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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLife And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 2. A Second Start In Life
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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 2. A Second Start In Life Post by :mondd Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :1953

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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 2. A Second Start In Life

BOOK II. THE AGE OF KNOWLEDGE
CHAPTER II. A SECOND START IN LIFE

With deliberation Gabriella walked the length of the hall to her room, turned and locked the door after she had entered, and took off her hat and wraps and put them away in the closet. Her head was still carried high and her eyes were defiant and dark in the marble-like pallor of her face. Except for her burning eyes and the scarlet line of her tightly closed lips, she looked as still and as cold as a statue.

"I'd rather die than have them know that it made any difference," she thought. "I'd rather die than have them know that I cared." Then sinking into a chair by the dressing-table, she laid her head on her arm and wept tears, not of wounded love, but of deep and passionate anger.

She had spoiled her life! Because of her mad and headstrong folly, she had spoiled her life, and she was barely twenty-seven! Had she been the veriest fool she couldn't have done worse--she who had thought herself so sensible, so strong, so efficient! Jane couldn't have done worse, and yet she had always despised Jane for her weakness. But she had been as weak as Jane, she had been as unreasonable, she had been as incredibly sentimental and silly. And even in her folly she had irretrievably failed. She had made her choice, and yet she had not been able to keep the thing she had chosen. George had tired of her--here was the sharpest sting--a man had tired of her after a few months--had tired of her while she was still deeply in love with him. Her humiliation, while she sat there strangling her sobs, was so intense that it ran in little flames over her body. At the moment she was not angry with George, she was not even angry with Florrie. It was as if all the slumbering violence of her nature was aroused to a burning and relentless hatred of her own weakness. This emotion, which was so profound, so torrential, in its force that it seemed to shake the depths of her being, left room for no other feeling--for no other thought in her consciousness. She had but one life to live, and by her own fault, she had ruined it in its beginning.

Then her mood changed, and she sat up, straight and stern, while she wiped her reddened eyelids with an impetuous and resolute gesture. No, she was not crushed; she would not allow herself even to be hurt. Her lot might be as sordid as Jane's, but she would make it different by the strength and the effectiveness of her resistance. She would never submit as Jane submitted; she would never become, through sheer inertia, a part of the ugliness that enveloped her. Thanks to the vein of iron in her soul she would never--no, not if she died fighting--become one of the victims of life.

Going into the dressing-room, she bathed her eyes with cold water; and she was still drying them before the mirror when the children came in, flushed and blooming, with their hands in Miss Polly Hatch's. What splendid children they were, she thought, looking wistfully at their eager faces. Any father, any mother in the world, might be proud of them. Fanny, the elder, was like an angel in her white fur coat and pert little cap, with her short golden curls like bunches of yellow silk on her shoulders, and her blue eyes, as grave as a philosopher's, beaming softly under her thick jet-black lashes. She was not particularly bright; she was, for her age, an unconscionable snob; but no one could deny that she was as beautiful as an angel to look at.

"Miss Polly wanted to kiss me, mamma, but I wouldn't," she said coolly as she examined a little bundle of sewing the seamstress had put down on the table. "I needn't kiss people if I don't want to, need I? Archibald doesn't like to kiss either. He's naughty about it sometimes when ladies ask him to. He doesn't like scratchin'. Isn't it funny to call kissing, 'scratchin'? He told me Miss Polly scratched him and he didn't like it. He is afraid of her because she is so ugly. Why are you ugly, Miss Polly? Couldn't you help it? Did God make you ugly just for fun? Why doesn't he make everybody pretty? I would if I were God. What is God's last name? Archibald says it is Walker. Is it Walker, mamma, and how does Archibald know? Who told him--"

When at last she was suppressed and sent out of the room with the nurse, she went at a dancing step, turning to make faces at Archibald, who stood stolidly at his mother's knee, biting deep bites into a red apple Miss Polly had given him. He was not a handsome child, even Gabriella admitted that his spectacles spoiled his appearance; but he was remarkably intelligent for his four years, and he was so strong and sturdy that he had never had a day's illness in his life. His face was unusually thoughtful and expressive, and his eyes, in spite of the disfiguring glasses, were large, brown, and beautiful, with something of the luminous softness of Cousin Jimmy's. Though she could not remember her father, it pleased Gabriella to think that Archibald was like him, and Miss Polly declared, with conviction, that he was "already his living image." Of the two children, for some obscure reason which she could not define and which was probably rooted in instinct, Gabriella had the greater tenderness for her son; and though she denied this preference to herself, Mrs. Fowler and Miss Polly had both commented upon it. Even his temper, which was uncontrollable at times, endeared him to her, and the streak of savage in his nature seemed to awaken some dim ancestral memories in her brain.

"Thank Miss Polly for the apple and run away to Fanny," said his mother, after she had held him pressed closely to her breast for a minute. While she did so, she felt, with profound sadness, that her whole universe had dwindled down to her children. Of all her happiness only her children remained to her.

"Don't want to run," replied Archibald with beaming good humour. In his passion for brevity he eliminated pronouns whenever it was possible.

"But Fanny is waiting for you."

"Would rather stay with mother than go with Fanny and Mutton." That was another of his eccentricities. Just as he had insisted that God's "last name was Walker," so he had begun of his own accord, and for no visible reason, to call nurse "Mutton." He was always fitting names of his own invention to persons; and in his selection he was guided by a principle so obscure that Gabriella had never been able to discover its origin. Thus his grandmother from the first had been "Budd," and he had immediately started to call Miss Polly "Pang."

