The House of Shame
By H. B. Marriott Watson
THERE was no immediate response to his knock, and, ere he
rapped again, Farrell turned stupidly and took in a vision of
the street. The morning sunshine streamed on Piccadilly ; a
snap of air shook the tree-tops in the Park ; and beyond, the
greensward sparkled with dew. The traffic roared along the road-
way, but the cabs upon the stand rode like ships at anchor on a
windless ocean. Below him flowed the tide of passengers. The dis-
passion of that drifting scene affected him by contrast with his own
warm flood of emotions ; the picture—the trees, the sunlight, and
the roar—imprinted itself sharply upon his brain. His glance flitted
among the faces, and wandered finally to the angle of the crossway,
by which his cab was sauntering leisurely. With a shudder he
wheeled face-about to the door, and raised the clapper. For a
moment yet he stood in hesitation. The current of his thoughts
ran like a mill-race, and a hundred discomforting impressions
flowed together. The house lay so quiet ; the sunlight struck the
window-panes with a lively and discordant glare. He put his
hand into his pocket and withdrew a latchkey, twiddling it
restlessly between his fingers. With a thrust and a twist the door
would slip softly open, and he might enter unobserved. He
entertained the impulse but a moment. He dared not enter in
The Yellow Book—Vol. IV. D
that nocturnal fashion ; he would prefer admittance publicly, in
the eye of all, as one with nothing to conceal, with no black
shame upon him. His return should be ordinary, matter-of-fact ;
he would choose that Jackson should see him cool and unperturbed.
In some way, too, he vaguely hoped to cajole his memory, and
to ensnare his willing mind into a belief that nothing unusual had
He knocked with a loud clatter, feet sounded in the hall, and
the door fell open. Jackson looked at him with no appearance
” Good morning, Jackson,” he said, kicking his feet against the
step. He entered, and laid his umbrella in the stand. ” Is your
mistress up yet ? ” he asked.
” Yes, sir,” said the servant, placidly; ” she’s in the morning-
room, sir, I think.”
There was no emotion in the man’s voice ; his face wore no
aspect of suspicion or inquiry, and somehow Farrell felt already
relieved. To-day was as yesterday, unmarked by any grave event.
” Ah ! ” he said, and passed down the hall. At the foot of the
stairs he paused again, with a pretence of dusting something from
his coat, and winced at the white gleam of his dress-shirt.
Nothing stirred in the house save a maid brushing overhead, and
for a while he lingered. He still shrank from encountering his
wife, and there was his room for refuge until he had put on a quieter
habit of mind. His clothes damned him so loudly that all the
world must guess at a glance. And then again the man resumed
his manliness ; he would not browbeat himself for the mere know-
ledge of his own shame ; and, passing rapidly along the hall, he
pushed open the door of the morning-room.
A woman rose on his entrance, with a happy little cry.
” George ! ” she said, ” Dear George, I’m so glad.”
She put up her arms and lifted her face to him. Farrell
shivered ; the invitation repelled him ; in the moment of that
innocent welcome the horror of his sin rose foul before him. He
touched her lightly on the cheek and withdrew a little distance.
” I’m not a nice object, Letty,” he faltered ; ” see what a mess
the beastly mud has made of me. And look at my fine dress-
clothes.” He laughed with constraint. ” You’d think I lived in
” Oh, dearest, I was so disappointed,” said the girl ; ” I sat up
ever so late for you. But I was so tired. I’m always tired now.
And at last I yawned myself to sleep. Where ever have you been ? ”
The colour flickered in Farrell’s face, and his fingers trembled
on the table.
” Oh, I couldn’t get away from Fowler’s, you know. Went
there after the club, and lost my train like a fool.”
His uneasy eyes rose furtively to her face. He was invested
with morbid suspicions, suspicions of her suspicion ; but the girl’s
gaze rested frankly upon him, and she smiled pleasantly.
” That dreadful club ! You shan’t go there again for a week,
darling. I’m so glad you’ve come. I was nearly being very
frightened about you. I’ve been so lonely.” She took him by
the arm. ” Poor dear, and you had to come all through London
with those things on. Didn’t people stare ? ”
” I will change them,” he said abruptly, and turned to leave.
” What ! ” she said archly, ” Would you go without—and I
haven’t seen you for so long.” She threw her arms about his neck.
” For God’s sake—No, no, Letty, don’t touch me,” he broke
The girl’s lips parted, and a look of pain started into her face.
” I mean ” he explained quickly, ” I am so very dirty, dear.
You’d soil your pretty frock.”
” Silly ! “
” Silly ! ” she returned smiling, ” and it isn’t a pretty frock. I
can’t wear pretty frocks any longer,” she added mournfully.
He dropped his eyes before the flush that sprang into her cheeks,
and left the room hurriedly.
His shame followed him about all day, dogging him like a
shadow. It lurked in corners and leaped out upon him. Some-
times it crept away and hovered in the remoter distance ; he had
almost forgotten its attendance ; and then in the thick of his
laughing conversation it fell upon him black once more. It
skulked ever within call, dwindled at times, grey and insignificant.
