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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 5. Success
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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 5. Success Post by :mondd Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :3070

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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 5. Success


"I declare you're real pretty to-night, honey," remarked Miss Polly from the floor, where she knelt pinning up the hem of a black serge skirt she was making for Gabriella. "Some days you're downright plain, and then you flame out just like a lamp. Nobody would ever think to look at you that you'd be thirty-seven years old to-morrow." For it was the evening before Gabriella's birthday, and she was at the end of her thirty-sixth year.

"I feel young," she answered brightly, "and I feel happy. The children are well, and I've had all the success I could ask. Some day I'm going to own Madame's business, Miss Polly."

"I reckon she's gettin' mighty old, ain't she?"

"She gave up the work years ago, and I believe she'd be glad to sell out to me to-morrow if I had the money.

"I wish you had. It would be nice for you to be at the head, now wouldn't it?" rejoined Miss Polly, speaking with difficulty through a mouthful of pins.

"Yes, I wish I had, but I've thought and thought, and I don't see how I could borrow enough. I've sometimes thought of asking Judge Crowborough to invest some money in the business. It would be investing, the returns are so good."

"He'd do it in a minute, I expect. He always set a lot of store by you, didn't he?"

"He used to, but somehow I hate to ask favours."

"You were always a heap too proud. Don't you remember how you'd never eat the other children's cake when you were a child unless you had some of your own to offer 'em?"

Gabriella laughed. "No, I don't remember, but it sounds like me. I was horrid."

"There was always a hard streak somewhere down in you, and you don't mind my sayin' that you ain't gettin' any softer, Gabriella. There are times now when your mouth gets a set look like your Aunt Becky Bollingbroke's. You don't recollect her, I 'spose, but she never married."

"Well, I married," Gabriella flippantly reminded her; "so it can't be that."

Though the hard work of the last ten years had left its visible mark upon her, and she looked a little older, a little tired, a little worn, experience had added a rare spiritual beauty to her face, and she was far handsomer than she had been at twenty. The rich sprinkling of silver in the heavy waves of hair over her ears framed the firm pale oval of her face with a poetic and mysterious darkness, and gave depth and softness to her brilliant eyes. For the struggle, which had stolen her first freshness and left faintly perceptible lines in her expressive face, had not robbed her of the eyes and the heart of a girl.

"I don't count George, somehow," retorted Miss Polly. "That wan't like marryin' a real man, you know, and, when all's said and done, a lone woman gets mighty hard and dried up."

"But I can't marry when there's nobody to marry me," laughed Gabriella. "I haven't seen a man for seven years except in the street or occasionally in the shop. Men have either passed me by without seeing me or they have wanted to sell me something."

At the sound of the children's voices she slipped out of the serge skirt, and began hurriedly fastening the old black silk gown she wore at dinner. Through all the years of toil and self-denial she had preserved a certain formality of living, a gracious ease of manner, which she kept for the evenings with her children. Cares were thrust away then, to be taken up again as soon as Fanny and Archibald were in bed, and no matter how hard the day had been, she was always cheerful, always gay and light-hearted for the dinner hour by the fireside. Not often had she been too poor to buy a handful of flowers for the table, and never once, except during her illness, had she come home too tired to change to the black silk gown, which she had turned and made from bishop sleeves to small ones, and from "dropped" shoulders to high ones, for the last six or seven years. The damask on the table was darned and mended, but it was always spotlessly fresh. In winter the fire was made up brightly in the evenings; in summer the room was deliciously scented with rose geranium and heliotrope from the box in the window. For ten years she had not had a holiday; she had worked harder than a man, harder than any servant, for she had worked from dawn until midnight; but into her hard life she had instilled a quality of soul which had enabled her to endure the strain without breaking. "No life is so hard that you can't make it easier by the way you take it," she had said to herself in the beginning; and remembering always that courage is one of the eternal virtues, she had disciplined her mind as well as her body to firmness and elasticity of fibre. "Nobody, except myself, is ever going to make me happy," she would repeat over and over again when the day was wearying and the work heavy. "I want to be happy. I have a right to be happy, but it depends on myself."

This indestructible belief in her "right to happiness" supported her through the hardest hours of her life, and diffused an invigorating atmosphere not only in her home, but even in her long working hours at Dinard's. The children grew and strengthened in its bracing air; Miss Polly quickly responded to it; the women in the workroom breathed it in as if it were the secret of health, and even Madame showed occasional signs that she was not entirely impervious to its vital and joyous influence. It was not always easy for Gabriella to keep the light in her eyes and the faith in her heart. There were days when both seemed to fail her, when, with aching body and depressed mind, she felt that she could not look beyond the immediate suffering minute, when she told herself despairingly that she had lost everything in losing her courage. But bad days passed as irrevocably as good ones; and left her, when they were over, with her strong soul unshaken, and her philosophy of happiness still undestroyed. Like other human beings, she found that her moods were largely controlled by her physical health.

"Oh, mother dear, I went down to meet you, and I missed you by just five minutes," said Fanny, kissing her cheek. "I wanted you to go with me to look at the house in London Terrace. Miss Polly and I are crazy about it."

"I know," said Gabriella tenderly, while she feasted her eyes on her daughter.

The old apartment house in which they had spent the last ten years would be torn down in the summer, and Fanny and Miss Folly had devoted the past week to an exhaustive hunt for a home.

"Then you'll look at it to-morrow, won't you, mother?" urged Fanny. "We can get the upper rooms and they are larger than these. There is a little yard in front, with an elm tree and a rose-bush, and plenty of space for flowers."

"I can't recall the house exactly," said Gabriella thoughtfully. "It must be in a row, isn't it? I have a vague recollection of some old houses, with fronts of stuccoed pilasters, and rather nice yards. But West Twenty-third Street is too far away, dear. I don't like the neighbourhood. Wouldn't you rather be in Park Avenue?" Her ignorance of New York, though she had lived there seventeen years, amazed Fanny, who was a true child of the city.

"Carlie Herndon lives in that row, mother"--Carlie Herndon, the daughter of a distinguished and unpopular novelist, was Fanny's best friend for the moment--"and I could always go out with her in the evening."

