"Not a word—not a single word, darling. I haven't heard his name mentioned since I got my divorce."
"You didn't know, then, that Florrie left him six months after they ran away?"
"No, I didn't know. Does he ever write to you?"
"Not to me, but mother hears from him every now and then when he wants money badly. Of course she doesn't have much to send him, but she gives him every penny she can spare. A year ago she had a letter from some doctor in New Jersey telling her that he was treating George for the drink habit, and that he needed to be kept somewhere for treatment for several months. We sent her the money she needed, Billy and I, but in her next letter she said that George had escaped from the hospital and that she hadn't heard of him since. That must have been about six months ago."
"It's dreadful for his mother," observed Gabriella, with vague compassion, for she felt as if Patty were speaking of a stranger whose face she was incapable of visualizing in her memory. In the last ten years she had not only forgotten George, but she had forgotten as completely the Gabriella who had once loved him. Though it was still possible for her to revoke the hollow images of the past, she could not restore to these images even the remotest semblance of reality and passion. It was as if some nerve—the sentimental nerve—had atrophied. She could remember George as she remembered the house in Fifty-seventh Street or her wedding-gown which Miss Polly had made; she could say to herself, "I loved him when I married him," or, "It was in such a year that he left me"; but the empty phrases awoke no responsive echoes in her heart; and it would have been impossible to imagine a woman less crushed or permanently saddened by the wreck of her happiness. "I suppose it's hard work that keeps me from thinking about the past," she reflected while she watched Patty's beautiful face framed by the pale gold of her hair. "I suppose it's work that has driven everything else out of my thoughts."
"Have you any idea what became of Florrie?" she asked, moved by a passing curiosity.
"She left George for a very rich man she met in London. I believe he had a wife already, but things like that never stood in Florrie's way."
"It's queer, isn't it, because she really has a kind heart."
"Yes, she is kind-hearted when you don't get in her way, but she was born without any morality just as some people are born without any sense of smell or hearing. I know several women over here who are like that—American women, too—and, do you know, they are all surprisingly successful. Nobody seems to suspect their infirmity, least of all the men who become their victims."
"I sometimes think," observed Gabriella cynically, "that men like women to be without feeling. It saves them so much trouble."
The next day Patty fluttered off like a brilliant butterfly, and Gabriella began to suffer acute homesickness for the house in Twenty-third Street and her children. Not once during her stay in Paris did the thought of O'Hara enter her mind; and so completely had she ceased to worry about his friendship for Archibald that it was almost a shock to her when, after landing one September afternoon, she drove up to the gate and found the man and the boy standing together beside a flourishing border of red geraniums, which appeared almost to cover the yard.
"Oh, look, Ben, there's mother!" cried Archibald; and turning quickly, the two came to meet her.
"My darling, I thought you were still in the country," said Gabriella, kissing her son.
"We've been here almost a week.. The place closed, so we decided to come back to town. It's much nicer here," replied Archibald eagerly. He looked sunburned and vigorous, and it seemed to Gabriella that he had grown prodigiously in six weeks.
"Why, you look so much taller, Archibald!" she exclaimed, laughing with happiness, "or, perhaps, I've been thinking of you as a little boy." Then, while her manner grew formal, she held out her hand to O'Hara. "How do you do, Mr. O'Hara?"
He was standing bareheaded in the faint sunshine, and while her eyes rested on his dark red hair, still moist and burnished from brushing, his tanned and glowing face, and on the tiny flecks of black in the clear gray of his eyes, she was startled by a sensation of strangeness and unreality as if she were looking into his face for the first time.
"Oh, we're well. I've been playing with Archibald. Did you have a good crossing?"
"It was smooth enough, but I got so impatient. I wanted to be with the children."
"Well, I went once, and I was jolly glad to get back again. There was nothing to do over there but loaf and lie around."
There would be nothing else for him, of course, she reflected; and she wondered vaguely if he had ever entered a picture gallery? What would Europe offer to a person possessing neither culture nor a passion for clothes?
The driver had placed her bags inside the gate; and O'Hara took charge of them as if it were the most natural thing in the world to carry for a fellow tenant. Upstairs in the sitting-room he put his burden down, unfastened the straps, and commented upon the leather of a bag she had bought in Paris.
"I'd like to have a grip like that myself. Is there anything else I can help about?"
"No, thank you." She was embracing Fanny, and she did not glance at him as she responded: "You are very kind, but my trunks are arranged for."
At this he went without a word, and Gabriella began a joyous account of her trip to the children.
"Year after next, if you work hard with your French, you may both go with me. Then you'll be big enough to look after each other while I am with the dressmakers."
"Oh, tell me about the dressmakers, mother. What did you bring me?" urged Fanny, prettily excited by the thought of her gifts. "I need dreadfully some dancing frocks. Carlie has a lovely one her mother has just bought for her."
"I have all your autumn dresses, darling; everything you can possibly need at Miss Bradfordine's."
Fanny's eager face grew suddenly fretful. "Am I really to go away to school, mother?"
"Really, precious, both you and Archibald. Think of your poor lonely mother." Breaking off with a start she glanced inquiringly about the room, and turned a hurt look on Miss Polly. "Why, where is Archibald? I thought he was in the room."
"I reckon he must have gone down after Mr. O'Hara. They had just got back from a ball game, and I 'spose they felt like talking about it. He'll be up again in a minute, because Mr. O'Hara goes out at six o'clock."
"But I've just come home." Her lip trembled. "I should think Archibald would rather be with me."
"Oh, he won't stay, and you'll have him all the evening. Archibald is just crazy about gettin' you back."
Taking off her hat, a jaunty twist of black velvet from Paris, Gabriella went into her bedroom and changed to a gown of clear blue crape, which she took out of the new bag. When she came out again, with her arms filled with Fanny's gifts, there was a flush in her usually pale face, and her eyes were bright with determination.
"I put these in my bag, Fanny, so you wouldn't have to wait for the trunks. Try on this little white silk."
"Oh, mother, you look so sweet in that blue gown!"
"I got it for almost nothing, dear, but the colour is lovely." Turning restlessly away, she walked to the window and stood looking over Miss Polly's window box down on the brilliant border of red geraniums.
"Has Archibald come upstairs yet, Miss Polly?"
"Not yet, but he'll be up directly. Don't you worry."
For an instant Gabriella hesitated; then crossing the room with a resolute step, she turned, with her hand on the knob, and looked back at the startled face of the little seamstress, who was fastening Fanny's white gown.
"Well, I'm going after him," she said sternly; "I am going straight downstairs to find him."
For a minute Gabriella stood outside the door of what had once been the drawing-room of the house, while she listened attentively to the sound of animated voices within. Then suddenly Archibald's breezy laugh rang out into the hail, and raising her hand from the knob, she knocked softly on the white-painted panel of the door.
"Come in!" called O'Hara's voice carelessly; and Gabriell entered and imperatively held out her hand to her son, who was standing by the window.
"Come, Archibald, I want you," she said gravely. "You went off without seeing your gifts." She had invaded the sitting-room of a strange man, but her purpose was a righteous one, and there was no embarrassment in her manner.
"Oh, mother, are they upstairs? I'll run up and see them!" cried, Archibald delightedly. "I thought they were all in the trunks."
Darting past her in a flash, he bounded up the staircase, while Gabriella stood facing O'Hara, who had risen and thrown away his cigar at her entrance. The room was still fragrant with tobacco; there was a light cloud of smoke over the mignonette in the window box, and beyond it, she could see the dim foliage of the elm tree waving over the flagged walk to the gate. With an eye trained to recognize the value of details, she saw that the sitting-room was furnished with the same deplorable taste which had selected the golden-oak hatrack and the assortment of ornamental walking-sticks. The woodwork had been stained to match the oak of the barbarous writing-table, which held a distorted bronze lamp, with the base composed of a heavily draped feminine figure, a massive desk set, also of bronze, a pile of newspapers, a dictionary, and several dull-looking books with worn covers and dog's eared pages. She noticed that the chairs were all large and solid, with deep arms and backs upholstered in red leather, which looked as if it would never wear out, that the rug was good, and that, except for a few meretricious oil paintings on the greenish walls, the room was agreeably bare of decoration. After her first hesitating glance, she surmised that a certain expensive comfort was the end sought for and achieved, and that in the furnishing beauty had evidently been estimated in figures.
"Mr. O'Hara," she began firmly, "I wish you would not take my son away from me."
He did not lower his gaze, and she saw, after an instant in which he appeared merely surprised, a look of amusement creep into his expressive eyes. Within four walls, in his light summer clothes, with the gauzy drift of tobacco smoke over his head, he looked larger and more irrepressibly energetic than he had done out of doors.
"I am sorry you feel that way," he returned very slowly after a pause. Already she had discovered that he had great difficulty with his words except when he was stirred by excitement into self-forgetfulness. At other times he seemed curiously inarticulate, and she saw now that, while she waited for his answer, he was groping about in his mind for a suitable phrase in which to repel her accusation.
"I appreciate your interest in him," she resumed smoothly, "but he is with you too much. I do not know you. I know nothing in the world about you."
