The Spider

"Hullo. Is this Mrs. Morena?"

Betty held the receiver languidly. Her face had grown very thin and

her eyes were patient. They were staring now absently through the

front window of Woodward Kane's sitting-room at a day of driving April


"Yes. This is Mrs. Morena."

The next speech changed her into a flushed and palpitating girl.

"Mr. Gael wishes to know, madam,"--the man-servant recited his lesson

automatically,--"if you have seen the exhibition of Foster's

water-colors, Fifty-eighth Street and Fifth Avenue. He wants to know

if you will be there this afternoon at five o'clock. No. 88 in the

inner room is the picture he would especially like you to notice,


Betty's hand and voice were trembling.

"No. I haven't seen it." She hesitated, looking at the downpour. "Tell

him, please, that I will be there."

Her voice trailed off doubtfully.

The man at the other end clipped out a "Very well, madam," and hung


Betty was puzzled. Why had Prosper sent her this message, made this

appointment by his servant? Perhaps because he was afraid that, in her

exaggerated caution, she might refuse to meet him if she could explain

to him the reason for her refusal, or gauge the importance of his

request. With a servant she could do neither, and the very uncertainty

would force her to accept. It was a dreadful day. Nobody would be out,

certainly not at the tea-hour, to look at Foster's pictures--an

insignificant exhibition. Betty felt triumphant. At last, this far too

acquiescent lover had rebelled against her decree of silence and


At five o'clock she stepped out of her taxicab, made a run for

shelter, and found herself in the empty exhibition rooms. She checked

her wrap and her umbrella, took a catalogue from the little table,

chatted for a moment with the man in charge, then moved about, looking

carelessly at the pictures. No. 88 in the inner room! Her heart was

beating violently, the hand in her muff was cold. She went slowly

toward the inner room and saw at once that, under a small canvas at

its far end, Prosper stood waiting for her.

He waited even after he had seen her smile and quickening step, and

when he did come forward, it was with obvious reluctance. Betty's

smile faded. His face was haggard and grim, unlike itself; his eyes

lack-luster as she had never seen them. This was not the face of an

impatient lover. It was--she would not name it, but she was conscious

of a feeling of angry sickness.

He took her hand and forced a smile.

"Betty, I thought you disapproved of this kind of thing. I think,

myself, it's rather imprudent to arrange a meeting through your maid."

Betty jerked away her hand, drew a sharp breath. "What do you mean? I

didn't arrange this meeting. It was you--your man."

They became simultaneously aware of a trap. It had sprung upon them.

With the look of trapped things, they stared at each other, and Betty

instinctively looked back over her shoulder. There stood Jasper in the

doorway of the room. He looked like the most casual of visitors to an

art-gallery, he carried a catalogue in his hand. When he saw that he

was seen he smiled easily and came over to them.

"You will have to forgive me," he murmured pleasantly; "you see, it

was necessary to see you both together and Betty is not willing to

allow me an interview. I am sorry to have chosen a public place and to

have used a trick to get you here, but I could not think of any other

plan. This is really private enough. I have arranged this exhibition

for Foster and it is closed to the public to-day. We got in by special

permit--a fact you probably missed. And, after all, civilized people

ought to be able to talk about anything without excitement."

Betty's eyes glared at him. "I will not stay! This is insufferable!"

But he put out his hand and something in his gesture compelled her.

She sat down on the round, plush seat in the middle of the room and

looked up at the two men helplessly. Joan had once leaned in a

doorway, silent and unconsulted, while two men, her father and Pierre,

settled their property rights in her. Betty was, after all, in no

better case. She listened, whiter and whiter, till at the last she

slowly raised her muff and pressed it against her twisted mouth.

Morena stood with his hand resting on the high back of the circular seat

almost directly above Betty's head. It seemed to hold her there like a

bar. But it was at Prosper he looked, to Prosper he spoke. "My friend,"

he began, and the accentuation of the Hebraic quality of his voice had

an instantaneous effect upon his two listeners. Both Prosper and Betty

knew he was master of some intense agitation. They were conscious of an

increasing rapidity of their pulses. "My friend, I thought that I knew

you fairly well, as one man knows another, but I find that there have

been certain limits to my knowledge. How extraordinary it is! This inner

world of our own lives which we keep closely to ourselves! I have a

friend, yes, a very good friend, a very dear friend,"--the ironic

insistence upon this word gave Prosper the shock of a repeated

blow,--"and I fancy, in the ignorance of my conceit, that this friend's

life is sufficiently open to my understanding. I see him leave college,

I see him go out on various adventures. I share with him, by letters and

confidences, the excitement of these adventures. I know with regret that

he suffers from ill-health and goes West, and there, with a great deal

of sympathy, I imagine him living, drearily enough, in some small,

health-giving Western town, writing his book and later his play which he

has so generously allowed me to produce."

"What the devil are you after, Jasper?"

"But I do my friend an injustice," went on the manager, undiverted.

"His career is infinitely more romantic. He has built himself a little

log house amongst the mountains, and he has decorated it and laid in a

supply of dainty and exquisite stuffs. I believe that there is even an

outing suit, small and narrow--"

"My God!" said Prosper, very low.

There was a silence. Jasper moved slightly, and Prosper started, but

the Jew stayed in his former place, only that he bent his head a

little, half-closed his eyes, and marked time with the hand that was

not buried in the plush above Betty's head. He recited in a heavy

voice, and it was here that Betty raised her muff!

