I had no sooner entered the house than I knew something
was wrong. Though I had never been in so splendid a place
before--it was one of those big houses just off Fifth
Avenue--I had a suspicion from the first that the
magnificence covered a secret disturbance. I was always
quick to receive impressions, and when the black iron doors
swung together behind me, I felt as if I were shut inside a
When I gave my name and explained that I was
the new secretary, I was delivered into the charge of an
elderly lady's-maid, who looked as if she had been crying.
Without speaking a word, though she nodded kindly enough,
she led me down the hall, and then up a flight of stairs at
the back of the house to a pleasant bedroom in the third
storey. There was a great deal of sunshine, and the walls,
which were painted a soft yellow, made the room very
cheerful. It would be a comfortable place to sit in when I
was not working, I thought, while the sad-faced maid stood
watching me remove my wraps and hat.
"If you are not tired, Mrs. Vanderbridge
would like to dictate a few letters," she said presently,
and they were the first words she had spoken.
"I am not a bit tired. Will you take me to
her?" One of the reasons, I knew, which had decided Mrs.
Vanderbridge to engage me was the remarkable similarity of
our handwriting. We were both Southerners, and though she
was now famous on two continents for her beauty, I couldn't
forget that she had got her early education at the little
academy for young ladies in Fredericksburg. This was a bond
of sympathy in my thoughts at least, and, heaven knows, I
needed to remember it while I followed the maid down the
narrow stairs and along the wide hall to the front of the
In looking back after a year, I can recall
every detail of that first meeting. Though it was barely
four o'clock, the electric lamps were turned on in the hall,
and I can still see the mellow light that shone over the
staircase and lay in pools on the old pink rugs, which were
so soft and fine that I felt as if I were walking on
flowers. I remember the sound of music from a room
somewhere on the first floor, and the scent of lilies and
hyacinths that drifted from the conservatory. I remember it
all, every note of music, every whiff of fragrance; but most
vividly I remember Mrs. Vanderbridge as she looked round,
when the door opened, from the wood fire into which she had
been gazing. Her eyes caught me first. They were so
wonderful that for a moment I couldn't see anything else;
then I took in slowly the dark red of her hair, the clear
pallor of her skin, and the long, flowing lines of her
figure in a tea-gown of blue silk. There was a white
bearskin rug under her feet, and while she stood there
before the wood fire, she looked as if she had absorbed the
beauty and colour of the house as a crystal vase absorbs the
light. Only when she spoke to me, and I went nearer, did I
detect the heaviness beneath her eyes and the nervous quiver
of her mouth, which drooped a little at the corners. Tired
and worn as she was, I never saw her afterwards--not even
when she was dressed for the opera--look quite so lovely, so
much like an exquisite flower, as she did on that first
afternoon. When I knew her better, I discovered that she
was a changeable beauty; there were days when all the colour
seemed to go out of her, and she looked dull and haggard;
but at her best no one I've ever seen could compare with
She asked me a few questions, and though she
was pleasant and kind, I knew that she scarcely listened to
my responses. While I sat down at the desk and dipped my
pen into the ink, she flung herself on the couch before the
fire with a movement which struck me as hopeless. I saw her
feet tap the white fur rug, while she plucked nervously at
the lace on the end of one of the gold-coloured sofa
pillows. For an instant the thought flashed through my mind
that she had been taking something--drug of some sort--and
that she was suffering now from the effects of it. Then she
looked at me steadily, almost as if she were reading my
thoughts, and I knew that I was wrong. Her large radiant
eyes were as innocent as a child's.
She dictated a few notes-all declining
invitations--and then, while I still waited pen in hand, she
sat up on the couch with one of her quick movements, and
said in a low voice, "I am not dining out to-night, Miss
Wrenn. I am not well enough."
"I am sorry for that." It was all I could
think of to say, for I did not understand why she should
have told me.
"If you don't mind, I should like you to come
down to dinner. There will be only Mr. Vanderbridge and
"Of course I will come if you wish it." I
couldn't very well refuse to do what she asked me, yet I
told myself, while I answered, that if I had known she
expected me to make one of the family, I should never, not
even at twice the salary, have taken the place. It didn't
take me a minute to go over my slender wardrobe in my mind
and realize that I had nothing to wear that would look well
"I can see you don't like it," she added
after a moment, almost wistfully, "but it won't be often.
It is only when we are dining alone."
This, I thought, was even queerer than the
request--or command--for I knew from her tone, just as
plainly as if she had told me in words, that she did not
wish to dine alone with her husband.
"I am ready to help you in any way--in any
way that I can," I replied, and I was so deeply moved by her
appeal that my voice broke in spite of my effort to control
it. After my lonely life I dare say I should have loved any
one who really needed me, and from the first moment that I
read the appeal in Mrs. Vanderbridge's face I felt that I
was willing to work my fingers to the bone for her. Nothing
that she asked of me was too much when she asked it in that
voice, with that look.
"I am glad you are nice," she said, and for
the first time she smiled--a charming, girlish smile with a
hint of archness. "We shall get on beautifully, I know,
because I can talk to you. My last secretary was English,
and I frightened her almost to death whenever I tried to
talk to her." Then her tone grew serious. "You won't mind
dining with us. Roger--Mr. Vanderbridge--is the most
charming man in the world."
"Is that his picture?"
"Yes, the one in the Florentine frame. The
other is my brother. Do you think we are alike?"
"Since you've told me, I notice a likeness."
Already I had picked up the Florentine frame from the desk,
and was eagerly searching the features of Mr. Vanderbridge.