"It isn't the location I should have liked, Fanny," said Gabriella, weakly yielding, as she always yielded to her daughter; "but if you really fancy the house, I'll try to look at it on my way home to-morrow. One has to be very careful about the plumbing in these old houses. I insist upon good plumbing. After that, you may have what you want."

"Oh, it has brand new bathrooms, Mrs. Mallon told me so, and she's lived there until a year ago. And if you had only seen the new apartments we looked at, mother, nothing on the East Side that would have held us under twenty-five hundred a year, and even at that the bedrooms were no bigger than closets, and you'd have to have electric light all day in the bathroom. We searched everywhere, didn't we, Miss Polly?"

"West Twenty-third Street is mighty far out of the way, honey," observed Miss Polly cautiously.

"Oh, but I'd have Carlie, and she's my best friend," persisted Fanny, with caressing obstinacy.

"Well, we'll see, precious," said Gabriella, while she assured herself that if Fanny cost her every penny she had, at least the child was worth what she spent on her. To a superficial observer, Fanny would probably have appeared merely an attractive girl, of Jane's willowy type, with something of Jane's trite prettiness of feature; but to Gabriella, who suffered from a maternal obliquity of vision, she seemed both brilliant and beautiful. Of course she was selfish, but this selfishness, as long as it was clothed in her youth and loveliness, was as inoffensive as the playfulness of a kitten. Her face was round and shallow, with exquisite colouring which veiled the flatness and lack of character in her features. Above her azure eyes her hair, which was not plentiful, but fine and soft, and as yellow as ripe corn, broke in a shining mist over her forehead. All her life, by being what she was, she had got, without effort, everything that she wanted. She had got dolls when she wanted dolls; she had got Miss Ludwell's expensive school when she wanted an expensive private school; she would get the house in West Twenty-third Street to-morrow, and when she began to want love, she would get it as easily and as undeservedly as she got everything else. She was very expensive, but, like the flowers on the table and the spotless damask and the lace in Gabriella's sleeves, she was one of her mother's luxuries to be paid for by additional hours of work and thought.

"Wasn't Archibald with you?" inquired Gabriella, while she pushed the chairs into place and tidied the room.

"He stopped at the library. There's his ring now. I'll open the door."

She ran out, and Gabriella, with the tablecloth in her hand, stood waiting for Archibald to enter. In her eager expectancy, in the wistful brightness of her eyes, in the tender quivering of her lips, she was like a girl who is awaiting a lover. Every evening, after her day's work, she greeted her son with the same passionate tenderness. Never had it lessened, never, even when she was most discouraged, had she failed to summon her strength and her sweetness for this beatific end to the day. For Archibald was more than a son to her. As he grew older their characters became more perfectly adjusted, and the rare bond of a deep mental sympathy held them together. Fanny loved her as a spoiled child loves the dispenser of its happiness; but in Archibald's devotion there was something of the worship of a man for an ideal.

Flushed and hungry, the boy came in, and after kissing her hurriedly, ran off to wash his face and hands before dinner. When he came back the table was laid, with a bunch of lilacs in a cut glass vase over the darned spot in the tablecloth, and Miss Polly was bringing in the old-fashioned soup tureen, which had belonged to Gabriella's maternal grandmother.

"If you don't sit right straight down everything will be cold," said Miss Polly severely, for this was her customary manner of announcing dinner. Every night for ten years she had threatened them with a cold dinner while she served them a hot one.

With a child on either side of her, Gabriella sat down, and ladled the soup out of the old china tureen. It was her consecrated hour--the single hour of her toiling day that she dedicated to personal happiness; and because it was her hour, her life had gradually centred about it as if it were the divine point of her universe--the pivot upon which her whole world revolved. Nothing harsh, nothing sordid, nothing sad, ever touched the sacred precincts of her twilight hour with her children.

"I can beat any boy at school running, mother," said Archibald, watching his plate of soup hungrily as it travelled toward him. "If my eyes won't let me be captain of a football team, I'm going to become the champion runner in America. I bet I can, if I try."

"I shouldn't wonder, dear. It's good for you, too. I never saw you look better."

He was a tall, thin boy, with a muscular figure, and thick brown hair, which was always rumpled. Through his ugly spectacles his eyes showed large, dark, and as beautifully soft as a girl's. His mind was remarkably keen and active, and there was in his carriage something of Gabriella's capable and commanding air, as if, like her, he embodied those qualities which compel acknowledgment. Though she had never admitted it even to herself, he was her favourite child.

When dinner was over she had the children to herself--to the gracious, unhurried self she gave them--until ten o'clock. Then their books were put away, and after she had kissed them good-night, and tucked the covers about them, she came back to the living-room, and sat down to her sewing with Miss Polly. The ease and cheerfulness dropped from her at the approach of midnight, and while the two women bent over their needles they talked of their anxieties, and planned innumerable and intricate ways of economy.

"Fanny's school costs so much, and, of course, she must have clothes. All the other girls dress so expensively."

"You spend three times as much on her as you do on Archibald."

"I know," her voice melted to the mother note, "but Archibald is different. He is a man, and he will make his way in the world. Then, too, his expenses will be trebled next year when he goes off to school, and after that, of course, will come college. I don't believe anything or anybody can keep Archibald back," she went on proudly. "Do you know he talks already of going to work in a shipping office in order to help me?"

"It's a pity about his eyes."

"There's nothing wrong except near-sightedness, but he'll have to wear glasses all his life."

For a minute Miss Polly stitched almost furiously, while her small weatherbeaten face, with its grotesque features, was visited by an illumination that softened and ennobled its ugliness. From living entirely in the lives of others, she had attained the spiritual serenity and detachment of a saint as well as the saint's immunity from the intenser personal forms of suffering. Long habit had accustomed her to think of herself only in connection with somebody's need of her, and beyond this she hardly appeared as an individual existence even in her own secret reflections. As far as it is possible to achieve absolute unselfishness in a world planned upon egoistic principles Miss Polly had achieved it; and the result was that she was almost perfectly happy.

"Fanny seems right set on goin' down to Twenty-third Street, don't she?" she inquired, after an interval of musing.