"Well—" Again he hesitated as if over an impediment in his speech. Then, finding with an effort the words he needed, he went on more easily: "If there's anything you'd like to know, I guess you can ask me."
She frowned slightly, and leaving the door moved resolutely to the writing-table, where she stopped with her hand on the pile of newspapers. Against the indeterminate colour of the walls her head, with its dark, silver-powdered hair, worn smooth and close after the Parisian fashion, showed as clear and fine as an etching. In her blue summer gown she looked almost girlish in spite of the imperious dignity of her carriage; and from her delicate head to her slender feet, she diffused an air of fashion which perplexed and embarrassed him, though he was unaware of the conscious art which produced it.
"The only thing I'd like to know about you," she answered, "is why you have taken so sudden a fancy to my son?"
At this he laughed outright, with a boyish zest which dispelled the oppressive formality of her manner. He was completely at his ease again, and while he ran his hand impatiently through his hair, he answered frankly:
"Well, you see, when it comes to that, I didn't take any sudden fancy, as you call it—I didn't take any fancy at all—it was the other way about. The boy is a nice boy—a bully good boy, anybody can see that—and I like boys, that's all. When he began trotting round after me, we got to be chums in a way, but it would have been the same with any other boy who had come to the house—especially," he added with a clean blow given straight from the shoulder, "if he'd been a decent chap that a parcel of women were making into a muff."
For a minute anger, righteous anger, kept her silent; then she responded with stateliness: "I suppose I have a right to decide how my son shall be brought up?"
He met her stern gaze with a smile; and in the midst of her resentment she was distinctly aware of the impeccable honesty of his judgment. The peculiar breeziness she had always thought of as "Western" sounded in his voice as he answered:
"By George, I'm not so sure that you have!"
Before his earnestness she felt her anger melt slowly away. The basic reasonableness of her character—her passion to investigate experience, to examine facts, to search for truth—this temperamental attitude survived the superficial wave of indignation which had swept over her.
"So you think I am making a mistake with Archibald?" she asked quietly; and growing tired of standing, she sank instinctively into one of the capacious leather-covered chairs by the table. "But the question is—are you able to judge?"
"Well, I'm a man, and I hate to see a boy coddled. It's going to be devilish hard on the kid when he grows up."
"Perhaps you're right"—her manner had grown softer—"and because I've thought of this, I am going to send him away to school this autumn—in a few weeks. Much as it will hurt me to part with them, I am going to send both of my children away from me. I have made the arrangements."
Insensibly the note of triumph had crept into her voice. By the simple statement of her purpose she had vindicated her motherhood to this man. She stood clear now of his aspersions on her wisdom and her devotion.
"I don't know much about girls," he replied, seating himself on the opposite side of the table, where the green light from the shaded lamp fell directly on his features. "I can't remember ever noticing one until I grew up, and then I was afraid to death of them, particularly when they were young—but I've been a boy, and I know all about boys. There isn't a blooming thing you could tell me about boys!" he concluded with animation.
"And you think that all boys are alike?"
"More or less under the skin. Of course some are washed and some are dirty—I was dirty—but they're all boys, every last one of them, and all boys are just kids. With the first money I made out West, I started a lodging-house for them—the dirty ones—down in the Bowery," he added. "They can get a wash and a supper and a night's lodging in a bed with real sheets any night in the year."
She was suddenly interested. "Do you care for boys just because you were a boy yourself?" she asked.
"Because I was such a God-forsaken little chap, I guess. You were never down in a cellar, I suppose, the kind of cellar people live in? Well, I was born in one, and my father had killed himself the week before because he was ill with consumption, and couldn't get work. He'd been a teamster, and he lost his job when he came down with pneumonia, and after they let him out of the hospital, he looked such a scarehead that nobody would employ him. After he died, my mother struggled on somehow, taking in washing or scrubbing floors—God knows how she managed it!—and by the time I was five, and precious big for my age, I was in the street selling papers. I used to say I was seven when anybody asked me, but I wasn't more than five; and I remember as plain as if it was yesterday, the way mother used to take me to a corner of Broadway, and put a bundle of papers in my arms, and how I used to hang on to the coppers when the bigger boys tried to get 'em away from me. Sometimes I'd get an extra dime or nickel, and then we'd have Irish stew or fried onions for supper. After my mother died, when I was about eight, I still kept on selling papers because I didn't know what else to do, but I didn't have any place to sleep then so I used to crawl into machine shops or areas (he said 'aries') or warehouses, when the watchmen weren't looking. In summer I'd sometimes hide under a bush in the park, and the policeman would never see me until I slipped by him in the morning. There was one policeman I hated like the devil, and I used to swear that I'd get even with him if it took me all the rest of my life." For a moment he paused, brooding complacently. "I did get even with him, too," he added, "and it didn't take me more than twenty years."
"You never forget anything?"
"Forget?" he laughed shortly. "When you find a thing I forget, it'll be so small you'll have to put on spectacles to recognize it!"
She nodded comprehendingly. "And after that?"
"After that they caught me and sent me to school, and I learned to read and write and do sums—I always had a wonderful head for figures—but after school I went on selling papers so I'd have something to eat—-"
The door burst open, and Archibald rushed in to show the evening clothes Gabriella had brought him from Paris.
"They are jolly, mother! May I keep them on?"
"If you like, dear, but they'll have to be altered a little. The coat doesn't quite fit across the shoulders."
"You're a dandy, kid, a regular dandy," observed O'Hara, with humorous gravity.
After a few moments Archibald rushed off again, and Gabriella made an uncertain movement to follow him. "I must go," she said, without rising, and added abruptly: "So you got on in spite of everything?"
"Right you are!" He leaned back in his chair and regarded her with benevolent optimism. "You can always get on if the stuff is in you. I meant to get on, and a steam engine couldn't have kept me back. It's the gospel truth that I believe I came into the world meaning to get out of that cellar, and it was the same thing with areas and ash-bins. I knew all the time I wasn't going to keep grubbing a living out of an ash-bin. I was always growing, shooting up like one of those mullein stalks out there, and eating? Great Scott! I used to eat so much when I was a kid that mother starved herself near to death so as to give me a square meal. By the time I was twelve I had grown so fast that I got a job at cleaning the streets—my first job from the city. But I never went hungry. As far as I recollect I never went hungry except the time I beat my way out to Chicago—"
Without moving, without lowering her eyes from his face, Gabriella listened, while she clasped and unclasped the hands in her lap. There is a personality that compels attention, and she realized for the first time that O'Hara possessed it. A new vision of life had opened suddenly before her, and she felt, with the illuminating intensity of a religious conversion, that the world she had been living in was merely a fiction. In spite of her experience she had really known nothing of life.
"Yes, a lot of 'em went hungry, but I never did," he resumed in a tone of frank congratulation. "Sometimes, of course, I'd go without supper or breakfast, but that was nothing—that was not being really hungry, you know. I always managed, even when I was at school, to make enough to keep satisfied. What I minded most," he added musingly, "was not having a regular place to go home to at night, and that's why I started that lodging-house. When you've slept in holes and on benches, and under freight cars, and hidden away in machine shops, you know there's nothing on God's earth—not a blessed thing—that can take the place of a real sure enough bed with real sure enough sheets and pillow cases on it."
"But how did you come out of it? How did you succeed? For you have succeeded beyond your dreams, haven't you?"
"Beyond my dreams?" He threw back his big, bright head, laughing happily. "Did any man alive ever succeed beyond his dreams? Why, I used to dream of being President, and I guess I shan't be President this side of the Great Divide, shall I? But I made money, if that's what you mean. Why, I have a million to-day to every dollar I had when I was twenty. Do you mind my smoking? I can't talk unless I've got hold of a cigar."
While he struck a match, she noticed with surprise how very neat and orderly he was about the ashes of his cigars, which lay in an exact gray heap in the massive bronze ash-tray. What a pity, she thought, moved by a feeling of compassion, that he had had no advantages!
"I'll tell you how I got on," he pursued after a minute, leaning forward with the cigar in his hand—it was a good cigar, she knew from the smell of it. "Do you see this room?"—he glanced proudly about him—"do you know why I keep this place even when I am in the West?" She shook her head, and he went on with a kind of half-ashamed, whimsical tenderness: "Well, a man lived here once you never heard of—a common Irishman—just a common Irish politician—the Tammany sort, just the sort the newspapers are so down on. I guess he wasn't strong on civic morality as they call it, and the social conscience and all the other new-fashion catchwords, but he found me out there in the snow one night selling newspapers without any overcoat, and he brought me in and gave me one of his. He was a little fellow—not big as the Irish usually grow—and I could wear his clothes, though I wasn't thirteen at the time. The coat wasn't an old one, either," he explained with retrospective complacency; "no, sirree, he had just bought it, and he made me take it off after I'd tried it on and sit down at the table in that back room there—it's all just as he left it—and eat supper with him—the best supper I ever had in my life before or since, you may take my word for it. Then when I'd finished he gave me a dollar and told me to go out and rent a bed—" He broke off, glanced about the room with the pride of ownership, and added softly: "Who'd ever have thought on that night that this place would one day belong to me?"
