A Sin of Omission

I HAD the misfortune some time ago to have a little article accepted in the Contributors’ Club. Yes, misfortune, — I say it deliberately. At the time it seemed extraordinarily good fortune, but circumstances have changed my point of view. I remember that Frances E. Willard in her autobiography naïvely confesses that the highest ambition of her ambitious girlhood was to get into the Atlantic. Other ambitions may have engaged her later; but there were none that could have “appealed,” as the expressionists say, more to me. And so when my little article appeared —it had been sent without my knowledge, in the proverbial fashion, by the faithful friend that unconscious and undiscovered genius always keeps on hand for the purpose — my feelings may be readily imagined. The world took on a roseate hue, and my faith in human nature went up several points. Parnassus, wreath-crowned, appeared in the distance, and I tingled for the climb. I always knew just where that particular copy of the Atlantic lay, — I do yet! I loved to finger it surreptitiously while talking to some one who did n’t know. It carried me over many a valley of humiliation and slough of despondency. It afforded me quite as much moral support as my last silk-lined gown,—which is saying something. The only thing that tempered my joy was the doubt whether being in the Contributors’ Club is really being in the Atlantic. Would Miss Willard have so regarded it ? The Club is, of course, as a vestibule to roomier apartments, — or back-door entrance rather, — but does a foot across the threshold entitle one to regard himself as being on the visiting list? It is a delicate point, and I must leave it to the finer judgment of the habitués.

Of course so delightful an event could not be wholly kept to ourselves. The faithful friend said it would not be fair, and I was fain to believe it. So just a few of the elect were told, Jack of course first. He was evidently a good deal impressed, and it is one of Jack’s limitations — or mine — that he isn’t easily impressed. He seemed surprised, too, — most unflatteringly so, and I was divided between my desire to appear nonchalant, and my impulse to let him see how surprised I was myself. I don’t know yet whether he thought more of me or less of the Atlantic. I suspect it was the latter. Then I was lunching with a couple of old friends one day, when my host suddenly turned to me, and asked if I had read that capital little bit in the current Contributors’ Club, mentioning my own production. He miscalled the title, but that did n’t matter, — nothing did just then. His chuckle of reminiscent enjoyment was music in mine ears, and unable to resist the temptation, I divulged myself on the spot. They took it very nicely, and handsomely said that the Atlantic was to be congratulated; but they did n’t seem as much impressed as I had expected, — which I know is inconsistent of me after what I said about Jack. I asked them not to say anything about it to our common friends, — not just then at any rate.

But a few months later the lady shouted to me through the din of an afternoon tea, “ My husband has been looking for your things in the Atlantic. He enjoys them so much. Edith says she would recognize your style anywhere, — that you write just like yourself.”

I was mightily taken aback. Edith! How many more had they told, and how many articles had they found in the style that Edith would know anywhere ?

Then one blue Monday morning Jack (whom I had left sitting up over a pile of magazines the night before) remarked to me, “ I see you have another bright little article in the Contributors’ Club. I quite enjoyed it. It was fully up to the standard of the last, — indeed, I thought it even a little better.”

Now could anything be more provoking? It was bad enough not to have another article in the Atlantic, without the humiliation of having to affirm the fact; and when I did, Jack looked first incredulous, then disconcerted. (It is always hard for Jack to believe his own judgment can be in error.) I felt myself something of a culprit under his astonished gaze, as if I were somehow disappointing family expectations. Besides it was n’t at all flattering to think I wrote so much like the rest of the world that nobody could tell the difference.

But that was n’t the worst. I had a letter the other day from one of the elect, a very particular friend, of literary leanings, who lives far enough away to be enveloped in the enchantment which distance lends, and who wrote out of turn for the express purpose of congratulating me as follows:—

“Where do you find all those deliciously absurd things to say ? The contributor is undoubtedly yourself and in your very best style. Don’t tell me you did n’t write it. Have you a double ? I even heard Jack in some of the remarks adroitly smothered out of print. Are there others I have n’t seen ? and how many and when ? The president of our club who has exceptionally fine literary taste and discrimination read it to me. We laughed over it together. She remembers your contribution to a Christmas number some time ago and discovered this herself, — was n’t it clever of her? She says whenever anything especially bright appears in the Club she at once attributes it to you. Confess now to the number of your sins. I want to see them all.”

I don’t suppose it is necessary, to describe my sensations. Besides, they are too poignant. I should be so happy to confess to sins of that order if only I had committed any. Mine are sins of omission. My friends discredit the fact now; but when they find their mistake they will discredit me. It is time I answered that letter, — and long past; but what am I going to say?