"It's all because Carlie lives in the row, and by next year, after we've had all the trouble of moving, she'll find another bosom friend and want to go to Park Avenue."

"It's a real comfortable sort of house, more like Richmond than New York, and I reckon we could get flowers to grow there just about as well as they did in Hill Street."

"I don't like having those O'Haras on the lower floor. If they are loud and common, it might be very disagreeable."

"There ain't but one, a man, and he's hardly ever there, the caretaker's wife told me. She said he was almost always in the West, and anyway his lease is up next year, and he thinks he'll give up his rooms. She says he has made piles of money in mines somewhere out West, and he only keeps those rooms because they used to belong to a man who picked him out of the street when he was a little boy selling newspapers. That caretaker's wife seems to be a mighty kind-hearted creature, but she talks as if she was never goin' to stop."

"I think I could afford to take an apartment in Park Avenue," returned Gabriella, dismissing the name of O'Hara; "but, of course, I want to save as much as I can in order to invest in the business. If it wasn't for that, I could stop scraping and pinching. I can't bear, though, to think of leaving nothing for the children when I die."

"Go away from here, honey. The idea of your talkin' about dyin'! You look healthier than you ever did in your life, only you're gettin' that set look again about your mouth."

"I wonder if I'm growing hard," said Gabriella, stopping to glance in the mirror. "I suppose that's the problem of life for the working woman--not to grow hard." In some ways, she realized, Miss Polly was right. She was a handsome woman, as Madame occasionally informed her; but she was no longer shrinking, she was no longer alluringly feminine. To dress smartly for Dinard's was a part of her work, and she had grown quite indifferent to having men turn and stare after her in the street or when she entered a restaurant. But the men who stared never spoke to her as they did to Fanny when she was alone. They regarded her admiringly, but she aroused neither disrespect nor the protective instinct in their minds. Only when she smiled her face grew as young as her eyes, and with the powdering of silver on her hair, gave her a look of radiance and charm; but at other times, when she was grave or preoccupied with the management of Dinard's, the "set look" that Miss Polly dreaded hardened her mouth.

"I wish you could go easier now for a while," resumed the little seamstress, after a pause which she had filled with vague speculations about Gabriella's sentimental prospects. "I just hate like anything to see you wearing yourself out. Of course I'd like you to own part of the business, and I can't help thinkin' that the judge could get you the money as easy as not. It ain't as if you couldn't pay him the interest regular, is it?" she pursued with the financial helplessness of a woman who has never thought in terms of figures. "You couldn't be doin' any better, could you? There ain't anybody can run the business as well as you do, I don't care who 'tis."

"I sometimes think," returned Gabriella deliberately, while she draped a lace bertha on a white silk frock she was making for Fanny, "that I will try to borrow the money."

"It couldn't hurt, could it?"

"No, I don't suppose it could hurt."

Her eyes were on the lace, which she was adjusting over the shoulder, and Miss Polly followed her gaze with a look which was not entirely approving.

"There ain't a bit of sense in your wearin' yourself out over that child," said the seamstress presently, with so sharp an accent that Gabriella glanced up quickly from her work. "It was just the way Mrs. Spencer started Florrie, and it ain't right."

"Florrie!" exclaimed Gabriella, startled, and she added slowly, "I wonder what has become of her? I haven't thought of her for years."

"It was a mean trick she played you, Gabriella. I'd never have believed it of Florrie if I hadn't been there to see it with my own eyes."

"Yes, it was mean," assented Gabriella, but there was no anger in her voice. She had left the past so far behind her that its disappointments and its cruelties had become as dim and shadowy to her imagination as if they had been phantoms of the mind instead of actual events through which she had lived.

"Well, I'm glad she didn't spoil your life for you, honey."

"No, she didn't spoil my life. Don't I look happy? And Madame told me to-day that my figure was distinguished. Now, when a woman's life is spoiled her figure and her complexion are the first things to show it."

"Of course you ain't gettin' slouchy, I don't mean anything like that. But I hate to see you workin' your fingers to the bone and bringin' lines around your eyes when you ought to be taken care of. I don't hold with women workin' unless they're obliged to."

"But I'm obliged to. How on earth could I take care of the children if I didn't work?"

For a minute there was an austere silence while Miss Polly reflected grimly that Gabriella Mary--she thought of her as "Gabriella Mary" in moments of disapprobation"--was gettin' almost as set as her ma."

"You could marry," she said flatly at last, stopping to press down the hem she had turned with the blunted nail of her thumb. "Of course your ma would be dead against it, but there ain't any reason in the world why you shouldn't go back home and marry Arthur Peyton, as you ought to have done seventeen years ago."

Though Gabriella laughed in reply, there was no merriment in the sound, and a look of sadness crept into the eyes she turned away from the sharp gaze of the little seamstress.

"You've forgotten that I haven't seen him for seventeen years," she answered.

"That don't make any difference in his sort, and you know it. He ain't ever married anybody else, and he ain't goin' to. The faithfulness that ought to be spread over the whole sex gets stored up in a few, and he's one of 'em."

"He has never written to me. No, he must have got over it," responded Gabriella, with an impassioned emphasis, "and, besides, even if he cared, I don't want to marry again. My children are enough for me."

"It won't look that way next year when both the children are away at school, and when they once break away from your apron strings they're the sort that will go the way they want to and look out for their own happiness. You won't have much of Archibald while he's at school and college, and Fanny will marry befo' she's twenty just as sure as you live. Why, she's already got her head full of beaux. Have you noticed that picture of an actor she keeps on her bureau?"

"Yes" admitted Gabriella anxiously, "I've noticed it, but when I asked her about it, she only laughed."

After this the conversation dropped, and the two women put away their work for the might; but hours later, while Miss Polly lay in her hard little bed wondering if it would be possible to "fix" things between Gabriella and Arthur, the stern heroine of her romance wept a few tender tears on her pillow.

In the morning, with the tears still ready to spring at a touch, Gabriella read a letter from her mother, which he had found, beside the baker's rolls, at the door.

_Richmond, Thursday_.


