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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Inside Of The Cup - Volume 4 - Chapter 16. Amid The Encircling Gloom
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The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 4 - Chapter 16. Amid The Encircling Gloom Post by :solidarity Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :May 2012 Read :2343

Click below to download : The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 4 - Chapter 16. Amid The Encircling Gloom (Format : PDF)

The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 4 - Chapter 16. Amid The Encircling Gloom

VOLUME IV CHAPTER XVI. AMID THE ENCIRCLING GLOOM

I

Hodder, in spite of a pressing invitation to remain for supper, had left them together. He turned his face westward, in the opposite direction from the parish house, still under the spell of that moment of communion which had lasted--he knew not how long, a moment of silent revelation to them both. She, too, was storm-tossed! She, too, who had fared forth so gallantly into life, had conquered only to be beaten down--to lose her way.

This discovery strained the very fibres of his being. So close he had been to her--so close that each had felt, simultaneously, complete comprehension of the other, comprehension that defied words, overbore disagreements. He knew that she had felt it. He walked on at first in a bewildered ecstasy, careless of aught else save that in a moment they two had reached out in the darkness and touched hands. Never had his experience known such communion, never had a woman meant what this woman meant, and yet he could not define that meaning. What need of religion, of faith in an unseen order when this existed? To have this woman in the midst of chaos would be enough!

Faith in an unseen order! As he walked, his mind returned to the argument by which he had sought to combat her doubts--and his own. Whence had the argument come? It was new to him--he had never formulated it before--that pity and longing and striving were a justification and a proof. Had she herself inspired, by some unknown psychological law, this first attempt of his to reform the universe, this theory which he had rather spoken than thought? Or had it been the knowledge of her own longing, and his desire to assuage it? As twilight fell, as his spirits ebbed, he could not apply it now--it meant nothing to him, evaded him, there was in it no solace. To regain his footing once more, to climb again without this woman whom he needed, and might not have! Better to fall, to be engulfed... The vision of her, tall and straight, with the roses on her breast, tortured him.

Thus ecstasy ebbed to despondency. He looked around him in the fading day, to find himself opposite the closed gates of the Botanical Gardens, in the southwestern portion of the city.... An hour later he had made his way back to Dalton Street with its sputtering blue lights and gliding figures, and paused for a moment on the far sidewalk to gaze at Mr. Bentley's gleaming windows. Should he go in? Had that personality suddenly lost its power over him? How strange that now he could see nothing glowing, nothing inspiring within that house,--only a kindly old man reading a newspaper!

He walked on, slowly, to feel stealing on him that desperate longing for adventure which he had known so well in his younger days. And he did not resist. The terror with which it had once inspired him was gone, or lingered only in the form of a delicious sense of uncertainty and anticipation. Anything might happen to him--anything would be grateful; the thought of his study in the parish house was unbearable; the Dalton Street which had mocked and repelled him suddenly became alluring with its champaigns of light and inviting stretches of darkness. In the block ahead, rising out of the night like a tower blazing with a hundred beacons, Hodder saw a hotel, heard the faint yet eager throbbing of music, beheld silhouetted figures flitting from automobiles and carriages across the white glare of the pavement,--figures of men and women.

He hastened his steps, the music grew louder and louder in his ears, he gained the ornamental posts crowned by their incandescent globes, made his way through the loiterers, descended the stone steps of the restaurant, and stood staring into it as at a blurred picture. The band crashed a popular two-step above the mingled voices and laughter. He sat down at a vacant table near the door, and presently became aware that a waiter had been for some time at his elbow.

"What will you have, sir?"

Then he remembered that he had not eaten, discovered that he was hungry, and ordered some sandwiches and beer. Still staring, the figures began to differentiate themselves, although they all appeared, somehow, in perpetual motion; hurrying, though seated. It was like gazing at a quivering cinematograph. Here and there ribbons of smoke curled upward, adding volume to the blue cloud that hung over the tables, which in turn was dissipated in spots by the industrious electric fans. Everywhere he looked he met the glances of women; even at the table next him, they were not so absorbed in their escorts as to be able to resist flinging him covert stares between the shrieks of laughter in which they intermittently indulged. The cumulative effect of all these faces was intoxicating, and for a long time he was unable to examine closely any one group. What he saw was a composite woman with flushed cheeks and soliciting eyes, becomingly gowned and hatted--to the masculine judgment. On the walls, heavily frescoed in the German style, he read, in Gothic letters:


"Wer liebt nicht Wein, Weib, and Gesang,
Er bleibt ein Narr sein Leben lang."


