The House of Dust; a Symphony

Author: Conrad Potter Aiken

VI. Adele and Davis

She turned her head on the pillow, and cried once more. And drawing a shaken breath, and closing her eyes, To shut out, if she could, this dingy room, The wigs and costumes scattered around the floor,— Yellows and greens in the dark,—she walked again Those nightmare streets which she had walked so often . . . Here, at a certain corner, under an arc-lamp, Blown by a bitter wind, she stopped and looked In through the brilliant windows of a drug-store, And wondered if she dared to ask for poison: But it was late, few customers were there, The eyes of all the clerks would freeze upon her, And she would wilt, and cry . . . Here, by the river, She listened to the water slapping the wall, And felt queer fascination in its blackness: But it was cold, the little waves looked cruel, The stars were keen, and a windy dash of spray Struck her cheek, and withered her veins . . . And so She dragged herself once more to home, and bed.

Paul hadn’t guessed it yet—though twice, already, She’d fainted—once, the first time, on the stage. So she must tell him soon—or else—get out . . . How could she say it? That was the hideous thing. She’d rather die than say it! . . . and all the trouble, Months when she couldn’t earn a cent, and then, If he refused to marry her . . . well, what? She saw him laughing, making a foolish joke, His grey eyes turning quickly; and the words Fled from her tongue . . . She saw him sitting silent, Brooding over his morning coffee, maybe, And tried again . . . she bit her lips, and trembled, And looked away, and said . . . ’Say Paul, boy,—listen— There’s something I must tell you . . . ’ There she stopped, Wondering what he’d say . . . What would he say? ’Spring it, kid! Don’t look so serious!’ ’But what I’ve got to say—IS—serious!’ Then she could see how, suddenly, he would sober, His eyes would darken, he’d look so terrifying— He always did—and what could she do but cry? Perhaps, then, he would guess—perhaps he wouldn’t. And if he didn’t, but asked her ’What’s the matter?’— She knew she’d never tell—just say she was sick . . . And after that, when would she dare again? And what would he do—even suppose she told him?

If it were Felix! If it were only Felix!— She wouldn’t mind so much. But as it was, Bitterness choked her, she had half a mind To pay out Felix for never having liked her, By making people think that it was he . . . She’d write a letter to someone, before she died,— Just saying ’Felix did it—and wouldn’t marry.’ And then she’d die . . . But that was hard on Paul . . . Paul would never forgive her—he’d never forgive her! Sometimes she almost thought Paul really loved her . . . She saw him look reproachfully at her coffin.

And then she closed her eyes and walked again Those nightmare streets that she had walked so often: Under an arc-lamp swinging in the wind She stood, and stared in through a drug-store window, Watching a clerk wrap up a little pill-box. But it was late. No customers were there,— Pitiless eyes would freeze her secret in her! And then—what poison would she dare to ask for? And if they asked her why, what would she say?


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Chicago: Conrad Potter Aiken, "VI. Adele and Davis," The House of Dust; a Symphony in The House of Dust; a Symphony Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2022,

MLA: Aiken, Conrad Potter. "VI. Adele and Davis." The House of Dust; a Symphony, in The House of Dust; a Symphony, Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Aiken, CP, 'VI. Adele and Davis' in The House of Dust; a Symphony. cited in , The House of Dust; a Symphony. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2022, from