As the others are all out to-night, and I have finished the mat I was crocheting, I thought I would send you a letter to reach you on your birthday instead of the telegram from the family. I am so thankful to hear that you keep well and happy and that Fanny has quite recovered from her cold. It was thoughtful of you to send the check, and I shall find it very useful, though Jane refuses to let me pay any board since Charley has inherited such a large income from his brother Tom. I sent you all the papers about the dreadful accident on the River road in which poor Tom and his wife were killed, but you haven't heard yet that Tom left his new house in Monument Avenue--they had only just moved into it--and almost all of his property to Charley. Of course, this will make a great difference in our manner of living; but just now none of us can think of anything except poor Tom and Gertrude, to whom we were all so deeply attached. No amount of money could in any way soften the blow of their loss, and the accident has given me such a horror of automobiles, though both Charley and Jane tell me this is very foolish.

To turn to more cheerful subjects, I can't begin to tell you how much the last photograph of Fanny has been admired. She is such a lovely girl, almost as pretty, we think, as Jane used to be when she first grew up, and I'm sure there could be no higher praise than that. You pleased me by saying that Archibald is like his grandfather, even if he isn't so handsome, and that he has a strong character. Good looks aren't nearly so important in a man as they are in a woman, and, you know, I don't think that men are as handsome to-day as they used to be when I was a girl. They have lost something--I can't make out just what it is.

Charley and Jane are at the Prohibition meeting. It is the first time they have gone anywhere since the accident, but we all felt that Tom and Gertrude would have wanted them to go for the sake of the cause. I don't suppose you, would recognize Charley now if you were to meet him. He is entirely changed, and I believe our new minister is the reason for it, though Jane likes to think that her influence reclaimed him. But, you remember, neither you nor I ever thought that Jane went about reforming Charley in the right way; and even now, though I wouldn't hurt dear Jane's feelings for anything in the world, I am afraid she nags Charley and the children too much. Of course, she means it for the best. No one could look at the dear child without realizing what a beautiful character she is.

But the change in Charley is really remarkable, and he won't allow a drop of alcohol to come into the house--not even as medicine. I can't help feeling sorry for poor old Uncle Meriweather, who despises grape juice and misses his mint julep when he comes to dine on Sunday; but Charley forbids Jane to make him a julep; and I suppose he is right since he says it is a matter of principle. Even Jane, however, thinks dear Charley is going a little too far when he refuses to let me have the sherry and egg the doctor ordered. However, I tell Jane that, since Charley feels so strongly about my taking it, she must not try to persuade him against his convictions. Dr. Darrow doesn't know that I stopped the sherry when Charley found out I was buying it. Perhaps the plain eggs will do me quite as much good. Anyhow, I wouldn't let my health stand in the way of Charley's salvation.

Margaret has gone out to a concert, and you would never guess who came to take her. I said to her when she was starting, "Well, I'm going to sit straight down and write your Aunt Gabriella that you've gone out with her old sweetheart." But doesn't it make you realize how time flies when you think of Arthur Peyton's paying attention to Jane's daughter? Of course, it isn't anything serious--everybody knows that he has never recovered from his feeling for you--but last winter he took Margaret to two germans and to any number of plays. I believe Jane would be really pleased if he were to take a fancy to Margaret, but I don't think there is the faintest chance of it, for his Cousin Lizzie told me last winter that she couldn't mention your name in his presence. She says his faithfulness is perfectly beautiful, and she ought to know for she has lived with him ever since his mother's death. Of course, he has never accomplished very much in his profession. Chancy says all the men downtown look upon him as a failure; but, then, he is such a perfect gentleman, and, as I tell Charley and Jane, one can't have everything. How different your life would have been, my dear daughter, if you had listened to the prayers of your mother, and married a gentle Christian character like Arthur Peyton.

But I mustn't let my thoughts run away with me. Of course, even if your heart had not been broken, it would be impossible for you to think of another man as long as your husband is living. No pure woman could do that, and when people tell me about divorced women who remarry, I always maintain that they are not what my mother and I would call "pure women." I would rather think of you nursing your broken heart forever in solitude than that you should put such a blot upon your character and the name of the Carrs. Of course, you were right to divorce George after he forsook you for Florrie--even his mother tells everybody that you were right--but the thought of a second marriage would, I know, be intolerable to your refined and sensitive nature. After all, he is still your husband in the sight of God, and I said this to Miss Lizzie Peyton when we were talking of Arthur.

It is almost eleven o'clock, and I must stop and undress. Kiss the dear children, and remember me kindly to Miss Polly.

Your loving MOTHER.

As she refolded the letter Gabriella stood for an instant with her dreaming gaze on the delicate Italian handwriting on the envelope.

"It's amazing how wide the gulf is between the generations," she thought, not without humour. "I believe mother thinks of George oftener than I do, and I'd marry Arthur to-morrow if he wanted me to--except for the children."

Then, as Archibald rushed into the room, she caught him in her arms, and held him hungrily to her bosom.

"My darling, you want to keep your mother, don't you?"

"I jolly well do. What's the trouble, mother? I believe it's all that sitting up over Fanny's old dresses. Why don't you make something pretty for yourself?"

"She has to have things, and you love me just as well without them, don't you?"

"But I want you to have them, too. I like you to look pretty, and you are pretty."

"Then I can look pretty in plain clothes, can't I?"

"I tell you what I am going to do," he hesitated a minute, knitting his heavy brows over his spectacles, which looked so odd on a boy. "Next summer when school is over I'm going to work and make some money so you can have a velvet dress in the autumn--a black velvet dress with lace on it--lots of lace--and a hat with feathers."

"You foolish boy!" laughed Gabriella. "Do you think for an instant I'd let you?" Her voice was gay, but when he had broken away from her clasp, and was racing along the hail for his school books, she turned aside to wipe the tears from her eyes.

"It's wrong, but I love, him more than I love Fanny," she said. "I love him more than all the rest of the world.".

