Among all her husband's friends Fred Hadley was the one whose society she preferred. She found him sympathetic, kind and yet always respectful. He being very fond of music and having considerable literary taste, they soon found that they had many interests in common. Sometimes he would join them in their box at the opera, or when Stafford brought him home to dinner they sat and chatted on all kinds of congenial topics while the husband, wholly absorbed in the business details of a busy day, paid only scant attention to the conversation.
One evening the subject of divorce happened to come up. They were discussing the notorious case of a well-known woman in society who had submitted to all kinds of cruelties and indignities on the part of her husband rather than shame him by bringing the matter into court. Stafford, for once becoming interested in the argument, declared decisively that the woman was right, that, having entered into a matrimonial compact, she was in honor bound to conceal from prying outsiders any domestic differences they might have. Virginia promptly differed with him and proceeded to give her reasons. Stafford was no match for her when it came to sociology and he could only grunt disapproval as she went on warmly to defend womankind from the ignominy of a degrading marriage, while Hadley, keenly interested, smoked his cigar and listened.
"A woman who will suffer in silence while her brutal husband stands over her with a whip is a disgrace to her sex," she exclaimed hotly. "She is no better than a shackled slave; her position in the man's house is that of a concubine."
"What shall she do?" cried Stafford with a shrug of his shoulders and a cynical laugh.
"Get a divorce," retorted Virginia.
"Divorce!" echoed the railroad man mockingly. "The world is full of divorcees. Everyone looks down on them. They have a bad name. What does she gain by that?"
"Her own self-respect if not that of the world. Divorce is the only weapon a defenceless woman has."
Stafford, badly beaten, relapsed into a sulky silence, while Hadley nodded approval.
"You are quite right, Mrs. Stafford," he said; "the fear of divorce and its attendant publicity makes many a husband behave himself."
Following up her advantage, Virginia picked up a newspaper lying on a table close by.
"Here," she said, "is the opinion of a woman on this very question—a woman evidently who has herself suffered. She says:
"'How many beings live together for long years strangers in mind and body! How many are the slaves of marriage whose relations are hideous with mutual hate! Why, in the name of a religious principle, should one make eternal the hell whose torments are as varied as they are overwhelming? Why should not reason and the right of the individual correct the mistakes of chance, false calculations, and hopes deceived? Why should a woman who does not find in her husband the necessary moral support suffer the tortures of a long agony in which she is defenceless, of a perpetual struggle in which she is miserably conquered; and, on the other hand, why should the husband who does not find in his wife the hoped-for companion or the desired slave, find the road to happiness forever closed to him? Before divorce was established, men and women who lived together in misunderstanding suffered an agony worse than that of the condemned to death, for nothing can be compared to the torture of being tied, body and soul, in hatred or scorn, or even indifference.'"
Hadley nodded approvingly.
"I think she puts the case pretty well," he remarked. "It's a strong argument in favor of the legal separation."
"I beg to differ," said Stafford dryly. Rising with a yawn, he went on: "Half the marital troubles one hears about are the fault of the wife. She is often too exacting, too fond of meddling in her husband's affairs. A man who respects himself bends to no one—not even to his wife." With another yawn he added: "Will you two excuse me for a few minutes? I have a letter to write."
Without waiting for an answer, he turned on his heel and walked into the library, closing the door behind him. Hadley puffed away at his cigar in silence, while Virginia gazed thoughtfully into the fire. Presently Hadley said:
"Bob's in an argumentative mood to-night."
Virginia sighed as she replied:
"Yes—he has not much patience. He always takes the stand that man is the master, that women should have no will of their own."
Hadley shook his head as he replied:
"Old-fashioned notion that. The quicker he gets rid of it the better."
Virginia looked at him without speaking. There was an inquiring, wistful expression in her face, as if she longed to unbosom herself to someone, and yet had no one close enough, intimate enough in whom she could confide. Presently she said:
"Mr. Hadley, you've known my husband a number of years. Was he always as he is now?"
"In what way do you mean?"
"Was he always as dictatorial, as self-centred and self-willed?"
"Yes, Bob was always inclined that way, and it seems to have grown on him as he has grown older."
There was still another question hovering on the young wife's lips. Dare she ask it? Why not? This friend was so loyal, so considerate, that he would understand. If it worried her at all, it was because her happiness, the future of her unborn children, if she had any, might be at stake. At last, with an effort, she summoned up courage and ventured to give expression to what was on her mind.
"Mr. Hadley, there's something else. I've intended to ask you for a long time—" Hesitating, she said: "I've quite forgotten what it was—"
He looked at her keenly. He had observed for some time that things were not quite as they should be in his friend's home. Stafford seemed to be more indifferent to his wife, he stayed out more at nights; she, on her side, appeared to be continually on the defensive, as if there was constant friction. But by no outward sign could she have guessed that he gauged the situation. Carelessly he said:
"Is it something about Bob?"
Thus encouraged, she spoke up frankly, just as if she were talking to an elder brother:
"Yes, that's it. Was—was my husband fond of wine as a young man? I can ask you this—you've been so intimate with him." Hastily and with a forced laugh she added: "I don't mean that he drinks to excess now, but I wondered if as a young man he ever took more than was good for him. I don't see how he could have done, for it would have interfered with his career."
Hadley puffed seriously at his cigar. A kindly man by disposition, he really felt sorry for this brave little woman who was trying to make light of a tragedy. Slowly he replied:
"I'm sorry to say that Bob has always had a penchant in that direction. It has not interfered with his success, but when he's under the influence of liquor he's not himself. He seems to quite lose self-control." Looking at her closely, he added: "He hasn't been drinking since your marriage, has he?"
"Oh, no indeed," she replied hastily. "He wouldn't drink now, I'm sure, if only out of regard for me."
Hadley was about to say more, when suddenly the library door opened and Stafford entered, hat in hand. Addressing his friend and without so much as glancing at his wife, he said curtly:
"Coming over to the club, Hadley? There's a poker game on to-night. I promised to take a hand."
The two men went away together and that night Virginia sobbed herself to sleep.
Another month went by and imperceptibly, almost unnoticed by themselves, the coolness between husband and wife grew. There was no open quarrel, not even a cross word; but Stafford stayed out nearly every night and Virginia, left alone in the great library with only books for companions, wondered if this was the happy married life she had prayed for.
One night the servants were awakened by a commotion at the front door. Their master, returning from the club, had stumbled and fallen down the stoop. Oku picked him up, and Stafford, luckily unhurt, staggered unaided to his room. Half an hour later the stillness of the night was again disturbed—this time by a woman's shrill scream of fright and a man's voice raised in tones of angry command. To the servants it seemed as if the sounds came from their mistress' room.
Thus the months passed, and to the outside world, which obtained only an occasional glimpse into the Stafford household, the railroad man's pretty young wife was one of the most-to-be-envied women in New York. Still, there were some who shook their heads. They pointed to the young Mrs. Stafford's pale face and melancholy manner. In the last few weeks particularly she had lost her good spirits and was only a shadow of the girl who two years before had entered Robert Stafford's home a bride.
* * * * *
Meantime Virginia's sister, now Mrs. Gillie, was as happy and contented in her married life as circumstances would permit. She was not able to live on as grand a scale as her rich sister, but Jimmie's income, thanks to Mr. Stafford's generosity, had been increased to an amount quite beyond their most sanguine expectations. Beginning at a salary of $50 a week, he had been quickly raised to $100, and there was every prospect of even better to come. This enabled them to live very comfortably and even to save a little money. They had a pretty flat in One Hundred and Fortieth Street, where a baby girl had come to bless their union. Jimmie was a considerate enough husband, but indolent, and, still impressed with his own importance, he was always grumbling that his merit was underestimated by the world in general and his present employer in particular. Fanny considered it most ungrateful, and one morning at breakfast she took him to task:
"How can you speak in that way of Mr. Stafford?" she protested. "We owe him everything."
His mouth full of toast, her husband gulped down his scalding coffee. Disdainfully he replied:
"That's where you women understand nothing about business. Stafford must find me useful or he wouldn't be paying me $100 a week. I'm worth more than any other man he's got, that's the size of it. He pays me less because I'm one of the family. That's the way it always is. I'm no fool. I know what I ought to be getting. He's got to do better by me or I'll quit. I'll show him that I'm no $100-a-week piker."
"You've no right to say that, Jim," interrupted his wife. "Just think how good he is to Virginia. He's always giving her something. Only last week he bought her a diamond necklace which must have cost $5,000 if a cent."
"Pshaw!" he retorted with a sneer, "what good does Virginia's necklace do me? More fool he to throw so much money away on finery. I guess he was drunk when he did it."
Her face red with indignation, Fanny rose from the table.
"How dare you say such a thing of Robert?" she cried angrily. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Really, I've no patience with you! Such base ingratitude after all he has done for us! And so uncalled for! If ever there was a model husband—"
"You don't say so!" he interrupted with a sneer.
There was something peculiar about her husband's manner that made Fanny look at him more closely.
"What do you mean?" she demanded uneasily.
"Who told you that he was a model husband? Did Virginia ever say so?"
Fanny stared at him, not understanding.
"She never said he wasn't," she stammered.
"Say—but you women are easy marks! Of course she didn't. A girl with Virginia's spirit doesn't like to confess she's made a mess of it. I guess she knows well enough by this time that her model husband is not all that he should be, that he goes on periodical sprees and is apt to come home any night dead drunk. All New York knows it."
Speechless with astonishment and consternation, Fanny stood still, staring at her husband. Could this be true? Was Virginia unhappy, had they made a mistake, after all? Now she came to think of it, she recalled some peculiar remarks dropped by her sister from time to time; there had been days when she was strangely depressed, as if she lived in fear of something or someone. Was it possible that Robert was not the man he seemed? Virginia had never even hinted at such a thing directly, but one day, she remembered, her sister had brought up the subject whether it was a woman's duty to go on living with a husband after she had ceased to respect him.
