Between The Dark And The Daylight – William Dean Howells
Mr. Howells dips into psychological twilight in this volume of short stories. They are queer and creepy without being exactly supernatural. In “Editha” there is a war story of a new kind, although its heroine is the same old, inconsequent and exasperating girl that Mr. Howells has drawn for so many years, he could probably do it with his eyes shut by this time. “It all interested her intensely; she was undergoing a tremendous experience and she was being equal to it!” And so with the egotistic cruelty of youth she sends her lover to his death and has to face his mother afterward. The other tales are less tragic, and told as Mr. Howells alone can tell such small comedies, by means of conversations among intimate friends, with the graceful give and take of actual dialog, as the group discuss the affairs of their friends with after-dinner philosophic interest.
Between The Dark And The Daylight.
Excerpt from the text:
Matthew Lanfear had stopped off, between Genoa and Nice, at San Remo in the interest of a friend who had come over on the steamer with him, and who wished him to test the air before settling there for the winter with an invalid wife. She was one of those neurasthenics who really carry their climate—always a bad one—with them, but she had set her mind on San Remo; and Lanfear was willing to pass a few days in the place making the observations which he felt pretty sure would be adverse.
His train was rather late, and the sunset was fading from the French sky beyond the Italian shore when he got out of his car and looked round for a porter to take his valise. His roving eye lighted on the anxious figure, which as fully as the anxious face, of a short, stout, elderly man expressed a sort of distraction, as he stood loaded down with umbrellas, bags, bundles, and wraps, and seemed unable to arrest the movements of a tall young girl, with a travelling-shawl trailing from her arm, who had the effect of escaping from him towards a bench beside the door of the waiting-room. When she reached it, in spite of his appeals, she sat down with an absent air, and looked as far withdrawn from the bustle of the platform and from the snuffling train as if on some quiet garden seat along with her own thoughts.
In his fat frenzy, which Lanfear felt to be pathetic, the old gentleman glanced at him, and then abruptly demanded: “Are you an American?”
We knew each other abroad in some mystical way, and Lanfear did not try to deny the fact.
“Oh, well, then,” the stranger said, as if the fact made everything right, “will you kindly tell my daughter, on that bench by the door yonder”—he pointed with a bag, and dropped a roll of rugs from under his arm—“that I’ll be with her as soon as I’ve looked after the trunks? Tell her not to move till I come. Heigh! Here! Take hold of these, will you?” He caught the sleeve of a facchino who came wandering by, and heaped him with his burdens, and then pushed ahead of the man in the direction of the baggage-room with a sort of mastery of the situation which struck Lanfear as springing from desperation rather than experience.
Lanfear stood a moment hesitating. Then a glance at the girl on the bench, drooping a little forward in freeing her face from the veil that hung from her pretty hat, together with a sense of something quaintly charming in the confidence shown him on such purely compatriotic grounds, decided him to do just what he had been asked. The girl had got her veil up by this time, and as he came near, she turned from looking at the sunset over the stretch of wall beyond the halting train, and met his dubious face with a smile.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” she said. “I know I shall get well, here, if they have such sunsets every day.”
There was something so convincingly normal in her expression that Lanfear dismissed a painful conjecture. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “I am afraid there’s some mistake. I haven’t the pleasure—You must excuse me, but your father wished me to ask you to wait here for him till he had got his baggage—”
“My father?” the girl stopped him with a sort of a frowning perplexity in the stare she gave him. “My father isn’t here!”
“I beg your pardon,” Lanfear said. “I must have misunderstood. A gentleman who got out of the train with you—a short, stout gentleman with gray hair—I understood him to say you were his daughter—requested me to bring this message—”
The girl shook her head. “I don’t know him. It must be a mistake.”
“The mistake is mine, no doubt. It may have been some one else whom he pointed out, and I have blundered. I’m very sorry if I seem to have intruded—”
“What place is this?” the girl asked, without noticing his excuses.
“San Remo,” Lanfear answered. “If you didn’t intend to stop here, your train will be leaving in a moment.”
“I meant to get off, I suppose,” she said. “I don’t believe I’m going any farther.” She leaned back against the bars of the bench, and put up one of her slim arms along the top.
There was something wrong. Lanfear now felt that, in spite of her perfect tranquillity and self-possession; perhaps because of it. He had no business to stay there talking with her, but he had not quite the right to leave her, though practically he had got his dismissal, and apparently she was quite capable of taking care of herself, or could have been so in a country where any woman’s defencelessness was not any man’s advantage. He could not go away without some effort to be of use.
“I beg your pardon,” he said. “Can I help you in calling a carriage; or looking after your hand-baggage—it will be getting dark—perhaps your maid—”
“My maid!” The girl frowned again, with a measure of the amazement which she showed when he mentioned her father. “I have no maid!”
