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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 3. Work
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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 3. Work Post by :mondd Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :1999

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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 3. Work


They had planned the future so carefully that there was a pitiless irony in the next turn of the screw--for when they tried to awaken Archibald Fowler in the morning, he did not stir, and they realized presently, with the rebellious shock such tragedies always bring, that he had died in the night--that all that he had stood for, the more than thirty years of work and struggle, had collapsed in an hour. When the first grief, the first excitement, was over, and life began to flow quietly again in its familiar currents, it was discovered that the crash of his fortune had occurred on the day of his son's flight and disgrace, and that the two shocks, coming together, had killed him. While they sat in the darkened house, surrounded by the funereal smell of crape, the practical details of living seemed to matter so little that they scarcely gave them a thought. Not until weeks afterwards, when Patty and Billy had sailed for France, and Mrs. Fowler, shrouded in widow's weeds, had gone South to her old home, did Gabriella find strength to tear aside the veil of mourning and confront the sordid actuality. Then she found that the crash had buried everything under the ruins of Archibald Fowler's prosperity--that nothing remained except a bare pittance which would insure his widow only a scant living on the impoverished family acres. For the rest there was nothing, and she herself was as poor as she had been in Hill Street before her marriage.

Walking back from the station after bidding her mother-in-law a tearful and tender good-bye, she tried despairingly to gather her scattered thoughts and summon all her failing resources; but in front of her plans there floated always the pathetic brightness of Mrs. Fowler's eyes gazing up at her from the heavy shadow of the crape veil she had lifted. So that was the end--a little love, a little hope, a little happiness, and then separation and death. Effort appeared not only futile, but fantastic, and yet effort, she knew, must be made if she were to ward off destitution. She must recover her cheerfulness, she must be strong, she must be confident. Alone, penniless, with two children to support, she could not afford to waste her time and her energy in useless regret. Whatever it cost her, she must keep alive her fighting courage and her belief in life. She had youth, health, strength, intelligence, resourcefulness on her side; and she told herself again that there were thousands of women living and fighting around her who were far worse off than she. "What others have done, I can do also, and do better," she murmured aloud as she walked rapidly back to Dinard's.

In the long front room the crowded mid-winter sale was in progress, and the six arrogant young women, goaded into a fleeting semblance of activity, were displaying dilapidated "left over" millinery to a throng of unfashionable casual customers. Madame, herself, scorned these casual customers, but her scorn was as water unto wine compared with the burning disdain of the six arrogant young women. They sauntered to and fro with their satin trains trailing elegantly over the carpet, with their fashionable curves accentuated as much as it was possible for pride to accentuate them, with their condescending heads turning haughtily above the high points of their collars. As Gabriella entered she saw the tallest and the most scornful of them, whose name was Murphy, insolently posing in the green velvet toque before a jaded hunter of reduced millinery, who shook her plain, sensible head at the hat as if she wished it to understand that she heartily disapproved of it.

Madame was not visible, but Gabriella found her a little later in the workroom, where she was volubly elucidating obscure points in business morality to the forewoman. Of all the women employed in the house, this particular forewoman was the only one who appeared to Gabriella to be without pretence or affectation. She was an honest, blunt, capable creature, with a face and figure which permanently debarred her from the showrooms, and a painstaking method of work. There was no haughtiness, no condescension, about her. She had the manner of one who, being without fortuitous aids to happiness, is willing to give good measure of ability and industry in return for the bare necessaries of existence. "She is the only genuine thing in the whole establishment," thought Gabriella while she watched her.

If Miss Smith, the forewoman, had been in ignorance of the failure and death of Archibald Fowler, she would probably have read the announcement in Madame's face as she watched her welcome the wife of his son. There was nothing offensive, nothing unkind, nothing curt; but, in some subtle way, the difference was emphasized between the eccentric daughter-in-law of a millionaire and an inexperienced young woman who must work for her living. For the welcome revealed at once to the observant eyes of Miss Smith the significant detail that Madame's role had changed from the benefited to the benefactor. And, as if this were not enough for one morning's developments, it revealed also that Gabriella's fictitious value as a saleswoman was beginning to decline; for Madame was disposed to scorn the sort of sensational advertisement which the newspapers had devoted of late to the unfortunate Fowlers. At one moment there had been grave doubt in Madame's mind as to whether or not she should employ young Mrs. Fowler in her respectable house; then, after a brief hesitation, she had shrewdly decided that ideas were worth something even when lacking the support of social position and financial security. There were undoubtedly possibilities in Gabriella; and disgrace, Madame concluded cheerfully, could not take away either one's natural talent or one's aristocratic appearance. That the girl had distinction, even rare distinction, Madame admitted while she nodded approvingly at the severe black cloth gown with its collar and cuffs of fine white crape. The simple arrangement of her hair, which would have ruined many a pretty face, suited the ivory pallor of Gabriella's features. Mourning was becoming to her, Madame decided, and though she was not beautiful, she was unusually charming.