"Did you see him again?"
"After that he never lost sight of me. He got me a room, he sent me to school—not that he thought much of education, the more's the pity—and when I was through with school he got me into the Mechanics' Institute, and gave me a job at engineering. But the job was too small for me, and so was New York—there ain't room enough here to get on without stepping on somebody's toes—and when I was twenty I set out to beat my way to Chicago, and went clean out to Arizona. That's a long story—I'll tell you that some day, for I've been everything on earth you can be in order to keep alive, and done pretty much everything you can do with two hands that will earn you a square meal. I've cut corn and ploughed fields, and greased wheels, and chopped wood, and mended machinery, and cleaned the snow away, and once out in some little town in Arizona, I even dug a grave because the sexton was down with pneumonia. I've been brakesman, and freightman, and, after that, freight agent. That was just before I struck it rich in Colorado. I was one of the first men at Bonanza City, and when I went there with the railroad—I was on the very first train that ever ran there—the whole town was just a row of miners' shacks near the foot of old Bonanza. It's the richest mineral streak in the State, and yet twenty-five years ago, before the C.A. & F.W. tapped it, there wasn't even a saloon out there at Bonanza. City. When you wanted a drink—and that didn't worry me, for I haven't tasted anything but water since I was twenty-five—you had to go all the way to Olympia to get it; and what was worse, all the ore had to go to Olympia, too, on a little no account branch road to be shipped over the main line. Well, as soon as I discovered Bonanza City I said that had to change, and it did change. I guess I did as much to make that town as any man out there, and to-day I own about two thirds of it. I've got a house on Phoenix Avenue, and I gave the town a church and a theatre and the ground for a library. We've got one of the handsomest churches in the State," he proclaimed with his unconquerable optimism, "and we've just begun growing. Why, in ten years more Bonanza City will be in the race with Denver."
"And what about your friend?" she asked, finding it difficult to become enthusiastic over the most progressive town in Colorado, a State which she always pictured imaginatively as a kind of rocky desert, inhabited by tribes of gregarious invalids, which one visited for the sake of the scenery or the climate, when one had exhausted the civilized excitements of Europe.
"I am coming back to him," he responded with a manner of genial remonstrance. "You just give me time. But I'd honestly like you to see Bonanza City. Why, it would take your breath away if I told you it hadn't even begun to grow twenty years ago. You people in New York don't know what progress means. Why, out there in Bonanza City we do things while you're thinking about doing them. But to come back to Barney—that was his name, Barney McGoldrick—after I made my pile out of Bonanza, I used to strike here once in a while to see how he was getting along, and when he died I took these rooms just as he left 'em. There wasn't a chick or a child to come after him, but he had a string of pensioners as long as the C.A. & F.W. His money—it must have been half a million—all went to charity, but I kept on in the rooms."
"What kind of man was he?" she asked, sincerely interested.
"What kind?" He pondered the question with deep puffs of his cigar. "Well, do you know, I don't believe, to save my life, I could tell you. The more you know of men, and of women, too, for they're all alike, the more you understand, somehow, that you can't judge unless you've been right in the other man's place—unless you know exactly what they've had to pull up against and how hard they have pulled. Now, if I was drawing my last breath, and you asked me what I thought of Barney McGoldrick, I'd be obliged to answer that he was the best man I ever knew, though there are others in this town, I guess, and the newspapers among 'em, who would tell you that he was—" He broke off abruptly, and she waited without speaking, until he solaced himself with his cigar, and went on less boisterously: "It's a downright shame, isn't it, that the same man can't manage to corner all the virtues. I can't explain how it is, but I've noticed that the virtues don't seem able to work along peaceably in one another's company, for if they did, I guess we'd have pure saints or pure sinners instead of the mixed lot we've got to make a world out of. I've seen a man who wouldn't have lied or stolen to save his wife from starving, and who was the first in the pew at church every Sunday, grind the flesh and blood out of his factory girls until they were driven into the streets, or crush the very life out of the little children he put to work in his mills. Yes, and I've seen a tombstone over him with 'I know that my Redeemer liveth' carved an inch deep in the marble. Well, Barney wasn't like that, but he had his weaknesses, and they were the kind people don't raise marble tombstones over. I never had a taste for politics myself, but it seems to be like any other weakness, and to drag a man a little lower down if it once gets too strong a hold on him. It's all right, of course, if you keep it in moderation, but there's precious few chaps, particularly if it's in their blood, and they're Irish, who can keep the taste under control. Barney was the most decent man to women I ever knew. He wouldn't have hurt one for a million dollars, in a factory or out of it, and he was faithful to his old wife up to the day of her death and long after. He grieved for her till he died, and I don't believe any woman ever asked his help without getting it. His private life was absolutely clean, but his public morality—well, I guess that wasn't exactly spotless. At any rate, they had an investigation—there was a committee of citizens appointed to sit in judgment on his record. The chairman was a pillar of the church and a public benefactor; he had led every political reform for a generation; and I happened to know that he kept two mistresses up somewhere in the Bronx, and his wife, who was old and ugly, wore herself to a shadow because he neglected her. Mark you, I'm not upholding Barney, but, good Lord! ain't it queer how easy men get off when they just sin against women and not against men or against the State?"
"It's all queer." She rose from the leather chair, and held out her hand. "I'm glad I came in, Mr. O'Hara. Some day you must tell me the rest."
"The rest?" His embarrassment had descended upon him, and he was awkwardly stammering for words, with her cool hand in his grasp. As long as his enthusiasm had lasted he had talked fluently and naturally, swept away from his self-consciousness; but with the return of the formal amenities he became as ill at ease and shy as a boy. "There ain't anything more except that we're building a railroad out there, and I'm going back to finish it next spring if I'm alive."
The September breeze entered from the dim stretch of yard, under the waving elm boughs, and in an instant the room was filled with the fragrance of mignonette.
"But you won't be if you never get your dinner," she retorted, as she smiled brilliantly. Then, turning quickly, she crossed the threshold, and went down the hall to the staircase.
She was tremendously excited, and while she mounted the stairs she felt that she had not been so alive, so filled with energy since her girlhood in Richmond. It was as if a closed door into the world had been suddenly flung open, and she knew that she had passed beyond the narrow paths of convention into the sunny roads and broad fields of vision. In a moment of enlightenment she saw deeper and farther than she had ever dreamed of seeing before. "It teaches one not to judge," she thought, with a stab of self-reproach, "it teaches one not to judge others until one really knows." Twice before to-night, on the day when she resolved for the sake of Jane's children to go to work, and again on the June evening when George returned to her, she had felt this sudden quickening of life, this magical sense of the unexplored mystery and beauty of the world that surrounded her. But she had been very young then, and on that June evening she had been deeply in love. To-night, she assured herself, there was no touch of personal romance. In some inexplicable way the talk with O'Hara had renewed her broken connection with her Dream, and she felt closer in sympathy to Arthur than she had been able to feel for months. No, this awakening was utterly different from the awakening of love, for it shed its illumination not on a single person, but on the whole of humanity. O'Hara had moved her, not as a man, but as a force—a force as impersonal as the wind or the sea, which had swept her intellect away from its anchorage in the deeps of tradition. She had thought herself free, but she understood now that she had never really broken away—that in spite of her struggles to escape, the past had still held her. To-night it was more than an awakening, it was a conversion through which she was passing, and she knew she could never again believe as she had believed a few hours ago, that she could never judge again as unintelligently as she had judged yesterday. "So that is a man's world," and then with a rush of impulse: "What a mean little life I have been living—what a mean little life!" For she really knew nothing of life except dressmaking; she was familiar with no part of it except the way to Dinard's. She had been living a little life, with little standards, little creeds, little compromises. And yet, though the personality of O'Hara had enlarged her vision of the world, it had not altered her superficial view of the man. She still saw him outwardly at least without the glamour of romance—she still thought of him as boisterous, uneducated, slangy—but she was beginning almost unconsciously to distinguish between the faults of manner and the faults of character; she was beginning to be tolerant.
From Fanny's open door a humming voice floated out to her, and going inside, she found the girl, in a new frock, practising a dance step before the mirror. "This is the lame duck, mother, but it's different from the one we danced last year."
"Yes, dear, it's very pretty." Stopping before the dressing-table, Gabriella frowned on the photograph of a young man in a silver frame—a young man with a fascinating smile and inane features.
"Fanny, where did you get this?"
"Oh, mother, I didn't mean you to see it. I meant to put it away."
"Where did you get it?"
"He sent it to me. I wrote and asked him for it, and it has his autograph. Isn't he handsome? That's just the way he looked in 'Stolen Sweets' last winter."
"Well, he looks like a calf, I think," returned Gabriella severely. "I suppose you may keep it out until you get tired of it, but please try to be sensible, Fanny." Though she spoke jestingly, she was secretly disturbed by the discovery of the photograph. "If she were not pretty, it wouldn't matter," she thought, "but she is so pretty that almost any man might be tempted to begin a flirtation. Thank Heaven, she didn't take a fancy to Mr. O'Hara. That would have been a calamity." For, in spite of the fact that she had become personally reconciled to O'Hara, she was as firmly resolved as ever to keep Fanny out of his sight. "You know so many nice boys, dear," she resumed after a minute, "that I think you might be content to let actors alone."