For some days after Jimmie's revelation at the breakfast table, Fanny went about her little flat listless and discouraged. Her usual high spirits had gone; she felt nervous and ill at ease. If Virginia was unhappy it was she alone who was responsible. She had encouraged the match and really persuaded her sister into it. The very first opportunity she would find out herself if there was any truth in the story.
The blow had fallen upon Virginia with the unexpectedness and appalling swiftness of a bolt from the blue. From a tranquil state of contentment and comparative happiness she suddenly awoke to the fact that she had made a terrible mistake, and when she realized the full significance of her misfortune, she sank nerveless on to a sofa in her boudoir and gave way to a wild outburst of hysterical tears. What could her life be henceforth? How could she hide from the world her shame, her humiliation, her degradation? To be the wife of a drunkard, a man given up to the vilest passions, who came to her only when, temporarily bereft of his reason, she was no longer able to recognize in him the man she had married!
The first time it happened she thought she would go insane from fright, horror and disgust. He had been out to dinner and returned home very late, and so tipsy that he fell down the front steps. She heard nothing of the commotion, having gone to bed and closed her door. He knocked and asked her to come into the library and chat a little; so, thinking to please him, she slipped on a robe and went in. At first she did not notice his condition. He was in high spirits and insisted on opening a bottle of champagne. Then she observed that his face was flushed, a strange look was in his eyes—a look she had never seen there before—and his breath smelled strong of drink. He became very amorous and clumsily threw his arms around her. She recoiled in disgust, but he seized her, overpowered her by sheer brute strength, leered at her like some gibbering ape, polluted her lips with whiskey-laden kisses, claimed possession of her body with the unreasoning frenzy of a beast in rut.
The next day he avoided her, as if ashamed of his conduct, and for some time he kept out of her way. Then frankly, candidly, he came to her and asked her pardon. It would never happen again, he said, if only she would forgive him. She forgave, and a few weeks later the same disgraceful scene occurred. Again he professed to be filled with remorse. Never again would he touch wine—if only she would again overlook it. A second time was he forgiven, and shortly afterwards she was once more the victim of his lust and violence.
Panic-stricken, not knowing where to turn, in whom to confide, she went almost insane from anxiety and grief. She could not take strangers into her confidence; she even shrank from telling her own sister. This, then, was the barrier which her unerring instinct had sensed—her husband was a drunkard! He took pleasure in his wife's society only when the champagne aroused his amorous instincts. That was why he had married her. This millionaire had covered her with jewels, given her a luxurious home, but at what a price! He had said he loved her. Love? Such a word was a mockery in the mouth of such a voluptuary. The only feeling he had for her was the blind instinct of the primeval brute. He had no respect for her; he regarded her as something he had a right to force his will upon. She was his plaything, his mistress—not his wife. When, heated with wine, he approached her, a horrible, meaning smile on his face, he seemed to take possession of her as of something he had a right to, something he had bought and paid for and which was his alone to enjoy.
It was impossible to go on living like this. Unless she asserted her womanhood he would gradually degrade her to his own level. She suffered silently, atrociously, feeling her degradation all the more keenly because of her intelligence which rebelled against the injustice and ignominy of it. Her womanhood revolted against this continual, humiliating subjection to the will of the male, of which her sex was the victim. She suffered as thousands of women have done before her, as only a woman can suffer when in spite of herself, against her own inclination and will, she is forced to submit to the unwelcome caresses of a man she no longer loves, a man she can no longer respect. There was only one way out. He must either swear never again to touch a drop of liquor or she would leave him forever. Yes, that was the only way. She would rather suffer any privation than put up with his brutality.
Then, in calmer moments, she hesitated. It would not do to be too hasty. Perhaps he would never again offend in that way. He had broken each promise, it was true, but he seemed so sorry each time, so filled with remorse. Ought she to give him another trial? In her dilemma she decided to ask counsel of her sister. She would not tell Fanny everything, of course; that would be too dreadful, too humiliating. She would merely ask her what she herself would do under similar provocation.
An opportunity soon presented itself. Frequently during the Winter she invited Fanny to go with her to the opera, and sometimes when there were to be several outings, her sister would come and stay at the Stafford home for several days, bringing her baby with her, a suite having been set apart for the Gillies' exclusive use. The house was so large that Virginia could well spare the room. Besides, she liked to have her sister's companionship.
It was on the last night of one of these protracted visits that Robert Stafford's wife found the long-waited-for chance to unburden her heart. She and Fanny had been to the opera and just returned home. Virginia was in her boudoir, still wearing the magnificent gown and wonderful jewels which made her the cynosure of every eye in the Metropolitan's aristocratic horse-shoe circle. Fanny had gone to her own apartment and Josephine, the French maid, took from her mistress her cloak and opera bag. While the girl disposed of the articles she chattered in French:
"Je pensais que Madame rentrerait un peu plus tard—"
"Yes," replied Virginia languidly, "we returned much earlier than we expected. The opera was stupid—"
Josephine, a born diplomat, stopped short and, going into ecstasies over her mistress's gown, exclaimed rapturously:
"Oh, que Madame est jolie ce soir, vraiement ravissante!"
"I'm glad the gown looks well," replied Virginia with an air of weary indifference as she sank down on a sofa.
"Mais oui—Madame n'a jamais ete si jolie."
"Donnez moi mes pantoufles," said her mistress with a yawn. She was very tired and was glad to change her tight opera slippers for more comfortable footwear.
Josephine knelt down, took off the dainty slippers, and, going to a closet, brought a pair of easy bedroom slippers and put them on.
"Has Mr. Stafford returned?" inquired Virginia.
"No, Madame. Did not Monsieur go to opera with Madame and Madame Gillie?"
"Yes," said her mistress hastily, "but he couldn't stay. He had some business to attend to. You are quite sure he hasn't 'phoned?"
The girl shook her head.
"No message, Madame. I find out." Picking up the receiver from a telephone on the bureau, she spoke downstairs: "Hello! Who is this? Madame want to know if any word has come from Monsieur since he went away! You are quite sure? Merci!" Replacing the receiver, she shook her head and said: "No, Madame."
Virginia looked away. Her hands were tightly clenched and a hard, set expression came into her face. Rising, she said:
"Very well. I'll get into something loose."
The girl took off her mistress's jewels and put them away in a drawer of the dressing table. This done, she began to unhook her dress.
Virginia shivered. She did not feel well; her face was flushed and her head ached. She thought that, possibly, she had taken cold. In a tone of mild reproach she said:
"The bath was a little cold this morning, Josephine."
The maid looked distressed. Such a calamity was unheard of—hardly to be believed. Apologetically she exclaimed:
"Je suis vraiment desolee, Madame. It not happen again—I see to that."
Virginia smiled languidly:
"I'm not complaining, Josephine—"
"No, Madame is very good and kind."
"There's no reason why I shouldn't be."
"Merci, Madame," said the girl with a courtesy.
At that moment there was a knock at the door and Fanny entered. She, also, was in evening dress, but less elegantly attired than her sister. Dropping into a chair, while Virginia went on changing her gown, she exclaimed:
"Baby's all right, thank God! She's sleeping just as sound as can be."
"Isn't that nice?" smiled Virginia.
"Yes," went on her sister proudly, "she's a perfect darling."
"She's certainly a dear," murmured Virginia, turning to view herself in the long mirror.
"Did you ever know a child who behaved better?" demanded the proud mother.
"Never. She hasn't been the slightest trouble since you've been here—has she?"
"No!" smiled Fanny. "And she's always that way. It's such a comfort to a mother to know her child has a sweet disposition. I wonder whether she gets it—from me or from Jimmie."
"Jimmie's coming in say good night, isn't he?" asked Virginia.
"You bet!" exclaimed her sister, involuntarily relapsing into slang. "I mean—certainly he is."
"That's right," said Virginia.
"Shall we see you in the morning before we go?"
"I thought perhaps you'd have breakfast in bed."
"And let you and the baby go without saying good-bye? No, indeed."
Virginia had now changed her gown for a loose, clinging robe. With a sigh of relief she exclaimed:
"Oh, how good it is to be unlaced!"
"That's right," replied Fanny; "make yourself comfortable. I could let an inch or so out of mine without doing any violent harm. Oh, I just love to be dressed—decolletee! I got it right that time, didn't I, Josephine?"
"Oui, Madame," replied the maid.
"Fine! And say, Virgie—"
"I looked them all over at the opera to-night and you take it from me—nobody had anything on us to-night."
"You certainly looked very well," said Virginia with a smile.
Fanny beamed with pleasure.
"You weren't ashamed of your sister, were you?" she said.
"Ashamed! I should say not."
"Of course," went on the elder sister proudly, "with my figure I can wear anything! But when it comes to evening dress I flatter myself that I'm in the front of the procession and very near the band!"
"It certainly is becoming to you."
"You were a dream!" went on her sister enthusiastically. "Did you see the look you got from the young woman in the next box—the one with the pushed-in face?"
"I did. Prussic acid and vinegar."
"I saw it. One drink would have meant death mingled with convulsions."
"You imagined it."
"Not much," retorted her sister. "I saw it, I tell you. So did Jimmie—I mean James. You know I'm trying to break myself of this habit of calling him Jimmie. It's so common."
"Where is Jimmie?" smiled Virginia, still busy at her dressing table.
"Smoking a cigar and admiring the baby."
Virginia remained silent for a moment. Then, thoughtfully, she said:
"Do you know what I'm going to do for her?"
"No—what?" demanded Fanny eagerly.