Jasper is dying. By the time you get this letter he will be dead.

If you can forgive me for having failed in courage last year, come

back. What I have been to you before, I will be to you again, only

this time we can love openly. Come back.

"I am going mad!" said Prosper harshly, and indeed his face had a

pinched, half-crazy look.

The Jew waved his hand. "Oh, no, no, no. It is only that you are

making a discovery. Letters should be burnt, my friend, not torn and

thrown away, but burnt." He stood up to his stateliest height and he

made a curious and rather terrible gesture of breaking something

between his two hands. "I have this letter and I hold you and

Betty--so!" he said softly--"so!"

Betty spoke. "I might have told you that I loved him, that I have

loved him for years, Jasper. If you use this evidence, if you bring

this counter-suit, it will bring about the same, the very same,

result. Prosper and I--" She broke off choking.

"Of course. Betty and I will be married at once, as soon as she gets

her divorce, or you get yours." But Prosper's voice was hollow and


"You will be married, Betty," went on Jasper as calmly as before;

"you, branded in the eyes of the world as an unfaithful wife, will be

married to a man who has ceased to love you."

"That is not true," said Betty.

"Look at his face, my dear. Look at it carefully. Now, watch it

closely. Prosper Gael, if I should tell that with a little patience, a

little skill, a little unselfishness, you could win a certain woman

who once loved you--eh?--a certain Jane West, could you bring yourself

to marry this discarded wife of mine?"

Betty sprang up and caught Prosper's arm in her small hand.

"He is tired of you, Betty. He loves Jane West." Jasper laughed

shortly, looking at the tableau they made: Prosper white, caught in

the teeth of honor, his face set to hide its secret, Betty reading his

eyes, his soul.

"I am entirely yours, in your hands," said Prosper Gael.

Betty shook his arm and let it go. "You are lying. You love the woman.

Do you think I can't see?"

"It will be a very strange divorce suit," went on Jasper. "Your

lawyers, Betty, will perhaps prove your case. My lawyers will

certainly prove mine, and, when we find ourselves free, our--our

lovers will then unite in holy matrimony--rather an original outcome."

"Will you go, Prosper?" asked Betty. It was a command.

He saw that, at that moment, his presence was intolerable to her.

"Of course. If you wish it. Jasper, you know where to find me, and,

Betty,"--he turned to her with a weary tenderness,--"forgive me and

make use of me, if you will, as you will."

He went out quickly, feeling himself a coward to leave her, knowing

that he would be a coward to stay to watch the anguish of her broken

heart and pride. For an instant he did hesitate and look back. They

were standing together, calmly, man and wife. What could he do to help

them, he that had broken their lives?

Betty turned to Jasper, still with the muff before her mouth, looking

at him above it with her wide, childlike, desperate eyes.

"What do you get out of this, Jasper? I will go to Woodward. I will

never come back to you.... Is it revenge?"

"If so," said Jasper, "it isn't yet complete. Betty, you have been

rash to pit yourself against me. You must have known that I would

break you utterly. I will break you, my dear, and I will have you

back, and I will be your master instead of your servant, and I will

love you--"

"You must be mad. I'm afraid of you. Please let me go."

"In a moment, when you have learned what home you have to go to. This

morning I had an interview with your brother in his office, and he

wrote this letter that I have in my pocket and asked me to give it to


Betty laid down her muff, showing at last the pale and twisted mouth.

Jasper watched her read her brother's letter, and his eyes were as

patient and observant as the eyes of a skillful doctor who has given a

dangerous but necessary draught.

Betty read the small, sharp, careful writing, very familiar to her.

I have instructed your maid to pack your things and to return at

once to your husband's house. He is a much too merciful man. You

have treated him shamelessly. I can find no excuse for you. My

house is definitely closed to you. I will send you no money,

allow you no support, countenance you in no way. This is final.

You have only one course, to return humbly and with penitence to

your husband, submit yourself to him, and learn to love and

honor and obey him as he deserves. The evidence of your guilt is

incontrovertible. I utterly disbelieve your story against him.

It is part of your sin, and it is easily to be explained in the

light of my present knowledge of your real character. Whether

you return to Morena or not, I emphatically reassert that I will

not see you or speak to you again. You are to my mind a woman of

shameless life, such a woman as I should feel justified in

turning out of any decent household.

Woodward Kane

The room turned giddily about Betty. She saw the whole roaring city

turn about her, and she knew that there was no home in it for her. She

could go to Prosper Gael, but at what horrible sacrifice of pride,

and, if Jasper now refused to bring suit, could she ask this man, who

no longer loved her, to keep her as his mistress? What could she do?

Where could she turn? How could she keep herself alive? For the first

time, life, stripped of everything but its hard and ugly bones, faced

her. She had always been sheltered, been dependent, been loved. Once

before she had lost courage and had failed to venture beyond the

familiar shelter of custom and convention. Now, she was again most

horribly afraid. Anything was better than this feeling of being lost,

alone. She looked at Jasper. At that moment he was nothing but a

protector, a means of life, and he knew it.

"Will you come home with me now?" he asked her bitterly.

Betty forced the twisted mouth to speech. "What else is there for me

to do?" she said.

The Spelling-match The Spinster Loses Some Sleep facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail