A Portion of the Tempest

by Mary Tappan Wright

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Its passions will rock thee                       
     As the storms rock the ravens on high:
Bright reason will mock thee                    
     Like the sun from a wintry sky.               

JACKSON had a studio at the seaside village where he spent his summers. It was a little woodshed, shaped like the houses that children draw on their slates, leaking in the roof and cracking in the floor. At the gable end was a small door; as it opened directly on the narrow footpath that led up the hill to his boarding-house Jackson usually kept it closed and locked, for curious people were likely to step in without warning. The door on the east was more secluded; it was very wide and opened outward, the sill being about three feet above the ground. In it Jackson had placed a canvas reclining-chair, where he often sat and smoked, watching the moon rise over the eastern hills. Directly in front of him the rough turf sloped away to the cove, a blue arm of the sea when the water rose, and when it fell streaked with green, showing the long glistening blades of grass that turned with every tide.
     A little above the shore on the opposite bank Jackson could catch glimpses here and there of a dusty country road, where all day a line of gaudy red and yellow electric cars plied up and down with a tawdry state that irritated his nerves. At night, however, when the vindictive glare of a prisoned power gleamed intermittent through the trees he would rub his hands in cynical pleasure. “A type!” he would mutter. “A social type!” For Jackson hated his kind, or at least thought he did; in reality their lives were a perpetual drama to him, a series of absorbing plays that he enjoyed without scruple, surreptitiously, salving his conscience by never divulging the plots.
     One evening in June he came down the hill, and, after slamming the little door behind him, opened the large one wide and threw himself on a lounge in the corner. He had left town unusually early, two or three weeks before, and until the coach arrived that afternoon, bringing fifteen new faces, he had possessed the boarding-house in almost more peace and solitude than were agreeable to him. He had scanned the new-comers at supper with feverish interest, and it was not until later on, when somebody asked him to make a fourth at whist, that he remembered the man he thought he was and flung off to his den in apparent desperation.
     “Fifteen at one swoop!” he said. “Surely the greatest pleasure we derive from the society of our fellow-creatures is the joy of getting away from it! Let me see:—one very young married woman; she said she had a baby. One older married woman, with three little boys. One newspaper woman—I remember that old pirate; she used to carry off all my summer literature year before last, carry it off from under my very nose, and then sit on one-half of it while she read the other half. That makes six. Two little Marie Bashkirtseffs with their sketching-traps—eight. Two elderly women of distinction—I don’t believe they’ll like it here. The pretty deaf artist. The old whist fiend from Virginia with his grandson—they were here last year—thirteen. And, let me see, the snuffy person with a cold, and the girl with a history. She must have a history, she looks so healthy and quiet; the common run reduce themselves to skin and bone; they are too busy to suffer, and too nervous to be still. I wonder if there is going to be a storm.”
     He rose and went to the door for a moment, half-closing his eyes to get the effect of the drawbridge farther up the cove. Its brown wooden supports, crusted thick with barnacles, were reflected without a break in the glassy surface of the water; a large wagon of fresh cut hay was crossing over the worn loose boards, and in the quiet evening the heavy roll of wheels, and the trampling thud of the horses’ hoofs sounded like distant thunder. A storm, however, was brewing in the east. The clouds above the hills were stacked high in black ricks, one upon the other, touched here and there with bright reflections from the sunset. Occasional streaks of lightning shot along their edges, like a curving weapon, threatening a moment and then withdrawn. All at once Jackson retreated to his corner. He heard voices, and did not wish to be compelled to be civil to any passers-by.
     “It is coming up all around,” said a woman, and a man’s voice answered:
     “It will not be here for an hour.”
     They had stopped under a north window which Jackson had constructed high in the wall above the lounge. The window was open, but through the heavy curtain that had been drawn across it their voices came distinctly.
     “We can sit on this wood-pile,” said the woman. The next instant a crevice in the boards, opposite the place where Jackson was lying, was darkened. She was leaning against the outside of the house. The man seemed to have thrown himself at her feet.
     “It is odd to find you here,” she said. “I only came this evening myself.”
     “You do not find me. I followed you. I came across that bridge exactly twenty minutes ago.” In the pause that followed, Jackson heard the click of a closing watch-lid.