The waiter brought the sandwiches and beer, yet he did not eat. In the middle distance certain figures began insistently to stand out,--figures of women sitting alone wherever he looked he met a provoking gaze. One woman, a little farther away than the rest, seemed determinedly bent on getting a nod of recognition, and it was gradually borne in upon Hodder's consciousness that her features were familiar. In avoiding her eyes he studied the men at the next table,--or rather one of them, who loudly ordered the waiters about, who told brief anecdotes that were uproariously applauded; whose pudgy, bejewelled fingers were continually feeling for the bottle in the ice beside his chair, or nudging his companions with easy familiarity; whose little eyes, set in a heavy face, lighted now and again with a certain expression.....

Suddenly Hodder pushed back his chair and got to his feet, overcome by a choking sensation like that of being, asphyxiated by foul gases. He must get out at once, or faint. What he had seen in the man's eyes had aroused in him sheer terror, for it was the image of something in his own soul which had summarily gained supremacy and led him hither, unresisting, to its own abiding-place. In vain he groped to reconstruct the process by which that other spirit--which he would fain have believed his true spirit--had been drugged and deadened in its very flight.

He was aware, as he still stood uncertainly beside the table, of the white-aproned waiter looking at him, and of some one else!--the woman whose eyes had been fastened on him so persistently. She was close beside him, speaking to him.

"Seems to me we've met before."

He looked at her, at first uncomprehendingly, then with a dawning realization of her identity. Even her name came to him, unexpectedly,--Kate Marcy,--the woman in the flat!

"Ain't you going to invite me to have some supper?" she whispered eagerly, furtively, as one accustomed to be rebuffed, yet bold in spite of it. "They'll throw me out if they think I'm accosting you."

How was it that, a moment ago, she had appeared to him mysterious, inviting? At this range he could only see the paint on her cheeks, the shadows under her burning eyes, the shabby finery of her gown. Her wonderful bronze hair only made the contrast more pitiful. He acted automatically, drawing out for her the chair opposite his own, and sat down again.

"Say, but I'm hungry!" she exclaimed, pulling off her gloves. She smiled at him, wanly, yet with a brazen coquettishness become habit.

"Hungry!" he repeated idly.

"I guess you'd be, if you'd only had a fried egg and a cup of coffee to-day, and nothing last night."

He pushed over to her, hastily, with a kind of horror, the plate of sandwiches. She began eating them ravenously; but presently paused, and thrust them back toward him. He shook his head.

"What's the matter with you?" she demanded.

"Nothing," he replied.

"You ordered them, didn't you? Ain't you eating anything?"

"I'm not hungry," he said.

She continued eating awhile without comment. And he watched her as one fascinated, oblivious to his surroundings, in a turmoil of thought and emotion.

"I'm dry," she announced meaningly.

He hesitated a moment, and then gave her the bottle of beer. She made a wry face as she poured it out.

"Have they run out of champagne?" she inquired.

This time he did not hesitate. The women of his acquaintance, at the dinner parties he attended, drank champagne. Why should he refuse it to this woman? A long-nosed, mediaeval-looking waiter was hovering about, one of those bizarre, battered creatures who have long exhausted the surprises of life, presiding over this amazing situation with all the sang froid of a family butler. Hodder told him to bring champagne.

"What kind, sir?" he asked, holding out a card.

"The best you have."

The woman stared at him in wonder.

"You're what an English Johnny I know would call a little bit of all right!" she declared with enthusiastic approval.

"Since you are hungry," he went on, "suppose you have something more substantial than sandwiches. What would you like?"

She did not answer at once. Amazement grew in her eyes, amazement and a kind of fear.

"Quit joshing!" she implored him, and he found it difficult to cope with her style of conversation. For a while she gazed helplessly at the bill of fare.

"I guess you'll think it's funny," she said hesitatingly, "but I feel just like a good beefsteak and potatoes. Bring a thick one, Walter."

The waiter sauntered off.

"Why should I think it strange?" Hodder asked.