When he stopped to exchange a sentence in the street, it slid
away ; he moved on solitary, and it ran out before him, dark
and portentous. Remorse bit deep into him, remorse and a
certain fear of discovery. The hours with his wife were filled
with uneasy thoughts, and he would fain have variegated the
cheerless monotony of his conscience by adding a guest to his
dinner-table. But from this course he was deterred by delicacy ;
for, at his suggestion, Letty looked at him, winced a little, smiled
ever so faintly, and, with an ineffable expression of tender em-
barrassment, drew her dressing-gown closer round her body. He
could not press the indignity upon her young and sensitive
But the fall of night, which he had so dreaded, brought him a
change of mood. The table was stocked with the fine fruits of a
rare intelligence ; the plate shone with the white linen ; and
all the comforts waited upon his appetite. It was no gross
content that overtook him, but the satisfaction of a body gently
appeased. His sin had faded wonderfully into the distance, had
grown colder, and no longer burned intolerably upon his con-
science. He found himself at times regarding it with reluctant
equanimity. He stared at it with the eyes of a judicial stranger.
Men were so wide apart from women ; they were ruled by
another code of morals. If this were a pity, it fell at least of
their nature and their history. Was not this the prime lesson
science had taught the world ? But still the shame flickered up
before him ; he could watch its appearances more calmly, could
reason and debate of it, but it was still impertinently persistent.
And yet he was more certain of himself. To-morrow the discom-
fort would return, no doubt, but with enfeebled spirit ; he would
suffer a very proper remorse for some time—perhaps a week—and
then the affair would dismiss itself, and his memory would own
the dirty blot no longer. As the meal went forward his temper
rose. He smiled upon his wife with less diffidence ; he conversed
with less effort. But strangely, as he mended, and the first horror
of his guilt receded, he had a leaning to confession. Before, he
had felt that pardon was impossible, but now that he was come
within range of forgiving himself, he began to desire forgiveness
from Letty also. The inclination was vague and formless, yet
it moved him towards the subject in an aimless way. He found
himself wondering, with a throb in his blood, how she would
receive his admissions, and awoke with the tail of her last
sentence in his ears.
” I’m so glad the servants have gone. I much prefer being
alone with you, George.”
” Yes,” he murmured absently, ” they’re a nuisance, aren’t
they ? ”
She pushed the claret to him, and he filled his glass abstractedly.
Should he tell her now, he was thinking, and let penitence and
pardon crown a terrible day ? At her next words he looked up,
” Had Mr. Fowler any news of Edward ? ” she asked idly.
The direction of her thoughts was his ; he played with the
thought of confession ; his mind itched to be freed of its
” Oh no, we were too busy,” he laughed uneasily. ” The fact
is, you see, Letty dear—I have a confession to make——
She regarded him inquiringly, even anxiously. He had taken
the leap without his own knowledge ; the words refused to frame
upon his tongue. Of a sudden the impulse fled, screaming for its
life, and he was brought up, breathless and scared, upon the brink
of a giddy precipice.
” What confession, darling ? ” she asked in a voice which showed
The current of his ideas stopped in full flow ; where a hundred
explanations should have rushed about his brain, he could find not
one poor lie for use.
” What do you mean, dearest ? ” said his wife, her face
straightened with anxiety.
Farrell paled and flushed warm. ” Oh nothing, my darling
child,” he said with a hurried laugh ; ” we played baccarat.”
” George ! ” she cried reproachfully. ” How could you, when
you had promised ? ”
” I don’t know,” he stumbled on feverishly. ” I was weak, I
suppose, and they wanted it, and—God knows I’ve never done it
before, since I promised, Letty,” be broke off sharply.
The girl said nothing at the moment, but sat staring at the
table-cloth, and then reached out a hand and touched his tremulous
” There, there, dear boy,” she murmured soothingly, ” I won’t
be cross ; only please, please, don’t break your word again,”
” No, I won’t, I won’t,” muttered the man.
” I daresay it was hard, but it cost you your train, George, and
you were punishe by losing my society for one whole night. So
there—it’s all right.” She pressed the hand softly, her face
ing under the candle-light with some soft emotion.
Farrell withdrew his arm gently.
” Have some more wine, dear,” said his wife.
She raised the bottle, and was replenishing his glass when he
pushed it roughly aside.
” No more,” he said shortly, ” no more.”
The wound broke open in his conscience, red and raw. The
peace which had gathered upon him lifted ; he was shaken into
fears and tremors, and that devilish memory, which had retired so
far, came back upon him, urgent and instant, proclaiming him a
coward and a scoundrel. He sat silent and disturbed, with his
eyes upon the crumbs, among which his fingers were playing rest-
lessly. Letty rose, and passed to the window.
” How dark it has fallen ! ” she said, peeping through the
blinds, ” and the rain is pelting so hard. I’m glad I’m not out.
How cold it is ! Do stir the fire, dearest.”
Farrell rose, and went to the chimneypiece. He struck the
poker through the crust of coal, and the flames leapt forth and
roared about the pieces. The heat burned in his face. There came
upon him unbidden the recollection of those days, a year ago,
when he and Letty had nestled side by side, watching for fortunes
in the masses of that golden core. She had seen palaces and stately
domes ; her richer imagination culled histories from the glowing
embers ; while he, searching and searching in vain, had been
content to receive her fancies and sit by simply with his arm
about her. The thought touched him to a smile as he mused in
the flood of the warmth.