Lanfear blurted desperately out: “You are alone? You came—you are going to stay here—alone?”
“Quite alone,” she said, with a passivity in which there was no resentment, and no feeling unless it were a certain color of dignity. Almost at the same time, with a glance beside and beyond him, she called out joyfully: “Ah, there you are!” and Lanfear turned, and saw scuffling and heard puffing towards them the short, stout elderly gentleman who had sent him to her. “I knew you would come before long!”
“Well, I thought it was pretty long, myself,” the gentleman said, and then he courteously referred himself to Lanfear. “I’m afraid this gentleman has found it rather long, too; but I couldn’t manage it a moment sooner.”
Lanfear said: “Not at all. I wish I could have been of any use to—”
“My daughter—Miss Gerald, Mr.—”
“Lanfear—Dr. Lanfear,” he said, accepting the introduction; and the girl bowed.
“Oh, doctor, eh?” the father said, with a certain impression. “Going to stop here?”
“A few days,” Lanfear answered, making way for the forward movement which the others began.
“Well, well! I’m very much obliged to you, very much, indeed; and I’m sure my daughter is.”
The girl said, “Oh yes, indeed,” rather indifferently, and then as they passed him, while he stood lifting his hat, she turned radiantly on him. “Thank you, ever so much!” she said, with the gentle voice which he had already thought charming.
The father called back: “I hope we shall meet again. We are going to the Sardegna.”
Lanfear had been going to the Sardegna himself, but while he bowed he now decided upon another hotel.
The mystery, whatever it was, that the brave, little, fat father was carrying off so bluffly, had clearly the morbid quality of unhealth in it, and Lanfear could not give himself freely to a young pleasure in the girl’s dark beauty of eyes and hair, her pale, irregular, piquant face, her slender figure and flowing walk. He was in the presence of something else, something that appealed to his scientific side, to that which was humane more than that which was human in him, and abashed him in the other feeling. Unless she was out of her mind there was no way of accounting for her behavior, except by some caprice which was itself scarcely short of insanity. She must have thought she knew him when he approached, and when she addressed him those first words; but when he had tried to set her right she had not changed; and why had she denied her father, and then hailed him with joy when he came back to her? She had known that she intended to stop at San Remo, but she had not known where she had stopped when she asked what place it was. She was consciously an invalid of some sort, for she spoke of getting well under sunsets like that which had now waned, but what sort of invalid was she?
Lanfear’s question persisted through the night, and it helped, with the coughing in the next room, to make a bad night for him. None of the hotels in San Remo receive consumptive patients, but none are without somewhere a bronchial cough. If it is in the room next yours it keeps you awake, but it is not pulmonary; you may comfort yourself in your vigils with that fact. Lanfear, however, fancied he had got a poor dinner, and in the morning he did not like his coffee. He thought he had let a foolish scruple keep him from the Grand Hotel Sardegna, and he walked down towards it along the palm-flanked promenade, in the gay morning light, with the tideless sea on the other hand lapping the rough beach beyond the lines of the railroad which borders it. On his way he met files of the beautiful Ligurian women, moving straight under the burdens balanced on their heads, or bestriding the donkeys laden with wine-casks in the roadway, or following beside the carts which the donkeys drew. Ladies of all nations, in the summer fashions of London, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris, and New York thronged the path. The sky was of a blue so deep, so liquid that it seemed to him he could scoop it in his hand and pour it out again like water. Seaward, he glanced at the fishing-boats lying motionless in the offing, and the coastwise steamer that runs between Nice and Genoa trailing a thin plume of smoke between him and their white sails. With the more definite purpose of making sure of the Grand Hotel Sardegna, he scanned the different villa slopes that showed their level lines of white and yellow and dull pink through the gray tropical greenery on the different levels of the hills. He was duly rewarded by the sight of the bold legend topping its cornice, and when he let his eye descend the garden to a little pavilion on the wall overlooking the road, he saw his acquaintances of the evening before making a belated breakfast. The father recognized Lanfear first and spoke to his daughter, who looked up from her coffee and down towards him where he wavered, lifting his hat, and bowed smiling to him. He had no reason to cross the roadway towards the white stairway which climbed from it to the hotel grounds, but he did so. The father leaned out over the wall, and called down to him: “Won’t you come up and join us, doctor?”
“Why, yes!” Lanfear consented, and in another moment he was shaking hands with the girl, to whom, he noticed, her father named him again. He had in his glad sense of her white morning dress and her hat of green-leafed lace, a feeling that she was somehow meeting him as a friend of indefinite date in an intimacy unconditioned by any past or future time. Her pleasure in his being there was as frank as her father’s, and there was a pretty trust of him in every word and tone which forbade misinterpretation.