"I'm going to do all I can for her. She'll never have to fight and struggle as you and mother did. I'm going to buy her clothes for her, see after her education, get a governess when the time comes, send her through Vassar or Wellesley if she wants to go, see that she learns how to ride and drive. In fact, I'm going to do everything for her that money and love can."
Fanny clasped her hands with delight. Enthusiastically and gratefully she exclaimed:
"You're a thoroughbred, Virgie! But what would your husband say?"
"Robert would help me. He's as fond of her as I am. And you know the size of his heart."
"I should say I do," replied Fanny eagerly. "See what he's done for James and me already."
"Anything else, Madame?" inquired Josephine, who had finished her duties.
Her mistress shook her head.
"No, Josephine. You needn't wait for me."
"Shall I call Madame in the morning?"
"No. I'll ring when I want you."
"Oui, Madame." Turning round at the door, she said apologetically: "Quant au bain, je verrai a ce que cela ne se repete plus."
Virginia smiled good naturedly:
"Very well, Josephine—that's all right—"
"Bonne nuit, Madame!"
The girl went out, closing the door behind her. Fanny, laughing, mimicked her:
"'Anything else, Madame?' 'No, Josephine, you needn't wait for me.' 'Shall I call you in the morning, Madame?' 'No, I'll ring when I want you.' Gee! That's classy, all right. It's just like one reads about in the story books."
"What is?" asked Virginia, who, still seated at the dressing table, had begun to arrange her hair for the night.
"You and the way you speak French!"
The younger sister laughed heartily.
"Why shouldn't I? I've studied hard enough in the last year and a half."
"And your music!"
"And your German! And your books on literature and art!"
Taking in the entire room with a sweeping gesture of her hand, she continued:
"And all this—and your autos—and your yacht—and your box at the opera—and everything that money can buy—and just think only two years ago you were an underpaid telephone girl in a hotel!"
"Yes, it is wonderful, isn't it?" sighed Virginia.
"Wonderful!" exclaimed the other. "It makes Laura Jean Libbey look like a piker."
"Fanny!" protested her sister.
"What's the matter?"
"Slang!" said Virginia reproachfully.
"Oh, I just have to blow off steam once in a while," replied Fanny carelessly. "And maybe I'm not in it, too. Two years ago I was working in our little millinery store. Enter the rich Mrs. Chuddington. She's fifty if she's a day, weighs a hundred and ninety and has a—a double chin. She sees a hat that would suit a girl just out of school and tries it on. I look at her and say: 'Oh, Mrs. Chuddington, isn't that lovely!' Of course, I know it's awful, but I have to say it because it's business. I point to the customer and Marie says: 'Oh, Mrs. Chuddington, isn't that exquisite!' Then Mrs. Chuddington puts on the hat, leaves the store looking a perfect fright. Marie looks at Fanny; Fanny looks at Marie, and though we don't say a word, we think—oh! how we do think!"
Virginia smiled in spite of herself.
"They try it with me," she laughed.
"But how is it now?" went on Fanny with an attempt at dignity. "Now, I'm Mrs. James Gillie, sister of the rich Mrs. Robert Stafford, with whom I have just spent an evening at the opera and who I am now visiting in her French boudoir! Sometimes I don't believe it's real, and I find myself getting ready to wake up just in time to hear the alarm go off!"
"It is real enough, Fanny," smiled her sister. After a pause, she asked: "And you—you are happy?"
"Of course I am," said the other, dropping into a seat. "Why shouldn't I be? Haven't I got James and the baby and a pretty flat, and a maid to do the work. And isn't James getting a hundred a week from Mr. Stafford? Well, I should say I am happy!"
"I'm so glad," murmured Virginia with a sigh.
Looking up quickly, Fanny asked:
"You're happy, too, aren't you?"
Virginia made no reply for a moment. Then she said hesitatingly
Fanny looked closely at her. Was there any foundation for the story Jimmie had told her? Was her sister unhappy? Did all this luxury conceal an aching heart?
"If you're not," she said tentatively, "I don't know what you want. Nobody could be a better husband than Robert. He's just the kindest, nicest man; a woman simply couldn't help loving him."
Virginia made no answer and Fanny continued:
"You do love him, don't you?"
"Yes," said Virginia hesitatingly, "most of the time. In fact, nearly all of the time."
"Most of the time—nearly all the time," exclaimed Fanny. "What do you think love is? Off again, on again, Finnigan! You either love a man or you don't; at least, that's the way I understand it."
Virginia shook her head. Gravely she said:
"The trouble is that you don't understand—this."
Fanny put her arm round her sister's neck. Sympathetically she said:
"What is it, dear? Tell me—"
Virginia turned round and faced her sister. First looking round the room to make sure no one was there, she said in a whisper:
"Did Jimmie ever come home—drunk?"
"I should like to see him try it," exclaimed Fanny indignantly. "Just once. I imagine once would be enough."
"Then you can't understand it," said Virginia quickly.
"Does—Robert?" asked Fanny in a low tone.
Virginia nodded and turned her head away.
"Often?" demanded her sister.
Virginia shook her head despondently. Stifling back the sobs that choked her utterance, she answered:
"If it were often, I couldn't bear it. I should have left him long ago. It's bad enough as it is."
Fanny kissed her.
"Poor girl!" she murmured.
Drying her tears, Virginia went on:
"When he's himself there isn't a finer man in the world, but when he's not—"
"Tell me everything," said Fanny, putting her arm sympathetically round her little sister's waist.
Virginia turned away. Confusedly she said:
"Oh, yes, you can," said Fanny coaxingly, "me—your sister."
"Yes, you can, dear. Does he come home in a nasty temper?"
"He's generally in the best of tempers—at first."
"And afterwards? You can tell me! What is it?"
"Afterward," said the young wife in a low tone, as if ashamed to tell the rest: "it isn't love at all—he's just a stranger—inflamed with liquor—who has me in his power!"
Fanny, shocked, clasped her sister the more closely.
"Virgie!" she exclaimed. "Poor little Virgie!"
"Yes, it's horrible," said Virginia, with difficulty keeping back the tears. "Sometimes," she went on, "for days I can hardly look at him! And yet, strange as it may seem, I still love him! I love him to-day better than I ever loved him. Why? I do not know. If it wasn't for just that one thing I could be the happiest woman in the world."
"Poor little girl," murmured Fanny, consolingly.
At that moment there was a sharp rap on the door. The elder sister quickly went to open.
"It's James," she said, "shall I let him in?"
"Certainly," replied Virginia.
Mr. James Gillie looked to-day an entirely different person to what he had appeared when he first came courting his wife. He had never lacked a bold front, at any time, but in those early days his salary of $14 per did not permit any great latitude in the important matter of furnishing his wardrobe. Compelled to be satisfied with the cheapest ready-made garments, the knowledge of his sartorial shortcomings had always exercised a certain sobering effect on him, especially when in presence of his superiors. But now conditions had changed. Thanks to his present employer's liberality, he was able to stamp himself with the hall mark of success. As Robert Stafford's right-hand man, drawing $5,000 a year, self-denial was no longer necessary; he could indulge his taste to the limit. Dressed in a fashionably cut evening dress coat, with white tie and waistcoat, patent-leather pumps and silk socks with embroidered trees, anyone might have easily taken him for a gentleman—until they heard him talk. His speech, crude and slangy as ever, seemed to have lagged behind in his climb toward business and social recognition.
Nor could it be said that the young man, so fertile in ideas, had lived up to all the brilliant promises which he had made. After two years rich with opportunities of a kind which fall to the lot of few men, he had accomplished nothing that was at all likely to prove of lasting or even temporary benefit to his fellow man. Much to his astonishment and mortification, his most cherished inventions had been openly derided as little better than the ravings of a lunatic, and he soon discovered that no one in the railroad office—not even the office boy—took him seriously. He was tolerated by the office staff because he happened to be the husband of the boss' sister-in-law, but no one dreamed for an instant of entrusting him with any work involving responsibility. He was given an occupation in which he would do the least harm, and for his services his millionaire employer, anxious to help his sister-in-law in every way possible, humorously invented quite a novel rate of remuneration. He decided to pay Jimmie exactly ten times what he was actually worth. Thus at first when the clerk was actually worth $5 he was given $50; later when he was worth $10 he was raised to $100. Being quite unaware of this carefully graduated scale of wages, made specially in his honor, Jimmy went to the Stafford office every day wearing the same jaunty self-confident air, convinced that his employer was underpaying him and that he was a very valuable person, indeed.
* * * * *
As he entered Fanny ran up to him and kissed him impulsively. Jimmie looked at her in surprise. Comically he remarked:
"What's that for? A touch?"
She laughed heartily.
"Not this time." Looking admiringly at her husband, she added:
"Well, I guess this was some night for the Gillie family, eh?"
"Yes—wasn't it!" exclaimed Virginia, still occupied in preparing for the night.
Jimmie grinned. Good-humoredly he said:
"You were queens—both of you! The others were only deuces!"
"I'd be sure to think that, anyway!" laughed Fanny.
"So would anybody with good eyes," he went on. "Honest—I never saw so much paint on a bunch of women in my life! When it comes to complexion, they make the crowd at the French Maids' Ball look like a lot of schoolgirls just out of the convent."
"It was pretty bad," assented his wife.
"The funny thing," he continued, "was that the old ones were the worst. There was one old party in particular—the one that wore that long fur coat—what a fur coat!—I'm not sure what kind of fur it was, but it looked to me like unborn plush!"
"James!" exclaimed his wife, scandalized.
"Well," he proceeded, "that dame was so outrageously made up that you could have used her face for a danger signal—on the level you could—and yet I'll bet she was so old it would break a fellow just to buy candles for her birthday cake."
"I know the one you mean," laughed Fanny.
"Why do they do it?" he demanded with an air of superiority. "Do they think folks are blind? Or does each woman imagine that while she can spot it on every other woman a mile off, nobody can see it on her?"
