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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 4. The Dream And The Years
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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 4. The Dream And The Years Post by :mondd Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :2166

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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 4. The Dream And The Years


In one of the small fitting-rooms, divided by red velvet curtains on gilt rods from the long showrooms of Madame Dinard, a nervous group, comprising the head skirt fitter, the head waist fitter, Miss Bellman, the head saleswoman, and Madame herself, stood disconsolately around the indignant figure of Mrs. Weederman Pletheridge, who, attired in one of Madame's costliest French models, was gesticulating excitedly in the centre of four standing mirrors. For three years Mrs. Pletheridge had lived in Paris, and her return to New York, and to the dressmaking establishments of Fifth Avenue, was an event which had shaken Dinard's, if not the fashionable street in which it stood, to its foundations.

"I don't know what is the matter with it," she said fussily, "but it doesn't suit me, and yet it looked so well in the hand. I wonder if I could wear it if you were to take out some of this fulness, and change the set of the sleeves? The fashions this spring are perfectly hopeless."

"Why, it suits you to perfection, Madame. Just a stitch or two like this--and this--and it will look as if it were designed for you by Worth. Is it not so, Miss Bellman? Don't you think it is wonderful on Madame?"

Miss Bellman, having learned her part, agreed effusively, and then each of the fitters, as she was appealed to in turn, contributed an enraptured assent to the discussion. The price of the gown was a thousand dollars, and Mrs. Pletheridge's favourable decision was worth exactly that much in terms of money to Dinard's. As the season had been scarcely a brisk one, Madame was particularly anxious to have her more extreme models taken off her hands. "It was unpacked only yesterday," she lied suavely, "and no one else has had so much as a glimpse of it."

"I can't imagine what is the matter with it," Mrs. Pletheridge sighed dejectedly, while she regarded her ample form with a resentful and critical gaze. As long as one had nothing else to worry about, Madame reflected without sympathy, one might find cause for positive distress in the fact that a gown appeared to better advantage in the hand than on one's person. The truth--and the truth, as sometimes happens, was the last thing Mrs. Pletheridge cared to admit--was that she had grown too stout to wear pronounced fashions.

"Nothing could be more charming," insisted Madame with increased effusion, "but if you are in doubt, let us ask the opinion of Mrs. Carr. She has the true eye of the artist--a wonderful eye. I don't know whether you remember Mrs. Archibald Fowler or not?" she added as the skirt fitter sped in search of Gabriella; "this is her daughter-in-law. Her husband ran away with another woman about three years ago. It made a great sensation at the time, and his wife got a divorce from him afterwards. Ever since then she has been in my establishment."

No, Mrs. Pletheridge did not remember Mrs. Fowler; but, having had a notorious amount of trouble with her own husbands, she was amiably disposed toward the unfortunate daughter-in-law of the lady she couldn't remember. Thirty years ago, as a pretty, vulgar, kind-hearted girl, she had captured with a glance the eldest son of the newly rich Pletheridge, who had, perhaps, inherited his grandfather's genial admiration for chambermaids; but, to-day, after a generation of self-indulgence, her prettiness had coarsened, her vulgarity had hardened, and her kind heart had withered, through lack of cultivation, to the size of a cherry. And, from having had everything she wanted for so long, she had at last reached that melancholy state of mind when she could think of nothing more to want.

A brisk step crossed the room outside, the curtains were parted with a commanding movement, and Gabriella joined the anxious group surrounded by the four mirrors.

"Did you send for me, Madame?" she asked, and waited, grave, attentive, and perfectly composed, with her hand, the small, strong hand of the Carrs, on the curtain. Her hair was brushed severely back from her candid forehead, and though her figure had grown somewhat heavier and less girlish in line, she still wore her plain black dress and white collar with an incomparable distinction. Through all the hardship and suffering of the last three years she had kept her look of bright intelligence, of radiant energy. In dress and manner she was the successful woman of business, but she was the woman of business with something added. Though she spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, her voice had a vibrating quality; though she wore only the plainest clothes, her grace, her good-breeding, her indefinable charm, softened the severity.

"Mrs. Pletheridge is uncertain about this gown," explained Madame, "but I tell her that it suits her to perfection, as well as if it had been designed for her by Worth. Do you not agree with me, Mrs. Carr? You have, as I said to her, the true eye of the artist."

Without changing her position or moving a step into the room, Gabriella attentively regarded the gown and the wearer. From the mirror Mrs. Pletheridge stared back at her ill-humouredly, with a spiteful gleam in her small black eyes between the carefully darkened lids.

"I can't imagine what is the matter with it," she reiterated, as if she were repeating a sad refrain, and her manner was as insolent as Miss Murphy's had been to the casual customer.

