The Jury

‘So what did you do about the woman?’ Mrs. Alison asked.

And Tina Metcalfe answered: ‘I kept her. I had a talk with the other servants first, and they were quite willing to give her another chance. I must say, they’ve been nice about it, never throwing her trouble up to her but just trying to help —’

‘ I wonder if people in our class could be so decent to each other,’ Mildred Peryn broke in. ‘I’ve never known whether we were more hard-hearted or whether we feel responsible for the moral code and don’t dare make exceptions.’

Esther Davis leaned across to their hostess and whispered to her. ‘Tina, won’t you tell them, now, about that summer at Sevenoaks?’

Mrs. Metcalfe lighted a cigarette, the match illuminating a rather worried countenance; but she answered, ‘Yes, I will tell about it. Something has happened which makes me want to talk to you about Violet Osborne.’

‘Violet Osborne!’ Four of the six women in the room sat breathlessly erect.

They were dining together, — these six women, — as they had done two or three times a year since they had married and settled in the same city. It happened that they were all intimate friends, and, when their husbands left them for club dinners at their old university, the women put on tea-gowns and sallied forth for a genial evening. To-night, Tina Metcalfe had given them a delicious dinner, and they had made themselves comfortable in her beautiful great library, a bridge table waiting for some enthusiasts in the corner, with fresh packs and shaded light in readiness.

But apparently the hostess had some story worth waiting for. They were all women in early middle life, though one would not have thought of them in connection with any definite number of years, so alert, so soignées, so powerful they seemed in their splendid confidence — not, to be sure, the joyous confidence of youth, strong because it is untested, but the solid self-assurance of satisfactory accomplishment.

Mrs. Metcalfe threw away her cigarette and clasped her lovely, slender hands about her knee, leaning forward that she might look into the fire and avoid the curious faces of her guests.

‘I’ll have to go way back,’ she said, ‘to the fall directly after it happened. I had taken out my Christmas list and was going over it. You know the way it’s arranged — Jim’s family, my family, children, personal friends, and so forth — and the very first name under “friends” was Violet Osborne. I’ve often wondered what it was about her that made hers the first name on any list; but I am sure, with all of us, the first person we thought of for a big dinner or a tête-à-tête lunch or a Christmas present was Violet.

‘Well, anyway, I was checking the list, and almost involuntarily I started to cross off her name. Then it occurred to me what a ghastly thing it was to do — as if she were dead; and she was not dead, and her name where it was showed what she had meant to me. It started me thinking about it for the first time all alone like that. Of course, I’d talked it over and talked it over with all of you and with Jim, and we’d always come back to the same point — if only there’d been some excuse! If only Harry Osborne had been a brute, cruel or unfaithful to her, or even awfully unattractive or horribly poor — anything would have done, so that we could honestly have said, “Poor Violet!” But there was n’t any. She was young, she was beautiful, she was adored; furthermore, Harry Osborne was rich and worshiped her.

‘Then suddenly I realized that all that was the very excuse for Violet. If Harry has been a beast, it would have been her job to stick it out for his sake and the children’s — after all, if she had been unhappy, she would have renounced very little. But this — this giving up of everything that she valued so tremendously, must be something more than mere passion. We speak of dying for a person we love — it’s practically what Violet did for Cyril when she went away with him, not away from a brutal husband and sordid home, but away from the most congenial atmosphere that ever surrounded a gay and fascinating woman. As for leaving Harry and the children, it was of course horrible, but she left them to the pity and affection of countless friends and each other — for herself, outer darkness and Cyril Stanton.

‘I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. At the time the lack of any circumstances which would have made the world more charitable toward what Violet had done suddenly glorified her act to me, and she stood out in my mind, superhuman, capable of so much more than we who judge. It seems rather an anticlimax to add that. I did n’t scratch her name off the list. Instead, I sent her a little lacquer matchbox, and months later I had a funny little scrawl from her, from somewhere in Spain. Apparently it had pleased her.’