It was an arresting face, dark, thoughtful, strangely
appealing, and picturesque--though this may have been due,
of course, to the photographer. The more I looked at it,
the more there grew upon me an uncanny feeling of
familiarity; but not until the next day, while I was still
trying to account for the impression that I had seen the
picture before, did there flash into my mind the memory of
an old portrait of a Florentine nobleman in a loan
collection last winter. I can't remember the name of the
painter--I am not sure that it was known--but this
photograph might have been taken from the painting. There
was the same imaginative sadness in both faces, the same
haunting beauty of feature, and one surmised that there must
be the same rich darkness of colouring. The only striking
difference was that the man in the photograph looked much
older than the original of the portrait, and I remembered
that the lady who had engaged me was the second wife of Mr.
Vanderbridge and some ten or fifteen years younger, I had
heard, than her husband.
"Have you ever seen a more wonderful face?"
asked Mrs. Vanderbridge. "Doesn't he look as if he might
have been painted by Titian?"
"Is he really so handsome as that?"
"He is a little older and sadder, that is
all. When we were married it was exactly like him." For an
instant she hesitated and then broke out almost bitterly,
"Isn't that a face any woman might fall in love with, a face
any woman-living or dead-would not be willing to give up?"
Poor child, I could see that she was
overwrought and needed someone to talk to, but it seemed
queer to me that she should speak so frankly to a stranger.
I wondered why any one so rich and so beautiful should ever
be unhappy--for I had been schooled by poverty to believe
that money is the first essential of happiness--and yet her
unhappiness was as evident as her beauty, or the luxury that
enveloped her. At that instant I felt that I hated Mr.
Vanderbridge, for whatever the secret tragedy of their
marriage might be, I instinctively knew that the fault was
not on the side of the wife. She was as sweet and winning
as if she were still the reigning beauty in the academy for
young ladies. I knew with a knowledge deeper than any
conviction that she was not to blame, and if she wasn't to
blame, then who under heaven could be at fault except her
In a few minutes a friend came in to tea, and
I went upstairs to my room, and unpacked the blue taffeta
dress I had bought for my sister's wedding. I was still
doubtfully regarding it when there was a knock at my door,
and the maid with the sad face came in to bring me a pot of
tea. After she had placed the tray on the table, she stood
nervously twisting a napkin in her hands while she waited
for me to leave my unpacking and sit down in the easy chair
she had drawn up under the lamp.
"How do you think Mrs. Vanderbridge is
looking?" she asked abruptly in a voice that held a
breathless note of suspense. Her nervousness and the queer
look in her face made me stare at her sharply. This was a
house, I was beginning to feel, where everybody, from the
mistress down, wanted to question me. Even the silent maid
had found voice for interrogation.
"I think her the loveliest person I've ever
seen," I answered after a moment's hesitation. There
couldn't be any harm in telling her how much I admired her
"Yes, she is lovely--everyone thinks so--and
her nature is as sweet as her face." She was becoming
loquacious. "I have never had a lady who was so sweet and
kind. She hasn't always been rich, and that may be the
reason she never seems to grow hard and selfish, the reason
she spends so much of her life thinking of other people.
It's been six years now, ever since her marriage, that I've
lived with her, and in all that time I've never had a cross
word from her."
"One can see that. With everything she has
she ought to be as happy as the day is long."
"She ought to be." Her voice dropped, and I
saw her glance suspiciously at the door, which she had
closed when she entered. "She ought to be, but she isn't.
I have never seen any one so unhappy as she has been of
late--ever since last summer. I suppose I oughtn't to talk
about it, but I've kept it to myself so long that I feel as
if it was killing me. If she was my own sister, I couldn't
be any fonder of her, and yet I have to see her suffer day
after day, and not say a word--not even to her. She isn't
the sort of lady you could speak to about a thing like
She broke down, and dropping on the rug at my
feet, hid her face in her hands. It was plain that she was
suffering acutely, and while I patted her shoulder, I
thought what a wonderful mistress Mrs. Vanderbridge must be
to have attached a servant to her so strongly.
"You must remember that I am a stranger in
the house, that I scarcely know her, that I've never so much
as laid eyes on her husband," I said warningly, for I've
always avoided, as far as possible, the confidences of
"But you look as if you could be trusted."
The maid's nerves, as well as the mistress's, were on edge,
I could see. "And she needs somebody who can help her. She
needs a real friend-somebody who will stand by her no matter
what happens." Again, as in the room downstairs, there
flashed through my mind the suspicion that I had got into a
place where people took drugs or drink--or were all out of
their minds. I had heard of such houses.
"How can I help her? She won't confide in
me, and even if she did, what could I do for her?"
"You can stand by and watch. You can come
between her and harm--if you see it." She had risen from
the floor and stood wiping her reddened eyes on the napkin.
"I don't know what it is, but I know it is there. I feel it
even when I can't see it."
Yes, they were all out of their minds; there
couldn't be any other explanation. The whole episode was
incredible. It was the kind of thing, I kept telling
myself, that did not happen. Even in a book nobody could
"But her husband? He is the one who must
She gave me a blighting look. "He would if
he could. He isn't to blame--you mustn't think that. He is
one of the best men in the world, but he can't help her. He
can't help her because he doesn't know. He doesn't see it."
A bell rang somewhere, and catching up the
tea-tray, she paused just long enough to throw me a pleading
word, "Stand between her and harm, if you see it."
