The Quiet Woman
THE dusk was wiping out the colors of the world, spreading over the tender greens and pale pinks an indefinite nameless color more beautiful than any we know. The apple-trees loomed up, great masses of bloom, and their sweetness drifted to Katherine mingled with the smell of young leaves and spring, — it was as if all the souls of the myriad growing things had breathed themselves forth into the night.
The dusk deepened and then grew blonder; the moon was coming up. One could see again that the trees were green, one could see the small flowers in the lawn. The white trees cast deep shadows on the young grass. Everything was very still; Katherine thought that the beating of her own heart was too loud for the miracle of the night. Everything — the trees and sky and hills — gave her the sense that something wonderful was about to happen; surely they were only the setting for some greater miracle. Then there came over her an appalling sense of desolation. It was terrible that on this most lovely night she must be so alone; that there should be no kind hand anywhere to meet hers. Katherine’s need of companionship grew more poignant; the beauty of the night weighed on her as too great a burden to be borne alone; but she listened in vain for the sound of a human voice mingled with the voices of the night. The neighboring houses turned blank, unlighted faces to her; Katherine was as solitary as if she had been adrift on some unknown sea.
Then, in the garden on the slope of the hill below a white shadow moved; it flitted about, unsubstantial, unreal, now stopping as if to look at the night, now moving on slowly, then lost to sight among the flower-laden shrubs. At last it stood out in a little open space, attentive, even reverent, in its attitude. Without realizing what she did, Katherine trailed through the wet grass toward the motionless figure, her shawl hanging loose around her; it was as if one white spirit went forth to meet another like itself. She made her way through the loosely planted shrubbery which divided one garden from the other, and was near the other woman before she turned her head toward Katherine. She greeted Katherine quietly as if she had been waiting for her. They stood a moment in silence, then the woman said:
“I could not have stayed out here alone—” she stopped shyly and turned toward Katherine to see if she were understood, and Katherine wondered if here was some one as terribly alone as herself, as in need as she of sympathy. They looked at the night together, as silent as old friends who do not need to talk to one another; they did not know each other’s names, and yet already they had ceased to be strangers; the fellowship of spring had brought them together.
A voice called from somewhere beyond a screen of white apple-trees, a man’s voice, gay, mocking, jovial:
“Mother! mother! Where are you? Mother, you ’ll be moonstruck.”
The woman turned gravely to Katherine.
“My son is calling me,” she told her. “Good-night, I am glad you came.” Then she added -wistfully, “This is the first time in many years that I have had a friend by me as I looked at the night.”
With the sound of the man’s voice and his gay, chaffing “Mother, you ’ll be moonstruck,” the mirage of the night had vanished; the frail, subtle tie that a moment before seemed to bind the two women into friendship had snapped. They hurried their several ways a little ashamed of themselves, — for what, they did n’t know exactly.
Next morning, when Katherine came out, there was a woman working in the garden below. Katherine made no doubt that it was her friend of the moonlight and made her way towards her.
“I am your new neighbor, Katherine Paine,” she said.
The older woman smiled at her, greeting her in silence; but it was a silence with a more enfolding welcome than any words Katherine had ever heard, and she knew that they had gone on with their friendship begun so oddly the night before, for all they ignored their first meeting as something too apart from the ordinary events of life to be discussed in broad daylight.
They walked several paces through the lovely garden before the older woman said, “I don’t know whether you know my name or not — it’s Eunice Gaunt.” Her voice had none of the New England aggressiveness; it was indeed singularly sweet; it had a shy little note of hesitation very charming to listen to; and she chatted away about her garden as if to an old friend.
From the house there came the same jovial voice of the night before : “Mother, mother! Oh, there you are! ” and a man swung down the path. He stared at Katherine in a way that was just short of disconcerting. It was almost as if he had said, “Yes, on the whole, I think you’re a very pretty girl.” He looked bold, stubborn, domineering; but one forgave him all that, — there was a large gayety about him that went to one’s heart. As he put his hand on his mother’s shoulder with an air of assured ownership, it flashed over Katherine that all the same this dark bold man was an odd sort of son for the delicate, sweet little lady to have mothered.