"Well, if you knew how many evenings I've sat up there in my room and thought what I'd order if I ever again got hold of some rich guy who'd loosen up. There ain't any use trying to put up a bluff with you. Nothing was too good for me once, caviar, pate de foie gras" (her pronunciation is not to be imitated), "chicken casserole, peach Melba, filet of beef with mushrooms,--I've had 'em all, and I used to sit up and say I'd hand out an order like that. You never do what you think you're going to do in this life."

The truth of this remark struck him with a force she did not suspect; stung him, as it were, into a sense of reality.

"And now," she added pathetically, "all t want is a beefsteak! Don't that beat you?"

She appeared so genuinely surprised at this somewhat contemptible trick fate had played her that Hodder smiled in spite of himself.

"I didn't recognize you at first in that get-up," she observed, looking at his blue serge suit. "So you've dropped the preacher business, have you? You're wise, all right."

"Why do you say that?" he asked.

"Didn't I tell you when you came 'round that time that you weren't like the rest of 'em? You're too human."

Once more the word, and on her lips, startled him.

"Some of the best men I have ever known, the broadest and most understanding men, have been clergymen," he found himself protesting.

"Well, they haven't dropped in on me. The only one I ever saw that measured up to something like that was you, and now you've chucked it."

Had he, as she expressed the matter, "chucked it"? Her remark brought him reluctantly, fearfully, remorselessly--agitated and unprepared as he was--face to face with his future.

"You were too good for the job," she declared. "What is there in it? There ain't nobody converted these days that I can see, and what's the use of gettin' up and preach into a lot of sapheads that don't know what religion is? Sure they don't."

"Do you?" he asked.

"You've called my bluff." She laughed. "Say, do YOU? If there was anything in it you'd have kept on preachin' to that bunch and made some of 'em believe they was headed for hell; you'd have made one of 'em that owns the flat house I live in, who gets fancy rents out of us poor girls, give it up. That's a nice kind of business for a church member, ain't it?"

"Owns the house in which you live!"

"Sure." She smiled at him compassionately, pitying his innocence and ignorance. "Now I come to think of it, I guess he don't go to your church,--it's the big Baptist church on the boulevard. But what's the difference?"

"None," said Hodder, despondently.

She regarded him curiously.

"You remember when you dropped in that night, when the kid was sick?"

He nodded.

"Well, now you ain't in the business any more, I may as well tell you you kind of got in on me. I was sorry for you--honest, I was. I couldn't believe at first you was on the level, but it didn't take me long to see that they had gold-bricked you, too. I saw you weren't wise to what they were."

"You thought--" he began and paused dumfounded.

"Why not?" she retorted. "It looked easy to me,--your line. How was I to know at first that they had you fooled? How was I to know you wasn't in the game?"

"The game?"

"Say, what else is it but a game? You must be on now, ain't you? Why. do they put up to keep the churches going? There ain't any coupons coming out of 'em.

"Maybe some of these millionaires think they can play all the horses and win,--get into heaven and sell gold bricks on the side. But I guess most of 'em don't think about heaven. They just use the church for a front, and take in strangers in the back alley,--downtown."

Hodder was silent, overwhelmed by the brutal aptness of her figures. Nor did he take the trouble of a defence, of pointing out that hers was not the whole truth. What really mattered--he saw--was what she and those like her thought. Such minds were not to be disabused by argument; and indeed he had little inclination for it then.

"There's nothing in it."

By this expression he gathered she meant life. And some hidden impulse bade him smile at her.

"There is this," he answered.

She opened her mouth, closed it and stared at him, struck by his expression, striving uneasily to fathom hidden depths in his remark.

"I don't get on to you," she said lamely. "I didn't that other time. I never ran across anybody like you."

He tried to smile again.

"You mustn't mind me," he answered.

They fell into an oasis of silence, surrounded by mad music and laughter. Then came the long-nosed waiter carrying the beefsteak aloft, followed by a lad with a bucket of ice, from which protruded the green and gold neck of a bottle. The plates were put down, the beefsteak carved, the champagne opened and poured out with a flourish. The woman raised her glass.

"Here's how!" she said, with an attempt at gayety. And she drank to him. "It's funny how I ran across you again, ain't it?" She threw back her head and laughed.

He raised his glass, tasted the wine, and put it down again. A sheet of fire swept through him.

"What's the matter with it? Is it corked?" she demanded. "It goes to the right spot with me."