"I think you have guessed it!"
"We were all right, weren't we?" interrupted Virginia with a smile.
"That's what you were!" he exclaimed enthusiastically. Then, surveying his own clothes in the mirror with great satisfaction, he went on: "While we are on the subject, what is the matter with 'yours truly'?"
"Splendid!" cried Virginia, looking him over.
Fanny beamed with pride. Laughingly she exclaimed:
"James got a Tuxedo a year ago, but this is the first time he has worn full evening dress."
"Yes," said her husband ruefully, "I felt all right in it except my hands and feet. My hands are no bigger than any other fellow's; but while I had on the white kids I felt there was nothing to me but the lunch hooks!"
"James!" cried Fanny, shocked at his vulgarity.
"Honest!" he grinned, "they felt so big that every time I put my foot down I thought I was going to step on one of 'em!"
Virginia looked admiringly at his silk hose.
"What beautiful socks!" she exclaimed.
Drawing up his trousers, Jimmie showed more of the hose above the pump. Grumbling, he said:
"Yes, they're all right. But what I object to is the draught that comes through the open windows! I wouldn't be a bit surprised if I had caught a severe cold in the instep! Pretty good looking suit, though, isn't it?"
"Yes, indeed!" exclaimed Fanny, examining the material more closely.
Her husband pointed with pride to his imitation pearl studs.
"And say—what do you think of my near-pearls?"
"I'll get you some genuine ones," laughed his sister-in-law.
"Don't you do it!" he retorted. "I looked the other fellows over and you couldn't tell 'em from mine! If you have any money to invest on me, put it into something that'll show."
"I will," said Virginia, much amused. "And now tell me, what did you really think of the opera, Jimmie?"
First he looked at his sister-in-law to see if she was seriously consulting his opinion; then solemnly he said:
"I hoped I wouldn't have to mention it."
"Why?" she demanded, laughing.
Making a gesture of protest, he exclaimed:
"Won't you please drop the 'Jimmie' and call me 'James'?"
"I'm going to be a millionaire some day," he explained, "and when I am, 'James Gillie' will be bad enough, but 'Jimmie Gillie'—Jimmy Gillie wouldn't sound as though I had a cent."
Virginia nodded. Smilingly she replied: "I see! Well, from this time on it shall be 'James'."
"And now, having settled that point, I ask you again—what did you really think of the opera?"
"On the level, or to tell to the neighbors?"
"Is there any difference?"
"You bet there is. To the neighbors I'll say it was 'so delightful' and 'extremely artistic,' but if it's on the level I'll say it was punk."
"What?" cried Virginia.
"Punk?" echoed his wife, puzzled.
"Yes! Fancy paying five a throw to hear a sawed-off Italian let go a few top notes, when you can have the same seat in a vaudeville theatre and get Eva Tanguay and a whole bunch of good acts for a dollar! Five a throw to hear a dago yodel something I don't even understand—not for my money!"
"James!" cried Fanny in despair.
But, once started, Jimmie was not to be curbed. With a grin he went on:
"And the leading lady—a human joke if ever there was one. There they were all telling about this beautiful maiden of eighteen summers, and when she came on—a beautiful maiden? A milk wagon, believe me, a milk wagon!"
Fanny turned to her sister. Apologetically she said:
"You see, dear, James only cares for violin music."
"I don't even care for that," he growled.
"Then why did you take me last week to see that famous violinist?" she demanded.
"A mistake, my dear. I didn't know he was a violinist. You see, he was flourishing his bow and I thought he was a juggler!"
"You're incorrigible!" laughed Virginia.
"Musical comedy and vaudeville for mine," he exclaimed. "I've joined the ranks of the 'tired business men,' like your husband."
Virginia shook her head. "You're wrong there," she said. "Robert is very fond of opera."
"Which accounts for his not going to hear it, I suppose."
"No, that was not it," she replied quickly. "He had to see some of his associates on a very important business matter."
"That's what I'll be saying soon!" grinned her brother-in-law. "I'm already getting a hundred a week. I guess that's not bad for a fellow who two years ago was only getting fourteen!"
"It's just splendid!" exclaimed Fanny.
"And the best thing about it is that I did it all myself!" said Jimmie.
"All?" echoed Virginia.
"Yes, every bit," he answered impudently.
"Didn't Robert help any?"
"Oh, of course, he gave me the chance, but how long do you think I'd have lasted if I hadn't made good?"
His sister-in-law smiled good-naturedly. Quickly she asked:
"What salary were you getting when Robert gave you your chance?"
"That's got nothing to do with it," he retorted.
"You were getting fourteen dollars a week and he started you at fifty. That was some help, wasn't it?"
"Oh, well! what of it?"
"Nothing," she replied. "I mention this only to make you remember that Robert is entitled to at least a part of the credit for your advancement."
Jimmie nodded. Ungraciously he said:
"He gave me my start, I'll admit that. But did he raise me to seventy-five and then to a hundred out of charity? Not much! He did it because I was worth it."
"Of course," she smiled.
"Yes," he went on, "and I'm worth more than a hundred now. I'm going to strike for a raise pretty soon, and if I don't get it—if I don't get it, I'll put on my coat, walk right out and leave him flat."
"James!" exclaimed Fanny, making frantic signs to him to desist.
"And then? What will you do?" asked Virginia quickly.
"Go to work somewhere else!" he snapped.
"As a shipping clerk?"
"I should say not."
"Then what will you do?"
"I'll find something."
"At a salary of over five thousand dollars a year?"
Virginia shrugged her shoulders. Curtly she said:
"Don't be foolish."
Fanny nodded approval.
"I think myself you'd better stick to Robert," she said.
Folding his arms, the young man faced the two women. Indignantly he cried:
"You two talk as though I was getting my salary out of charity—as though Mr. Stafford was handing me something! Well, I tell you he isn't. There's no friendship in business, and if I wasn't worth a hundred I wouldn't get it! I'm a valuable man to your husband. I've put him onto four or five good things in Wall Street already. Did he tell you about 'em?"
"No," said Virginia, shaking her head.
"I did, just the same," he went on exultantly, "and if he followed my advice and played it strong he must have made half a million or so just out of my tips! I'm not conceited—not a bit—but I know what I can do! I know—"
Before he had completed the sentence the telephone rang. Virginia quickly took the receiver. After listening a moment, she said:
"Thank you!" Replacing the instrument, she turned to the others and said quietly:
"Robert has just come in."
Jimmie had still grievances to ventilate. Peevishly he exclaimed:
"There's another thing. Why shouldn't I call him Robert the same as you and Fanny do?"
"Has he objected?" asked Virginia, a slight smile hovering around her mouth.
"No," he answered; "I never tried it! I feel like a fool, though, at the office. Everybody knows he's my brother-in-law, and yet I have to call him 'Mr. Stafford,' just as though he was no relation at all. Do you think he'd mind if I called him Robert?"
"You must be the judge of that," she replied evasively.
Just then there was a rap on the door.
"Come," called out Virginia.
The door opened and Stafford entered.
As the millionaire advanced into the room it was easy to see that he was not himself. His face was flushed, his eyes brilliant, his gait awkward and uncertain. The bosom of his full dress shirt was rumpled and his white tie awry. He had every appearance of having just come from some midnight orgy, and, like most roysterers who take their wine joyously, he was in the highest spirits. Making with his right arm a wide sweeping gesture meant to include all present in a general salutation, he hiccoughed:
He stood still in the centre of the room, maintaining with difficulty the centre of gravitation and grinning upon each in turn.
"Isn't he jolly to-night?" laughed Fanny.
"Got 'em again," chuckled Jim in an undertone.
Virginia alone was not amused. Her face turned deathly pale. He had broken his word again. She looked at him, and shuddered. She saw his eyes seek her out and she read there the same expression which had always frightened her and which when he was in that condition meant only one thing. She could not go on living like this. It was unbearable, more than she could endure. It was too humiliating, too degrading. As she stood watching him he advanced clumsily towards her. Involuntarily she recoiled, but, in a stride, he was beside her and placed one arm round her waist. Kissing her, he hiccoughed:
"Hello, honey!" With maudlin admiration he exclaimed: "My, but you look sweet to-night!"
Disgusted, nauseated, Virginia turned her head away from his tainted breath, and tried to disengage herself. But he held her as in a vice. Turning to Jimmie, he said jocularly:
"Do you—wonder that—I'm in love with her?"
"I should say not," grinned the clerk.
"She's the prettiest and sweetest girl that ever lived," went on Stafford. He still had one arm round his wife's waist and, struggling to place his mouth on hers, he insisted: "Kiss me, honey!"
In vain Virginia strove to free herself. She was but a child in his strong arms.
"Robert—Robert—please!" she protested angrily.
He laughed boisterously.
"Oh—go on—you know you love me! Kiss me!"
Reluctantly, realizing it was her only way of escape, she touched his cheek with her cold lips.
"That's the girl!" he exclaimed, releasing her.
Deathly white and with a set, determined expression on her face, Virginia broke from his embrace and hurried away to join her sister who, dreading a scene, had discreetly withdrawn into the bedroom. Stafford stood looking after her, a stupid expression on his face as if of mild surprise at her resistance. When she had disappeared, he turned to his employee. For a few moments he did not speak and the younger man was beginning to feel uncomfortable under his close scrutiny when Stafford suddenly blurted out:
"What salary are you getting?"
Stafford shook his head. Smiling, he said:
"No, you're not—you're getting a hundred and fifty!"
The clerk stared at his employer, not comprehending. What did he mean? Was this the long expected and hoped for raise in his salary, or was he the victim of a drunken jest?"
"I'm only getting a hundred," he stammered.
