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by [?]

The letter was typewritten, which was not unusual. It was unsigned, which was unusual. It enclosed an American bill—fifty dollars. It did not seem in the least like any letter she had ever had from her husband, or any letter she could imagine him writing. But a strange, cold feeling was creeping over her, like a flood rising around a house.

She utterly refused to admit the ideas which began to bob and push about outside her mind, and to force themselves in. Yet under the pressure of these repudiated thoughts she went downstairs and brought up the other letter—the letter to Gerta. She laid them side by side on a smooth dark space on the table; marched to the piano and played, with stern precision, refusing to think, till the girl came back. When she came in, Mrs Marroner rose quietly and came to the table. ‘Here is a letter for you,’ she said.

The girl stepped forward eagerly, saw the two lying together there, hesitated, and looked at her mistress.

‘Take yours, Gerta. Open it, please.’

The girl turned frightened eyes upon her.

‘I want you to read it, here,’ said Mrs Marroner.

‘Oh, ma’am—No! Please don’t make me!’

‘Why not?’

There seemed to be no reason at hand, and Gerta flushed more deeply and opened her letter. It was long; it was evidently puzzling to her; it began ‘My dear wife.’ She read it slowly.

‘Are you sure it is your letter?’ asked Mrs Marroner. ‘Is not this one yours? Is not that one—mine?’

She held out the other letter to her.

‘It is a mistake,’ Mrs Marroner went on, with a hard quietness. She had lost her social bearings somehow, lost her usual keen sense of the proper thing to do. This was not life; this was a nightmare.

‘Do you not see? Your letter was put in my envelope and my letter was put in your envelope. Now we understand it.’

But poor Gerta had no antechamber to her mind, no trained forces to preserve order while agony entered. The thing swept over her, resistless, overwhelming. She cowered before the outraged wrath she expected; and from some hidden cavern that wrath arose and swept over her in pale flame.

‘Go and pack your trunk,’ said Mrs Marroner. ‘You will leave my house tonight. Here is your money.’

She laid down the fifty-dollar bill. She put with it a month’s wages. She had no shadow of pity for those anguished eyes, those tears which she heard drop on the floor.

‘Go to your room and pack,’ said Mrs Marroner. And Gerta, always obedient, went.

Then Mrs Marroner went to hers, and spent a time she never counted, lying on her face on the bed.

But the training of the twenty-eight years which had elapsed before her marriage; the life at college, both as student and teacher; the independent growth which she had made, formed a very different background for grief from that in Gerta’s mind.

After a while Mrs Marroner arose. She administered to herself a hot bath, a cold shower, a vigorous rubbing. ‘Now I can think,’ she said.

First she regretted the sentence of instant banishment. She went upstairs to see if it had been carried out. Poor Gerta! The tempest of her agony had worked itself out at last as in a child, and left her sleeping, the pillow wet, the lips still grieving, a big sob shuddering itself off now and then.

Mrs Marroner stood and watched her, and as she watched she considered the helpless sweetness of the face; the defenseless, unformed character; the docility and habit of obedience which made her so attractive—and so easily a victim. Also she thought of the mighty force which had swept over her; of the great process now working itself out through her; of how pitiful and futile seemed any resistance she might have made.

She softly returned to her own room, made up a little fire, and sat by it, ignoring her feelings now, as she had before ignored her thoughts.