For an instant Gabriella returned her look with the steady gaze of one who, having achieved the full courage of living, has attained also a calm insensibility to the shafts of arrogance. Three years ago she would have flinched before Mrs. Pletheridge's disdain, but in those three years she had passed beyond the variegated tissue of appearances to the bare structure of life--she had worked and wept and starved and suffered--and to-day her soul was invulnerable against even more destructive weapons than the contempt of a plutocrat. Perhaps, too, though she assured herself that she was without snobbishness, there was a secret satisfaction in the knowledge that one of her ancestors had been a general under Washington while the early Pletheridges were planting potatoes in a peasant's patch in Ireland. Her dignity was more assured than Madame's; for she was perfectly aware of a fact to which Madame was blind, and this was, that, in spite of her position in the social columns of the newspapers and her multitudinous possessions, Mrs. Pletheridge was not, and could never be, a lady. While Gabriella stood there these thoughts flashed recklessly through her mind; yet she answered Madame's question as frankly and honestly as if the woman they were staring at with such intentness had not been the tragic vulgarian she was.

"I think the gown doesn't suit her at all," she said quietly to Madame, who made a horrified face at her over the sumptuous shoulder of Mrs. Pletheridge. "There is too much of it, too much billowy lace everywhere." She did not add that the coral and silver brocade gave Mrs. Pletheridge a curious resemblance to an overblown prize hollyhock.

Madame's horrified face changed, as if under a spell, to one of abject despair; and a menacing frown convulsed the puffy features of Mrs. Pletheridge, while she burst out of her gorgeous sheath with a petulant haste which expressed her inward perturbation better than words could have done. For a minute one could have heard a flower drop in the fitting-room; then the offended customer spoke, and her words, when she found them, were not lacking in either force or effectiveness. "No, there's no use trying on anything else, I have an appointment at Cambon's." Cambon was Dinard's hated and wholly incompetent rival; and until this illuminating instant Madame had never suspected that her particular Mrs. Pletheridge had ever entered the high white doors of Cambon's establishment.

"But, surely, we have something else. There is a lovely Doucet model--in white and silver--"

But no, Mrs. Pletheridge would have none of the lovely model. "Give me my skirt at once," she commanded haughtily, bending her opulent bosom and holding the lacy frills of her petticoat together while Agnes, the youngest and the gentlest of the assistants, knelt at her feet with her dress skirt held invitingly open on the floor. As she inserted the toe of her exquisitely shod foot into the opening, she remarked maliciously: "It is impossible to find decent clothes in New York--one might as well give up trying. Paris dressmakers send you only their failures." And, having crushed Madame to silence, she finished her dressing, fastened her black lace veil with a flying swallow in diamonds, flung her feather boa over her shoulders, and taking up her gold chain bag, studded with rubies, marched out of the establishment with all the pomp and impressiveness of a military parade.

"I've lost her. She will never come back," moaned Madame, and burst into tears.

"But she couldn't possibly have worn that gown. She would have found it out as soon as she got home," replied Gabriella reassuringly, though her heart was almost as heavy as Madame's.

It was all her fault, of course, as Madame, recovering her voice as she lost her temper, began immediately to tell her. It was all her fault, and yet how could she have stood there and lied to the woman in cold blood because Madame expected it of her as a part of her work? That she had infuriated Madame and imperilled her position she realized perfectly; but, realizing this, she still felt that she could not have told Mrs. Pletheridge that the gown was becoming to her. "There are times when one has to be honest no matter what happens," she thought rebelliously, while she went back to the workroom. Had Madame discharged her on the spot she would not have been surprised, and it was with a sensation of relief that she presently saw the forewoman measuring a dose of aromatic spirits of ammonia, and heard that the crisis was passing. A little later, when she went into the showroom with a hat for Miss Bellman, she encountered Madame bonneted, cloaked, panting, with moist eyes and raddled cheeks, preparing to take a slow airing in a hansom. As she was assisted into the vehicle by Miss Murphy and the driver, Madame pressed her beringed hand to her forehead with a despairing gesture; then the driver cracked his whip, the horse started, and the hansom disappeared up Fifth Avenue.

"What under the sun did you do to her?" inquired Miss Murphy, holding her wheaten-red pompadour down in the wind. "I declare I thought at first it was murder!"

"I told her the truth, when she asked me, that was all."

"Well, I never! Now what, in the name of goodness, possessed you?"

"I had to. I don't see how I could have kept from it."

"Good gracious! There're always ways, but what sort of truth was it? You see, it's been so long since I've met one," she explained airily, "that I don't even know what they're like."

"It was about Mrs. Pletheridge's gown--the one she wanted her to buy, you know. I told her it didn't suit her. And it didn't--you know it didn't," she concluded emphatically.

"Of course it didn't, but I don't see why you had to go and tell her."

"She asked me. They both asked me, and if I'd lied she wouldn't have believed me. You can't fool people so outrageously, and I wouldn't if I could. It isn't honest, and it isn't good business."

"Anything is good business that gets by," remarked Miss Murphy, who had a philosophy. "I must go indoors or this wind will blow all my puffs away."