Letty still stood peering out upon the street, and her voice
came to him, muffled, from behind the curtain.
” Oh, those poor creatures ! How cold and how wet they must
be ! Look, George, dear. Why don’t they go indoors out of
the rain ? ”
Farrell, the smile still upon his lips, turned his face towards
her as he stooped.
” Who, child ? “
” Why, those women,” said his wife, pitifully, ” why don’t they
go home ? They keep coming backwards and forwards. I’ve seen
the same faces pass several times. And they look so bleak and
wretched, with those horrid tawdry dresses. No one ought to be
The poker fell from Farrell’s hand with a clatter upon the
” Damn them ! ” he cried, in a fierce, harsh voice.
The girl pulled the curtain back, and looked at him.
” Darling,” she said, plaintively, ” what is it ? Why do you
say such horrible things ? ”
Farrell’s face was coloured with passion ; he stood staring
angrily at her.
” George, George,” she said, coming to him, ” why are you so
angry with me ? Oughtn’t I to be sorry for them ? I can’t help
it ; it seems so sad. I know they’re not nice people. They’re
dreadful, dear, of course. I’ve always heard that,” and she laid her
face against his breast. ” But it can’t be good for them to be out
this wretched night, even if they are wicked.”
She pressed against him as for sympathy, but Farrell made no
response. A fearful tension held his arms and body in a kind of
paralysis ; but presently he patted her head softly, and put her
gently from him.
” I’m in a very bad temper to-night, dear ” he said, slowly. ” I
suppose I ought to go to bed and hide myself till I’m better.”
She clung to him still. ” Don’t put me away, George. I don’t
mind if you are in a bad temper. I love you, dearest. Kiss me,
dear, kiss me ; I get so frightened now.”
A spasm contracted his features ; he bent over and kissed her ;
then he turned away.
” I will go and read,” he said ; ” I shall be better then.”
She ran after him. ” Let me come too, George. I will sit
still and won’t disturb you. You can’t think how I hate being
alone now. I can’t understand it. Do let me come, for you
know I must go to bed early, I was up so late last night.”
The pleading words struck him like a blow. ” Come, then,”
he answered, taking her hand.
” And you may swear if you want to very much,” she whispered,
laughing, as they passed through the door.
The sun rose bright and clear ; the sky, purged of its vapours,
shone as fine as on a midsummer day. With this complaisance of
the weather Farrell’s blacker mood had passed. His weak nature,
sensitive as it was to the touch of circumstances, recovered easily
from their influences. Sleep had renewed the elastic qualities of
his mind, and the smiling heaven set him in great spirits. Letty,
too, seemed better, and ate and talked with a more natural gaiety.
The nightmare of the previous evening was singularly dim and
characterless. He tried to recall the terror of it, and wondered
why it had so affected him, with every circumstance of happiness
around—his smiling wife, a comfortable house, and the pleasant
distractions of fortune. The gulf that opened between Letty
and himself was there by the will of nature. He had but flung
aside the conventions that concealed it. It was a horrid gap, but
he had not contrived it. The sexes kept different laws, and he
himself, in all likelihood, came nearer to what she would require of
him than any other man. He assured himself with conviction
that he would forget altogether in a few days.
The day was pleasantly filled, but not too full for the elaboration
of these arguments. They soothed him ; he grew philosophic ; he
discussed the conditions of love with himself ; he even broached
the problem in an abstract way over his coffee at the club. For
the first time he thought that he had clearly determined the nature
of his affection for Letty. It was integral and single, it was
built upon a pack of sentiments, it was very tender, and it would
wear extremely well ; but it was not that first high passion which
he had once supposed. The unfamiliarity of that earlier
exaltation had deceived him into a false definition of Love. There
was none such in circulation among human bodies. There were
degrees upon degrees of affection, and Letty and he stood very
high in rank ; but to conceive of their love as something emanating
from a superior sphere outside relation to the world and other human
beings was the absurd and delightful flight of heedless passion.
He had laid his ghost, and came home to his dinner in an
excellent humour. The girl looked forlorn and weary, but
brightened a good deal on his return. With her for audience he
chattered in quite a sparkling temper. Letty said little, but
regarded him often with great shy eyes. He looked up some-
times to find them upon him with a wistful, even a pleading, gaze.
She watched every movement he took jealously. But she was
obviously content, and even gay in a sad little fashion. He did not
understand, but his spirits were too newly blythe to dwell upon a
puzzle. He noticed with scarce a wonder little starts of pettishness
which he had never seen before. They flashed and were gone, and
the large eyes still followed him with tenderness. She rested her
arm across the table in the middle of a story he was telling, and
rearranged his silver.
” You must not cross your knives,” she said playfully. ” That’s
a bad omen.” He laughed and continued his narrative.
Left to himself, Farrell lit a cigarette and filled his glass with
wine. The current of his spirits had passed, but he felt extremely
comfortable, and very shortly his mind stole after his wife, who
was playing softly in the further room. He could see the yellow
fabric of the distant curtains gleaming softly in the lamp-light.
He had a desire for a certain air, but could not bring himself to
interrupt. An atmosphere of content enwrapped him, and he
leaned back lazily in his chair. Reflections came to him easily.
Surely there was no greater comfort than this serene domestic
happiness with its pleasant round of change. He had set Letty’s
love and his in a place too low for justice. It held a sweeter
fragrance, it was touched with higher light, than the commoner
affections of common people. A genial warmth flooded his soul,
and his heart nestled into the comfort of desire. He was hot
with wine, and his whole being thrilled with the content of his own
reflections. He asked no better than this quiet ecstacy, repeated
though a suave untroubled life. The personal charm of that fine
body, the intimate distinctions of its subtle grace, the flow of that
soft voice, the sweet attention of that devoted human soul—these
were his lot by fortune. They conducted him upon a future
which was strangely attractive. He had loved her for some months
more than a year, and earlier that day he had summoned his
bridal thoughts down to a pedestrian level ; but how in this hour of
sudden illumination, flushed with the kindly influence of his wine,
his afternoon fancy seemed to him ungenerously clipt and tame.
Letty stood for what was noble in his narrow life ; she invited
him upon a high ideal way. If he were framed of grosser clay,
it was she who would refine the fabric. The thought struck
him sharply. He had learned to dispose his error in its proper
place, among the sins, and he was not going to assign penalties
unduly ; but the bare fact came home to him that he was
unworthy of this woman’s love, that no man deserved it. He
had evilly entreated her, but he would rise to a new level in her
company and with her aid. She should renew in him the faded
qualities of innocence and pure-heartedness which as a child he
had once possessed. He would ask her mercy, and use her help.
Her pardon should purge him of his dishonour ; she should take him
to her heart, and perfect faith should rest between them.
The vision he had conceived drew his attention strongly ; he
seemed to himself, and in a measure was, ennobled by this aspira-
tion. Out of the fulness of his penitence he now desired the
confession he had feared but a little time before. And, as he
reflected, the notes of the piano changed, and Letty shot into
a gay chansonnette, trilling softly over the sharp little runs. The
careless leisure of the air took off his thoughts with it. It
would be a bad world in which they might not be happy. The
story would hurt her, he was sure ; indeed, he could conjure before
him the start of pain in her eyes. But after the shock she would
resume her trust, and forget, as he was forgetting. He was entirely
certain of her love, and, that secure, nothing could divide them.
Perhaps she were better left to herself till she recovered from the
blow ; he would go away for a day or two. It might even take
her worse than he expected, and he would have dull faces and
tearful reproaches for a week or more. If this fell out, it was his
punishment, and he would bear it in humility.
As his thoughts ran he had not noticed that the music ceased,
and Letty’s voice broke on his reverie.
” Mayn’t I sit with you, dear,” she pleaded. ” It’s so solitary
in the big room ! ”
” Why, of course, sweetheart,” said Farrell gently ; ” come in,
and close the door ; we’ll be snug for a little while in here.”
Letty stood by his chair and stroked his head.
” You never came to say good-night to me last night,” she said
Farrell put up his hand and took hers.
” Dearest, you must forgive me. I—I was very tired, and had
” Ah, that was the penalty for staying up so late,” she replied
Farrell smiled and patted her hand.
” But you will come to-night, won’t you ? ” she urged.
” Dear heart, of course I will,” he said, smiling indulgently.
” I’ll come and have a long talk with you.”
His wife sighed, in part, as it seemed, with satisfaction, and
leaned her chin upon his hair.
” Life is very curious, isn’t it, George ? ” she said meditatively,
her eyes gazing in abstraction at the wall. ” There are so many
things we don’t know. I never dreamed——
Farrell patted her hand again, affectionately, reassuringly.
” I couldn’t have guessed,” she went on, dreamily. ” It is all
so strange and painful, and yet not quite painful. I wonder if
you understand, George.”
” I think I do, dear,” said he softly.
” Ah, but how can you quite ? Girls are so ignorant. Do
you think they ought to be told ? I shouldn’t have liked to be
told, though. I should have been so afraid, but now somehow I’m
not afraid—not quite.”
A note of pain trembled through her voice ; she drew a sharp
breath and shivered.
” George, you don’t think I shall die, do you, George ? Oh,
George, if I should die ! ”
She fell on her knees at his feet, looking into his face
with searching eyes that pleaded for comfort. He drew her
head towards him, a gulp in his throat, and caressed her
” There, child, there ! ” he said soothingly, ” you are frightening
yourself. Of course not, silly one, of course not.”
She crouched against his knees, and he stroked her hair tenderly.
Pity pulled at his heart, and at the touch of her he was warmed
with affection. He had no means of consolation save this
smoothing motion of the palm, but he yearned for some deeper
expression of his love and sympathy. In the silence his thoughts
turned to their former occupation, and he felt nearer than ever
to his wife. He would tell her when she had recovered.
She raised her head at length and looked at him.
” Oh, you will think I’m not brave ” she said tremulously,
” but I am brave—indeed, George. It is only sometimes that I
get this fit of depression, and it overbears me. But it isn’t me ;—
it is something quite foreign within me : I was never a coward,
” No, darling,” he answered, ” of course you are not a coward.