"But boys are so stupid, mother." Fanny's tone was withering in its disdain. "They are wrapped up in sports, and I despise sports."
"Then you oughtn't to tease them as you do. You're too young to have fancies."
"I am sixteen."
"Well, that is much too young for anything of that sort. I like you to have boy friends, but I don't like you to be foolish. What has become of that attractive boy, Carlie's brother? He doesn't come here any more, and I'm afraid you've hurt his feelings."
"Oh, mother," hummed Fanny to the music of the lame duck as she practised before the mirror, "how can you really hurt a man?"
The next morning when Gabriella, in a Parisian gown of black taffeta and one of the absurdly small hats of the autumn, started for Dinard's, she found herself thinking, not of Fanny's flirtation, but of her long talk with O'Hara. She cast a friendly glance on the golden-oak hatrack as she passed—for O'Hara had risen in her regard since she had discovered that he had not selected the furniture on the first floor—and then stopping for a few moments on the front steps, she closed her eyes, and inhaled the fragrance of the mignonette in the window box. The yard was brilliant in the early sunshine; and at the gate she saw the wife of the caretaker, who had looked after the flowers in her absence. Detaining the woman by a gesture, she joined her in the street, and the two started together to walk the long blocks that stretched to Fifth Avenue.
"You are going home early to-day, Mrs. Squires."
"Yes, ma'am; it's Johnny's birthday and I promised to take him up to the Bronx. Mr. O'Hara had his breakfast at seven, and I got through earlier than usual. He is so tidy that there ain't much to do except to dust around a little."
She was a neat, red-faced woman, in rusty mourning for a child she had lost in the early summer, and while she talked, Gabriella felt an irresistible impulse to question her about O'Hara. "She has known him for thirty years, and I can find out more from her than I could discover for myself in six months," she thought; but she only said indifferently:
"You've worked at this house a long time, haven't you?"
"For thirty years—ever since I came here at eighteen as housemaid to Mr. McGoldrick. My husband was coachman for Mr. McGoldrick, you know—he drove the prettiest pair of bays in New York—and that was how I met him. When we married, Mr. McGoldrick set us up, and John drove his carriage for him as long as he lived. I often wonder what the old gentleman would think of everybody having automobiles. They were just beginning to come into fashion when he died."
"You knew Mr. O'Hara then?"
"Oh, yes, he was a great deal with Mr. McGoldrick. After he went West we didn't see much of him for a time—that was while he was making his money. Then he came back and brought his wife to a place here to be treated—"
"Didn't you know? She died a few years ago, but before that he used to keep her with some doctor over on Long Island, and he went regularly to see her every Sunday afternoon as long as she lived."
"What was the matter?"
"Drugs. Drugs and drink, too, they said, though I never knew for certain about that. But they couldn't do anything with her. They tried all the cures anybody ever heard of, and she went back every time. No sooner would one thing fail, however, than Mr. O'Hara would hear of something or other over in Europe, and make them begin trying it. Finally for the last ten or twelve years she was quite out of her mind—clean crazy they said, and didn't know anybody. But he still went to see her every Sunday when he was staying in town, and he still made the doctors go on trying new things. He never gave up till the very last. Mr. McGoldrick used to say of him that he was the sort that would go on hoping in hell."
"Who was she? Where did he meet her?"
"God only knows. He never would say much about her even to Mr. McGoldrick, but John always stuck it out that she was never the right sort in the beginning, and that Mr. O'Hara got tangled up with her somewhere in a mining town out West, and couldn't get out. I've heard she was a chambermaid or a barmaid or something in a miners' hotel, but I don't know, and nobody else knows, for Mr. O'Hara never opened his mouth about her. All we know positive is that she must have been a drug fiend long before he ever married her, and that he stuck to her for better or for worse until she died and was buried. Some men are like that, you know, a few of 'em. When a thing once belongs to 'em, no matter what it is or how little it's worth, they'll go through fire and water for the sake of it—and it makes no difference whether it's a woman or a railroad or a dog or a mine. They've got the sense of responsibility like a disease. You see, Mr. O'Hara is that sort, and you might as well try to turn a steam roller as to start to reason him out of a notion. It would have been as easy as talking for him to have got a divorce. Time and again Mr. McGoldrick used to go after him about it, and talk himself hoarse; but it didn't do any good, not a particle. Instead of getting free out there in the West where it was easy, he kept on lugging that crazy woman back and forth, trying to cure her long after everybody else had given up hope and was wishing that she was dead."
"Well, I suppose he loved her."
"No, ma'am, that's the funny part, but it didn't look like love to me—not like what men call love, anyway. If it had been love, it would have worn itself out long ago. Who on earth could love a crazy, yellow, shrieking, cursing creature like that? I saw her sometimes when he'd send me to take things down to her, and I tell you it wasn't love—not man's love, anyhow—that made him do what he did."
"Then it must have been something finer even than love," Gabriella acquiesced after a moment. "It's strange, when we come to think of it, how often we find spirituality in places where we'd never expect it to be."
"I don't know that I'd call Mr. O'Hara spiritual exactly," replied Mrs. Squires thoughtfully. "I don't believe he ever puts his foot inside a church, and I've heard him swear when he got ready till you'd expect the roof to drop in on you, but when you come to think of it," she concluded, "I guess there's a good deal of religion floating around outside of walls."
At the next corner they parted, and as the caretaker stopped to shake hands with Gabriella and thank her for a birthday present for Johnny, she added nervously: "I hope I haven't said anything that I oughtn't to have said, Mrs. Carr. Mr. O'Hara has been as good as gold to me, and I shouldn't like him to hear I'd been talking about him."
"He shan't hear, I promise you"; and while Mrs. Squires hurried, reassured, to her home in Sixth Avenue, Gabriella walked briskly with the crowd which was streaming along Twenty-third Street into Broadway.
A week ago she would scarcely have noticed the people about her. For ten years she had gone every morning to her work through the streets, and she had felt herself to be as aloof from the masses as the soaring skyscraper at the corner of Broadway. The psychology of the crowd had not touched her; even when she walked with it, when she made a part of it, she had felt herself to be detached from its purposes.
To-day, however, a change had come over her, and she was happy with a large and impersonal happiness which seemed to belong less to herself than to the throng which surged about her and gathered her in. Her little standards, her little creeds, had become a part of the larger standards and creeds of humanity. In Broadway, moving onward with the other workers who were returning to the day's work, she was aware of an invisible current of joy which flowed from the crowd into her thoughts and through her thoughts back again into the crowd. For the first time she was feeling and thinking in unison with the multitude.
That night, when she sat alone with Miss Polly, she said to her suddenly:
"I believe I was wrong to wish Archibald not to see anything of Mr. O'Hara. Yesterday we had a long talk, and I think he must have some very fine traits."
"Maybe," replied Miss Polly, a little snappishly. "I never could see what set you so against him, Gabriella."
"Oh, he is dreadfully slangy, and, of course, he isn't educated. I suppose if I mentioned Hamlet to him, he'd think I was talking about some town in Oklahoma."
"Well, I reckon he's been his own Hamlet," retorted Miss Polly; "and knowing about Hamlet don't make a man, anyhow. George knew all about Hamlet, but it didn't make him easy to live with."
"Yes, that's just it. What did George's advantages do for him? I used to think it was love that mattered most," she said musingly after a pause, "and then, when love failed, I began to think it was culture. But I see now that it is something else. Do you ever wonder what the essential thing really is, Miss Polly?"
"No, I never wonder," responded Miss Polly tartly, "but when you stew it down to the bones, I reckon it's just plain character."
"Yes, if you can't have both culture and character, of course character is the more important. But think how much that man might have made of the university training that was wasted on George." While she spoke there came back to her in snatches a conversation she had had with an Englishman on the boat last summer, and she remembered that he had alluded to Judge Crowborough as "a man of the broadest culture." Surely the "broadest culture" must include character, and yet she could feel even now the casual and business-like clasp of the judge, she could see again the admiring gleam in his small, fishy eyes. "After all, I suppose it is a kind of spiritual consciousness that makes character," she said aloud, "and you can't train that into a man if he isn't born with it."
"It seems to me that Mr. O'Hara has done mighty well, all things considered," pursued Miss Polly, and she inquired suspiciously: "Did Mrs. Squires ever tell you anything about his marriage?"
"I met her this morning on my way to work, and she told me about it."
"Well, what do you make of it? Don't it beat anything you ever heard?"
"It does. There's not the slightest doubt of it. And, do you know," Gabriella went on hurriedly, "that story made a remarkable impression on me—I've been thinking about it ever since. It made me see everything differently, and I've even asked myself if I had enough patience with George. If I wasn't too hard and intolerant with him in the beginning?"