"She has few good points except her figure, and yet the whole is decidedly picturesque," thought Madame as impersonally as if she were criticising a fashion plate. "Very young men would hardly care for her--for very young men demand fine complexions and straight noses--but with older men who like an air, who admire grace, she would be taking, and women, yes, women would undoubtedly find her imposing. But she is not the sort to have followers," she concluded complacently.

"Shall I go to the workroom?" asked Gabriella in a businesslike voice when she had taken off her hat, "or do you wish me at the sale?"

Her soul shrank from the showrooms, but she had determined courageously that she would not allow her soul to interfere with her material purpose, and her purpose was to learn all that she could and to make herself indispensable to Madame. Only by acquiring a thorough knowledge of the business and making herself indispensable could she hope to succeed. And success was not merely desirable to her; it was vital. It meant the difference between food and hunger for her children.

"Miss Smith will find something for you to do this morning," replied Madame, politely, but without enthusiasm. "If there is a rush later on in the millinery, I will send for you to help out."

In the old days, when Dinard's was a small and exclusive house in one of the blocks just off Fifth Avenue, Madame would have scorned to combine the making of gowns and hats in a single establishment; but as she advanced in years and in worldly experience, she discovered that millinery drew the unwary passer-by even more successfully than dressmaking did. Then, too, hats were easy to handle; they sold for at least four or five times as much as they actually cost; and so, gradually, while she was still unaware of the disintegrating processes within, Madame's principles had crumbled before the temptation of increasing profits. A lapse of virtue, perhaps, but Madame, who had been born an O'Grady, was not the first to discover that one's virtuous principles are apt to modify with one's years. The time was when she had despised false hair, having a natural wealth of her own, and now, with a few thin gray strands hidden under her golden wig, she had become morally reconciled to necessity. "It is a hard world, and one lives as one must," was her favourite maxim.

On the whole, however, having a philosophic bent of mind, she endeavoured to preserve, with rosy cheeks and golden hair, several other cheerful fictions of her youth. The chief of these, the artless delusion that, in spite of her obesity, her wig and her rouge, she still had power to charm the masculine eye, offered to her lively nature a more effective support than any virtuous principle could have supplied. A perennial, if ridiculous, coquetry sweetened her days and added sprightliness to the gay decline of her life. Being frankly material, she had confined her energies to the two unending pursuits of men and money, and having captured four husbands and acquired a comfortable bank account, she might have been content, had she been as discreet as she was provident, to rest on her substantial achievements. But the trouble with both men and money, when considered solely as rewards to enterprise, is that the quest of them is inexhaustible. One's income, however large, may reasonably become larger, and there is no limit to the number of husbands a prudent and fortunate woman may collect. And so age, which is, after all, a state of mind, not a term of years, was rendered harmless to Madame by her simple plan of refusing to acknowledge that it existed. This came of keeping one's head, she sometimes thought, though she never put her thought into words--this and all things else, including financial security and the perpetual pursuit of the elusive and lawless male. For at sixty-two she still felt young and she believed herself to be fascinating.

