I was sorry, therefore, when I found, soon after, not only that everyone knew of the gift but that phrases of the beautiful letter itself were current, with marks of authenticity upon them. It was not hard to trace them to Anne’s intimates.
I have no idea to this day whether Anne was deliberately trying to ruin the man for whom she had sacrificed so much; or whether one of those large, unconscious, self-indulgent movements of our natures was carrying her along the line of least resistance. There are some people, I know, who can behave well only so long as they have the centre of the stage, and are driven by a necessity almost moral to regain such a place at any cost, so that they may once again begin the exercise of their virtues.
Anne’s performance was too perfect, I thought, for conscious art, and she was not a genius. She was that most dangerous of all engines, a good person behaving wickedly. All her past of high-mindedness and kindness protected her now like an armour from the smallest suspicion. All the grandeur of her conduct at the time of the divorce was remembered as a proof that she at least had a noble soul. Who could doubt that she wished him well?
If so, she soon appeared to be the only person who did. For, as we all know, pity is one of the most dangerous passions to unloose. It demands a victim. We rise to pathos, only over the dead bodies of our nearest and dearest.
Every phrase, every gesture of Anne’s stirred one profoundly, and it was inevitable, I suppose, that Julian should be selected as the sacrifice. I noticed that people began to speak of him in the past, though he was still moving among us—“As Julian used to say.”
He and Anne fortunately never met, but she and the new Mrs. Julian had one encounter in public. If even then Anne would have shown the slightest venom all might still have been well. But, no, the worn, elderly woman, face to face with the young beauty who had possessed herself of everything in the world, showed nothing but a tenderness so perfect that every heart was wrung. I heard Rose criticized for not receiving her in the same spirit.
The next day Julian was blackballed at a philanthropic club at which he had allowed himself to be proposed merely from a sense of civic duty.
Over the incident I know Anne wept. I heard her tears.
“Oh, if I could have spared him that!” she said.
My eyes were cold, but those of Mr. Granger, who came in while her eyelids were still red, were full of fire.
She spent a week with the Grangers that summer. The whole family—wife, sons and daughters—had all yielded to the great illusion.
It must not be supposed that I had failed to warn Julian. The supineness of his attitude was one of the most irritating features of the case. He answered me as if I were violating the dead; asked me if by any chance I didn’t see he deserved all he was getting.