You’re brave, very brave ; you’re my dear brave wife.” She
smiled at him faintly. ” And you know, Letty,” he went on,
still with his hand upon her head. ” I think we’ve been very
happy together, and shall be very happy together, always. There
is so much that binds us to one another. You love me, dear,
don’t you ? and you could never doubt that I love you, could
you ? ”
Letty shook her head. He cast down his eyes, patting the
” And I think you know that well enough and are certain
enough of that not to misjudge me,” he resumed quietly. ” If I
have made a mistake, Letty, it is not you who will be hardest
on me, I am sure. It is I myself. If I have fallen into a
seeming disloyalty, it is not I, as you will believe and understand,
but something, as you said just now, quite foreign within me.
For I could only be true and loyal and—”
He hesitated, raising his shameful eyes to her.
” What—what is it, George ? ” she asked anxiously, ” what
have you done ? ” His hand rose and fell mechanically upon her
head. He parted his lips with an effort, and continued. The
task was harder than he had thought.
” It is right ” he said slowly, ” that we should have no secrets
from one another; it is necessary, dear, that we should bear all things
in common. To be man and wife, and to love each other, calls for
this openness between us.” He stumbled on the threshold of his
confession ; the pain of this slow progression suddenly unnerved
him ; all at once he took it with a rush. ” Darling,” he cried
quickly and on a sharper note, ” I want to confess something to
you, and I want your forgiveness. That night I was away I
did not spend with Fowler. I spent it—
” You spent it gambling ? ” she asked, in a low voice.
” No,” he said with a groan, ” I spent it in another house—I
spent it—I spent it in shame.”
He breathed the better for the words, even though a terrible
silence reigned in the room. At least the worst part of his
penalty was undergone, for the explanation was over.
But when she spoke he realised, with a sense of dread, that he
had not passed the ordeal.
” I don’t understand, George,” she said in a voice thick with
trouble. ” What is it ? Where did you stay ? ”
The strain was too great for his weak nerves. ” For God’s
sake, Letty,” he broke out, ” try to understand me and forgive
me. I dined too well ; I was almost drunk. I left the club with
Fowler very late. Oh, it’s hideous to have to tell you. I met
some one I had never seen since—Oh, long before I loved you. I
could not pass her. I—O God ! can’t you understand ? Don’t
make me explain so horribly.”
The tale ran from him in short and broken sentences. His
fingers twisted nervously about a wisp of her hair ; his gaze had
nowhere rest. She looked full into his face with frightened
” Do you mean—those women—we saw ? ” she asked at last,
in a voice pitched so low that he hardly heard.
” Yes,” he whispered ; and then again there was silence. The
agony of the suspense was intolerable. ” You will never forgive
me,” he muttered.
He felt her trembling hands grow cold under his touch ; and as
she still kept silence, he dropped his slow, reluctant glance to meet
hers. At the sight of the terrified eyes he put his hands towards
” Letty, Letty,” he cried, ” for God’s sake, don’t look like that.
Speak to me ; say you forgive me. Dearest, darling, forgive me.”
She rose as if unconscious of her action, and, walking slowly to
the fireplace, stood looking at the red flames.
” Letty,” he called, ” don’t spurn me like this. Darling,
darling ! ”
His attitude, as he waited for her response, there in the centre of
the room, was one of singular despair. His mouth was wried
with an expression of suffering ; he endured all the pangs of a
sensitive nature which has been always wont to shelter itself from
pain. But still she made no answer. And then she seemed
suddenly taken with a great convulsion ; her body trembled and
shivered ; she wheeled half-way round with a cry ; her eyes shone
” George, George ! ” she screamed on a horrid note of agony,
and swaying for a second to and fro, fell hard across the fender and
against the live bars of the grate.
Farrell sprang across the intervening space and swung her head
away from the angry flames. She lay limp and still upon the
hearth-rug, a smear of black streaking her white arm from the
elbow, the smell of her frizzled gown fusing with the odour of
burned hair. Her face was set white, the mouth peaked with a
spasm of pain ; the eyelids had not fully fallen, and a dreadful
glimmer of light flickered from a slit in the unconscious eyes. He
stood, struck weak and silent for a moment, and then flung himself
upon the floor, and hung over the body.
” Letty, Letty ! ” he cried. ” Letty, Letty ! Oh, my God !
have I killed you ? ” The flesh twitched upon the drawn face, and
a moan issued from her lips. Farrell leapt to the bell-rope and
pulled fast ; and away in some distant depth the peals jangled in
alarm. A servant threw open the door and rushed into the room.
” A doctor, a doctor ! ” cried Farrell, vehemently. ” Get a
doctor at once. Your mistress is ill. Do you hear, Jackson.
God, man, don’t stare at me. Go, go ! ”
As the door closed Farrell’s glance stole back to the floor. His
breath came fast as he contemplated the body. It lay there as
though flung by the hand of death, and wore a pitiful aspect. It
forbade him ; it seemed to lower at him ; he could not associate it
with life, still less with Letty. It owned some separate and
horrible existence of itself. The flames mounting in the fire
threw out great flashes upon the recumbent figure, and the pale
flesh took on a moving colour. Hours seem to pass as he
stood beside her, and not until the quivering eyelids denoted a
return of life did he gain courage to touch her. With that
she became somehow familiar again ; she was no more the blank
eidolon of a woman. He put his arms beneath her and slowly
The Yellow Book—Vol. IV. E
lifted the reviving body to the sofa. The blood renewed its
course in the arteries, and she opened her eyes dully and closed
The entrance of the doctor dispelled for a while the gloomy
thoughts that environed him. The man was a stranger, but was
welcomed as an intimate.