She was saying, “This is our new neighbor, Miss Paine—” “Mr. Gaunt?” Katherine murmured in acknowledgment of his formal greeting.
“His name is Wetherill,” Eunice Gaunt corrected tranquilly.
“Why in the world did you think my name was Gaunt?” he demanded. The stand-and-deliver tone of his question and the little lurking amusement in his voice embarrassed Katherine; before she could answer, his mother explained:
“I told her my name was Eunice Gaunt — and so of course—”
He burst out into loud, gay laughter. “Could n’t you,” he asked, “for respectability’s sake, add a ‘Wetherill’ ?”
Mrs. Wetherill smiled gently at him. She seemed to have abstracted herself from the scene; it was as if she had actually walked away from them and left them together alone, as she replied, —
“I think of myself, I suppose, as ‘Eunice Gaunt.’”
“She’s only had forty years to get used to ‘Wetherill,’ Miss Paine.” He turned a humorous eye on his mother, who kneeled down to examine a plant; she had ceased to have any connection with them.
“Well,” said Wetherill, “I must go. I’m delighted to have met you, Miss Paine; it’s nice you ’re our near neighbor, —I’m especially glad that you and my mother have made friends so soon. Good-by. Good-by ‘Eunice Gaunt.’ Please don’t work too hard.” He bent over her and drew her toward him. “Promise me you won’t work too hard. —She does a man’s work in this garden every day, Miss Paine.— You ’ll go in and lie down like a good girl. — Yes ? and you ’ll call Ezra if you’ve anything heavy to lift. — Yes ? ” He kissed his mother, and with a pleasant nod to Katherine, was off.
“Come,” Mrs. Wetherill said, “I want you to see my daffodil border under the hedge;” she took up the conversation where her son had broken it, quite as if he had not been there at all. “Do you mind my asking you, " she continued, “what wind blew you here?”
“I always took care of my mother,” Katherine answered; “she had been ailing for years. She died not long ago, — and I wanted a quiet place to rest.”
Katherine had told the whole story of her uneventful life. It had left her at twenty-six with the eyes of a young girl.
For a moment Mrs. Wetherill looked at Katherine kindly, sweetly, as a sister might. Then, as if brooding over what she read in the girl’s face, “How we eat up one another’s lives! " she said.
Katherine had gone out that morning with an empty heart, and she came back with it filled. “Eunice Gaunt " had some way taken her in, opened the door of her heart to her; and Katherine wondered how she had passed by all the boundaries of reserve. She wondered again, as she had the night before, if her friend was perhaps as lonely as she; if, like herself, she needed so greatly the touch of a friendly hand ; then she put that from her as absurd; there was a spiritual quality about the older woman, a sweet content that made the idea of her needing anything impossible, and companionship least of all.
Katherine had rented the house for the summer from an old friend of her mother’s; so during the first few weeks of her stay a procession of ladies came to call, as they had evidently been asked to do by the owner of the house.
Mrs. Carling was the first to put the inevitable question, “How do you like Thornton ? ”
“Very much,” Katherine answered, and added that she found her neighbor charming.
“Your neighbor?” Mrs. Carling wondered.
“ Mrs. Wetherill,” Katherine explained.
“Why, has she been up here?” asked the other.
“She ’runs in,’” said Katherine; “I think I ’ran in’ first;” and Mrs. Carling gave forth an astonished,
“Well, well!” To Katherine’s look of inquiry, she explained, “She’s a very quiet woman and rarely goes anywhere, and when she does, — never a word out of her! Not a bit like her son. Henry’s sociable enough.”