Stafford nodded encouragingly. Amiably he said:
"Now you're getting a hundred and fifty—"
The clerk's face broadened into a grin. At last his ability was receiving tardy acknowledgment. Hadn't he told Fanny months ago that he was worth the money? Well, better late than never! He was about to express his thanks when the millionaire interrupted him with a careless gesture.
"When you're really worth twenty, I'll make it two hundred—"
The young man's expression fell. Had he heard aright? What could the boss mean?
"Twenty?" he echoed, puzzled.
Stafford laughed loudly. Mockingly he said:
"Yes, I have a system about you. I pay you ten times what I think you're worth."
The listener's jaw dropped a few inches more. This did not sound as if his employer appreciated his merit any too much. Instinctively, he glanced around to see if anyone had overheard. It was just as well Fanny was not present. "Oh, you do?" he exclaimed with a crestfallen air.
Stafford seemed to enjoy the young man's discomfiture. Promptly he went on to explain:
"When you first came I figured you were worth five dollars, so I gave you fifty. When I thought you were worth seven dollars and a half, I gave you seventy-five, and when I thought you were really earning ten, I raised it to a hundred!"
Utterly unnerved by this unexpected blow to his pride, completely cowed, the young man stood staring foolishly at the railroad promoter, not daring to raise his voice in protest, completely intimidated by his employer's manner.
"And now," he asked timidly, "you think I'm worth fifteen?"
Stafford broke out into boisterous laughter.
"No, I don't, Jimmie! Oh, no, I don't! I raise you the other fifty because—well—there's a reason!" Coaxingly, he went on: "Jimmie, as a favor—as a favor—promise me you'll never get to be worth twenty-five! The manager of your department gets only two hundred and fifty and I couldn't pay you as much as I pay him, could I?"
"I hoped to be manager of the department some day," spoke up the clerk, regaining some of his self-assurance.
"I say I hoped to be manager of the department some day—"
Stafford shook his head. With mock solemnity he said:
"Jimmie, for all our sakes, let's hope that your hope doesn't come out."
The young man was about to make a retort in kind, but at that instant his employer's attention was diverted to something more important. Virginia and Fanny had re-entered the boudoir from the bed chamber, and were standing conversing at the far end of the room.
On seeing his wife, the railroad man seemed to forget aught else. His eyes appeared to be fascinated by her; he closely watched her every movement. Never, it seemed to him, had Virginia looked so attractive. Was it her pale face, with the large appealing black eyes and small curved lips that thrilled him, or was it her negligee gown, the clinging folds of which imparted suggestive voluptuous lines to her slender figure, which set his sensualism aflame?
Virginia was painfully conscious of his steady stare and she trembled. Well she knew what it meant. If only she could keep her sister with her! But it was late; the Gillies would soon retire. Embarrassed by his persistent gaze, she went to the opposite side of the room on pretext of getting a photograph from a desk. Before she could reach it, her husband had intercepted her. Hoarsely he exclaimed:
"My, but you do look sweet to-night!"
He attempted to lay a hand on her arm and seemed about to bend over and kiss her, but she quickly evaded him. In a vexed tone, she exclaimed in a low voice:
"Please, Robert, behave yourself. Don't you see that there are others present?"
Thus unceremoniously repulsed, Stafford appealed to his sister-in-law, who had retreated to a corner on the other side of the room. In a maudlin, jocular way he asked:
"You wouldn't mind, would you? You wouldn't mind if a husband kissed his own wife."
"No, of course not," she smiled, at a loss what answer to make. She was anxious to defend her sister, but at the same time unwilling to displease her husband's employer.
The millionaire smiled, and leaving his wife, sauntered over to where Fanny was sitting.
"How's the kid?" he inquired affably.
"Very well, thank you."
Stafford shook his head. Dubiously he said:
"When I saw her this morning I thought she looked a little pale. It isn't good for kids to look pale. It shows that they don't get enough fresh air and sunshine. Do you know what I'm going to do?"
"No," replied the mother, looking up at her brother-in-law in surprise.
"In the morning I'm going to send you one of my cars as a present for her."
"Oh, Robert!" she exclaimed breathlessly.
He winked significantly as he went on:
"That's the reason I've just raised Jimmie fifty—to pay for the chauffeur and things. So the kid can have plenty of fresh air. See?"
Fanny clasped her hands in delight.
"Oh, you're too good!" she exclaimed gratefully.
"Hush!" he said in an undertone. "It's for the kid! I'm very fond of her!" After a pause he added: "Besides, she's named for Virgie!" Turning to Jimmie, he asked: "How does the idea strike you?"
"What idea?" demanded the father, who had not been listening.
"I've just made your little daughter—a present of an auto—"
"What make is it?"
The question came so spontaneously and was so characteristic of the man that Stafford burst into a roar of merriment. As soon as he had regained his composure he said:
He was about to tell him the make when, realizing the colossal impudence of the question, he stopped short and burst into laughter. "You're always there, aren't you? Honest, Jimmie, you give me many a laugh! Don't change your disposition or I'll never forgive you!"
"I didn't know I was so funny!" said the clerk resentfully, quite at a loss to see humor in the situation.
"That's the beauty of the whole business!" laughed his employer.
"An auto—all for ourselves!" exclaimed Fanny, enthusiastically. "Isn't that lovely?"
Her husband looked dubious. Doggedly he said:
"I don't know that we ought to accept presents from anybody now, not even from—Robert."
The Christian name dropped as gingerly out of his mouth as if it had been a hot potato. At last he had summoned up courage enough to do what it had long been his ambition to do—call his employer by his first name. He felt it would be a victory for him—a triumph over the other men at the office to be on such terms of intimacy. Besides it was his right. Wasn't he in the family?
Stafford turned quickly. There was a limit of endurance even to this clown's impudence.
"What's that?" he demanded curtly.
Not abashed and encouraged by the railroad promoter's previous good nature, Jimmie stood his ground and spoke up boldly:
"I said, I wasn't sure that we ought to accept presents even from you, Robert."
Quickly Stafford raised his hand. Coldly and distantly he said:
"Just a minute. To my wife I am—Robert. To my wife's sister I am—Robert. But to you I am—Mr. Stafford—even when I'm drunk."
Somewhat taken aback at this unexpected rebuff, the young man tried to bluff it out. Raising his voice, he protested:
"You call me Jimmie—you don't even call me James!"
"So I do," laughed the millionaire, who never remained in a bad humor long. It was beneath him to bandy words with his employee. The fellow was impertinent, but what of it? He simply did not know any better.
Fanny, who had been an anxious observer of the little passage at arms, spoke up. Turning to her husband, she said quickly:
"That's very different—"
"How?" demanded Jimmie, with an air of offended dignity.
"In every way," replied his wife, making dumb signs to him to desist.
But the clerk was not to be silenced so easily.
"I don't see it," he said doggedly.
The master of half a dozen railroad systems made a low bow to his employee. With mock courtesy he said:
"You're right! You're quite right! I have been entirely too familiar and I beg your pardon. From now on I shall be most careful to address you always as—Mr. Gillie."
Jimmie looked considerably crestfallen.
"You needn't rub it in," he said, shifting uneasily on his feet.
"No idea of such a thing," went on the millionaire in the same tone. "Just one gentleman to another—'Mr. Stafford' and 'Mr. Gillie.' That's perfectly fair." Turning towards his wife, who had apparently paid no attention to the discussion, he said: "Don't you think so, Virginia?"
"Yes," she answered shortly, without looking around.
Leaving the others, Stafford walked unsteadily over to where his wife was sitting. Bending over her, he exclaimed admiringly:
"My! You do look sweet to-night." Appealing to his clerk, he said: "Doesn't she? Doesn't she, Jimmie—James—I mean Mr. Gillie?"
"I think we had better say good-night," said the young man coldly.
"Yes, indeed," chimed in Fanny, rising and making preparations to retire for the night.
"Must you really go?" said the millionaire in a regretful tone as if they would really confer a favor by disturbing still longer the privacy of himself and his wife.
The clerk looked hesitatingly at his employer, as if there was still something on his mind that was troubling him. Peevishly he said:
"Yes, it's late. I want to get to bed. It's nearly one o'clock and I've got to be at the office by nine It's different with you. You haven't got to be there unless you want to. That makes a difference."
"So it does," said the millionaire carelessly. Abruptly, as if he did not wish the conversation prolonged, he said: "Well, good night!"
"Good night," rejoined the other in a surly, dissatisfied tone.
Virginia rose and went towards her sister.
"Good night, dear," she said affectionately.
As she was going out Fanny suddenly turned back. Running to her brother-in-law, she said:
"Thank you so much for the auto."
"That's all right!" he said with a good natured laugh, as if the giving away of automobiles was an incident of every day. "It's for the kid. Kiss her good-night for me, will you?"
"Indeed, I will!" exclaimed Fanny gratefully. "Good night."
She followed Virginia out of the room and the two men stood looking at each other—Jimmie somewhat intimidated, Stafford with an amused expression on his face as if wondering what demand this extraordinary employee of his would make upon him next. There was an awkward pause. Finally the clerk said:
"If I don't get a good eight hours' sleep my brain don't work right. Would you mind if I was late an hour or so in the morning?"
"I wouldn't," replied Stafford dryly. "But McLaughlin might. He's the superintendent of your department and I never interfere with the superintendent."
"He'd be sure to call me down," snapped Jimmie sourly. "He's got it in for me and don't mind showing it. Some time I'll tell him what I think about him."
Stafford shook his head. Warningly he said:
"Don't you do it. If you do he might tell you what he really thinks about you. So take my advice and don't go out of your class."
"But if I told him that you—"
"Don't!" said the millionaire curtly. "I never interfere with the superintendent."