An hour later, sitting beside an Italian labourer in an elevated train, she tried hard to keep her mind on the day's work and on the morning paper, which she held open before her--for in adopting a business life she had adopted instinctively a man's businesslike habits. A subtle distinction divided her from the over-dressed shopgirls around her as completely as her sex separated her from the portly masculine breadwinner in the opposite seat. Her tailored suit of black serge, with its immaculate white collar and cuffs, had an air of charming simplicity, and the cameolike outline of her features against the luminous background of the window-pane was the aristocratic racial outline of the Carrs. In the whirlpool of modern business she still preserved the finer attributes which Nature had bred in her race. The bitter sweetness of the mother's inheritance, grafted on the hardy stock of the Carr character, had flavoured without weakening the daughter's spirit, and, though few of the men in the train glanced in the direction of Gabriella, the few who noticed her in her corner surmised by intuition that she possessed not only the manner, but the heart of a lady. She was not particularly handsome, not particularly young, and her charm was scarcely the kind to flash like a lantern before the eye of the beholder. To the portly breadwinner she was probably a nice-looking American business woman, nothing more; to the Italian labourer she was, doubtless, a lady with a pleasant face, who would be polite if you asked her a question; and to the other passengers she must have appeared merely a woman reading her newspaper on her way down to work. Her primal qualities of force, restraint, and capability were the last things these superficial observers would have thought of; and yet it was by these qualities that she must succeed or fail in her struggle for life.

When she reached Dinard's she found Miss Smith, the only woman in Madame's employ who was ever punctual, ill-humouredly poking the spring hats out of the cases. Miss Smith, who excelled in the cardinal virtues, manifested at times a few of those minor frailties by which the cardinal virtues are not infrequently attended. Her one pronounced fault was a bad temper, and on this particular morning that fault was conspicuous. As she carried the hats from the cases to the window, which she was decorating with the festive millinery of the spring, she looked as if she were resisting an impulse to throw Madame's choicest confections at the jovial figure of the traffic policeman. Gabriella, who was used to what she called the "peculiarities" of the forewoman, said "good morning" with her bright amiability, and hurried back to the dim regions where she changed from her street suit to the picturesque French gown which she wore in the showroom. When she came out again Miss Smith had finished ornamenting the white pegs in the window, and was vigorously upbraiding a messenger boy who had delivered a parcel at the wrong door.

"You are always so prompt," remarked Gabriella cheerfully, as she arranged the hats in the front room. Her rule of business conduct was simple, and consisted chiefly of the precept that whatever happened she must keep her temper. Never once, never even in Madame's most trying moments, had she permitted herself to appear angry, and her strict adherence to this resolution had established her in an enviable position of authority. Obeying unconsciously some inherited strain of prudence in her nature, she had sacrificed her temper on the solid altar of business expediency.

"Somebody has to be on time, I guess," replied Miss Smith snappishly. "I'd like to know who would be here if I wasn't?"

She was a thin, soured, ugly little woman, with an extraordinary capacity for work, and an excess of nervous vitality bordering on hysteria. Gabriella, who knew something of her story, was aware of the self-sacrificing goodness of her private life, and secure in her own unclouded cheerfulness, could afford to smile tolerantly at the waspish sting.

"It's a pity we can't get more system here," she observed, for Miss Smith, she knew, was no tale-bearer. "The waste of time and misdirected energy are appalling. The business would be worth three times as much to anybody who could give her whole attention to it, but, as Madame is forever telling us, her health keeps her from really overlooking things."

"I wonder why she doesn't sell out?" asked Miss Smith, suddenly good-humoured and interested. "There's a lot in it for the right person, and it isn't in nature that she can hold on much longer. If I could find the money, I'd buy it and cut down expenses until I made a big profit. It would be easy enough." Then she added, while she slammed the ivory-tinted door of a case: "I wish you could run the house, Mrs. Carr. You are so pleasant to work with. Nothing ever seems to depress you."

"It would be nice, wouldn't it?" responded Gabriella promptly, and as she said the words, she decided that she would try to borrow the money from Judge Crowborough. For three months she had been struggling to bring herself to the point of asking his help--or at least his advice--and now, in a flash, without argument or discussion, she had settled the question. "It's a simple business proposition--a promising investment," she thought. "I'll ask him to get the money for me at a fair interest--to get me enough anyhow to give me control of the business. The worst he can do is to refuse," she concluded, with a kind of forlorn optimism; "at least he can't kill me."

Making a hurried excuse, she went back to the telephone, and calling up the judge, asked for an appointment in his office at five o'clock. From his surprised response she inferred his curiosity, and from his hearty acquiescence, she gathered that his surprise was not an unpleasant one. "At five o'clock, then. It is so good of you. There is a little matter of business. Yes, I know how kind you are, and of course your advice is invaluable. I can't think of anybody else on earth I can ask. Oh, thank you. Yes, at five o'clock. I shan't be late and I promise to keep you but a minute. Good-bye. What? Oh, yes, I'll come straight from Dinard's."

His voice, eager and friendly over the telephone, had given her confidence, and when she went back to the showroom, where the saleswomen were assembling, she was already planning the interview.

At eleven o'clock Madame, who never arrived earlier, was seen descending from a hansom, and a few minutes later she waddled, wheezing, asthmatic, and infirm of joints, through the ivory and gold doorway. Like some fantastically garlanded Oriental goddess of death, her rouged and powdered face nodded grotesquely beneath the flowery wreath on her hat. The indestructible youth of her spirit, struggling valiantly against the inert weight of the flesh, had squeezed her enormous figure into the curveless stays of the period, and had painted into some ghastly semblance of health the wrinkled skin of her cheeks. For underneath the decaying mockery of Madame's body, the indomitable soul of Madame still fought the everlasting battle of mind against matter, of the immaterial against the material elements.

"There was no use my trying to get here any sooner," she began in an apologetic tone when she was face to face with Gabriella behind the red velvet curtains of her private office. "My asthma was so bad all night, I had to doze sitting up, and I didn't get any sound sleep until daybreak. If I don't begin to mend before long I'll have to give up, that's all there is to it. There ain't any use my trying to hold on much longer. I'm too sick to think about fighting, and sometimes I don't care what becomes of the business. I want to go to some high place in Europe where I can get my breath, and I'm going to stay there, I don't care what happens. There ain't any use my trying to hold on," she repeated disconsolately.

Gabriella's opportunity had come, and she grasped it with the quickness of judgment which had enabled her to achieve her moderate success.

"I believe I could carry on this business," she said, and her quiet assurance impressed Madame's turbulent temper. With a brief return of her mental alertness, the old woman studied her carefully.

