The Butterfly House
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Previous Part     1  2  3  4
Home - Random Browse

"You will not kill it," said Alice. "Here, give me that suit-case, I will set it inside the gate here. Now Annie and I will walk with you and you must steal in and not wake anybody and go to bed and to sleep."

"To sleep," repeated Margaret bitterly.

"Then not to sleep, but you must go."

The three passed down the moon-silvered road. When they had reached Margaret's door, Alice suddenly put an arm around her and kissed her.

"Go in as softly as you can, and to bed," she whispered.

"What made you do that, Alice?" asked Annie in a small voice when the door had closed behind Margaret.

"I think I am beginning to love her," whispered Alice. "Now you know what we must do, Annie?"


"We must both watch until dawn, until after that train to New York which stops here at three-thirty. You must stand here and I will go to the other door. Thank God, there are only two doors, and I don't think she will try the windows because she won't suspect our being here. But I don't trust her, poor thing. She is desperate. You stay here, Annie. Sit down close to the door and—you won't be afraid?"

"Oh, no!"

"Of course, there is nothing to be afraid of," said Alice. "Now I will go to the other door."

Annie sat there until the moon sank. She did not feel in the least sleepy. She sat there and counted up her joys of life and almost forgot poor Margaret who had trampled hers in the dust raised by her own feet of self-seeking. Then came the whistle and roar of a train and Alice stole around the house.

"It is safe enough for us to go now," said she. "That was the last train. Do you think you can get in your house without waking anybody?"

"There is no danger unless I wake grandmother. She wakes very early of herself and she may not be asleep and her hearing is very quick."

"What will she say?"

"I think I can manage her."

"Well, we must hurry. It is lucky that my room is away from the others or I should not be sure of getting there unsuspected. Hurry, Annie."

The two sped swiftly and noiselessly down the street, which was now very dark. The village houses seemed rather awful with their dark windows like sightless eyes. When they reached Annie's house Alice gave her a swift kiss. "Good-night," she whispered.


"Well, little Annie?"

"I am going to be married, to Mr. Von Rosen."

Alice started ever so slightly. "You are a lucky girl," she whispered, "and he is a lucky man."

Alice flickered out of sight down the street like a white moonbeam and Annie stole into the house. She dared not lock the door behind her lest she arouse somebody. She tip-toed upstairs, but as she was passing her grandmother's door, it was opened, and the old woman stood there, her face lit by her flaring candle.

"You just march right in here," said she so loud that Annie shuddered for fear she would arouse the whole house. She followed her grandmother into her room and the old woman turned and looked at her, and her face was white.

"Where have you been, Miss?" said she. "It is after three o'clock in the morning."

"I had to go, grandmother, and there was no harm, but I can't tell you. Indeed, I can't," replied Annie, trembling.

"Why can't you? I'd like to know."

"I can't, indeed, I can't, grandmother."

"Why not, I'd like to know. Pretty doings, I call it."

"I can't tell you why not, grandmother."

The old woman eyed the girl. "Out with a man—I don't care if you are engaged to him—till this time!" said she.

Annie started and crimsoned. "Oh, grandmother!" she cried.

"I don't care if he is a minister. I am going to see him to-morrow, no, to-day, right after breakfast and give him a piece of my mind. I don't care what he thinks of me."

"Grandmother, there wasn't any man."

"Are you telling me the truth?"

"I always tell the truth."

"Yes, I think you always have since that time when you were a little girl and I spanked you for lying," said the old woman. "I rather think you do tell the truth, but sometimes when a girl gets a man into her head, she goes round like a top. You haven't been alone, you needn't tell me that."

"No, I haven't been alone."

"But, he wasn't with you? There wasn't any man?"

"No, there was not any man, grandmother."

"Then you had better get into your own room as fast as you can and move still or you will wake up Harriet and Susan."

Annie went.

"I am thankful I am not curious," said the old woman clambering back into bed. She lit her lamp and took up her novel again.

The next morning old Ann Maria Eustace announced her granddaughter's engagement at the breakfast table. She waited until the meal was in full swing, then she raised her voice.

"Well, girls," she said, looking first at Harriet, then at Susan, "I have some good news for you. Our little Annie here is too modest, so I have to tell you for her."

Harriet Eustace laughed unsuspiciously. "Don't tell us that Annie has been writing a great anonymous novel like Margaret Edes," she said, and Susan laughed also. "Whatever news it may be, it is not that," she said. "Nobody could suspect Annie of writing a book. I myself was not so much surprised at Margaret Edes."

To Annie's consternation, her grandmother turned upon her a long, slow, reading look. She flushed under it and swallowed a spoonful of cereal hastily. Then her grandmother chuckled under her breath and her china blue eyes twinkled.