When she had gone I locked the door after
her, and turned on all the lights in the room. Was there
really a tragic mystery in the house, or were they all mad,
as I had first imagined? The feeling of apprehension, of
vague uneasiness, which had come to me when I entered the
iron doors, swept over me in a wave while I sat there in the
soft glow of the shaded electric light. Something was
wrong. Somebody was making that lovely woman unhappy, and
who, in the name of reason, could this somebody be except
her husband? Yet the maid had spoken of him as "one of the
best men in the world," and it was impossible to doubt the
tearful sincerity of her voice. Well, the riddle was too
much for me. I gave it up at last with a sigh--dreading the
hour that would call me downstairs to meet Mr. Vanderbridge.
I felt in every nerve and fibre of my body that I should
hate him the moment I looked at him.
But at eight o'clock, when I went reluctantly
downstairs, I had a surprise. Nothing could have been
kinder than the way Mr. Vanderbridge greeted me, and I could
tell as soon as I met his eyes that there wasn't anything
vicious or violent in his nature. He reminded me more than
ever of the portrait in the loan collection, and though he
was so much older than the Florentine nobleman, he had the
same thoughtful look. Of course I am not an artist, but I
have always tried, in my way, to be a reader of personality;
and it didn't take a particularly keen observer to discern
the character and intellect in Mr. Vanderbridge's face.
Even now I remember it as the noblest face I have ever seen;
and unless I had possessed at least a shade of penetration,
I doubt if I should have detected the melancholy. For it
was only when he was thinking deeply that this sadness
seemed to spread like a veil over his features. At other
times he was cheerful and even gay in his manner; and his
rich dark eyes would light up now and then with
irrepressible humour. From the way he looked at his wife I
could tell that there was no lack of love or tenderness on
his side any more than there was on hers. It was obvious
that he was still as much in love with her as he had been
before his marriage, and my immediate perception of this
only deepened the mystery that enveloped them. If the fault
wasn't his and wasn't hers, then who was responsible for the
shadow that hung over the house?
For the shadow was there. I could feel it,
vague and dark, while we talked about the war and the remote
possibilities of peace in the spring. Mrs. Vanderbridge
looked young and lovely in her gown of white satin with
pearls on her bosom, but her violet eyes were almost black
in the candlelight, and I had a curious feeling that this
blackness was the colour of thought. Something troubled her
to despair, yet I was as positive as I could be of anything
I had ever been told that she had breathed no word of this
anxiety or distress to her husband. Devoted as they were, a
nameless dread, fear, or apprehension divided them. It was
the thing I had felt from the moment I entered the house;
the thing I had heard in the tearful voice of the maid. One
could scarcely call it horror, because it was too vague, too
impalpable, for so vivid a name; yet, after all these quiet
months, horror is the only word I can think of that in any
way expresses the emotion which pervaded the house.
I had never seen so beautiful a dinner table,
and I was gazing with pleasure at the damask and glass and
silver--there was a silver basket of chrysanthemums, I
remember, in the centre of the table--when I noticed a
nervous movement of Mrs. Vanderbridge's head, and saw her
glance hastily towards the door and the staircase beyond.
We had been talking animatedly, and as Mrs. Vanderbridge
turned away, I had just made a remark to her husband, who
appeared to have fallen into a sudden fit of abstraction,
and was gazing thoughtfully over his soup-plate at the white
and yellow chrysanthemums. It occurred to me, while I
watched him, that he was probably absorbed in some financial
problem, and I regretted that I had been so careless as to
speak to him. To my surprise, however, he replied
immediately in a natural tone, and I saw, or imagined that I
saw, Mrs. Vanderbridge throw me a glance of gratitude and
relief. I can't remember what we were talking about, but I
recall perfectly that the conversation kept up pleasantly,
without a break, until dinner was almost half over. The
roast had been served, and I was in the act of helping
myself to potatoes, when I became aware that Mr.
Vanderbridge had again fallen into his reverie. This time
he scarcely seemed to hear his wife's voice when she spoke
to him, and I watched the sadness cloud his face while he
continued to stare straight ahead of him with a look that
was almost yearning in its intensity.
Again I saw Mrs. Vanderbridge, with her
nervous gesture, glance in the direction of the hall, and to
my amazement, as she did so, a woman's figure glided
noiselessly over the old Persian rug at the door, and
entered the dining-room. I was wondering why no one spoke
to her, why she spoke to no one, when I saw her sink into a
chair on the other side of Mr. Vanderbridge and unfold her
napkin. She was quite young, younger even than Mrs.
Vanderbridge, and though she was not really beautiful, she
was the most graceful creature I had ever imagined. Her
dress was of grey stuff, softer and more clinging than silk,
and of a peculiar misty texture and colour, and her parted
hair lay like twilight on either side of her forehead. She
was not like any one I had ever seen before--she appeared so
much frailer, so much more elusive, as if she would vanish
if you touched her. I can't describe, even months
afterwards, the singular way in which she attracted and
At first I glanced inquiringly at Mrs.
Vanderbridge, hoping that she would introduce me, but she
went on talking rapidly in an intense, quivering voice,
without noticing the presence of her guest by so much as the
lifting of her eyelashes. Mr. Vanderbridge still sat there,
silent and detached, and all the time the eyes of the
stranger--starry eyes with a mist over them--looked straight
through me at the tapestried wall at my back. I knew she
didn't see me and that it wouldn't have made the slightest
difference to her if she had seen me. In spite of her grace
and her girlishness I did not like her, and I felt that this
aversion was not on my side alone. I do not know how I
received the impression that she hated Mrs.