No one spoke for the few moments Mrs. Metcalfe remained silent. Each of the women conjured visions of themselves busily erasing the name of Violet Osborne off their various lists, and each of them realized why Tina Metcalfe meant more to them than any of the others. Her low, pleasant voice continued: —

‘The second part, of my story takes us to when we were caught in Europe after the war broke out. We were lucky in getting to England, where Jim found he could be of service to our Embassy, so we stayed on. Thanks to a succession of foreign governesses in my faraway childhood and a natural linguistic ability, I was able to be of some use, too; but the excitement and one harrowing story after another rather did me up, and Jim insisted I take a week off or else give up entirely. We compromised on my going to Sevenoaks for a weekend. I had spent a summer there once, when I was a little girl and my family were on the continent. I remembered the Crown Hotel, and that there was a lovely garden behind it, and Knoll House with a great park full of browsing deer. I thought it would be rather fun to renew associations after so many years — at least it would be restful, after London and my work there,

‘Jim motored me down from town on Saturday afternoon; but as he had to hurry back to the Embassy, he left me feeling frightfully lonely and depressed, and I felt for a few moments that Jim was right, and that I was indeed “all in.” That made me want to cry; but after a bit I got hold of myself, and I asked one of the waiters if I could n’t have a sort of tea-supper in the garden, as I did n’t feel fit enough to stay up for the late dinner.

‘He was most sympathetic and arranged everything beautifully, and I was beginning to feel much less forlorn, when I suddenly looked up. There, silhouetted against the dark square of the open door, stood Violet Osborne. She did n’t see me. I had a succession of the queerest feelings sitting there looking up at her. The first was curiosity, pure and simple — what did she look like? But the answer was obvious — lovelier than ever; and then a funny feeling, almost anger, came over me. I thought of myself and all of you, and how we, who had honored our marriage-vows and the many responsibilities of our complicated lives, had grown into middle-age, careful of our figures and skin and hair, while Violet, who had shirked everything, remained the embodiment of Youth. She was leaning against the casement of the door, talking to someone in the room inside; and when she smiled and her face lit up in that glorious way it used to, something in me melted, and I wanted nothing so much as one of those smiles for myself.

‘But I was shy about approaching, — shy as if I had been the social outcast, — and something warned me, as I looked at her, that, unless I could make the spirit in which I went to her intelligible to her, she would have none of me. One hint of patronage, of curiosity, and she would be up in arms. So I waited, and finally it seemed that her companion was no longer in the room, for she talked no more. Soon she stepped out on to the path and came slowly toward me. My heart contracted with each step, but she never looked my way and soon she was next my little table. So then I said the most inane thing that ever came into a human head; but I was delighted to hear my voice sound quite natural. “ I double two no trumps,” I said.

‘ Of course she turned, and in a minute we were in each other’s arms, laughing, crying, talking in a ridiculous, hysterical way.

‘Finally, she gasped, “You darling, you always did double me.”

‘And I said, “But you did play such rotten bridge, Vi. It must have been very expensive for you.”

She nodded solemnly and adorably. “It was, frightfully,” she said, “but you would all play, and I had to be with you all.”

‘This from the woman who had left us all, you understand, fully realizing what it would mean. She sat with me a while, and I explained why I was at Sevenoaks, and about my tea-supper; and she told me that she had taken a small house near-by, and that, owing to some hitch in her household, they were short of Sunday provisions and she had driven in to town, preferring to wait at the Crown while the stable boy collected packages.

‘“I try to get away for a little, every day,” she said. And then she told me how very ill Cyril had become. That was the first time she had mentioned him and her face seemed transfigured. “Tina,” she said, “he suffers most, awfully, and yet he never complains. I feel it must be a relief to him to have me away, so he can give in for a little while.”

‘It was time then for her to go back; and as she stood up, I marveled, but quite without anger, at her beauty and virility. I asked if I might see her and Cyril, and it was settled I should lunch with them the following day.’