"Annie has done something a deal better than to write a book," said she, looking away from the girl, and fixing unsparing eyes upon her daughters. "She has found a nice man to marry her."

Harriet and Susan dropped their spoons and stared at their mother.

"Mother, what are you talking about?" said Harriet sharply. "She has had no attention."

"Sometimes," drawled the old lady in a way she affected when she wished to be exasperating, "sometimes, a little attention is so strong that it counts and sometimes attention is attention when nobody thinks it is."

"Who is it?" asked Harriet in rather a hard voice. Susan regarded Annie with a bewildered, yet kindly smile. Poor Susan had never regarded the honey pots of life as intended for herself, and thus could feel a kindly interest in their acquisition by others.

"My granddaughter is engaged to be married to Mr. von Rosen," said the old lady. Then she stirred her coffee assiduously.

Susan rose and kissed Annie. "I hope you will be happy, very happy," she said in an awed voice. Harriet rose, to follow her sister's example but she looked viciously at her mother.

"He is a good ten years older than Annie," she said.

"And a good twenty-five younger than you," said the old lady, and sipped her coffee delicately. "He is just the right age for Annie."

Harriet kissed Annie, but her lips were cold and Annie wondered. It never occurred to her then, nor later, to imagine that her Aunt Harriet might have had her own dreams which had never entirely ended in rainbow mists. She did not know how hardly dreams die. They are sometimes not entirely stamped out during a long lifetime.

That evening Von Rosen came to call on Annie and she received him alone in the best parlour. She felt embarrassed and shy, but very happy. Her lover brought her an engagement ring, a great pearl, which had been his mother's and put it on her finger, and Annie eyed her finger with a big round gaze like a bird's. Von Rosen laughed at the girl holding up her hand and staring at the beringed finger.

"Don't you like it, dear?" he said.

"It is the most beautiful ring I ever saw," said Annie, "but I keep thinking it may not be true."

"The truest things in the world are the things which do not seem so," he said, and caught up the slender hand and kissed the ring and the finger.

Margaret on the verandah had seen Von Rosen enter the Eustace house and had guessed dully at the reason. She had always thought that Von Rosen would eventually marry Alice Mendon and she wondered a little, but not much. Her own affairs were entirely sufficient to occupy her mind. Her position had become more impossible to alter and more ghastly. That night Wilbur had brought home a present to celebrate her success. It was something which she had long wanted and which she knew he could ill afford:—a circlet of topazes for her hair. She kissed him and put it on to please him, but it was to her as if she were crowned because of her infamy and she longed to snatch the thing off and trample it. And yet always she was well aware that it was not remorse which she felt, but a miserable humiliation that she, Margaret Edes, should have cause for remorse. The whole day had been hideous. The letters and calls of congratulation had been incessant. There were brief notices in a few papers which had been marked and sent to her and Wilbur had brought them home also. Her post-office box had been crammed. There were requests for her autograph. There were requests for aid from charitable institutions. There were requests for advice and assistance from young authors. She had two packages of manuscripts sent her for inspection concerning their merits. One was a short story, and came through the mail; one was a book and came by express. She had requests for work from editors and publishers. Wilbur had brought a letter of congratulation from his partner. It was absolutely impossible for her to draw back except for that ignoble reason: the reinstatement of herself in her own esteem. She could not possibly receive all this undeserved adulation and retain her self esteem. It was all more than she had counted upon. She had opened Pandora's box with a vengeance and the stinging things swarmed over her. Wilbur sat on the verandah with her and scarcely took his eyes of adoring wonder from her face. She had sent the little girls to bed early. They had told all their playmates and talked incessantly with childish bragging. They seemed to mock her as with peacock eyes, symbolic of her own vanity.

"You sent the poor little things to bed very early," Wilbur said. "They did so enjoy talking over their mother's triumph. It is the greatest day of their lives, you know, Margaret."

"I am tired of it," Margaret said sharply, but Wilbur's look of worship deepened.

"You are so modest, sweetheart," he said and Margaret writhed. Poor Wilbur had been reading The Poor Lady instead of his beloved newspapers and now and then he quoted a passage which he remembered, with astonishing accuracy.

"Say, darling, you are a marvel," he would remark after every quotation. "Now, how in the world did you ever manage to think that up? I suppose just this minute, as you sit there looking so sweet in your white dress, just such things are floating through your brain, eh?"

"No, they are not," replied Margaret. Oh, if she had only understood the horrible depth of a lie!

"Suppose Von Rosen is making up to little Annie?" said Wilbur presently.

"I don't know."

"Well, she is a nice little thing, sweet tempered, and pretty, although of course her mental calibre is limited. She may make a good wife, though. A man doesn't expect his wife always to set the river on fire as you have done, sweetheart."