Vanderbridge--never once had she glanced in her
direction--yet I was aware, from the moment of her entrance,
that she was bristling with animosity, though animosity is
too strong a word for the resentful spite, like the jealous
rage of a spoiled child, which gleamed now and then in her
eyes. I couldn't think of her as wicked any more than I
could think of a bad child as wicked. She was merely wilful
and undisciplined and--I hardly know how to convey what I
After her entrance the dinner dragged on
heavily. Mrs. Vanderbridge still kept up her nervous
chatter, but nobody listened, for I was too embarrassed to
pay any attention to what she said, and Mr. Vanderbridge had
never recovered from his abstraction. He was like a man in
a dream, not observing a thing that happened before him,
while the strange woman sat there in the candlelight with
her curious look of vagueness and unreality. To my
astonishment not even the servants appeared to notice her,
and though she had unfolded her napkin when she sat down,
she wasn't served with either the roast or the salad. Once
or twice, particularly when a new course was served, I
glanced at Mrs. Vanderbridge to see if she would rectify the
mistake, but she kept her gaze fixed on her plate. It was
just as if there were a conspiracy to ignore the presence of
the stranger, though she had been, from the moment of her
entrance, the dominant figure at the table. You tried to
pretend she wasn't there, and yet you knew--you knew vividly
that she was gazing insolently straight through you.
The dinner lasted, it seemed, for hours, and
you may imagine my relief when at last Mrs. Vanderbridge
rose and led the way back into the drawing-room. At first I
thought the stranger would follow us, but when I glanced
round from the hall she was still sitting there beside Mr.
Vanderbridge, who was smoking a cigar with his coffee.
"Usually he takes his coffee with me," said
Mrs. Vanderbridge, "but tonight he has things to think
"I thought he seemed absent-minded."
"You noticed it, then?" She turned to me
with her straightforward glance, "I always wonder how much
strangers notice. He hadn't been well of late, and he has
these spells of depression. Nerves are dreadful things,
I laughed. "So I've heard, but I've never
been able to afford them."
"Well, they do cost a great deal, don't
they?" She had a trick of ending her sentences with a
question, "I hope your room is comfortable, and that you
don't feel timid about being alone on that floor. If you
haven't nerves, you can't get nervous, can you?"
"No, I can't get nervous." Yet while I
spoke, I was conscious of a shiver deep down in me, as if my
senses reacted again to the dread that permeated the
As soon as I could, I escaped to my room, and
I was sitting there over a book, when the maid--her name was
Hopkins, I had discovered--came in on the pretext of
inquiring if I had everything I needed. One of the
innumerable servants had already turned down my bed, so when
Hopkins appeared at the door, I suspected at once that there
was a hidden motive underlying her ostensible purpose.
"Mrs. Vanderbridge told me to look after
you," she began. "She is afraid you will be lonely until you
learn the way of things."
"No, I'm not lonely," I answered. "I've
never had time to be lonely."
"I used to be like that; but time hangs heavy
on my hands now. That's why I've taken to knitting." She
held out a grey yarn muffler. "I had an operation a year
ago, and since then Mrs. Vanderbridge has had another
maid--a French one--to sit up for her at night and undress
her. She is always so fearful of overtaxing us, though
there isn't really enough work for two lady's maids, because
she is so thoughtful that she never gives any trouble if she
can help it."
"It must be nice to be rich," I said idly, as
I turned a page of my book. Then I added almost before I
realized what I was saying, "The other lady doesn't look as
if she had so much money."
Her face turned paler if that were possible,
and for a minute I thought she was going to faint. "The
"I mean the one who came down late to
dinner--the one in the grey dress. She wore no jewels, and
her dress wasn't low in the neck."
"Then you saw her?" There was a curious
flicker in her face as if her pallor came and went.
"We were at the table when she came in. Has
Mr. Vanderbridge a secretary who lives in the house?"
"No, he hasn't a secretary except at his
office. When he wants one at the house, he telephones to
"I wondered why she came, for she didn't eat
any dinner, and nobody spoke to her--not even Mr.
"Oh, he never speaks to her. Thank God, it
hasn't come to that yet."
"Then why does she come? It must be dreadful
to be treated like that, and before the servants, too. Does
she come often?"
"There are months and months when she
doesn't. I can always tell by the way Mrs. Vanderbridge
picks up. You wouldn't know her, she is so full of
life--the very picture of happiness. Then one evening
she--the Other One, I mean--comes back again, just as she
did to-night, just as she did last summer, and it all begins
over from the beginning."
"But can't they keep her out--the Other One?
Why do they let her in?"
"Mrs. Vanderbridge tries hard. She tries all
she can every minute. You saw her to-night?"
"And Mr. Vanderbridge? Can't he help her?"
She shook her head with an ominous gesture.
"He doesn't know."
"He doesn't know she is there? Why, she was
close by him. She never took her eyes off him except when
she was staring through me at the wall."
"Oh, he knows she is there, but not in that
way. He doesn't know that any one else knows."
I gave it up, and after a minute she said in
an oppressed voice, "It seems strange that you should have
seen her. I never have."
"But you know all about her."
"I know and I don't know. Mrs. Vanderbridge
lets things drop sometimes--she gets ill and feverish very
easily--but she never tells me anything outright. She isn't
"Haven't the servants told you about her--the
At this, I thought, she seemed startled.
"Oh, they don't know anything to tell. They feel that
something is wrong; that is why they never stay longer than
a week or two--we've had eight butlers since autumn--but
they never see what it is."