     “Why did you come?”
     “You might know. I received that telegram this morning.”
     The loose board in the side of the shed suddenly creaked as if the woman had braced herself against it. “And you leave?” she asked.
     “To-night. I sail from New York to-morrow.”
     “But you can’t make it!” said the woman. “Not from here.”
     “Oh, yes, I can,” answered the man. “I shall take the electric-car at half-past nine, and catch the ten-fifteen train.”
     “You are not leaving yourself time enough,” said the woman. “What if you should miss your steamer?”
     “It would make an astonishing amount of talk,” said the man; “but I shall not miss it.”
     “I cannot see why you take such risks.”
     “Neither can I.”
     “It will do us no good.”
     “No, it will not. But still I thought I should like to say good-by.”
     “We have said good-by.”
     “Yes, I know; but this good-by, if it eventually turns out to be a good-by, will be final. Shall I go? What do you really wish?”
     “I? What can I wish? And if I did wish anything, what chance is there of fulfilment? The beauty of my life consists in its fixity. Nothing can happen, nothing can change.”
     “Up to a certain point that is true,” said the man. “But beyond that, your will alone can alter the face of everything.”
     “When I get ‘beyond that,’ I will tell you.”
     “Then it will be too late.”
     “It is too late now. It has been too late from the beginning.”
     “I could wish,” said the man, “but for the joy it has been to me, that I had never entered into your life.”
     “Then be satisfied,” she answered. “You never have entered into my life. In all essentials my life has been entirely apart from you. And of late, to speak quite plainly, there have been intervals where the thought of you, if it came at all, has scarcely even troubled me.”
     “There is more truth in what you say than you are aware.”
     “There may be. But I am aware of many truths which you do not suspect, and also of some fictions.”
     “But tell me,” said the man, “shall I go? If I go, it is forever. I know myself, and I know you.”
     “Was that thunder?” said the woman, starting to her feet. A long roll sounded from across the cove, followed by the heavy drop, drop of the beginning of a shower. “We must go to the house,” she added.
     “If you do, I shall leave.”
     “You cannot leave. We must see each other!”
     “That was my impression, but you did not seem to share it. Who came down with you?”
     “Oh, she did! Of course she did, but it seems to me that for once we might disregard her.”
     “That is nonsense,” said the man. “We must regard her, on your account if not on mine.”
     “As far as that goes there is no harm in my seeing you when and as I wish!” said the woman; “and as for her comments, if I come in drenched—out of a storm, and at night—for you see how dark it grows—Ah?”
     There was another roll of thunder, and the drops came faster. Jackson was about to rise and close the door, when there was a rush from the outside. Two dim shapes appeared against the already driving rain, the man lifted the woman over the threshold into the canvas chair, and climbing in himself leaned against the opposite jamb of the door.
     “We haven’t any right to come in here,” she whispered, nervously. “This studio belongs to Jackson the artist. He might be there now.”
     “We have no time to waste!” said the man, passionately. “We’ve got to see this thing through. We can’t part without a clear understanding! Man or no man we must have a spot in which to talk.”
     The woman half rose. Jackson could see her in silhouette against the gray without. She looked like a nun; her head was turned inward, apprehensively; some loose projecting hood covered it. He could not make out her features.
     “For God’s sake,” continued the man, “if there is anyone there don’t find it out! You can’t see him.”
     “It is too dark to see.”
     “Then be satisfied. Now don’t go in! You may do any amount of damage. Ten chances to one there are half a dozen wet canvases all over the place. Besides, if you find him I shall have to shoot him.”
     Jackson, for whom no apologies are possible, grinned in his corner. “If they wish me to be quiet,” he said to himself, “nothing is easier.”
     “How like you,” the woman said with a half laugh, “to be desperate and practical in the same breath.”
     “The desperation is a matter of the moment, the practical the outcome of a life!”
     “Oh, dear,” said the woman, drearily, “how can you?”
     She leaned forward and looked into the rain. The thunder rolled and muttered with sulky continuance, and the man stood watching her in silence. Jackson began to grow impatient; if they wanted to talk why didn’t they?
     “I suppose you saw Harry?” she said at last.
     “Yes, he is dining with the Sullivants to-night”.