"Don't you want to go back to the Park, Archibald? You must finish your walk."

"Will the poor boy be there?" He never forgot anything. It was quite probable that he would inquire for "the poor boy" a year hence.

"Perhaps. You might take him an apple and a penny."

He stood gravely considering the plan, with one hand in his mother's and one on Miss Polly's knee.

"I'll take Pang to nurse him," he said when he had decided against the suggestion of the apple and the penny. "He hasn't any nurse, and Fanny wouldn't like him to have hers. I'll take Pang."

"But Pang isn't a nurse, dear. There, now, run to Fanny. Miss Polly lives so far away she can't stay very long."

He went obediently, for he was usually amenable to his mother's commands, stopping only once at the door to ask if "Pang lived as far away as God and could she manage to get a message to Him about the poor boy needing shoes?"

"I declare I can't make out that child to save my soul," remarked Miss Polly as he shut the door carefully and ran down the hall to the nursery. "The more I study him the curiouser he seems to me. If he wan't so quick about some things you might think his wits were sort of addled--but they ain't, are they? Now, whatever do you reckon put the notion in his head to call me 'Pang?"

All the smiling, circular wrinkles in her face were working with amusement while her little black eyes twinkled like jet beads above the ruddy creases in her cheeks.

"I can't imagine, for he must have made up the word for himself. But don't you think he is like father, Miss Polly? I love to hear you say so."

"That child? Why, he's the very spit of yo' pa, Gabriella, and there ain't any two ideas about it. I thought so the very first time I ever saw him, and now that I come to think of it, it is exactly like yo' pa to be makin' up all kinds of foolish names out of nothin'. Yo' pa used to call me Poll Parrot, that he did."

"Mother thinks Archibald is going to be very much like him. She saw him in the mountains last summer."

"So she told me when I was down home. You ain't looking a bit well, Gabriella. You've got exactly the look Miss Letty Marshall had before she came down with heart complaint. The doctors were fussin' over her for weeks before they could find out what the trouble was, but I said all along it wan't nothin' in the world but a bruised heart, and sure enough that was just what they found out was the matter. You ain't had a feelin' of heart burn after you eat, have you? Sometimes it don't take you that way, though; you just begin to have palpitations when you go up and down stairs and then you start to wakin' up in the night with shortness of breath. That's the way my Aunt Lydy had it. You know I nursed her till she died, and I've seen her get right black in the face when she stooped to pick up a pin. It's her daughter Lydy that's waiting on old Mrs. Peyton now. You know Mrs. Peyton was feelin' kind of run down so her son Arthur--I call him Arthur to his face because I used to sew there when he wan't more'n knee high--well, Arthur said she'd have to have somebody to wait on her every minute and she thought she'd rather have Lydy than anybody else because Lydy was always so handy in a sickroom. That was six months ago, and Lydy's been stayin' on there ever since. She says there ain't anybody on earth like Mr. Arthur, and she never could make out why you didn't marry him. He ain't ever had an eye for anybody but you, and he's got yo' picture--the one in the white dress--on his bureau and he keeps a rose in a vase before it all the time. That ain't much like a man, but then there always was a heap of a girl in Arthur in little ways, wan't there?"

"I wonder why I didn't marry him?" said Gabriella softly; and not until Miss Polly answered her, was she aware that she had spoken aloud. In her spiritual reaction from the grosser reality of passion, the delicacy and remoteness of Arthur's love borrowed the pious and mystic qualities of religious worship. She had seen the sordid and ugly sides of sex; and she felt now a profound disgust for the emotion which drew men and women together--for the light in the eyes, the touch of the lips, the clinging of the hands. Once she had idealized these things into love itself; now the very memory of them filled her with repulsion. She still wanted love, but a love so pure, so disembodied, so ethereal that it was liberated from the dominion of flesh. In the beginning, as a girl, she had accepted love as the supreme good, as the essential reality; now, utterly disillusioned, she asked herself: "What is there left in life? What is the thing that really counts, after all? What is the possession that makes all the striving worth while in the end? At twenty-seven love is over for me, and if love is over, what remains to fill the rest of my life? There must be something else--there must be a reality somewhere which is truer, which is profounder, than love." This, she knew, was the question which neither tradition nor custom could answer. Religion, perhaps, might have helped her; but it was characteristic of her generation that she should give religion hardly a thought as a possible solution of the problem of life. She wanted substance, facts, experience; she wanted to examine, to analyze, to discover; and it was just here that religion hopelessly failed her as a guide. Faith she had had in her cradle--faith in life, faith in love, faith in herself; and it was faith that had brought her to this bleak disenchantment of spirit. No, she wanted knowledge now, not faith; she wanted truth, not illusion.

"Well, you never can tell about a thing like that," Miss Polly was saying in her sprightly way, quite as if she were discussing the pattern of a dress or the stitching of a seam. "It was feelin', I reckon, and feelin' is one of the things nobody can count on. But you did mighty well, even if you didn't marry Arthur. I saw Mr. George downtown yesterday, when I went around to Stern's to match the edging for a baby dress, and I thought to myself I'd seldom seen a handsomer piece of flesh than he was. He was walkin' along up Fifth Avenue with Florrie Spencer--I'll always call her Florrie Spencer I don't care how many times she marries--and everybody in the street turned right plumb round to look at 'em. She's prettier than she ever was, ain't she? And such a fit as her dress was! One of them trailin' black things that fit as tight as wax over the hips and flares out all round the feet. She was holdin' up her skirts to show her feet, I reckon, and her collar was so high behind her ears, she could hardly turn her head to look at Mr. George. But I never saw anybody with more style--no, not if it was that Mrs. Pletheridge who is everlastingly in the Sunday papers. I declare Florrie's waist didn't look much bigger round than the leg of that table--honestly it didn't--and her hat was perched on a bandeau so high that you could see the new sort of way she'd gone and had her hair crimped--they call it Marcellin' up here, don't they?"