She departed breezily; and Gabriella, returning to the workroom, spent her afternoon patiently stitching flat garlands of flowers on the brim of a hat. When she left the house at six o'clock the April weather was so lovely that she decided to walk all the way home; and while she moved rapidly with the crowd in Fifth Avenue, she considered anxiously the possible disastrous results of Madame's anger. Between her and absolute want there stood only her salary, and she had deliberately--she realized now how deliberate her reply had been--undermined that thin and insecure protection. Though she was now earning as much as thirty dollars a week, an illness of a year ago, when she had been obliged to stop work for several months, had exhausted the remains of the modest nest egg with which she had started; and to lose her place, she knew, would mean either starvation or beggary. There was no one, with the exception of Cousin Jimmy, of whom she could beg, and to beg of him would be a tacit confession that she had failed as a breadwinner. In Mrs. Carr's last letter Charley had appeared in a new light as a reformed character, a devoted attendant at church, and an enthusiastic convert to the prohibition party; and Gabriella had gathered from her mother's pious rambling that, like other sinners who have outlived temptation, he was devoting his middle years to a violent crusade against the moderate indulgences of the abstemious. But Charley, she felt, was out of the question. She would die before she would stoop to ask help of a man she had despised as heartily as she had once despised Charley. She must sink or swim by her own strength, not by another's.

"I wonder why I did it?" she asked herself again, and again she could not answer the question. She felt that she might have lied had it been merely a lie and not a test of courage before her; but she could not lie simply because she was afraid of speaking the truth. In every character there is one supreme vice or virtue which strikes the deepest root and blossoms most luxuriantly, and in the character of Gabriella this virtue was courage. At the crucial moments of life some primordial instinct prompted her to fight, not to yield. "I ought to have been evasive, I suppose," she thought regretfully. "But how could I have been?" There were instants, she had discovered, when wisdom surrendered to the more militant virtues.

When she reached home she found Fanny, who was fretfully recovering from influenza, lying on the sofa in the living-room, with Miss Polly busily stitching at her side, while Archibald, excited by a strenuous afternoon with the son of the Italian fruit dealer, was kneeling before the window, making mysterious signs to a group of yellow-haired German children in the apartment house on the opposite side of the street. Both children were eagerly expecting their mother, and as soon as she entered they grew animated and cheerful.

She kissed and cuddled them, and listened sympathetically to their excited stories of the day, and of Dr. French, who had been to see Fanny, and who had waited as long as he could.

"He's going to take us for a drive to-morrow, mother, and we're to sit in the carriage while he goes in to pay his calls, and then he's to show us the river and we're to stop somewhere to have tea."

"Did he stay long?" asked Gabriella of Miss Folly.

"For more than an hour," replied Miss Folly, and commented shrewdly after a minute: "It looks to me as if there was more in that young man than you can see on the surface, Gabriella."

A blush tinged Gabriella's cheek, but she shook her head almost indignantly. "Oh, there's nothing of that kind," she answered emphatically, and rose to take off her hat and prepare supper.

Since her illness of a year ago, when she had summoned the strange young doctor who had once been the assistant of the Fowlers' family physician, she had grown to feel a certain dependence upon Dr. French as the only useful friend who was left to her. He was a thin, gray-eyed, fair-haired young man, who practised largely among the poor, from choice rather than from necessity, since Dr. Morton had given him an excellent start in life. His pale, ascetic face had attracted Gabriella from their first meeting; there was the flamelike enthusiasm of the visionary in his eyes; and he had, she thought, the most beautiful and sympathetic hands she had ever seen. Even Fanny, who was usually impervious to sensitive impressions, felt the charm of his touch when he stroked her forehead or placed his long, delicate fingers on her wrist. From that first visit he had been a source of comfort and strength to Gabriella; but of late she had felt moments of uneasiness when she was with him. Was it possible, she asked herself now, as she went back to the kitchen to stew the oysters Miss Polly had bought for supper, that the kindly doctor was misinterpreting the simple and unaffected nature of her friendship? For herself she felt that she had put the reality of love out of her life, and that if the emotion existed for her at all, it existed only as a dream and a regret. She enshrined the memory of Arthur in something of the sentimental worship which Mrs. Carr had consecrated to Gabriel after she had lost him. It was an exquisite consolation to her to feel that if things had been otherwise, she might have loved a man with the whole of her nature--with both body and spirit; there were even moments in the spring of the year, when, softened by the caressing air and the scent of hyacinths, she felt that she did so love a memory; but beyond this her feeling was as bodiless and ethereal as the vague image to which it was dedicated. And yet this gentle regret was all that she wanted of love.

In the kitchen she found Miss Danton, the musical spinster, making her scant supper of tea and toast on the gas-range. Though the hectic flush still burned in Miss Danton's cheeks, the famished look in her eyes seemed to have devoured all the strength of her body, and she moved like one who has run to the point of exhaustion and is about to drop to the ground. Long ago Gabriella had heard her story, and she understood now that the yearning in her face was the yearning for life, which she had rejected in her youth, and which, in middle-age, had eluded her. As a young girl, aflame with temperament, she had sacrificed herself to a widowed father and a family of little brothers and sisters in a small town in the South. For thirty years she had fought down her dreams and her impulses; for thirty years she had cooked, washed, ironed, and sewed, until the children had all grown up and married, and her father, after a long illness, had died in her arms. On her fifty-second birthday her freedom had come--freedom not only from cares and responsibilities, but from love, from duty, from the constant daily thought that she was necessary to some one who depended on her. At fifty-three, with broken health and a few thousand dollars brought from the sale of the old home, she had come to New York to study music as she had dreamed of doing when she was young. And the tragedy of it was that she had a gift, she had temperament, she had genuine artistic feeling.