But Gabriella, patiently stitching bias velvet bands on the brim of a straw hat for the early spring trade, felt that she was sustained neither by the pleasures of vanity nor by the sounder consolations of virtue. Her philosophy was quite as simple, if not so material, as Madame's. Human nature was divided between the victors and the victims, and the chief thing was not to let oneself become a victim. Her theory, like those of greater philosophers, was rooted not in reason, but in character, and she believed in life with all the sanguine richness of her blood. Of course it was a struggle, but she was one of those vital women who enjoy a struggle--who choose any aspect of life in preference to the condition of vegetative serenity. Unhappiness, which is so largely a point of view, an attitude of mind, had passed over her at a time when many women would have been consecrated to inconsolable misery. She was penniless, she was unloved, she was deserted by her husband, she had lost, in a few weeks, her friends, her home, and her family, and she faced the future alone, except for her dependent and helpless children--yet in spite of these things, though she was thoughtful, worried, and often anxious, she realized that deep down in her the essential core of her being was not unhappy. When she had tried and failed, and lost her health and her children--if such sorrows ever came to her, then there would be time enough for unhappiness. Now, she was only twenty-seven; the rich, wonderful world surrounded her; and this world, even if she put love out of her life, was brimming over with beauty. It was good to be alive; it was good to watch the crowd in the street, to see the sunlight on the pavement, to taste the air, to feel the murmurous currents of the city flow around her as she walked home in the twilight. It was good to earn her bread and to go back in the evening to the joyful shouts of two well and happy children. She saw it all as an adventure--the whole of life--and the imperative necessity was to keep to the last the ardent heart of the true adventurer. While she stitched with flying fingers, there passed before her the pale sad line of the victims--of those who had resigned themselves to unhappiness. She saw her mother, anxious, pensive, ineffectual, with her widow's veil, her drooping eyelids, and her look of mournful acquiescence, as of one who had grown old expecting the worst of life; she saw poor Jane, tragic, martyred, with the feeble virtue and the cloying sweetness of all the poor Janes of this world; and she saw Uncle Meriweather wearing his expression of worried and resentful helplessness, as if he had been swept onward against his will by forces which he did not understand. All these people were victims, and from these people she had sprung. Their blood was her blood; their traditions were her traditions; their religion was her religion; even their memories were her memories. But something else, which was not theirs, was in her nature, and this something else had been born in the instant when she revolted against them. Perhaps the fighting spirit of her father--of that father who had gone out like a flame in his youth had battled on her side when she had turned against the inertia and decay which had walled in her girlhood.

In the afternoon Madame summoned her into the showrooms, and she assisted the exhausted young women at the sale of slightly damaged French hats to the unfashionable purchasers who preferred to pay reasonable prices. While she served them, which she did with a cheerfulness, an interest, and an amiability that distinguished her from the other saleswomen, she wondered how they could have so little common sense as to allow themselves to be deluded by the French labels on the soiled linings? She could have made a better hat in two hours than any one of those she sold at the reduced price of ten dollars; yet even the dingiest of them at last found a purchaser, and she saw the green velvet toque, which had been rejected by the sensible middle-aged woman in the morning, finally pass into the possession of a hard-featured spinster. What amazed her, for she had a natural talent for dress, was the infallible instinct which guided the vast majority of these customers to the selection of the inappropriate. A few of them had taste, or had learned from experience what they could not wear; but by far the larger number displayed an ignorance of the most elementary principles of dress which shocked and astonished Gabriella. The obese and middle-aged winged straight as a bird toward the coquettish in millinery; the lean and haggard intuitively yearned for the picturesque; the harsh and simple aspired to the severely smart. Yet beneath the vain misdirection of impulses there was some obscure principle of attraction which ruled the absurdity of the decisions. Each woman, Gabriella discovered after an attentive hour at the sale, was dressing not her actual substance, but some passionately cherished ideal of herself which she had stored in a remote and inaccessible chamber of her brain.

In all of the tedious selections Gabriella assisted with the pleasant voice, the ready sympathy, and the quick understanding which had made her so popular when she had worked for the old shop in Broad Street. The truth was that human nature interested her even in its errors, and her pleasant manners were simply the outward manifestation of an unaffected benevolence.

"I shouldn't mind going there if they were all like that one," remarked a customer, who had bought three hats, in the hearing of Madame as she went out; "but some of them are so disagreeable you feel like slapping their faces. Once last winter I had that tall girl with red hair--the handsome, stuck-up one, you know--and I declare she was so downright impertinent that I got straight up and walked out without buying a thing. Then I was so angry that I went down to Paula's and paid seventy-five dollars for this hat I've got on. It was a dreadful price, of course, but you'll do anything when you're in a rage."

"Do you know the name of this one? I'd like to remember it."

"Yes, it's Carr. I asked for her card. C-a-r-r. I think she's a widow."