” She has had a shock,” said Farrell. ” You will understand.
It was my doing,” he added.
The sharp change from the dreadful reveries of his solitude
turned Farrell to a different creature. He was animated with
action ; he bustled about on errands ; he ran for brandy, and his
legs bore him everywhere, hardly with his knowledge. And as
the examination proceeded he grew strangely cheerful, watching
the face of the physician and drawing inferences to his fancy. He
laughed lightly at the doubt if she could be lifted to her room.
” Yes, of course,” said he.
” The stairs are steep, sir,” said Letty’s maid.
He smiled, and drew back the cuffs from his strong wrists.
Stooping, he picked up his wife lightly, and strode upstairs.
As the doctor was leaving, Farrell waylaid him in the hall,
and took him to the door. The visitor drew on his gloves and
spoke of the weather ; the sky threatened rain again and the night
was growing black. Farrell agreed with him hurriedly, adding a
few remarks of no interest, as though to preserve that air of un-
concern which the doctor seemed to take for granted ; and then,
with his hand on the door, abruptly touched his subject.
” Is there any danger ? ” he asked.
The doctor paused and buttoned his glove.
” She is very sensitive,” said the doctor.
” It was my doing,” said Farrell after a moment, dropping his
eyes to the floor.
” It is a dangerous time,” said the doctor. ” Very little may
do damage. We can’t be too careful in these affairs.”
He finished with his gloves, and put out his hand.
” Have I,” stammered Farrell, ” have I done irreparable
harm ? ”
” She is very delicate,” said the doctor.
” What will it mean ? ” asked the husband, lowering his voice.
The doctor smiled and touched him with his fingers. ” If you
were to cut your finger, my friend, a doctor would never prophesy.
Events are out of all proportions to causes.” He put his own
hand upon the latch. ” I will call to-morrow early,” he said,
” and will send a nurse at once.”
Farrell took his arm in a hard grip.
” Is she dying ? ” he asked hoarsely.
The doctor moved impatiently. ” My dear sir, certainly not,”
he answered hastily. He threw open the door and emerged into
the night. ” I would not distress myself with unnecessary fancies,
Mr. Farrell,” said he, as he dropped down the steps.
Farrell walked down the hall to the foot of the stairs. He laid a
hand upon the balustrade uncertainly. The house was engrossed in
silence ; then from the floor above came a sharp cry, as of a
creature in pain, and a door shut softly. Trembling, he rushed
into the dining-room, and hid his face in his hands. Yet that
weak device was no refuge from his hideous thoughts. His
brain was crowded with fears and terrors ; in the solitude of that
chamber he was haunted by frightful ghosts. The things stood
upon the white cloth, like spectres ; the lamp burned low, and
splashes of flame rose and fell in the ashes. He rose and poured
some brandy into a glass. The muscles jumped in his hands, and
the liquor spilled over the edges and stained his shirt, but the
draught strung up his nerves, and brighter thoughts flowed in his
mind. He pulled out a chair before the fire and sat down,
meditating more quietly.
An hour later he was disturbed from his reflections by the
passage of feet along the hall. His ears took in the sound with
a fret of new anxiety ; it portended fresh horrors to him. But
in a little he realised from the voices without that the nurse had
arrived, and a feeling of relief pervaded him. The footsteps
passed upstairs. He sat passive within the arms of his chair and
listened. A fresh hope of succour lay in those feet. The doctor
and the nurse and the maid were doing what was vital ; in their
attentions was the promise of rescue. It was as if he himself
took no part in the tragedy ; he sat as a spectator in the stalls,
and viewed the action only with the concern of an interested
visitor. He filled another tumbler with spirit.
The alcohol fired his blood, and raised him superior to the petty
worry of his nerves. He drank and stared in the embers and con-
sidered. Letty was ill in a manner not uncommon ; even though
it threatened the sacrifice of one life the malady was not inevitably
mortal. He had been bidden to discharge his fears, and brandy
had discharged them for him. He turned to fill his glass again ;
the fumes were in his head, but at that moment the recollection
of his last excess flashed suddenly upon him, and, with an inarticu-
late scream of rage, he dashed the bottle to the floor, and ground
the glass under his feet. Rising irresolutely he made his way up-
stairs, and paused before Letty’s door. At his knock the nurse
came out and greeted him—a strange tall woman with hard
” My wife,” he asked—” is Mrs. Farrell better ? “
She pushed him gently away. ” I think so,” she said ; ” we shall
see. The worst is over, perhaps. You understand. Hush, she is
sleeping now at last.” He lingered still, and she made a gesture
to dismiss him, her voice softening. ” Doctor Green will tell
you best to-morrow.”
Farrell entered his room and took off his coat. His ears, grown
delicate to the merest suspicion, seemed to catch a sound upon
the stillness, and opening the door he looked out. All was quiet ;
the great lamp upon the landing swung noiselessly, shedding its
dim beams upon the pannelled walls. He shut to the door, and
once more was in the wilderness of his own thoughts.
The doctor came twice that next day. In the morning a white
and anxious face met him on the stairs and scanned him eagerly.