"When I remember the way I used to cook for the children," she remarked while she measured a teaspoonful of green tea into a little Japanese tea-pot, "why, I'd think nothing of roasting a turkey when we had one at Christmas or Thanksgiving, and now, I declare, it seems too much trouble to do more than make a pot of tea. Sometimes I don't even take the trouble to toast my bread."

"You ought to eat," replied Gabriella, briskly. "When one gets run down, one never looks at life fairly." True to her fundamental common sense, she had never underestimated the importance of food as a prop for philosophy.

"I'd never eat if I could help it," rejoined Miss Danton, with the abhorrence of the aesthetic temperament for material details. "It's queer the thoughts I have sometimes," she added irrelevantly as she sat down before the kitchen table, and poured out a cup of tea. "I don't know what's come over me, but I'd give anything on earth--if it wasn't wicked I'd almost give my soul--to be your age and to be starting to live my life. I never had any life. It wasn't fair. I never had any," she repeated bitterly, dropping a lump of sugar into her cup.

"Well, I've had my troubles, too," observed Gabriella, busily stirring the oysters.

"You've had them and you'll have others. It doesn't matter--nothing really matters as long as you're young. It's all a part of the game, trouble and everything else--everything except old age and death. I'm getting old--I'm getting old, and I began too late, and that's the worst that can happen to a woman. Do you know I never had a love affair in my life," she pursued bitterly after a moment. "I never had love, or pleasure, or anything but work and duty--and now it's too late. It's too late for it all," she finished, rising to take her toast from the oven.

"Poor thing, she exaggerates so dreadfully," thought Gabriella. "I believe it comes from drinking too much green tea"; and she resolved that she would never touch green tea as long as she lived. Like most women whose love had ended not in unfulfilment, but in satiety and bitterness, she was inclined to deny the supreme importance of the passion in the scheme of life. As a deserted wife and the mother of two children, she felt that she could live for years without the desire, without even the thought of romantic love in her mind. "I wonder why I, who have known and lost love, should be so much freer from that obsession than poor Miss Danton, who has never been loved in her life?" she asked herself while she carried the supper tray down the long hall and into the living-room.

Some hours later, when the children were asleep, and Gabriella sat darning Archibald's stockings beside the kerosene lamp, she described to Miss Polly the scene with Madame and Mrs. Pletheridge.

"I don't know how it will end. She may discharge me to-morrow," she deliberated, as she cut off a length of black darning cotton, and bent over to thread her needle. "I wonder what I ought to do?"

"Well, now, ain't that exactly like you, Gabriella," scolded Miss Polly; "but when you come to think of it," she conceded after a minute or two, "I reckon we're all made like that in the beginning. Why, I remember way back yonder in the 'seventies how I was always tryin' to persuade a woman with a skinny figure not to wear a cuirass basque and a woman with a stout figure not to put on a draped polonaise. I got to know better presently, and you will, too, before you've been at it much longer. They all think they can look like fashion plates--the skinniest and the stoutest alike--and there ain't a bit of use tryin' to undeceive 'em. The last thing a woman ever sees straight is her figure."

"I can't help feeling," demurred Gabriella, forsaking the moral issue for the argument of mere expediency, "that honesty is good business."

"Well, it ain't," retorted Miss Polly sharply. "It may be good religion and good behaviour, but there's one thing it certainly ain't, and that is good business. How many of these rich men we read about in the papers do you reckon spend their time settin' around and bein' honest? Mind you I ain't sayin' I'd lie or steal myself, Gabriella, but I'm poor, and what I'm sayin' is that when you feel that way about it, you're as likely to stay poor as not."

But the next day, life, with one of those startling surprises which defy philosophy and make drama, confirmed the most illogical of Gabriella's assumptions. Madame, coming in late, with a blotched face and puffy eyelids, had dispatched her to the workroom, and she was sitting before one of the long tables, embroidering azure beads on a black collar, when Agnes darted through the door and jerked the needle out of her hand.

"Madame is asking for you. Come as quick as you can!" she cried excitedly, and sped back again to the shelter of the artificial rose-bushes at the end of the hall.

Rising hurriedly, and brushing the scraps of silk from her cloth skirt as she walked, Gabriella followed the sound of Madame's wheedling voice, and found herself, as she parted the curtains of a fitting-room, in the opulent presence of Mrs. Pletheridge.

"Yes, as I told you, we trust implicitly to Mrs. Carr's eye. She has the true eye of the artist," Madame simpered fawningly as she entered. "Did you send for me?" asked Gabriella, business-like and alert on the threshold.

