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The Moving Finger
by [?]

The news of Mrs. Grancy’s death came to me with the shock of an immense blunder–one of fate’s most irretrievable acts of vandalism. It was as though all sorts of renovating forces had been checked by the clogging of that one wheel. Not that Mrs. Grancy contributed any perceptible momentum to the social machine: her unique distinction was that of filling to perfection her special place in the world. So many people are like badly-composed statues, over-lapping their niches at one point and leaving them vacant at another. Mrs. Grancy’s niche was her husband’s life; and if it be argued that the space was not large enough for its vacancy to leave a very big gap, I can only say that, at the last resort, such dimensions must be determined by finer instruments than any ready-made standard of utility. Ralph Grancy’s was in short a kind of disembodied usefulness: one of those constructive influences that, instead of crystallizing into definite forms, remain as it were a medium for the development of clear thinking and fine feeling. He faithfully irrigated his own dusty patch of life, and the fruitful moisture stole far beyond his boundaries. If, to carry on the metaphor, Grancy’s life was a sedulously-cultivated enclosure, his wife was the flower he had planted in its midst–the embowering tree, rather, which gave him rest and shade at its foot and the wind of dreams in its upper branches.

We had all–his small but devoted band of followers–known a moment when it seemed likely that Grancy would fail us. We had watched him pitted against one stupid obstacle after another–ill-health, poverty, misunderstanding and, worst of all for a man of his texture, his first wife’s soft insidious egotism. We had seen him sinking under the leaden embrace of her affection like a swimmer in a drowning clutch; but just as we despaired he had always come to the surface again, blinded, panting, but striking out fiercely for the shore. When at last her death released him it became a question as to how much of the man she had carried with her. Left alone, he revealed numb withered patches, like a tree from which a parasite has been stripped. But gradually he began to put out new leaves; and when he met the lady who was to become his second wife–his one real wife, as his friends reckoned–the whole man burst into flower.

The second Mrs. Grancy was past thirty when he married her, and it was clear that she had harvested that crop of middle joy which is rooted in young despair. But if she had lost the surface of eighteen she had kept its inner light; if her cheek lacked the gloss of immaturity her eyes were young with the stored youth of half a life-time. Grancy had first known her somewhere in the East–I believe she was the sister of one of our consuls out there–and when he brought her home to New York she came among us as a stranger. The idea of Grancy’s remarriage had been a shock to us all. After one such calcining most men would have kept out of the fire; but we agreed that he was predestined to sentimental blunders, and we awaited with resignation the embodiment of his latest mistake. Then Mrs. Grancy came–and we understood. She was the most beautiful and the most complete of explanations. We shuffled our defeated omniscience out of sight and gave it hasty burial under a prodigality of welcome. For the first time in years we had Grancy off our minds. “He’ll do something great now!” the least sanguine of us prophesied; and our sentimentalist emended: “He has done it–in marrying her!”

It was Claydon, the portrait-painter, who risked this hyperbole; and who soon afterward, at the happy husband’s request, prepared to defend it in a portrait of Mrs. Grancy. We were all–even Claydon–ready to concede that Mrs. Grancy’s unwontedness was in some degree a matter of environment. Her graces were complementary and it needed the mate’s call to reveal the flash of color beneath her neutral-tinted wings. But if she needed Grancy to interpret her, how much greater was the service she rendered him! Claydon professionally described her as the right frame for him; but if she defined she also enlarged, if she threw the whole into perspective she also cleared new ground, opened fresh vistas, reclaimed whole areas of activity that had run to waste under the harsh husbandry of privation. This interaction of sympathies was not without its visible expression. Claydon was not alone in maintaining that Grancy’s presence–or indeed the mere mention of his name–had a perceptible effect on his wife’s appearance. It was as though a light were shifted, a curtain drawn back, as though, to borrow another of Claydon’s metaphors, Love the indefatigable artist were perpetually seeking a happier “pose” for his model. In this interpretative light Mrs. Grancy acquired the charm which makes some women’s faces like a book of which the last page is never turned. There was always something new to read in her eyes. What Claydon read there–or at least such scattered hints of the ritual as reached him through the sanctuary doors–his portrait in due course declared to us. When the picture was exhibited it was at once acclaimed as his masterpiece; but the people who knew Mrs. Grancy smiled and said it was flattered. Claydon, however, had not set out to paint their Mrs. Grancy–or ours even–but Ralph’s; and Ralph knew his own at a glance. At the first confrontation he saw that Claydon had understood. As for Mrs. Grancy, when the finished picture was shown to her she turned to the painter and said simply: “Ah, you’ve done me facing the east!”