"I shouldn't worry about that, honey, because I don't believe it would have made any difference if you'd been gentler. It's the stuff in a man, I reckon, that counts more than the way a woman handles him. You couldn't have saved George any more than that other woman could ruin the man downstairs."
"Perhaps not." Rising from her chair, Gabriella drew the pins from the smooth, close coil of her hair. "But I see things so differently since I had that talk with Mr. O'Hara. I am glad to have him for a friend," she added generously, "but of course I still feel the same about Fanny. I hope he won't begin to notice Fanny."
"Well, he won't. He ain't thinkin' about it. I declare, Gabriella," the little woman went on with a change of tone, "your head don't look much bigger than a pincushion with your hair fixed that way. It makes you seem mighty young, but there ain't many women that could stand it."
"It's the fashion in Paris. I have to be smart. Do you suppose many people guess that I wear extreme styles," she added laughingly, "because they are so hard to sell?"
"You certainly do look well in 'em. I never saw anybody with more natural style. Why, you can put on those slouchy things without a piece of corset and look as if you'd just stepped out of a fashion plate."
"When you aren't pretty, you're obliged to be smart."
"Well, of course you never had the small features and pink and white colouring that Jane had; but you always had a way of your own even as a girl, and you're handsomer now than you ever were in your life. If you were to ask Mr. O'Hara, I bet you he'd say you were a heap better lookin' than Fanny."
A gasp broke from Gabriella, and she turned from the mirror to stare blankly at the seamstress. "Mr. O'Hara! Why, what in the world made you think of him?"
But Miss Polly had grown suddenly impenetrable. "Oh, nothin'," she responded evasively; "I've just seen him look at you both when you were together."
Gabriella laughed brightly. "Oh, he looks at everything. I never saw such eyes."
There was the note of accomplishment, of success, in her voice, and she brushed her fine, soft hair with long, vigorous strokes which had in them something of this same quality of unwavering confidence. To look at her as she sat, relaxed yet dominant, before the glass, was to recognize that she was a woman who had achieved the purpose of her life, who had succeeded in whatever she had undertaken. Not a great purpose, perhaps—there were hours when her purpose seemed to her to be particularly trivial—but still, great or small, she had accomplished it. She was not only directing Dinard's now—she was Dinard's. Without her the business would collapse like a house of cards, and it was because she knew this, because Madame also knew this, that she had been able to perfect the arrangements she had planned that May afternoon after her depressing visit to Judge Crowborough. For she managed the house of Dinard's now by an arrangement which gave her one third of the profits; and in the last six months, since this scheme had gone into effect, the business had grown tremendously in certain directions. The millinery department, for instance, which Madame had once treated with such supercilious disdain, had become to-day the most fashionable hat shop in Fifth Avenue. The work was hard, but the returns were wonderful; and with a strange gloating, she told herself that she was making money—always more money for the children. "When Fanny finishes school year after next, we'll take a large apartment in Park Avenue, and spend every summer in Europe," she concluded.
In the morning she rather expected to see O'Hara, but a month passed before she met him one evening in October, when she came home late from work. The autumn rains had come and gone, destroying the fugitive bloom of Miss Polly's flower-beds, and scattering the leaves of the elm tree in a moist, delicately tinted carpet over the grass. An hour ago the sun had set in a purple cloud, and beneath the electric lights, which shone through the fog with a wan and spectral glimmer, the dark outlines of the city assumed an ominous vagueness. There was no light in the house; and the deserted yard, silvered from frost and strewn with dead leaves, which lay in wind-drifts along the flagged walk, had the haunted aspect of a place where youth and happiness have passed so recently that the fragrance of them still lingers.
"Archibald went off to school without telling you good-bye," she said in a friendly voice. "He was much disappointed."
Stopping in the walk, he looked at her with unaffected surprise.
"Why, I thought that was what you wanted!"
She met this quite honestly. "Not after I talked to you."
"What in thunder did I say to change your opinion of me?" The strong west wind blowing around him and lifting the roughened red hair from his forehead, appeared to lessen by contrast the breezy animation of his manner.
"It wasn't anything you said," she answered simply. "I found out you were different from what I thought, that is all."
"Then you must have thought something!" he laughed aloud.
"I was afraid at first that you might have a bad influence over Archibald."
"Oh, the kid!" His mirth was as irrepressible as his energy.
"You see I have to be very careful," she went on gently. "I want to do my best by him."
At this he turned on her with sudden earnestness. "You can't do your best by being too careful—take my word for it. If you want him to be a man, don't begin by making a mollycoddle of him. Let him rough it a bit, or it will be twice as hard for him when he grows up."
"But I do—I do. I am sending him away from me. Isn't that right?"
"You bet it is. Let him learn his own strength. I've lived among men ever since I was born, and I tell you, nine times out of ten, the boy who is tied to his mother's apron-strings, loses his grip when he is turned out into the world. At the first knock-down he goes under."
Instinctively she flinched. If only he wouldn't!
"After he leaves school of course he will go to the university," she said.
"That's right," he agreed emphatically, and pursued a little wistfully: "Now, that's what I was cheated out of, and there've been times when I'd have given my right arm to have been through college instead of having to keep my mouth shut and then run home and look up the meaning of things in an encyclopdia. It's a handicap, not knowing things. Nobody who hasn't had to get along in spite of, it knows what a darned handicap it is!"
"But you read, don't you?"
"Not much. Never had time to form the habit. But I've read Shakespeare—at least I've read Julius Csar six times," he explained. "I had it in the desert once where there wasn't a newspaper for two months. And I've read the Kings, too—most of 'em."
"But not Hamlet?" She was smiling as she looked from him into the street.
He shook his head with a laugh. "Too much meandering in that. I don't like talk unless it is straight."
Though he was upon the most distant terms of acquaintance with the English language, it occurred to her that he probably possessed a knowledge of men and things which no university training could have given him.
"It is wonderful," she remarked, touched to sympathy by his confession, "that you should have succeeded."
"Oh, any man could have done it—any man, that is, who loved a fight as much as I do. It was half luck and half bulldog grip, I suppose. When I once get my grip on a thing, I'll hold on no matter what happens. There ain't the power this side of Kingdom Come that could make me let go if I don't want to."
She thought of his wife, of his losing fight against the craving for morphine, and she replied very gently: "If you hadn't been a good fighter, I suppose you would have been beaten long ago."
"So long ago," he retorted with jovial humour, "that you wouldn't have known me."
An impulse of curiosity urged her to an utterly irrelevant response. "I wonder if you have known many women?" She felt that she should like to hear his story from him, there in the deserted yard; but when he answered her, he revealed a personal reticence worthy of the aristocratic traditions of Mrs. Carr. "Oh, I haven't had time for them," he replied indifferently.
"Perhaps there aren't so many in Bonanza City?"
"Oh, there're plenty," he rejoined gaily, "if you take the trouble to look for them."
"And you didn't?" They had entered the house, and she spoke merrily as she crossed to the staircase.
"Well, the sort I found didn't take my fancy, you see!" he tossed back playfully from his door.
Her foot was on the lowest step, when, hesitating with a birdlike movement, she looked at him over her right shoulder.
"Well, that's a pity. A woman could have told you a good many things," she observed.
"For instance?" He was still jesting.
Poised for flight, she gazed back at him, challenging his eyes.
"Oh, not to collect gold-headed walking-sticks, not to believe in golden-oak, and not to be so extravagantly—slangy."
As she ran up the staircase, a burst of laughter followed her in the midst of which she distinguished the retort: "Well, I own to the slang, but I inherited the oak, and the sticks were all given me—by women."
The temptation to fling back, "of a sort?" came to her; but she conquered it as she passed demurely into the sitting-room, where Miss Polly was reading the afternoon paper before an open fire. "I mustn't get too friendly," she told herself, reprovingly. "It is better to keep up a certain formality." And she determined that at the next meeting she would be dignified and aloof.
But the next meeting did not occur until January, for O'Hara went West the following day, and for more than two months Miss Polly and Gabriella were alone in the house. Though she was working doubly hard at Dinard's, the loneliness of the winter evenings after the Christmas holidays were over became almost intolerable to Gabriella; and the bleak month of January stretched ahead of her in an interminable prospect of cold and gloom. For the past ten years the children had absorbed her life, after her working hours, so entirely that the parting from them had been an unbearable wrench, and had left her with an aching feeling as if an arm had been cut away. She had had little time to make friends; the streets of the city isolated her as completely as if they had been spaces of uninhabited wilderness; and, except for her casual remarks to Miss Polly, she had lived from day to day without speaking a word that was not directly concerned with the management or the sales of Dinard's. Since her divorce, obeying perhaps some inherited tradition, she had avoided men almost instinctively; and even if she had cared to make friends among them, her life was so narrow that it would have been almost impossible for her to do so. When she was not too tired, she still read as widely as she could; but at thirty-seven books had become but a poor substitute for the more robust human activities. As the theatres and the lecture rooms offered the only opportunities of relaxation and amusement, she went twice a week, accompanied by the little seamstress, who appeared to thrive on self-sacrifice, to see a play that was noticed in the papers, or to listen to explanatory descriptions of the scenery of South America or the grievances of the oppressed natives of Asia.
