Mrs. Slade waited, but Mrs. Ansley did not speak.
"Well, my dear, I know what was in that letter because I wrote it!"
"You wrote it?"
The two women stood for a minute staring at each other in the last golden light. Then Mrs. Ansley dropped back into her chair. "Oh," she murmured, and covered her face with her hands.
Mrs. Slade waited nervously for another word or movement. None came, and at length she broke out: "I horrify you."
Mrs. Ansley's hands dropped to her knees. The face they uncovered was streaked with tears. "I wasn't thinking of you. I was thinking - it was the only letter I ever had from him!"
"And I wrote it. Yes; I wrote it! But I was the girl he was engaged to. Did you happen to remember that?"
Mrs. Ansley's head drooped again. "I'm not trying to excuse myself ... I remembered ..."
"And still you went?"
"Still I went."
Mrs. Slade stood looking down on the small bowed figure at her side. The flame of her wrath had already sunk, and she wondered why she had ever thought there would be any satisfaction in inflicting so purposeless a wound on her friend. But she had to justify herself.
"You do understand? I'd found out - and I hated you, hated you. I knew you were in love with Delphin - and I was afraid; afraid of you, of your quiet ways, your sweetness ... your ... well, I wanted you out of the way, that's all. Just for a few weeks; just till I was sure of him. So in a blind fury I
wrote that letter ... I don't know why I'm telling you now."
"I suppose," said Mrs. Ansley slowly, "it's because you've always gone on hating me."
"Perhaps. Or because I wanted to get the whole thing off my mind." She paused. "I'm glad you destroyed the letter. Of course I never thought you'd die."
Mrs. Ansley relapsed into silence, and Mrs. Slade, leaning above her, was conscious of a strange sense of isolation, of being cut off from the warm current of human communion. "You think me a monster!"
"I don't know ... It was the only letter I had, and you say he didn't write it"
"Ah, how you care for him still!"
"I cared for that memory," said Mrs. Ansley.
Mrs. Slade continued to look down on her. She seemed physically reduced by the blow - as if, when she got up, the wind might scatter her like a puff of dust. Mrs. Slade's jealousy suddenly leaped up again at the sight. All these years the woman had been living on that letter. How she must have loved him, to treasure the mere memory of its ashes! The letter of the man her friend was engaged to. Wasn't it she who was the monster?
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