” She is going on, going on ” said he deliberately.
” Then the danger is past ? ” cried Farrell, his heart beating
with new vigour.
” No doctor can say that,” said the doctor slowly. ” She is as
well as I expected to find her. It was very difficult.”
” But will she—” began Farrell, stammering.
” Well ? ” exclaimed the doctor sharply.
” Will she live ? “
The doctor’s eye avoided his. ” Those things are never certain,”
he said. ” You must hope. I know more than you, and I
” Yes, yes,” cried Farrell impatiently. ” But, my God, doctor,”
he burst forth, ” will she die ? ”
The doctor glanced at him and then away. ” It is possible,”
he said gravely.
Farrell leaned back against the handrail and mechanically
watched him pass the length of the hall and let himself out. Some
one touched his arm, and he looked up.
” Come, sir, come,” said the nurse. ” You musn’t give way.
Nothing has happened. She is very weak, but I’ve seen weaker
folk pull through.”
He descended the stairs and entered the drawing-room. The
room looked vacant ; the inanimate furniture seemed to keep silence
and stare at him ; he felt every object in that place was privy to
his horrible story. They regarded him sternly ; he seemed to
feel the hush in which they had talked together, ere he entered.
He could not bear the condemnation of that silence, and sat
down at the piano, softly fingering the notes. But the voices of
those chords cried to him of Letty. It was her favourite instru-
ment, the purchase of her own means, and every resonance
reminded him of her. It was by her hand that melodies had been
framed and fashioned from the strings ; his was an alien touch.
They wept for their mistress underneath his fingers ; he struck at
random, and melancholy cadences mourned at him. They knew
his secret, too. With a horrid, miserable laugh he got up, and
putting on his hat, went forth and down to his club.
The change did not distract his thoughts ; the burden lay as
heavy upon his mind, but at least the walk was an occupation.
He came back with a bundle of letters which his indolent nature
had allowed to accumulate with the porter, and, retiring to his
smoking-room, made a manful effort to re-engage his attention.
With this work and the hour of lunch, the time passed until the
doctor’s second visit. He heard the arrival, and, putting down his
pen, waited in a growing fever for the sound of feet descending on
the stairs. The smoking-room lay back from the hall, but
Farrell flung open his door and listened. The day was falling in
and the shadows were deepening about him, but still the doctor
made no sign. At length he left his chair and called Jackson.
The doctor had gone. He must have left without noise, for
Jackson had not heard him ; it was a maid who had seen
him go. The discovery threw Farrell into fresh agitation ; his
anger mingled with terror. He had wanted a report of the illness ;
he would have the doctor back at once ; he had a thousand ques-
tions to put. Rushing up the stairs he rapped at the door of the
sick room, softly and feverishly. When the nurse presented her-
self he burst out impetuously. He must come in ; he would see
his wife ; he was persistently held in ignorance of her condition,
and he demanded admittance as a right. The nurse stood aside
and beckoned him forward without a word. Her face was set
harder than ever ; she looked worn and weary.
Farrell entered softly, and with furtive fears.
” You may stay if you will be still,” said the nurse. Farrell
looked at her inquiringly, beseechingly. ” No,” she added, ” you
will not disturb her. She has been put to sleep. She suffered a
good deal. It is a bad case.”
” Will she live ? ” whispered Farrell.
The nurse shook her head. ” She will not suffer much more.
She will sleep. But the doctor will come in the morning. We
have done everything.”
Farrell shuddered, and drew near the bed. The lamp burned
low upon the dressing-table, and the chamber was in a soft
twilight. He could not see her face, but her dark hair was
scattered over the white pillows. A slow slight breathing filled
the room. The window rattled with a passing noise. Farrell sat
down upon a chair beyond the bed, and the nurse resumed her
place by the fire, warming her hands. Outside, the traffic passed
with low and distant rumbling.
* * * * *
At the sound the nurse stole stealthily to the door and
” It is your dinner,” she whispered, turning to Farrell.
He shook his head. ” I will stay here,” said he in a monotone.
” You had better go,” she urged. ” You will want it. You
can do nothing.” He shook his head again, impatiently. She
yawned, closed the door, and, with a little sigh of weariness,
retraced her steps to the hearth. Farrell rose and followed her.
” Come,” he said, bending over her, ” you are very tired. Go
and rest in the next room. There is nothing to be done. I will
call you. Let me watch. I wish it.” She looked at him in
doubt. ” Yes, yes,” he pleaded. ” Don’t you see ? I must be
here, and you want sleep.”
She glanced round the room, as if to assure herself that there
was nothing to require her.
” Very well,” she assented ; ” but call me soon.” And she
vanished through the doorway like a wraith.
Farrell took his seat and regarded his wife. The breathing came
gently ; masses of dark hair swarmed over the head that
crouched low upon the pillow ; one arm, crossing the face with
shadow, lay reaching toward the brow. The room glowed with a
luminous gloom rather than with light. The figure rested upon its
side, and the soft rise of the hip stood out from the hollows of the
coverlet. In the grate the ashes stirred and clinked ; the street
mumbled without; but within that chamber the stillness hung heavily.
Farrell seemed to hear it deepen, and the quiet air spoke louder to
him, as though charged with some secret and mysterious mission.