From her retreat behind one of the velvet curtains Madame overheard this conversation, and a few minutes later she stopped Gabriella on her way out, and said amiably that it would not be necessary for her to leave the showroom to-morrow.

"I believe you can do better there than in the workroom," she added, "and, after all, that is really very important--to tell people what they want. It is astounding how few of them have the slightest idea what they are looking for."

"But I want to get that hat right. I left it unfinished, and I don't like to give up while it is wrong," replied Gabriella, not wholly pleased by the command.

But Madame, of a flightier substance notwithstanding her business talents, waved aside the remark as insignificant and without bearing upon her immediate purpose.

"I am going to try you with the gowns," she said resolutely; "I want to see if you catch on there as quickly as you did with the hats--I mean with the sale, of course, for your work, I'm sorry to say, has been rather poor so far. But I'll try you with the next customer who comes to place a large order. They are always so eager for new suggestions, and you have suggestions of a sort to make, I am sure. I can't quite tell," she concluded uncertainly, "whether or not your ideas have any practical value, but they sound well as you describe them, and to talk attractively helps; there is no doubt of that."

It was closing time, and Miss Fisher, one of the skirt fitters, came up, in her black alpaca apron with a pair of scissors suspended by red tape from her waist, to ask Madame a question. As Mrs. Bydington had not kept her appointment, was it not impossible to send her gown home as they had promised?

"Oh, it makes no difference," replied Madame blandly, for she was in a good humour. "She'll come back when she is ready. The next time she is here, by the way, I want her to see Mrs. Fowler--I mean Mrs. Carr. She has worn out every one else in the place, and yet she is never satisfied; but I'd like her to take that pink velvet from Gautier, because nobody else is likely to give the price." The day was over and Madame's blandness was convincing evidence of her satisfaction.

As Gabriella passed through the last showroom, where the disorder of the sale was still visible, she saw Miss Murphy, the handsomest and the haughtiest of the young women, wearily returning the few rejected hats to the ivory-tinted cases.

"You are glad it is over, I know," she remarked sympathetically, less from any active interest in Miss Murphy's state of feeling than from an impulsive desire to establish human relations with her fellow saleswoman. If Miss Murphy would have it so, she preferred to be friendly.

"I am so tired I can hardly stand on my feet," replied Miss Murphy, piteously. Her pretty rose-leaf skin had faded to a dull pallor; there were heavy shadows under her eyes; her helmet of wheaten-red hair had slipped down over her forehead, and even her firmly corseted figure appeared to have grown limp and yielding. Without her offensive elegance she was merely a pathetic and rather silly young thing.

"I'll help you," said Gabriella, taking up several hats from a chair. "The others have gone, haven't they?"

"They got out before I'd finished waiting on that middle-aged frump who doesn't know what she wants any more than the policeman out there at the corner does. She's made me show her all we've got left, and after she'd tried them all on, she said they're too high, and she's going to think over them before she decides. She's still waiting for something, and my head's splitting so I can hardly see what I'm doing." With a final surrender of her arrogance, she grew suddenly confidential and childish. "I'm sick enough to die," she finished despairingly, "and I've got a friend coming to take me to the theatre at eight o'clock."

"Well, run away. I'll attend to this. But I'd try to rest before I went out if I were you."

"You're a perfect peach," responded Miss Murphy gratefully. "I said all along I didn't believe you were stuck up and snobbish."

Then she ran out, and Gabriella, after surveying the customer for a minute, selected the most unpromising hat in the case, and presented it with a winning smile for the woman's inspection.

"Perhaps something like this is what you are looking for?" she remarked politely, but firmly.

The customer, an acidulous, sharp-featured, showily dressed person--the sort, Gabriella decided, who would enjoy haggling over a bargain--regarded the offered hat with a supercilious and guarded manner, the true manner of the haggler.

"No, that is not bad," she observed dryly, "but I don't care to give more than ten dollars."

"It was marked down from thirty," replied Gabriella, and her manner was as supercilious and as guarded as the other's. There were women, she had found, who were impressed only by insolence, and, when the need arose, she could be quite as insolent as Miss Murphy. Unlike Miss Murphy, however, she was able to distinguish between those you must encourage and those you must crush; and this ability to draw reasonable distinctions was, perhaps, her most valuable quality as a woman of business.