Mrs. Metcalfe paused again. She was trying to create an effect upon her hearers, and she doubted if she was succeeding. Also, from now on, her story was more difficult and less dramatic. She relinquished her position before the fire and leaned back in her chair, smoking again, and giving an occasional spasmodic kick with her crossed foot, which betrayed her nervousness. She would have given much for some sign of sympathy or appreciation from some one of her audience; but except for Esther Davis, she had no idea how her story was being received. They were interested, she knew, and she had no fear that they would criticize her own actions; but whether or not she was arousing their old affection for Violet Osborne she could not tell.

‘I drove out to their place on Sunday,’ she continued. ‘It was very much what you’d expect: shabby, picturesque, and inconvenient, with Violet’s taste everywhere, — in the chintz, the ornaments, the flowers, — but nothing in the least luxurious. Violet herself was in wonderful spirits, and sheamused Cyril and myself all through lunch, so that our laughter removed any possible embarrassment. After lunch she sent him to lie down on a long chair in the sun, and she and I started out for a walk. And at once her gayety fell away from her, leaving something terribly tragic and earnest beneath. She asked me how Cyril seemed to me.

‘“He’s thin,” I said, “ but otherwise in excellent form. Surely you’re not seriously worried, Vi.”

‘ “The doctors think he may live a year,” she said, quite simply and with so little emotion in her voice that it sounded flat and harsh. I started to speak but she interrupted me. “Don’t please talk about it, Tina, darling — except for this one thing that I’ve got to say. I want you to know always that in what I did the question of right or wrong does n’t enter — it was the only thing possible. I’m sorry about hurting Harry and the children; but I have n’t had time to be sorry very much. I’ll have all the rest of my life for that; but while I’ve got Cyril, I’m glad every minute, and I can’t wish anything different that might affect the wonder of the present. And I want you to know that I’d rather have had these few crimson months than all the long, gray years that make up some lives which people call respectable and successful. And yet I’m not even so awfully sorry it’s going to end like this,” she said very gently; “when a man’s old he wants his friends and his children and his clubs and all his comforts, and Cyril would n’t have any of those, poor darling; but when he goes away, he’ll still be quite young, and he’ll never have wanted anything very much — but me.”

‘We were very silent until just before I left, when she asked me about the children — hardly trusting herself for the first question, and then her eagerness was tragic: how often did I see them? how did they look? what did they wear? — her hungry eyes straining to see the visions my answers conjured for her. But when Cyril appeared to bid me good-bye, she was quite serene; not gay, as at lunch, but deeply content to be in his dear presence once more. I think she was almost glad when I left them alone, though then, of course, she could not guess how short their time together was to be.’

Again the speaker paused. Everyone in the room know the immediate sequel to the story: the Metcalfes had come home very unexpectedly, and a few weeks later Cyril Stanton had died. One of the women, the soft-hearted Esther Davis, wept a little; but from the others there was no sound; no one commented on the story, no one seemed inclined to gossip over its details. Mrs. Metcalfe spoke again, but this time not in the low, sympathetic voice she had used formerly; she had suddenly felt very tired and old and depressed, and her voice sounded harsh and quick.

‘Needless to say, I have not told you all this to-night without a purpose. Cyril Stanton died a year ago, and since then Violet has been nursing typhus in Serbia. Now, it seems, she’s pretty well done up and Harry Osborne wants to take her back.’

Five women stiffened. This was news, even to Esther Davis.

‘As you know, he never divorced her; Cyril Stanton was a Catholic, so she never could have married him anyway, and, in spite of everything, Harry has always been in love with her. She’s willing to come back on one condition — if you want her. She does n’t want you to accept her out of charity or pity; she confesses no sin, is unrepentant of her act, but she realizes that we six women can more or less reinstate her. It sounds a worldly, snobbish thing to say, but it’s true — if we take her back, she’s back more or less where she started from; though, mind you, we could n’t do it without Harry any more than Harry could do it without us. And without us she won’t come, knowing as she does that it’s social damnation for her girls.’

Mrs. Metcalfe stood up and walked across the room — at the door she paused.

‘Your answer must be unanimous,’ she said, ‘and I must cable her your decision at once.’