She went away, leaving Katherine with the impression that Mrs. Wetherill’s “running in” on her, which she had so taken as a matter of course, was for Mrs. Wetherill something very much out of the common. The other ladies of the village, as they called one after another, made this certain. The news of Mrs. Wetherill’s neighborliness had gone forth, — had been discussed, it was evident; and Katherine became very well acquainted with two people whom she amused herself by calling Mrs. Wetherill and Eunice Gaunt. One she knew only by hearsay. She was a silent, woman, but so kindly that in the hard little New England village she was well beloved. Though she was no recluse and attended club meeting, doing her share of work in the village, she seldom opened her lips; and as for strangers, — why, Mrs. Wetherill never went to see them. Of Mrs. Wetherill. Katherine was sure that she had never had so much as a glimpse; she couldn’t in the least identify her with Eunice Gaunt. Eunice Gaunt for all her shy, hesitating manner had plenty to say — to Katherine anyway; companionship with her had a significance far beyond any companionship Katherine ever had. There was a certain freshness to all her words, as if her very silence had kept her mind young. Her thoughts came out clear and shining, minted quite fresh. How different the two, the Mrs. Wetherill of Thornton and her friend Eunice Gaunt were, Katherine could gauge by the curiosity their friendship excited. How alone Eunice Gaunt had been, she saw only too plainly by the subdued, almost tremulous eagerness with which she gave Katherine her friendship.
She could n’t help wondering why her friend was shut so closely in the house of herself, — Eunice Gaunt could n’t indeed have been more separated from the world around her had there been question of locks and keys.
“The house of herself,” was Eunice Gaunt’s own word.
“We all of us keep the real ‘me’ locked up in the house of ourself,” she had said once to Katherine. “Sometimes it is self-consciousness that turns the key, and sometimes shyness, and more often circumstances.” Then she added wistfully, “Some happy people come in and out at will.” They walked side by side toward the little wood. Then Eunice Gaunt put her hand on the younger woman’s with an indescribable gesture of tenderness. “You open the door for me, my dear,” she said.
They stood face to face, silent in the contentment of perfect understanding, and Katherine went home, to wonder again why this loving, lovable woman should live so aloof from her fellows. How aloof this was, she found out the first time they went out together; it was a party at Mrs. Carling’s, and not only, as Mrs. Carling said, was there “not a word out of Mrs. Wetherill,” but no promise of words or anything else. A diffident, smiling little old lady was all she seemed, who, as Mrs. Carling had put it, “would n’t say ‘Boh ' to a goose; " one would as soon have expected treasures of companionship and understanding from the tufted chair on which she was sitting. As they left the house Henry Wetherill joined them.
“Well, mother,” he chaffed, “did you tell them how to raise strawberries as good as yours?” — and without waiting for an answer, “Mother, you know,” he explained, “is forever telling people how to raise things like hers; but I always have thought she was like the housekeepers who leave out the important thing when they give away their receipts.”
There was a little edge of patronizing sarcasm in his tone, a mere suggestion only, so imperceptible that Katherine thought she must be mistaken. Mrs. Wetherill had n’t noticed it. She smiled absently at her son, and absently she left on Katherine the burden of keeping up a conversation,— which she did not unwillingly. She liked Henry Wetherill, even if his abrupt way of asking questions disconcerted her to dumbness.
Mrs. Wetherill turned in at her own gate, saying good-by to Katherine with the same gentle formality she had shown in taking leave of the other ladies.
“I ’ll walk over with Miss Paine,” Henry announced; and Mrs. Wetherill replied with a smiling, aloof, “Very well, dear,” and “Good-by, Katherine.”
Once at Katherine’s gate, “I think I ’ll come up and sit on your piazza,” he said,—“if you’ll let me, I mean.” He might have been asking permission smilingly of a child of twelve. He arranged himself comfortably in a big piazza chair, and from his attitude a passer-by would have gathered that he was a daily visitor, so much at home he seemed.
He stared at Katherine in his embarrassing way; and when she felt herself flushing and caught a twinkle of a smile in his eyes, she had an unreasoning impulse to run away and lock the door in the face of this man, who stared one into self-consciousness and then smiled tolerantly over one’s confusion.
There was, however, no hint of the smile in his voice as he said, “You don’t know how glad I am that you and mother are such friends. I’m like my father,—
I hate a gadding, gossiping woman; but I think mother goes too far the other way.”
Katherine warmed to him over his concern for his mother, and for a while they chatted together. To Katherine’s shy invitation to come again, — “As often as you like,” he answered warmly.