"You mustn't let yourself mope, honey," urged Miss Polly, one snowy morning in January, when Gabriella was putting on a fur coat, cut in the latest fashion, which had been left on her hands after the mid-winter sales. "The children had to go sooner or later, and it's just as well it happened while you are young enough to get over it. A boy never stays at home anyway, and you know I always told you Fanny was the sort to marry before she is out of her teens."
"Oh, I'm not moping, but of course I can't help missing them. The house seems so empty."
"It's obliged to be empty with only us two women in it. I declare I got such a creepy feelin' about burglars last night that I kept wishin' Mr. O'Hara would hurry up and come home. Mrs. Squires says she was expectin' him all last week, but he didn't turn up, so she is kind of lookin' for him to-day."
"Is she?" Gabriella's voice was charged with sincere thankfulness. Merely to know that there was a man on the first floor afforded a sense of security; and an occasional meeting with him would make, she was aware, a trivial diversion from the monotony of her existence. The loneliness of the winter had driven her like a storm-swept bird back to the enduring refuge of her Dream; but, after all, the flesh and blood presence of O'Hara could not seriously interfere with the tender and pensive visions her memory spun of the past. Every morning, standing beside her window and gazing on the bleak street and the bare elm boughs, she thought of Arthur and of her first love, with a pious and reverent mind—for they occupied in her day the hour and mood which her mother, belonging to a more orthodox generation, piously dedicated to "Daily Strength for Daily Need." But never for an instant would it have occurred to the granddaughter of that sanctified snob, Bartholomew Berkeley, who despised the lower orders and fraternized with the Deity in his pulpit every Sabbath, that the red-blooded and boisterous O'Hara—the man of force and slang—could by any accident usurp the sacred shrine where the consecrated relics of her first love reposed. Before the whirlwind of O'Hara's energy, she would congratulate herself that her Arthur, with the milder fluid of the Peytons in his veins, would never allow himself to be carried away by his impulses.
"Well, I'm glad he's coming back, if it's only to protect us," she said, while she fastened her fur coat. "I wonder what he has been doing out West all this time?"
"Makin' money, I reckon. They say he makes so much he don't know what to do with it."
"We could teach him, couldn't we? But he ought to marry and let his wife spend it for him. Only," she concluded carelessly, "I suppose he'd select some dizzy chorus girl who would bring him to ruin. Men of his kind always pick out chorus girls, don't they?"
"I thought 'twas the other sort that did that," observed Miss Polly, fresh from the perusal of the Sunday newspapers; "Dukes and society men and the sons of millionaires."
"Perhaps. Maybe they're all alike," and taking up her umbrella, Gabriella started bravely out into the storm.
At six o'clock, when she struggled back along Twenty-third Street, the wind had changed, and the storm driving furiously down the long blocks caught her in a whirl of blinding snowflakes. In the swirling whiteness of the distance, the black outlines of the city appeared remote and shadowy, while the waning lights, which shone like dim moons at the crossing, revealed the ghostly figures of a few struggling pedestrians.
The gate was open, and she had almost reached it, when the lurching form of a man, emerging suddenly from the storm, was flung against her with such violence that she fell back for support on the icy railing of the yard. Then, as the obscure figure, drawing away from her with a staggering motion, began fumbling blindly at the gate, she caught sight of a ghastly face, which looked as if it had been stricken by an incurable illness. The man wore no overcoat; a knitted muffler was wrapped tightly about his neck; and she saw that the hands fumbling at the gate were red and trembling from cold.
Steadying herself against the fence, she drew her purse from her muff, and she had already taken out a piece of silver, when she heard her name called in a voice which sounded vaguely familiar, though it awoke no immediate associations in her mind.
"Gabriella! My God! I was looking for you, Gabriella!"
With the money still in her hand, she stooped to look into his face.
"You don't know me. I'm George," he said in an angry voice as if he were about to burst into tears. "I'm George, but you don't know me."
The storm drove him against her, and he clung weakly to her arm, crying softly in a terrified whimper like a child that is awaking from a horrible nightmare. Though she did not realize that he was dying, not of disease, but of drink, the thought shot through her mind: "So this is George. So this is what George has come to—George who took everything that he wanted!"
"Where are you going?" she asked, for the shock had restored him to some poor semblance of sanity.
"I was looking for you. I heard you lived down here, and I knew you'd take me in. I've been ill—I'm ill enough to die, and they turned me out of the hotel. There was a woman who stole everything I had. She stole it and ran off in the night, damn her!"
He shivered violently while he spoke, and she saw a glassy look creep into his eyes and over his face, as if his features had been frozen in an instant of terror. Panic seized her lest he should die there in the street, and she grasped his arm almost roughly as if she would shake him back into life. As she supported him his teeth began to rattle, not as the teeth of the living chatter from fear, but as the teeth of a dead man might rattle when he is jolted in his coffin. For a minute she felt the madness of her panic pass from her pulses to her brain, and her terror of him turned her as cold as the sleet-covered iron railing against which she leaned. A cowardly impulse tempted her to desert him and run for her life, to seek shelter behind bolted doors, to leave him there alone to freeze to death at her gate.
"Gabriella, I'm afraid," he whined, clinging to her arm. "I'm afraid, Gabriella. You can't let go of me!"
An unspeakable loathing swept over her; his very touch seemed contamination; and while she turned toward the gate, she knew that every fibre of her flesh, every quiver of her nerves, revolted against the thing she was doing. But something stronger than her flesh or her nerves—the vein of iron in her soul—decided the issue.
"Come in with me, and I'll take care of you," she said. "There is the step. Don't stumble. Here, steady yourself with the umbrella. We are almost there now." Her voice was cold and hard; but the words were those she might have used to Archibald had she been leading him in out of the storm.
Still whimpering and stumbling, George clung to her with his desperate clutch, while she dragged him up the short walk, which was deep in snow, to the six steps, which appeared to her to reach upward into eternity. As she approached the house, a light shone out suddenly in one of the windows and a sense of safety, of perfect security descended upon her, for she knew that it was the red glimmer of O'Hara's fire. With the sensation, she heard again her mother's voice speaking above the storm: "Gabriella, we'll send immediately for your Cousin Jimmy Wrenn!" So, in the old days of her childhood, Cousin Jimmy had brought her this feeling of relief in the midst of distress.
Opening the door with her latchkey, she dragged George into the hall, where her thankful eyes fell on O'Hara's overcoat, from which the water was, still dripping. For an instant she was tempted to call to him; then checking the impulse, she went on to the staircase, which she ascended with difficulty because George's legs seemed to give way when he tried to lift them to a step. At last, after what she felt to be an eternity, they reached the upper floor, and she pushed her burden into Archibald's room, where he fell like a log on the hearthrug. The sound of his fall shook the house, and when Miss Polly came running in, with a cry of alarm, Gabriella almost expected to see O'Hara behind her. But O'Hara did not come, and before the seamstress could recover from the palpitations the shock had produced, George was on his feet again, and was staring blankly, as if fascinated, at the reflection of the electric light in the mirror.
"It's George," Gabriella explained in a harsh voice. "I found him in the street. He was looking for me, and I couldn't leave him to freeze. I think he's either drunk or ill. I don't know which it is, but it sounds like pneumonia."
"God have mercy!" exclaimed Miss Polly, which was quite as lucid as she ever became in a crisis. Her face had turned blue, she was trembling with terror, and the violence of her palpitations almost exceeded the painful sounds in George's chest. "If there was only a man we could send for," she wailed hysterically. "Oh, Gabriella, if there was only a man!"
"Well, there's the doctor," replied Gabriella shortly. "You'd better telephone for him at once. Get the nearest one. I think his name is McFarland."
"And a nurse? You'll want a nurse, won't you?"
"I'll want anything I can get, and I'll want it quickly. There, hurry, while I find a bathrobe of Archibald's. He's wet through—soaking wet. He must have been out all day in the storm."
Miss Polly vanished into the dimness of the hall, and after a few minutes Gabriella heard her fluttering voice demanding a telephone number as if she were still supplicating the Deity.
"Take off your wet clothes while I get you a drink and some hot blankets!" said Gabriella when she had found one of Archibald's bathrobes in the closet. It occurred to her that George was really incapable of undressing himself, but she felt that she would rather die than touch him again. The loathing which had overpowered her outside in the storm became stronger in the close air of the house. "I can't touch him. I don't care what happens I can't touch him," she told herself, while she placed the flannel robe on the rug, and hurried back to the kitchen. Her whole body was benumbed and chilled, not from cold, but from disgust, yet her mind was almost unnaturally active, and she found herself thinking over and over again: "So this is the man I loved, this is the man I married instead of Arthur!"
When she came back with a cup of broth and some hot blankets, she found George in the flannel gown of Archibald's, with his wet clothes on the floor at his feet, from which he had forgotten to remove his shoes. He drank the soup greedily, while Miss Polly lighted the wood-fire she had laid in the open grate.
"The heat's comin' up all right in the radiator," she said, "but I thought a blaze might make him more comfortable."