     “How odd! They must have asked him at the last moment.”
     “They did. I made him take my place; the Sullivants were glad enough.”
     “Who told you I was here?”
     “He did.”
     “Did you tell him you were coming down?”
     “No. You know I did not.”
     “Is May with the Sullivants?”
     There was no answer.
     “Harry says her boy is a prodigy. Does he look like May?”
     Again there was no answer.
     “How long is she going to stay east?” There was a pause. “Why do you not speak?”
     “Because,” said the man, deliberately, “I did not come here to talk about the Sullivants, nor about May, nor her prodigy. You do not seem to have grasped my meaning: I have received my appointment; I start to-night. Are you coming with me?”
     There was a brilliant flash of lightning. The man leaned forward and quietly put his arm across the doorway.
     “It was a question not ten minutes past as to whether you should yourself go at all. Now you ask me to come with you.”
     “It is the same question. Shall we throw in our lots together, or shall we part?”
     “We shall—part. You know that already.”
     “Yes. I know it. But I wanted to be assured. Besides, the right to decide finally is yours. You would be the only loser.”
     “You are not aware of it, perhaps,” said the woman, “but your attitude in the matter is—well, unpleasing, to put it mildly.”
     “It might be, I admit, if you did not understand my meaning; but you understand me, perfectly.”
     “And yet,” she said, with sudden fire, “you have been telling me for months that you did not want me. If I consented to come, even now, your embarrassment would be overwhelming. Why put me to the cost of refusing?”
     “But it does not cost you. You refuse automatically. You have weighed and balanced and decided until the pros and cons array themselves against each other by instinct.”
     “And you? Have you not weighed and balanced also?”
     “No, I have not. I have never doubted. This should have ended long ago; it must end now. I have felt it from the beginning, and whenever in all this wretched whirl I have had the strength to see clearly, I have acted upon my convictions. Do me that justice!”
     “Oh, justice!” said the woman, wearily. “You have been justice itself, blindfold, cruel.”
     “I? Cruel to you?”
     “Cruel? He asks if he has been cruel!”
     “I could not be cruel.”
     “Ah, well then, call it kind! Whenever I went to meet you—where? Everywhere! Here, there, I have dragged myself to all the houses to which I was bidden, lest at one of them I should miss you. I have gone early. I have watched the door!—I!—And when you came, the whole room swam and blurred before me. In the midst of the talk and glare a silence would fall, for there would be you—only you—with all those terrible people standing about, and the jewels of the women glittering. It seems now as if I must have called to you: my thoughts were so clamorous and my words so faint—as if I must have cried ‘Speak to me! Only speak to me. I have come for that. Turn but a moment aside, say but a word.’”
     “When did I not speak to you?”
     “You call that you, speaking to me! And the days that I have squandered in waiting for you! When I have not dared to live lest I should feel the unendurable time. When the sun crept through the sky. Oh, those angry suns, that went down grudgingly in the west! ‘It is day yet,’ I would think, ‘wait for the night.’ And the yellow afterglow would climb until it seemed as if the night would pass before the day was over. Far into the darkness I have waited, watching the gray shapeless figures passing slowly, down under the trees; listening, until the air tingled, and my nerves sang like the strings of a harp. I have even prayed: ‘It is late,’ I have pleaded, ‘but not too late. Move his heart even now. I ask so little—only to see him a moment. If he will but come and look at me and then turn away—so that he looks kindly, I shall be satisfied. There is no harm in that, my God! And it will be so soon over. I have given up. He is going. I have done what is right—and the time grows short!’—But you never came!”
     “You had told me not to come.”
     “There are times for heeding, and times for disregard. Oh, it was right! More than right—obligatory. Yes, there was no other way. I admire your self-control, although unfortunately, you may think I do not imitate it. You had your duties, just then most pressing duties—to lose your clear head at that crisis meant ruin. I understand—I came second, necessarily; but I have not often come second.”
     “You have not come second,” said the man, firmly, “and you know you have not.”
     “Then, too, there was your theory! You were too happy in carrying it out to note its effects. You meant to break away gradually, so to withdraw that when you ceased to come, your absence might pass without comment. It was an excellent theory, and timely. You could not have put it in practice years ago—before we theorize, our hearts must cool.”