"Was she with George?" asked Gabriella indifferently.

"They were goin' to some restaurant or another for tea, I reckon, and they certainly were a fine-lookin' pair. I wish you could have seen 'em. Not that you wouldn't have been a match for 'em," she added consolingly. "You and Mr. George look mighty well when you're together. You're just on a level, and if you could manage to tighten yo' corset a little mite at the waist, and hold yo'self with that bend out at the back the way Florrie does, you'd have pretty near as fine a figure as she has. Ain't it funny," she added irrelevantly, "but I was just studyin' last night about the way yo' ma used to say that all yo' folks married badly. I reckon she got that idea along of yo' pa's kin. You don't recollect much about 'em, but one of yo' pa's brothers married a woman who went clean deranged inside of a year and tried to kill him. Then there was yo' Cousin Nelly Harrison--she married badly, or only middlin' well anyway. There certainly was a lot of 'em when you come to think--not countin' Jane and Mr. Charley, and I can't help what happens," she concluded sentimentally, "I ain't ever goin' back on Mr. Charley--not after the way he sent me two loads of coal the winter I was laid up with rheumatism and couldn't work. Well, it's about time for me to be goin', Gabriella. If you want me for anything, you just drop me a line to say so. William's children are gettin' so big, I can come out for the day 'most any time now, and if William's courtin' goes on all right, I reckon he won't be wantin' me much longer. He's been waitin' on a young woman right steady for more'n six months, and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if something was to come of it befo' summer."

"Then you'd go South again, wouldn't you?" There was a wistful sound in Gabriella's voice as she put the question. Miss Polly was a tiresome person, but at least she was faithful, and long habit had established a bond of tolerance, if not of affection, between them. In the last few months Gabriella had grown to look upon her as the one living association with her childhood, and she was so lonely that she dreaded to sever the single tie with the past that still remained to her. "I believe she'd work her fingers to the bone for me, and, of course, she can't help being so garrulous," she thought.

"I reckon I will, if it comes to that, but I'd hate like anything to leave you and the children," answered Miss Polly. "I feel somehow as if I belonged up here with you all, and I've grown real fond of Archibald."

"Yes, I'd hate to give you up," said Gabriella, as she let her go and turned back again into the room. Her brain had worked quickly while Miss Polly was talking, and the undercurrent of gossip had helped, rather than retarded, the clearness and rapidity of her thoughts. All her weakness, all her anger had passed. She saw the situation without exaggeration and without illusion, for she had made her decision in the few minutes between the entrance and the departure of the seamstress. The embittering memories of her life with George were submerged in the invigorating waves of energy that flooded her being. Her inert body responded to the miraculous restoration of her spirit; and, while she walked swiftly from the door to the window, she had a sensation of lightness and ease as if she had just awakened from a refreshing sleep. For seven years all the strength of her character had been drained by the supreme function of motherhood; but now her children had ceased to need the whole of her life, and she was free to belong at least in part to herself--free to enter unrestricted into the broader human activities. And, above all, she was free from George. She had escaped from the humiliating bondage of her marriage; for, since he had broken the tie between them, she realized with a strange, an almost unnatural, exhilaration, how little except duty--how little except the bare legal husk of the marriage contract--still held her to him. She had loved him once, but she loved him no longer, and she resolved passionately that she would not allow her life to be spoiled because of a single mistake. Seven years were lost out of her youth, it was true, but those years had given her her children, and so they were not wasted in spite of the mistakes she had made, of the shame she had suffered. Judged simply as a machine she was of greater value at twenty-seven than she had been at twenty, and a part of this value lay in her deeper knowledge of life. She had had her adventure, and she was cured forever of adventurous desires. Her imagination, as well as her body, was firmer, harder, more disciplined than it had been in her girlhood; and if her vision of the universe was less sympathetic, it was also less sentimental. The bluest eyes in the world, she told herself sternly, could not trouble her fancy to-day, nor could the wildest romance quicken her pulses.

A wagon, filled with blue and white hyacinths, passed by in the street, and while she watched it, there flashed into her mind, with the swiftness of light, a memory of the evening when she had broken her engagement to Arthur. All her life he had loved her, and, but for an accident, she might have married him. If she had not seen George at Florrie's party--if she had not seen him under a yellow lantern, with the glow in his eyes, and a dreamy waltz floating from the arbour of roses at the end of the garden--if this had not happened, she would have married Arthur instead of George, and her whole life would have been different. Because of a single instant, because of a chance meeting, she had wrecked the happiness of three lives. Now, when the bloom had dropped from her love, it was impossible for her to gather the withered leaves and bare stems in her hands and find any fragrance about them; it was impossible for her to understand how or why she had followed so fleeting an impulse. People had told her that love lasted forever, yet she knew that her emotion for George was so utterly dead that there was no warmth left in the ashes. It had all been so vivid once, and now it was as dull and colourless as the dust drifting after the blue and white hyacinths.