"Yes, it's better," replied Gabriella sternly, while she stooped to unlace George's boots. There was no compassion in her heart, and it seemed to her, while she struggled with the wet lacing, that the fumes of whiskey spread contagion and disease over the room. She was not only hard and bitter—she felt that she loathed him with unspeakable loathing.
"I declare, Gabriella, I believe he has gone deranged!" Miss Polly cried out sharply, dropping the poker and starting to her feet in an erratic impulse of flight.
With the flannel gown clutched tightly to his chest, where the dull rattling sounds went on unceasingly, George was staring in fascinated intensity at the reflection of the electric light in the mirror. Then suddenly, with a scream of terror, he lifted the poker Miss Polly had dropped, and flung it over Gabriella's head in the direction of the dressing-table. At the noise of breaking glass, Gabriella rose from her knees, and said in the hard, quiet voice she had used ever since the first shock of the meeting:
"If you are afraid, lock yourself in your room, Miss Polly. I am going downstairs for Mr. O'Hara."
Without waiting for a response, she ran out into the hall and down the staircase, while her eyes clung to the comforting glimmer of light under the drawing-room door. As her feet touched the lowest step, the door opened quickly, and O'Hara stood on the threshold.
"I knew something was wrong," he said, emerging, big and efficient, from the firelight, "and I was just coming up." Before she could answer she felt his warm grasp on her hands, and it seemed to her suddenly that it was not only her hands he enfolded, but her agonized and suffering mind.
"There's a man up there—" she faltered helplessly. "I was once married to him long ago—oh, long ago. Just now I found him in the street and he seems to be out of his mind. We are frightened."
But he seemed not to hear her, not to demand an explanation, not even to wait to discover what she wanted. Already his long stride was outstripping her on the staircase, and while she followed more slowly, pausing now and then to take breath, she realized thankfully that the situation had passed completely away from her power of command. As Miss Polly's strength to hers, so was her strength to O'Hara's.
Faint, despairing moans issued from Archibald's room as she reached the landing; and going inside, she saw George wrestling feebly with O'Hara, who held him with one hand while with the other he waved authoritative directions to Miss Polly.
"Get the bed ready for him, with plenty of hot blankets. He's about at the end of his rope now. It's a jag, but it's more than a jag, too. If I'm not mistaken he's in for a case of pneumonia."
Miss Polly, hovering timidly at a safe distance, held out the blankets and the hot water bottles, while O'Hara carried George across the room to the bed, and then covered him warmly. When he turned to glance about his gaze fell on Gabriella, and he remarked bluntly: "You'd better get out. You aren't wanted."
"But I am obliged to be here. It is my business, not yours," she replied, while a sensation of sickness passed over her.
For a moment he regarded her stubbornly, "Well, I don't know whose business it was a minute ago," he rejoined, "but it's mine now. I am boss of this particular hell, and you're going to keep out of it. I guess I know more about D.T. than you and Miss Polly put together would know in a thousand years."
She was very humble. In the sweetness of her relief, of her security, she would have submitted cheerfully not only to slang, but to downright profanity. It was one of those unforgettable instants when character, she understood, was more effective than culture. Even Arthur would have appeared at a disadvantage beside O'Hara at that moment.
"I think I ought to help you," she insisted.
"Well, I think you oughtn't. Out you go! I guess I know what I'm up against."
Before she could protest, before she could even resist, he had pushed her out into the hail, and while she still hesitated there at the head of the staircase, the door opened far enough to allow the huddled figure of Miss Polly to creep through the crack. Then the key turned in the lock; and O'Hara's voice was heard pacifying George as he might have pacified a child or a lunatic. After a few minutes the shrieks stopped suddenly; the door was unlocked again for a minute, and there floated out the reassuring words:
"Don't stand out there any longer. It's as right as right. I've got him buffaloed!"
"What does he mean?" inquired Gabriella helplessly of the seamstress.
"I don't know, but I reckon it's all right," responded Miss Polly. "He seems to know just what to do, and anyhow the doctor'll be here in a minute. It seems funny to give him whiskey, don't it, but that was the first thing Mr. O'Hara thought of."
"I suppose his heart was weak. He looked as if he were dying," answered Gabriella. "He asked for more whiskey, didn't he?"
"Yes; I'm goin' right straight to get it. Oh, Gabriella, ain't a man a real solid comfort sometimes?"
Without replying to this ejaculation, Gabriella went after the whiskey, and when she came back with the bottle in her hand, she found the doctor on the landing outside the locked door. He was a stranger to her, and she had scarcely begun her explanation when O'Hara called him into the room.
"The sooner you take a look at him the better." Everything was taken out of her hands—everything, even her explanation of George's presence in her apartment.
As there was nothing more for her to do, she went back to the sitting-room, where a fire burned brightly, and began to talk to Miss Polly.
"I don't know what I should have done if he hadn't been here," she said.
"Who? Mr. O'Hara? Well, it certainly was providential, honey, when you come to think of it."
The door of Archibald's room opened and shut, and the doctor came down the hall to the telephone. They heard him order medicines from a chemist near-by; and then, after a minute, he took up the receiver, and spoke to a nurse at the hospital. At first he gave merely the ordinary directions, but at the end of the conversation he said sharply in answer to a question: "No, there's no need of a restraining sheet. He's too far gone to be violent. It is only a matter of hours."
His voice stopped, and Gabriella went out to him. "Will you tell me what you think, Doctor?" she asked.
"Is he your husband?" He had a blank, secretive face, with light eyes, and a hard mouth—so different, she thought from the poetic face of Dr. French.
"I divorced him ten years ago."
He looked at her searchingly. "Well, he may last until morning, but it is doubtful. His heart has given out."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"No. Morphine is the only thing. We are going to try camphorated oil, but there is hardly a chance—not a chance." He turned to go back into the room, then stopped, and added in the same tone of professional stoicism: "The nurse will be here in half an hour, and I shall wait till she comes."
When Gabriella went back to the sitting-room, Miss Polly was weeping. "I followed you and heard what he said. Oh, Gabriella, ain't life too awful!"
"I'll be glad when the nurse comes," answered Gabriella with impatience. Emotionally she felt as if she had turned to stone, and she had little inclination to explore the trite and tangled paths of Miss Polly's philosophy.
The nurse, a stout, blond woman in spectacles, arrived on the stroke of the half-hour, and after talking with her a few minutes, the doctor took up his bag and came to tell Gabriella that he would return about daybreak. "I've given instructions to the nurse, and Mr. O'Hara will sit up in case he is needed, but there is nothing to do except keep the patient perfectly quiet and give the hypodermics. It is too late to try anything else."
"May I go in there?"
"Well, you can't do any good, but you may go in if you'd rather."
Then he went, as if glad of his release, and after Gabriella had prevailed upon Miss Folly to go to bed, she changed her street dress for a tea-gown, and threw herself on a couch before the fire in the sitting-room. An overpowering fatigue weighed her down; the yellow firelight had become an anodyne to her nerves; and after a few minutes in which she thought confusedly of O'Hara and Cousin Jimmy, she let herself fall asleep.
When she awoke a man was replenishing the fire, and as she struggled drowsily back into consciousness, she realized that he was not Cousin Jimmy, but O'Hara, and that he was placing the lumps of coal very softly in the fear of awaking her.
"Hallo, there!" he exclaimed when he turned with the scuttle still in his hand; "so you're awake, are you?"
She started up. "I've been asleep!" she exclaimed in surprise.
"You looked like a kid when I came in," he responded cheerfully, and she reflected that even the presence of death could not shadow his jubilant spirit. "I went back to the kitchen to make some coffee for the nurse and myself, and I thought you might like a cup. It's first-rate coffee, if I do say it. Two lumps and a little cream, I guess that's the way. I rummaged in the icebox, and found a bottle of cream hidden away at the back. That was right, wasn't it?"
A strange, an almost uncanny feeling of reminiscence, of vague yet profound familiarity, was stealing over her. It all seemed to have happened before, somewhere, somehow—the slow awakening to the large dark form in the yellow firelight, O'Hara's sudden turning to look at her, his exuberance, his sanguine magnetism, and even the cup of coffee he made and brought to her side. She felt that it was the most natural thing in the world to awake and find him there and to drink his coffee.
"It's good," she answered; "I had no dinner, and I am very hungry."
"I thought you'd be. That's why I brought a snack with it." He was cutting a chicken sandwich on the tray he had placed under the green shaded light, and after a minute he brought it to her and held the cup while she ate. A nurse could not have been gentler about the little things she needed; yet she knew that he was rough, off-hand, careless—she could imagine that he might become almost brutal if he were crossed in his purpose. She had believed him to be so simple; but he was in reality, she saw, a mass of complexities, of actions and reactions, of intricacies and involutions of character.
"I don't know what I should have done if you hadn't been here," she said gratefully while she ate the sandwich and he sat beside her holding her cup. "But I'm so unused to being taken care of," she added with a trembling little laugh, "that I don't quite know how to behave."
"Oh, you would have got on all right," he rejoined carelessly; "but I'm glad all the same that I was here."
