surface of her throat and
arms. Her own body appealed to her as it had
rarely done before; its smooth whiteness gave her
an indefinite pleasure. Involuntarily arose the
thought of Ware. She turned out the light hur-
riedly and crept, shivering, between the cool sheets
of her bed. Sleep came soon, but not before a half-
dreamy glimpse had been hers, a glimpse of some
faint vision of a richer life, and of a gradual prepa-
ration for new fortunes under strange stars.


WEEKS passed and Ware called often. Mrs.
Garnett speculated volubly as to his motives. Then
suddenly his visits ceased and Frances felt the brief
glow of expectancy fading from her. The leaves
in Morningside Park were shrivelling and losing
colour, the poplars looked peaked and thin, and the
dimness of Autumn crept gradually into her soul.
She was often dizzy and tired, but the weather
touched her with an immense poignancy of sadness
and aroused in her a new and indescribable yearn-
ing. Every vista seemed to her to lead straight
into some unattainable Paradise. She could not
look up Amsterdam Avenue, rising here with so
generous a sweep into the light, without tears. Her
thoughts were not consciously concerned with
Ware, but at the vaguest resemblance to him in
any figure on the street she flushed hotly and
seemed to feel her eyelids quiver. Passionate and
melancholy books were revealed to her with a new
intensity and plangent verses wove themselves into



the shifting patterns of her waking dreams. Con-
sidering some of these dreams in an hour of detach-
ment, she accused herself almost of vulgarity so
full were they of gorgeous places and of impas-
sioned sounds. But, to escape from reality, she
always abandoned herself to them again.

There was so much to escape from ! The weary
rattle of the little household seemed to grind more
heavily along; the common meals passed in silence,
broken only by her mother's shrill complaints.

"Fanny makes no attempt to help me; she hardly
speaks to me."

Dr. Garnett looked at his daughter, who seemed
inordinately moved.

"What is it, child ?"

"I don't know, papa; perhaps I'm not quite well.
My heart beats so."

He observed her furtively during the rest of the
meal. Later, alone with her in the drawing-room,
he suddenly laid aside his book. His blue eyes were
almost stern.

"We must bear our burdens with a gentler spirit,
my daughter."

"Ah, if there were something to bear! Some-
thing definite and worth while 1"

"Those are the crude dreams of youth, child.


We are not here to solace victorious knights or im-
molate ourselves on the altar of genius. God has
appointed as our portion, patience without reward."

Frances sat silent and disturbed. She had never
before heard her father speak such words. His at-
titude to her had always been one of bright and
comradely kindness.

"Patience?" she asked.

"Yes; and in your case, patience with your
mother. If she is embittered it is not without rea-
son, and neither you nor I have been guiltless,
perhaps. Child, child, the least we can do is to be

She came to him and put her arms around him.

"I try," she said; "you mustn't doubt that. I
have thought of all these things, and I think I
understand. But lately it has been, oh, peculiarly

They looked steadily into each other's eyes.
Then Frances hid her face. It was almost the
first time she had ever done so; her manners were
not of the facile, girlish kind. Dr. Garnett was
pale and grave.

"I am a physician, my daughter," the words
came with an effort "and I speak as one. I have
always feared the results of your temperament. I


know that you suffer, dear ; that you will suffer still
more keenly as you become more aware of your-
self. There is no relief except in earnest and steady

She stood before him, strong and unashamed.

"You say that there is no help except to for-

"Yes, since we are speaking quite openly. You
are not likely to marry."


"We are poor, child; we know hardly any one.
We must accept the conditions of our life as we
find them."

"So poverty robs a woman of everything every-
thing, even the most elemental necessities?"

Dr. Garnett played with a paper-knife that lay
near him on the table.

"You put it brutally, child. I shouldn't have
supposed a woman capable of giving words to that

She came to him again. The sadness in his voice
was terrible to her.

"Have I shocked you, papa ? You see, I've lived
so much alone, and read, and thought. . . . And
now we have talked about these things so sud-


denly. ... No; you mustn't think that I'm lack-
ing in delicacy. But life is so difficult, isn't it?"

"I wish you didn't know that yet, my child."

He looked white and old and all her power of
compassion was aroused.

"Truly, you must not worry about me, papa. I
dare say I shall be all right. It's good to know, at
all events."

They kissed each other good-night, but Frances,
in her light and fevered sleep, was still conscious
of her father's step pacing the drawing-room for
many hours. When morning came, her head and
eyes ached, and she put off her resolution to make
a great difference in her life until the morrow.

She felt, immensely, the need of some discipline,
of some interposition from without. Had she
lived in some closed and definite social group, with
specific standards that might demand from her any
measure of true respect, or had she been this was
a recurrent thought under the guidance of some
Church, her path would have been less difficult.
But she was unspeakably alone with her fevered
brain and ineffective will and the unending irrita-
tions of her daily life. Was not God unjust in
making her so different from others who lived in
a similar environment? For, surely, it was unim-


aginable that many could quiver hourly and daily
with these tortured sensibilities which every con-

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Online LibraryLudwig LewisohnThe broken snare → online text (page 1 of 14)