When he left, Katherine felt that her house was empty, his large radiant personality had so filled it. This was not to be the last she saw of him that day. Later, as she made her way through the shrubbery in search of his mother, she heard Wetherill’s voice saying, “Why don’t you put them where Mrs. Wetherill told you to ?”
His voice was not raised beyond his usual tone, but it cut like a knife. One could n’t call it bullying; it was a finer and more wounding way of getting what one wanted. “Why”— he continued in exactly the same pitch — “don’t you answer me ? ”
Katherine knew he could continue indefinitely on the same insulting key. Through the bushes she could see the old gardener grubbing away at a flowerbed, Wetherill standing over him. While the old man did not answer or pause in his work, every outline of his old, bent figure expressed indignant protest. Mrs Wetherill stood a few paces distant, trowel in hand; she was gazing off at the distant horizon, calm-browed, apparently unconscious of everything around her.
“ Why did n’t you put them where you were told ? You think you know everything about a garden,— but you ’re here, are n’t you, to do what Mrs. Wetherill says ? ”
Katherine had gained the open lawn and was only a few steps away from her friends.
“Why — ” Henry began again.
The old man jumped to his feet, his brown face red under the tan.
“I be doin’ what she told me,”he cried angrily. Then, appealing to Mrs. Wetherill, “Ain’t I settin’ them plants where you said ? ”
It seemed to Katherine that Mrs. Wetherill brought herself back as from a distance, and that it was an effort for her to realize what was going on.
“ Why of course you are, Ezra,” she answered, “why not?” She looked with surprise at the angry faces of the two men; then she saw Katherine. “Why, my dear child,” she cried joyously, and stopped herself abruptly.
“Do you mind telling me,” Henry asked his mother politely, “why in the world you let me sail into Ezra as I’ve been doing on your behalf, when after all he was doing what you said ?”
She looked at him mildly. “I did n’t hear what you were saying, Henry,” she replied. Henry threw out his hands despairingly.
“Did you ever see such a pair, Miss Paine ? I was perfectly sure Ezra was planting those roses where I heard mother tell him not to. I go for him loud enough to be heard across the street, and there she stands and, perfectly unruffled, lets me maul him. Actually she has n’t heard a word! ”
He turned to his mother. “Where were you anyway ? I never saw such an absent-minded woman! I talk and talk to her and I might as well be at the other side of a plate-glass window. Ezra, you old fool, why did n’t you tell me sooner ? ”
Henry was entirely restored to goodhumor now, and his question to Ezra was almost an apology; but the old man did not answer or take any notice of him beyond hunching an offish shoulder.
“Look at them, Miss Paine,” Henry exclaimed. “They never speak! Sometimes I think I’ll buy a parrot for company!” He had put a large arm around his mother’s neck and lifted her face up toward him like a child’s. “Why don’t you listen when I talk to you?” he demanded with savage affection.
“You’re so like your father, dear,” she replied irrelevantly.
Henry Wetherill hastened to fulfill his promise of coming often to see Katherine. Indeed he formed a pleasant habit of “dropping in” for a few moments’ chat, and while he was there he would not take his eyes from her. She resented this at first; in the end she liked it, in much the fearsome way she liked Henry Wetherill. She was filled with a sense of excitement when she was with him. Conversation with him was an adventure. She could never tell when he would swoop down on her and extinguish her. What he did to give her this impression she could not for the life of her have told; but with him she felt she had to fight for her life or cease to be; the irritating part of it was that he was largely and serenely unaware of the effect he produced, and it is a humiliating thing to be fighting for life with a force which does n’t even realize that there is a fight.
So, between her companionship with the mother and her friendship with the son, — for that, in spite of everything, was what it was coming to be, — Katherine found her life very full. She turned her face resolutely from that blank time when she would have to go away, — after her tenancy had finished there was really no good excuse to keep her in a snowbound New England village, — and when one day Henry Wetherill abruptly asked her what her plans for the winter were, she told him promptly,—
“Oh, I ’ll go South, I suppose.”
