The Breaking Point
The Sayre house stood on the hill behind the town, a long, rather low white
house on Italian lines. In summer, until the family exodus to the Maine Coast, the
brilliant canopy which extended out over the terrace indicated, as Harrison Miller
put it, that the family was "in residence." Originally designed as a summer home,
Mrs. Sayre now used it the year round. There was nothing there, as there was in
the town house, to remind her of the bitter days before her widowhood.
She was a short, heavy woman, of fine taste in her house and of no taste
whatever in her clothing.
"I never know," said Harrison Miller, "when I look up at the Sayre place, whether
I'm seeing Ann Sayre or an awning."
She was not a shrewd woman, nor a clever one, but she was kindly in the main,
tolerant and maternal. She liked young people, gave gay little parties to which
she wore her outlandish clothes of all colors and all cuts, lavished gifts on the
girls she liked, and was anxious to see Wallie married to a good steady girl and
settled down. Between her son and herself was a quiet but undemonstrative
affection. She viewed him through eyes that had lost their illusion about all men
years ago, and she had no delusions about him. She had no idea that she knew
all that he did with his time, and no desire to penetrate the veil of his private life.
"He spends a great deal of money," she said one day to her lawyer. "I suppose in
the usual ways. But he is not quite like his father. He has real affections, which
his father hadn't. If he marries the right girl she can make him almost anything."
She had her first inkling that he was interested in Elizabeth Wheeler one day
when the head gardener reported that Mr. Wallace had ordered certain roses cut
and sent to the Wheeler house. She was angry at first, for the roses were being
saved for a dinner party. Then she considered.
"Very well, Phelps," she said. "Do it. And I'll select a plant also, to go to Mrs.
After all, why not the Wheeler girl? She had been carefully reared, if the Wheeler
house was rather awful in spots, and she was a gentle little thing; very attractive,
too, especially in church. And certainly Wallie had been seeing a great deal of
She went to the greenhouses, and from there upstairs and into the rooms that
she had planned for Wallie and his bride, when the time came. She was more
content than she had been for a long time. She was a lonely woman, isolated by
her very grandeur from the neighborliness she craved; when she wanted society
she had to ask for it, by invitation. Standing inside the door of the boudoir, her