"I don't care to pay more than ten dollars," reiterated the customer in a scolding voice. Rising from her chair, she fastened her furs, which were cheap and showy, with a defiant and jerky movement, and flounced out of the shop.

That disposed of, Gabriella put on her coat, which she had taken off again for the occasion, and went out into the street, where the night had already fallen. After her long hours in the overheated air of the showrooms, she felt refreshed and invigorated by the cold wind, which stung her face as it blew singing over the crossings. Straight ahead through the grayish-violet mist the lights were blooming like flowers, and above them a few stars shone faintly over the obscure frowning outlines of the buildings. Fifth Avenue was thronged, and to her anxious mind there seemed to be hollowness and insincerity in the laughter of the crowd.

At the house in East Fifty-seventh Street, from which she would be moving the next day, she found Judge Crowborough awaiting her in the dismantled drawing-room, where packing-cases of furniture and pictures lay scattered about in confusion. In the dreadful days after Archibald Fowler's death, the judge had been very kind, and she had turned to him instinctively as the one man in New York who was both able and willing to be of use to her. Though he had never attracted her, she had been obliged to admit that he possessed a power superior to superficial attractions.

"I dropped in to ask what I might do for you now?" he remarked with the dignity of one who possesses an income of half a million dollars a year. "It's a pity you have to leave this house. I remember when Archibald bought it--somewhere back in the 'seventies--but I suppose there's no help for it, is there?"

"No, there's no help." She sat down on a packing-case, and he stood gazing benevolently down on her with his big, soft hands clasped on the head of his walking-stick and his overcoat on his arm. "I've rented three rooms in one of the apartments of the old Carolina over on the West Side near Columbus Avenue. The rest of the apartment is rented to art students, I believe, and we must all use the same kitchen and the same bath-tub," she added with a laugh. "Of course it isn't luxury, but we shan't mind very much as soon as we get used to it. I couldn't be much poorer than I was before my marriage."

"But the children? You've got to have the children looked after."

"I've been so fortunate about that," her voice was quite cheerful again. "There's a seamstress from my old home--Miss Polly Hatch--who has known me all my life, and she is coming to sleep in a little bed in my room until we can afford to rent an extra bedroom. As long as she has to work at home anyhow, she can very easily look after the children while I am away. They are good children, and as soon as they are big enough I'll have to send them to school--to the public school, I'm afraid." This, because of Fanny's violent opposition, was a delicate point with her. She felt that she should like to start the children at a private school, but it was clearly impossible.

"The boy won't be big enough for a year or two, will he?" He was interested, she saw, and this unaffected interest in her small affairs moved her almost to tears.

"I wanted him to go to kindergarten, but, of course, I cannot afford it. He is only four and a half, and I'm teaching him myself in the evenings. Already he can read very well in the first reader," she finished proudly.

For a minute the judge stared moodily down on her. His sagging cheeks took a pale purplish flush, and he bit his lower lip with his large yellow teeth, which reminded Gabriella of the tusks of a beast of prey. Then he laid his overcoat and his stick carefully down on a packing-case, and held out his hand.

"I'm going now, and there's one thing I want to ask you--have you any money?"

It was out at last, and she looked up composedly, smiling a little roguishly at his embarrassment.

"I have six hundred dollars in bank for a rainy day, and I am making exactly fifteen dollars a week."

"But you can't live on it. Nobody could live on it even without two children to bring up."

She shook her head. "Oh, Judge Crowborough, how little you rich men really know! I've got to live on it until I can do better, and I hope that will be very soon. If I am worth anything now, in three months I ought to be worth certainly as much as twenty-five dollars a week. In a little while--as soon as I've caught on to the business--I'm going to ask for a larger salary, and I think I shall get it. Twenty-five dollars a week won't go very far, but you don't know how little some people can live on even in New York."

"As soon as the six hundred dollars go you'll be headed straight for starvation," he protested, sincerely worried.

"Perhaps, but I doubt it."

"How much do you have to pay for your rooms?"

"Twenty-five dollars a month. It isn't much of a place, you see, as far as appearances go. Fortunately, I have a little furniture of my own which Mrs. Fowler had given me."

His embarrassment had passed away, and he was smiling now at the recollection of it.