At that moment Mrs. Carling came in, and when, in a few minutes, Henry Wetherill left, Mrs. Carling hardly waited for his broad shoulders to be turned before she raised significant eyebrows at Katherine, and followed it up with a surprised, “Well, you have done it — to be sure! ”
“Done it!” Katherine wondered “Mother and son both! Well I declare,” her visitor pursued with relish.
Evenly, but with inward annoyance, Katherine turned the subject. Mrs. Carling, however, had given her a clue to something that had mystified her. For the past few weeks Henry’s mother, in some indescribable fashion, had seemed to slip away from her. There had been nothing one could put one’s finger on; one could only say in the good old phrase that “things were different.” There had been a mute appeal in her friend’s eyes that Katherine now thought she understood.
“I must stop his coming here so much,” Katherine decided; but in the bottom of her heart she knew how powerless she was to stop Henry Wetherill in anything that he wanted to do.
As he came up the path next day Katherine noticed that his brows were drawn in a sombre line. But as he saw her on the piazza waiting for him, he smiled at her brilliantly, and Katherine felt as if the sun had come out in the midst of a thunderstorm.
“Do you know,” he began without preamble his eyes looking directly into hers, “what I was thinking about when I came up the walk ? I was wondering what would become of us all when you went. You don’t know, I suppose, what you mean to me — I ’m as lonely in a way as mother. Until you came I did n’t know there was any other way to be— ” He faltered a moment; and there was something very appealing in his hesitation: after all, he needed companionship and affection as do the weaker people of the world, and this touched Katherine to the quick. They stood facing each other, troubled and embarrassed, Katherine’s heart beating fast. Now she knew: yesterday’s absurdity had become the reality of to-day.
“You see how it is, — you can’t go away; you mustn’t. I’ve got to have you.” Then, as Katherine would have spoken, — for it seemed to her that for all his tone of eager pleading she was being swept down the swift-flowing stream of his desire, and she wanted very much to tell him the truth, which was that she did n’t love him in the very least, —he stopped her.
“I know what you want to say. You want to tell me you don’t care for me. I know that. But you don’t hate me — you like me even, and after we’re married I’d be a poor sort of a fellow if I could n’t make you care.”
He cared; that was the principal thing after all, his manner seemed to say.
“It’s all so right, don’t you see,” he pleaded eagerly. “You so belong to us.”
The “ It’s all so right ” was what won her. What if she did n’t love him ? It was all so right. The “us” touched her too. His constant thought for his mother was one of the things that drew her most to him.
“How would your mother feel about it?” Katherine asked shyly.
His mother’s attitude in the matter had evidently never occurred to him. He looked at her blankly. “Why should n’t she like it?” he demanded with a touch of anger. It was as if he had said, “Let her not like it and she’ll see what she’ll get;” and the little vague terror that he had given her from the first came over her; but it vanished as he laughed his loud boyish laugh.
“What an idea!” he shouted; “why, I can’t remember mother’s not liking anything I’ve done since I was grown up. She likes everything I do,” he repeated with serene assurance. “What made you think she would n’t like it, — my marrying you ? ” he persisted.
“Why, it’s seemed to me that the more I saw of you the less I saw of her; the better I got to know you the more she withdrew herself,” Katherine faltered.
He looked at her, a tender glow in his eyes. “Don’t worry about that,” he assured her lightly. “ Mother’s only part there most of the time; she’s the most absent-minded woman in the world — always in the clouds.”
And Katherine forbore telling him how much “Eunice Gaunt” was “there” when her son was n’t. He evidently was not aware of her curious smiling aloofness. Katherine longed to ask him if he never got behind it, never saw the other side; but she only insisted, “I don’t think she’ll like it.”
“What a funny girl you are,” he said, smiling. “ We ’ll find mother and ask her, and then — ”
“And then,” Katherine interrupted, “if she doesn’t like it — I love her so dearly I could n’t for the world — ”
“You’ll see,” Henry Wetherill repeated. There wras not a shadow of doubt in him; if there was anything he was sure of, it was his mother.
They found Mrs. Wetherill in the garden. “Mother,” he called to her joyously, “this foolish girl thinks you would n’t like me to marry her.” His tone was gay, happy, assured. There was a certain finality in it also, as if she already belonged to him, as he added, “Tell her you think she ’ll be a good wife to me.”