"I don't want any responsibility. I want to be rid of the whole thing," she said after a pause.

Gabriella nodded comprehendingly. "I believe I could carry it on successfully," she repeated. "Your customers like me. I think I understand how the business ought to be run. I have been here ten years, and I feel perfectly confident that I could make it successful."

"I've had offers--good offers," observed Madame warily, for she was incapable of liberating herself at the age of seventy-two from the lifelong suspicion that some one was taking advantage of her, that something was being got from her for nothing, "and, of course, I was only joking about having to stop work," she added, "I am retiring from choice, not from necessity."

"I understand," agreed Gabriella quietly.

"But I should like you to have the name," pursued Madame "A little money would be necessary, of course--perhaps you might buy a half interest--that would be simple. You could make a big success of it with your social position and your wealthy acquaintances. Surely you can find some one who is ready to make such a splendid investment?"

"Perhaps," admitted Gabriella, as quietly as before. Unlike Madame, who, being an incurable idealist, had won her victories not by accepting but by evading facts, Gabriella was frankly skeptical about the practical value of either her social position or her wealthy acquaintances. Neither possession impressed her at the moment as marketable, except in the vivid imagination of Madame, and her social position, at least, was constructed of a very thin and unsubstantial fabric. Guided by the prudent streak in her character, she rested her hope not upon incorporeal possessions, but upon the solid bodies of her patrons that must be clothed. Her imposing acquaintances would avail her scarcely more, she suspected, than would the noble ghost of that ancestor who was a general in the Revolution. What she relied on was the certainty that she knew her work, and that Madame's customers from the greatest to the least, from Mrs. Pletheridge to poor Miss Peterson, who bought only one good gown a year, admitted the thoroughness of her knowledge. She had got on by learning all that there was to learn about the details of the work, and she stood now, secure and unassailable, on the foundation of her achievement. In ten years she had fulfilled her resolution--she had made herself indispensable. By patience, by hard work, by self-control, by ceaseless thought, and by innumerable sacrifices, she had made herself indispensable; and the result was that, as Madame weakened, she had grown steadily stronger. Without her Dinard's would have dropped long ago to the position of a second-rate house, and she was aware that Madame understood this quite as clearly as she did. For whatever Madame's executive ability may have been in the past, it had dwindled now to the capricious endeavours of a chronic invalid--of an aging invalid, notwithstanding her desperate struggle for youth. Half as much energy as Madame had spent resisting Nature might have won for her a sanctified memory had it been directed toward the practice of piety, or a tablet of imperishable granite had it been devoted to as tireless a pursuit of art or science. To her battle against age she had brought the ambition of a conqueror and the devotion of a martyr; and at the last, even to-day, there was a superb defiance in her refusal to acknowledge defeat, in her demand that her surrender should be regarded as a capitulation.

"In a day or two I hope to be able to discuss my plan with you," said Gabriella, and she could not keep the softness of pity out of her voice. So this was what life came to, after all? For an instant she felt the overwhelming discouragement which is the portion of those who approach life not through vision, but through outward events, who seek a solution not in the deeper consciousness of the spirit, but in the changing surface of experience. Then, even before her glance had left Madame's golden head, her natural optimism regained control of her mind, and she told herself stoutly that if this was Madame's present, then it followed logically that Madame must have had a past, and that past must have been an agreeable one. It was inconceivable that she should defy the laws of God for the sake of a prolongation of tragedy.

"It is a splendid investment," croaked the old woman in the midst of Gabriella's painful reflections. "The house was never more flourishing."

The ruling principle which decreed that Gabriella should keep her temper had disciplined her not less thoroughly in the habit of holding her tongue. The house was in a flourishing condition; but she remembered how fragile and thinly rooted had been its showy prosperity, when she had entered it; and had she cared to confound Madame utterly, she might have reminded her of that unwritten history of the past ten years in which the secret episode of Mrs. Pletheridge occurred. For Gabriella was not inclined to underrate her own efficiency, and her confidence was supported by the knowledge that if she left Dinard's the most fashionable of Madame's clientele would follow her.

"You'll never have such another opportunity--not if you live to be a hundred. At your age I should have jumped at the idea," persisted Madame.

"So should I," responded Gabriella merrily, "if I were sure of landing on my feet."

"You'll always land on your feet--you're that sort. You've got push, and it's push that counts most in business. A woman may have all the brains in the world, but without push she might as well give up the struggle. That was what brought me up in spite of four husbands and six children," pursued Madame, while she took out a small flask from one of the drawers of her desk and measured out, as she remarked in parenthesis, "a little stimulant." "Yes, I had a great success in my line, and if I could only have kept clear of men, I might have saved a fortune to retire on in my old age. But I had a natural taste for men, and they were the ruin of me. As soon as I lost one husband and managed to get on a bit, another would come, and I couldn't resist him. I never could resist marriage; that was the undoing of me as a woman of business."

"Four husbands, and yet you were remarkably successful," observed Gabriella, because it was the only thing with a cheerful sound she could think of to utter, and an intermittent cheerful sound was all that Madame required from a listener when she was under the enlivening influence of brandy.

"But think what I might have done with my talent if I had remained a widow, as you have done. It was my misfortune to attract men whether I wanted to or not," wheezed Madame, wiping her eyes; "some women are like that."

"So I have heard," murmured Gabriella, seeing that Madame paused for the note of encouragement.

"I don't suppose that has been your trouble, for there's a stand-offishness about you that puts men at a distance, and they don't like to be put at a distance. Then, though your figure is very fine for showing off models, it isn't exactly the kind that men lean to. If you'd fatten up it might be different, but that would spoil you for the clothes, and that, after all, is more important. It's strange, isn't it?" she croaked, with an alcoholic chuckle, "how partial men are to full figures even after they have gone out of fashion?"

And with this wonder still ringing in her ears, Gabriella turned away, to attend a customer, who demanded, in cool defiance of man and nature, to be transformed into a straight silhouette.