From the trail of dust and the fragrance of the hyacinths, Arthur's face floated up to her, grave, gentle, and thin-featured, with its look of detached culture, of nameless distinction. She recalled the colour of his eyes, as clear and cool as running water, his sensitive lips under the thin, brown moustache, and his slender, aristocratic hands, with their touch as soft and as tender as a woman's. "He had intellect--he had culture--I suppose these are the things that really matter," she thought, for George, she knew, possessed neither of these qualities. And, as she remembered Arthur, she was stirred, not by tenderness, but by a passionate gratitude. He had loved her, and by loving her, he had saved her pride from defeat. In the hour of her deepest humiliation, she found comfort in the knowledge of his bleeding heart, of his tragic and beautiful loyalty; for though she was strong enough to live without love, she was not strong enough to live with the thought that no man had ever loved her.

For a few minutes she allowed her fancy to play with the comforting memory of Arthur's devotion--with the image of her photograph on his bureau and the single rose in the vase he kept always before it. "But for an accident I might have loved him," she said, and the thought of this love which might have been sent a wave of sweetness to her heart. "I might have loved him and been happy." The vision was so dangerously beautiful that she put it resolutely away from her, and told herself, with an effort to be philosophical, that there was no use whatever in regretting the past, and since love was over for her, she must set her mind to solve the problem of work. "I've got my life to live," she said with stoical calmness, "and however bad it is I've nobody to blame for it but myself."

Then, because she had only one talent, however small, she changed her dress, and went out to ask for a position as designer, saleswoman, or milliner in the house of Dinard.

The Irish woman, voluble, painted, powdered, bewigged, and with the remains of her handsome figure laced into a black satin gown, nodded her false golden locks and smiled an ambiguous smile when she heard the explanation of young Mrs. Fowler's afternoon call.

"But, no, it ees impossible," she protested, forgetting her foreign shrug and preserving with difficulty the trace of an accent. Then, becoming suddenly natural as she realized that no immediate profit was to be derived from affectation, she added decisively, "you have no training, and I have quite as many salesladies as I need at this season. Not that you are not chic," she hastened to conclude, "not that you would not in appearance be an adornment to any establishment."

"I am willing to do anything," said Gabriella, pressing her point with characteristic tenacity. "I want to learn, you know, I want to learn everything I possibly can. You yourself told me that I had a natural gift for designing, and I am anxious to turn it to some account. I believe I can make a very good milliner, and I want to try."

"But what would Madame Fowler, your mother-in-law, say to this? Surely no one would want to earn her living unless she was obliged to."

For Madame had known life, as she often remarked, and the knowledge so patiently acquired had gone far to confirm her natural suspicion of human nature. She had got on, as she observed in confidential moments, by believing in nobody; and this skepticism, which was fundamental and rooted in principle, had inspired her behaviour not only to her patrons, but to her husband, her children, her domestic servants, her tradespeople, and the policeman at the corner. Thirty years ago she had suspected the entire masculine world of amorous designs upon her person; to-day, secretly numbering her years at sixty-two, and publicly acknowledging forty-five of them, she suspected the same world of equally active, if less romantic, intentions regarding her purse. And if she distrusted men, she both distrusted and despised women. She distrusted and despised them because they were poor workers, because they were idlers by nature, because they allowed themselves to be cheated, slighted, underpaid, underfed, and oppressed, and, most of all, she despised them because they were the victims of their own emotions. Love was all very well, she was accustomed to observe, as a pleasurable pursuit, but, as with any other pursuit, when it began to impair the appetite and to affect the quality and the quantity of one's work, then a serious person would at once contrive to get rid of the passion. And Madame prided herself with reason upon being a strictly serious person. She had been through the experience of love innumerable times; she had lost four husbands, and, as she pointed out with complacency, she was still living.

In the dubious splendour of her showrooms, which were curtained and carpeted in velvet, and decorated with artificial rose-bushes flowering magnificently from white and gold jardinières, six arrogant young women, in marvellously fitting gowns of black satin, strolled back and forth all day long, or stood gracefully, with the exaggerated curve of the period, awaiting possible customers. Though they were as human within as Madame Dinard--and beneath her make-up she was very human indeed--nothing so variable as an expression ever crossed the waxlike immobility of their faces; and while they trailed their black satin trains over the rich carpets, amid the lustrous piles of silks and velvets which covered the white and gold tables, they appeared to float through an atmosphere of eternal enchantment. Watching them, Gabriella wondered idly if they could ever unbend at the waist, if they could ever let down those elaborate and intricate piles of hair. Then she overheard the tallest and most arrogant of them remark, "I'm just crazy about him, but he's dead broke," and she realized that they also belonged to the unsatisfied world of humanity.

Madame, who had slipped away to answer the telephone, came rustling back, and sank, wheezing, into a white and gilt chair, which was too small to contain the whole of her ample person. Though she had spoken quite sharply at the telephone, her voice was mellifluous when she attuned it to Gabriella.

"That gown is perfect on you," she remarked in honied accents. "It was one of my best models last season, and as I said before, Madame, you are so fortunate as to wear your clothes with a grace." She was urbane, but she was anxious to be rid of her, this young Mrs. Fowler could see at a glance. "Your head is well set on your shoulders, and that is rare--very rare! It would surprise you to know how few women have heads that are well set on their shoulders. Yes, I understand. You wish to learn, but not to make a living. That is very good, for the only comfortable way for a woman to make her living is to marry one--a man is the only perfectly satisfactory means of livelihood. I tell this to my daughter, who wishes to go on the stage. If you are looking for pleasure, that is different, but when you talk of a living--well, there is but one way to insure it, and that is to marry a man who is able to provide it--either as allowance or as alimony. The best that a woman can do gives her only bread and meat--an existence, not a living. Only a man can provide one with the essential things--with clothes and jewels and carriages and trips to Europe. These are the important things in life, and what woman was ever able to procure these except from a man?"