     “Good heavens! what a beautiful voice,” said Jackson to himself. “What a heartbreaking voice! And the sob in it, and the disdain! I should know it among a thousand.”
     “I have had no theories,” the man was saying, “but this I know: in that long tempest of feeling I wore on your nerves. In a sense you were tired of me, tired to the depths of your soul. Not that you cared for me less, but the strain and stress were beyond human endurance. To find refuge from the thought of me, no matter how, was a rest; it was life. I was killing you; so I stayed away.”
     “Oh, yes! you were killing me,” said the woman, indifferently.
     It had grown darker. A wavering flare of lightning suddenly brought out a bed of nasturtiums in brilliant red and yellow and green at the foot of a rock not far from the doorway. Then everything was gray again, and a great boom of thunder pounded overhead.
     “How dared you make me suffer like that?” said the woman out of the silence that followed. “One can love and forget, and if one is unfortunately young enough one may love again. In my affections you are not altogether an isolated case; but in the bitterness of my heart—you stand supreme!”
     “Oh, this is miserable,” cried the man, striking his closed fist against the doorway. “You hurt yourself as much as you hurt me. When you talk in that strain you are storing up wretchedness for the future. I am going. It is our last moment. Be kind!”
     “Oh, go then!” cried the woman. “Go quickly! Never come back, never let me see or hear of you. You say that you wear on my nerves, that I am tired of you! You say that my decisions are made at no cost! You ask me what I want. What I want? I, to whom everything is denied!—Oh!”—her animation suddenly dying out—“I am unreasonable. I know I am unreasonable. How can one crazed with trouble and grief be otherwise?”
     “Dear,” said the man, in a voice of anguish, “what can I do? I am tied hand and foot.”
     “You can do nothing,” said the woman. “I can do nothing. Even if we could, we would not.”
     “To make things different would be an irreparable injury.”
     “There is no question of making anything different.”
     They ceased speaking. The rain came down on the roof in a sullen hard tattoo. From his corner Jackson could see nothing except when the lightning brought out the dark figures against the outer sky, framed in by the doorway. The man had moved a little forward and was seated on a low box, but he and his companion remained apart, as if a barrier were between them, he leaning forward looking up, she sitting far back in her chair, her head bent toward him, looking down.
     “Listen,” said the man, decisively. “If you came, you know what it would mean; you know the life that would be before you. Could you live it?”
     “Could I live it? Yes.”
     “Could you be happy?”
     “There is no happiness to be bought at that price. If we could blot out our memories we might bring it about; mine, unfortunately, are indelible.”
     “Setting aside all that, knowing me, knowing yourself—”
     “How can we set it aside?” interrupted the woman—“and yet, suppose we could, wherein would our chances differ from those of the rest of the world? Mismatched people—if you will have it so—have been happy together before this: one modifies the other. I should change for you; you would change—”
     “Ah, no!” said the man, “there lies the difficulty. I know myself too well.”
     “The simple desire for the happiness of another changes us unconsciously.”
     “On the contrary. We are conscious of the whole process. We see the unhappiness we cause and keep on our own way more than ever. It is our only salvation. Between our individuality and the other’s there is but one choice to be made—and we make that choice.”
     In the dim light Jackson saw the woman let her head fall against the back of the chair, and drop her hands in her lap.
     “It is a vain discussion!” she said. “But as I am going to have nothing but illusions left, I had rather cherish them.”
     “An unkind fate has made that possible,” said the man, grimly. “The real will not be present to discount the ideal.”
     “You forget,” she said, gently, “that I should love you.”
     “And your love would have no mercy. Oh, it would be just. I should have my due!”
     “That is false,” she said, eagerly. “But even if it were true—granted that with me love is clear sighted—it is still love. If I am too critical I could change.”
     “You would not,” said the man, and then, as if in far-off thought, he repeated, “and you could not! I have been prepared for it from the beginning.”
     “You are unfair,” said the woman. “Why should you feel that? The other question—the question of my going or of my staying—lies in the world of action, the world that we owe to other people. But this thing lies between you and me. I do not look forward to misjudgment from you. Why should you expect it of me?”