"It seems very good," he said, trying to smile, and turning to the food on his plate. The very idea of eating revolted him--and yet he made the attempt: he had a feeling, ill defined, that consequences of vital importance depended upon this attempt, on his natural acceptance of the situation. And, while he strove to reduce the contents of his plate, he racked his brain for some subject of conversation. The flamboyant walls of the room pressed in on every side; comment of that which lay within their limits was impossible,--but he could not, somehow, get beyond them. Was there in the whole range of life one easy topic which they might share in common? Yet a bond existed between this woman and himself--a bond of which he now became aware, and which seemed strangely to grow stronger as the minutes passed and no words were spoken. Why was it that she, too, to whom speech came so easily, had fallen dumb? He began to long for some remark, however disconcerting. The tension increased.

She put down her knife and fork. Tears sprang into her eyes,--tears of anger, he thought.

"Say, it's no use trying to put up a bluff with me," she cried.

"Why do you say that?" he asked.

"You know what I mean, all right. What did you come in here for, anyway?"

"I don't know--I couldn't tell you," he answered.

The very honesty of his words seemed, for an instant, to disconcert her; and she produced a torn lace handkerchief, which she thrust in her eyes.

"Why can't you leave me alone?" she demanded. "I'm all right."

If he did not at once reply, it was because of some inner change which had taken place in himself; and he seemed to see things, suddenly, in their true proportions. He no longer feared a scene and its consequences. By virtue of something he had cast off or taken on, he was aware of a newly acquired mastery of the situation, and by a hidden and unconscious process he had managed to get at the real woman behind the paint: had beaten down, as it were without a siege, her defences. And he was incomparably awed by the sight of her quivering, frightened self.

Her weeping grew more violent. He saw the people at the next table turn and stare, heard the men laughing harshly. For the spectacle was evidently not an uncommon one here. She pushed away her unfinished glass, gathered up her velvet bag and rose abruptly.

"I guess I ain't hungry after all," she said, and started toward the door. He turned to the waiter, who regarded him unmoved, and asked for a check.

"I'll get it," he said.

Hodder drew out a ten dollar bill, and told him to keep the change. The waiter looked at him. Some impulse moved him to remark, as he picked up the rector's hat:

"Don't let her put it over you, sir."

Hodder scarcely heard him. He hurried up the steps and gained the pavement, and somewhere in the black shadows beyond the arc-lights he saw her disappearing down the street. Careless of all comment he hastened on, overtook her, and they walked rapidly side by side. Now and again he heard a sob, but she said nothing. Thus they came to the house where the Garvins had lived, and passed it, and stopped in front of the dimly lighted vestibule of the flats next door. In drawing the key from her bag she dropped it: he picked it up and put it in the lock himself. She led the way without comment up the darkened stairs, and on the landing produced another key, opened the door of her rooms, fumbled for the electric button, and suddenly the place was flooded with light. He glanced in, and recoiled.

II

Oddly enough, the first thing he noticed in the confusion that reigned was the absence of the piano. Two chairs were overturned, and one of them was broken; a siphon of vichy lay on the floor beside a crushed glass and two or three of the cheap ornaments that had been swept off the mantel and broken on the gaudy tiles of the hearth. He glanced at the woman, who had ceased crying, and stood surveying the wreckage with the calmness, the philosophic nonchalance of a class that comes to look upon misfortune as inevitable.

"They didn't do a thing to this place, did they?" was her comment. "There was two guys in here to-night who got a notion they were funny."

Hodder had thought to have fathomed all the horrors of her existence, but it was not until he looked into this room that the bottomless depths of it were brought home to him. Could it be possible that the civilization in which he lived left any human being so defenceless as to be at the mercy of the ghouls who had been here? The very stale odours of the spilled whiskey seemed the material expression of the essence of degraded souls; for a moment it overpowered him. Then came the imperative need of action, and he began to right one of the chairs. She darted forward.

"Cut it out!" she cried. "What business have you got coming in here and straightening up? I was a fool to bring you, anyway."

It was in her eyes that he read her meaning, and yet could not credit it. He was abashed--ashamed; nay, he could not define the feeling in his breast. He knew that what he read was the true interpretation of her speech, for in some manner--he guessed not how--she had begun to idealize him, to feel that the touch of these things defiled him.