"Then I suppose I'll have to be there," said Jimmie sulkily: "But remember this—if I don't get a good eight hours' sleep, my brain don't work right. So if I'm not up to my usual standard, don't blame me."
He turned on his heel and was leaving the room when he bumped into his sister-in-law, who was just coming in.
"Good night, Virginia," he mumbled.
"Good night, Jimmie," she replied cordially.
He went out, closing the door behind him.
As the door slammed, leaving her alone with her husband, Virginia felt herself grow hot and cold by turns. Desperate, she looked around to see if there was anywhere she could go, but there was no escape possible. Practically she was a prisoner, at the mercy of a man who, his worst instincts aroused by wine, was temporarily another being. His naturally generous impulses, his gentlemanly bearing, his kindly consideration for the weaker sex, all that was momentarily cast to the winds and like the savage beast, unaccustomed to control his appetites, he stopped at nothing in a wild, passionate madness to gratify his brutal desires.
It was horrible, revolting, yet what could she do? The law gave this man certain rights over her. Was not she herself largely to blame? Had she not sold herself to a man she did not love without even the excuse of necessity to sanction the disgraceful barter of flesh and honor? And what made it the more cruel was that gradually love had come into her life. Yes, she was sure of it now. In spite of his neglect, his indifference, she loved him and it was just because she loved him that it broke her heart to see him degrade his manhood.
The distant sounds of the Gillies and the servants retiring died away. The lights throughout the big house were extinguished one by one. A heavy silence fell over everything. Growing more nervous each instant, Virginia watched her husband furtively. If only he, too, would say good-night and go to his room! At present he seemed to be in no hurry to depart, and yet he did not appear to be thinking about her, being still highly amused by what Jimmie had said. Suddenly bursting into laughter, he exclaimed:
"His brain! Ha! ha! Good night! Jimmie's brain! Ah, that's rich!"
Virginia went back to her dressing table, where she pretended to be busily occupied combing her hair. He followed her, still laughing. When his merriment had somewhat subsided, he hiccoughed:
"That boy's more fun to me! I wouldn't lose his company for anything in the world! From the very first day he came to work for me he's been full of suggestions. They've all been good. One of them—one of them made me laugh for a week. I even laugh now whenever I think of it—"
He leaned awkwardly over her chair and Virginia instinctively recoiled. His flushed face and tainted breath frightened and disgusted her. Each instant she feared that he would take her in his arms. To avoid him, she rose from the dressing table and crossing the room, sat down on the sofa. He followed her, still laughing.
"You'll enjoy it too—so listen!" he said. Raising his voice and in a tone of command he went on: "Listen now, because you'll enjoy it. He wanted me—"
He halted again, unable to continue for laughing, as he thought of some of his employee's crazy notions. Then, proceeding, he said:
"You'll enjoy it. Such a joke! The man's as mad as a March hare. He wanted me—to put up a factory—"
He tried to complete the sentence; but the absurdity of the proposition was too much for him. He laughed till his face ached, while Virginia sat silent, watching him sideways. When he had calmed down, he said:
"It's the funniest thing I ever heard! You'll enjoy it too! He wanted me to put up a factory—to make infants' food out of prickly pears—" Once more he was unable to proceed for laughter. "Infants' food! Prickly pears! Isn't that immense? Isn't that the funniest idea that—"
Noticing that Virginia did not join in his merriment, he stopped and asked:
"Don't you think it's funny?"
"Yes, dear. It probably is," she answered evasively.
"There's no 'probably' about it—it certainly is," he insisted. "I don't think you got it, so I'll tell it again. He wanted me to put up a factory—"
"I understood," she interrupted coldly.
He looked at her closely, as if unable to understand her cold indifference.
"Well—don't you think it's funny?"
Wearily she answered:
"Yes, dear, it is."
"You don't seem to enjoy it," he grumbled.
She made no reply for a moment, at a loss what to say, anxious to avoid saying anything that would furnish him with an excuse for a scene. Her only hope was in keeping him in good humor and persuading him to retire. It would be terrible if she had to endure the same horrible experience with him as on former occasions when he came home in this condition. Rising, she said quietly:
"I'm very tired, so I think I'll say good-night, dear."
She went towards her bedroom door, but before she could reach it, he had intercepted her. There was a determined, not to be denied look in his face as he exclaimed:
"Not just yet! Not just yet!"
Trembling in every limb, but endeavoring to remain calm, she looked up at him pleadingly:
"Please let me go," she said coaxingly. "Be a nice, good husband and say good-night—won't you, dear, please?"
He put his arm around her waist. Hoarsely, amorously, he whispered:
"Stay with me a little—I want you here."
"No, dear—please, dear!" she pleaded, quickly disentangling herself from his grasp. "You'll make me so happy if you will! Besides, it's quite late, remember, and I'm tired—I really am—"
He stood off a little way, looking more closely at her as if doubtful that she was speaking the truth.
"Tired, are you?" he frowned.
"Yes, dear," she pleaded anxiously.
He laughed—a strange, horrid, artificial laugh which made her shudder. She had heard that laugh before and it omened nothing good. Quickly he said:
"I know the best thing in the world to cure that tired feeling—champagne. We'll have some—what do you say?"
He leaned towards her, trying to fondle her, but she avoided him and, falling back, stood looking at him. Her face was pale. Outwardly she was composed, but her heart was beating fast. There must be some explanation, after all. It might as well be now as later. Looking him straight in the face with an expression of contempt and disdain in her eyes that made him wince, she said coldly:
"So you've had some sent to your room—again?"
He nodded in half defiant, half ashamed fashion and Virginia, her tone changing, pleaded with him earnestly:
"Don't touch it now, Robert. Please! Please!"
"Why not?" he demanded defiantly.
"You've had enough already."
"Oh, nonsense!" he exclaimed, "I'm all right. I can take twice as much as I've had and not even feel it." Going towards the door he added: "I'll tell Oku to bring it in here—"
She ran quickly to intercept him. That was just what she dreaded. If he touched another drop he would be beyond control. It must be prevented at any cost.
"No, Robert! No!" she pleaded.
Stafford stopped and stared at her in amazement.
"What's the matter?" he demanded.
"Don't take any more," she said, laying a hand coaxingly on his arm. "Please, dear! It isn't good for you."
"Good for me!" he laughed. "Don't you worry about that. I know what's good for me!" Determinedly he added: "I want that wine and I'm going to have it."
"Then say good-night," she replied with what self-possession she could command, "and take it in your own room."
He looked at her stupidly.
"Drink alone?" he hiccoughed. "And you right here? Well, I guess not—"
He was standing at the door and as he spoke his hand happened to touch the key. Suddenly an idea occurred to him. She might try to get away. If he had the key, he would command the situation. Unobserved by his wife, he noiselessly withdrew the key from the lock and slipped it in his pocket. Carelessly he went on:
"Where'd be the fun of that? No, we'll have it in here and we'll have a little party—just you and me! A little party! Eh?"
He went towards her, arms outstretched, his eyes ardent. As he advanced she retreated to the farther side of the room.
"Please don't!" she exclaimed, opening her eyes wide in terror.
"Why not?" he demanded.
Hesitatingly and in a low tone she answered:
"I remember—the last time."
"When was that?"
"About a week ago!"
"Well," he demanded in a surly tone, "what about it?"
"Don't you remember?"
"No," he answered sullenly.
She turned away in mute despair. Utterly discouraged, completely in his power, she was at a loss what to do or say. There was little use in appealing to the better nature of a man, in his present condition. She thought of flight, but it was impossible. He barred the way. Meanwhile he watched her, as a beast of prey watches its hapless victim. His ardent eyes feasted on her white neck, gloated on the lines of her body, revealed by the thin gown. He was too intent on his lustful purpose to be really conscious of the pain he was inflicting. He mistook her resistance for coquettishness. Approaching her, he bent over and whispered persuasively in her ear:
"What's the good of thinking about that, anyway? There's no time like the present, so I'll have Oku bring it in and I'll drink to your pretty eyes. My, but you look sweet to-night! I'll ring for Oku."
He started towards the door and had almost reached it when he heard a movement and rustle of skirts behind him. Turning quickly, he saw Virginia standing at the entrance to her own bedroom, as if hesitating as to whether to go into it or not. Her first impulse had been to take refuge in there and bolt herself in. But it seemed so cowardly, so undignified. So she stopped on the threshold and just looked at him in silence, and for a few moments neither spoke. At last he said:
"You won't run away?"
Slowly, deliberately, he advanced towards her. Virginia, cowed, intimidated, stood still as if glued to the spot. Impatiently he exclaimed:
"It wouldn't be a pretty thing for you to run away from your husband! So you won't do it, will you?"
She made no answer, and he repeated more loudly:
She looked up at him bravely. Her face was white, but determined. Almost defiantly, she replied:
"No. I won't run away."
"That's the way to talk," he cried and going to the door leading to the outside hall, he opened it and called out:
"Oku, open the wine and bring it in here—two glasses."
Returning, he sat down, waiting for the butler to bring the champagne. His face was more flushed than ever. Instead of having a sobering effect, his wife's resistance seemed only to inflame him more. But just now his thoughts were not so much on her as on her brother-in-law.
"Oku's—a good boy," he hiccoughed. "A very—good boy. But he isn't half as funny as Jimmie. It's worth twice Jimmie's salary just to have him around to make me laugh. How he does make me laugh! He doesn't know that I'm laughing at him, but I know it. That's what makes it so funny—"
He was interrupted by the appearance of Oku with wine and glasses, which the butler placed on the table.
"Shall I serve?" asked the servant.
"Yes, fill 'em up," replied his master.
After he had drawn the cork and filled the glasses with the hissing, golden beverage, Stafford stammered thickly:
"That's—all for you—to-night."
"I must not wait?" inquired Oku.
"No! I'll ring—when I want you in the morning."