Her face, so thickly covered with rouge and liquid powder that it was as expressionless as a mask, turned its hollow eyes on a funeral which was slowly passing in the street; and though her creed was hardly the kind to fortify one's spiritual part against the contemplation of death, she surveyed the solemn procession as tranquilly as any devoted adherent of either religion or philosophy could have done. Not a shadow passed over her fantastic mockery of youth as she glanced back at her visitor.

"But you have worked--you have supported yourself," insisted Gabriella with firmness.

"Myself and six children, to say nothing of three husbands. Yes, I supported three of my four husbands, but what did I get out of it?" replied Madame, shrugging her ample shoulders. "What was there in it for me? Since we are talking freely, I may say that I have worked hard all my life, and I got nothing out of it that I couldn't have got with much less trouble by a suitable marriage. Of course this is not for my girls to hear. I don't tell them this, but it is true nevertheless. Men should do the work of the world, and they should support women; that is how God intended it, that is according to both nature and religion; any priest will say as much to you." And she, who had defied both God and Nature, wagged her false golden head toward the funeral procession.

"Yet you have been successful. You have built up a good business. The work has repaid you."

"A woman's work!" She snapped her gouty fingers with a playful gesture. "Does a woman's work ever repay her? Think of the pleasures I have missed in my life--the excursions, the theatres, the shows. All these I might have had if I hadn't shut myself up every day until dark. And now you wish to do this! You with your youth, with your style, with your husband!"

She protested, she pleaded, she reasoned, but in the end Gabriella won her point by the stubborn force of her will. Madame would take her for a few weeks, a few months, a few years, as long as she cared to stay and gave satisfaction. Madame would have her taught what she could learn, would discover by degrees the natural gifts and the amount of training already possessed by young Mrs. Fowler. Young Mrs. Fowler, on the other hand, must "stand around" when required in the showrooms (it was just here that Gabriella won her victory); she must assist at the ordering of gowns, at the selections, and while Madame's patrons were fitted, young Mrs. Fowler must be prepared to assume graceful attitudes in the background and to offer her suggestions with a persuasive air. Suggestions, even futile ones, offered in a charming voice from a distinguished figure in black satin had borne wonderful results in Madame's experience.

"I began that way myself, Mrs. Fowler. You may not believe it, but I was once slenderer than you are--my waist measured only nineteen inches and my bust thirty-six--just the figure a man most admires. The result was, you see, that I have had four husbands, though it is true that I supported three of them, and it is always easy to marry if one provides the support. Men are like that. It is their nature. Yes, I began that way with little training, but much natural talent, and a head full of ideas. If one has ideas it is always possible to become a success, but they are rarer even than waists measuring nineteen inches. And I had charm, though you might not believe it now, for charm does not wear. But I made my way up from the bottom, first as errand girl, at the age of ten, and I made it, not by work, for I could never handle a needle, but by ideas. They were once plentiful, and now they are so scarce," she broke off with a sigh of resignation which seemed to accept every fact of experience except the fact of age. "It was a hard life, but it was life, after all. One is not put here to be contented, or one would dread death too much for the purpose of God." In spite of her uncompromising materialism, she was not without an ineradicable streak of superstition which she would probably have called piety.

"I am ready to begin at once--to-morrow," said Gabriella, and she added without explanation, obeying, perhaps, an intuitive feeling that to explain a statement is to weaken it, "and I should like to be called by my maiden name while I am here--just Mrs. Carr, if you don't mind."

To this request Madame agreed with effusion, if not with sincerity. For her own part she would have preferred to speak of her saleswoman as young Mrs. Fowler; but she reflected comfortably that many of her patrons would know young Mrs. Fowler by sight at least, and to the others she might conveniently drop a word or two in due season. To drop a word or two would provide entertainment throughout the length of a fitting; and, for the rest, the mystery of the situation had its charm for the romantic Irish strain in her blood. The prospect of securing both entertainment and mystery at the modest expenditure of fifteen dollars a week impressed her as very good business, for she combined in the superlative degree the opposite qualities of romance and economy. To be sure, except for the advertisement she afforded and the gossip she provided, young Mrs. Fowler might not prove to be worth even her modest salary; but there was, on the other hand, a remote possibility that she might turn out to be gifted, and Madame would then be able to use her inventiveness to some purpose before the gifted one discovered her value. In any case, Madame was at liberty to discharge her with a day's notice, and her salary would hardly be increased for three months even should she persist in her eccentricity and develop a positive talent for dressmaking. And if young Mrs. Fowler could do nothing else, Madame reflected as they parted, she could at least receive customers and display models with an imposing, even an aristocratic, demeanour.

To receive Madame's customers and display Madame's models were the last occupations Gabriella would have chosen had she been able to penetrate Madame's frivolous wig to her busy brain and detect her prudent schemes for the future; but the girl was sick of her dependence on George's father, and, in the revolt of her pride, she would have accepted any honest work which would have enabled her to escape from the insecurity of her position. Of her competence to earn a living, of her ability to excel in any work that she undertook, of the sufficiency and soundness of her resources, she was as absolutely assured as she had been when she entered the millinery department of Brandywine & Plummer. If Madame, starting penniless, had nevertheless contrived, through her native abilities, to support three husbands and six children, surely the capable and industrious Gabriella might assume smaller burdens with the certainty of moderate success. It was not, when one considered it, the life which one would have chosen, but who, since the world began, had ever lived exactly the life of his choice? Many women, she reflected stoically, were far worse off than she, since she started not only with a modicum of business experience (for surely the three months with Brandywine & Plummer might weigh as that) but with a knowledge of the world and a social position which she had found to be fairly marketable. That Madame Dinard would have accepted an unknown and undistinguished applicant for work at a salary of fifteen dollars a week she did not for an instant imagine. This inadequate sum, she concluded with a touch of ironic humour, represented the exact value in open market of her marriage to George.