Gabriella had not seen Judge Crowborough for several years, and her first impression, when she entered his office at five o'clock, was one of surprise at his ugliness. Though he had changed but little since their first meeting at Mrs. Fowler's dinner, the years had softened her memory of his appearance, and she had skilfully persuaded herself that one should not judge a man by a repelling exterior, which, after all, might cover a great deal of goodness. After George's flight and Archibald Fowler's death he had been very kind to her. "I don't know what I should have done without him at that time," she thought now, as she stood with his big, soft hand clasping hers and his admiring fishy eyes on her face. "No, it is impossible to judge by appearances, and all men think well of him, all men respect him," she concluded, feeling suddenly reassured.

"It's been a long time--it must be nearly' three years--since I saw you," he remarked, with flattering geniality, "and you look younger than ever."

"Hard work keeps me young, then. I work very hard." Her charming smile flashed like an edge of light on her lips, and lent glow and fervor to her pale face beneath the silver-brightened cloud of her hair. She read his admiration in the bold gaze he fastened upon her, and though she was without coquetry, she was conscious that her vanity was agreeably soothed.

"What is it? Dressmaking?" He was obviously interested.

"Yes--dresses and hats. Hats are rather my specialty. I manage things now almost entirely at Dinard's. Have you ever heard of the house?"

He nodded. "I remember. That's where you went after Archibald died, wasn't it?" His memory amazed her. What a mind for trifles he had! What a wonderful man he was for his years!

"Yes, I've been there ever since. I've done well as things go, but, of course, it has been hard. It has been a hard life."

"And you never came to me. I wanted to help you. I'd have done anything I could to make it easier for you, but you were so proud. You'd have got on twice as well if you had given up your pride."

The telephone rang, and while he answered it, she watched his broad, slouching back, his swelling paunch overflowing now above the stays he wore to reduce it, the coarsened flesh of his neck, bulging above the edge of his collar, and the shining, baldness on the top of his head, which gave an appearance of commanding intellect to his empurpled forehead. How hideous he was, how revolting, and yet what a power! A face like his on a woman would have condemned her to isolation and misery, but, so far as one could judge, it had scarcely interfered with his happiness. His mental force had risen superior to his face, to his paunch, to his whole repulsive appearance. Greater than Madame because of his sex, he had achieved a triumph over the corporeal mass of his body which she, fortified and abetted by a hundred cosmetics and manipulations, could never attain. Where Madame relied on futile artificial aids in her battle against decay, he hurled the tremendous power of his personality, and ugliness became at once as insignificant as immorality in his life. "One can't judge him by the standards of other men," thought Gabriella, using a remembered phrase of Fifty-seventh Street.

Judge Crowborough was still talking earnestly into the telephone, and she gathered vaguely that his earnestness related to a donation he had promised his church. "Raise two hundred thousand, and I'll double it," he said abruptly, and hung up the receiver. "We want a new organ--something really fine, you know," he observed casually as he turned back to Gabriella. "We are moving--everything is moving up, and the church has to keep step with the age. You can't keep progress out of religion any more than you can out of business--not that I'm in favour of modernism or any of that stuff--but we've got to keep moving." He spoke with conviction, and there was no doubt that he sincerely believed himself to be an important factor in the religious movement of his country. Then his tone changed to one of intimate friendliness and he asked: "Have you heard any music this winter? If I'd only known about you, I'd have sent you tickets to the opera."

"The children go sometimes," she answered. That he should imagine her buying opera tickets for herself, with the children needing every penny she made, seemed to her ridiculous; but rich men were always like that, she reflected a little scornfully.

"If I'd only remembered about you," he murmured, and turning heavily in his chair, he added authoritatively: "Now tell me about it. Tell me the whole thing straight through. I am going to help you."

She told him rapidly, and while she talked a sense of perfect peace and security enveloped her. It was so long since she had been able to ask advice of a man; it was so long since anybody bigger and stronger than she had undertaken to adjust her perplexities. The past returned to her as a dream, and she felt again that absolute reliance on the masculine ability to control events, to ease burdens, to remove difficulties, which had visited her in her childhood when Cousin Jimmy appeared in the front parlour in Hill Street. "It's wonderful how men manage things," she thought. "It's wonderful being a man. Everything is so simple for men."

"Well, don't worry a minute longer. It's all as easy as--as possible," observed the great man serenely when she had finished. "From what you tell me it looks as if it were a pretty good investment to begin with, and there are plenty of people around looking for ways to invest money. I'm looking for ways myself, when it comes to that," he proclaimed, with a paternal smile as he sank back on the luxurious leather cushions of his chair.

"You are so good," she responded gratefully, "so good"; and she was speaking sincerely.

With his casual gaze, which seemed to turn inward, fixed on the ceiling above her head, he invited her confidence by a few perfectly chosen expressions of comprehension and sympathy. The acuteness and activity of his mental processes delighted her while he questioned her. After the slovenly methods of Madame, after the loose reasoning and the muddled thinking of all the women she met in the course of her work, there was a positive pleasure in following the exactness and inflexibility of his logic. His reasoning was orderly, neat, elastic, without loose ends or tangled skeins to unravel, and she felt again, while she listened to him, the confidence which had come to her as soon as she entered his office. He was efficiency incarnate, and from her childhood up she had respected efficiency. In an hour, in less time than it had taken her to tell her story, he had lifted the weight from her shoulders, had mastered the details of Madame's intricate problems, and had outlined the terms by which Gabriella could accept the old woman's offer without placing herself under financial obligations. Her pride, he had discerned at a glance, shrank from obligation, and he was as alert to save her pride as he was to make a good bargain with Madame.

"It's a good thing. It's good business. Don't think I'm losing for a minute," he said as she rose to go, and she felt that some secret delicacy, the last feeling she would have attributed to him, was prompting his words.

"I can't tell you what a relief it is to talk to you," she said, holding out her hand while she hesitated between the desk and the door. "I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I am. I haven't had any one to advise me since I left Richmond, and it is such a comfort"

"Well, I'll give you the best advice in my power. I'll give you the very best," he replied as frankly as if he were discussing his gift to the church. "What's more, I'll think it over a bit while I'm at the Hot Springs, and talk to you about it when I come back. I suppose I can always get you on the telephone, can't I?"