"I believe I invited myself," he answered, with attempted cheerfulness. Then it struck him, in his predicament, that this was precisely what others had done!

"When you asked me a little while ago whether I had left the Church, I let you think I had. I am still connected with St. John's, but I do not know how long I shall continue to be."

She was on her knees with dustpan and whiskbroom, cleaning up the fragments of glass on the stained carpet. And she glanced up at him swiftly, diviningly.

"Say--you're in trouble yourself, ain't you?"

She got up impulsively, spilling some of the contents of the pan. A subtle change had come in her, and under the gallantly drooping feathers of her hat he caught her eye--the human eye that so marvellously reflects the phases of the human soul: the eye which so short a time before hardily and brazenly had flashed forth its invitation, now actually shone with fellowship and sympathy. And for a moment this look was more startling, more appalling than the other; he shrank from it, resented it even more. Was it true that they had something in common? And if so, was it sin or sorrow, or both?

"I might have known," she said, staring at him. In spite of his gesture of dissent, he saw that she was going over the events of the evening from her new point of view.

"I might have known, when we were sitting there in Harrods, that you were up against it, too, but I couldn't think of anything but the way I was fixed. The agent's been here twice this week for the rent, and I was kind of desperate for a square meal."

Hodder took the dustpan from her hand, and flung its contents into the fireplace.

"Then we are both fortunate," he said, "to have met each other."

"I don't see where you come in," she told him.

He turned and smiled at her.

"Do you remember when I was here that evening about two months ago I said I should like to be your friend? Well, I meant it. And I have often hoped, since then, that some circumstance might bring us together again. You seemed to think that no friendship was possible between us, but I have tried to make myself believe that you said so because you didn't know me."

"Honest to God?" she asked. "Is that on the level?"

"I only ask for an opportunity to prove it," he replied, striving to speak naturally. He stooped and laid the dustpan on the hearth. "There! Now let's sit down."

She sank on the sofa, her breast rising and falling, her gaze dumbly fixed on him, as one under hypnosis. He took the rocker.

"I have wanted to tell you how grateful Mrs. Garvin, the boy's mother--was for the roses you brought. She doesn't know who sent them, but I intend to tell her, and she will thank you herself. She is living out in the country. And the boy--you would scarcely recognize him."

"I couldn't play the piano for a week after--that thing happened." She glanced at the space where the instrument had stood.

"You taught yourself to play?" he asked.

"I had music lessons."

"Music lessons?"

"Not here--before I left home--up the State, in a little country town,--Madison. It seems like a long time ago, but it's only seven years in September. Mother and father wanted all of us children to know a little more than they did, and I guess they pinched a good deal to give us a chance. I went a year to the high school, and then I was all for coming to the city--I couldn't stand Madison, there wasn't anything going on. Mother was against it,--said I was too good-looking to leave home. I wish I never had. You wouldn't believe I was good-looking once, would you?"

She spoke dispassionately, not seeming to expect assent, but Hodder glanced involuntarily at her wonderful crown of hair. She had taken off her hat. He was thinking of the typical crime of American parents,--and suddenly it struck him that her speech had changed, that she had dropped the suggestive slang of the surroundings in which she now lived.

"I was a fool to come, but I couldn't see it then. All I could think of was to get away to a place where something was happening. I wanted to get into Ferguson's--everybody in Madison knew about Ferguson's, what a grand store it was,--but I couldn't. And after a while I got a place at the embroidery counter at Pratt's. That's a department store, too, you know. It looked fine, but it wasn't long before I fell wise to a few things." (She relapsed into slang occasionally.) "Have you ever tried to stand on your feet for nine hours, where you couldn't sit down for a minute? Say, when Florry Kinsley and me--she was the girl I roomed with--would get home at night, often we'd just lie down and laugh and cry, we were so tired, and our feet hurt so. We were too used up sometimes to get up and cook supper on the little stove we had. And sitting around a back bedroom all evening was worse than Madison. We'd go out, tired as we were, and walk the streets."

He nodded, impressed by the fact that she did not seem to be appealing to his sympathy. Nor, indeed, did she appear--in thus picking up the threads of her past--to be consciously accounting for her present. She recognized no causation there.