     “You would not misjudge,” said the man; “you would simply see. Outside the little space that surrounds us we live each of us in a distinct and antagonistic world of ideas. It is not my fault nor is it yours, but the day would come when you would weigh me, and I should not turn the scale. It would not lessen your love—it would only take my life.”
     “What right have you to say this?” cried the woman; “what possible justification?”
     “Am I not judged already,” said the man, slowly, “against your will? in spite of yourself? Do you think I have not felt it when your eyes have seen clear, and I have stood before you shivering, stripped of the illusions with which you had clothed me. You need not tell me that you love me. I know it—to my cost. Your love has a price! You will not love comfortably as other women do. No, you exact of a man his best, and a man’s best can become to him an intolerable tyranny. This is the truth, the brutal truth, that you will not recognize: once I had won you, irrevocably won you, I should drop to my natural level! Where would be your happiness in that future? And knowing this where would be mine?”
     From the darkness in which the woman was sitting came a faint sound, like a groan, that ended in a sighing cry, so soft that Jackson could hardly hear it. “Is life any easier to you,” she said at last, and her voice seemed stifled, “when you think this of me?”
     “Life is never any easier to me nor any harder,” said the man. “It has got to be endured, and I endure it.”
     The thunder had subsided to a muffled growl in the distance, the lightning had almost ceased, and the downpour had dwindled to a gentle intermittent patter. Outside, the water from the eaves was falling a drop at a time into the little pools that had gathered between the broken bits of granite around the foundations.
     “What am I to think?” said the woman. “Tell me, without reasoning, without introspection, not between our outer ties nor between the selves we may or may not become, but between you and me, the you and the me that have met, and—have loved. Tell me, if I gave up fighting my convictions, my—conscience call it, and came with you, could I make you happy?”
     The man sprang to his feet with a long deep breath. In the quivering light Jackson could see him standing in the open door, his face upturned to the sky.
     “Could I?” she repeated.
     “Ah! Be still!” he cried out, harshly. “You make me think of too many possibilities.”
     The woman bent forward and taking his hand drew him back to his seat. The patter of rain had gone by, only the water from the eaves dropped at longer and longer intervals.
     “Can you be happy without me?” she whispered.
     “Nor I without you!”
     The water ceased dropping, the tremulous glare of the lightning died wholly away; the room was dark and still.
     “Silence is, for us, a terrible luxury,” said the man at last. “Do you realize that it may be years—?”
     “Oh, hush!” said the woman. “I spend my days in realizing. Let us have an interval of peace. Here, alone in the rain, let it seem as if the world had stopped, as if we were buried, and it was all over.”
     “It will be over soon. And you will have peace without interval.”
     “And why not? It is only human nature. We cannot grieve long over the inevitable. When it once enters our soul that a matter is final we are so made that we acquiesce.”
     “Are we such poor creatures then?” asked the woman.
     “We are poor creatures,” said the man. “And yet rather than have you suffer I would have you try to be one of us! You said that I made you second to my work, that in cold blood I put you away from my thoughts in order to have my head clear. Never mind—what difference does it make whether it is true or false, whether you meant it all or not? I know that you suffered once; but since then, of late, have you not found greater calm? You told me that I scarcely entered into your life. Is there not truth in that, and—hope? You are happier than you were.”
     “Delightfully happy.”
     “Happier than you think. There are compensations in your life that you cannot ignore, distractions that you cannot set aside. They will occupy your thoughts in spite of yourself. In time, if I am only out of sight, I shall almost fade from your mind.”
     “Well, and when you think of me your judgment will be clearer. You will see—”
     “Your faults? I can see them without thinking.”
     The man laughed half in protest, the merest breath of amusement. “The faults that are seen without thinking,” he said, “seldom lower the culprit. When you think of me in the future, you will be cooler, more discriminating.”
     “And you, how will you be? Cooler? More discriminating?”
     “I am different.”
     “I am not like you. I do not analyze. When I have given in to a thing it is for ever: a kind of faithful dog business. Hark! There’s another storm coming up in the west.”
     “There are no compensations on your part then, which you ignore?” said the woman, tranquilly.
     “In that also,” said the man, “I am different from you. In a sense you are my compensation, in losing you I lose my all.”