"Well, you're a brick, little girl," he said, "and I like your spirit, but, after all, why can't you put your pride in your pocket, and let me lend you a few thousands? You needn't borrow much--not enough to keep a carriage--but you might at least take a little just to show you aren't proud--just to show you'll be friends. It seems a downright shame that I should have money to throw away, and you should be starting out to pinch and scrape on fifteen dollars a week. Fifteen dollars a week! Good Lord, what are we coming to?"

She was not proud, and she wanted to be friends, but she shook her head obstinately, though she was still smiling. "Not now--not while I can help it--but if I ever get in trouble--in real trouble--I'll remember your offer. If the children fall ill or I lose my place, I'll come to you in a minute."

"Honour bright? It's a promise?"

"It's a promise."

"And you'll let me keep an eye on you?"

She laughed with the natural gaiety which he found so delightful. "You may keep two eyes on me if you will!"

He had already reached the door when, turning suddenly, he said with heavy gravity: "You don't mind my asking what you're going to do about George, do you?

"No, I don't mind. As soon as I can afford it, I shall get my freedom, but everything costs, you know, even justice."

"I could help you there, couldn't I?"

From the gratitude in her eyes he read her horror of the marriage which still bound her. "You could--and, oh, if you would, I'd never, never forget it," she answered.

Then they parted, and he went out into the cold, with a strange warmth like the fire of youth at his heart, while she ran eagerly up the uncarpeted stairs to the nursery.

The trunks were packed, the boxes were nailed down, and the two children were playing shipwreck while they ate a supper of bread and milk at a table made from the bare top of a packing-case. Several days before the nurse had left without warning, and Miss Polly sat now, in hat and mantle, on one of the little beds which would be taken down the next day and sent over to the apartment on the West Side.

"I've been to the Carolina and unpacked the things that had come," she said at Gabriella's entrance. "Those rooms ain't so bad as New York rooms go; but it does seem funny, don't it, to cook in the same kitchen with a lot of strangers you never laid eyes on befo'? I br'iled some chops for the children right alongside of an old maid who had come all the way up from New Orleans to study music--imagine, at her age! Why, she couldn't be a day under fifty! And on the other side there was the mother of a girl who's at the art school, or whatever you call it, where they teach you paintin'. They are from somewhere up yonder in New England and their home folks had sent 'em a pumpkin pie. She gave me a slice of it, but I never did think much of pumpkin. It can't hold a candle to sweet potato pudding, and I wouldn't let the children touch it for fear it might set too heavy in the night. I ain't got much use for Yankee food, nohow."

"I hope the place is perfectly sanitary," was Gabriella's anxious rejoinder. "The front room gets some sunshine in the afternoon, doesn't it?"

"It's a horrid street. I don't want to live there," wailed Fanny, who had rebelled from the beginning against her fallen fortunes. "I got my white shoes dirty, and there were banana peels all about. A man has a fruit-stand in the bottom of our house. Don't let's go there to live, mother."

"You'll have to wear black shoes now, darling, and you mustn't mind the fruit-stand. It will be a good place to buy oranges."

"I like it," said Archibald stoutly. "I like to slide on banana peels, and I like the man. He has black eyes and a red handkerchief in his pocket. Will you buy me a red handkerchief, mamma? He has a boy, too. I saw him. He can skate on roller skates, and the boy has a dog and the dog has a black ear. May I have roller skates for my birthday, and a dog--a small one--and may I ask the boy up to play with me?"

"But the boy is ugly and so is the dog. I hate ugly people," complained Fanny.

"I like ugly people," retorted Archibald, glowering, not from anger, but from earnestness. "Ugly people are nicer than pretty ones, aren't they, mamma? Pang is nicer than Fanny."

He was always like that even as a baby, always on the side of the unfortunate, always fighting valiantly for the under dog. With his large head, his grotesque spectacles, and his pouting lips, he bore a curious resemblance to a brownie, yet when one observed him closely, one saw that there was a remarkable blending of strength and sweetness in his expression.