"Good morning, Mrs. Carr! I told Madame Dinard that I wanted you to wait on me. I want some one who tells me the truth," explained Mrs. Pletheridge so graciously that Gabriella would hardly have recognized her. Something--sleep, pleasure, or pious meditation--had altered overnight not only her temper but even the fleshly vehicle of its uncertain manifestations. Her features appeared to have adjusted themselves to the size of her face, and she spoke quite affably, though still with her manner of addressing an inferior.

"I want you to show me something that will really suit me," she said. "I think the grayish-green cloth from Blandin might be copied in silver, but I should like you to see it on me. I know you will tell me what you really think." Her voice faltered and deepened to a note of pathos.

"Poor woman," thought Gabriella, "it must be hard for her to get people to tell her what they really think," and she added exultantly while she went for the gowns: "If I satisfy her now, I am saved with Madame!"

When she returned, with the green cloth in one hand and a charming lavender crêpe tea-gown in the other, she approached Mrs. Pletheridge with the manner of intelligent sympathy, of serene and smiling competence, which had made her so valuable to Madame as a saleswoman. She had the air not only of seeking to please, but of knowing just how to go about the difficult matter of pleasing. With the eye of an artist in dress, she analyzed Mrs. Pletheridge's possibilities; and softening here and there her pronounced features, succeeded presently in producing a charming and harmonious whole. By the time a dozen gowns were tried on and their available points discussed and criticised in detail, Mrs. Pletheridge had given the largest order ever received by the house, and was throwing out enthusiastic hints of an even greater munificence in the future. She left at last in a thoroughly good humour not only with Dinard's, but with her own rejuvenated attractions; and Gabriella, exhausted but triumphant, watched Agnes gather up the French models from chairs and sofas and carry them back to the obscurity of the closets. In her heart there was both peace and rejoicing because her belief in life had been justified. In spite of Madame, in spite of Miss Polly, in spite of experience, the day had proved that it was, after all, "good business" to be honest. Though she was still in debt, though she was still compelled to scrimp and save over market bills, nevertheless she felt that her work had progressed beyond the experimental stages, and that her place at Dinard's was secured until some better opening appeared. For that morning at least she had made herself indispensable to Madame. For years, she knew, Madame had striven fawningly for the exclusive patronage of Mrs. Pletheridge, and she, Gabriella, had attained it, without loss of pride or self-respect, by a few words of honest and sensible criticism. She had applied her intelligence to the situation, and her intelligence had served Dinard's more successfully than Madame's duplicity had done.

At home she found Dr. French, who had just brought the delighted children back from their drive. When she thanked him, she saw that there was a glow of pleasure in his rather delicate face, and that this glow lent an expression of ecstasy to his dark-gray eyes--the eyes of a mystic and a dreamer. "I wonder how he ever became a physician," she thought. "He is more like a priest--like a priest of the Middle Ages." But aloud she only said: "You have done them a world of good. Fanny has got some of her colour back already, and that means an appetite for supper."

"We had tea," broke in Archibald, with enthusiasm, "but it was really milk, and we had cake, but it was really bread and butter." He looked so well and vigorous that Gabriella called the doctor's attention to the animation in his face. "If only he didn't have to wear glasses," she said. "I'm so afraid it will interfere with his love of sports. His ambition is to be captain of a football team and to write poetry."

"It's a queer combination," responded the doctor, smiling his slightly whimsical smile. He was rather short, with an almost imperceptible limp, and he had, as he put it, "never gone in for sports." "There's so much else when one comes to think of it," he added, pausing, with his hat in his hand, at the door; "there are plenty of ways of having fun even without football." Then he turned away from the children, and said directly to Gabriella:

"Will you come out with me to-morrow? It is Sunday."

"And leave the children?" she asked a little blankly.

"And leave the children!" He was laughing, but it occurred to her suddenly, for the first time, that her maternal raptures were beginning to bore him. For a year she had believed that his interest in her was mainly a professional interest in the children; and now she was confronted with the disturbing fact that he wanted to be rid of the children for a few hours at least, that he evidently saw in her something besides the overwhelming force of her motherhood.

"But I never leave them on Sunday. It is the only day I have with them," she answered.

"Don't go, mother! You mustn't go!" cried Fanny, and clung to her.

"Oh, very well," returned Dr. French, dismissing the subject with irritation. "But you look pale, and I thought the air might do you good."

He went away rather abruptly, while Gabriella stood looking at Miss Polly in regret and perplexity. "I hope I didn't hurt his feelings by declining," she said; and then, as the children raced into the nursery to take off their coats, she added slowly, "He couldn't expect me to go without them."

"If you want to know what I think," replied Miss Polly flatly, "it is that he's just sick to death of the children. You've stuck them down his throat until he's had as much of them as he can swallow."

For a moment Gabriella considered this ruefully.

"You don't honestly believe that he's interested in me in that way?" she demanded in a horrified whisper.

"I don't know but one way in which a man's ever interested in a woman," retorted Miss Polly. "It's either that way or it's none at all, as far as I can see. But if I was you, honey, I'd drop him a little encouragement now and then, just to keep up his spirits. Men ain't no mo' than flesh and blood, after all" and it's natural that he shouldn't be as crazy about the children as you are."