Then Wilbur fished from his pockets a lot of samples. "Thought I must order a new suit, to live up to my wife," he said. "See which you prefer, Margaret."

"I should think your own political outlook would make the new suit necessary," said Margaret tartly.

"Not a bit of it. Get more votes if you look a bit shabby from the sort who I expect may get me the office," laughed Wilbur. "This new suit is simply to enable me to look worthy, as far as my clothes are concerned, of my famous wife."

"I think you have already clothes enough," said Margaret coldly.

Wilbur looked hurt. "Doesn't make much difference how the old man looks, does it, dear?" said he.

"Let me see the samples," Margaret returned with an effort. There were depths beyond depths; there were bottomless quicksands in a lie. How could she have known?

That night Wilbur looked into his wife's bedroom at midnight. "Awake?" he asked in his monosyllabic fashion.


"Say, old girl, Von Rosen has just this minute gone. Guess it's a match fast enough."

"I always thought it would be Alice," returned Margaret wearily. Love affairs did seem so trivial to her at this juncture.

"Alice Mendon has never cared a snap about getting married any way," returned Wilbur. "Some women are built that way. She is."

Margaret did not inquire how he knew. If Wilbur had told her that he had himself asked Alice in marriage, it would have been as if she had not heard. All such things seemed very unimportant to her in the awful depths of her lie. She said good-night in answer to Wilbur's and again fell to thinking. There was no way out, absolutely no way. She must live and die with this secret self-knowledge which abased her, gnawing at the heart. Wilbur had told her that he believed that her authorship of The Poor Lady might be the turning point of his election. She was tongue-tied in a horrible spiritual sense. She was disfigured for the rest of her life and she could never once turn away her eyes from her disfigurement.

The light from Annie Eustace's window shone in her room for two hours after that. She wondered what she was doing and guessed Annie was writing a new novel to take the place of the one of which she had robbed her. An acute desire which was like a pain to be herself the injured instead of the injurer possessed her. Oh, what would it mean to be Annie sitting there, without leisure to brood over her new happiness, working, working, into the morning hours and have nothing to look upon except moral and physical beauty in her mental looking-glass. She envied the poor girl, who was really working beyond her strength, as she had never envied any human being. The envy stung her, and she could not sleep. The next morning she looked ill and then she had to endure Wilbur's solicitude.

"Poor girl, you overworked writing your splendid book," he said. Then he suggested that she spend a month at an expensive seashore resort and another horror was upon Margaret. Wilbur, she well knew, could not afford to send her to such a place, but was innocently, albeit rather shamefacedly, assuming that she could defray her own expenses from the revenue of her book. He would never call her to account as to what she had done with the wealth which he supposed her to be reaping. She was well aware of that, but he would naturally wonder within himself. Any man would. She said that she was quite well, that she hated a big hotel, and much preferred home during the hot season, but she heard the roar of these new breakers. How could she have dreamed of the lifelong disturbance which a lie could cause?

Night after night she saw the light in Annie's windows and she knew what she was doing. She knew why she was not to be married until next winter. That book had to be written first. Poor Annie could not enjoy her romance to the full because of over-work. The girl lost flesh and Margaret knew why. Preparing one's trousseau, living in a love affair, and writing a book, are rather strenuous, when undertaken at the same time.

It was February when Annie and Von Rosen were married and the wedding was very quiet. Annie had over-worked, but her book was published, and was out-selling The Poor Lady. It also was published anonymously, but Margaret knew, she knew even from the reviews. Then she bought the book and read it and was convinced. The book was really an important work. The writer had gone far beyond her first flight, but there was something unmistakable about the style to such a jealous reader as Margaret. Annie had her success after all. She wore her laurels, although unseen of men, with her orange blossoms. Margaret saw in every paper, in great headlines, the notice of the great seller. The best novel for a twelve-month—The Firm Hand. Wilbur talked much about it. He had his election. He was a Senator, and was quietly proud of it, but nothing mattered to him as much as Margaret's book. That meant more than his own success.

"I have read that novel they are talking so much about and it cannot compare with yours," he told her. "The publishers ought to push yours a little more. Do you think I ought to look in on them and have a little heart-to-heart talk?"

Margaret's face was ghastly. "Don't do anything of the sort," she said.

"Well, I won't if you don't want me to, but—"

"I most certainly don't want you to." Then Margaret never had a day of peace. She feared lest Wilbur, who seemed nightly more incensed at the flaming notices of The Firm Hand might, in spite of her remonstrances, go to see the publishers, and would they keep the secret if he did?