"Say, did you ever get to a place where you just had to have something happen? When you couldn't stand bein' lonely night after night, when you went out on the streets and saw everybody on the way to a good time but you? We used to look in the newspapers for notices of the big balls, and we'd take the cars to the West End and stand outside the awnings watching the carriages driving up and the people coming in. And the same with the weddings. We got to know a good many of the swells by sight. There was Mrs. Larrabbee,"--a certain awe crept into her voice--"and Miss Ferguson--she's sweet--and a lot more. Some of the girls used to copy their clothes and hats, but Florry and me tried to live honest. It was funny," she added irrelevantly, "but the more worn out we were at night, the more we'd want a little excitement, and we used to go to the dance-halls and keep going until we were ready to drop."

She laughed at the recollection.

"There was a floorwalker who never let me alone the whole time I was at Pratt's--he put me in mind of a pallbearer. His name was Selkirk, and he had a family in Westerly, out on the Grade Suburban.... Some of the girls never came back at all, except to swagger in and buy expensive things, and tell us we were fools to work. And after a while I noticed Florry was getting discouraged. We never had so much as a nickel left over on Saturdays and they made us sign a paper, when they hired us, that we lived at home. It was their excuse for paying us six dollars a week. They do it at Ferguson's, too. They say they can get plenty of girls who do live at home. I made up my mind I'd go back to Madison, but I kept putting it off, and then father died, and I couldn't!

"And then, one day, Florry left. She took her things from the room when I was at the store, and I never saw her again. I got another roommate. I couldn't afford to pay for the room alone. You wouldn't believe I kept straight, would you?" she demanded, with a touch of her former defiance. "I had plenty of chances better than that floorwalker. But I knew I was good looking, and I thought if I could only hold out I might get married to some fellow who was well fixed. What's the matter?"

Hodder's exclamation had been involuntary, for in these last words she had unconsciously brought home to him the relentless predicament in the lives of these women. She had been saving herself--for what? A more advantageous, sale!

"It's always been my luck," she went on reflectingly, "that when what I wanted to happen did happen, I never could take advantage of it. It was just like that to-night, when you handed me out the bill of fare, and I ordered beefsteak. And it was like that when--when he came along--I didn't do what I thought I was going to do. It's terrible to fall in love, isn't it? I mean the real thing. I've read in books that it only comes once, and I guess it's so."

Fortunately she seemed to expect no answer to this query. She was staring at the wall with unseeing eyes.

"I never thought of marrying him, from the first. He could have done anything with me--he was so good and generous--and it was him I was thinking about. That's love, isn't it? Maybe you don't believe a woman like me knows what love is. You've got a notion that goin' downhill, as I've been doing, kills it, haven't you? I Wish to God it did--but it don't: the ache's there, and sometimes it comes in the daytime, and sometimes at night, and I think I'll go crazy. When a woman like me is in love there isn't anything more terrible on earth, I tell you. If a girl's respectable and good it's bad enough, God knows, if she can't have the man she wants; but when she's like me--it's hell. That's the only way I can describe it. She feels there is nothing about her that's clean, that he wouldn't despise. There's many a night I wished I could have done what Garvin did, but I didn't have the nerve."

"Don't say that!" he commanded sharply.

"Why not? It's the best way out."

"I can see how one might believe it to be," he answered. Indeed, it seemed that his vision had been infinitely extended, that he had suddenly come into possession of the solution of all the bewildered, despairing gropings of the human soul. Only awhile ago, for instance, the mood of self-destruction had been beyond his imagination: tonight he understood it, though he still looked upon it with horror. And he saw that his understanding of her--or of any human being--could never be of the intellect. He had entered into one of those astounding yet simple relationships wherein truth, and truth alone, is possible. He knew that such women lied, deceived themselves; he could well conceive that the image of this first lover might have become idealized in her vicissitudes; that the memories of the creature-comforts, of first passion, might have enhanced as the victim sank. It was not only because she did not attempt to palliate that he believed her.