His manner was still casual and business-like, and it did not change by so much as a shade when he moved a step nearer and put his arm about her waist. If he had taken down his hat or lighted a cigar, he would probably have performed either action with the same air of automatic efficiency; and she realized, in the very instant of her amazement, that his manner was merely an authoritative expression of his power. What astonished her most in the incident, after all, was not the judge's share in it, but the vividness and coolness of her own mental impressions. She was not frightened, she was not even disturbed, she was merely disgusted. Never before had she understood so clearly the immeasurable distance that divided the Gabriella of seventeen years ago from the Gabriella who released herself calmly from the appalling clasp of the casual and business-like old man. To the Gabriella who had loved George such an episode would have appeared as an inconceivable horror. Now, with her worldly wisdom and her bitter knowledge of love, she found herself regarding the situation with sardonic humour. The stupendous, the incredible vanity of man!--she reflected disdainfully. Was there ever a man too ugly, too repulsive, or too old to delude himself with the belief that he might still become the object of passion?

"Now you've spoiled it," she said shortly, but without embarrassment. "Now you've spoiled it." She put the case to him plainly, the Gabriella who would have blushed and trembled and wept seventeen years ago.

"But I meant nothing," he said, genuinely disturbed. "I assure you I am truly sorry if I have offended you. It was nothing--a mere matter of--" the word "habit," she knew, hovered on his lips, though he did not utter it, and broke off inconclusively.

So there had not been even the excuse of emotion about it. He had embraced her as instinctively, as methodically, as he might have switched on the electric light over his desk. Here again she was brought to a stop before an overwhelming realization of the fundamental differences between man and woman. To think of woman behaving like that merely because it had become a matter of habit!

"I always liked you, you know," he said abruptly, with a sincere emphasis.

"Well, there are different ways of liking," she rejoined coldly, "and I happen not to care for this way."

"If you don't like it, I'll never do it again," he promised, almost humbly. "I'll be a good friend to you, honestly I will. I'll treat you as if you were--you were--"

"A gentleman," finished Gabriella, and smiled in spite of herself. After all, what was the use of resenting the facts of life? What was the use of reproaching the mud that spattered over one's clothes?

"Well, that's a bargain. I'll treat you as a gentleman." There was a fine quality about the man; she could not deny it.

"I'll forgive you then and forget it." It was the tolerant Gabriella who spoke--the Gabriella of disillusioning experience and a clear vision of life--not the impassioned idealist of the 'nineties. When all was said, you had to take men and things as you found them. That was philosophy, and that was also "good business." It was foolish to apply romantic theories to the positive actuality.

"Well, you _are a gentleman," exclaimed the judge, with facetiousness. "That's why I always liked you, I suppose. You're straight and you're honest and there's no nonsense about you."

If he had only known! She thought of the romantic girl of the 'nineties, of her buoyant optimism, her childlike ignorance, her violent certainties, and of her triumphant, "I can manage my life!" If he had only known how she had "muddled things" at the beginning, would he have said that she had "no nonsense about her?"

In the subway, a little later, clinging to a dirty strap, with a blackened mechanic in the seat before her, a box of tools at her feet, and a garlic-scented charwoman jolting against her shoulder, she was overcome by a sudden cloud of despondency. Her courage, her hopefulness, her philosophy, seemed to melt like frost in her thoughts, leaving behind only a sodden sense of loss, of emptiness, of defeat. "I've had a mean life," she said to herself resentfully. "I've had a mean life. What has ever happened to me that was worth while? What have I ever had except hard work and disappointment? I am thirty-seven years old. My youth is going, and I have nothing to show for it but ten years of dressmaking. The best of my life is over, and when I look back on it, it is only a blank." It was as if the interview with the great man she had just left had completed the desolating retrospect of a lifetime. Was there nothing but disenchantment ahead of her? Was life merely the dropping of illusion after illusion, the falling of petals at the first touch from a flower that is beginning to fade? "Yes, nothing has ever happened to me that was worth while," she repeated, forgetting her children for the moment. Then, because the heavy air stifled her, she left the car and turned into West Twenty-third Street where the lights were coming out softly in the spring twilight. Though it was too late to go over the house Fanny wanted, it occurred to her that she might look at the outside of it before she took the Harlem elevated train at one of the West Side stations. The walk would do her good and perhaps blow away the disquieting recollections of her encounter with Judge Crowborough. Not until her mood changed, she determined, would she go back to the children.

At the corner she bought a bunch of lilacs because a man held them out to her temptingly when she approached, and as she buried her face in the blossoms, she said resolutely: "No, I haven't had a mean life. It can't be mean unless I think it so, and I won't--I won't. After all, it isn't the kind of life you have, but the way you think about it that matters."

The air was deliciously mild; streaks of pale gold lingered above the grim outlines of the buildings; and the wild, sweet spirit of spring fluttered like an imprisoned creature in the gray streets of the city. It was May again, and the pipes of Pan were fluting the ancient songs in the ancient racial fields of the memory. There was a spring softness in the fleecy white of the clouds, in the flowing gold of the sunset, in the languorous kiss of the breeze, in the gentle rippling waves of the dust on the pavement. For years she had been so tranquil, and now suddenly, at the flitting touch of the spirit of spring, she knew that youth was slipping, slipping, and that with youth, went romance, enchantment, adventure. It was slipping from her, and she had never really held it. She had had only the second-rate; she had missed the best always--the best of life, the best of love, the best of endeavour and achievement. She had missed the finer reality. From somewhere, from the past or the present, from the dream or the actuality, her young illusions and her young longings rushed over her, driven by the fragrance of the lilacs, which was stinging her blood into revolt. Only an instant the revolt lasted, but in that instant of vision nothing mattered in life except romance, enchantment, adventure.

"Yes, I've missed life," she thought, and the regret was still in her mind when one of those miracles which in our ignorance we call accidents occurred. Out of the lilac-scented twilight, out of the wild, sweet spirit of spring, a voice said in her ear, "Alice, you waited!"

Turning quickly, she had a vivid impression of height, breadth, bigness, of roughened dark red hair, of gray eyes so clean that they looked 'as if they had been washed by the sea. Then the voice spoke again: "I beg your pardon. It was a mistake." And the next instant she was alone in the street.

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