     Jackson raised himself cautiously on his elbow. There was a low roar in the west, a creaking in the trees near at hand, and a cracking far away. Something hurled from a distance struck the roof like a stone. Across the darkness outside the door he could see the flash of an electric car as it passed up on the other side of the cove.
     “I must be going,” said the man. “There are scarcely five minutes left. The next car comes down in ten minutes, and it takes five to get across the bridge. Besides this will be a tremendous storm. Just hear the wind.”
     Small twigs and bunches of leaves were already flying. The little shed rocked, and outside the night had grown pale. From time to time the ground would seem to start up to meet the eyes, and the lace-like branches of the locust-trees, blown straight in the gale, would show a vivid green against the clear violet sky.
     “You are not like me!” the woman went on, neither moving her body nor changing the pitch of her voice. “Life’s compensations are not for you, you are beyond them! Neither are you analytic, doubting, clear-sighted. You will never weigh, and measure out justice, you never have! On the contrary, with dumb lips and faithful eyes, you look up and worship at the niche in which you once placed your goddess, too unalterably true to be even conscious that you have removed her!”
     “Ah!” breathed the man, as if cut to the heart, “don’t sneer. We have but a moment.”
     “We have had our moment, our last; and how have we spent it? You are going. I shall never see you, never even hear from you again, and like the thrust of a poisoned dagger you leave rankling in my heart the thought that you expect me to change, that, already even, I find peace in your absence, and that in time I shall look you over and throw you aside like an outworn glove. There was nothing left to me but faith! Faith that in your heart and mine, no matter what befell, there was a quiet still place sacred to an unalterable love. A love—Oh! why do I try to tell it? What little peace I had gained was that peace. You have destroyed it!”
     “And I?” said the man, “what have I to carry with me into the miserable waste that lies before me? What have you given me? The assurance that in the bitterness of your heart I stand supreme!”
     “I never meant it. It was only a cry, wrung from the anguish of the moment. You know I never meant it.”
     “You tell me that of late the thought of me has scarcely troubled you!”
     “How can it trouble me? You are my thought!”
     “And that because my heart has grown cold I theorize; that I am capable of deliberately planning to kill the love that you have given me. To kill it! As if I had not held the gift immortal! What wonder that I say you will change, when your thoughts of me in absence are such as these?—But you must go up to the house. It is hardly safe even now. Good God!”
     His voice was drowned in a sudden deafening explosion. Before their eyes a great ball of fire rushed downward and was gone.
     “It struck in the water!” cried the woman, but as she spoke there was another rending peal, and a tree not twenty yards away was riven to the root: they could see great splinters falling, in the blinding light.
     “Get to the house!” shouted the man. “It is unsafe here. There are tall trees all about us.” He sprang from the door and throwing his arms around her lifted her from the high sill and turned to run.
     “You must not come with me,” she said, struggling a little. “You must not. You know it!”
     In the frequent flashes of lightning Jackson saw her throw him from her; then the wild wind slammed the door and they were shut from view. Jackson sprang forward, and fumbling in the darkness caught the hasp and fastened it securely. He was terrified at the howling of the storm, and at the continuous crackle of the lightning. On opening the smaller door at the end of the shed the rain lashed him like whips. He had hardly time to close it behind him before he was drenched, and as he turned toward the house a momentary flare of light showed him the nun-like figure, alone, and but a little in advance of him, slowly mounting the hill.
     The next instant, Jackson was swallowed up in a crash of sound. Involuntarily, he threw himself in the grass face downward. Splinters flew in every direction: another tree had been struck. Recovering from his fright he stumbled to his feet, and made a blind rush in the dark. There was another broad glare of lightning. In it Jackson saw the woman ahead of him standing motionless under the tallest of the trees that skirted the lawn. She was looking upward as if in expectation. Something in her attitude filled him with horror.
     “She will be struck—she wishes it!” he muttered; and with a yell of warning, he sprang toward her.
     Then all was blackness. When he reached the tree, she was gone.
