The Third Window

by Anne Douglas Sedgwick. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1920. 8vo, iv+155 pp. $1.75.
ANNE DOUGLAS SEDGWICK (Mrs. Basil de Sélincourt) began her career as a painter. For years she studied art in Paris and exhibited her work there. She learned to see life as a series of pictures — and she embodies them with the finish of Watteau and the charm of Corot. The ‘third window’ is a fit frame for these pictures, and to watch them from it is to have an exquisite and unusual pleasure.
Wyndwards was a solid English country-house on the edge of a great moor. The drawingroom has a ‘third window’ opening on a lovely vista — a walled garden with pond and fountain, flagged walks, bordered with the white blossoms of the wraith-like fritillaries: in the midst of all, one majestic cedar, clear-cut against the sky. On this picturesque bit of the surface of the earth — all noble tradition and gentleness and peace — is fought out a cruel spiritual battle, one of the thousands of bitter sequels of the war, all the more heart-rending because waged in silence, and without shedding of blood.
The central figure of the tale is Antonia Wellwood, widowed by the war two years before the story opens. A crippled young officer, friend of the dead husband, has been paying quiet court to her in London for months. Now they are together at her country-house, he with fond hope of winning her.
The third, and only other personage is the disturbing element of the drama — a spinster cousin of the dead man, fanatically devoted to his memory, and resolved that his widow shall dedicate her life to the past as religiously as any widow of India.
Cicely Latimer is slightly but dangerously abnormal, with a tendency to clairvoyance and mind-reading. She calls to her aid these psychic powers in her desperate task of separating Antonia from her crippled hero-lover. An hour of table-tipping by Cicely strains the nerves of the trio almost to breaking-point, and helps the medium — half-deceiver and half-deceived — to evoke the ghost of the dead husband in the walled garden. No one sees it but herself; but she vouches for it so vehemently that the distracted widow breaks down under the apprehension of being judged unfaithful by a dead husband who may reappear as pursuing ghost at any moment. Antonia can be happy neither with nor without either husband or lover. She is driven by her perplexity and doubt into a blind alley from which there is no escape but by the lonely path of suicide. The story ends with the tragic death of Antonia, the despair of the bereaved lover, and the cold triumph of the pitiless, ironwilled priestess of inhuman rites, smiling above a sacrificial victim.
‘Heaven forefend,’ the tragedy seems to say, ‘that the memory of the dead should be thus the enslavement of the living!’ Trollope’s words of immortal praise of the great novelist flash on the memory, as one closes The Third Window: ‘Not like that! Let me not be like that!’ And by that cry we testify that our author has enforced her age-long lesson as no preacher could enforce it. Meanwhile she has led us to real edification of the sense of beauty, and of the perfection of style and depth of character-analysis which are the true service of the artist. H. E. H.