She stooped to pick up the ball of yarn which
had rolled under my chair. "If the time ever comes when you
can stand between them, you will do it?" she asked.
"Between Mrs. Vanderbridge and the Other
Her look answered me.
"You think, then, that she means harm to
"I don't know. Nobody knows--but she is
The clock struck ten, and I returned to my
book with a yawn, while Hopkins gathered up her work and
went out, after wishing me a formal goodnight. The odd part
about our secret conferences was that as soon as they were
over, we began to pretend so elaborately to each other that
they had never been.
"I'll tell Mrs. Vanderbridge that you are
very comfortable," was the last remark Hopkins made before
she sidled out of the door and left me alone with the
mystery. It was one of those situations--I am obliged to
repeat this over and over--that was too preposterous for me
to believe in even while I was surrounded and overwhelmed by
its reality. I didn't dare face what I thought, I didn't
dare face even what I felt; but I went to bed shivering in a
warm room, while I resolved passionately that if the chance
ever came to me I would stand between Mrs. Vanderbridge and
this unknown evil that threatened her.
In the morning Mrs. Vanderbridge went out
shopping, and I did not see her until the evening, when she
passed me on the staircase as she was going out to dinner
and the opera. She was radiant in blue velvet, with
diamonds in her hair and at her throat, and I wondered again
how any one so lovely could ever be troubled.
"I hope you had a pleasant day, Miss Wrenn,"
she said kindly. "I have been too busy to get off any
letters, but to-morrow we shall begin early." Then, as if
from an afterthought, she looked back and added, "There are
some new novels in my sitting-room. You might care to look
When she had gone, I went upstairs to the
sitting-room and turned over the books, but I couldn't, to
save my life, force an interest in printed romances, after
meeting Mrs. Vanderbridge and remembering the mystery that
surrounded her. I wondered if "the Other One," as Hopkins
called her, lived in the house, and I was still wondering
this when the maid came in and began putting the table to
"Do they dine out often?" I asked.
"They used to, but since Mr. Vanderbridge
hasn't been so well, Mrs. Vanderbridge doesn't like to go
without him. She only went to-night because he begged her
She had barely finished speaking when the
door opened, and Mr. Vanderbridge came in and sat down in
one of the big velvet chairs before the wood fire. He had
not noticed us, for one of his moods was upon him, and I was
about to slip out as noiselessly as I could when I saw that
the Other One was standing in the patch of firelight on the
hearthrug. I had not seen her come in, and Hopkins
evidently was still unaware of her presence, for while I was
watching, I saw the maid turn towards her with a fresh log
for the fire. At the moment it occurred to me that Hopkins
must be either blind or drunk, for without hesitating in her
advance, she moved on the stranger, holding the huge hickory
log out in front of her. Then, before I could utter a sound
or stretch out a hand to stop her, I saw her walk straight
through the grey figure and carefully place the log on the
So she isn't real, after all, she is merely a
phantom, I found myself thinking, as I fled from the room,
and hurried along the hall to the staircase. She is only a
ghost, and nobody believes in ghosts any longer. She is
something that I know doesn't exist, yet even, though she
can't possibly be, I can swear that I have seen her. My
nerves were so shaken by the discovery that as soon as I
reached my room I sank in a heap on the rug, and it was here
that Hopkins found me a little later when she came to bring
me an extra blanket.
"You looked so upset I thought you might have
seen something," she said. "Did anything happen while you
were in the room?"
"She was there all the time--every blessed
minute. You walked right through her when you put the log
on the fire. Is it possible that you didn't see her?"
"No, I didn't see anything out of the way."
She was plainly frightened. "Where was she standing?"
"On the hearthrug in front of Mr.
Vanderbridge. To reach the fire you had to walk straight
through her, for she didn't move. She didn't give way an
"Oh, she never gives way. She never gives
way living or dead."
This was more than human nature could stand.
"In heavens name," I cried irritably, "who is
"Don't you know?" She appeared genuinely
surprised. "Why, she is the other Mrs. Vanderbridge. She
died fifteen years ago, just a year after they were married,
and people say a scandal was hushed up about her, which he
never knew. She isn't a good sort, that's what I think of
her, though they say he almost worshipped her."
"And she still has this hold on him?"
"He can't shake it off, that's what's the
matter with him, and if it goes on, he will end his days in
an asylum. You see, she was very young, scarcely more than
a girl, and he got the idea in his head that it was marrying
him that killed her. If you want to know what I think, I
believe she put it there for a purpose."
"You mean--?" I was so completely at sea
that I couldn't frame a rational question.
"I mean she haunts him purposely in order to drive him out
of his mind. She was always that sort, jealous and
exacting, the kind that clutches and strangles a man, and
I've often thought, though I've no head for speculation,
that we carry into the next world the traits and feelings
that have got the better of us in this one. It seems to me
only common sense to believe that we're obliged to work them
off somewhere until we are free of them. That is the way my
first lady used to talk, anyhow, and I've never found
anybody that could give me a more sensible idea."
"And isn't there any way to stop it? What
has Mrs. Vanderbridge done?"
"Oh, she can't do anything now. It has got
beyond her, though she has had doctor after doctor, and
tried everything she could think of. But, you see, she is
handicapped because she can't mention it to her husband. He
doesn't know that she knows."
"And she won't tell him?"
"She is the sort that would die first--just
the opposite from the Other One--for she leaves him free,
she never clutches and strangles. It isn't her way." For a
moment she hesitated, and then added grimly--"I've wondered
if you could do anything?"