For a fraction of a second, Mrs. Wetherill stared at them wide-eyed. Then, “She would make the best wife in the world for any one,” she cried warmly, and kissed Katherine.
“You see,” Henry triumphed, and Katherine wondered if he actually had not noticed that his mother had turned white at his words; if he could not see how her hands trembled as she smiled her little vague smile at him.
“I’ll leave you to talk things over,” he told them. Mrs. Wetherill stood watching him until he disappeared beyond the tawny lilies into the house.
“Now tell me the truth,” Katherine said gently, taking both her friend’s hands in her own.
Mrs. Wetherill raised her troubled, sombre face to hers; her mouth quivered pitifully; slow tears gathered in her eyes.
“You don’t need to say anything,” Katherine went on still more tenderly. “I can understand. He’s your only son —”
But as Henry Wetherill’s mother whispered under her breath, “Oh, I can’t live it all over again,” Katherine understood that here was more than a mother who finds it hard to give up her dear son.
“You’re so near me,” Mrs. Wetherill went on, so low that it was as if she were afraid to hear her own words, “that I can’t let you suffer what you would have to. You ’re so near me that you seem to me like my own child —”
In this moment they passed beyond the door of friendship. They stood for the moment closer than it is often possible for one human being to come to another. They were at the very threshold of Eunice Gaunt’s hidden life. For Katherine’s sake she had opened a door that such women keep closed even against themselves.
“I hoped,” she went on, “that you would see for yourself, — you see so many things other people don’t—”
“You don’t think I’d be happy with Henry,” Katherine suggested gently. She was beginning to read the riddle of her friend’s life, — her curious relation with her son; her attitude toward the world began to have a new meaning.
“Men like Henry don’t know how they hurt women like us,” Henry’s mother said gently. It was an apology, not an accusation. “Henry’s like his father,” she went on in the same gentle tone. “All the Wetherill men are alike. They crush the weaker people around them out of existence; they don’t mean to,— they don’t even know they do it.” While she told what her son was, she had to cry out in the same breath, “It’s not his fault.” With a gesture of unfathomable motherliness, as if Katherine were really her daughter, she put her hand on the girl’s head and gazed long into her eyes.
“My dear,” she asked, “do you love Henry ? Your face is the face of a little girl, as it was when I first saw you” —
“He said,” Katherine faltered, “that it did n’t matter, — that he would make me like him.”
“Poor Henry,” said his mother; “ if you had loved him — there would n’t have been anything to say. I should have lived over through you all that has been hard in my life. It would have been like having my own at war with my own. I should have had to know that no day of yours went by without its humiliation, without its bruise. I should have known that it was my son’s fault. He could n’t help doing it, — and you could n’t help him. You would try and try, and then you would see that neither patience nor submission nor love could change him.”
All the things Katherine had failed to understand fitted in together like parts of a puzzle. Now she knew why her friend was as she was. Henry’s father and Henry had shut her into the “house of herself” with their noisy wounding anger, with their wounding laughter. She had a sharp vision of Henry’s bullying tenderness, of his mocking laugh, of the glimpse she had had of his insatiable irritation; and a fear of him came over her, the fear of the weaker animal for the stronger. She meditated over what she saw, and Eunice brooded over her own past; at last she cried out, — it was her only moment of bitterness, —
“They are the men with no woman in them. They are the ones who first created our meannesses and weaknesses and then laughed and scolded and sneered at us for being as they made us.” Her voice softened. “They can’t help themselves for their unconscious abuse of power,” she said.
This was her final judgment of the two men who had made up her life — her husband and her son. It was her only revolt, her only outward sign of discontent. Now she stood upright, as immovable as a figure of justice, and in her Katherine saw more than a woman telling the long tragedy of her life. It was as if through the voice of her friend she heard the immemorial cry of all the weaker creatures who have suffered through the strong. Without passion or anger she put in words woman’s world-old quarrel with man. Bits of it would come to Katherine long afterwards.
“They are the sort of men who make cowards and liars of women,” was one.