She motioned toward the hall. "Has there been any change?"
"No, there won't be until morning. He'll last that long, I think. We're giving him a hypodermic every four hours, but it really ain't any good, you know. It is merely professional." For a minute he was silent, watching her gravely; then recovering his casual manner, he added: "I shouldn't let it upset me if I were you. Things happen that way, and we've got to take them standing."
She shook her head. "I'm not upset. I'm not feeling it in the least. Somehow, I can't even realize that I ever knew him. If you told me it was all a dream, I should believe you."
"Well, you're a plucky sort. I could tell that the first minute I saw you."
"It's not pluck. I don't feel things, that's all. I suppose I'm hard, but I can't help it."
"Hard things come useful sometimes; they don't break."
"Yes, I suppose if I'd been soft, I should have broken long ago," she replied almost bitterly.
After putting the plate and cup aside, he sat down by the table, and gazed at her attentively for a long moment. "Well, you look as soft as a white rose anyhow," he remarked with a curiously impersonal air of criticism.
A rosy glow flooded her face. It was so long since any man had commented upon her appearance that she felt painfully shy and displeased.
"All the same I've had a hard life," she returned with passionate earnestness. "I married when I was twenty, and seven years later my husband left me for another woman."
"The one in there?"
She shuddered, "Yes, the one in there."
"The darn fool!" he exclaimed briefly.
"There was a divorce, and then I had my two children to support and educate. Because I had a natural talent for dressmaking, I turned to that, and in the end I succeeded. But for ten years I never heard a word of the man I married—until—I met him downstairs—in the street."
"And you brought him in?"
"What else could I do? He was dying."
"Do you know what he was doing out there?"
"He was looking for me, I think. He thought. I would take him in."
"Well, it's strange how things work out," was his comment after a pause. "There's something in it somewhere that we can't see. It's impossible to reason it out or explain it, but life has a way of jerking you up at times and making you stand still and think. I know I'm putting it badly, but I can't talk—I never could. Words, don't mean much to me, and yet I know—I know—" He hesitated, and she watched his thought struggle obscurely for expression. "I know you can't slip away from things and be a quitter, no matter how hard you try. Life pulls you back again and again till you've learned to play the game squarely."
He was gazing into the fire with a look that was strangely spiritual on his face, which was half in shadow, half in the transfiguring glow of the flames. For the second time she became acutely aware of the hidden subtleties beneath his apparent simplicity.
"I've felt that myself often enough," he resumed presently in a low voice. "I've been pulled up by something inside of me when I was plunging ahead with the bit in my teeth, and it's been just exactly as if this something said: 'Go steady or you'll run amuck and bu'st up the whole blooming show.' You can't talk about it. It sounds like plain foolishness when you put it into words, but when it comes to you, no matter where you are, you have to stand still and listen."
"And is it only when you are running amuck that you hear it?" she asked.
"No, there've been other times—a few of them. Once or twice I've had it come to me up in the Rockies when there didn't seem more than a few feet between me and the sky, and then there was a time out on the prairie when I was lost and thought I'd never get to the end of those darned miles of blankness. Well, I've had a funny road to travel when I look back at it."
"Tell me about some of the women you knew in the West." An insatiable curiosity to hear the truth about his marriage seized her; but no sooner had she yielded to it than she felt an impulsive regret. What right had she to pry into the hidden sanctities of his past?
A frown contracted his forehead, but he said merely: "Oh, there wasn't much about that," and she felt curiously baffled and resentful. "I think I'll go and take a look in there," he added, rising and walking softly in the direction of the room at the end of the hall.
He was gone so long that Gabriella, crushing down the revolt of her nerves, went to the door, and opening it very gently, looked cautiously into the room. The window was wide open to the night, where the snow was still falling, and beside the candlestand at the head of the bed the nurse was filling a hypodermic syringe from a teaspoon. By the open window O'Hara stood inhaling the frosty air; and Gabriella crossed the floor so silently that he did not notice her presence until he turned to watch the nurse give the injection.
Then he said in a whisper: "You'd better go out. You can't do any good." But she made an impatient gesture of dissent, and stopping between the bed and the wall, waited while the nurse bared George's arm and inserted the point of the needle. He was lying so motionless that she thought at first that he was already dead; but presently he stirred faintly, a shiver ran through the thin arm on the sheet, and a low, half-strangled moan escaped from his lips. Had she come upon him in a hospital ward, she knew that she should not have recognized him. He was not the man she had once loved; he was not the father of her children; he was only a stranger who was dying in her house. She could feel nothing while she looked down at him. When she tried to remember her young love she could recall but a shadow. That, too, was dead; that, too, had not left even a memory.
As she bent there above him she made an effort to remember what he had once been, to recall his face as she had first seen it, to revive the burning radiance of that summer when they had been lovers. But a gray veil of forgetfulness wrapped the past; and her mind, when she tried to bring back the emotions of seventeen years ago, became vacant. For so long she had stoically put the thought of that past out of her life, that when she returned to it now, she found that only ashes remained. Then a swift stab of pity pierced her heart like a blade, and she saw again, not George her lover, not George her husband, but the photograph Mrs. Fowler had shown her of the boy in velvet clothes with the wealth of curls over his lace collar. So it was that boy who lay dying like a stranger in the bed of his son!
She turned hurriedly and went out without speaking, without looking back when she opened the door.
"If one could only understand it," she said aloud as she entered the sitting-room; and then, with a start of surprise, she realized that O'Hara had followed her. "You walked so softly I didn't hear you," she explained.
"The rugs are thick, and I have on slippers. My boots were soaking when I came in, and I'd just taken them off when you called."
They sat down again in front of the fire; and while she stared silently at the flames, with her chin on her hand and her elbow on the arm of the chair, he burst out so unexpectedly that she caught her breath in a gasp:
"You didn't know that I was married, too, did you?" His words, and even more than his words, his voice, filled with suppressed emotion, awoke her from her reverie in which she had been dreaming of Arthur.
She smiled evasively, remembering her promise to Mrs. Squires.
He hesitated again, and then spoke with an effort. "Well, it was hell!" he said grimly.
"I know"—she was very gentle, full of understanding and sympathy—"but you went through it bravely."
"I stuck to her." His hand clenched while he answered. Then, after a pause in which she watched him struggle against some savage instinct for secrecy, he added quietly: "If she were alive to-day, I'd be sticking to her still."
"You must have loved her." It was all she could think of to say, and yet the words sounded trite and canting as soon as she had uttered them.
Lifting his head quickly, he made a contemptuous gesture of dissent. "No, it wasn't that. I never loved her, except, perhaps, just at the first. But there's something that comes before love, I guess. I don't know what it is, but there's something. It may be just plain doggedness, but after I married her there wasn't anything on top this earth that could have made me give up and let go. As soon as I found what I was up against—it was morphine—I knew I'd either got to fight it out or be a quitter, and I've never been a quitter. Until she got so bad she had to be shut up I kept a home for her out there in Colorado, and I lived with her in hell as long as she wasn't too bad to be out of a hospital. Then I brought her on here and we found a private place down on Long Island where she stayed till she died—"
"And you still saw her?"
"Except when I was out West, and that's where I was most of the time, you know. My work was out there, and there's nothing like hell behind you to keep you running. I made piles of money those years. That's all I ever cared for about money—just making it. I'd fight the devil to get it, but after I've once got it, I'll give it to the first fool who comes begging. But the getting of it is great."
"How long did it last?"
"My marriage? Going on eighteen years. She was down on Long Island for the last ten of them."
"Then you lived with her eight. Was she always—always-"
"Took it before I ever married her, and I found it out in a month. She wasn't so much to blame as you might think," he pursued thoughtfully. "You see she had a tough time of it, and she was little and weak, and everything was against her. She came out West first to teach school, and then she got mixed up with some skunk of a man who pretended to marry her when he had a wife living in Chicago, and after that I guess she went on taking a dope just to keep up her spirits and ease the pain of some spinal trouble she'd had since she was a child. There was nothing bad in her—she was just weak—and I began to feel sorry for her, and so I did it. If I had it to do over again, I'm not so sure I'd act differently. She was a poor little creature that didn't have any man to look after her, and I was just muddling along anyway, thinking about money. Heaven knows what would have become of her if I hadn't happened along when I did."
He had lifted his head toward the light, while he ran his hand through his hair, and again she saw the look, so like spiritual exaltation, transfigure his face. Before this man, who had sprung from poverty and dirt, who had struggled up by his own force, overcoming and triumphing, fighting and winning, fighting and holding, fighting and losing, but always fighting—before this man, who had been born in a cellar, she felt suddenly humbled. Without friends, without knowledge, except the bitter knowledge of the streets, he had fought his fight, and had kept untarnished a certain hardy standard of honour. Beside this tremendous achievement she weighed his roughness, his ignorance of books and of the superficial conventions, and she realized how little these things really mattered—how little any outside things mattered in the final judgment of life. She thought of George, dying a drunkard's death in the room at the end of the hail—of George whose way had been smoothed for him from birth, who had taken everything that he had wanted.