     Jackson hurried to the house. There was no one in the hall. All was quiet, and storm and passion seemed shut out as he closed the door. In the parlor were two little groups at the tables, sitting in the yellow light from the paper shades on the lamps. The old gentleman from Virginia and his grandson were playing dummy whist with the pretty young lady who was deaf. Farther down the room, the newspaper woman had drawn the lamp to her side, and was appropriating the light while one of the maiden ladies of distinction was trying to write a letter in the shadow. They all looked up when Jackson came to the doorway, as if they wanted to speak; but Jackson was dripping, and as he had a reputation for sarcasm, they waited for him to begin.
     “I hope no one else has been caught in this?” he said, uneasily.
     “No one seems to have been out but yourself,” said the old gentleman. “My nieces were fatigued, and retired early. The other ladies, I fancy, are unpacking.”
     “She came in the back way,” said Jackson to himself, as he tramped out to the kitchen to leave his wet coat to be dried near the stove.
     The cook, the chambermaid, and the two waitresses were cowering in corners with their faces to the wall.
     “You can come out,” said Jackson; “the storm is over. Was anybody caught in it?”
     “No, sir,” said the chambermaid. “Everybody’s in but you. I was going to lock up early, so I found out.”
     Jackson hesitated a moment, then turned on his heel and went upstairs in a rage with himself. “What do I want to know for?” he muttered. “Oh, confound it! I can’t help knowing. I never heard a voice like that in my life! The first word she says in the morning will betray her. Perhaps it’s one of the nieces. It’s someone who is here with a friend, anyhow. Good heavens! I don’t want to find her out! Why, if I did, I’d have to leave. I can’t be spending the summer with a tragedy like that eating at the same table with me!”
     But the next morning he was up early, and came to his breakfast at the first tap of the bell. The two little Marie Bashkirtseffs were there before him, rosy, merry, and chattering. They had been out sketching since five o’clock! “We went to bed at half-past seven in order to be up in time!” they told him, overjoyed at the unexpected friendliness of his manner. The summer before he had been in the house six weeks, and had never once spoken to them. His careful attention now was almost embarrassing. Jackson was an ideal of theirs, and the younger of the two blushed as she wondered whether by any chance he had heard of her collecting some of his palette scrapings from a rock, as a sacred relic. They did not know that in reality he was listening for a voice with a sob in it—theirs had only laughter.
     “It could not be either of them,” he thought, “and yet, it might be! They have the two little rooms in the L of the house, and after half-past seven neither would know where the other might have gone. Besides, she was tall! and yet in that uncertain light, how could I tell? Oh!”—he began aloud, and stopped, startled to find how near he had come to saying “Confound it!”
     The stout girl with a history came in, and Jackson felt relieved; she at least was out of the question, as she had appeared to be alone the night before.
     “How is your mother?” said one of the Maries.
     “Her cold is worse,” answered the girl, and her voice had a crisp and snappy accent of offence at being addressed by a stranger.
     “I thought you were alone,” said Jackson, impetuously.
     The girl with a history put up a lorgnette and stared at him, superciliously. “I never go anywhere without my mother,” she said. “We were separated at table last evening, through a mistake of the servants.” She moved up a little to make more room for the lady with a cold, who came in announcing, in a husky whisper, that she meant to leave at once.
     “I lost my voice coming over in the stage yesterday,” she wheezed, “and I’m going back by the next train. I haven’t spoken above a whisper since I arrived, and I know the place is unhealthy. Don’t you think so, Ellen?” She leaned hack in her chair and spoke to the older married lady, who, with two of her little boys, had come in behind her.
     “No, I don’t!” said Ellen, in cheerful, breezy tones.
     “And such dreadful storms!” whispered the old lady; “I don’t think I could consent to remain in a place where storms like these are liable to occur. There must be something in the soil that attracts the lightning—iron, or something. I’m sure this place isn’t safe.”
     “Storms?” said Ellen, and Jackson noted her jolly, clear, decided way of speaking. “Sit down, boys. Was it much of a storm?”
     “Ellen!” said the girl with a history, “you don’t mean to say you slept through that!”
     “I did,” she said; “I slept serenely. I suppose I must have heard something, but I assure you I don’t remember it. Oh, it is disgraceful I know; but if you had travelled two nights and a day on the cars with those three boys you would find you could sleep through the battle of Waterloo.”
     “It is the other woman of distinction,” thought Jackson. “Here she is.”