He followed the hush with a mind half-vacant and wholly irrele-
vant. But presently the faintest rustle came with a roar upon his
senses, and he sprang to his feet, stricken with sudden terror.
The body moved slightly under its wrappings ; the arm dropped
slowly down the pillow into the darker hollows of the counter-
pane ; the hair fell away ; and the face, relapsing, softly edged
into the twilight.
Farrell stood staring, mute and distracted, upon this piteous
piece of poor humanity. Its contrast with the woman he had
known and loved appalled him. His jaw fell open, his nails
scored into his palms, his eyes bulged beneath his brows. The
face rested, white and withered, among the frillings of her gown ;
unaccustomed lines picked out the cheeks ; the mouth was
drawn pitifully small and pinched with suffering. Even as he
looked she seemed to his scared gaze to shrink and shrivel under
pain. This was not the repose of sleep, releasing from the
burden of sickness ; surely he could see her face and body pricked
over with starts and pangs under his eyes. It seemed to his
morbid thoughts that he could read upon her moving features
the horrible story of that slow disintegration ; in his very sight
the flesh appeared to take on the changing colours of decay. He
withdrew aghast from the proximity ; he blanched and was wrung
with panic. In what place within that breathing human fabric
was death starting upon his dreadful round ? She respired gently,
the heart beat softly, the tissues, yet instinct with life, were re-
builded piece by piece. Wherein lay the secret of that fading life ?
The counterpane stirred faintly, and drew his attention. His
wandering glance went down the length of that swathed body.
The limbs still beat warm with blood, and yet to-morrow they
must stretch out in stiff obedience to strange hands. The fancy
was horrible—a cry burst from him and rang in the still and
changeless chamber. The sound terrified him anew, breaking thus
rudely upon the silence. He feared that she would awake, and
he trembled at the prospect of her speechless eyes. And yet he
had withal a passionate desire to resolve her from this deathly calm,
and to see her once more regarding him with love. She hung
still upon the verge of that great darkness, and one short call
would bring her sharply back. He had but to bend to her ears
and whisper loudly, and that hovering spirit would return. He
stood, a coward, by the bed.
And now the lips in that shrunken face parted suddenly, the
bosom quickened, and the throat rattled with noises. It flashed
upon him that this at last was the article of death, and vainly he
strove to call for help ; his voice stifled in his mouth. She
should not so dissolve at least ; she should breathe freely ; he
would give her air—and, springing with an effort to the window,
he flung it back. The cool air flowed in, and, turning quickly, he
looked down upon the bed.
The eyes had fallen open, and were set upon him, full and wide.
Unnerved already as he was, the change paralysed him, and he
stood for a moment stark and motionless. The fire flared up and
lit the face with colour ; the eyes shone brightly, and he seemed
to see into their deepest corners. There was that in them
from which he recoiled at length slowly and with horror. They
fastened upon him mutely, pleading with him for mercy. They
were like the eyes of a creature hunted beyond a prospect of
defence. Dumbly they dwelt on him, as though in his presence
they had surrendered their last hope. They seemed to wait for
him, submissive to their fate, yet luminous with that despair.
He tried to speak, but the wheels of his being were without his
present rule, and he might only stand and shudder and give back
glance for glance. He looked away, but his fascinated gaze
returned again to those reproaching eyes. They did not waver ;
it was as if they dared not lose their sight of a pitiless enemy. They
recognised him as their butcher. Even through her sleep this
poor weary soul had come to understand his proximity, and had
woke up, in fright at his unseemly neighbourhood.
The lamp sputtered, a tongue of flame shot up the chimney,
and the rank smell of smoke stole through the room. Farrell
retreated to the table, and dressed the wick with trembling fingers.
The act relieved the strain, but when he turned the eyes were watch-
ing still. They bereaved him of his powers, and under the spell of
their strange and horrible attraction he sweated in cold beads.
They burned upon him from the distance, two great hollows of
light, like shining stars, holding that awful look of wistful fear.
There was no room in his mind for any sensation save the one ;
he could not think ; he had no reckoning of the time his agony
endured. But outside, at last, the bell of a clock-tower boomed
far away and some hour was struck. And suddenly it seemed
to him that the lustre of those great eyes grew dimmer ; the look
of sad expectation died slowly away. They stared with a kinder
light. It was his fancy, perhaps, but at least it seemed that
no strange creature now regarded him with unfamiliar terror, but
his own dear Letty watched him again with soft affectionate eyes.
His limbs grew laxer under him, and, with a little sob of relief,
he stole forward, an uncertain smile of greeting growing round his
” Letty ” he whispered, ” my darling, are you better ? “
He drew near the bed, and put out his arm eagerly and
gently ; but in an instant a start rose quickly in her face, the
eyes kindled with a horrible look of panic, and with a faint
repulsive gesture of the hands she shrank deeper into the wrap-
pings. A little sigh followed ; the limbs fell slowly back, and
the eyes, with their dreadful terror, stared vacantly into Farrell’s
The coverlet went on rustling as the bed-clothes settled down.
Watson, H.B. Marriott [Henry Brereton]. “The House of Shame.” The Yellow Book, vol. 4, January 1895, pp. 53-79. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Edition, 2019. https://1890s.ca/YBV4_watson_shame/