"But why should I encourage him? Even if you are right, I couldn't marry him. I could never marry again."

"I'd like to know why not, if you get a chance? You're free enough, ain't you?"

"Yes, it isn't that--but I couldn't."

"You ain't hankerin' after George, are you, Gabriella?"

"After George? No!" responded Gabriella with so sincere an accent that Miss Polly jumped.

"Well, I'm glad you ain't," observed the seamstress soothingly as she stooped to pick up her sewing. "I shouldn't think he was worth hankerin' after, myself, but you've looked kind of peaked and thin this spring, so I've just been wonderin'."

"I never loved George. It was madness, nothing else," returned Gabriella, and she really believed it.

"Well, your thinkin' it madness now don't mean it wan't love ten years ago," commented Miss Polly, with the shrewdness of a detached and observant spinster.

"I suppose you're right," admitted Gabriella thoughtfully. Though she had not mentioned Arthur, her mind was full of him, and she was perfectly convinced that she had loved him all her life--even during her brief period of "madness." It was a higher love, she felt, so much higher, indeed, that it had been too spiritual, too ethereal, to take root in the earthly soil from which her passion for George had sprung. But, if it were not love, why was it that every faint stirring of her emotions revived the memory so poignantly? Why was it that Miss Polly's sentimental interpretation of the doctor's interest evoked the image of Arthur?

"No, I never think of George--never," she repeated, and her fine, pure features assumed an expression of sternness. "But I shan't marry again," she went on after a pause in which Miss Polly's sewing-machine buzzed cheerfully over its work. "I've had enough of marriage to last me for one lifetime."

The machine stopped, and Miss Polly, snipping the thread as she came to the end of a seam, turned squarely to answer. "Don't you be too sure about that, honey. You may have had enough to last you for ten years or so, but wait till you've turned forty, and if the hankerin' for love don't catch you at forty, you may begin to expect it somewhere around fifty. Why, just look at that poor piano-playin' old maid in there. Wouldn't you think she'd have done with it? Well, she ain't--she ain't, and you ain't either, for that matter, I don't care how hard you argue!"

"There are ten happy years ahead of me anyhow!" rejoined Gabriella, with a ringing laugh--the laugh, as Dr. French had once remarked, of a woman who is sound to the core. She had triumphed over the past, and was not afraid, she told herself valiantly, of the future.

At the beginning of July the children went with Miss Polly to the country, and Gabriella, after seeing them off, turned back alone to begin a long summer of economy and drudgery. In order to keep Fanny and Archibald out of town she was obliged to deny herself every unnecessary comfort--luxuries she had given up long ago--and to stay at Dinard's, in Madame's place, through the worst weeks of the year, when the showroom was deserted except for an occasional stray Southerner, and even the six arrogant young women were away on vacations. Even if she had had the chance, the money for a trip would have been lacking, and to fill Madame's conspicuous place gave her, she realized, a certain importance and authority in the house. There was opportunity, in a small way, to work out some of her ideas of system and order, and there was sufficient time to think out a definite and practical plan for the future. Her aim from the first had been, not only to catch on, but to master the details of the business, and she knew that, in spite of Madame's sporadic attempts to keep her in her place, she was gradually making herself felt--she was slowly impressing her individual methods upon the establishment. Madame was no longer what she once was, and the business was showing it. She was getting old, she was growing tired, and her naturally careless methods of work were fastening upon her. In the last years she had offered less and less resistance to her tendency to let go, to leave loose ends ungathered, to allow opportunities to slip out of her grasp, to be inexact and unsystematic. There was urgent need of a strong hand at Dinard's, if the business was to be kept from running gradually downhill, and Gabriella became convinced, as the days passed, that hers was the only hand in the house strong enough to check the perilous descent to failure. Her plans were made, her scheme arranged, but, as Madame was both jealous and suspicious, she saw that she must move very cautiously.

There were times--since this is history, not romance--when her spirits flagged and her strength failed her. The heat of the summer was intense, and the breathless days dragged on interminably into the breathless nights. When her work was over she would wait until the last of her fellow-workers had gone home, and then walk across to Sixth Avenue and take the Harlem elevated train for her deserted rooms, which appeared more desolate, more ugly than ever because the children were absent. In the lonely kitchen--for Miss Danton and the art students were all away--she would eat her supper of bread and tea, which she drank without cream because it was more economical; and then, lighting her lamp, she would sew or read until midnight. Sometimes, when it was too hot for the lamp, and she found it impossible to work by the flickering gas, she would sit by her window and look down on the panting humanity in the street below--on the small shopkeepers seated in chairs on the sidewalk, on the little son of the Italian fruiterer playing with his dog, on the three babies of the Jewish tobacco merchant, sprawling in the door of the tiny shop which was pressed like a sardine between a bakery and a dairy. She was alone in the apartment, and there were late afternoons when the grim emptiness of the rooms seemed haunted, when she shrank back in apprehensive foreboding as she turned her key in the lock, when the profound silence within preyed on her nerves like an obsession. On these days she dreaded to go down the long hail to the kitchen, where the fluttering clothes-lines on fire-escapes at the back of the next apartment house offered the only suggestion of human companionship in the unfriendly wilderness of the city. The sight of the children's toys, of Fanny's story books, of Archibald's roller skates, moved her to tears once or twice; and when this happened she caught herself up sharply and struggled with the vague, malignant demon of melancholy.