"I remember the time I met him,--it was only four years ago last spring, but it seems like a lifetime. It was Decoration Day, and it was so beautiful I went out with another girl to the Park, and we sat on the grass and looked at the sky and wished we lived in the country. He was in an automobile; I never did know exactly how it happened,--we looked at each other, and he slowed up and came back and asked us to take a ride. I had never been in one of those things--but that wasn't why I went, I guess. Well, the rest was easy. He lost his head, and I was just as bad. You wouldn't believe me if I told you how rich he was: it scared me when I found out about him, and he was so handsome and full of fun and spirits, and generous! I never knew anybody like him. Honest, I never expected he'd want to marry me. He didn't at first,--it was only after a while. I never asked him to, and when he began to talk about it I told him it would cut him off from his swell friends, and I knew his father might turn him loose. Oh, it wasn't the money! Well, he'd get mad all through, and say he never got along with the old man, and that his friends would have to take me, and he couldn't live without me. He said he would have me educated, and bought me books, and I tried to read them. I'd have done anything for him. He'd knocked around a good deal since he'd been to Harvard College,--he wasn't what you'd call a saint, but his heart was all right. And he changed, too, I could see it. He said he was going to make something out of himself.

"I didn't think it was possible to be so happy, but I had a feeling all along, inside of me, that it couldn't come off. I had a little flat in Rutger Street, over on the south side, and everything in the world I wanted. Well, one day, sure enough, the bell rang and I opened the door, and there stood a man with side whiskers staring at me, and staring until I was frightened to death. I never saw such eyes as he had. And all of a sudden I knew it was his father.

"'Is this Miss Marcy?'" he said.

"I couldn't say anything at all, but he handed me his card and smiled, I'll never forget how he smiled--and came right in and sat down. I'd heard of that man all my life, and how much money he'd made, and all that. Why, up in Madison folks used to talk about him--" she checked herself suddenly and stared at Hodder in consternation. "Maybe you know him!" she exclaimed. "I never thought!"

"Maybe I do," he assented wearily. In the past few moments suspicion had become conviction.

"Well--what difference does it make--now? It's all over, and I'm not going to bother him. I made up my mind I wouldn't, on account of him, you understand. I never fell that low--thank God!"

Hodder nodded. He could not speak.... The woman seemed to be living over again that scene, in her imagination.

"I just couldn't realize who it was sitting there beside me, but if I hadn't known it wouldn't have made any difference. He could have done anything with me, anyway, and he knew how to get at me. He said, now that he'd seen me, that he was sure I was a good girl at the bottom and loved his son, and that I wouldn't want to ruin the boy when he had such a big future ahead of him. I wouldn't have thought, to look at the man, that he could have been so gentle. I made a fool of myself and cried, and told him I'd go away and never see his son any more--that I'd always been against marrying him. Well, he almost had tears in his eyes when he thanked me and said I'd never regret it, and he pulled an envelope out of his pocket. I said I wouldn't take any money, and gave it back to him. I've always been sorry since that I didn't make him take it back--it never did anything but harm to me. But he had his way. He laid it on the table and said he wouldn't feel right, and took my hand--and I just didn't care.

"Well, what do you think I did after he'd gone? I went and played a piece on the piano,--and I never can bear to hear that ragtime to this day. I couldn't seem to feel anything. And after a while I got up and opened the envelope--it was full of crackly new hundred dollar bills--thirty of 'em, and as I sat there staring at 'em the pain came on, like a toothache, in throbs, getting worse all the time until I just couldn't stand it. I had a notion of sending the money back even then, but I didn't. I didn't know how to do it,--and as I told you, I wasn't able to care much. Then I remembered I'd promised to go away, and I had to have some money for that, and if I didn't leave right off I wouldn't have the strength to do it. I hadn't even thought where to go: I couldn't think, so I got dressed and went down to the depot anyway. It was one of those bright, bitter cold winter days after a thaw when the icicles are hanging everywhere. I went inside and walked up and down that long platform under the glass roof. My, it was cold in there! I looked over all the signs, and made up my mind I'd go to Chicago.

"I meant to work, I never meant to spend the money, but to send it back. I'd put it aside--and then I'd go and take a little. Say, it was easy not to work--and I didn't care what happened to me as long as I wasn't going to see him again. Well, I'm not trying to smooth it over, I suppose there was something crooked about me from the start, but I just went clean to hell with that money, and when I heard he'd gone away, I came back here."

"Something crooked!" The words rang in Hodder's ears, in his very soul. How was he or any man to estimate, to unravel the justice from the injustice, to pass upon the merit of this woman's punishment? Here again, in this vitiated life, was only to be seen the remorseless working of law--cause and effect. Crooked! Had not the tree been crooked from the beginning--incapable of being straightened? She had herself naively confessed it. Was not the twist ingrained? And if so, where was the salvation he had preached? There was good in her still,--but what was "good"?... He took no account of his profound compassion.