"Yes! Excuse, please. Excuse!"
The butler bowed himself out of the room and the millionaire, turning to his wife, pushed one of the glasses over to her. Then, raising his own glass to his lips, he gave her a toast:
"Here's to you, sweetheart!"
He drained the contents and put the glass down. As he did so he noticed that her glass was untouched.
"You didn't drink!" he exclaimed in a surprised, aggrieved tone.
"No," she replied firmly.
"Aren't you going to?"
"Oh, go on—just a glass," he said coaxingly.
"No," she said again coldly.
"Why not?" he demanded, slightly raising his voice.
"Because I don't wish to," she answered with dignity.
"Is that so?" he said mockingly. Filling another glass and drinking, he added: "Suppose I wanted you to? Would you take it then?"
She shook her head.
"Would you?" he persisted.
"No, I wouldn't!" she said positively. "I don't like it—I don't want it, and even you couldn't make me take it."
She rose abruptly and turned her back so that he might not see the tears in her eyes—tears of mortification and mental anguish. His face more congested than ever, his step uncertain, Stafford stumbled after her:
"I couldn't, eh?" he sneered. "Perhaps you'd like to see me try."
She turned around, almost hysterical. Pleadingly she cried:
"Please don't speak to me like that, dear! It hurts me dreadfully. If I didn't know that it isn't yourself who is talking—"
"Not myself? Then, who is it?"
"It's the man who takes your place when—you are drunk!"
Leaning against a table to steady himself, he stared at her stupidly.
"Well, what about this man?" he sneered. "You don't like him, do you?"
"No," she replied quickly and frankly, "I do not."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
She turned to go. Pleadingly she cried:
"Please let me go, dear! I'm very unhappy. Good night!"
She started to go towards her room, but he held up his hand and in a tone of command, cried:
Virginia paid no heed, and a second time in a louder voice he cried:
She stopped involuntarily and after a pause he said:
"Don't you like to talk to me? Don't you?"
"Of course I do," she stammered.
"Then come and sit down and do it."
"I'm tired, dear," she pleaded.
But he was pitiless.
"Come and sit down here," he insisted, pointing to a chair near the table. "There!" he exclaimed.
"But, Robert—" she protested.
He refused to listen.
"There!" he commanded.
Virginia reluctantly retraced her steps and though trembling with mingled indignation and fear, obediently sat down on the chair he indicated. Stafford, as if suddenly seized by an insatiable thirst for champagne, refilled his glass a second time and swallowed the contents. Then taking a seat opposite her, he leaned his head on his two elbows and stared at her. For several moments he said nothing but just stared in a way that made her turn red and white in turn. Suddenly he blurted out:
"You looked great with the whole business on, but this fluffy thing—"
He leaned across the table and placing his hand on her bare shoulder, drew his fingers voluptuously down the arm. Virginia started back, feeling repulsion and disgust even at his touch.
"Oh! What's the matter?" he exclaimed sarcastically. "Is there anything wrong in a man telling his wife she's pretty? Is there?"
She remained silent and, frowning, he repeated his question:
"No," she said quickly.
"Then why do you want to quarrel with me?"
"I don't want to quarrel with you."
"Then we're friends, are we?"
Holding out an unsteady hand, he said:
"Then shake hands on it."
She made no response and he said again more commandingly:
"Come on now—shake hands on it."
Still she made no move.
"If you don't want to quarrel," he said warningly, "shake hands on it."
Hesitatingly she put out her hand, which he immediately grasped.
"Good!" he exclaimed, rising. "And now let's kiss and make up!"
Virginia started up at the same time, and again turned to go to her own room. But he still had hold of her hand and she could not withdraw it. Tired out by the unequal struggle, nervous and almost in tears, she tried in vain to release herself:
"I tell you I want to go," she cried impatiently.
But he merely laughed at her puny efforts. Soothingly he exclaimed:
"Let's kiss and make up! Come on now, kiss me, and that'll show we're friends."
"I can't," she said, keeping her face averted.
"For one thing," she retorted angrily, "the odor of stale wine and whiskey isn't pleasant."
"Is there any other reason?" he demanded.
"There is—and a very important one. I don't want to kiss you."
"That means you don't love me. Is that it?"
For a moment she made no answer, but looked him full in the face, her eyes blazing with scorn and anger. Then she spoke and raising her voice until it rang with all the anger and bitterness there was pent up in her heart she cried:
"I love the man I married—love him with all my heart and soul and he loves me! But you are not the man I married; you are another man. You are a stranger, a man inflamed with liquor, a man who comes and talks to me of love when it isn't love at all, a man whose every protestation of love is an insult. That's the man you are and I hate him—I hate him—!"
Staggered by her vehemence, intimidated for a moment by her angry outburst, Stafford let go her hand. Quick to profit by it, Virginia turned, but before she could make a step, he had caught her again by the arm.
"So you hate me, do you?" he exclaimed.
"Yes, I do!" she cried. "And now will you let me go?"
"No, I won't," he replied determinedly. "Even though you do hate me, you're still my wife—you belong to me—"
She stared at him in amazement.
"Robert! What do you mean?" she cried.
Shrugging his shoulders contemptuously, he exclaimed:
"Who were you till I married you—nobody! What were you? A telephone girl getting ten dollars a week. And now who are you? You're Mrs. Robert Stafford! And what are you? You're the wife of one of the richest men in the country. And how did he get you for his wife? He bought you and he paid for you."
"You didn't!" she almost screamed, her face white with anger, her whole being trembling with nervous excitement.
"Oh, yes, I did," he went on coldly. "Did you love me when you married me? No. Would you have married me if I'd been poor? No! I bought you and I paid for you and anything I've bought and paid for belongs to me. And now will you kiss me?"
"No," she cried in desperation, her head thrown back, her hands clenched. "I will not!"
He advanced threateningly.
"Then if you won't, I'll—"
He stopped abruptly and his manner changed. Shrugging his shoulders, he exclaimed:
"Oh, what's the use of quarreling? I don't want to be mean to you. I want to be nice to you."
Tears were in her eyes, her lips were trembling. Pathetically she asked:
"Then why do you insult me? Why do you wish to degrade me?"
"Degrade you?" he echoed, as if surprised. "Why—you're my wife—"
"Does that make the degradation any the less?" she demanded. "When I married you did I become your property? Do you own me? Have I surrendered all rights in myself? When you placed a wedding ring on my finger did it mean that I forfeited my free will? If so—then marriage is horrible."
He shrugged his shoulders. Carelessly he said:
"The law says that a husband—"
"The law! The law!" she echoed disdainfully. "Always remember this—the minute a husband even mentions his legal rights it shows that he has lost his moral rights and the moral rights are the ones that count." Changing her tone to one of pleading, she went on: "Let me go, dear! Please let me go!"
He smiled significantly at her.
"You just be a nice, good little wife, and in the morning you can go down to Tiffany's and buy anything you like, anything—"
"Ha! ha!" she cried desperately, hopelessly, "no wonder you talk of buying me! If I did that where would I be any better than a woman of the streets?"
Without stopping to hear his answer she turned quickly and again made an effort to reach her room.
"Good night!" she cried.
But once more he intercepted her.
"You're not going to leave me," he said warningly.
"I am, I tell you! I am!" she cried defiantly.
"Oh, no, you're not," he said determinedly, and approaching as if about to lay hands on her.
"Don't touch me!" she cried, recoiling as he advanced.
"At least not till you have given me a kiss—just one. Then you can go."
"You promise that?"
"Just one," he said.
Thinking to get rid of him the sooner, she put up her face and kissed him on the cheek.
"Not that kind," he protested, "a real one."
She shook her head. Wearily she said:
"I can't! I can't!"
"All right then!" he exclaimed with a laugh.
Without further argument he seized hold of her and drew her close to him in spite of her struggles to free herself.
"Let me go! Let me go, I say! Let me go!" she screamed.
He paid no heed to her cries, but drawing her closer until her face touched his, he stooped suddenly and kissed her full on the mouth. Then he released her.
"Oh, my God!" she cried.
Directly she felt herself free, she rushed to her room. He tried to stop her, but this time she was too quick. She reached the room before him and bolted the door in his face. Balked of his prey, he stood for a moment looking at the closed door in sullen silence. Then, as if seized by a sudden uncontrollable frenzy, he seized the poker in the fireplace and rushing to the door, smashed in the panel. Putting his arm through the jagged rent, he coolly withdrew the bolt and entered.
Daylight filtered slowly through the closed blinds of the palatial Stafford home. Through the dark nocturnal hours its inmates—master, guests and servants, had slumbered peacefully, all but one and to her sleep refused to come. Hysterical, mentally overwrought, physically exhausted from continual weeping, Virginia had tossed feverishly on her pillow until at last dawn had mercifully come to dispel the terrors of the long night.
As she lay there in the darkness, she had tried to see some way out of her misery. The truth was out at last. He had admitted it openly, had even boasted of it. He had bought her and paid for her. He considered her not as a wife, a companion to respect and love, but as a creature whom he had purchased and who must do his bidding at his command. What ignominy! There was only one thing a self-respecting woman could do in such circumstances. She must boldly assert her independence and leave him, no matter at what sacrifice of her comfort and happiness. It would be better to undergo any privation rather than endure such suffering, such degradation as this.
She could earn her own living. Perhaps she could get back the same position at the hotel, and if Fanny and Jim would have her, she could go and live with them. It would mean the sacrifice of many luxuries and much pride, but at least she would be able to lift up her head and look all decent people squarely in the face again. She would give him back all his jewels—every one. Much as she loved them, she would return them all—the diamond sunburst, the pearl necklace, the ruby cross—everything. They were the things he had bought her with. Hadn't he said so? Maybe it was true that she had married him only for his money. Well, if it was true, this was her punishment, the cross she must carry for her wickedness, and it was also why she must leave him. She would never give him another opportunity to accuse her of having bartered away her self-respect.