"Whatever comes, I must not lose my courage," she told herself at such times. "If I lose my courage I shall have nothing left."

Then she would put on her hat, and go down into the street, where the unwashed children swarmed like insects over the pavements, and the air was as hot and parched as the air of a desert. If the mother of the Jewish babies sat on her doorstep, she would stop for a little talk with her about the heat and the health of the children, and the increasing price of whatever one happened to buy in the market, or, perhaps, if the fruit stall still kept open, she would ask after the Italian's little boy, and stop to pat Archibald's friend, the white mongrel with the black ear. She had left her acquaintances when she left Fifty-seventh Street, and, with the exception of Judge Crowborough, who telephoned occasionally to inquire if she needed assistance, she was without friends in New York. Patty wrote often from Paris, but Billy was happy with his work, and they said nothing of returning to America. In the whole city, outside of Dinard's, she knew only Dr. French, and from him she had had no word or sign for several months.

It was on one of these depressing evenings, while she was boiling an egg in the kitchen, that the ringing of the door-bell reverberated with an uncanny sound through the empty apartment. Spurred by an instinctive fear of a telegram, she ran to open the door, and found Dr. French standing in the dimly lighted hail, with the negro Robert grinning cheerfully at his back.

"I am so glad," she said, "so glad," and her voice shook in spite of the effort she made.

"I've been thinking about you all summer," he explained, "and the other day I passed you in the street as you were coming from work. You are not looking well. Is it the heat?"

"No, it isn't the heat. I think it is the loneliness. You see it is so different not having the children to come back to in the afternoon, and when I get lonely I see things in false proportions. This apartment has been like a grave to me all summer."

She led the way into the living-room, where her sewing, a blue cambric frock she was scalloping for Fanny, was lying on the chair by the window. "Things are all upset. I hope you won't mind," she added apologetically while she folded the dress and laid it aside, "but nothing seems to matter when I sit here all by myself."

"What are you doing?"

"Oh, I work all day. There is really very little to do except plan for the autumn, and I like that. Madame is in Paris, and I am in charge of the place."

"And in the evenings?"

She laughed with recovered spirit. "In the evening I sew and read and mope."

"Well, we must change all that," he said, with a tenderness which brought tears to her eyes. "Why can't you come out with me somewhere to dinner?"

Three years ago, when she was first separated from George, she would have evaded the suggestion; but to-night, at the end of the long summer, she caught eagerly at the small crumb of pleasure.

"Oh, I'd love to! Only wait until I put out the stove and tidy my hair."

"I want to see what you have to eat," he remarked in his whimsical tone, as he followed her back into the kitchen. "Only an egg!"

"It is so hot. I wasn't hungry, but I am now," she replied gaily, her thin face flushing to beauty. After her loneliness there was a delight in being cared for, in being scolded. "But for the mistake I made this might happen to me always," she thought, and her mind went back to Arthur.

When she came out of her room, wearing a fresh linen blouse, with her hair smoothly brushed, and her eyes sparkling with pleasure, he was gazing abstractedly down into the street, and she was obliged to speak twice to him before he heard her and turned. At last he broke away, almost with an effort, from his meditation, and when he looked at her she saw that there was the mystic gleam in his eyes--the light as of a star shining through clouds--which attracted her so strongly. The thought flashed through her vague impressions, "He loves me. I may win him by a smile, by a word, by a look," and, for a minute, she rested on the certainty with an ineffable sense of peace, of ease, of deep inward rejoicing. "Love is everything. There is nothing worth while except love," she thought; and love meant to her then, not passion, not even romance, but comfort, tenderness, and the companionship that sweetens the flat monotony of daily living. Then, beneath the beauty and sweetness of the vision, she felt the vein of iron in her soul as she had felt it whenever she struggled to escape the sterner issues of life. The face of Arthur rose in her memory, tender, wistful, protecting, and young with the eternal youth of desire. No, love was not for her again. Not for the second time would she betray the faith of her Dream.

They dined at a little French restaurant, where the green-shaded lights, festooned with grape leaves, shed a romantic pallor over their faces, and the haunting refrains of an Italian love song stirred the buried ghosts in their hearts. The doctor made her drink a glass of champagne; and after her frugal meals and the weakening effect of the heat and the loneliness, the sparkle of the wine, mingling with the music and the lights, sent a sudden rush of joy through her veins. Her courage came back to her, not in slow drops, but in a radiant flood, which pervaded her being. After the lonely months there was delight in the clasp of a friend's hand, in the glance of a friend's eye, in the sound of a friend's voice speaking her name. Life appeared divinely precious at the instant; and by life she meant not happiness, not even fulfilment, but the very web, the very texture and pattern of experience.