"If I could? Why, I am a perfect stranger to
"That's why I've been thinking it. Now, if
you could corner her some day--the Other One-and tell her up
and down to her face what you think of her."
The idea was so ludicrous that it made me
laugh in spite of my shaken nerves. "They would fancy me
out of my wits! Imagine stopping an apparition and telling
it what you think of it!"
"Then you might try talking it over with Mrs.
Vanderbridge. It would help her to know that you see her
But the next morning, when I went down to
Mrs. Vanderbridge's room, I found that she was too ill to
see me. At noon a trained nurse came on the case, and for a
week we took our meals together in the morning-room
upstairs. She appeared competent enough, but I am sure that
she didn't so much as suspect that there was anything wrong
in the house except the influenza which had attacked Mrs.
Vanderbridge the night of the opera. Never once during that
week did I catch a glimpse of the Other One, though I felt
her presence whenever I left my room and passed through the
hall below. I knew all the time as well as if I had seen
her that she was hidden there, watching, watching--
At the end of the week Mrs. Vanderbridge sent
for me to write some letters, and when I went into her room,
I found her lying on the couch with a tea-table in front of
her. She asked me to make the tea because she was still so
weak, and I saw that she looked flushed and feverish, and
that her eyes were unnaturally large and bright. I hoped
she wouldn't talk to me, because people in that state are
apt to talk too much and then to blame the listener; but I
had hardly taken my seat at the tea-table before she said in
a hoarse voice--the cold had settled on her chest:
"Miss Wrenn, I have wanted to ask you ever
since the other evening--did you--did you see anything
unusual at dinner? From your face when you came out I
I met this squarely. "That I might have?
Yes, I did see something."
"You saw her?"
"I saw a woman come in and sit down at the
table, and I wondered why no one served her. I saw her
"A small woman, thin and pale, in a grey
"She was so vague and--and misty, you know
what I mean, that it is hard to describe her; but I should
know her again anywhere. She wore her hair parted and drawn
down over her ears. It was very dark and fine--as fine as
We were speaking in low voices, and
unconsciously we had moved closer together while my idle
hands left the tea things.
"Then you know," she said earnestly, "that
she really comes--that I am not out of my mind--that it is
not an hallucination?"
"I know that I saw her. I would swear to it.
But doesn't Mr. Vanderbridge see her also?"
"Not as we see her. He thinks that she is in
his mind only." Then, after an uncomfortable silence, she
added suddenly, "She is really a thought, you know. She is
his thought of her--but he doesn't know that she is visible
to the rest of us."
"And he brings her back by thinking of her?"
She leaned nearer while a quiver passed over
her features and the flush deepened in her cheeks. "That is
the only way she comes back--the only way she has the power
to come back--as a thought. There are months and months
when she leaves us in peace because he is thinking of other
things, but of late, since his illness, she has been with
him almost constantly." A sob broke from her, and she
buried her face in her hands. "I suppose she is always
trying to come--only she is too vague--and hasn't any form
that we can see except when he thinks of her as she used to
look when she was alive. His thought of her is like that,
hurt and tragic and revengeful. You see, he feels that he
ruined her life because she died when the child was
coming--a month before it would have been born."
"And if he were to see her differently, would
she change? Would she cease to be revengeful if he stopped
thinking her so?"
"God only knows. I've wondered and wondered
how I might move her to pity."
"Then you feel that she is really there?
That she exists outside of his mind?"
"How can I tell? What do any of us know of
the world beyond? She exists as much as I exist to you or
you to me. Isn't thought all that there is--all that we
This was deeper than I could follow; but in
order not to appear stupid, I murmured sympathetically,
"And does she make him unhappy when she
"She is killing him--and me. I believe that
is why she does it."
"Are you sure that she could stay away? When
he thinks of her isn't she obliged to come back?"
"Oh, I've asked that question over and over!
In spite of his calling her so unconsciously, I believe she
comes of her own will, I have always the feeling--it has
never left me for an instant--that she could appear
differently if she would. I have studied her for years
until I know her like a book, and though she is only an
apparition, I am perfectly positive that she wills evil to
us both. Don't you think he would change that if he could?
Don't you think he would make her kind instead of vindictive
if he had the power?"
"But if he could remember her as loving and
"I don't know. I give it up--but it is
It was killing her. As the days passed I
began to realize that she had spoken the truth. I watched
her bloom fade slowly and her lovely features grow pinched
and thin like the features of a starved person. The harder
she fought the apparition, the more I saw that the battle
was a losing one, and that she was only wasting her
strength. So impalpable yet so pervasive was the enemy that
it was like fighting a poisonous odour. There was nothing
to wrestle with, and yet there was everything. The struggle
was wearing her out--was, as she had said, actually "killing
her"; but the physician who dosed her daily with
drugs--there was need now of a physician--had not the
faintest idea of the malady he was treating. In those
dreadful days I think that even Mr. Vanderbridge hadn't a
suspicion of the truth. The past was with him so
constantly--he was so steeped in the memories of it--that
the present was scarcely more than a dream to him. It was,
you see, a reverse of the natural order of things; the
thought had become more vivid to his perceptions than any
object. The phantom had been victorious so far, and he
was like a man recovering from the effects of a narcotic.
He was only half awake, only half alive to the events
through which he lived and the people who surrounded him.