“I understood the meannesses of women when I had been married a few years.”
“ Often I have seen on a woman’s face a look of anger or fear or cunning, and I knew that here was another of me. There are more of us than you think, and we use in self-defense guile, or flattery, or affection, or submission, according to our natures.”
“There are few women who haven’t been sneered at and reproached for being women.”
She told her story, a few sentences at a time ; and unconsciously she showed Katherine her final victory, her acceptance of life as it was, the conquest of her own inward peace. She told how she had borne their unconscious brutality, first with tears, then with smiling aloofness; her road to escape had been a withdrawal from them and from every one, for she had left no point where they could hurt her.
“ How did you bear it all ? ” Katherine asked at last.
Her friend looked at her in gentle surprise. “I loved both of them dearly always,” she said. “And I knew they loved me even more dearly. Love goes deeper than understanding. We’ve lived our lives, Henry and Henry’s father and I, talking different languages; but I have always been upheld by their love for me and, curiously enough, by their dependence on me. If you—had cared—” she did not finish, but smiled at Katherine, all tenderness in her eyes. Then Katherine knew that the secret of her inner content was more than self-mastery; she had always had them, whatever else had been lacking; mysteriously they had made up to her for all the pain they had all unconsciously given her.
She had no time to answer, for Henry was bearing down on them, gay and confident. At the two women’s serious aspect, “Well ? ” he asked, raising his eye-brows in question.
“ I have been telling Katherine not to marry you,” his mother said steadily.
He stared aghast. “You have been telling her what ?” he repeated; his tone was low, there was in every word the concentration of anger. “What does she mean?” he demanded of Katherine. “Answer me.”
“There’s no use asking her,” Mrs. Wetherill told him simply. “I’m sorry, Henry, I had to do it. You could never have made Katherine happy.”
She had told him everything he could understand.
“Let her speak for herself,” Wetherill commanded sternly. “Katherine, will you marry me?” The entreaty in his voice, his anger, his very lack of understanding, went to Katherine’s heart. She was nearer loving him that moment than she had ever been. Had they been alone she realized that she must have promised whatever he wished, — and then run away. With her friend’s protecting arm around her she managed to falter forth,
“No, oh no!”
He turned on his mother.
“You ’ve made mischief between us!” Anger vibrated in his low voice. “ You’ve dared, you, you, to judge whether I could make her happy! You know whether this means anything to me! You know whether I’ve ever cared for any one else. — The first woman I care for — Oh!” — he was white with the rage and despair of it. The creature on earth he loved most had turned on him, treacherously. His world had gone to pieces under his feet, and he raged at it. It was the man’s side of it, old as time; and like the first man betrayed by his faithful servant, he raged against the faithlessness of women.
There was nothing mean in his anger ; it did n’t occur to him to try and control it because of Katherine; such as he was he showed himself. He resorted to no trick of gentleness to win her. Like his kind he had got everything through the brute force of his will, as his ancestors had got everything by might of arm. If all the protest of women from all time against the unconscious abuse of power had been his mother’s story, all man’s rancor against woman was in his denunciation. As his anger spent itself, he stood before the two women in very despair at his impotence. He did n’t understand them; he did n’t understand anything. There was not one of the many questions he put himself that he could answer. His own had turned on him. Why? He could n’t tell. The woman he loved had all but given herself to him, and then turned from him. Why ? He did n’t know. All he knew was the common knowledge of the men of his kind, that women were the enemies of men, creatures one could n’t understand, moved by irrational impulse, untrustworthy and fickle. And as his mother watched him she understood, she trembled for him in a very anguish of pity. He stood before them, a tragic, lonely figure, suffering as a child suffers without knowing why; then he turned from them abruptly and left them. Katherine threw her arms around her friend.
“You shan’t stand it,” she cried. “Come away with me. You must n’t live with him any longer.”
But Eunice Gaunt did not hear her. She watched Henry out of sight while slow tears gathered in her eyes. She breathed so low that Katherine barely heard her, —
“Oh, my poor son!” and again “My poor son!” and then, — “Oh, how could I hurt you so much?”