"You're better already," he said, with a solicitude that was more intoxicating than wine to her. "How I wish I'd known all summer that you were here. I might have done something to make you happy, and now I've missed my chance."

"I don't think I've ever been so happy as I am to-night," she answered simply, and then after a pause she let fall word by word, "After all, it takes so little to make me happy."

"One can tell that to look at you. You have the air of happiness. I noticed it the first moment I saw you. And yet you have not had an easy life. There must have been terrible hours for you in the past."

"No, I haven't had an easy life, but I love it. I mean I love living."

"I know, I understand," he said softly. "It is the true American spirit--optimism springing out of a struggle. Do you know you have always made me think of the American spirit at its best--of its unquenchable youth, its gallantry, its self-reliance--"

They walked back slowly through the hot, close streets, and sat for an hour beside her window-sill on which a rose geranium was blooming in an earthen pot. Now and then a breeze entered warily, stealing the fragrance from the rose geranium, and rippling the dark, straying tendrils of Gabriella's hair. By the dim light she saw the wistful pallor of his face, and his blue eyes, with their exalted look, which moved her heart to an inexpressible tenderness.

"You are so different from other physicians," she said in perplexity, "I can't think of you as one, no matter how hard I try. All the others I have known, even old Dr. Walker, were materialists."

"Well, I got in some way. There are fools in every school, I suppose. But if it's any comfort to you, they've done their best to get rid of me. They don't like my theories." When he talked of his work he seemed all at once another man to her, and she discerned presently, while she listened to his earnest voice, that he was one of the men whose emotional natures are nourished by an abstract and impersonal passion--by the passion for science, for truth in its concrete form. After all, he was a mystic only in his eyes. Beneath his dreamer's face he was a scientist to the last drop of his blood, to the last fibre of his being. "He can't be hurt deeply through the heart," she thought; "only through the mind."

"I've wondered about you all summer," he repeated presently, "and yet I kept away--partly, I suppose, because I was thinking too much of you."

At his change of tone from the impersonal to the tender all the frozen self-pity in her heart seemed to melt suddenly, threatening in its overflow the very foundations of her philosophy. The temptation to yield utterly, to rest for a while not on her strength, but on his, assailed her with the swiftness and the violence of a spiritual revulsion. For an instant she surrendered to the uncontrollable force of this desire; then she drew quickly back while the world about her--the room, the window, the bare skeleton of the elevated road, the street, and even the rose geranium blooming on the sill--became as remote and impalpable as a phantom.

"It has been a long summer," she heard herself saying from a distance in a thin and colourless voice.

"And you suffered?"

"Sometimes, but I'm interested in my work, and I've been thinking and planning all summer."

For a moment he was silent, and though she did not look at him, she could feel his intense gaze on her face. The breeze, scented with rose geranium, touched her forehead like the healing and delicate stroke of his fingers.

"You are still so young, so vital, not to have something else in your life," he went on presently in a voice so charged with feeling that her eyes filled while she listened to it.

"I have had love, and I have my children."

"But you will love again? You will marry again some day?"

She shook her head, hearing, above the street cries and the muffled rumble of the elevated train, a voice that said: "I shall never give you up, Gabriella!" To her weakened nerves there appeared, with the vividness of an hallucination, the memory of Arthur as he had looked in her school-days when she had first loved him; and in this hallucination she saw him, not as he was in reality, but divinely glorified and enkindled by the light her imagination had created around him.

"No, I shall never love again, I shall never love again," she answered at last, while a feeling of exultation surged through her.

"You mean," his voice shook a little, "that your husband still holds you?"

"My husband? No, I never think of my husband."

"Is there some one else?"

Before answering she looked up at him, and by his face she knew that her reply would cost her his friendship. She wanted his friendship--at the moment she felt that she would gladly give a year of her life for it. It meant companionship instead of loneliness, it meant plenty instead of famine. Yet only for an instant, only while she stopped to draw breath, did she hesitate. "Women must learn to be honourable," she found herself thinking suddenly with an extraordinary intensity.

"Yes, there is some one else--there has always been some one else," she said, driven on by an impulsive desire for full confession, for absolute candour. "When I met George I was engaged to another man, and I have loved that man all my life."

She had confessed all, she told herself; and the remarkable part was that she really believed her confession--she was honestly convinced that she had spoken only the truth. Her soul, like the soul of Cousin Jimmy, sheltered a romantic strain which demanded that one supreme illusion should endure amid a world of disillusionment. Because she was obliged to believe in something or die, she had built her imperishable Dream on the flame-swept ruins of her happiness.

"He must be a big man if he can fill a life like yours," said Dr. French.

"I don't know why I told you," she faltered; "I have never told any one else. It is my secret."

"Well, it is safe with me. Don't be afraid."

For the few minutes before he rose to go they talked indifferently of other things. She had lost him, she knew, and while she held his hand at parting, she felt a sharp regret for what was passing out of her life--for the one chance of love, of peace, of a tranquil and commonplace happiness. But beneath the regret there was a hidden spring of joy in her heart. At the instant of trial she had found strength to be true to her Dream.

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