Oh, I realize that 1 am telling my story badly!--that I am
slurring over the significant interludes! My mind has dealt
so long with external details that I have almost forgotten
the words that express invisible things. Though the phantom
in the house was more real to me than the bread I ate or the
floor on which I trod, I can give you no impression of the
atmosphere in which we lived day after day--of the suspense,
of the dread of something we could not define, of the
brooding horror that seemed to lurk in the shadows of the
firelight, of the feeling always, day and night, that some
unseen person was watching us. How Mrs. Vanderbridge stood
it without losing her reason I have never known; and even
now I am not sure that she could have kept her reason if the
end had not come when it did. That I accidentally brought
it about is one of the things in my life I am most thankful
It was an afternoon in late winter, and I had
just come up from luncheon, when Mrs. Vanderbridge asked me
to empty an old desk in one of the upstairs rooms "I am
sending all the furniture in that room away," she said; "it
was bought in a bad period, and I want to clear it out and
make room for the lovely things we picked up in Italy.
There is nothing in the desk worth saving except some old
letters from Mr. Vanderbridge's mother before her marriage."
I was glad that she could think of anything
so practical as furniture, and it was with relief that I
followed her into the dim, rather musty room over the
library, where the windows were all tightly closed. Years
ago, Hopkins had once told me, the first Mrs. Vanderbridge
had used this room for a while, and after her death her
husband had been in the habit of shutting himself up alone
here in the evenings. This, I inferred, was the secret
reason why my employer was sending the furniture away. She
had resolved to clear the house of every association with
For a few minutes we sorted the letters in
the drawers of the desk, and then, as I expected, Mrs.
Vanderbridge became suddenly bored by the task she had
undertaken. She was subject to these nervous reactions, and
I was prepared for them even when they seized her so
spasmodically. I remember that she was in the very act of
glancing over an old letter when she rose impatiently,
tossed it into the fire unread, and picked up a magazine she
had thrown down on a chair.
"Go over them by yourself, Miss Wrenn," she
said, and it was characteristic of her nature that she
should assume my trustworthiness. "If anything seems worth
saving you can file it--but I'd rather die than have to wade
through all this."
They were mostly personal letters, and while
I went on, carefully filing them, I thought how absurd it
was of people to preserve so many papers that were entirely
without value. Mr. Vanderbridge I had imagined to be a
methodical man, and yet the disorder of the desk produced a
painful effect on my systematic temperament. The drawers
were filled with letters evidently unsorted, for now and
then I came upon a mass of business receipts and
acknowledgements crammed in among wedding invitations or
letters from some elderly lady, who wrote interminable pale
epistles in the finest and most feminine of Italian hands.
That a man of Mr. Vanderbridge's wealth and position should
have been so careless about his correspondence amazed me
until I recalled the dark hints Hopkins had dropped in some
of her midnight conversations. Was it possible that he had
actually lost his reason for months after the death of his
first wife, during that year when he had shut himself alone
with her memory? The question was still in my mind when my
eyes fell an the envelope in my hand, and I saw that it was
addressed to Mrs. Roger Vanderbridge. So this explained, in
a measure at least, the carelessness and the disorder! The
desk was not his, but hers, and after her death he had used
it only during those desperate months when he barely opened
a letter. What he had done in those long evenings when he
sat alone here it was beyond me to imagine. Was it any
wonder that the brooding should have permanently unbalanced
At the end of an hour I had sorted and filed
the papers, with the intention of asking Mrs. Vanderbridge
if she wished me to destroy the ones that seemed to be
unimportant. The letters she had instructed me to keep had
not come to my hand, and I was about to give up the search
for them, when, in shaking the lock of one of the drawers,
the door of a secret compartment fell open, and I discovered
a dark object, which crumbled and dropped apart when I
touched it. Bending nearer, I saw that the crumbled mass
had once been a bunch of flowers, and that a streamer of
purple ribbon still held together the frail structure of
wire and stems. In this drawer someone had hidden a sacred
treasure, and moved by a sense of romance and adventure, I
gathered the dust tenderly in tissue paper, and prepare to
take it downstairs to Mrs. Vanderbridge. It was not until
then that some letters tied loosely together with a silver
cord caught my eye, and while I picked them up, I remember
thinking that they must be the ones for which I had been
looking so long. Then, as the cord broke in my grasp and I
gathered the letters from the lid of the desk, a word or two
flashed back at me through the torn edges of the envelopes,
and I realized that they were love letters written, I
surmised, some fifteen years ago, by Mr. Vanderbridge to his
"It may hurt her to see them," I thought,
"but I don't dare destroy them. There is nothing I can do
except give them to her."
As I left the room, carrying the letters and
the ashes of the flowers, the idea of taking them to the
husband instead of to the wife flashed through my mind.
Then--I think it was some jealous feeling about the phantom
that decided me--I quickened my steps to a run down the
"They would bring her back. He would think
of her more than ever," I told myself, "so he shall never
see them. He shall never see them if I can prevent it." I
believe it occurred to me that Mrs. Vanderbridge would be
generous enough to give them to him--she was capable of
rising above her jealousy, I knew--but I determined that she
shouldn't do it until I had reasoned it out with her. "If
anything on earth would bring back the Other One for good;
it would be his seeing these old letters," I repeated as I
hastened down the hall.
Mrs. Vanderbridge was lying on the couch
before the fire, and I noticed at once that she had been
crying. The drawn look in her sweet face went to my heart,
and I felt that I would do anything in the world to comfort
her. Though she had a book in her hand, I could see that
she had not been reading. The electric lamp on the table by
her side was already lighted, leaving the rest of the room
in shadow, for it was a grey day with a biting edge of snow
in the air. It was all very charming in the soft light; but
as soon as I entered I had a feeling of oppression that made
me want to run out into the wind. If you have ever lived in
a haunted house--a house pervaded by an unforgettable
past--you will understand the sensation of melancholy that
crept over me the minute the shadows began to fall. It was
not in myself--of this I am sure, for I have naturally a
cheerful temperament--it was in the space that surrounded us
and the air we breathed.