The next day Miss Polly finished the moving, and at six o'clock Gabriella went home in the Harlem elevated train to the grim, weather-beaten apartment house on the upper West Side. The pavements, as Fanny had scornfully observed, were not particularly clean; the air, in spite of the sharp wind which blew from the river, had a curiously stagnant quality; and the rumble of the elevated road, at the opposite side of the house, reached her in a vibrating undercurrent which was punctuated now and then by the staccato cries of the street. The house, which had been built in a benighted and spacious period, stood now as an enduring refuge for the poor in purse but proud in spirit. A few studios on the roof were still occupied by artists, while the hospitable basement sheltered a vegetable market, a corner drug-store, a fruit-stand, and an Italian bootblack. Within the bleak walls, from which the stucco had peeled in splotches, the life of the city had ebbed and flowed for almost half a century, like some deep wreck-strewn current which bore the seeds of the future as well as the driftwood of the past on its bosom. One might never have set foot outside those gloomy doors and yet have seen the whole of life pass as in a vivid dream through the dim halls, lighted by flickering gas and carpeted in worn strips of brown carpet. And once inside the apartments one might have found, sometimes, cheerfulness, beauty of line and colour, and a certain spaciousness which the modern apartment house, with its rooms like closets, its startling electricity, and its more hygienic conditions of living, could not provide. It was because she could find space there that Gabriella, guided by Miss Polly, had rented the rooms.

She passed the drug-store and the fruit-stand, entered the narrow hail, where a single gas-jet flickered dimly beside the door of the elevator, and after touching the bell, stood patiently waiting. After a time she rang again, and presently, with deliberate ease and geniality, the negro who worked the elevator descended slowly, with a newspaper in his hand, and opened the door for her.

"Good evening, Robert," she said pleasantly, for he also was from Virginia, and the discovery of the bond between them had given Gabriella a feeling of confidence. Like Miss Folly, she had never become entirely accustomed to white servants.

The ropes moved again, the elevator ascended perilously to the fifth floor, and Gabriella walked quickly along the hall, and slipped her latchkey into the keyhole of the last apartment. As the door opened, a woman in worn black came out and spoke to her in passing. She was the old maid of Miss Folly's narrative, and her face, ardent, haggard, with the famished look which comes from a starved soul, gazed back at Gabriella with a touching expression of admiration and envy. There were spots of vivid colour in her cheeks, and this brightness, combined with her gray hair, gave her a theatrical and artificial appearance.

"I have been playing to your little boy, Mrs. Carr," she said with the manner which Miss Polly had described as "flighty." "He came into my room when he heard the piano, and it was a real pleasure to play for him."

"You are very good," returned Gabriella, wondering vaguely who she was, for she was obviously the kind of woman people wondered about. "I hope Archibald didn't make himself troublesome."

"Oh, no, I enjoyed him. My name is Danton. I am Miss Danton," she added effusively, "and I'm so glad you have come into this apartment. My room is the one next to yours."

Then she fluttered off, with her look of spiritual hunger, and Gabriella closed the door and went on to her rooms, which were at the opposite end of the hail from the kitchen. On the way she passed the pretty art student, who was coming from the bathroom, with a freshly powdered face and a pitcher of water in her hand, and again she was obliged to stop to hear news of the children.

"I'm so glad to have your little girl here. I want to paint her. I'm just crazy about her face," said the girl, whose name she learned afterwards was Rosy Plover. Though she was undeniably pretty, and had just powdered her face with scented powder, she had a slovenly, unkempt appearance which Gabriella, from that moment, associated with art students. "If she'd only dress herself properly, she'd be a beauty," she thought, with the aversion of one who is an artist in clothes. She herself, after her long, hard day, was as neat and trim as she had been in the morning. Her severe black suit was worn with grace, and hung perfectly; her crape collar was immaculately fresh; her mourning veil fell in charming folds over her hat brim. "It's a pity some one can't tell her," she mused, as she smiled and hurried on to the doubtful seclusion of her own end of the apartment.

With the opening of the door, the children fell rapturously into her arms, and while she took off her hat and coat, Miss Polly laid the table for supper in front of the ruddy glow of the fire. On the fender a plate of buttered toast was keeping warm, a delicious aroma of coffee scented the air, and a handful of red carnations made a cheerful bit of colour in the centre of the white tablecloth. It was a pleasant picture for a tired woman to gaze on, and the ruddy glow of the fire was reflected in Gabriella's heart while she enfolded her children. After a day in Madame's hothouse atmosphere, it was delightful to return to this little centre of peace and love, and to feel that its very existence depended upon the work of her brain and hands. The children, she realized, had never loved her so dearly. In better days, when she was rarely separated from them for more than a few hours at a time, they had seemed rather to take her care and her presence for granted; but now, after an absence of nine hours, she had become a delight and an enchantment, something to be looked forward to and longingly talked about through the whole afternoon.