In the front room, where a sparse mid-winter collection of hats ornamented the scattered stands, she stopped for a few minutes to inspect, with a critical eye, the dingy array. "I wonder what makes them buy so many they can't sell?" she said half aloud to the model at which she was gazing. "Nobody would wear these hats--certainly nobody who could afford to buy Parisian models. I could design far better hats than these, I myself, and if I were the head of the house I should never have accepted any of them, no matter who bought them. I suppose, after all, it's the fault of the buyer, but it's a waste--it's not economy."

Lifting a green velvet toque trimmed with a skinny white ostrich feather from the peg before which she was standing, she surveyed the august French name emblazoned in gold on the lining. "Everything isn't good that comes from Paris," she thought, with a shrug which was worthy of Madame at her best. "Why, I wonder, can't Americans produce 'ideas' themselves? Why do we always have to depend on the things the French send over to us? Half the hats and gowns Madame has aren't really good, and yet she makes people pay tremendous prices for things she knows are bad and undistinguished. All that ought to be changed, and if I ever succeed, if I ever catch on, I am going to change it." An idea, a whole flock of ideas, came to her while she stood there with her rapt gaze on the green velvet toque, which nobody had bought, and which she knew would shortly be "marked down," august French name included, from forty to fifteen and from fifteen to five dollars. Her constructive imagination was at work recreating the business, and she saw it in fancy made over and made right from the bottom--she saw Madame's duplicity succeeded by something of Brandywine & Plummer's inflexible honesty, and the flimsy base of the structure supplanted by a solid foundation of credit. For she had come often enough to Dinard's to discern the slipshod and unsystematic methods beneath the ornate and extravagant surface. Her naturally quick powers of observation had detected at a glance conditions of which the elder Mrs. Fowler was never aware. To sell gowns and hats at treble their actual value, to cajole her customers into buying what they did not want and what did not suit them, to give inferior goods, inferior workmanship, inferior style wherever they would be accepted, and to get always the most money for the least possible expenditure of ability, industry, and honesty--these were the fundamental principles, Gabriella had already discovered, beneath Madame's flourishing, but shallow-rooted, prosperity. Brandywine & Plummer did not carry Parisian models; their shop was not fashionable in the way that the establishment of a New York dressmaker and milliner must be fashionable; but the standard of excellence in all things excepting style was far higher in the old Broad Street house in the middle 'nineties than it was at Madame Dinard's during the early years of the new century. Quality had been essential in every hat that went from Brandywine & Plummer's millinery department; and Gabriella, deriving from a mother who worked only in fine linen, rejected instinctively the cheap, the tawdry, and the inferior. She had heard a customer complain one day of the quality of the velvet on a hat Madame had made to order; and pausing to look at the material as she went out, she had decided that the most prosperous house in New York could not survive many incidents of that deplorable sort. To be sure, such material would not have been supplied to Mrs. Pletheridge, or even to the elder Mrs. Fowler, who, though Southern, was always particular and very often severe; but here again, since this cheap hat had been sold at a high price, was a vital weakness in Madame's business philosophy.

On the whole, there were many of Madame's methods which might be improved; and when Gabriella passed through the ivory and gold doorway into the street, she had convinced herself that she was preëminently designed by Nature to undertake the necessary work of improvement. The tawdriness she particularly disliked--the trashy gold and ivory of the decorations, the artificial rose-bushes from which the dust was never removed, the sumptuous velvet carpets which were not taken up in the summer.

While she was crossing the street a man joined her; and glancing up as soon as she was clear of the traffic, she saw that it was Judge Crowborough. In the last seven years her dislike for him had gradually disappeared, and though she had never found him attractive, she had grown to accept the general estimate of his character and ability. A man so gifted ought not to be judged as severely as poorer or less actively intelligent mortals; and as long as other men did not judge him, she felt no inclination to usurp so unfeminine a prerogative. He had always been kind to her, and she understood now from his manner that he meant to be still kinder. It occurred to her at once that he knew of George's infatuation for Florrie, and that he was chivalrously extending to George's wife a sympathy which he would probably have withheld in such circumstances from his own. Had it been possible she would have liked to explain to him that in her case his sympathy was not needed; but she realized, with resentment, that one of her most galling burdens would be the wasted pity which her unfortunate situation would inspire in the friends of the family. Social conventions made it impossible for her to tell the world, including Judge Crowborough, that George's infidelity was a matter of slight importance to her, since it struck only at her pride, not at her heart. Her pride, it is true, had suffered sharply for an hour; but so superficial was the wound that the distraction of seeking work had been almost sufficient to heal it.

"A most extraordinary day for January," remarked the judge as they reached a corner. "You hardly need your furs, the air is so mild."