I explained to her about the letters, and
then, kneeling on the rug in front of her, I emptied the
dust of the flowers into the fire. There was though I hate
to confess it, a vindictive pleasure in watching it melt
into the flames; and at the moment I believe I could have
burned the apparition as thankfully. The more I saw of the
Other One, the more I found myself accepting Hopkins's
judgment of her. Yes, her behavior, living and dead, proved
that she was not "a good sort."
My eyes were still on the flames when a sound
from Mrs. Vanderbridge--half a sigh, half a sob--made me
turn quickly and look up at her.
"But this isn't his handwriting," she said in
a puzzled tone. "They are love letters, and they are to
her--but they are not from him." For a moment or two she
was silent, and I heard the pages rustle in her hands as she
turned them impatiently. "They are not from him," she
repeated presently, with an exultant ring in her voice.
"They are written after her marriage, but they are from
another man." She was as sternly tragic as an avenging fate.
"She wasn't faithful to him while she lived. She wasn't
faithful to him even while he was hers--"
With a spring I had risen from my knees and
was bending over her.
"Then you can save him from her. You can win
him back! You have only to show him the letters, and he
"Yes, I have only to show him the letters."
She was looking beyond me into the dusky shadows of the
firelight, as if she saw the Other One standing there before
her, "I have only to show him the letters," I knew now that
she was not speaking to me, "and he will believe."
"Her power over him will be broken," I cried
out. "He will think of her differently. Oh, don't you see?
Can't you see? It is the only way to make him think of her
differently. It is the only way to break for ever the
thought that draws her back to him."
"Yes, I see, it is the only way," she said
slowly; and the words were still on her lips when the door
opened and Mr. Vanderbridge entered.
"I came for a cup of tea," he began, and
added with playful tenderness, "What is the only way?"
It was the crucial moment, I realized--it was
the hour of destiny for these two--and while he sank wearily
into a chair, I looked imploringly at his wife and then at
the letters lying scattered loosely about her. If I had
had my will I should have flung them at him with a violence
which would have startled him out of his lethargy.
Violence, I felt, was what he needed--violence, a storm,
tears, reproaches--all the things he would never get from
For a minute or two she sat there, with the
letters before her, and watched him with her thoughtful and
tender gaze. I knew from her face, so lovely and yet so
sad, that she was looking again at invisible things--at the
soul of the man she loved, not at the body. She saw him,
detached and spiritualized, and she saw also the Other
One--for while we waited I became slowly aware of the
apparition in the firelight--of the white face and the
cloudy hair and the look of animosity and bitterness in the
eyes. Never before had I been so profoundly convinced of
the malignant will veiled by that thin figure. It was as if
the visible form were only a spiral of grey smoke covering a
"The only way," said Mrs. Vanderbridge, "is
to fight fairly even when one fights evil." Her voice was
like a bell, and as she spoke, she rose from the couch and
stood there in her glowing beauty confronting the pale ghost
of the past. There was a light about her that was almost
unearthly--the light of triumph. The radiance of it blinded
me for an instant. It was like a flame, clearing the
atmosphere of all that was evil, of all that was poisonous
and deadly. She was looking directly at the phantom, and
there was no hate in her voice--there was only a great pity,
a great sorrow and sweetness.
"I can't fight you that way," she said, and I
knew that for the first time she had swept aside subterfuge
and evasion, and was speaking straight to the presence
before her. "After all, you are dead and I am living, and I
cannot fight you that way. I give up everything. I give
him back to you. Nothing is mine that I cannot win and keep
fairly. Nothing is mine that belongs really to you."
Then, while Mr. Vanderbridge rose, with a
start of fear, and came towards her, she bent quickly, and
flung the letters into the fire. When he would have stooped
to gather the unburned pages, her lovely flowing body curved
between his hands and the flames; and so transparent, so
ethereal she looked, that I saw--or imagined that I saw--the
firelight shine through her. "The only way, my dear, is the
right way," she said softly.
The next instant--I don't know to this day
how or when it began--I was aware that the apparition had
drawn nearer, and that the dread and fear, the evil purpose,
were no longer a part of her. I saw her clearly for a
moment--saw her as I had never seen her before--young and
gentle and--yes, this is the only word for it--loving. It
was just as if a curse had turned into a blessing, for,
while she stood there, I had a curious sensation of being
enfolded in a kind of spiritual glow and comfort--only words
are useless to describe the feeling because it wasn't in the
least like anything else I had ever known in my life. It
was light without heat, glow without light--and yet it was
none of these things. The nearest I can come to it is to
call it a sense of blessedness--of blessedness that made you
at peace with everything you had once hated.
Not until afterwards did I realize that it
was the victory of good over evil. Not until afterwards did
I discover that Mrs. Vanderbridge had triumphed over the
past in the only way that she could triumph. She had won,
not by resisting, but by accepting; not by violence, but by
gentleness; not by grasping, but by renouncing. Oh, long,
long afterwards, I knew that she had robbed the phantom of
power over her by robbing it of hatred. She had changed the
thought of the past, in that lay her victory.
At the moment I did not understand this. I
did not understand it even when I looked again for the
apparition in the firelight, and saw that it had vanished.
There was nothing there--nothing except the pleasant flicker
of light and shadow on the old Persian rug.