"Mother, you've been away forever," said Fanny, folding her veil for her and putting away her furs.

"Are you going every day just like this for ever and ever?

"Every day, darling, but I'm here every night. Shall I run back to the kitchen and broil the chops, Miss Polly?"

But the chops were already broiled, for Miss Polly had finished her sewing early, and she had beaten up two tiny cups of custard for the children.

"It's nicer than nursery suppers, isn't it, Fanny?" asked Archibald a little later while he ate his bread and milk from a blue bowl. "Mother, I like being poor. Let's stay poor always."

A phrase of Mrs. Fowler's, "happiness costs so little," floated through Gabriella's mind as she poured Miss Folly's coffee out of the tin coffee pot. She was so tired that her body ached; her feet were smarting and throbbing from the long standing; and her eyes stung from the cold wind and the glare of the elevated train; but she knew that in spite of these discomforts she was not unhappy--that she was, indeed, far happier than she had been for the past six years in the hushed suspense of her father-in-law's house. When she had carried the supper things back to the sink in the kitchen, had taught the children their lessons, heard their prayers, and put them to bed, she repeated the words to herself while she sat sewing beside the lamp in front of the comforting glow of the fire, "After all, happiness costs so little."

The next morning, and on every morning throughout the winter, she was up by six o'clock, and had taken in the baker's rolls and the bottle of milk from the outer door before Miss Polly or the children were stirring. Then, having dressed quickly, she ran back to the kitchen and made the coffee and boiled the eggs while the other lodgers were still sleeping. Sometimes the mother of one of the art students would join her over the gas range, but usually her neighbours slept late and then darted through the hall in kimonos, with tumbled hair, to a hurried breakfast at the kitchen table.

Her life was so busy that there was little time for anxiety, and less for futile and painful dwelling upon the past. To get through the day as best she could, to start the children well and in a good humour, to make herself useful, if not indispensable, to Madame, to return with a mind clear and fresh enough to give Fanny and Archibald intelligent lessons, to sew on their clothes or her own until midnight, and then to drop into bed, with aching limbs and a peaceful brain, too tired even to dream--these things made the life that she looked forward to, week after week, month after month, year after year. It was a hard life, as Miss Polly often remarked, but hard or soft, her strength was equal to it, her health was good, her interest in her work and in her children never flagged for a minute. Only on soft spring days, coming home in the dusk, she would sometimes pass carts filled with hyacinths, and in a wave the memory of Arthur and of her first love would rush over her. Then she would see Arthur's face, gentle, protective, tender, as it had looked on that last evening, and for an instant her lost girlhood and her girlhood's dream would envelop her like the fragrance of flowers. At such moments she thought of this love as tenderly as a mother might have thought of the exquisite dead face of an infant who had lived only an hour. Though it was over, though it bore no part, with its elusive loveliness, in her practical plans for the future, this dream became gradually, as the years passed, the most radiant and vital thing in her life. Though it was so vague as to be without warmth, it was as vivid and as real as light. The knowledge that in the past she had known perfect love, even though in her blindness she had thrust it aside, was a balm which healed her wounds and gave her courage to go on, friendless and alone, into the loveless stretch of the future. There was hardly a minute of her day for the next three years which was not sweetened by this hyacinth-scented dream of the past, there was hardly an hour of her drudgery which was not ennobled and irradiated by the splendour of this love that she had lost.

Of George--even of George as the father of her children--she rarely thought. He had dropped out of her life like any other mistake, like any other illusion, and she was too sanguine by nature, too buoyant, too full of happiness and of energy, to waste herself on either mistakes or illusions. During the months when she had waited for her freedom she had resolutely put the thought of him out of her mind, and when at last her divorce was granted, she dismissed the fact as completely as if it had not changed the entire course of her life. The past was over, and only that part of it should live which contributed sweetness and beauty to the present--only that part of it which she could use in the better and stronger structure of the future. Whatever living meant in the end, she told herself each morning as she started out to her work, it must mean, not resignation, not inertia, but endeavour, enterprise, and courage.

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