Overhead small, birdlike clouds drifted in flocks across a sky of changeable brightness, and the wind, blowing past the tray of a flower vendor at the corner, was faintly scented with violets. It was one of those rare days when happiness seems as natural as the wind or the sunlight, when the wildest dreams appear not too wild to come true in reality, when one hopes by instinct and believes, not with the reason, but with the blood. To Gabriella, forgetting her humiliation, it was a day when life for the sake of the mere act of living--when life, in spite of disappointment and loss and treachery and shame, was enough to set the heart bounding with happiness. For she was one of those who loved life, not for what it brought to her of pleasure, but for what it was in itself.

"Yes, it is a lovely afternoon," she answered, and added impulsively: "It is good to be alive, isn't it?" She had forgotten George, but even if she had remembered him, it would have made little difference. For six years, not for a few hours, George had been lost to her; and in six years one has time to forget almost anything.

The judge's answer to this was a look which penetrated like a flash of light into her brain. By this light she read all that he thought of her, and she saw that he was divided between admiration of her spirit and an uneasy suspicion of its perfect propriety. Tier offence, she knew, was that, being by all the logic of facts an unhappy wife, she should persist so stubbornly in denying the visible evidence of her unhappiness. Had her denial been merely a pretence, it would, according to his code, have appeared both natural and womanly; but the conviction that she was sincere, that she was not lying, that she was not even tragically "keeping up an appearance," increased the amazement and suspicion with which he had begun to regard her. He walked on thoughtfully at her side, fingering the end of his long yellowish-gray moustache, and bending his sleepy gaze on the pavement. When he was thinking, he always looked as if he were falling asleep, and he seldom made a remark, even to a woman, without thinking it over. Into his small steel-gray eyes, surrounded by purplish and wrinkled puffs of skin, there crept the cautious and secretive look he wore at directors' meetings, while a furtive smile flickered for an instant across his loose mouth under the drooping ends of his moustache. His ungainly body, with its curious suggestion of over-ripeness, of waning power, straightened suddenly as if in reaction from certain destructive processes within his soul. Though he was only just passing his prime, he had lived so rapidly that he bore already the marks of age in his face and figure.

"Yes, it's good to be alive," he assented, for there was nothing in either his philosophy or his experience to contradict this simple statement. "I've always maintained, by the way, that happiness is the chief of the virtues."

For an instant Gabriella looked at the sky; then turning her candid eyes to his, she answered: "Happiness and courage. I put courage first--before everything."

Her gaze dropped, but not until she had seen his look change and the slightly cynical smile--the smile of one who has examined everything and believes in nothing--fade from his lips. She had touched some chord deep down within him of which he had long ago forgotten even the existence--some echoed harmony of what had been perhaps the living faith of his youth.

"You're a gallant soul," he said briefly, and she wondered what it was that he knew, what it was that he was keeping back.

At the corner where they parted, he stood for a few moments, holding her hand in his big, soft grasp while he looked down on her. The suspicion and the cynicism had gone from his face, and she understood all at once why people still trusted him, still liked him, notwithstanding his reputation, notwithstanding even his repulsiveness. He was all that--he was immoral, he was repulsive--but he was something else also--he was human.

When she entered the house her first feeling was that the old atmosphere had returned, the old suspense, the old waiting, the old horror of impending calamity. A nervous dread made her hesitate to mount the steps, to go to her room, to inquire in a natural voice for the children. It was imaginary, of course, she assured herself, but it was very vivid as long as it lasted. Then she noticed that the usual order of the hall was disturbed, and when she rang, Burrows came, with a hurried, apologetic manner, after keeping her waiting. Mrs. Fowler's fur scarf hung on the massive oak post of the staircase; the cards in the little tray on the hail table were scattered about; and the petals of a yellow chrysanthemum were strewn over the carpet.

Burrows, instead of explaining the confusion, appeared embarrassed when she questioned him, and spurred by a sharp foreboding, she ran up the stairs to her mother-in-law's sitting-room. At her entrance a trembling voice wailed in a tone of remonstrance:

"Oh, Gabriella, have you been out?"

"Yes, I've been out. Mamma, what is the matter?"

"I looked for you everywhere. Archibald has been here, but he has just gone out again. I have never seen him so deeply moved--so--so indignant--" Mrs. Fowler broke off, bit her lip nervously, and paused while she tried to swallow her sobs. Her hat lay on a chair at her side, and in her hands she held a pair of half-soiled white gloves, which she smoothed out on her knee, as if she were hardly aware of what she was doing. In her blue eyes, so like George's, there was an agonizing terror and suspense. Her usually florid face was pale to the lips; and this pallor appeared to accentuate the dark, faintly lined shadows beneath her eyes and the grayness of her rigidly waved hair.

"Courage!" said Gabriella in a whisper to herself, and aloud she asked gently: "Dear mamma, what is it? Don't be afraid. I can bear it."

"Archibald has ordered George out of the house. He--George, I mean--had given him his promise not to see Florrie again, and it seems that he--he broke it. There has been a dreadful scene. I never imagined that Archibald could be so angry. He was terrible--and he is ill anyway and in great trouble about his financial affairs. I have been worried to death about him for weeks. He says things are going so badly downtown that he can't stave off the crash any longer, and now--this--this--" She broke down utterly, burying her convulsed face in her hands, which even in the instant of horror and tragedy, Gabriella noticed, had been manicured since the morning. "George has gone--we think he has gone off with Florrie," she cried, "and he--he will never come back as long as Archibald lives."