     She was tall, charmingly dressed and graceful; no longer young, but extremely handsome. Jackson noted with a little shudder that she made her way around the table to a vacant seat directly opposite him. “It must be she,” he thought. “I wonder where her friend is—the one I saw in the parlor last night.—Oh, here is that old pirate!”
     The elderly newspaper woman came in. She chose to breakfast in a Derby hat, and wore a man’s shirt-front and collar. Striding across the room with the lunge of a ploughboy, she seated herself in a vacant chair next the last comer.
     “Friend up yet?” she inquired, in a voice as bass as Jackson’s own.
     The woman of distinction looked up and smiled; it was a heartbroken smile. Jackson felt as if he would suffocate.
     “She seems most fatiguée to-day,” was the answer—with a strong French accent!
     “Pity she isn’t stronger; then she could work up some of the things she told me yesterday, herself,” said the newspaper woman. “We had an interesting talk. I got several very valuable items from her.”
     “Iss de young friend quite well, an’ de babee?”
     “Oh, yes,” said the newspaperwoman. “She is out hunting her key. She lost it somehow or other last night in the grass, and I had to get the chambermaid’s pass-key and unfasten her door for her, after I went up to bed.”
     “Good gracious,” thought Jackson in a sort of horror; “it is that little married woman with the baby!” He pushed back his chair and hastily left the room.
     When he reached the outer door he turned involuntarily to a spot of bright color at the end of the porch. It was a little red Tam o’ Shanter perched to one side on the dark hair of the young married woman. She was searching in the grass of the terrace for something. At the first glance Jackson thought she had a long white linen bag under her arm, but it proved to be the baby; his little black head coming up in front, turned from side to side with eyes full of intelligence, and his tiny hidden feet kicked lustily under the white draperies behind.
     “Look under the porch, Oswald,” she was saying to the youngest of “Ellen’s” boys. “It might have been blown under.”
     “Can I help you?” said Jackson, coming forward.
     She stopped her search, and looked up at him, one child under her arm, the other dragging at her hand, her face irregular, charming, full of amusement, and candid as a child’s.
     “Oh! do you know what happened to me last night?” she called in high, clear tones. “I was locked in! Just before that dreadful storm came up, I gave the key to the baby to play with, and he threw it out of the window, and there I was! I couldn’t make any one hear on account of the thunder, and I didn’t get the door unlocked until my aunt came up from the parlor. Oh, Oswald, you dear! You’ve found it”—as Oswald made a little plunge down the terrace, dragging her with him, and picked the key from behind a tuft of weeds.
     “Come, let’s go in to breakfast! I didn’t dare tell my aunt it was the baby,” she called to Jackson over her shoulder, “she hates him so.”
     “Such a happy voice!” said Jackson to himself. “No, it can’t be she!”
     He looked all about him.
     Every trace of the tempest was obliterated in the joy of the morning. From each blade of grass the moisture hung in diamonds, and the water of the cove, now at high tide, laughed in the sunshine. At the far corner of the lawn, where the trees stood massed in a solid wall of green, towered a tall Lombardy poplar, turning the white faces of its leaves to the breeze.
     Jackson hastily descended the steps, and began to cross toward it. All at once with a sharp swing he altered his course and returned to the house. Before noon of that day he had gone to the mountains.
     Against the wide door of the studio and over the broad north window the landlady piled her winter wood, shutting out the views. But the little door at the south was always open.
     One evening, late in the season, when the friendly party at the house was breaking up, and the idle summer had flown, a woman ran swiftly down the path in the twilight, and crossing the threshold stood for a moment in the darkness, wringing her hands. Then silently she hastened up the hill again, passing among the gray autumnal shadows of the trees, with the deep hood of her nun-like garment drawn far over her head.

“A Portion of the Tempest” by Mary Tappan Wright was originally published in Scribner’s Magazine v. 15, no. 6, Jun. 1894; reprinted in A Truce, and Other Stories by Mary Tappan Wright, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, June 1895; second edition edited by Brian Kunde, Mountain House, Fleabonnet Press, 2008.

The work of Mary Tappan Wright here reproduced is in the public domain. All other material in this edition is ©2008 by Brian Kunde.

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1st web edition posted 11/11/2008
This page last updated 11/11/2008.

Published by Fleabonnet Press.