Margaret continued to live as she had done before. That was part of the horror. She dared not resign from the Zenith Club. However, she came in time to get a sort of comfort from it. Meeting all those members, presiding over the meetings, became a sort of secret flagellation, which served as a counter irritation, for her tormented soul. All those women thought well of her. They admired her. The acute torture which she derived from her knowledge of herself, as compared with their opinion of her, seemed at times to go a little way toward squaring her account with her better self. And the club also seemed to rouse within her a keener vitality of her better self. Especially when the New Year came and Mrs. Slade was elected president in her stead. Once, Margaret would have been incapable of accepting that situation so gracefully. She gave a reception to Mrs. Slade in honour of her election, and that night had a little return of her lost peace. Then during one of the meetings, a really good paper was read, which set her thinking. That evening she played dominoes with Maida and Adelaide, and always after that a game followed dinner. The mother became intimate with her children. She really loved them because of her loss of love for herself, and because the heart must hold love. She loved her husband too, but he realised no difference because he had loved her. That coldness had had no headway against such doting worship. But the children realised.

"Mamma is so much better since she wrote that book that I shall be glad when you are old enough to write a book too," Adelaide said once to Maida.

But always Margaret suffered horribly, although she gave no sign. She took care of her beauty. She was more particular than ever about her dress. She entertained, she accepted every invitation, and they multiplied since Wilbur's flight in politics and her own reputed authorship. She was Spartan in her courage, but she suffered, because she saw herself as she was and she had so loved herself. It was not until Annie Eustace was married that she obtained the slightest relief. Then she ascertained that the friend whom she had robbed of her laurels had obtained a newer and greener crown of them. She went to the wedding and saw on a table, Annie's new book. She glanced at it and she knew and she wondered if Von Rosen knew. He did not.

Annie waited until after their return from their short wedding journey when they were settled in their home. Then one evening, seated with her husband before the fire in the study, with the yellow cat in her lap, and the bull terrier on the rug, his white skin rosy in the firelight, she said:

"Karl, I have something to tell you."

Von Rosen looked lovingly at her. "Well, dear?"

"It is nothing, only you must not tell, for the publishers insist upon its being anonymous, I—wrote The Firm Hand."

Von Rosen made a startled exclamation and looked at Annie and she could not understand the look.

"Are you displeased?" she faltered. "Don't you like me to write? I will never neglect you or our home because of it. Indeed I will not."

"Displeased," said Von Rosen. He got up and deliberately knelt before her. "I am proud that you are my wife," he said, "prouder than I am of anything else in the world."

"Please get up, dear," said Annie, "but I am so glad, although it is really I who am proud, because I have you for my husband. I feel all covered over with peacock's eyes."

"I cannot imagine a human soul less like a peacock," said Von Rosen. He put his arms around her as he knelt, and kissed her, and the yellow cat gave an indignant little snarl and jumped down. He was jealous.

"Sit down," said Annie, laughing. "I thought the time had come to tell you and I hoped you would be pleased. It is lovely, isn't it? You know it is selling wonderfully."

"It is lovely," said Von Rosen. "It would have been lovely anyway, but your success is a mighty sweet morsel for me."

"You had better go back to your chair and smoke and I will read to you," said Annie.

"Just as if you had not written a successful novel," said Von Rosen. But he obeyed, the more readily because he knew, and pride and reverence for his wife fairly dazed him. Von Rosen had been more acute than the critics and Annie had written at high pressure, and one can go over a book a thousand times and be blind to things which should be seen. She had repeated one little sentence which she had written in The Poor Lady. Von Rosen knew, but he never told her that he knew. He bowed before her great, generous silence as he would have bowed before a shrine, but he knew that she had written The Poor Lady, and had allowed Margaret Edes to claim unquestioned the honour of her work.

As they sat there, Annie's Aunt Susan came in and sat with them. She talked a good deal about the wedding presents. Wedding presents were very wonderful to her. They were still spread out, most of them on tables in the parlour because all Fairbridge was interested in viewing them. After a while Susan went into the parlour and gloated over the presents. When she came back, she wore a slightly disgusted expression.

"You have beautiful presents," said she, "but I have been looking all around and the presents are not all on those tables, are they?"

"No," said Annie.

Von Rosen laughed. He knew what was coming, or thought that he did.

"I see," said Aunt Susan, "that you have forty-two copies of Margaret Edes' book, The Poor Lady, and I have always thought it was a very silly book, and you can't exchange them for every single one is autographed."

It was quite true. Poor Margaret Edes had autographed the forty-two. She had not even dreamed of the incalculable depths of a lie.


[Transcriber's note:

The following spelling inconsistencies were present in the original and were not corrected in this etext:

wordly ensconsed/ensconced]

Previous Part     1  2  3  4
Home - Random Browse