She was not thinking of Gabriella. True to the deepest instincts of her nature, she thought first of her son, then of her husband. It was not that she did not care for her daughter-in-law, did not sympathize; but the fact remained that Gabriella was only George's wife to her, while George was flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone, soul of her soul. Though her choice was not deliberate, though it was unconscious and instinctive--nevertheless, she had chosen. At the crucial moment instinct had risen superior to reason, and she had chosen, not with her judgment, but with every quivering nerve and fibre of her being. Gabriella was right, but George was her son; and had it been possible to secure George's happiness by sacrificing the right to the wrong, she would have made that sacrifice without hesitation, without scruple, and without regret.

"There's his father now," she whispered, lifting her disfigured face. "Oh, Gabriella, I believe it will kill me!"

While Gabriella stood there waiting for George's father to enter, and listening to his slow, deliberate tread on the stairs, the heavy, laborious tread of a man who is uncertain of his strength, she remembered vividly, as if she were living it over again, the night she had waited by her fire to tell George that his first child was to be born. Many thoughts passed through her mind, and at last these thoughts resolved themselves into a multitude of crowding images--all distinct and vivid images of George's face. She saw his face as she had first seen and loved it, with its rich colouring, its blue-gray eyes, like wells of romance she had once thought, its look of poetry and emotion which had covered so much that was merely commonplace and gross. She saw him as he had looked at their marriage, as he had looked, bending over her after her first child was born, and then she saw him as he had parted from her that morning--flushed, sneering, a little coarsened, but still boyish, still charming. Well, it was all over now. It had been over so long that she had even ceased to regret it--for she was not by nature one of the women who could wear mourning for a lifetime.

The door opened: Archibald Fowler came in very slowly; and the first sight of his face brought home to her with a shock the discovery that he was the one of them who had suffered most. He looked an old man; his gentle scholar's face had taken an ashen hue; and his eyes were the eyes of one who has only partially recovered from the blow that has prostrated him.

"My dear child," he said; "my dear daughter," and laid his hand on her shoulder.

She clung to him, feeling a passionate pity, not for herself, but for him. "You have too much to bear," she murmured caressingly. "You mustn't take it like this. You must try to get over it. For all our sakes you must try to get over it." The irony of it all--that she should be consoling her husband's father for her husband's desertion of her--did not appear to her until long afterwards. At the time she thought only that she--that somebody--must make the tragedy easier for him to bear.

"Come and sit down, Archibald," said Mrs. Fowler pleadingly. "Let me give you a glass of sherry and a biscuit; you are too tired to talk."

There was the old devotion in her manner, but there was also a new deference. For the first time in thirty years of marriage he had shown his strength to her, not his gentleness; for the first time he had opposed his will to hers in the cause of justice, and he had conquered her. In spite of her anguish, something of the romantic expectancy of her first love had returned to her heart and it showed in her softened voice, in her timid caresses, in her wistful eyes, which held a pathetic and startled brightness. He had triumphed in honour; and if her defeat had not involved George, she could almost have gloried in the completeness of her surrender.

He sat down with the air of a man who is not entirely awake to his surroundings; and his wife, after ordering the sherry, hovered over him with the touching solicitude of one who is living for the moment in the shadow of memory. While he sipped the wine, he waited until Burrows' footsteps had passed down the staircase, and then said with his usual quietness:

"There is something else, Evelyn, that I kept back. I couldn't tell you while you were so worried about George, but there is something else--"

She caught the words from him eagerly, with a gesture almost of relief.

"You mean it has come at last. I suspected it, and, oh, Archibald, I don't care--I don't care!"

"There were several failures to-day in Wall Street, and--" He broke off as if he were too tired to go on, and added slowly after a moment: "I am too old to begin again. I'd like to go back home--to go back to the South for my old age. Yes, I'm old."

But his wife was on her knees beside him, with her arms about his neck and her face hidden on his breast. "I don't care, I never cared," she said in a voice that was almost exultant. "We can be happy on so little--happier than we've ever been in our lives--just you and I to grow old together. We can go home to Virginia--to some small place and be happy. Happiness costs so little."

Slipping away, Gabriella went into the hail, and passing her room, noiselessly pushed open the door of the nursery, where the children were sleeping. A night lamp was burning in one corner under a dark shade, and the nurse's knitting, a pile of white yarn, was lying on the table in the circle of green light, which was as soft as the glimmer of a glow-worm in a thicket. In their two little beds, separated by a strip of white rug, the children were sleeping quietly, with a wonderful freshness, like the dew of innocence, on their faces. Frances lay on her back, very straight and prim even in sleep, with the sheet folded neatly under her dimpled chin, her hands clasped on her breast, and her golden curls spread in perfect order over the lace-trimmed pillow. Her miniature features, framed in the dim gold of her hair, had the trite prettiness of an angel on a Christmas card; and beside her ethereal loveliness there was something gnome-like in the dark sturdiness of Archibald, who slept on his side, with his fists pressed tightly under the pillow, and the frown produced by near-sightedness still wrinkling his forehead. Though he was not beautiful, he showed already the promise of character in his face, and his personality, which was remarkably developed for a child of his age, possessed a singular charm. He was the kind of child people describe as "unlike other children." His temperament was made up of surprises, and this quality of unexpectedness inspired in his mother a devotion that was almost tragic in its intensity. Never had she loved the normal Frances Evelyn as she loved Archibald.

As she looked down on them, sleeping so peacefully in the green light, a wave of sadness swept over her, and she thought of them suddenly as fatherless, impoverished, and unprotected, dependent on her untried labour for their lives and their happiness. Then, before the anxiety could take possession of her mind, she put it from her, and whispered, "Courage!" as she turned away and went out of the room.

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