What comfort could he give her, what hope could he hold out that the twist, now gnarled and knotted, might be removed, that she might gain peace of soul and body and the "happiness" of which he had talked with Alison Parr?... He raised his eyes, to discover that the woman's were fixed upon him, questioningly.

"I suppose I was a fool to tell you," she said, with a shade of her old bitterness; "it can't do any good." Her next remark was startlingly astute. "You've found out for yourself, I guess, that all this talk about heaven and hell and repentance don't amount to anything. Hell couldn't be any worse than I've been through, no matter how hot it is. And heaven!" She laughed, burst into tears, and quickly dried them. "You know the man I've been talking about, that bought me off. I didn't intend to tell you, but I see you can't help knowing--Eldon Parr. I don't say he didn't do right from his way of looking at things,--but say, it wasn't exactly Christian, was it?"

"No," he said, "it wasn't." He bowed his head, and presently, when he raised it again, he caught something in her look that puzzled and disturbed him--an element of adoration.

"You're white through and through," she said, slowly and distinctly.

And he knew not how to protest.

"I'll tell you something," she went on, as one who has made a discovery. "I liked you the first time you came in here--that night--when you wanted me to be friends; well, there was something that seemed to make it impossible then. I felt it, if you didn't." She groped for words. "I can't explain what it was, but now it's gone. You're different. I think a lot more of you. Maybe it's because of what you did at Harrod's, sitting down with me and giving me supper when I was so hungry, and the champagne. You weren't ashamed of me."

"Good God, why should I have been!" he exclaimed.

"You! Why shouldn't you?" she cried fiercely.

"There's hardly a man in that place that wouldn't have been. They all know me by sight--and some of 'em better. You didn't see 'em grinning when I came up to you, but I did. My God--it's awful--it's awful I...." She burst into violent weeping, long deferred.

He took her hand in his, and did not speak, waiting for the fit to spend itself.... And after a while the convulsive shudders that shook her gradually ceased.

"You must trust me," he said. "The first thing tomorrow I'm going to make arrangements for you to get out of these rooms. You can't stay here any longer."

"That's sure," she answered, trying to smile. "I'm broke. I even owe the co--the policeman."

"The policeman!"

"He has to turn it in to Tom Beatty and the politicians"

Beatty! Where had he heard the name? Suddenly it came to him that Beatty was the city boss, who had been eulogized by Mr. Plimpton!

"I have some good friends who will be glad to help you to get work--and until you do get work. You will have to fight--but we all have to fight. Will you try?"

"Sure, I'll try," she answered, in a low voice.

Her very tone of submission troubled him. And he had a feeling that, if he had demanded, she would have acquiesced in anything.

"We'll talk it over to-morrow," he went on, clinging to his note of optimism. "We'll find out what you can do easiest, to begin with."

"I might give music lessons," she suggested.

The remark increased his uneasiness, for he recognized in it a sure symptom of disease--a relapse into what might almost have been called levity, blindness to the supreme tragedy of her life which but a moment before had shaken and appalled her. He shook his head bravely.

"I'm afraid that wouldn't do--at first."

She rose and went into the other room, returning in a few moments with a work basket, from which she drew a soiled and unfinished piece of embroidery.

"There's a bureau cover I started when I was at Pratt's," she said, as she straightened it over her knees. "It's a copy of an expensive one. I never had the patience to finish it, but one of the sales-ladies there, who was an expert, told me it was pretty good: She taught me the stitch, and I had a notion at that time I might make a little money for dresses and the theatre. I was always clever with my hands."

"The very thing!" he said, with hopeful emphasis. "I'm sure I can get you plenty of it to do. And I'll come back in the morning."

He gave it back to her, and as she was folding it his glance fell on a photograph in the basket.

"I kept it, I don't know why," he heard her say; "I didn't have the heart to burn it."

He started recovered himself, and rose.

"I'll go to see the agent the first thing to-morrow," he said. "And then--you'll be ready for me? You trust me?"

"I'd do anything for you," was her tremulous reply.

Her disquieting, submissive smile haunted him as he roped his way down the stairs to the street, and then the face in the photograph replaced it--the laughing eyes, the wilful, pleasure--loving mouth he had seen in the school and college pictures of Preston Parr.

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