What should she say to him at breakfast? No doubt he would be very penitent and full of apologies. No matter what he might say, her mind was made up. She would listen in silence, and, breakfast over, begin to make her preparations for departure. Fanny, of course, must be told everything, but not yet. There was plenty of time to tell her. The rupture would interfere, no doubt, with Jimmie's prospects, but it could not be helped. She could not be expected to go on suffering for their sake. They must all try and get along without the assistance of the rich Mr. Stafford. He would respect them the more if they did.
Everything occurred just as she had foreseen. Stafford woke with a terrific headache and thoroughly ashamed of himself. He had no distinct remembrance of the happenings of the evening before, but that he was drunk and had made a fool of himself he was pretty well sure. If he had not been, Virginia's cold demeanor would have soon enlightened him. At the breakfast table he mumbled an apology and tried to awaken some sympathy for his headache. But his wife paid no attention and beyond the merest commonplaces, made no attempt at conversation whatever and the meal ended as it began, in icy silence.
After breakfast she went to her room and, ringing for Josephine, ordered her to get out her blue cloth walking suit. The maid opened wide her eyes in surprise. Her mistress did not usually go walking so early.
"Madame va se promener de si bonne heure?"
"Don't ask questions, Josephine," replied her mistress sharply. "Do as I tell you. I'm going out of town. Pack my two trunks at once."
While the girl hurried to carry out her instructions, Virginia went to her safe, opened it, and, taking out the jewel cases one by one, carried them into the library, where she piled them high on the table. Soon there was quite a large heap of dainty boxes of every shape and color, each bearing the trademark of a fashionable jeweller. For a full hour the young wife worked steadily, packing and dressing, until at last nothing more remained to be done.
"Is that everything?" she asked Josephine, pointing to the boxes of jewelry on the table.
"Oui, Madame! All except those in the safe deposit vault, Madame."
"Oh, yes—I'll give you an order. You will go for them," said her mistress, going to a desk.
Virginia was just writing the order on the Safe Deposit Company when there came a knock on the boudoir door. The maid went to answer.
"Shall I open, Madame?"
The girl opened the door and Fanny entered, fresh and buoyant after a good night's sleep.
"Good morning!" exclaimed the newcomer cheerfully.
"Good morning, dear," replied Virginia quietly as she finished the note and put it in an envelope. Handing it to Josephine, she said quietly: "Give that to John."
The girl took the note and left the room. Fanny looked inquiringly at her sister. There was something in her manner which she did not like. At last she said hesitatingly:
"I'm so sorry about last night, dear."
"Don't, please!" said Virginia, quickly raising her hand.
"Have you seen him this morning?"
"Then you don't know how he is?"
"Oh, yes, I do."
"How do you know?"
"Previous experience," said Virginia bitterly.
Fanny took both her sister's hands in hers and gently drew her to her breast as a mother, full of gentle pity, would caress and console an unhappy child. For a moment Virginia tried to keep back the flood of tears that were choking her utterance, but the effort was too great and suddenly, with a stifled moan of distress, she broke into a torrent of passionate weeping.
Her sister made no attempt to quiet her. She felt it would be useless. All she did was to stroke her beautiful hair and murmur:
"Don't cry, dear, everything will be all right."
In broken sentences, interrupted every now and then by renewed weeping, Virginia cried:
"I'm so unhappy—dear—so unhappy—you will never know. This thing is not of yesterday—I've endured it so long—until I could stand it no longer. He despises me—he said he did. He bought me—and paid for me. How can he have anything but contempt for me?"
"What did he do or say?" demanded Fanny, at a loss what to advise. "What does he say this morning? Have you spoken to him?"
Virginia, more calm, shook her head.
"No—I've scarcely exchanged a word with him. He can't definitely recall what he said or did, but he is thoroughly repentant and ashamed."
"That's something anyway," said Fanny encouragingly.
Virginia shook her head. Doubtfully she asked:
"Is it—when it gives no guarantee for the future?"
Fanny was silent. There are some crises in a woman's life when even a sister cannot advise, when a woman must decide for herself. Slowly she said: "But after all's said and done, dear—he is your husband and that makes everything right, doesn't it?"
"No," retorted Virginia bitterly, "it merely makes it legal."
"Yes, lecherous old men of eighty marry girls in their teens—but does that make their relations right? Avaricious young men in their twenties marry women in their fifties. Does marriage make their relations right? In some States white women can marry black men—marry them just as properly as you and I are married—but does marriage make their relations right? No, marriage merely makes them legal."
"Do you mean to tell me that if a woman has a marriage certificate—"
"Precisely. She has documentary evidence that she is lawfully entitled to live with a man—that's all. A marriage certificate has nothing to do with the morality of marriage! Nothing!"
"Then what has?"
"Love—and self-respect," said Virginia. "The legal thing isn't always the right thing, and if I am ever forced to choose between what is legal and what is right I shall choose what is right."
"Are you going to do—anything?"
"What can I do?"
"I don't know," stammered Fanny. She was rather afraid of her impulsive little sister. She might do something rash—something that would hurt them all. Anxiously she said:
"And yet I feel that you are going to do something. Aren't you?"
Virginia made no reply and she repeated:
"Tell me—whatever it is—promise that you won't do anything rash."
"I can promise that freely enough," replied Virginia with a sad smile.
"I'm so glad!" exclaimed Fanny with a gesture of relief and starting forward to embrace her sister.
Virginia raised her hand. Quickly she said:
"And you—you too, must promise me something."
"Promise me whatever happens, that you will never tell Jimmie about—Robert—and me."
"If you do, I shall never forgive you! Never!"
"Then something is going to happen?" demanded Fanny.
"That depends," said Virginia evasively.
"Oh, I'm so worried!" exclaimed Fanny. "I couldn't sleep last night for thinking about you. I was so nervous that I kept James awake too. I'm glad you're not going to do anything rash."
Before Virginia could reply there came a loud knock at the door.
"Come in!" cried Virginia.
The door opened and Jimmie entered, cheerful and debonair as usual.
"Morning, Virgie!" he chuckled.
"Good morning," she replied gravely.
"Just dropped in to say good-bye before I hike along."
"I'm glad you did," she smiled amiably.
"We've had a bully little visit." Turning to his wife, he said: "Haven't we, Fanny?"
"Yes, indeed," she smiled.
"Great finish too," he chuckled, "what with my raise and the car."
"Yes, isn't that fine?" chimed in his wife.
"I hope it's a late model," he went on, scratching his head. "I hate those old-fashioned things!"
"I'll be satisfied with any kind of a car," laughed Fanny.
"So will I—in a way," he said. "But I hate folks to think I'm not up to date." Turning to Virginia he added: "If Robert's ready we can go down together. Is he?"
Shaking her head, she said quietly:
"I don't think so."
He laughed loudly.
"I didn't expect he would be after last night's illumination! He was 'full' all right—circuited from tower to basement! On the level, he was so lit up that if every light on his machine had gone out the cops couldn't have said a word!"
"James! Keep still!" whispered his wife, giving her sister a significant glance.
"Why?" he exclaimed surprised. "Is there anything criminal in a man getting tanked up once in a while?"
Fanny colored with vexation. Angrily she said: "Take my advice—don't you ever try it!"
"And if I should," he demanded defiantly, "what can you do about it?"
"The husband's unanswerable question," smiled Virginia sadly, "what can you do about it?"
"Sure! What can you?" he repeated.
"I'll tell you what I'd do," cried Fanny, warming up. "I'd leave you at once."
Virginia started and looked thoughtfully at her sister, as if her words but echoed a determination that was in her own heart.
"Yes, you would!" he sneered.
"Yes, I would," she cried hotly. "I wouldn't stand for any drunken husband. I'd leave him so quick that—that—"
She stopped abruptly, realizing what her words meant to one very dear to her. Virginia said nothing, but rising, walked to the other side of the room.
"That what?" demanded Jimmie.
"Nothing!" replied his wife crossly.
"You needn't worry, anyway," he continued, "I just can't stand the stuff. Give me three drinks and next morning my head's full of Roman candles. Huh! Not for mine, thank you!"
"I'm glad of it," said Fanny, with a sigh of relief.
Jimmie chuckled. With a side glance at his sister-in-law he exclaimed in an undertone: "Gee! But I'd like to be here when he comes in. I wonder what he'll say."
"He won't remember anything about it."
"Oh, that's the kind, is it—one of those convenient, witness stand, I-have-no-recollection things, eh! Well, you take it from me, that's the best kind to have. You can agree to any old thing and not remember it, you can make all kinds of promises and then forget 'em. You can—Say!"
The young man suddenly gasped and turned pale. Fanny, alarmed, started forward, thinking he was ill.
"What's the matter?" she exclaimed, anxiously.
"Good Lord!" he cried, "suppose he should forget about my raise!"
Reassured, his wife laughed nervously. Crossly she said:
"How you frightened me!" Quickly she said: "Oh, Robert won't forget about that."
A determined, defiant expression came into her husband's face as he went on:
"You can just bet he won't while I have the power of speech. He won't come that 'I—can't—recall' gag on me."
"Of course not," said Fanny soothingly.
Anxiously he continued:
"I've calculated exactly what I'd do with that extra fifty. I reckoned that after we'd paid the chauffeur and for the gasoline and things we'd have about twenty left, so I figured we'd be able to leave a Hundred and Fortieth Street and move down town to a Hundred and Twenty-fifth. Then I'd pictured old McLoughlin's face when he'd heard I'd got another raise and what he'd look like every morning when I drove to the office in my own car. And I'd picked out the places we'd go to for the next four Sundays—yes, and a lot of other things too."